Stuart Weir wrote this piece about Eilish McColgan and her magnificent summer. Competing in three championships, Worlds, Commonwealth Games, and the Europeans, in the 10,000m and 5,000m, and she took home four medals! Stuart captures her focus, and desire to medal at the Commonwealth Games and win a medal for Scotland. The pressure on Eilish, with having her Mum as Liz McColgan, and her successful career, must be challenging. Yet, Eilish overcame sickness and an injury at the Worlds and medaled four times at the Commonwealth Games and Europeans. Here is Stuart’s story on Eilish performing at the Worlds and Commonwealth Games.
It has been well documented that 2022 was a very demanding year for British athletes with three championships (the World Championships in Oregon, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the European Championships in Munich). However, there cannot be any athlete who has worked harder this year than Eilish McColgan, who competed in two distance events at all three championships, coming away with four medals. The Commonwealth Games offers an extra dimension with the four British home countries entering separate teams, meaning that it was Eilish’s one opportunity in four years to compete at a major championship for Scotland rather than GB.
This is reflected in her goals and priorities for the season: “I really wanted to win a medal for Scotland. For me that was really important, more a personal thing because I had come sixth in three different events in previous Commonwealth Games – steeple chase (2014), 1500 and 5K (2018). I had felt that I had been in shape to win a medal previously but I’d always fallen short. Something happened – I got sick or picked up an injury or had disrupted training going into it. So this year it was very much a personal goal to win a medal for Scotland. And so from the three championships that was what I most wanted to do”.
Of course, the World Championship is the biggest championship, and Eilish had set a goal of a top-five finish, but deep down, winning a medal for Scotland was the top priority. Oregon proved a challenge for Eilish in several ways. She felt that she was “in the shape of my life” but then picked up laryngitis which led to two weeks of disrupted training. Then she had a hamstring injury. “The only way I could describe it is that I felt I was running on one leg. I didn’t have the full movement or the full power through the other leg in that race. I was afraid it could tear and that’s the way it felt that it could go to any minute so I was very cautious. Now looking back I think it was pretty remarkable that I ran 30:34 that day”.
She finished 10th in 30:34, disappointing as she thought she could get close to Paula Radcliffe’s British record [30.01.09 set in 2002] and fight for a top 5 spot. Her assessment was: “I fell well short of that goal and was really disappointed. It was pretty disheartening. I felt that Eugene had just come too early for me. If only I’d had even another week of not being sick. Should I have raced? Probably not in all honesty but I think it’s hard if you have been picked to run for GB and you’re taking the place of another individual and you’re at the major champs of the year running for your nation”. Despite everything, she carried on and reached the final of the 5000m finishing 11th in 15:03.
Then came the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and time to do it again, just 10 days later and with Eilish not really where she wanted to be: “Once I got through Eugene it felt like a weight off my shoulders because I had done it all and my hamstring was still there. That had been a big worry, that it was going to tear. We changed my plans. I was going to go to altitude from Eugene but I didn’t and came to Britain and saw physios and doctors and just tried to get my body in working condition. I think having that extra week when I wasn’t in the gym or doing any lifting because I had been racing helped. I had loads of extra recovery. And I didn’t panic thinking I’d missed all this extra training. We went the other way, saying ‘you need to do nothing at all, just let your body relax and get back to normal health’ and I think that helped. I went into the Commonwealth Games feeling very fresh, recovered even mentally. I felt totally recovered and ready to run the Commonwealth Games and by the time the Commonwealths started, it seemed like the extra rest had just done me good. We’ve learned a lot from that as well – we as in me, Michael, and mum – it may be that we do need to back off a little more than we thought. Perhaps that’s a mistake we made that we think I am tapering down but I’m not fully tapering down as I should be. This experience has given us extra insight into how much recovery I actually need. I was still keeping running but with less intense sessions. As a result, I felt really fresh when it came to the first race at the Commonwealth Games”.
Eilish won the 10K at the Commonwealths in 30.48 and took silver in the 5K in 14.42. She was delighted: “I went in hoping for a medal, not really caring what color until I was on the last lap of the 10K when I suddenly thought I wanted it to be gold! But if I’d come away with any medal I think I would have been happy because it was a step up from the sixth place. I think the hardest thing for me at the Commonwealths was afterward”.
Winning at home on such a big stage was a new experience – a good one but also demanding: “It was just very emotional with my mum being there, the family, and Michael. I’ve never really had to deal with that when a race has gone really well. It was all quite overwhelming and then to have a full morning of media the next day. I didn’t really sleep that night and then the next day I was up at six and on my feet until 2.00pm doing media after media after media. That was all very new to me”.
The next challenge was motivating herself for the European Championships, with the next race just 8 days later…