Laura Muir is hoping to clean up on the track throughout 2017 and she says that starting the year by getting caked in mud is the perfect way to help her do that.
The 23-year-old, who wrapped up the 1500m Diamond Race title last season and made it to the final in her first Olympic sojourn, is targeting a medal at the World Championships in London in the summer but, while she is heading off to sunnier climes this weekend, to get some warm weather training under her belt in South Africa, she will return to Scotland in time to compete in the Great Edinburgh International XCountry, on 7 January .
Ready to battle the anticipated boggy, winter conditions around the capital course in a bid to help Scotland retain the 4x1k relay crown they won 12 months ago, she believes that race will also aid her drive to get onto the podium at a major championships.
Fifth in the world in 2015, heralding her arrival as a serious contender over the metric mile, this season is geared towards advancement when London hosts the Championships, in August, and having made so much progress last season, she is reluctant to veer away from what she considers a tried and trusted schedule, especially as she derives so much pleasure from the cross country events and competing on home soil.
“[Cross country] is something I have always done since I first started running and I think it would be very difficult to train for five months on end without any races in between it,” she said. “It is great to get back into something with a competitive atmosphere and it really does toughen you up. It does give you that bit of fight and gets you started ahead of the summer. It is a great endurance race as well.
“I think it is more about the challenge. I like to challenge myself and I guess that is what every athlete does. We enjoy pushing ourselves to our limits and in cross country the conditions are tough, the weather is testing and it gives you lots of different challenges and tests you as an athlete. You find out what you are capable of and I like to go out there and see what I can do.”
The Glasgow University veterinary student has already won this year’s national 4k event, held in Renfrew earlier this month, and wants to add the Edinburgh title to her haul as she embarks on a new season which should only require some minor tweaks if she is to take the strong, consistent performances of last season and translate them into a World Championship medal.
“It will just be little things,” she added. “When a plan works and works well, then there is no sense in changing it. It is a matter of fine-tuning things and we will try a few little things to see if they work. We will try to do what we can to get the best results at the end of the day. I felt last year went really well and we have learned a lot from that and that will hopefully help in the years to come.
“It is a matter of training consistently and Andy [Young, her coach] has some great ideas. We are still at quite a low mileage so there are a number of areas where we can push on in terms of endurance and altitude heights as well. There is a lot of scope there with the things we can improve on but I am already running 3.55 so there is maybe not a huge amount of improving!”
That 3:55.22, in Paris, just after the Olympics, allowed her to break the British record previously held by Dame Kelly Holmes, pictured, for the second time in just over a month and made her the fastest woman in the world over 1500m during the 2016 season.
Despite all the accolades, her elevated place in the athletics world and the still burgeoning talent, she says she does not feel like a superstar but she does recognise the part she can play in inspiring others. At the national 4k she was inundated with selfie requests and people who wanted to glad hand her.
“It can be quite strange because I don’t really think of myself as a big athlete,” she said. “I still see myself as someone who competes for the university and I’m doing what I always have done. It is kind of strange but it is nice that people are recognising me and supporting me and are enjoying seeing me doing well. If I can be a role model by racing at the same races they race at then I think that’s good.
“That was my first race since the end of last season. It was great to be back and I was racing against a lot of the girls I grew up with so that was great. But it was good to be there for the younger ones. I think there was an interesting stat. I was something like 30th a few years ago.”
She has come a long way since but she is still seen waiting at the finishing line at these events to congratulate those who have given their all but have fallen shy of her high standard.
“I remember seeing it a couple of times before when people would win races and then just walk off and I remember thinking ‘that is such a shame’. People have worked their butt off to finish the race and then when they finish the race no-one is there and I think that is so sad,” she added. “I’ve always made a point of waiting and shaking hands when I can because although you all cross that finishing line in different positions, you have all worked really hard so everyone deserves a well done and a pat on the back at the end of a race.”