Eilish McColgan Returns To Racing After A Year To Forget

Eilish McColgan returns to racing after a year to forget

British record-holder tackles European 10,000m in Rome despite not being fully fit after a nightmare injury and family bereavements

Following the sudden unexpected death of her stepfather John Nuttall in November, the passing of her grandmother Betty last month, plus an injury-hit spell that has seen her miss six months of running, Eilish McColgan has endured a torrid time lately. “I’ve had such a shit year,” she says in typically blunt fashion. “A really shit year.”

Eilish McColgan

Given this, she is looking forward to getting back into her racing stride in the European Championships 10,000m on Tuesday night in Rome. Making her fourth Olympic team is the goal, too, with her sights set on being the first European finisher in Paris.


First she faces 25 laps in the Stadio Olimpico against a line-up that includes in-form fellow Brit Megan Keith. McColgan, 33, knows she is not at her best after a limited build-up but she is looking forward to getting stuck in and channeling the same spirit that drove her to Commonwealth gold in 2022 and British records from 5000m to the half-marathon.

“If you’d asked me even two months ago, I would have said I’m not going to make it to the Europeans,” she says. “But my fitness has improved over the last four weeks. It’s been a real big step forward.”

A couple of months ago she says she was struggling to run a 5:30 mile during a reps session but a solid training stint at altitude in Colorado followed by more work back in Europe means she is now confident enough to race.

“It feels a little strange, like going into championship not on top form. Of course, there’s a lot of nerves. I feel maybe a little bit vulnerable. It’s probably the first championship I’ve ever gone into not thinking that I’m in personal best or record shape or in the shape of my life. It’s a stepping stone towards proving fitness and form for the Olympic Games.”

Eilish McColgan and Lonah Salpeter

Everything was going so well for McColgan until spring last year. She broke Paula Radcliffe’s British 10,000m record with 30:00.86 in California and then ran a UK half-marathon record of 65:43 in Berlin.

However she had to withdraw from the London Marathon due to a knee injury and struggled for months to get it properly diagnosed – a frustrating period where days and weeks on the sidelines soon turned into months.

She says: “I’ve obviously had a long time out over a year and I’m very aware I only have until the end of June to show fitness and form. There aren’t a huge amount of races around. So, I’m just hoping that this (Rome) will be a competitive enough performance to show that I’m on that trajectory towards Paris.

“It’s eight weeks after the Europeans and I can get another big block of training, then I have just as much right to be on that UK team alongside Megan and maybe even Jess (Warner-Judd) for Paris.”

Putting the injury spell in perspective, McColgan says she had seven years previously of relatively injury-free running where she qualified for multiple championships. Injuries, she says, are inevitable when training as an elite distance runner.


Eilish McColgan training at Font Romeu (Albin Durand)

After a year on the sidelines, though, she is keen to get back into action. The injury hasn’t been the only set-back in recent months either. After her mum Liz’s husband died, she lost her gran on her mother’s side of her family last month. Consequently, she will be wearing a bracelet in Rome that her gran gave her for inspiration.

“She was a huge supporter of mine. She was always watching me on the TV. As soon as any race that was on TV, she would have it on.”

On the brighter side, McColgan was delighted that her stepsister Hannah Nuttall made the GB team for Rome, finishing 10th in Friday’s 5000m final.

“It’s the first team myself and Hannah have actually ever done together,” she says. “And she’s made massive steps forward this year. And I have absolutely no doubt that’s because she’s gone through a tough time. That’s what happens in running – when you’re pushed into a corner or you’re upset and finding stuff really tough. A lot of people turn to their training and turn to the running as a bit of a release. You often see that with athletes.”

Her mum Liz will also be in Rome, a city she competed in back in 1987 when fifth in the world 10,000m final won by Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway. “I can’t explain what my mum has been through over the last so many months to lose her husband and then to lose her mum,” she says.

“My mum being in Rome is really unusual. She would normally be working but she’s taken a little bit of time off to, to come out. So she’s going to come out with my partner Michael (Rimmer) and they will come and watch me in the stadium and hopefully then come to Paris.”


Megan Keith and Fiona O’Keeffe (David Hicks)

McColgan knows she will not be at her best on Tuesday night but she is getting stronger every day as she rediscovers her fitness. She is also realistic to know she will struggle to keep up with Keith due to the Night of the 10,000m PBs winner being almost 40 seconds quicker than anyone else in the field on paper. “She’s having an incredible breakthrough,” says McColgan on Keith. “She’s in the position I’d love to be in right now – at the top of her game, in the form of her life.”

On her own likely performance, McColgan adds: “There will probably be people sitting at home watching on the TV and on their sofas going, ‘Oh, god, she’s nowhere near where she used to be’. Or ‘she’s getting old or whatever’. But they’ve not had to live the last year that I’ve lived.

“I’ve worked so hard to get to this point. It it’s like a little reward to be honest to be able to say that I’ve made another GB team. I still believe I can be competitive at a European level and it’s a massive stepping stone then to show that I’m on the right path for Paris because Paris is the ultimate goal.

“I want to make a fourth Olympic Games and then come off with that as a springboard into road racing for the rest of the year.”


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