Monday, 8 December 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.


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. 


Friday, 5 December 2014

Friday Fave - Winter Jacket

Perhaps not something I will be going running in but it's definitely keeping me nice and warm jogging to and from training! Absolutely love this bright blue jacket – so much that it's become my winter jacket and replaced my casual clothes! Had a look on the Nike store but can't seem to find it but it's worth the investment!




Another thing that has been constantly attached to my person is my new neck warmer. I don't exactly know what it's official name is but it is like a headband but much much thicker. For running outside in the cold - it has been a dream! Keeps your core temperature much higher and makes me feel a lot more comfortable breathing in such cold air all the time!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

3 Minute Efforts

I was very fortunate a few weeks ago to join in with a few other athletes for a session of 3 minute efforts. Muhktar Mohammed, Michael Rimmer, Megan Edwards and Nathan Woodward (all 800m runners) were doing similar sessions so we bunched together. That's definitely one of the major positives to living in Loughborough - it is an elite environment. Athletes from all different distances and events are willing to compromise in order to train together and get the benefits of a team effort!

The recovery was extended to 90 seconds in order to allow us all to start the reps together and the 800 guys split the reps up into sets whilst I slogged along and did them straight off! The perks of being a distance athlete.......


It makes a HUGE difference being in a competitive environment. Even just to warm up socially with other people – keeps the buzz of running and makes you remember why you do the sport you love.

I'm becoming a lot more confident running on uneven grass again after breaking my foot in 2011 – it has taken a long time to get some mobility back into my ankle to allow me to run on grass but the benefits are definitely starting to be reaped.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Berry Smoothie

I have become addicted to fruit smoothies especially as a recovery shake after my training runs. Since i've been doing it, i've definitely picked up less illnesses than previously – perhaps it's a complete coincidence but they're also great tasting so it's not exactly a chore to keep up with!

You can pick and choose anything you want to throw in really – that's the beauty of it! At the moment – I just use a general hand blender as I haven't had the time to go out and buy a proper blender!! 

This is one of my favourites. A banana, a splash of apple juice (or any fruit juice), frozen berries, 4 tablespoons of Natural Greek (not greek style) yoghurt bought from Tesco Finest (I'm sure other yoghurts with high protein would also be fine..)

I am not a nutritionist by any means so don't take this as bible.. but we were advised by a nutritionist that it was a good way of getting in some vitamins and micronutrients alongside some protein and carbs for after running. For me, I definitely feel the benefits.



Friday, 28 November 2014

Friday Fave. Winter Leggings!

As the cold winter months creep in, the dark nights become a little awkward for us distance runners! Running around the paths and roads in the pitch black can sometimes be a little hazardous! It’s important if you are going outside and braving the cold that you are wrapped up properly.

I always find it much more comfortable being too warm on a run rather than being too cold! It definitely keeps me healthier too and illness free by not allowing my immune system to be suppressed in such cold conditions. Headband, gloves and a warm running jacket are essential.



These Nike leggings have been an absolute blessing! They are of a different material to my other leggings – very thick and so keep all the heat inside, plus they are super reflective which is much safer for you to be seen by cars! Nike Flash Leggings.

http://store.nike.com/gb/en_gb/pd/flash-running-tights/pid-1556597/pgid-10259696




Thursday, 27 November 2014

Hurdle Drills

The biggest change to my training program has been the input I have put in towards my hurdling. I've never had the opportunity to really focus on it before due to previous injuries and then illness.

I have started to do hurdle drills under the watchful eye of Nick Dakin. So far it has been one of the most valuable things I have ever done. Previously, I had never done any sort of hurdle work apart from one or two sessions before major races! But now they are a consistent part of my training program - not only increasing the mobility of my hips but more importantly increasing my confidence over the hurdles.

 I used to only be able to hurdle off my dominant leg ONLY – but we are in the process of changing this through drills and I can see and feel a big difference already.

Drills are not just specific for steeplechase or hurdling. Many of the athletes i've seen down at the track - from sprinters to marathon runners - all do certain drills involving hurdles. They help strengthen the hips and glutes which is important for running any distance and really enforce the the correct movement patterns for running, driving the knee through!



Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Birthday Session!

Unfortunately for me, my birthday this year just happened to coincide with my normal Tuesday Track day. Perhaps even more soul destroying was the fact it was -2 degrees when I jogged to the track this morning to meet Gemma Steel for our session! The weather has taken a huge dip in temperature the last few days but for track sessions – I actually quite enjoy it – wrapping up in my layers like an eskimo! The air is much more crisp which is perfect for a hard track session.



This morning we were treated to a shorter and faster session due to the fact we are both racing this weekend. It was nice to get the legs moving, as this time of year my sessions are usually all done at tempo pace – long reps and short recovery – so it was nice to switch it up!



We started with 5x1000m reps but the session cut down to end on 5x200m's.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Athlete Pizza

Another food favourite of mine – 5 Minute Athlete Pizza. Being a busy athlete, sometimes the last thing I want to do is cook and prepare food. As a quick 5minute fix for my lunch – this has been ideal.

It sounds a little weird but I love it as a quick snack. I use any wrap, usually wholemeal as they are a little thicker, spread some tomato passata on the base, add peppers, salami, fennel seeds, basil leaves and then cover with some grated cheese – usually mozzarella or cheddar. 

The base is a little strange to get used to and perhaps doesn't quite qualify as a standard 'pizza' but it still tastes good! The 'pizza' is then placed under the grill at the highest heat for a minute or so. 


Monday, 6 October 2014

Loneliness of a Distance Runner!

The loneliness of the distance runner! This was one of my first sessions back after my end of season break.

20X400m on the track down at Stretford, Manchester. It was absolutely freezing and a tough session to slog out all alone. Tuesdays are almost always on the track for me. Thankfully now, I get to do the majority of my sessions with the wonderful Gemma Steel rather than completely on my own.


She really is amazing to train with. Such a strong athlete – setting the pace from the word go and consistent in her times, lap after lap. Training with a 10K, half marathoner is definitely having a positive affect on my fitness - it makes me focus on becoming a lot stronger over the longer distances and using my strength to produce some speed in the summer season. I don't get the chance to day-dream within the longer sessions and loose concentration because Gemma is ON IT. Every rep is important.


20x 400s is a key session for me throughout the year and we even sometimes revisit it over the summer in order to see where my endurance is at. Repeating the same session at certain points throughout the year allows you to gauge exactly where you are and compare to previous times which I find vitally important in order to learn what works and doesn't work for you as an athlete.

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... :)
Siblingssssss
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.
Doha

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
BYU
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
Nike 
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.

Relieffffff.
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. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Hampden


With less than 50 days to go until the Commonwealth Games begin – things are definitely starting to become exciting. Today, I witnessed the official opening of the track at Hampden and was extremely honoured to be the first athlete to get my feet on the track. It was an amazing feeling being able to see something that I have seen in computerised pictures – come to life. The stadium really does look the part and it is definitely of the highest quality. The seats arranged in the fashion of the saltire really does hit home how special these games will be for all the Scottish athletes.




It was my first ever time stepping into Hampden, after missing the opportunity to come and experience the Hampden roar at a football match due to my training commitments – so it was a great to be inside and get a feel for how the stadium will be during the Games. I'm sure with the seats backed to the brim – 40,000 full – it will look significantly more petrifying than it did today! Fortunately for me, I will get to compete twice in the new stadium – firstly, at the test event – the Glasgow Diamond League. It will be even more special to me, knowing all my family and friends have managed to get tickets for both events. I don't get to compete in Scotland very often so to have two competitions this year on my home soil is hugely exciting.
After missing some consistent training due to illness, it was great to have a full months training with no interruptions, out in Park City, Utah. The most recent camp has definitely given me a bit more confidence going into my racing season – knowing that with every training session I do there are significant improvements.
Consistency and improvement is VITAL over these next 50 days heading into the Games and rest assured I am doing absolutely everything within my ability to make sure I am in the best shape of my life and fighting fit on that start-line. 2014 has been a long wait for me and i'm definitely not going to miss this opportunity of a lifetime.