THE after-effects of two arduous races at the Commonwealth Games are evident in the voice of Beth Potter. A combined total of 15,000 metres on the Hampden track was rendered a little easier when powered by the adrenaline rush of a home crowd in her native Glasgow. Almost inevitably, the plummet back to earth has been draining, even debilitating.
“I feel really tired,” she sighs. Better that than retired, however. Which was the fork in the road so nearly taken by the 22-year-old in the springtime when it appeared that her role this summer was predestined to be as a bystander rather than soaking up the spotlight at centre stage.
Instead, Potter will fly out to Zurich today to make her major championship debut at the European Championships, a mere seven weeks after collecting her first senior vest for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the stuff of dreams but in April, when she returned from a training stint in the United States, every session, every race, seemed a part of a waking nightmare.
The frustrations had been building for a while, ever since she moved south to study at Loughborough University and found, as so many before her, that the transition from talented junior to mature achiever was anything but smooth.
“Last year I wasn’t enjoying running,” she reveals. “I was fed up with it.” The qualifying times for Glasgow in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres remained teasingly out of reach despite a change of coach to Twickenham-based Mick Woods. With her post-graduate teaching studies consuming her mind, the body yearned for a respite.
“Then I was in hospital because of a foot problem and I couldn’t train,” she recounts. “I went to Mick and said: ‘I don’t want to run any more’.”
Woods, whose training group also includes fellow Scot Steph Twell, applied balm to the wound. Why not, he suggested, have one more crack at the Highgate Night of the 10ks meeting in London that served as both the UK championship and the European trial?
“He bullied me into running,” Potter declares. “I wasn’t happy but I had to do it. I’m so glad I listened because it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.” She came second to Jo Pavey but it was a conquest over her inner anxiety. “That race changed my life, certainly this season anyway. I wouldn’t have gone to the Commonwealths. I wouldn’t have made the European team.”
Potter was among the Scots who left Glasgow 2014 with her reputation considerably enhanced, finishing ninth in the 5,000m but fifth in the 10,000m after losing out to friend and English rival Kate Avery in a memorable photo finish to determine domestic supremacy. “It was pretty much fourth, wasn’t it?” she laughs, bouncing into life. “There was nothing in it. I wasn’t thinking too much about the position. I was having such a good time out there.”
What a difference four months makes. Yet Potter intends to keep juggling athletics and her soon-to-begin job as a physics teacher in west London. And like all five Swiss-bound Scots, the Europeans will test their reserves of energy and enthusiasm after the natural high derived from the Commonwealths.
Potter plans to look lively. “I ran a PB in Glasgow but I’m very confident there’s much more in the bag,” she states. “This season’s been a massive turning point. There’s a lot more to come in the 5,000m. I just haven’t got the right race yet. I did the 10,000m at BUCS last year and told myself never again. It was the most brutal experience of my life. I really have enjoyed doing them this year and I never thought I’d say that.”
Meanwhile, newly-crowned world junior 100m champion Dina Asher-Smith has vowed not to let her senior bow prove overwhelming in Zurich. The 18-year-old, who runs the 200m this week, has been touted as the most promising of an already-buoyant group of young female British sprinters that also includes Commonwealth medallists Jodie and Bianca Williams.
And the Londoner insists the group will not back down from the established European order. “I think we’re showing we’re not scared,” she said.
“I know that might sound really silly but some juniors come up and they put the seniors on a pedestal, but there’s a difference between idolising them and respecting them.”