WRITTEN FOR THE SKYSPORTS WEBSITE
Yelling for joy
Celebrating her twelfth appearance at the European cross-country Championships last weekend, British distance-running stalwart Hayley Yelling proved she is neither the shy or retiring type (quite literally), as she stormed to an unprecedented and eye-poppingly dominant victory, writes Nicola Bamford.
With renewed vigour and love for the sport following her competitive retirement exactly a year ago, the 35-year-old certainly did not need the luck of the Irish at the Dublin event, as she ran the race of her life to capture the continental title she last took in 2004.
A far cry from her despondent former self after languishing in nineteenth place at the 2008 event, Yelling took the senior women’s 8km race by the scruff of the neck from the outset and maintained a comfortable lead throughout.
Surging through the mud of Santry Park in the Irish capital, the maths teacher from Marlow; who made a shock return to competition when winning the European Trials last month, secured a seven-second victory over a classy international field, leading the British women to team silver.
Yelling revealed: “I can’t believe it! I feel great – I’m in shock! I just wanted to go out hard because I know that’s how I race better – to just go out and hang on for as long as possible. I expected them to all come, but luckily they didn’t. I was running scared!”
Understandably overjoyed to be back competing well in a British vest after her sabbatical, Yelling explained: “Dublin was amazing – the support was too. The course was perfect for me, even though I’m not the best in mud. Even though I was knackered, I was smiling to myself during the race in disbelief.”
The sister-in-law of British Olympic marathon, Liz Yelling, Hayley continued: “I had no expectations at all - I just wanted to enjoy it. I was thinking about the team really. I’ve been back in training sessions for about a month.”
Yelling only attended the Trials in Liverpool to accompany a friend and certainly had no strong aspirations. Her shock win there, however, was only a glimpse of the greatness which was yet to come.
Evidently, it is Yelling’s laid-back attitude and refreshed outlook towards her training that is surprisingly reaping the benefits: “I think it’s just from all the years of training. What was all that 100 miles a week about!? I’m enjoying it so much; I want to get out of the door and run.”
A handful of extreme adventure races over the summer, followed by a windsurfing holiday ensured Yelling kept her fitness base high. She then returned to her long-time coach in Windsor – Conrad Milton but still insists on not having a training schedule to rule her days and only running during the week so she can “have fun at the weekends.”
“It’s nice to not have the pressure anymore – I want to run when the alarm goes off in the morning,” she explains.
The infectiously-bubbly runner is back in school to work this week but plans to use a couple of Christmas parties as “an excuse to celebrate” her recent achievements.
Her latest outstanding performance comes after years of agony, following missing the 10,000m qualification standard for the past three Olympic Games by between a mere 0.14 and 4.29-seconds.
Although understandably thrilled by her superb, instant return to top-class form, Yelling insists she is not planning a permanent switch back into the international spotlight: “I might do a few more races and see how I’m doing but I’m not looking as far as the World Cross or anything. I’m just enjoying my athletics and not putting any pressure on myself and it seems to be working."
Long-term, Yelling is adamant that she’ll be too old for the 2012 Olympics, but for 2010, the BUPA Great Edinburgh International cross-country in January may crop up next on her spontaneous calendar. Fans may also occasionally spot her on the track this summer and a possible tilt at the Commonwealth Games 10,000m in New Delhi in October is not off the radar – but only if (in the words of the new European Champion) “I’m still enjoying my training.”
Judging by this incredible athletes’ new lease of life, running’s never been so fun.