AFTER a year of injury-plagued frustration, Lynsey Sharp is back where she likes to be – living her life on fast forward.
Even a few weeks ago, the European 800 metres runner was uncertain of being in the Scotland team for the Commonwealth Games.
A long recovery following surgery to her leg had left her with little time to reach the qualifying standard, and she knew that just one more minor niggle – perhaps something as insignificant as a cold – could cause the final setback to put paid to her hopes.
Instead, she ran the time at a low-key meeting in Belgium late last month, then followed that up two days later with a personal best. Even for someone who is evidently a world-class athlete, such a return to form has been impressive.
Indeed, even calling it a return to form is not strictly accurate, because, as that PB of 2mins 0.09sec showed, Sharp is in fact on better form than ever before.
Now, having been officially selected to compete at 2014, she is able to look forward to further improvements. That so-called two-minute barrier could go at any time, and then the next target would be Susan Scott’s Scottish record of 1:59.02.
It is all a far cry from those days not so long ago when the 23-year-old from Edinburgh would sit in the gym, prohibited from outdoors track work on medical advice, and wonder if she would ever be back running in time to make the team. Indeed, as she recalled yesterday after being named in the final group of athletes who will represent Scotland, there was even a time when she asked herself if improving her cycling proficiency would be the more feasible route to selection for Glasgow.
“I absolutely killed myself in the gym while I was injured,” Sharp explained.
“The strength-and-conditioning coach at British Athletics gave me sessions that replicated track sessions, rather than doing random stuff.
“I also did bike sessions and probably pushed myself harder than I did on the track. I actually spoke to a girl called Elinor Barker, a cyclist who has just been selected for the Welsh team, who I know. This was back in November – but I actually asked her: ‘Right, what cycling event do you think I could do at the Games?’
“She told me I had a shot at team pursuit – and I honestly considered it. Genuinely. I remember saying that, if I couldn’t run for the next few months, I would definitely consider trying to make the cycling team. The daft thing is I hadn’t done a lot of cycling before, just in the last year. But there was a lot of angry cycling up hills and stuff, born of frustration at a problem after a really straightforward surgery.
“At the end of March, when I was supposed to be out in America, I was in hospital for a week. I remember sitting in the hospital bed, talking to me mum, counting the weeks left to the qualification deadline.
“I said to her: ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get from lying in a hospital bed to running the qualifying time.’ It’s been a bit of a miracle.
“All I had in my head was the qualifying time, but when I started racing, the only thing in my head was enjoying it again.
“So my times came down in chunks, racing rather than chasing times. The last couple of weeks have been a lot better, now that I’m back racing. I didn’t expect a personal best last weekend, although I knew I was in decent shape.
“I’m so much stronger than I was two years ago, having worked hard in the gym while I wasn’t able to run. But I’ve done hardly any steady running, so preparations have been totally different.
“The whole of 2012 I spent chasing times. I’ve matured now, I know just to race.”
In 2013, there was virtually no chasing of times, as after just a few races Sharp was told she would need surgery to remove the plantaris tendon from her left leg.
The surgery in itself was a success, but the infection in the wound caused a long, lingering problem. There must have been times when she was close to despair, but her mother, Carol, played a vital role in keeping her morale up.
“My mum was there throughout it. She was there through both surgeries, stayed by me in the hospital and was constantly on the phone.
“I was constantly sending her photos of my foot asking if it looked any better. She’s been great.
“It was basically a chronic infection on the place where I had the surgery. I was out for months. They thought they were going to have to open it up again, but the surgeon was amazing.
“He’s told me it’ll need fixed at the end of the season, but promised to get me through the next eight weeks. I think the doctors thought I was a bit of a nutter, putting it off – but they also understood how much work I’ve put into qualifying.
“Surgery would have put me out for another three weeks, into the middle of April before I even started running – leaving me maybe a month to get the time.
“It’s been a really strange experience.
“But now it feels like a normal year, having run a PB. And I’m fresh. Everything happens for a reason.
“It has been awful, I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through it – but if I was already a fighter this has made me a lot stronger.
“Someone asked me the other day how I can take a second off my time every time I race. My answer is that I’m just so angry, I’ve been waiting to compete for so long, that I make it worth it every time I race.
“I need to stay angry when I’m racing, because the event is so strong in Scotland and the UK. I can’t afford to just go out and have an average race, because everyone is constantly stepping up.”
And that anger was even present last weekend when she set her new personal best at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games in Hengelo in the Netherlands.
“I was annoyed to be outside the two-minute mark at the weekend – by nine-hundredths of a second – so that’s the next barrier,” she explained.
“I wasn’t chasing the time, though. Maybe if I’d known I was that close to it, I might have made it.”