QUALIFYING for the Commonwealth Games last weekend was not only a massive relief in itself.
By recording the required time, it also means that I am now free to concentrate on doing what is best for my preparation rather than chasing races round Europe.
Without wishing to sound tooimmodest, the qualifying time should have been something I took in my stride -– and I’m sure it would have been had I not needed surgery twice in the past year. The time required for the 800 metres is two minutes 2.80 seconds, whereas my personal best is 2:00.52.
That’s a big safety margin, and if I had been able to train properly over the winter it would have been no problem, because in 2012, that mark of 2:02.80 would have been the slowest time I ran the whole year. Instead, a qualifying time that should have been no more than a milestone en route to Glasgow threatened to become a millstone. It forced me to change my schedule in search of meetings where I would have a chance of qualifying, and with the 8 June deadline fastapproaching, the stress was fast beginning to build.
In fact, my stress levels were probably never higher than just before the race in Lokeren, Belgium, last week where I recorded the time I needed – 2:02.42. We had been told there was a pacemaker who would take us through the first lap in around 59 seconds, and I even saw her warming up before the race, so I presumed all was well.
But for some reason, she pulled out just before the start. As the other runners had nothing so urgent to worry about, I was left running on my own from gun to tape. Thankfully, I felt really good, and was able to push hard over the last 200m to ensure my place.
It was a useful lesson in adapting to circumstances, and making sure you are not fazed by any unforeseen change to your routine. Having said that, it was a pretty perplexing start to the race and not something I would choose to experience again in a hurry.
Anyway, with the time out of the way the main thing now is that I can choose whether to race or not over the next two or three weeks. My coaches and I can sit down and plan a training schedule, and if we think that a bit of race practice would be beneficial at this stage, there are a couple of big meetings on the continent that I should be able to enter.
If I do enter a meeting, I can concentrate on tactics or any other aspect of my running that needs attention rather than simply focusing on an all-important qualifying time. But if we decide that a more solid block of training is required, we now have the option to do that.
Still, while I’ve put that stressful experience behind me, it’s not as if I now plan to have a relaxing time over the next couple of months. Getting the time is only the first step, and all being well, by the time the Games come round I will be running much faster. It’s hard to say for sure what I would have done, but had the Games been anywhere other than Glasgow this year, there would have been a strong temptation to err on the safe side, give myself longer to build up my strength and race fitness following surgery, and miss out on the Games. Especially with a European title to defend – if I qualify for Team GB, and if I am in shape to do myself justice – it would have been a lot simpler in terms of planning, and certainly a lot less stressful, to concentrate on getting fit for mid-August in Switzerland rather than late July in Scotland.
But having the Games in Glasgow means so much to me, and that has made me all the more determined to get into the team. Some of my earliest memories in athletics are of sprinting for City of Glasgow AC when I was about ten or 11, so I feel that affinity towards the city, as well as it being my mum’s home town.
For those reasons, too, as well as personal ambition, I was relieved to qualify. Now, rather than wondering if I will get to compete at Hampden, I can go into every training session encouraged by the knowledge that I will be there.