It’s been a strange old season for Emily Hosker-Thornhill so far.
Just four months ago she couldn’t even bring herself to watch the European Cross Country Championships after losing out on a GB vest there by just one agonizing place at the trials.
Since then, however, fortunes have only got better for the England National Cross Country champion, with some strong performances leaving her all set for Saturday’s Inter County Championships in Loughborough.
And while she may not have known it at the time, her disappointing European trials race in Liverpool would in fact prove to be a positive “turning point”, giving her a completely new race mentality.
“Liverpool was so hard,” says Emily “I really thought I’d done enough work to make the team and I’d been training so well and consistently. But it definitely jolted me and made me think ‘you’ve to really up your game, think about what you want and how you’ll get it’.
“I remember seeing my mum afterwards and she said to me ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to keep going with running? What’s the plan here?’. So I decided to keep going with cross country and also try to focus on other things in life like getting a job and everything else that revolves around life.
“Since then I’ve got a job which I think has provided some balance and given me another outlet. So I wouldn’t say the trials race affected my training too much but in my head it was definitely a turning point.”
Since then, the Aldershot athlete has been a lot more grounded, shaking off the weight of expectation that became too much to bear during her race in Liverpool.
And perhaps unsurprisingly, it hasn’t taken long for her racing fortunes to drastically turn, with strong races at the Great Stirling Cross and the Belfast Cross Challenge culminating in her impressive victory at the England National Cross Country Championships in November.
So rather than expecting a lot but falling short, Hosker-Thornhill was expecting little but achieving great things.
“I never thought I’d win at the nationals,” says Emily, “not even a little bit. At the time I kind of thought I could get a medal there if I had a good run and could just use the race to see where my legs were at.
“My coach Mick Woods always says ‘you never know what’s going to happen, just give it a go’ and he obviously really wanted me to win but in the back of my mind I just thought I was fighting for second or third, just because of the calibre of girls there.
“So it was just a massive surprise, even when I was in the long finishing straight I still didn’t think ‘Oh I’ve got this’. It was honestly only when I actually crossed the line that I thought ‘Oh, okay you’ve won, that’s brilliant!’.”
This weekend’s inter counties presents Hosker-Thornhill with another big chance to grab a British vest, with a place at the World Cross Country Championships in Denmark being the big prize for all the top six finishers.
Unlike Liverpool however, the Kent runner will make the trip to Loughborough in a much more cautious mood, although a top six finish and place in the British squad would be hugely satisfying for many different reasons.
“(A GB vest) would be really cool,” says Hosker-Thornhill “my training partner Anna-Emilie Møller (former European Junior medallist) is really excited about it with her obviously being from Denmark.
“So the worlds is something that’s always sort of been in the back both of our minds, obviously for her it’s a massive home country meet, so I’ve just been like ‘I’m going to try and qualify and do my best!’ and now that it’s getting closer to the time I’m just thinking ‘hey, you’ve got to go do it now!’
“Also after the Euros at the Great Stirling Cross all the girls were half-winding me up, showing me videos from the European Championships saying ‘do you remember this at the Euros?’ kind of half-joking, so I had to say ‘well I wasn’t there was I!’.
“It’s become a bit of a joke now it’s quite funny, but they’re a really good bunch and it means I definitely don’t want to be missing out again.”
Despite her previous struggles this season, Hosker-Thornhill can at least take comfort from some of her past successes in qualifying for Great Britain, which saw her produce more surprising performances to qualify for both the European and World Championships in 2016-2017.
“Back then I was running so well and had just been at altitude for two years,” says Hosker-Thornhill “so I was super fit going into the 2016 trials. But it was still a massive surprise making that team, Mick and I went into the race thinking maybe top 20 would be good just to test the waters. But I’ve never felt like that in a race before, it was like I was flying.
“Then once I’d done that I thought ‘well who knows what I can achieve’, because I’d never really considered myself a GB runner, I just kept working and working and I’m so glad it’s eventually paid off.
“But it was a long road to get that first vest because that was also the season I got my first ever England vest as well, so I kind of skipped the steps of doing all the junior international races!”
However, none of it may have been possible were it not for her two year scholarship at the University of New Mexico, jetting off and training in America between 2014 to 2016.
Hosker-Thornhill had never really been close to international level before it. But after a lengthy amount of time there, she returned to her home country revitalized and ready to step up a level.
“It’s strange because I always wanted to achieve more in New Mexico,” says Hosker-Thornhill “but at the same time I also forget how far I came in those two years. I went out there as a 4.25 1500m runner and then I made the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Championships in Oregon.
“So I got to have some amazing experiences and also learnt that there are other ways to do things in athletics that do work and don’t work for me. So I think I took all those aspects back to England when I went back to Mick and since then it’s helped me to stay more consistent and healthy over the past few years.”
For now, however, the focus lies towards Saturday in Loughborough and the chance to bounce back into the GB squad after such a crushing race in Liverpool.
And while her unsuccessful trials race is still very much fresh in the mind, the last few months have given her a strong sense of perspective for the upcoming challenges ahead.
“I really don’t want to come seventh again this weekend,” says Hosker-Thornhill, “that’d be really tough to happen a second time. But I think I’m trying to channel things differently and think whatever happens happens and it’s not the be all and end all.
“My sister always says ‘it’s just running round in circles on a track or field, so you’ve just got to run around in circles faster next time’. So that’s how I’m trying to think about it, I just have to do that and I’ll be fine!”
If only it were that simple…