SUSAN McKelvie calls it her High Performance Centre.
That’s the sort of name given to top-of-the-range facilities in places such as Loughborough, where the cream of Britain’s track-and-field performers train. McKelvie’s version, though, is just that little bit more low-tech. It’s a field.
Some of Scotland’s best-known Commonwealth Games hopefuls may be able to train full-time but McKelvie is more typical. The 28-year-old hammer-thrower from Broxburn is a teacher with Falkirk District Council and, once her work is done, she heads to her training ground, nestled between Edinburgh Airport and Turnhouse golf course.
There is no turning circle there for her to practise her throws. No safety nets either, and nothing to mark the distance.
In fact, apart from the equipment she brings with her, there is nothing in the field other than a concrete strip which she thinks was once used for cricket practice, and a whole lot of grass. She and her partner, fellow-hammer-thrower and Scotland international Andy Frost, take a strimmer to bits of it every so often but, essentially, it’s wild grassland.
“I’ve been here four or five years now,” she explains. “This is my High Performance Centre. Nobody bothers you and you get your parking space.
“Yes, the grass is long and there’s loads of creatures running around, it’s very uneven ground and noisy with the planes, but it’s a good surface. It is tricky when you go into a cage in competition but I get the work done. It’s a great place to train, really peaceful and close to my house. Meadowbank is pretty far.”
There are closer venues to where McKelvie and Frost live in Livingston, and, as the Commonwealth Games approach, she hopes to have greater use of more orthodox facilities. But the field has served her well so far. She already has the two qualifying marks needed for inclusion in the Scotland team for Glasgow and is on course to contend for medals next summer.
“There’s Craigswood up in Livingston, five minutes from my house, but they’ve just recently got their circle relaid,” she explained. “I’m sure they will let me train there.
“I throw at Grangemouth on Thursdays but last Thursday I turned up and they said I couldn’t throw because there was football on. That was a session missed. We struggle in the winter because there’s no light here, so I train at Grangemouth. But, hopefully, they’ll let me train at Craigswood on a permanent basis when it’s fixed because it’s so near to my house.
“It doesn’t matter how glamorous the facilities are. You just need to get going.”
McKelvie has got going all right, qualifying for Glasgow with a year to spare, with two throws of over 61 metres. The security that brings is in sharp contrast with the anguish of the last two games, when she fell just short of the standard required for selection.
“I was 14 centimetres short of the distance for Delhi and, four years before that, for Melbourne, I was 79cms short. The last time was a really tough one to take. I actually wanted to just stop and give up after not getting it second time around. But I just kept going.
“I knew I would get the standards this year. Now the rest of the year it’s about how far I can get over the standard, then next year anything can happen. Make sure I can get into the final. I’ve got really high expectations of myself.
“I’m only 5ft 3in so I’m not a typical hammer-thrower. I’m not built for it, so I’ve probably chosen the wrong event, but there’s no point stopping now because I’ve made it to that standard.
It’s quite remarkable that someone my size can throw that distance.”
It is also quite remarkable how McKelvie has kept going this season after the death last month of her long-term coach Alan Bertram. McKelvie, Frost and their fellow Scots, Mark Dry and Chris Bennett, all four of whom had been coached by Bertram, competed the day after his death at the age of 76 – and all threw Games qualifying distances.
Bertram, whose many successes included coaching England’s Lorraine Shaw to hammer gold at the Manchester Games of 2002, concealed his illness from his athletes as long as possible. “We went training to Portugal and we knew he wasn’t well,” McKelvie recalls.
“We only found out when we got back. He was so determined to make that trip, and he made every single session then when, basically, he was dying. Two weeks later that was it. Then I did Loughborough the day after. I’ve kept going because I know he would be so angry with me if I stopped. If you stop, you lose metres.”
Shaw coached McKelvie before Bertram moved to Scotland ten years ago, and the partnership has now resumed. “She’s based in Gloucester, but I speak to her every day, and I’m going to base myself down there for the whole of the summer holidays.
“Lorraine has won it before, and coached the silver and bronze medallists at Delhi. So she is the person for me, and it was Alan’s wishes that the two of us work together.
“We’ve been good friends since I was 16 and I used to go down regularly to see her and she would coach me. She might have slightly different ideas from Alan’s,but it’s the same blueprint because she was coached by him for 17 years.
“It’s actually helping us get over what happened because, outwith his family, me and her were the two closest to him. I want to see how proud we can make each other.”