THE weekend saw my first competitive outing since last August, and although I have been ploughing in the hard work at training I was a little ring rusty.
The main purpose of competing at the Scottish Athletics National Open was to blow off the cobwebs ahead of the Sainsbury’s Glasgow International Match on Saturday, an important fixture in my short indoor campaign.
It was a successful competition. I produced my fastest ever indoor time for the 400 metres, 47.09 seconds, which also puts me in the history books as the second fastest Scot in an indoor 400m.
Although the competition wasn’t the smoothest, with a few delays which play havoc with your warm-up and preparation, I was lucky to have the support of my training family on the day to ensure I put down a good performance. Along with coach Piotr Haczek and my training group Sco400, we were lucky to have our physiotherapist, Stephen Mutch, trackside at the event.
I have been working with Mutcho, as we call him, for the past three years and he has been an important part of my progress. I consider him as part of our training family – that slightly eccentric uncle that every family has – and I will see him most weeks at Space Clinics to keep my body in shape and keep the injuries at bay.
With that first taste of competition, I am now really looking forward to the Sainsbury’ s Glasgow International Match. It will be a big occasion for me, stepping out to a near capacity crowd and getting my first taste of home support in what will be a really big year. There will be almost 5,000 spectators raising the roof at the Emirates Arena and, having seen this fixture on the television before, I know the atmosphere will be electric. My race will be extremely competitive and I hope to give the Scottish support a worthy performance on Burns night.
Once the excitement of the weekend is over, I’ll return to my usual routine of combining training with work. As well as my part-time post as an athletics development officer with East Lothian Council and enjoyleisure, I’m also a part of the Winning Scotland Foundation’s Champions in Schools programme, which this year will see me make three visits to the Wester Hailes Education Centre.
This is my third year with Champions in Schools, a programme that uses international Scottish athletes to give young people in schools a positive role model. I really enjoy being part of the programme, and feel that I have learnt a great deal about myself through helping the young people I have met.
Next week will be my first visit, and it can be intimidating at first when you’re standing in front of a group of 20 or 30 kids, especially when they are expecting a household sporting superstar like Chris Hoy or Jessica Ennis-Hill. During my first visit I talk about how I got into athletics, and some of my sporting highlights so far. I also discuss the importance of goal-setting – not only in sport, but in their own lives as well.
I normally try to tie in a fun activity – some balance and coordination games or even just some jogging to get their blood pumping. Then before I leave I ask them to set themselves a goal for the next visit – whether it’s jogging a lap of the track, or coming up with a homework plan. It all depends on what age they are.
On my second visit we talk about how everyone got on with their goals and whether they managed to succeed. I tell them that reviewing their goal and progress is more important than making it in the first place: what might have stopped them from achieving it, for example, or what their next step is going to be.
Then we talk about true fitness and healthy lifestyles – something in modern society that will dominate young people’s lives as they grow up. One thing I put a lot of emphasis on is having a good diet: do they really need a sugary sports drink before playing a game of football, for example? And we talk about different food groups – one thing I’ ve asked them in the past is what kind of meal they might make for me before a big training session during a training camp. I was quite impressed with most of the suggestions. A chicken salad with brown bread was one of the good ones that showed they understood the need for balance.
The third visit is perhaps the subject I am most passionate about: winning attitudes. Sport is competitive, but there is a big difference between, say, winning a medal or winning a match, and personal success.
In athletics it may be quite easy to assess improvement, because each time you’re racing against your own personal best. In team sports it’s different: did you play better as an individual, how can you learn from your mistakes? Although only one team might win a match or only three medals are awarded in each event, personal success is being able to say you have given your best effort to that performance.
We often look at top sporting personalities and say they have talent, far too often underestimating the years of training and practice that a sportsperson has put in to get to where they are today.
When I am talking to a class, either with Champions in Schools or as a member of Team East Lothian, what I like to share with them is that when I was their age I was rubbish! I didn’ t show any real talent then. Even at school there would be kids who would beat me in sprints, and they were footballers or rugby players, not even in my sport.
Then I improved: I put in the hard work and the extra effort and really applied myself to athletics because I enjoyed it. It helped that I was encouraged by my coach at the time, Charlie Forbes. And I look to inspire kids and help them get the best out of themselves, just like Charlie did for me. Even if I only influence one person in each class or each club, I still think that’ s worthwhile.
What I leave the kids to think about is that you might not be No 1 in your club or district or even in your school class at the moment, but if you really want something and put in that extra effort then you can improve. And if you carry on improving and bettering yourself then you can hit that goal.
You can follow my week’s training ahead of the Sainsbury’s Glasgow International Match on Twitter with my training family @sco400.
• The Sainsbury’s Glasgow International Match will be live on BBC One from 1.45pm on Saturday 25 January.