Two Saturdays ago, my mobile phone reinforced the extraordinary reach of social media. Eilish McColgan had snaffled a photo I’d posted on Twitter of her victory in a street race in Newcastle and tagged me on her personal feed.
My screen lit up. Notification number one. Several hours later, the pings had repeated more than one thousand times. I was glad I had a battery charger. Likes and re-posts make for thirsty work. An athlete sharing insights in their life can generate a captive audience, one as eager for twists and turns as soap opera addicts or Netflix bingers.
The Dundonian, to use the lexicon of Instagram, has become a bona fide influencer. The trade may be the athletic graft required to prepare for the IAAF World Championships which begin in Doha on Friday. The sideline is the cultivation of a personal brand for the European Championship medallist which has facilitated sponsor deals with partners as diverse as headphone manufacturers and potato-less crisps.
A slightly accidental spin-off, the 28-year-old assures me, of enjoying the open channel of communication it affords her. “Even the way that I connect with my own siblings is literally through social media,” she acknowledges. “It’s the way everyone interacts now and I think you change with it or you don’t.
“I had about four little kids last night who randomly sent me pictures of their recent races. One girl had won a 5K and she was 12. Somebody else did a 200m relay and their team had come third.”
Much more wheat than chaff in her inbox, she insists. “And when I was that age, I would have loved to have been able to speak to Paula Radcliffe or Kelly Holmes and ask a question. There’s obviously going to be one or two bad eggs on the way but at the same time, the positives far outweigh any negatives.”
Of course, the younger McColgan could have begged her Mum, Liz, to use her own status to arrange a chinwag with any legend going. The duo, also pupil and coach, plan to converse this evening by phone. Then daughter will decide whether to attempt a 5,000-10,000 metres double at the worlds or opt solely for the shorter distance.
While many in the British team will make their maiden voyage to Doha this week, it has become a second home for McColgan since her mother relocated when her husband John Nuttall took up a coaching role there five years ago.
Pending, post-Doha, is the potential of an emotional Olympic excursion in Tokyo next summer where Liz once claimed a world title of her own. Yet the younger McColgan is also following in her footsteps into her second trade, establishing a coaching initiative with her partner Michael Rimmer which allows both to spread wisdom and provide encouragement.
“It’s been inspirational for us as well,” affirms the double Olympian who has graduated as a qualified coach. “Obviously, we work hard in the sport that we do. But, every individual that we coach works just as hard. Some are working as on-call doctors and having to be on shift all weekend. Then on the Monday morning, they’re going for an 18-mile run and you think ‘wow’. And it’s really satisfying also when they achieve their goals. You feel you’re part of that.”
They, and her growing band of Instafans, will take their turn to follow her exploits over the next fortnight. Ones, she trusts, which will light up the screen.