The Commonwealth Games 10,000 Metres Champion Talks Takeaways, Friends And A Certain Gold Medal
By Gill Sherry
When I first approached Eilish McColgan for an interview, I was told she had just boarded a flight for what would be her only holiday of the year. So imagine my surprise when she messaged me from the Seychelles to ask if I was free for a chat!
Thrilled by the prospect but somewhat ill-prepared, I rang the gold medal-winning athlete and, having apologised for the intrusion, congratulated her on winning The Great Scottish Run two days earlier.
“That was my last race of the summer season,” she informed me, sounding exceptionally chirpy for someone who had just endured a long-haul flight and had managed very little sleep. “It was the first time I’d ever done it… so it was a pretty cool race to be a part of.”
She had raced in the 10k, having recently withdrawn from the London Marathon which had taken place on the same day.
“I’ve had some problems with fuelling on the long runs,” she explained. “We don’t really know why it’s happening but quite a lot of athletes struggle with it. You have this big increased sugar intake and you have a big crash whilst you’re running… almost like a diabetic response.”
Apparently, the issue only came to light when she was preparing for the marathon and it soon became apparent she would be unable to enter, opting for the 10k in Glasgow instead. It was, she confirmed, a good decision.
“I don’t really get the chance to race in Scotland any more. It was probably my first race outdoors in Scotland since 2014 at the Commonwealth Games. It meant a lot to be there. To have the crowd cheering me on was pretty special.”
Eilish clocked 30:18 in the event, believing she’d beaten her own British and European Records over 10k in what she describes as ‘a nice way to round off the season’. Unfortunately, her new records were later declared invalid following what the organisers referred to as ‘human error’. Basically, the run was 150 metres short. Oops.
But still, what a season it’s been! A gold in the 10,000 metres at the Commonwealth Games must have been a dream come true?
“I’d always wanted to bring back a medal for Scotland and to do it in front of a home crowd in the UK… in a stadium that I race in every year… it’s hard to put into words how special that was. I just feel incredibly lucky and grateful that it all came together on that one evening. And it just so happened to be the event that my mum won so many years earlier.”
I’m looking at a photograph of Eilish and her mum (Liz, for those who may be too young to remember) as we speak, the two of them embracing after that sensational 10,000 metre win back in August. Presumably it was her mum’s influence that led to her love of running and subsequent success?
“My mum and dad were very good at never pushing me into the sport. My first ever race… my PE teacher put me into the local cross country and I loved it. I didn’t win… but I then got asked to go along to the local running club and I was so excited. I begged my mum and dad to take me to Dundee Hawkhill Harriers and I’ve never really looked back.”
She competed in other events to begin with and actually won her first medal at Scottish level in the javelin. But she loved running from the very beginning.
“To be honest, I never really had an awareness that my mum was who she was. I never saw any medals. I was never down at the track watching her. By the time I was born… or by the time I remember anything, my mum was coming to the end of her career. I mean, my mum and dad run every single day but I just assumed all parents went out for a run. I have three brothers and a sister and none of them run so I don’t think it was a foregone conclusion that I would definitely be an athlete but… I loved it.”
As well as the friends and family members that were there to support her in Birmingham, Eilish also had the support of her good friend and teammate, Jenny Selman, who had qualified for her very first Commonwealth Games at the age of 30 and was part of the GB team.
“It’s nice to have one of your best friends make the team alongside you. It was like we were back in university. After my race she came into my room and we were eating takeaway food at stupid o’clock in the morning like we were back at uni!”
I can’t help but smile at the image. But takeaway food? Really?
“I’m really flexible with my diet,” Eilish told me. “I don’t believe it makes a huge amount of difference if I have a takeaway. I still eat chocolate every single day, I still have a takeaway if I want one, and I’ll go out for a meal with my partner. I try my best to be as balanced as I possibly can. I don’t ever want athletics to become this stressor in my life where I can’t enjoy myself.”
I feel guilty all over again at the mention of her partner. She should, after all, be enjoying Michael’s company and not chatting to me on the phone. I feel a bit better when she tells me he’s asleep.
Michael Rimmer is also an athlete. He’s represented Great Britain at three Olympic Games. Eilish believes that’s why the relationship works so well.
“We have two weeks off every year. I’m abroad 11 months of the year either on training camps or racing so it’s quite a strange life. There’s not many people who would live out of a suitcase with you for 11 months… but having someone there who’s been there and done it… just works really well. I feel very fortunate that I get to travel with my best friend… and he takes on quite a large role in my everyday coaching.”
Having the right people around her is obviously really important to Eilish. In fact, it was her friends that kept her going from the very beginning.
“When I joined Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, I met likeminded individuals. All of my best friends were at that club so even when it got a bit tough… I started to grow quite a bit… you lose all your energy, you go through puberty and you’ve got exams. A lot of young girls drop out the sport and I can see why. My running was awful at that point, but I still continued going along. For me, it was the people there, it was the friends I made at the club that kept me in it. I love to run, but I think it definitely helped having people along on that journey too.”
It’s been a long and eventful journey, the highlight of which must surely be her Commonwealth gold?
“There are certain moments in my career that I’m really proud of but the Commonwealth Games has just outshone all of that. To win… was just everything I could ask for. Everything aligned on that day. It was special for so many reasons. The way the crowd got behind me, I’ve never heard a noise like that. The last 200 metres in that stadium vibrated through my body, it was beyond anything I could ever imagine. For me, that’s certainly the stand-out moment of my career. I don’t think I will ever get a moment like that ever again, no matter what I go on to do. I don’t think that moment will ever be out-classed.”
Not bad for someone who, after a serious foot injury, was told she would never run again. But Eilish wouldn’t let the small matter of five screws and a plate in her left foot stop her! In fact, she’s already planning ahead for her marathon debut in London next April.
“That’s the next big goal. After London we have the World Championships in Budapest. I’d like to do London and then try and switch back to the 10k on the track. Not a lot of people do that but I’d like to still feel that I’ve got a presence on the track. It’s something I enjoy and I wouldn’t like to walk away from that just yet. And then everything just continues on towards Paris 2024.”
Unlike other sports, athletics is a constant cycle. Eilish, however, loves the challenge. But she also deserved to enjoy her well-earned holiday so after thanking her again for her time, I congratulated her once more on her Commonwealth Games success.
“I don’t think I’ve put it all into perspective just yet. It still feels very, very surreal. I’m sure it’s something I’ll look back on for the rest of my career and be really proud of.”
I’m sure it will, and rightly so. We’re all proud of you, too, Eilish.