ATHLETICS may appear to be a very individual sport, but behind every competitor there are dozens of people whose support, either practical or personal, is vital. The coaches, physiotherapists and other specialists who work with me and others at British Athletics are all essential to whatever success we achieve, but before I even got to the point of being able to call on them, I owed an incalculable amount to three other people: my sister Carly and our parents, Carol and Cameron.
Carly is my best friend as well as being my sister. We are so close, and I can talk to her about anything. She is really interested in my career, and she will come and watch my races as often as she can – and when work or other reasons prevent her from getting to a meeting, she’ll watch online. She even gets more nervous than I do for my races!
We do have very different personalities: our mum says she was always the more mischievous one, up to no good, whereas I was always the sensible one. I’m three years younger than Carly, and when she started athletics around the age of nine I was desperate to take part too, but wasn’t allowed then.
Then there was one race she had entered, a cross-country for under-11s, when I was told I couldn’t do that but could go in for a fun run instead. I wasn’t having that, so I just joined in the cross-country with her, even though I was only eight. No-one seems to remember whether either of us won, or who finished before the other, but that’s not the point: that race showed how eager I was to get involved in athletics – and how much I looked up to Carly and wanted to join in with what she was doing.
Both my parents are my inspirations and role models. Mum has been the single biggest influence on my career from day one, and from the time I really began in athletics at the age of ten, she would drive me all over the country for events. She also used to drive me to Dundee for training on weekdays after school.
As I’ve got older she has always come to watch me abroad. She has also been a huge support mentally, and I’m so lucky that she was involved in the sport in the same event, so she understands the ups and downs, the injuries and other problems I face as an 800-metre runner.
Mum still teaches at the Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools, which Carly and I attended, and she was an athletics coach for much of the time we were there too, which meant that, from a very young age, I was part of an athletics environment. She doesn’t coach any more, but I still value her opinion highly. It is also important that she did not push me into things, whether in terms of sport or other interests, but instead supported my decisions once I made them.
I have always quizzed my dad about his experience in the sport, and again I am so lucky to have someone who competed at the same level as me and can give me his knowledge of the ins and outs of athletics. Although it’s not been as easy for him to come and watch me, as he was severely injured in a car accident more than 20 years ago, he always finds live feeds to watch online and is always up to date with anything I do.
Dad has influenced me hugely, and I’m very aware of what he achieved – he was a gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games and a silver medallist in the European Championships, among many other things. His influence on my career may not have been as direct as mum’s, because he was a sprinter whereas she was a middle-distance runner, but maybe I’m closer to him in terms of personality, whereas Carly is more like mum.
Being based in Loughborough, my working life is part of a system which includes sports scientists and psychologists, soft-tissue therapists and doctors, and, as I said, all those people are indispensable to an athlete. But it’s just as important to me to know that, when I do come back to Edinburgh, whether for a few days or a longer break, I can have that escape from professional life in Loughborough.
I may be closest to my family, but there are so many people and places here that are familiar and reassuring, it’s almost like a therapy in itself to come back. There are places we always go to in Edinburgh, such as cafes and restaurants, where people will offer unconditional support. They treat me no differently whether I’ve just been in an Olympic final, as was the case last year, or haven’t raced for months, as happened this season. That is why, no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve done, it’s always a joy to come home.