Giving back to track
Published on 5 August 2022
Eilish McColgan had her university life interrupted by the small matter of the 2012 Olympics, leading to a decade as a top-level distance runner. Now she is looking to enable the next generation of athletes to reach their full potential.
The 2022 athletics season is a busy one full of promise for Eilish McColgan, with World, Commonwealth and European championships all on her schedule.
Already this year she has broken Paula Radcliffe’s longstanding British and European records for 10km and the British half marathon record, which also placed her ahead of her mum Liz’s best time (Liz being a former World Champion and Olympic Silver medallist at 10,000 metres). That followed UK record-setting times in 2021 for the 5000 metres and 10-mile marks.
Speaking from her pre-season training base at altitude in Colorado Springs, Eilish said, "Things have been going really well over the past couple of years, and that has been helped hugely by just being able to stay consistently fit and free of injury. Through my career I have always had issues with missing months, and in one case a full year, to injury so it has been nice to get a clear period where I have been able to keep running.
"Experience has certainly taught me a lot, and I’ve been applying that in how I train. I was always someone who wanted to do more, to train more, but now I focus more on quality of training rather than quantity of training and it has been paying off."
Eilish is a World, Commonwealth and Olympic Finalist, a European Outdoor Silver and Indoor Bronze medallist and a triple-double Olympian, having competed for the UK at London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021.
The London Olympics were the catalyst for her cutting short her time at university.
"I was at the University from 2008, studying for my degree in Maths and Accountancy," said Eilish. "I never actually properly finished, so while I got my ordinary degree I never got my Honours. 2012 of course was the Olympics in London. I was only a long shot at best to make the team, but I did make it, which was great, it so I went off to focus on that. I did have thoughts for a while of coming back to finish my degree, but it has been 10 years now and I am still running and competing and my brain is so far away from maths and accountancy that it is unlikely now!"
Instead she is focused on what lies ahead, both on the track and off.
"It is a busy season ahead as there are three major championships, with the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships, and towards the later part of the year I am also hoping to step up to do a marathon," she said.
While building towards all of that, Eilish has also been focused on what she can do for those set to follow her on to the track. Together with her partner and fellow Olympian Michael Rimmer, she has launched the Giving Back to Track initiative to support young athletes.
"I am lucky in that I get to do what I do, I am supported by my sponsor Asics, and I am extremely fortunate to be a full-time, travelling, competitive athlete. I am privileged and I want to do anything I can to encourage young people, and to give something back, to the club that helped me and also young athletes more widely, and that is why we have launched Giving Back to Track.
"But with the facilities come prices and I am really conscious that for some families that can be a barrier, so I started thinking about what we could do to help.
"The first thing we have been able to put in place is support for young female athletes. I get a lot of questions from young girls, asking for tips about running and exercise and all sorts of things. I am aware of some of the issues and barriers they face. For one thing, as a Scottish athlete, I am conscious all of the UK youth championships take place in England, travel and costs can be an issue.
"We have set up a scholarship and invited applications and through that, we will be supporting young female athletes.
"The spirit of it is wider than elite sport. Not everyone is going to be the next Mo Farah or Usain Bolt. The people in the club I came up with didn’t go on to international running careers, they moved into different jobs but they kept on running as a hobby and for exercise and they still feel the benefits of that.
"It is something that you often don’t realise until a bit later in life than your teenage years, but being a member of a club, or a group of friends, who are all doing the same exercise brings so many benefits. It is a social thing as well as an exercise thing, it can be just as much a boost to mental health as it can to physical health.
"I just want to do what I can to help people into athletics, or stay involved with athletics."
You can find out more about the initiative at givingbacktotrack.org.