New coach Geoff Wightman gives Steph Twell fresh stimulus

Steph Twell visited Edinburgh Castle yesterday during her preparations for today's Great Edinburgh XCountry. Picture: SNS.
Steph Twell visited Edinburgh Castle yesterday during her preparations for today's Great Edinburgh XCountry. Picture: SNS.
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Those on the guest list for the autumn wedding of Steph Twell and Joe Morwood, her husband-to-be, would be well-advised to spend the next nine months attaining a minimal level of fitness. The venue for the reception, the two-time Olympian confides, will be amid the woodlands of Surrey, a not-unnatural choice for a couple who initially bonded over a shared affection for slogging speedily over fields and dales.

“I love the outdoors – I’m a cross-country girl,” she grins mischievously. “We might get the guests to do orienteering to get there.” Entirely consistent with tradition in some senses. Except this is a year in which the 28-year-old is ready to embrace significant change, not just to her marital status but to her working life, athletics and seemingly everything in between.

The European and Commonwealth bronze medallist will open her 2018 campaign in today’s Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh XCountry on the terrain she most enjoys but, after Holyrood Park, fresh ground will arrive in abundance. On Monday, the Scot will fly to the South African idyll of Potchefstroom to train at altitude, profiting from the latitude afforded her by the decision to place her teaching career on hold in order to fully concentrate on gaining further medals in the two events which have previously generated podium performances.

No longer, however, will her endeavours be directed by Mick Woods who has been integral to her career since she emerged through the ranks of her local club in Aldershot. Instead, Geoff Wightman, below – formerly the chief executive of Scottish Athletics but now best known as the man on the Tannoy at myriad events and as parent of the talented Jake – has been engaged as her new coach, a fresh voice and sounding board at a time when the threat looms of going stale.

“I’m at the point in my career when I want to continue being a student of the sport,” said Twell. “I need to learn some more about things that can push me on and I’m looking for a long career where I’ve got the freedom to move up in distance.

“Geoff has the knowledge of coaching Jake to 1,500m which is a similar background to the one I’ve come from. But he also has the experience of the marathon and that’s a combination which hopefully I can tap into.

“It’s the start of an evolution. It won’t all happen overnight. But, mainly, I needed a new stimulus. I’ve thrived off my long-term coaching relationship with Mick and it’s made me the athlete I’ve become. But there’s more there in terms of preparing, especially this year with the Commonwealths.”

A maiden foray at 10,000m last summer was an unabashed success and now that Twell’s body, once so fragile, appears a tower of strength, there is no reason not to explore its boundaries and see what might transpire.

The timetable remains undetermined. In Gold Coast, she will remain fixated on the 1,500 and 5,000m and likely the same ahead of August’s Europeans in Berlin. “Any transition period will be a natural one and it will happen when I’m ready,” she confirms. “I still have more to do at the 5,000m and it’s important to stay fast for as long as possible and I want to think there’s speed I have still to tap into.”

Yet a journey into the unknown will eventually beckon. Wightman, a decent marathoner in his pomp, will be tasked with masterminding the route.

It is not the only divergence from her usual path. In Edinburgh, Twell will face Laura Muir in the 4x1km relay during a team competition that pits the UK against Europe and a USA squad led by past winner Garrett Heath. But she has scheduled a concerted spell indoors, a surface she once routinely avoided, with an outing in Boston in the diary ahead of a possible world title tilt in Birmingham in March.

“You have to challenge yourself, don’t you?” she proclaims. “You don’t want to get soft and only do what you’re used to. I want a challenge.” Something old, something new… a fitting mantra in this 
transformative year.