Running And Blogging My Way Through Life.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Balancing Act - Injuries.

Injures are inevitable - not only in elite sport but persistent throughout all levels of 'sports' down to the generic person popping along to the gym. Sadly, in elite sport there is evidently a higher risk of injury, as we are constantly trying to propel ourselves beyond the limit. Athletics in general, is a tightrope – you are always a few inches away from plummeting off and having to grind your way back up to the top once more! Each injury is an immense learning curve. It allows you time to truly assess things and implement changes in order to reduce the chance of something similar from occurring again!
Stellenbosch Track

This winter had been my most consistent yet. Everything was going extremely well – perhaps a little too swimmingly for that time of year. I was fit and prepared to get the indoor season underway and keen to trim down all of my personal bests. Woefully, it wasn't to be! After travelling out South Africa for a training camp with the British Athletics team – I fell ill on the first day! I couldn't appear to shift the illness and regrettably it ate into almost 10 full days of training. Training hard and consistently – weakens the immune system – which makes the body highly susceptible to picking up bugs! Airplanes seem to be my nemesis and I find it very challenging to not fall ill, particularly after long flights. I'm going to invest in a mask, that Chinese Tourists are renowned for wearing, in the hope that this reduces my possibility of contracting viruses! It may sound a little excessive but sickness really does impact an athletes program and i'm sure it'll be a great conversation starter. A simple cold virus can be gone within a week but lie dormant, within the body, until an athlete hits another arduous week of training. It then may decide to rear it's ugly head afresh! I experienced this the entire 2014 year and found it highly frustrating to deal with.
Happier times in South Africa

On my comeback from illness, I was perhaps a little too eager to restore normal routine again. There was also a vast disparity between the surfaces I was running on - out in Stellenbosch - in comparison to what I ordinarily run on, in Loughborough. I primarily keep to the gravel canal paths and road, whereas in SA – there were not many safe routes that I could go out on, alone, and so I was restricted to running all my weekly mileage on a very soft, grass loop. I found that the spongy grass truly did sap all the energy out of my legs, especially after illness. On my Sunday long run, I unluckily twisted my ankle very sharply, which ended my run abruptly. Although I didn't think about it too much afterwards - the following morning, I woke up with a precise needlelike, nervy pain in my left ankle. Again, I tried not to concentrate on the pain excessively. As an athlete, training twice a day – every day – aches and pains are part and parcel of the sport, so it is easy to not deliberate too much and batter on with the day. However, perhaps a mistake on my behalf – I attempted to carry on with my scheduled track session that evening. After being blown around the track, by Stellenbosch’s 29 miles per hour winds, with my spaghetti legs– it was safe to say my ankle had popped it's little clogs. I could barely walk. Promptly, the decision was made to hop home as soon as possible for a scan and await the news. It didn't come as too much of a surprise to hear the ankle was broken but it was still a colossal kick in the teeth.

It's always the same regarding bad news, especially an injury. Running is not only my job – it's what I love doing – so it's challenging when such a huge aspect of your life is removed. 'Normal' people never really understand my attachment to running but when you babble to other people who share a passion for running – they fully relate and understand how vexing it can be! Without fail, I initially have a few days where i'm really down-beat about everything. I would argue with any living soul, within a 10 metre proximity to me, that the sky is NOT blue or that a crow isn't black...but once this passes, my mind then switches into over drive. I think this may be a standard McColgan trait! I then direct all of my focus on demanding cross training sessions. I repeatedly remind myself, how valuable all the cumulative cross training will be once I am back doing what I love to do – running!

Manchester Velodrome
I was told at first it would be 4-6 weeks out but after further scans and investigations the doctors realised the ankle was unquestionably fractured. This then extended my healing time in a 'moon boot' to 8-10 weeks. I tried my best to rock the 'moon boot and jeans look; but it's an acquired taste. Mentally, the aspect of being injured is sometimes frustrating to deal with - when you believe there is only a week to go and can see light at the end of the tunnel, it's a hard knock to be told you're actually only half way! The doctor was a nervous man breaking the news to me but he escaped unscathed. For the entire duration of the injury, I was allowed to aqua jog each day. Slowly, I built up to the watt bike before finally adding the elliptical cross trainer after 8 weeks. You wouldn't think adding in another form of cross training could have such a positive impact but my quads were starting to rival the size of Chris Hoy's and it was a delightful break from cycling. It's safe to say I won't be switching sports any time soon and I have a whole new respect for cyclists (as I try to squeeze myself into a pair of jeans that once used to be baggy!).

It's taken me almost 3 months to finally get back running outside – but even that is very limited. Presently, I have progressed to running twice a week outside with all my other training being supplemented on the cross trainer, bike, pool and alter G. I did however, make the huge mistake that many people suffer from, when they find out they're injured - I unreservedly flogged myself cross training for around 8 days before having a colossal crash in energy levels. I was significantly fatigued by attempting to train hard, twice a day, every day – which clearly isn't sustainable... but it was my way of dealing with the initial frustration and the 'why me' sympathy stage! Subsequently, I was quick to wise up and started making smarter decisions towards balancing my cross training and allowing myself enough time to recover. It's been a huge relief getting outside again, releasing my hair from the Marge Simpson beehive, that's been permanently positioned on top of my head and allowing fresh air to hit my skin rather than the constant drench of sweat. Cross training isn't attractive – so kudos to anyone whom can make it look relatively pleasant!

Channeling my inner Marge Simpson. 
I've had quite a few people email me regarding their own injuries, particularly - what cross training sessions I do in order to try and maintain fitness and how to keep motivated during extended spells of being injured.

I'm very fortunate that when i'm cross training, I can completely switch off. I would go as far as saying it's a special skill! I zone out, into my own little world, staring at the wall and barely flinch when someone enters the room. I put every ounce of my energy into it because every minute sweating it out, is bringing me closer to returning to what I love the most.

1. I would encourage anyone to acquire whatever music they enjoy listening to. Weirdly enough, I don't listen to music during track sessions but for some reason I find it helps me enormously whilst slogging out sessions on the cross trainer. A loud, fast beat - forces your legs to move to the same rhythm and speed. As you tire, throughout the session – you do your best to keep the leg turnover fast in time with the music. I am also partial to weird documentaries during my easy hour cross trains – Transgender Children, Wild OAP's, Dog with 8 legs – you name it, i've most certainly watched it.
Blood, sweat and zero tears. 

  1. Make some goals – this will assist with motivation. In the back of my mind, I have my main objective of my year. I keep it there permanently and constantly reflect on it during the hours and hours spent cross training. I never tell people my long term goals or aims – it's my secret and what i'm constantly working hard in order to achieve. By telling someone, you're disclosing something personal, something that's confidential to you. No one can tell you, 'you can't do that' or that it's 'unachievable' because they don't know what your personal goal is and it's completely unique to YOU! Not everyone can be an Olympic Champion but it doesn't have to be on such a grand scale. Making a school team, completing one park run a month or taking a few seconds off your marathon time. It can be anything. It's also crucial to have some minor goals and aims along the way. These are markers that I make in my head. Perhaps something like, I want to start back training on the track again by X day of X month or I want to be able to race X by X. If it is achieved then I'll focus on the next goal – if i've not been able to achieve it, I don't dwell on it too much, re-asses and make a new one.
  1. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Injuries give you a vital opportunity to correct things or become stronger in different areas. In the past, I have always neglected that time and just purely focused on maintaining my cardio fitness. This time around has been a little different. The majority of my focus still remains on cardio but I have also brought in two strength sessions in the form of a circuit, alongside balance drills, foot drills and core almost daily – I still won't be winning any press up contests anytime soon... but it's progress! Being injured turns out to be a lot more time consuming compared to my usual training routine. A typical 5mile run transpires into...travelling to the gym, an hour slog on the cross trainer followed by rehab drills, stretching, barefoot drills alongside physiotherapy and foot mobility etc etc. By the time I look at my watch, a good 4 hours of my life has flown by! It can end up becoming very intense and devour your time like a vulture but it's important to really implement some time out. Both my boyfriend and housemate are athletes and also currently injured, however they are much more laid back with their routines – which is a huge help. They force me to rationalise things and not obsess about it all, because ultimately what's done is done! It makes no sense to live in the past and dwell on what may, or may not have been a mistake. Focus on the future and things you CAN implement or change. It really isn't the end of the world having some time off and injury is not going to change life in the longer term! AKA – CHILL THE HELL OUT, YOU'RE 24 EILISH. I'm a worrier though – it's another lovely McColgan trait.
    Spending time with the important people. <3

  2. Physiotherapy – it can be awfully expensive but depending on the injury it may be vital. I am very lucky to receive regular treatment through UKA. It allows the mobility in my foot and ankle to be maintained whilst I try to return to full training again. If you can't afford regular treatment then make sure you have a vigorous stretching routine in place. Even something as simple as foam rolling 10minutes before bed each night, can make a huge difference when you are making the transition from cross training back to running again – (and it makes you sound really cool to all your non-running friends....). Biking especially, shortens the quad muscles and can really force them to overwork so it's particularly important to hold the length in these muscles as you return to running.
    My sneaky flatmate catching me at work... 

  3. Supplements. In the past, I have never taken any supplements or medication other than the odd protein shake every now and again whilst training on altitude camps. With all the recent news of contaminated supplements – I am the type of athlete who is scared to take a plain paracetamol tablet when I think I may be knocking on God's door! I once spent 40 minutes in Sainsbury's (there are other supermarkets available) scouring over all the medicines, texting my doctor, to double check that plain Ibuprofen was definitely OK! Over the last few months, under the advice of the nutritionist – I have decided to start supplementing with Calcium tablets daily and Omega 3 Oils. I have no idea whether this will make any substantial difference to my actual injury but I do hope that it may reduce the chances of picking up a further bone injury in the future! Only time will tell. These tablets have all been batch tested by Informed Sport and are on a regular basis consumed by many athletes – HealthSpan Elite. I have also made changes to my day-to-day diet in order to improve nutrition and give my body the best possible chance of recovery after sessions. After an exceptionally hard session, I have reverted to taking a scoop of the protein powder in my standard recovery fruit smoothie – PAS Strawberry Protein Powder. It's the only powder i've been able to drink without wanting to gag – so that's a bonus!
There's never been too much of a focus on what i've eaten and when.. but over the last few months I have made a conscious effort to try and eat cleaner. Even if it only gives me an extra one percent than i've had previously – after being injured for the past three months... I need every accumulated percent I can acquire! My coach has always been very influential on how much diet can affect an athletes performance but it's entirely up to the athlete to finally make the ultimate judgement on things. It's one of those ' I TOLD YOU THAT FIVE YEARS AGO' scenarios. I now make sure every morning before training, I have a big bowl of porridge, mixed with normal milk, some almond milk, topped with banana and berries. Previously, I have always refused to eat anything other than sugary cereal but as a professional athlete – that's ridiculous! - I needed to make some minor changes to my current diet. Food is the fuel to your body – putting the essential fuel into it will effectively make it preform better, so why not make the minor change and see?

It's important to remember there is always a finish line. Things may feel like they are never improving and that you are stuck within a viscous cycle but even a one percent improvement, is still an improvement! All of the hard work that is done behind the scenes, whilst you are injured, will eventually pay off... but what if it doesn’t? Well, at least you can say you gave it your best shot and have no regrets!

Typical cross training week for me:

 Two easy ellipticals. HR zone easy – 140 average

 am. Watt Bike session, e.g. 40 minutes of 45 seconds hard – 15 recovery. HR max 186
am - Circuits

pm. Easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

 am - Aqua jogging session, lower HR – 155 average, 2minutes on 30 off.

Pm - Easy Elliptical, HR zone easy – 140 average

am - Bike tempo - HR zone 170 average. 45minutes-1 hour of 3minute-2minute-1minute (continuous, no recovery)

pm - Easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

  Two easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average
am – Circuits


am - Elliptical session, eg. 40 minutes of 90 hard 30 easy. - HR max 186

pm - Easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

 Two easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

This was typical training of around week 7 after my injury – all completed whilst wearing the ever fashionable 'moon boot'. Once I was allowed out of the boot and walking properly again in trainers – we introduced the Alter G treadmill around 10/11 weeks a few times and then finally outdoor running by 13 weeks. I am still very limited to the amount of running, as the pain within the ankle has not fully subsided. It's a little discouraging, as after 13 weeks, I would of hoped the foot would be totally healed, but unfortunately that's not the case. It's slowly turning into the never-ending saga. I've made the decision that I can no longer take anymore time off – if I want to try and get myself back running this summer and possibly make the World Championships in August. - then I need to start pronto. It's a long shot – but next month is crucial as to whether that is achievable or not. At least I know, I have given it absolutely everything to try and accomplish that.
First session back - thrown into the deep end with Gemma Steel!

If anything, the injury has reinforced to me how much I want this. Running is all I have ever known. From October to December, I had managed to get myself into the best physical shape I have ever been in – so it has reconfirmed the goals I want to achieve this summer because I know they are possible and within my grasp. I've always been told 'running has many more lows than highs' but that the lows are often forgotten in favour of the highs– so this is just another obstacle to hurdle.

'Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see...'
I hope this answers anyones questions – if you guys have anymore then please post them below and I will do my best to respond or write another blog answering them!  

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Tooth Fairy

I remember as a kid being dragged to the dentist by my parents to get fitted for a brace but I cried hysterically and never went through with it. At the time, I was young and naïve. I thought I would 'look silly' wearing them, which is ridiculous considering the majority of school kids are fitted out with some metal! It's been greatly regretted every since. My teeth are not horrible or crooked by any stretch of the imagination and I have never had anyone comment negatively towards my smile – but it's something I have always wanted to get sorted. My front two teeth overlap slightly.. again, it's nothing major but I would be much happier with them a little straighter. If you can improve a part of yourself that has always been a creeping thought at the back of your mind – then why not!?

I'm extremely excited to join forces with Smile Plus Dental in Edinburgh and with the use of Invisalign – hopefully I can get a nice straight set of gnashers!

The whole process has completely amazed me. Invisalign isn't like a normal brace – which is perfect for my life as a busy athlete. Invisalign straightens teeth using a series of nearly invisible, removable aligners that are custom-made specifically for your teeth. As you replace each aligner every two weeks, your teeth will move – little by little, week by week, gradually moving towards the projected final position.

Additionally, There is a much lower number of dental check ups compared to normal braces which is useful considering I can be away for months on end. The braces can also be sent out to my training camps abroad if I am not at home.

Furthermost, they are removable which gives you the choice rather than them being permanently fixed into your teeth. Obviously, in order to gain the best results – they are advised to be worn at all times. Invisalign is much more comfortable than normal 'train tracks' with no wires or brackets against the side of your mouth but can take a little getting used to at the beginning.

I am extremely excited to get started with my new brace – however this is for the long haul. With a projected plan of 18 months it's definitely a big commitment to undertake but one I am very eager to begin!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Vo2 Testing

Vo2 testing is not something I have focussed on much as an athlete. The only time I have ever participated in the testings are for pre-altitude camps with British Athletics – although the information does fascinate me. My first ever test was in December 2012 followed up in March 2013 after spending a few weeks at altitude – the difference was quite substantial.

Naturally my body is very good with dealing with lactic and I hardly produce any - which co-insides with a marathon runners profile (supposedly!) - horrible to learn that the marathon is most suited to my physiology. Awful news to my ears.

For those who aren't familiar with what a sub maximal Vo2 test consists of – you are running on a treadmill over 6-8 different stages. I began at 7 minute miles which should be relatively easy for 3 minutes of running. This is then repeated at increasing speeds down to around 4.50 minute miles. A mask is covering your face to measure the volume of air expired along with the percentages of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the expired air. It's a little uncomfortable to run with but necessary for the testing. A heart rate monitor is also used to keep an eye on heart rate zones. After every 3minute run, the lactic in your blood is tested using a prick to your ear lobe.

The Vo2 Max test – takes the athlete to near their maximal limit. In the past, I have done it with increasing speed due to breaking my foot but this time around I did it on elevation – which I found much more difficult. The max tests continues you running on the treadmill at a quick enough speed but every minute the elevation increases by a percent.

My Vo2 capacity was pretty average for an athlete but my running economy was pretty good. (Find some explanations below!) The most unique quality is perhaps that I couldn't increase my lactic level to above 4 throughout the entire sub-max test until the final stage.

Perhaps the most interesting part and helpful piece of information for me are my heart rate zones. The tests give guidelines of what your heart rates should be on easy recovery runs, tempo runs and in sessions. I perhaps run my easy runs a little too slow – averaging 7 minutes or slower but my heart rate is quite low at 143 average – for the time being though – i'll stick to what i'm doing as I find the recovery keeps me fresh for sessions. I have been running my tempo's a little too slow so that is something I will definitely be aiming to improve on over the next few months.

This time around, I repeated the same test from 2012/13 to see what shape I was in coming into these winter months off such an awful summer season. I have been feeling much better since my break with no illnesses or viruses to report which is the first time i've been healthy in around 16 months! My tests came back better than ever – even though I haven't been exposed to altitude all year and have had to miss the first Kenyan Camp due to a heart complaint. So all is looking good for the upcoming indoor season – hopefully I can return to some sort of form and finally break some PB's!

For people wanting a little bit more in-depth stats. Here is the information we are given as athletes:

Lactate Threshold (LT): This is the first increase in blood [La] above baseline values. The speed at the LT is a strong predictor of the average speed that can be sustained in the marathon. The speed and heart rate at the LT are also useful in defining the transition between “easy” and “steady” running (see section 5 below).

Lactate Turnpoint (LTP): The LTP is the running speed at which there is a distinct “sudden and sustained” breakpoint in blood [La]. Typically, this occurs at 2.0-4.0 mM. The LTP tends to occur at ~ 1-2 km/h above the LT (the difference is smaller in longer distance specialists and larger in middle-distance runners). The LTP can also be used to define the transition between “steady” and “threshold” running (see section 5 below).

Running economy: This is the VO2 required to run at sub-maximal speeds. Running economy tends to be better in elite runners (i.e. their VO2 is lower at a given speed) and it is associated with improved performance. A common method for assessing an athlete’s running economy is to look at the VO2 in ml/kg/min at 16.0 km/h and 1 % grade (i.e. 6:00 min/mile pace). The average in well trained runners at this speed is 52 ml/kg/min. Running economy can also be expressed in units of mL O2/kg/km. Irrespective of running speed, the average economy is 200 mL O2/kg/km. 

On 3 dates. Oct'14,  Mar'13, Dec'12
VO2max: This remains an important measure of performance capability in middle and long distance running. While factors such as economy and LT/LTP can partially compensate for a relatively poor max in elite groups, entry to those elite groups is still limited by VO2max (i.e. the highest rate at which ATP can be resynthesised aerobically). It should be noted that VO2max tends to be highest in athletes who specialise in events that are run close to VO2max (that is, 3000 m and 5000 m). Other factors may be more important at shorter and longer distances.
The speed at VO2max (vVO2max): The vVO2max can be useful in predicting performance over 3000 m (and also 1500 and 5000 m). vVO2max is simply calculated by multiplying the VO2max (in mL/kg/min) by 60 and divided by the mean running economy determined during the first 4-5 stages of the treadmill test (in mL O2/kg/km).

Training zones: The speed and HR training zones given below are based around physiological landmarks (see explanation to the left) - the precise boundaries are defined according to the thresholds we’ve established today.
When @Sea level: Speed is the preferred option to monitor the correct intensity of your session. When @Altitude: It is important to realise that speed zones wont reflect the actual intensity zone so you will need to use the heart rate zones in this circumstance. Remember - it takes a good few minutes (3 to 5 min) for HR to come up to the level required. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Drug Called Sport

Choice. To willingly select an outcome. A yes or no. Everyone has to make them. Children, teenagers, adults. From a young age the word 'Drugs' didn't mean much to me – other than – 'say no.' - perhaps a little naïve on my behalf but the situation never occurred all throughout my teenage years. However, the word has manifested it's way into my life in a way I had never dreamed of. As an athlete competing at Olympic level, I regularly have to give drug tests in order to pave the way for clean sport. The often televised Diamond League athletics meetings are plagued by athletes returning from bans due to failed tests. Some athletes not only making the wrong choice once... but twice! During these meets, social media is rife with the words 'cheat', 'drugs' and 'ban'. Certain athletes are trending for negative reasons rather than the superb performances. I remember as a kid watching Paula Radcliffe parade around the track with banners protesting for stronger bans against drug cheats. I never really fully acknowledged it at the time but now it resonates in the back of my mind. She was extremely outspoken all throughout her career and a true role model for younger athletes taking up the sport. Cheating should never be an option.

All sports contain cheats. People want to bypass their way to success and unfortunately drugs are the quickest way to do so. I am under no misconception that these athletes don't also work hard – they have to – but they are unquestionably gaining a major advantage. Currently, there is no deterrent for athletes not to cheat other than their own moral fibre. Almost an 'Lance Armstrong Syndrome' – some athletes believe all their competitors are dirty and so perhaps lightens the blow in their own minds. They return to the sport having served their ban whilst the other athletes and race meet organisers don’t bat an eyelid - throwing themselves straight into the limelight again with several running faster than ever. This is by no means an attack on certain athletes – i'm sure they're are many an athlete whom aren't as squeaky clean as they are portrayed. I'm sure many of them are polite and kind individuals – convicted, cheating or not. I am also under no illusion that every single person makes mistakes. Human error is always going to creep in under certain circumstances, particularly with the added extras of money and championship titles – egos possibly take over.

When I started competing at a slightly higher level in athletics, I met Dwain Chambers at my first ever international. We were team mates and he was one of the biggest names on our team. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask – but I had never met him before and he had no clue who I was. After about 5 minutes of questions buzzing around my head – I blurted a few out. He was chatting about how he found it difficult being away from his young children. I asked if he thought his young boy would become an athlete and he replied that he would love him to take up the sport. I then asked how he would go around explaining to his little boy that he cheated. It was perhaps a bit of a strong and forward question to ask but I genuinely wanted to know. Dwain was extremely down to earth and open which I didn't really expect. I had grown up thinking drug cheats were villains and horrible people – again a very naïve statement to think. Dwain couldn't of been any friendlier and truly made me feel part of the team. He admitted that he felt it would be the toughest thing that he's ever gone through. To tell his young boy, who idolises him and looks up to him so much – that he cheated - he took the easy route. For me, this is another huge contributing factor against cheating and it confuses me how people can lie and deceive in order to gain the benefits. Lying to their own family and loved ones – instead of admitting that they weren't good enough to make it to the very top. Dwain genuinely did come across as a nice guy and I enjoyed being able to ask him questions on all sorts. Drug cheats aren't murderers. They get distracted easily by the bright shining lights of success and the affluent thought that they will never get caught. I can see how it's easy for certain personalities to be swayed but for me, it's a mistake I wouldn't be willing to make. Drug cheats should be banned for life, examples made, purely to try and stop other people from making the same mistake. Reduced sentences should only be offered after receiving enough substantial on how they got it, how they took it, the circle of people whom knew - every single detail of their scheme publicised. 

Drugs are something that have personally never entered my radar. I have been competing since I was 12. I've been to the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games but they are something I've never come across. Maybe I am not a good enough standard to have ever been offered or know the right people. I find it difficult to get my head around why people make the wrong choice. Sport is difficult. Being successful at it – is never going to be easy. When money becomes involved people become more monstrous. For example, a drug cheat who is back competing can walk away with $10,000 for every Diamond League victory, an undisclosed appearance fee and a $40,000 jackpot win for the series. Meaning other clean athletes perhaps further down the field receive jack all. It tallies up to quite an impressive amount of money. This also doesn’t include private corporate sponsors. Yet when an athlete get caught doping they don’t have to give back any of their prize money directly to competitors. Yes, they loose medals and perhaps give back a percentage of winnings but it is never anywhere near what they have actually made. They can continue training through the duration of their ban wether it be a few months, 18 months or 2 years and pop up again for the next major championships alongside all the benefits they have previously gained from being on the juice.

Would I love to be an Olympic Champion? Of course I bloody would. But would I cheat my way to the top? Not a chance in hell. With my mother being a former athlete, she has always brought us up firmly against drugs in sport. She missed many a medal and perhaps thousands of missing prize money due to athletes who had an air of suspicion concerning them. Ultimately though, they were never caught and so were 'clean'.

The current anti-doping system is good but not great. The blood passport has definitely been a huge step forward in possibly scaring some athletes but unfortunately the doctors and the scientists are always one step ahead. UK Anti-doping have been extremely regimental in testing me since I got added to the whereabouts system last October – being tested every month. But regrettably, other countries aren’t quite as strict. For those who don't know, the whereabouts system is where an athlete is permitted to give a one hour slot (time and location) of where they are going to be each day – along with an overnight address. If the testers turn up to the hour slot you have allocated and the athlete is not there – it's a failed test. Three failed tests results in a ban. These tests are known as in-hour tests. A tester can turn up at your door unannounced – an out-of-hours test – however, if you are not there, it doesn't matter. If you are there,you take the test. It sounds relatively straight forward but it's actually quite a difficult thing to get used to. Initially, I used to set my time slot at 10pm (because I knew I would be awake and hear the knock on the door) but various times I have been close to forgetting about my slot as i've nipped out to Tesco or gone to the cinema – something so small but ultimately being forgetful can get you into a lot of trouble! I find it much easier allocating 6 or 7am as I know I will definitely be in my house and most probably still in bed!

Out in Kenya, all funded GB athletes were tested by anti-doping whom had sent out testers all the way to Kenya but alas the same treatment wasn’t granted to other athletes from different nations. An Olympic Champion and Olympic Silver medallist were both in the camp and yet neither were tested (as far as we are aware) – this completely baffles me. The athletes in question were of a much higher standard than myself and yet they aren't tested. Similarly, in the first quarter of this year - I was tested every single month with a few extra tests after my races. Justin Gatlin (convicted twice for drugs) has been tested three times whilst Tyson Gay (convicted for drugs) has only been tested ONCE! This confuses me to no end. Surely these people should be targeted and tested on a weekly basis just to keep them on their toes, perhaps slightly scaremonger them into thinking differently and from committing the same error again! I have absolutely no qualms about being tested day in day out, I am all for clean sport but I believe all athletes should be treated equally. Something needs to be done in order to make sure every nation is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Can I press the pause button now?

The past few months have been a roller-coaster. I was ready to accept that my summer season most likely wasn't going to happen. After coming back from Kenya and picking up a 'non-specific virus' (no idea what that means either, trust me i've tried googling it too) in my blood – I found it took me months to fully recover. Perhaps I was let down by my own over eagerness to get back training as soon as I could. I found that I was able to train for a week or so and then be hit by yet another 'cold' type illness. In total, from my first training spell in Kenya back in October – I was ill a total of seven times! I was slowly starting to loose the plot but the Commonwealth Games have always been in the front on my mind and engraved into my brain of how high importance it was for me to be there on that start line. I couldn't wait to race in Scotland again in front of a home crowd and knowing all my family would be in that crowd – would make it that much more special. My dad still lives in Carnoustie with my 3 brothers and sister but my mum has now relocated to Qatar – so it has been a tough few years for my family. I was excited by the fact they would all be in the stadium watching me run for the first time. My siblings have never actually watched me compete before although they were not remotely arsed about me but rather the fact that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were going to be there! After my 10th place in the World Championships last year, along with the fastest time i've ever ran – I was so happy and excited by my performance – yet when I looked around the Russian stadium, it hit me that no one was there to watch me. My family had watched it all on TV and so my phone was going wild – but it wasn't the same as actually having them in the stadium. I think that's what excites me the most by Glasgow. Regardless of my performance, my family know how difficult the last few months have been for me and will be extremely proud to watch me compete in my Scottish vest on home soil.

Where it all began, 2011.
I started this blog almost 3 years ago after breaking my foot in a Diamond League back in 2011. I wanted to remember all the ups and downs, almost like a personal diary. I'm perhaps not the most open of people so it was initially a little strange writing down my thoughts and so I kept the blog private. But I decided to keep it open. Every athlete has their own story. Every athlete has their own problems of which they try to over come and every athlete tries their hardest to create it into a success story. I always thought my mum never truly realised how amazing her achievements were. She was a WORLD CHAMPION – how many people can really say that? It's a very small percentage. She never really acknowledged her own achievements and almost hid them away from me when I was growing up. I'm even slightly guilty of this myself – although I am clearly nowhere near the standard of my mother - my Olympic Games race kit was sitting scrunched up in the bottom of my sock drawer with my race number crumpled at the bottom of a bag alongside the paper part of my driving license. I wasn't in any way ashamed of my performance but I just wanted more. This past year has really made me put things a little into perspective. Even if I don't ever improve from the level of sport that I am currently at – I should still be extremely proud of the fact that I overcame surgery and less than 6 months later qualified for my first ever major championships – the London 2012 olympics. I should appreciate that a little more by the fact that there are hundreds of athletes who tried and failed to make the team and would of taken my spot or traded places with me in a heartbeat. I've now framed my kit and number – it may not be an olympic medal but its still an achievement I should be proud of to have at the age of 21.
London 2012

Every athlete has their fair share of bad luck but it is how they come back from it and stay positive throughout – which is actually a very difficult thing to do. I'm not the only athlete who has had problems this winter, take Lynsey Sharp for example – another Scottish athlete who had been injured for almost the entire winter season, yet has come back stronger than ever and in a position to be fighting for Gold in Glasgow this summer. Every athlete have their own problems but move on from them in order to become more successful than before. Thats the goal. Unfortunately for me, time has possibly run out for this summer but I still have my eyes firmly set on getting myself into the best shape I can.
Extended family

I moved down to Loughborough after picking up a stress fracture in my shin during last summer. It made sense to base myself next to UK Athletics in order to get daily physiotherapy treatment and to see the doctor when I needed to with no delay. It also allowed me to cross train like an absolute trojan. It took over my entire life. Twice a day every day – into an obsession. To me, nothing else mattered. Looking back now it wasn't a particularly healthy way to be thinking but it did pay off dividends in the end with my 10th place at the World Champs and a brand new PB over 1500, 3000m as well as my event the 3000m Steeplechase. It was obviously worth while but it wasn't a sustainable way to live. I lost contact with all my friends, I very rarely spoke to my family as all my efforts were going into the sport. It was a strange situation to be in. I started to operate like some sort of robot on auto flight. Groundhog day. I also didn't know many people in Loughborough – it was all brand new to me but I made no effort to do anything other than visit the cross trainer or swimming pool. I started to dwell on the past and compare it to the dullness that I was currently living in. Throughout my university years, we were completely spoiled. I had a fantastic training group of whom we all lived together and whom I felt were more like my family than friends. My fondest memories and funniest stories were with these people but it was strange knowing that it would never be like that again – we are all growing up now and had our own lives to get on with! We couldn't all keep living together until we were 80 with a house full of cats, living off cereal and toast and videoing ourselves re-enacting Take That and 50 Cent videos....(that last one may or may not have happened, unfortunately someone does still have that video).
Back in Dundee over Xmas for two days! :(

But I felt like the normal social side of my life – my friends and my family - were completely missing. I would see pictures of my siblings on Facebook and realise that I didn't really know them anymore. My brother is now 15, but I couldn't tell you what he is like as a person, what music he listens to, what sport he does or what exams he has at school. It was difficult to accept that everyone was living their life almost without me – because at one point we were all so close and together. I had no other outlet other than my running, which had started to take a little bit of a nose dive after taking the month off at the end of the season in order to recover. But that is the life of being an athlete - sport consumes it. Although, these are just minor difficulties - I can say Athletics is my job... - how many people would love to be in that position? I certainly wouldn't change it for the world - but I do moan about it every so often... :)
Going out to Kenya in October got me back into some serious training after taking my end of season rest. Kenya is an amazing place to not only train but also just to chill out. There are no stresses at all. Internet is very limited which means you can almost disappear for the month and it's acceptable because people know you cant reply to their emails! Unfortunately, after a good training spell, I picked up a cold. Nothing major... but I then picked up another – less than two weeks later over my birthday– and then another over the Christmas period! I returned to Kenya and had my strongest ever 5 weeks of training which gave me a lot of confidence going into the indoor season and looking forward to the 2014 summer season – but yet again I was struck down with illness. This time though it was a little different. I was constantly fatigued and tired. I struggled to get out of bed most mornings and was sleeping continuously. I would get a few below average training sessions in before then having cold like symptoms again for the following week. It was the most frustrating thing ever. At least with an injury – its disappointing – but you know exactly how many weeks to take off or you can continue to train through other forms – but with illness you are completely blinded. I kept trying and trying to get back but my sessions were on a downward spiral. I started to feel lactic as soon as I started the rep – it was a really weird sensation – my legs just weren’t my normal legs – and I wanted my old ones back!

After about a million blood tests – to which the doctor thought I was genuinely going insane – it came back that at some point I had picked up a virus. It wasn't much help now – but the good news was that is was finally gone. My bloods came back all clear and all my values were within the normal range – more specifically my white bloods cells (those little rascals), as for months they had been lagging.

I decided to head over to Doha to visit my mum (and coach) as she has relocated out there to begin her new life with her husband. It was definitely a big culture shock. The temperatures were through the roof which meant I had to train very early morning and very late evening – but in a way – I actually really enjoyed the heat. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the fact I couldn’t wear my normal training kit to go for a steady run. At 100 degrees Fahrenheit the last thing I want to be wearing is a t-shirt and long leggings – I would of happily ran in a bikini! - but the culture is massively different to the UK, religion is taken very seriously and it is quite refreshing to see. I wrote more about my experience in Doha in the blog below but I wanted to add in quite a significant thing that happened to me when I was out there – which I perhaps didn’t want to disclose at the time. I hate listening to athletes or people in general make excuses about their own performances – so I wanted to write this blog irrespective of my performances plus my mum has a big mouth (joking.) and so it was eventually going to come out at some stage and I would rather it be in my own words than a journalist's mis-print.

Since I can remember, I have always had heart palpitations. I used to sit on the coach to junior league races when I was 12 clasping at my chest with several of the older kids laughing at me for 'holding my boob' but they were very infrequent and happened completely randomly. It never particularly worried me as after about 5/6seconds they were gone as quick as they had come on. It also never affected me running and so my parents were never majorly concerned. However, that was to change. After struggling with the move to Loughborough, never seeing my family and then my running going massively down the pan – I wasn't particularly happy as you can imagine. Some days I was walking around in a blur almost – it was a really weird way to be feeling but I just had no energy – perhaps from the illness. I just wanted to feel like a normal human being again instead of being constantly ill! I wanted to get away from Loughborough and running for a while and so 'running away' to Doha sounded like a good idea. I was very stressed with the situation and being in Qatar sounded like the ideal decision.

One thing I have learned is you can never run away from your problems. I may be an athlete but i'm not that fast. Things always catch up with you. I struggled to get to sleep one evening with my mind going into over-drive. I eventually got to sleep at around 3am but was abruptly awoken by my chest thumping. Initially, I thought it was just my normal palpitation but unfortunately this one was different. It didn’t stop. I tried to get up from my bed and almost collapsed. My heart felt like it was going 100 miles an hour. I lay down on the ground with a glass of water and was staying pretty calm about things. Thankfully, my mum woke up not long after. She thought it was just my normal palpitation and perhaps we could go on the cross trainer to 'kick start it' – she does crack me up. Her thinking is unlike anyone else I have ever met which definitely rubs off onto me - a 'just get on with it' mentality. Luckily enough, I decided to contact the UKA doctor just to gather his thoughts and within seconds of sending it, he immediately called me. I then realised this perhaps was a little bit more serious than I had initially anticipated.

I was taken straight into the emergency hospital in Doha and given a heart scan and ECG which came back reading that in my lying resting state my heart rate was fluctuating between 180 down to 130, which for me would be like running a hard training session. Anytime I moved or attempted to stand up it went even higher and my blood pressure took a massive drop. My heart had gone into an irregular beat called Atrial Fibrillation. It is the same condition that Scottish olympic swimmer Michael Jamieson had. Supposedly very unique for such a young female to go into.

A few facts from the NHS website -

'Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, contract randomly and sometimes so fast that the heart muscle cannot relax properly between contractions. This reduces the heart's efficiency and performance.'
Atrial fibrillation occurs when abnormal electrical impulses suddenly start firing in the atria. These impulses override the heart's natural pacemaker, which can no longer control the rhythm of the heart. This causes you to have a highly irregular pulse rate.

The cause is not fully understood, but it tends to occur in certain groups of people and may be triggered by certain situations, such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or smoking'....

 Well.. you can be rest assured that I definitely wasn't drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or smoking. I was laid up, quite happily asleep in bed!

The doctor said he was going to have to stop my heart and re-start it again, initially I was pretty scared but he reassured me it was a simple procedure with little risk. However, it then came to his attention that the resuscitation room (which is needed for all emergency procedures) was full and so I would have to be moved to another hospital. He asked if I had taken out medical insurance to which I burst out into tears. I only booked my flight the evening before I left and so medical insurance wasn’t on my radar at all. It never even crossed my mind. He told me I would need to stay in over night to be monitored and the whole thing could rack up into the thousands. His advice – get the next plane home – which is exactly what I did. He gave me a medication, a type of beta-blocker, in order to slow the heart down and aspirin to avoid any blood clots. It was a really strange sensation as my heart got slower and slower to the point where I actually couldn’t feel it beat with my own hand or couldn’t feel my pulse anywhere! Thankfully though, it slowed down so much that it then went back into its regular beat whilst I was sitting on the plane home.

The next day I went straight to London to see a cardio specialist Professor Sharma. After more tests – he couldn’t explain why the heart had gone into that condition for just under 2 days. There really was no rhyme or reason – we just had to hope that it didn’t ever happen again. Perhaps, it was due to my heart being under stress from constant illness – perhaps the virus played a small part – they really cant be sure. I now have some tablets in which I carry with me at all times in case it ever happens again. The only way to completely irradiate the palpitations would be to undergo surgery to insert a special valve into the heart – the other option would be to take daily medication for the rest of my life which slows the heart down, but these effectively would slow me down in general life and so my athletics wouldn't be possible.
Pre Diamond League

It made sense to just monitor things and react as they happen. Every morning, I use a heart rate variability monitor which helps to register how tired the heart is. I also use heart rate monitors on every single run I do – again in order to monitor how tired I am and adapt in order to avoid something similar happening again. The whole ordeal was a little bit scary but it perhaps reinforced to me that I need to have other aspects to my life. In the hospital, lying next to people in the emergency room all I could think about was the fact I was missing a training session that evening (geeky). My mum couldn't believe it, the fact that it was my only concern when she thought I was having a heart attack! Athletics is hugely important to me and it still is – but i'm enjoying it again. I'm enjoying being more chilled about everything and going back to the way I used to be about it. Athletics is my job but more importantly it's my hobby and I need to remember that and not let things get too intense. 
Black Bear Lodge, Utah
So.... It wasn't just all training!!
Utah University

BYU University
Park City HS track
Shoe tree Park
My training spell in Park City, Utah definitely helped me enjoy running again. The routes were so scenic and we had a great group of athletes out there. After being ill for so long – it was nice to actually feel like a normal person again. I was more upbeat and alert during the day and made sure I was keeping myself busy. I knew my first steeplechase in Eugene at the Pre Classic Diamond League was going to be a horrible one. I had only been properly training for a few weeks and always feel very sluggish on the first two days down from altitude. Perhaps I shouldn’t of ran, but I was so excited to not be injured or ill for the first time in months! Right from the gun, I was dead. It felt like the starter had accidentally shot me. After the first lap and every proceeding lap – I considered dropping out – but I have never even dropped out of a session before, never mind a race! I came crawling home in the slowest time i've ever ran – 10.15. It's safe to say, I wasn’t a happy bunny to be around for the next week but it made me determined to turn things around knowing the Commonwealths were on the horizon. I then threw myself into a 3000m flat at the Stretford BMC. I joined the boys race and felt very flat. After taking my spikes off, I then received a text from my mum, saying I was to do the next 1500m race there was! She felt like I needed to get into that race zone but also felt that I hadn’t ran fast enough to justify missing a training session and so made me do the double! Weirdly enough, I actually felt OK but again, very one paced. I was determined in my next race to break 9 minutes but unfortunately that never happened either. The 3000m in Bilbao was a huge improvement in the way I was feeling. I felt good warming up and knew I could break 9minutes but the race was a strange one. My splits ended up being 2.58-3.07-2.57 which is a horrible way to run. My last 200m felt like I was running a PB – if someone had told me to try and run another metre – I honestly couldn’t of unless I had rolled around on my belly. But again, I was so disappointed with my time!
Jeremy Ranch, Utah

Prefontaine Classic
My next steeplechase wasn't much better either. In Gothenburg, after the first water jump, my spikes completely ripped. I couldn't believe it. My foot was hanging out the side like those women with big feet who try to ram their toes into sandals or stilettos. Then the next water jump....RIP... the other bloody shoe! I was ready to drown myself in the water jump. To be fair, my spikes were wet from my previous steeple and because I had been travelling from place to place they never got time to dry out – I also had been wearing them for a long, long time and so perhaps they were ready for the bin anyways. Nike were very generous to sort me out with brand new pairs that could probably last me the next few years! Lesson learned. After running the 3000m steeplechase wearing something resembling jesus sandals or flip-flops, my coach then decided that because I hadn’t ran fast enough – to go indoors and do 16x400m on the indoor track with 45 second recovery. All the other athletes were watching me as if I was a nutcase. I had looked awful racing and came close to last and now the crazy woman is doing a session 4mile session indoors in her trainers! Anyways, as they say – its all a big learning curve aye?

British Champs 2014
Things were starting to look brighter for me since those last few horror show races and I was feeling much more positive about the British Championships after running a some close to my best PB sessions. My coach always repeats sessions and so in my training diaries (yes – I am a geek), I can always look back and compare. Maybe not the best idea when you are running like a donkey but when things are going a little better its always a nice confidence boost. I don't really know who has a voodoo shaped doll of me, but yet again, bad luck struck me like lighting for about the 500th time this year. I ended up with food poisoning – TWO DAYS before the champs. In all honestly, it was completely by my own accord. With me travelling all the time, food is very limited in my house until I can be bothered to get my bum in gear and get along to Tesco (there are other shops available..). I usually try the tactic of 'sharing' (stealing) my housemate Muhktar Mohammed's food until I can be bothered to get my own. I had left some yoghurts out of the fridge for a few days.....well... 12 days to be exact. My other house mate – Michael Rimmer - was pretty adamant that the yoghurt would make me ill. Being my naturally Scottish stubborn self, I wanted to prove the boys wrong. I took a SINGLE teaspoon of it, even though it did look curdled - but weirdly enough it actually tasted alright with some sort of mango streak running through it. An hour later though, I was like the exorcist. Projectile vomiting all sorts of food and liquid. I couldn’t even drink water! The boys could hear me retching in the bathroom all throughout the night whilst shouting out every so often.. ' yeah i'm ok'. Fact is – I was not ok. I thought it was maybe the end of the world. After panic calling the doctor at midnight he said he could possibly give me a tablet in order to try stop the sickness and allow me to eat something as starving myself for a few days before trying to race the British Champs definitely wasn’t a good plan! Luckily enough the night before, I eventually managed to keep some substantial food down. Breakfast the following morning went down rather easily too – pastries galore – I was perhaps trying to do some calorie catching up.

Birmingham, 2014
Perhaps this latest bout of illness – self inflicted or not – helped calm me down a little. I really had no expectations going into the race as I had no idea how I would feel. I had no interest in the barriers – I just wanted to stay as close to the leader as possible and then run as fast as I could between the barriers over the last 400m. Which is what I managed to do. I couldn’t believe the time when I saw it – 9.50. Almost 13 seconds faster than the previous week and 25 seconds faster than Eugene – yet I felt so easy. The clock had been wrong for a few of the events I had watched earlier that day and so I was certain it was wrong – ultimately though – I didn’t care as I had successfully defended my british title for the third year running! Yay! As I walked out onto the track the mens 800m were battling it out over the last 160m. Both Michael and Muhktar have been a huge support to me over the last few months and have helped me out massively with timing sessions etc – so it really did help to watch them come in 1st and 2nd after all the difficulties they have run into too before the trials. I didn't want to be the odd one out, driving home in the car depressed when the two boys had ran out of their skin – I also wanted to do well.

Crossing the line – I didn't know wether to start laughing or crying. The latter was closer to happening but I was just so relieved to have won. I would have loved for my family to have been there and unfortunately there wasn’t a live stream as the BBC were being cheeky little monkeys not allowing anyone else the TV rights, but not showing any of the events on saturday live! I am now viewing this as the start of my season – everything else is in the past and I am dong my best to keep looking forward and keep improving. Next stop is Glasgow this weekend, of which my main aim is to secure the qualifying time of 9.43 for the European Championships. The race is stacked again but there are much more europeans in the field – which is what I need. A small group to drag me around. I know I am capable of running that qualifying time – how much under it – I am not so sure... I am definitely not in the same shape as last year and perhaps my expectations of myself for the Commonwealths are a little lower than they would have been had you asked me last year – but I'm doing everything within my ability to make sure I get as close as possible. If I can keep making these improvements in each race and in each session, i'm confident that by the time the Commies come around – i'll be around my personal best. Is that good enough for a medal? Who knows. Personally, I believe 1st and 2nd is out with my range with my current form but those minor medals are definitely in sight, for several athletes. If I came last and ran under 9.38 – I would be the proudest person in that stadium. I'm sure people will view it as a failure, if any of the scots don't medal but in the distance events - and in particular the steeplechase – it is of Olympic standard. In other events, the Commonwealth is a third tier competition after Olympics and Worlds but for some of the distance events and in particular the steeplechase – it is world class. Fingers crossed some of the public – perhaps not regular athletic goers – bear that in mind.

First time in Paris. 
6 pages of ramblings. If you've made it this far – i'm impressed or maybe slightly disturbed with the amount of spare time you have. This will definitely be my last blog before heading into the Holding Camp for Team Scotland on the 20th July. I will go into a little bit of a lock down similar to the Olympics. I think it's important to have that time to focus and distance yourself from the social media aspect of the sport. My mum is coming over to join me in the camp and so I am looking forward to having her eyes back on me during sessions and picking up some much needed advice going into a Home Commonwealth Games. Wish me luck. I could use some :)

One of the most amazing tracks I've had the pleasure of going to! 
Broughty Castle in Scotland being lit up with projections of me running for Scotrail's 2014 Sponsorship of the Games.