5th Avenue Mile, New York, September 21, 2008, first place, 4:18.6
Fresh from the heartbreak of finishing fourth in the Beijing Olympics, the Commonwealth champion channelled her frustration on the streets of the Big Apple and teed herself up for World Championships success in 2009.
I still don’t think I’ve gotten over coming fourth in the Olympics in 2008. It has just haunted me forever. I don’t think I’ve ever hit a low like that in terms of trying to deal with missing out in that way, feeling like I didn’t get the race quite right. I just misjudged it.
But, at the start of that season, I would have given you everything I owned to have finished fourth in the Olympics. I never imagined that was going to be where I would end up.
There was a lot of disappointment, though, and I never really appreciated how I would be affected emotionally by placing fourth. I just couldn’t
get over it.
I went to New York really just to make the most of the fitness from running on the circuit. It was all very last minute. Steph Twell had withdrawn and they needed someone to fill a spot.
It was just a bit of fun, an opportunity to go to the States, see New York and enjoy it. But the race itself became a bit more than that when I got there and I realised there was a lot more hype around it, especially around Shannon Rowbury because she was a US athlete.
I used to love road miles as a change of scene from the track, though. I just felt like I raced better in that way, rather than looking at splits every 200m or 400m where you know every single step, every curve, every line.
I went down the day before to jog it and see what it looked like from different points. I’d have markers around those points so that I knew where I was and how I should feel.
I was always a very nervous person. I used to always be very negative before races – my head would just be like: “Oh my gosh.” Something would always hurt. I’d be like: “Not today. I’m tired.” I’d just talk myself out of it before, though. Something would switch and then I’d realise: “I’ve got this” and felt like I was in control.
This race was good because I just felt like I had the edge. I made my push to beat Shannon towards the end but I was still very relaxed and very composed. That’s what I really liked about it: I was really pressing but wasn’t grimacing and stressing. I had that composure and that confidence.
It was very similar to a race that I remember at the Kent under-15 cross country champs. Henrietta Freeman, who was the queen of cross country, was there, we had a head-to-head and it was the same thing. We got to that last bit and it was just that push where I felt like I had the edge but I was able to maintain that composure and not lose it.
Sometimes, you want it too much and you push just that little bit too much. You can fall out of your stride. I would always arch my back a little bit too much and then my legs would not work. It’s a very fine line, just getting it right.
This time, I executed it perfectly. I attacked it but didn’t go too hard at any point. I finished tired but not to the point that I was tying up and couldn’t get to the line. It was very, very close between me and Shannon but I just got it spot on.
Because it’s that straight strip down the road, it’s so hard to judge and people had warned me about how to pace it and where to pick up. But I think the emotion and the upset of the Olympics was just left on that street.
The race still has such a special place in my heart because it was such a bonus. I loved every minute of it. It was such a lift from the stress and the pressure.
Looking back, the problem I had in Beijing was that I hadn’t raced any of those girls. We had a really hard time getting into any of the Golden Leagues, as it was called at the time, because I wasn’t fast enough. I actually ran four minutes at Stretford in a mixed race, because I couldn’t get into Paris. I really wanted a chance to see how I fared against these athletes and so, at the Olympics, I just didn’t really know where I sat.
To have that last race in New York, having gone through all of that, at the back end of the season, and then winning against Shannon just gave me a lot of confidence in going into 2009.
It was hard to get back up again but it was nice because I had that race to keep going with. When I had a rest afterwards, there was no momentum anymore and you’re just left there to deal with that. That was really hard.
But I definitely think it set me up for the next summer when I got silver at the World Championships. I think that confidence came from that taking control of the race – and that feeling I could compete.
» This article first appeared in the September issue of AW magazine. Subscribe here
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