LEE McConnell is due to give birth to her first child any day but remains determined not to miss the Commonwealth Games that will take over her home city next summer, and that is a prospect which is almost as exciting to Eilidh Child as her own Glasgow medal quest.
Three-times Commonwealth athlete McConnell, taking inspiration from running mothers such as Paula Radcliffe, has continued to train throughout her pregnancy. The 35-year-old was recently dealt the wounding, but not unexpected, blow of having her funding cut by UK Sport, but she was still training as recently as Sunday, going up and down steps and stepping and stretching on benches.
McConnell, having relaxed her running workload, only stopped pounding the track six weeks ago and moved her fitness work to the pool. She won silver in Manchester in 2002 and bronze four years later in Melbourne, and Child would consider Scotland’s 4x400 metres relay hopes next year to be greatly diminished without the “glue that holds the team together”.
Child, appearing at Grangemouth Stadium two days after being named Kukri Athlete of the Year by Scottish Athletics, said: “I remember speaking to her after the Olympics. During them, she said she was going to retire. Then I was speaking to her and she was back training. I said: ‘you’re going to run in Glasgow aren’t you?’ And she said: ‘yeah, I think so’. It would be incredible.
“She’s definitely driven to do it. If she came back and ran well, that would be an amazing story. From a relay point of view, we all want her to come back. We’re not putting any pressure on her. Hopefully, she has a healthy birth but we’re eager for her to come back because she’s a vital part of our team. Not only because of her ability but her experience as well.
“She’s a leader, someone you go to for a little advice. She’s the glue that holds the team together so it would be great if she comes back. I know she’s been training this week so she’s definitely determined.”
Fending off a cold to adhere to her commitments, as is Child’s style, the 400m hurdler faced a line of questioning that pushed her down the road of detailing the grim, dark mornings when the only thing that makes training in ice-cold rain is the thought of seeing the Saltire raised in her honour in front of 50,000 people at Hampden Park.
No athlete has an easy life, but Child stopped short of scripting a tale of woe when admitting that she arrives for training in fully-lit Bath at 9.30am, just when Michael Jamieson, Scotland’s Olympic silver-medallist swimmer, is heading home, and that he returns for his second session before she finishes her morning’s work.
Winter training is winter training, though. It is certainly the grit compared to the glamour of summer competition.
“This is the hardest part. People always think the competing is the hardest bit but it’s not. It’s everything now, because this is when you put in all the work,” she said. “When you get to a race, all the hard work’s done. You just relax and get on with it. This is the long slog, when you know that on the dark mornings, when it’s horrible weather, you still have to get out and do the sessions.”
“[The hardest part is] probably just the rain. A couple of weeks ago, we went out for a run and, as soon as we left the university, the heavens opened. Once you’re wet at the start, you can’t get back from that. You’re just freezing. But you don’t mind it. Once it’s over, you feel so much better for it. But at the time, you ask: ‘why are we doing this? Why are we trudging through muddy fields and getting soaking wet? Especially down in Bath, where we train, you’re just open to the hills so, if it’s bad weather, you’re screwed.
“We’ll go to South Africa for warm weather in January for three weeks. It’s nice to have that to look forward to because at least you know you’re going to get three weeks solid training in without any disruptions. When it’s snowing, you sometimes don’t know if you’ll get your sessions in.
“When I’m having those hard sessions, I just think: ‘I don’t want to be coming to Glasgow thinking I missed this or I missed that.’ I think about my rivals as well, how they’re not going to be skipping things. That just gives you that bit of extra motivation to get my butt in gear.”
Talking of motivation, 26-year-old Child has been working closely with psychologist Mike Cunningham since the London Olympics, and keeping her mind clear will be key over the next nine months given the medal expectation that will inevitably envelop Scotland’s pre-eminent athlete.
“Sometimes, you can get carried away when you think about everything. Mike’s got no connection with athletics whatsoever at well so it’s good to chat to someone who doesn’t know a lot about it,” she said.
“Sometimes, you can say things out loud and it makes a bit more sense. I just speak to him once a week and talk about what I’m going to do next and that keeps you a bit more grounded.
“You can let things get on top of you and let the pressure get to you. We’re only human at the end of the day. You can only control what you can do. What I talk to him about is what I can control. I can’t control what anybody else does. I can go to Glasgow and be on the start line, having done everything I can to be in the best shape. If that’s enough to win, that’s great. If it’s not, then it’s not.”