FOR most 800 metres specialists, the opportunity to train in Kenya, where some of his event’s best talent is hewn, would be too tempting to turn down, but Guy Learmonth is his own man and he has rejected the offer.
History would suggest that, for now, it is a smart decision.
It has nothing to do with a lack of adventure and everything to do with ensuring he is at his peak by the time the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow in less than a year. The last time he tried to train at altitude, in Font Remeu, in the French Pyrenees, early this year, he was left heavy-legged and was forced to take time out from competing. It threatened to overshadow a whole season designed to secure the qualification time for the Games.
For a determined competitor with an ebullient, up-and-at-’em attitude, that spell on the sidelines was torture, but it proved worthwhile as he returned in time for the final few meetings and managed to dip before the 1:47.50 standard required to pull on a Scotland vest next summer.
“I am absolutely ecstatic,” said the 21-year-old, who was amongst the first raft of team members named by Commonwealth Games Scotland last week. “Personally, it has been a tough ride for me to get here. I have had a few injuries and I was in Font Romeu for altitude training for the month of April and came back with niggly effects. I couldn’t get moving and then I tried harder in training to get back to where I was and got some injuries on my glutes and stuff. It took me about eight weeks to get these legs moving again. I ran the qualifying time pretty much on the last two races of the season, so I left it ’til the eleventh hour, you could say.”
It required some family intervention, though. His brother had actually advised him to cut his losses and write off the season but for such a strong character that was never really an option, not when he knew getting the time this term would make such a difference to his hopes next year.
“I said there is no way. That was July. I said ‘I can’t take time off. I have to keep going’ and that really defined who I am, the way I kept going. I am pretty resilient and this season has made me even more resilient.”
In the end Learmonth’s father intervened, suggesting a compromise.
“I got a million tests done and they all came back saying I was fine but I knew I wasn’t because I couldn’t run fast. It didn’t matter what the blood tests said, my legs weren’t moving fast. It was a tough one. My dad told me to take four weeks away from competition and that was the best advice. I just trained for four weeks and when I came back out I pretty much ran the Commonwealth standard instantly. It was the best thing I could have done. It is a massive delight.
“It was always the goal to get selected a year in advance really. I sat with the coaches and we all said let’s nail these times so I can go into the winter and focus on the Games. It is a big, big weight off my shoulders knowing the coaches can plan so I can peak at the end of July when I need to be at my best. So although it was a hard season, I can’t complain. The hard work begins now. I just have to stay injury and illness free for next year.”
That desire is over-riding, which is why he has turned down a proposed training trip to Kenya next month. “I think with what happened after April this year I am going to give it a miss. Altitude training does do fantastic things but in the year up to the Commonwealths I am not going to risk it!”
Instead he will stay at Loughbrough, where he is based, concentrate on the final dissertation for his Sports Management course and lay down some solid foundations with a gruelling winter training schedule.
“Good old lactic acid!” he jokes, not relishing but embracing what lies ahead. “There is no substitute for hard work and I am determined to be the best I can be. Hard work and dedication is what it takes, really.”
As one of the athletes selected by Dame Kelly Holmes as part of her mentoring scheme, he knows the effort will be worth it, though. Before her landmark success in Athens, it was the buzz of her home Commonwealth Games, in Manchester, which offered real inspiration. “Before she won her double gold at the Olympics she won bronze at the Commonwealths, so I will be looking to her for some words of wisdom and advice. It is going to be absolutely amazing running for my country in Scotland. I just want to do everyone proud. I got a small taste of running in the Olympic Stadium last year, obviously not the Olympics but in the British University Championships, and the atmosphere was amazing.”
A rugby fan, having grown up in the Borders and played the sport into his teenage years, it was actually a trip to a football match that really got his juices flowing. The national stadium will host next year’s athletics events and he says he can’t wait to get the backing of the Tartan Army.
“Scottish Athletics took us to Hampden in March to go to Scotland v Wales in the World Cup qualifier and the atmosphere was out of this world – it was so exciting. It is going to be incredible, 40,000 Scots screaming for anyone with a Scots vest on. They are going to go wild. I am so honoured to be a part of it; the whole experience, the village, the being with the team, everyone feeding off each other. I am friends with Eilidh Child and Eilish McColgan and they have been through it all before at Olympics and World Championships, so being able to get advice from them is going to be amazing.
“Running in front of 40,000 Scots will be the best. You can feel the hype and excitement already and it will rocket in the build-up to the Games.”
After such a hellish year, it’s all the incentive Learmonth will need this winter.