Eilish McColgan relishing the “hardcore” Highgate atmosphere

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Highgate will prove to be only McColgan’s third ever 10,000m race. Photo: MV4R Photography

Double Olympian Eilish McColgan is certainly no stranger to loud, passionate crowds.

The long-distance runner’s first ever senior international saw her “thrown in the deep end” as she stepped out in front of a huge, passionate crowd at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Equally, the 28-year-old is also very used to tough challenges, with her entire career and even the turn of the year producing tough injuries, illnesses, and even a burglary on her house one day before her Diamond League race in Stockholm.

Despite it all however, McColgan has come out more than unscathed, with a Scottish 5000m record and 1500m world qualifying time putting her in a great place this year.

Now with the dust almost settled it is time for the next new challenge, as the European medallist heads down to the English capital for a long distance event unlike any other that she has experienced before.

This is of course the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs.

With its carnival atmosphere, high quality performances and mass participation, the event is certainly unique amongst athletics circles, with McColgan competing in the event for Great Britain during the European 10,000m Cup race.

And while it isn’t an event that McColgan is particularly used to, it hasn’t taken much to tempt her into its realm.

“It’s a different experience isn’t it,” says McColgan, “I’ve seen that fans get to come onto the track into lane 3 and there’s a tent that you run through as well, it’s just a lot more fun and very different to any champs I’ll have ever run.

“It’s also probably a little more intimate in the sense that the people watching it are there because they’re all hardcore track fans. At the Olympics you’ll probably get people who don’t really watch the sport but will go along because it’s the Olympics Games.

“However the people at Highgate are all club runners, they’re coaches and they’re volunteers, these guys are all involved in the sport and they’re all going for their love of running. So I think that’s what makes it more special and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

A strong start to the season has given McColgan breathing space to explore other distances. Photo: MV4R Photography

Admittedly, the 25 lap experience has not been a particularly enjoyable experience for the Scot so far in her career and not a distance that she has placed too much focus on.

“The only 10,000m race I’ve actually raced in and finished was at Stanford back in 2017,” says McColgan “and in the actual race itself I had food poisoning so it was just the worst 25 laps of my life, I absolutely hated every second of it!”

However, the approach and the situation this time is very different to McColgan’s previous experiences, with plenty of positive omens to also take from a race like this.

“From the Stanford 10,000m I went on to have my best year and set PBs from 1500 right the way through to 10k, so I suppose this time it’s just about doing one that I’ll enjoy and soaking up the experience without any pressure. I do enjoy 10ks on the road so there’s no reason I shouldn’t enjoy it on the track.

“Ill be coming at it from a different angle than most of the girls there, I’ll mainly be viewing it from a 5K perspective and looking at using it as sort of a training run for my endurance.

“I feel like I’m still capable of running a qualifying time for the worlds though and it’d also be great to get close to the Olympic qualifying time as well. But really it’s about gaining experience over the 10k distance as I’m certainly looking at moving over to that distance in the next couple of years.”

Until then, however, the focus remains on enjoying and making use of the 10,000m, something which the Highgate Harriers event is ideal for, with its loud atmosphere and intimate setup.

But while McColgan is certainly relishing the whole experience, the event also has a tough act to follow for the Olympic, World and Commonwealth finalist, who from the very beginning of her senior international career has experienced some of the greatest atmospheres sport has to offer.

“I don’t think anything will come close to the London Olympics in 2012,” says McColgan “the noise in the stadium was like nothing else I’d ever experienced. I raced horribly on the day but just to be part of a competition that I suppose is the pinnacle of sport and to have it in London was honestly incredible and will stay with me for a life-time.

“It was also a bit of a step up in competition for me, I’d gone from the Scottish University Championships in Grangemouth with about three people in the stands to the London Olympics so I was sort of thrown in the deep end a little bit.

“I was so overwhelmed and scared on the start-line to the point where I actually didn’t really want to race, because it’s just so nerve-wracking with people screaming and shouting in the stands who all want the British athletes to do well.

“So the whole experience was a bit overwhelming but it definitely made me a stronger athlete for the next few championships, I felt so much more prepared. When we came back to London in 2017 I was ready to run fast regardless of the atmosphere, so looking back I was thrown in the deep end but it was a good experience.”

Now with a place at the world championships all but sealed and a long season of preparation ahead, the European 10,000m Cup will be yet another big experience for McColgan to take in her stride.

And while the Manchester-based runner certainly isn’t fazed easily, this event will certainly be unlike any other in her career so far.

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First published on: 18 June, 2019 9:51 am

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