Imagine Usain Bolt had chosen to move on from 100m and into the marathon.
Such a notion is fanciful and few sprinters would relish adding laps to their efforts, let alone embrace the notion of tackling 26 miles-plus. But, determined to be involved when the Commonwealth Games kick off in Australia next week, Sammi Kinghorn is going the distance.
“I’m doing this to represent Scotland,” explains the 22-year-old paralympian. “The Games aren’t long enough for all the para events so the host gets to decide what ones get in and the Australians are stronger in the distance events. They’ve selected the 1500m and the marathon but I’m doing both, but when 100, 200 and 400m are your favourites, it’s a challenge.
“The hardest bit has been learning the pace,” said the wheelchair athlete, “because I’m so used to just making my arms go as fast as possible. Head down. Go! Now I have to actually look where I’m going, and take big, long strokes. So it’s getting used to maintaining your concentration for that length of time and being aware of what’s around you.
“In sprinting, I’m in my own lane. But, in the 1,500m on the track, they all break and it’s not like in running where you can give someone a wee elbow – you’re going to fall out of your chair at 20mph if you do that and I don’t want someone running over my head! You have to be far more aware of your surroundings, and a bit braver to push into the right spaces.”
Paralysed from the waist down following an accident in 2010, the Borders athlete has always been a strong competitor and has shown plenty of mental fortitude in her life but in getting prepared for the Gold Coast she has had to dig deep once again. A world champion over 100m and 200m last year, others in her situation would have been despondent to miss out on the chance to add Commonwealth titles. But Kinghorn is too positive to allow such trivialities to take her down. She added: “I love training, maybe more than even competing. So that side has been absolutely fine. Knowing I’m getting fitter has been a big bonus. My muscles are getting used to the endurance. I know doing the 1,500m is going to help my [future] 800 and 400m. But when someone says ‘okay, today it’s 19 miles in training, you still roll your eyes and want to say no!
“I tell myself every day it is just 26.2 miles but it still sounds intimidating. I’ve only done the distance once before and it’s the unknown element of racing against people who have done it 20 times.
“But I just need to get in the pack and hang in. I did it in Chicago in October to qualify and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But it’s not the 100m! it’s weird not being able to see the finish line from the start.”
But last year’s Scottish Sports Personality of the Year knows that the shift into the unknown means that there will be less outside pressure on her as she wheels around the marathon course although, she will still have to contend with the demands she places on herself.
“This is my second ever marathon – and my last as well! When I did Chicago and I got the fastest-ever debut time, yeah, it was good but I still have no idea how a marathon race is going to go. But I put pressure on myself because you dream of hearing the national anthem.”
It is music which helps her through the long training sessions, and keeps her balanced in the call room ahead of competition, where she plays songs with meaning. “My mum’s favourite is Tina Turner for example, and when she used to put me in a backpack when I was little and she was hoovering, that’s what I remember.
“If I’m training inside on rollers, if it’s a solid 90 minute push, I’ll watch a movie. Dirty Dancing is my favourite.
“But when I’m on the road, because I’m not allowed to [listen to music] when I’m racing, I try to replicate the race conditions.” Instead, that’s when she uses the time to plan their meals.
The marathon and the 1,500m were not choices from the a la carte menu but they are distances Kinghorn has been willing to swallow to represent Scotland.