It felt, Eilish McColgan declared at the time, like being “kicked in the ovaries” for 20 laps that felt like they’d never end. A race where the European Championship medallist had hoped for a smooth pace but where the onset of her period during the warm-up had knocked body, and then mind, off track.
Thousands of miles from home in California, the 28-year-old unloaded on Instagram as a means of online self-therapy. The mayhem often wreaked by the menstrual cycle, she knows, remains quite the taboo even between female athletes. But then the messages began to flood in, from young girls and old, sharing tales of the impact and why they found it awkward to speak out.
“I did my best to reply to them all but I couldn’t,” reveals the Dundonian, who will race the mile at today’s Diamond League meeting in Birmingham. “It’s just something they feel reluctant to chat about, even with their coaches. It’s a shame because every guy has a female in their family, a mum or a wife or a sister.
“They’re all going through that every single month. It’s a shame it’s not discussed more. I’m lucky I’ve got my mum. My boyfriend is great too. My physio used to be an athlete and his girlfriend has bad problems with her cycle too. I’m lucky in that I’ve got a sensitive team around me and it’s no big deal to say ‘this is bad’.”
It has been increasingly less off-limits, with long jumper Jazmin Sawyers blazing a minor trail last year by shoving the issue into the open.
It’s the lack of knowledge that is painful, McColgan suggests. A facet that has the potential to jolt vulnerable athletes facing criticism of unexplained under-performance that can be justified by a natural blip. “It’s not easy because there’s not one simple answer to control the pain or reduce the tiredness in your legs,” she adds. “There are so many aspects and one little pill doesn’t fix all because everyone reacts differently. It’s so complex.” With the world championships in Doha barely six weeks away, and the British trials approaching next weekend, she can only hope the calendar co-operates. The 5000m will be her prime target and the chance to impress in a country she has come to know well since her mother Liz re-located to Qatar. Times, and her spot in the UK rankings ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, will also become an increasing focus ahead of a move on to the roads, she maintains. “I’d like to take second place on the all-time list and I’m hoping that’s possible by making improvements year on year. I still want to lower my best at all distances. I want to get under four minutes for the 1500. There are only a few women doing that and that’s got to be a target.”
It has also been confirmed that the Scot will run the 3000m in Minsk next month in the inaugural Europe vs USA match.