The hours of darkness have become Laura Muir’s norm of late, night shifts tending to stricken stallions and forlorn foals at Glasgow’s equine hospital turning the double European indoor champion’s schedule upside-down.
Emerging into the daylight yesterday, the 24-year-old instantly re-awakened her competitive fires after a three-month hiatus from the fray in which her veterinary studies have been the top priority.
For the fourth time in five winters, and the third time in a row, Muir took the Scottish short-course cross-country title, sweeping away any cobwebs in style in Kirkcaldy with a victory that appeared pre-destined from the moment she bolted to the front and relentlessly gambolled away. It was almost as impressive as the manner in which she has pursued a demanding degree with as much vigour as her athletic self-improvement.
Cardiology this week will be the next block to challenge her brain, but at least there is the promise of a first day off in an age, granted to attend the British Athlete of the Year awards in which she will be assuredly a contender.
Small breaks in an otherwise hard spell, she revealed. “I came off night shift yesterday which was quite rough. But it was fine. I managed to complete the whole rotation without getting kicked by a horse. I reckon it’s probably been 70 hours a week there.
“It’s hard with training. Luckily I’ve been able to work around it. After night shifts, I’ve often had a rest day. I think I’ve only missed one planned run and that was because we had an emergency come in that didn’t finish until 11pm. I texted my coach and said ‘I might need to skip this.’ It had been really tough. But also very rewarding at the same time.”
As the end comes into view, so too the responsibility granted, she confirmed. Her dreams of becoming a vet began long before she contemplated the possibility of securing Olympic golds and each week brings precious insight and experience. “You’re going through all the diagnoses and treatment. Especially towards the end of each block, you’re more into it. You’re having contact with the owners and it’s like doing the real thing.”
That is not to say that the drive for success has been depleted. Here she bolted around the 4km course before finishing in 12 minutes and 53 seconds, well ahead of Steph Pennycook with Morag MacLarty pipping the promising junior Anna MacFadyen for third. After graciously posing for innumerable selfies, it was off for another hour of training on site. Every available opportunity taken.
She will not race again in 2017 but then March’s world indoor championships are in the diary before the summer’s European Championships in Berlin become her post-grad target. “I’m getting everything I want to in and it’s been going really well,” she said. “I keep plugging away. I felt in good shape here. It’s nice to win it again. And now the indoor season is the next big focus. Because I want to perform well there.”
Cameron Boyek rebounded from the injuries that hit his summer campaign to take the men’s title by four seconds from Lachlan Oates with teenage tyro Sol Sweeney third. Positive gains, the victor pronounced, after months of frustration where his faith was tested. “I knew I was in good shape so I came here for the win. I was feeling comfortable so I put a big burst in over the second lap of the race to create a gap. They weren’t able to get it back so I was pleased with how the strategy worked.”