Why is Endurance Running so Strong in Scotland?

February 23, 2018

With Scottish endurance running going through a golden era of success, we put some of our Gold Coast bound athletes under the spotlight to try and find out why the Saltire is flying so high for their sport.

First Athletics Memory

Eilish McColgan: My first running memory would be at Primary School when my PE teacher put me into the local cross country championships. I had never been in a race before but I loved every minute of it. I do have very vague recollections of seeing my mum and dad training as a young child, but at the time I didn’t really understand what they were doing – I was very naive to the fact they were both professional athletes!

Beth Potter: Watching Kelly Holmes at the 2004 Olympics. We were going to put a film on but then flicked over and the athletics was one, and we were glued to the TV for the rest of the Olympics. I remember getting her Olympic Diary book for Christmas as well!

Steph Twell: My Mum calling me in to watch Kelly Holmes.

Lennie Waite: Running with my Mum around our neighbourhood in Celigny, Switzerland when I was 6 or 7. I thought it was such a treat to be able to join her on her run!

Jake Wightman: My first running memory is racing a local school cross country race aged 8. I went off so hard, gained a huge lead, only to die completely and lose to the winner by an even bigger margin!

Guy Learmonth: My most vivid was when I was about 13 years old and my Dad taking an early finish from work to come home and take me to training at my first club, Dunbar AC. He was so excited to take me and I was unbelievably nervous; I tried to fake illness saying I ate something dodgy at school and pleaded with my Mum to convince him, but he saw right through me! When I got there I just remember doing some sprinting, some 100m reps and hammering everyone and I totally loved it, and so training and competing became a regular occurrence. I guess I have to thank him for that day – little does he know how much a positive impact it had on me.

Robbie Simpson: Running for Banchory Stonehaven AC in my first competitive race on a tartan track in Inverness and winning the 1500m. I also ran in the 4 x 100m relay team, which somehow we managed to win despite my lack of speed. Our team won the U13 title so it was a memorable day.


Highlight of your career to date

Eilish: I would say my first ever medal at the European Indoor Championships would be a highlight for me. I had made World and Olympic finals in two different events (5000m and 3000m SC) but to come away with a medal at the Europeans was really special.

Beth: Making the Olympic team at Highgate; that night was just amazing, it was a dream come true. My family inspired me, as I told them not to come but they turned up on mass. It was my whole family – my mum, dad, sister, aunt, so the pressure was on, but I did it so it was all good!

Steph: Winning bronze at the 2016 European Champs. Winning a medal at international level after returning from such a long road to recovery with my ankle was special.

Lennie: Making the Rio 2016 Olympic Team. It is hard to explain to people what professional track and field is and all the training that it entails. Making the Olympics has made that process way easier – everyone knows what the Olympics is and they understand the level of commitment it takes to make it to the Olympic Games.

Jake: Winning the Bislett Games 1500m last year. A result I wasn’t at all expecting, but one I hope to replicate.

Guy: Has to be my first Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and my first major World Champs in London, both for very, very different reasons. They both top any time I’ve run, record I’ve broken or medal I’ve won.

Robbie: Finishing 3rd at the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales in 2015. I got tripped up at the start, hitting the deck and cutting my knees, shins and hands badly, but I ran probably my best race after that and just managed to get in the medal position on the final uphill. In the days after I was struggling to walk from the cuts and bruises from the fall, but in the race I didn’t feel it!


What you believe is the reason for the recent Scottish endurance success?

Eilish: It is a little strange but we’ve all grown up together! I remember watching Lynsey Sharp and Chris O’Hare making their first GB teams and thinking, “wait a minute… I know them, I’ve raced the same competitions as them for years so maybe I could do that!?” It really is a ripple effect of watching someone that you know really well preform to a high level – it elevates you and makes you start to think differently. I know that without Laura Muir breaking down barriers, both mentally and physically, I certainly wouldn’t be running as fast as I am now.

Beth: Mike Johnston, who was in charge before Mark, just never gave up on you. Using me as an example, I had a couple of bad years when I’d been injured and I fell out of love with the sport a bit, but he always supported me, never took me off funding, and having a team like that behind you really helps. They communicate really well too; everyone is linked in including physios and nutritionist, but they don’t all interfere – they let you get on with it but they’re there if you need help. It’s clearly worked!

Steph: I believe the Scottish success on the track is down to dogged determination and the desire to each be as successful as each other. I think our competitiveness is contagious but most importantly I think our success stems from off the track thanks to a down to earth, encouraging and helpful endurance management squad.

Lennie: Success breeds success! I really believe success is contagious. When you see your peers achieve great success and progress in the sport, it is motivating. It helps you realise what is possible and that belief can spread throughout a team.

Jake: I believe running in Scottish Athletics events and Scottish Schools let us be competitive in champs and make teams, which we may not have been able to do  elsewhere when young. It taught us how to race and kept us motivated for success in the sport, which paid off when we were given the chance to compete across the UK and beyond.

Guy: There’s something in the water and it’s called self-belief and confidence. The Scottish Athletics endurance programme has been in place for years and everything is coming to fruition, everyone is sub-consciously pushing one another on as no one wants to be left behind. The bar’s been raised and continues to be raised and you’re now seeing the athletes push the boundaries, push the limits and raise their own game. All the records are starting to be broken and it’s been a long time coming; it’s a true golden era for athletics in Scotland.

Robbie: I think it’s a combination of factors. When I started out at 12-13 years old there was a big group of talented runners and most of them stuck with it and put in a lot of hard work, improving gradually each year and helping to raise the standard. In the junior age groups there were plenty of regional and national events, as well as international opportunities, so even though it was competitive it was still within reach to win medals or qualify for teams. In my own experience in mountain running the senior level wasn’t as strong as it was in other countries so I made the team aged 18 and was already targeting the international scene from a young age. Once a few people break through then it seems more attainable for the others and everyone moves forward.


Prediction for number of endurance medals at Gold Coast 2018

Eilish: That’s a very tricky question as the distance events are notoriously hard with the Kenyan athletes competing, so I will go for 2.

Beth: 4

Steph: 12 – I may need to revise that though!

Lennie: 3

Jake: 4/5

Guy: 5/6

Robbie: 5

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