NATALIE Milne spends next to no time scrutinising the back of her hand. But even if she did, she would not know it half as well as she knows the course for the Commonwealth Games triathlon competition.
The 25-year-old lives in Causewayhead and usually does a lot of training around the Stirling area. But she has spent some quality time recently around the Games course in Strathclyde Country Park, and it becomes clear when she is asked to describe the course that she has a very detailed picture of it embedded in her head.
Scots athletes hope to enjoy home advantage in all 17 sports, of course, but in triathlon it could be more advantageous than in most. A hockey pitch is the same dimensions the world over, for example. Same with a velodrome, an athletics track and a boxing ring.
But in the triathlon, variations in courses can play a bigger part in the outcome than just having a few more supporters than usual to cheer you on. What’s more, the nature of this particular course could present difficulties for those competitors accustomed to racing in more benign circumstances.
“It’s an interesting course,” Milne says. “I’d say it’s challenging. There’s no flat as such: you’re either going up or going down. It’s undulating. Then there’s a nice wee climb half-way round. Because I’ve been able to train on it it gives me a little bit of an advantage over some of the girls who’re going to be out there in the race.”
Spectators will be able to see the action in the park for free, with the men’s and women’s individual races taking place on Thursday, the day after the opening ceremony. Two days later, Milne will be in action, in the inaugural mixed team event.
“The swim’s in the loch, so it should be pretty easy for spectators to see,” she explains. “Then from the loch you’re on to the bike. It’s flat and then it’s a bit uphill. You turn left and go uphill a bit, then downhill again, then uphill again and a long downhill,” she continues, reading through the course in her mind’s eye.
“The swimming is my strongest,” Milne adds. “I enjoy all three, but having been a swimmer for most of my life, it’s my strongest.”
Milne actually began her sporting life as a runner in primary school in Pitreavie, where hurdler Eilidh Child was a couple of years above her. The two were also at Kinross High School, where they were joined by athlete Laura Muir and badminton player Patrick McHugh, both of whom are also in Team Scotland.
When you hear that Milne’s younger brother Cameron and both their parents are also triathletes, you might presume that she was predestined to end up in the sport. But in fact she led the way, recruiting the rest of her family after being persuaded at school to give triathlon a go. “A teacher said it would be a good idea to take part in triathlons, because I was swimming in competitions and doing a bit of cross country as well.
“I still enjoyed running: I just didn’t have time to go to an athletics club. She said I should give the Scottish Schools Triathlon a go, but I thought ‘I can’t, I can’t, I have Scottish nationals and can’t miss it’. Then one year I just decided to do it in Galashiels, and enjoyed it from there.
“I won it – but there was only me in my age group! I was 16.
“I got involved in triathlon first. Then my little brother Cameron, who’s 21, gave it a go.
“Then my mum decided to give it a go when she saw us training. And my dad has done two, but I don’t think he’ll do many more – he did it for the experience but his bike broke both times he did it.
“Cameron was quite close to getting to the Games as well. He missed out by a fraction.
“It was two or three years ago when my parents had a go. They’re in their fifties. My mum’s a runner anyway and has done a few marathons.
“My dad did the mini rugby in Kinross, which my brothers went to and so did I. They supported us with our swimming, taking us back and forward. I would come back from school, have tea and then jump in the car for training. That was every night and the same at weekends.”
As the mixed relay is making its debut at the Games, predicting the outcome is a perilous business which Milne declines to take part in. Instead, she will simply concentrate on her own performance, and hope that – thanks in part to that intimate knowledge of the course – it will be good enough.