Few other junior athletes have shown promise and consistency like Markhim Lonsdale, as the 19-year-old prepares to start the upcoming season as an under 23.
The talented youngster from County Durham was formally introduced to the sport a decade ago by his father and now-coach, who saw his son’s potential when joining his parents on runs and beating them up the hill.
His dad then entered him into a local track competition and neither have looked back. Ranked fifth in the UK at under 13 level, he has carried on to top every age ranking from under 15 to under 20, winning countless medals and breaking several records along the way. Every year, the European Junior silver medallist and World Youth Championship finalist seems to become stronger, faster and better.
In 2014 as an under 17 athlete, he triumphed in two of the most prestigious junior races in the Virgin London Mini Marathon and the English Schools Championships, competing as an Inter Boy in the 1500m.
Now specialising in the 800m, Lonsdale has found himself contending for the highest domestic – and more recently global – honours in his age category, despite new talent emerging each year. In 2018, he claimed his first major senior title by winning the England senior title in Manchester (above).
The teenager has become the Jenga block that refuses to be moved in the tower. An impressive few years have recently earned him a first professional contract with Adidas and he now looks ahead to the future, excited about being a full-time athlete, with his lifelong ambition ever closer to being fulfilled.
But a first professional contract wasn’t handed to him easily. Markhim explains the risk he took when opting not to go to university, instead choosing to solely concentrate on his athletics.
“I took the decision not to go to university and train full time even though I initially wasn’t on a professional contract. As I was able to fully concentrate on training, that allowed me to run my 1:46 (in 2017).” It was a big gamble for Markhim, but that extra spare time from not going to university was reinvested completely into training, which paid dividends. “I put university behind me to train hard and to get the time that would give me the opportunity to get this pro contract, and it turned out to be worth it.”
It is the art of continuously stepping up every year and simultaneously growing with the ever-rising expectations of himself that Lonsdale has mastered. “When it comes to training, it’s just down to hard work”, he explains. “Every year you’re getting older and you have to step up, but that doesn’t just mean your training, it’s also mentally, physically and what you do outside of athletics that can be the difference.”
He reflects how, to make it as a top athlete, there is no time for distractions, especially at an age where distractions are everywhere. “I’ve never drunk alcohol in my life, and I tend to see a drop off when people go to university. After they’ve finished Freshers’ (week at university) and you see on social media how much they love it, but then they start to love it too much. There are so many things that I could easily have been distracted by, but it’s about being mentally strong”, although he jokingly confesses there is still plenty of time to play the popular video game ‘Fortnite’.
Markhim reiterates that talent can only take an athlete so far and it takes a strong mindset to have the dedication, drive and determination required to make it as a professional. Like the true competitor he is, he already has his eyes focussed on next season, as he looks to consistently compete against senior athletes and possibly win his first senior vest at the 2019 World Championships in Qatar.
“I’m moving up age group now, and I know what I’ve got to do. When I ran 1:46, I know that time had me competing with the best in the UK that year. But I know after this year, the seniors are now running 1:44, I just have to focus. Every time I see somebody do a better time than me, but I’ve beaten them before, I just think ‘if they can do it, I can do it’.”
The limited number of places available for next year’s competition in Doha will be highly competitive considering the number of high calibre athletes in the hunt for each spot, as British middle distance running becomes stronger every year. “I think my main aim for next year is the Euro U23 Championships if I’m being realistic, but obviously the World Champs in Qatar would be a massive bonus and I know I’m well capable of getting there.
“But if you gave me the option of just making the team for Qatar and not attending the Euros or winning the gold at Euros and not make Qatar, I’d rather the latter. I’d prefer to get things done in my age group, gain experience and work my way through the age groups.”
After smashing his personal best the previous season when he ran under 1:47 at the British Milers’ Club Grand Prix and following it up by winning a silver medal at the European U20 Championships, it seemed there was no stopping him. However, an achilles injury at the beginning of last year’s winter season sidelined him for four months, taking a major chunk out of his pre-season training.
“During last summer I obviously didn’t PB and didn’t get what I wanted but that four months is a lot of time (not to train) and that is probably what I needed to get a new PB.” Although not running as quickly as he may have wanted in races, he still managed to get himself in great shape for what turned out to be his most, and yet also, least favourite moment of the season in Finland.
“The high and low of the season comes from the same race: making the World Junior Finals, but to then fall in the race and finish seventh when I was feeling the best I’ve ever felt in any race I’ve ever done was frustrating, as that was the main aim all summer as I started so late due to my injury.”
It seemed as though the season was just coming to a close just as his form was beginning to really awaken, following up his world silver with a great performance in front of a home crowd at the Great North City Games in Newcastle, racing in the 500m. He proved he can mix it with the more seasoned athletes, managing to beat fellow 800m runner Guy Learmonth, as well as 400m specialists Martyn Rooney and Rabah Yousif.
“I knew people were going to be tired after Europeans and I was feeling alright as my season started so late with my injury. I really enjoyed it under a home crowd and to be able to take a few big scalps.”
As he starts his winter season raring to go and fully fit, the talented youngster has a very bright future in the sport, and he has also decided to start documenting all the ‘behind the scenes’ life of an athlete via his personal vlog on YouTube. Below, Markhim gives you a tour of the athlete facilities at the World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland.
“It started off in Finland when all of us athletes were sat at a meeting and somebody from the media team said we need something to promote our profiles and all the athletes were shouting out ideas. He asked who is most likely to do a vlog and everybody straight away pointed at me so I kind of got stuck with it! I put it on my Instagram to see if anybody would be interested to see a vlog and everybody did and said how they want to see behind the scenes, so I mean if people are interested, I’ll show them!”
With a full winter season of training hopefully behind him, there is no doubt Markhim will be ready to carry on his excellent finish to last season, continuing to set the track alight in his brightly-coloured Crook AC vest, just as determined as he was when he joined the sport ten years ago.
Since this article was written, Lonsdale has won the 800m North of England indoor title. Watch the race here