The Liz McColgan Interview

"From a very young age I was always a high mile runner 90-miles a week at 16 years, but I worked my way through the distances also as a track athlete and was beneficial to bring the shorter distance leg speed to the longer distance." -LIz McColgan

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© Copyright – 2020 – Athletics Illustrated

Liz McColgan on the podium for Great Britain. Credit details pending

Liz McColgan is one of Scotland’s (and the UK’s) all-time great distance runners. During the 1980-90s era, she dominated many events and demonstrated great range, running well from 1500-metres (4:01.38) to the marathon (2:26:52).

She won gold in the 10,000-metre event during the 1991 World Athletics Championships, and a silver medal in the same event at the 1988 Olympic Games. She is also a two-time gold medallist from the Commonwealth Games. McColgan won the 1992 World Half Marathon Championships, 1991 New York City Marathon, 1992 Tokyo Marathon and 1996 London Marathon.

Her 10,000-metres best of 30:57.07 set in 1991, was just the third time ever that a woman ran the distance under 31 minutes. In Orlando, FLA she ran a road 10K in the time of 30:38 three years prior.

As a mother of five kids, she continues to run for health and the joy of it. 

Personal bests

1500m – 4:01.38
3000m – 8:38.23
5000m – 14:59.56
10,000m – 30:57.07
Half-marathon – 68:42
Marathon – 2:26:52 NR


Christopher Kelsall: At what age did you discover that running was it and that you were going to pursue it as far as you could?

Liz McColgan: I started running at 12 but when I was 16 I was told I could be good from my coach and started to train six days a week and two times a day sometimes. At 19, I knew I could be good myself and really started to train professionally for athletics.

CK: Why did you choose to start running? Did you watch and event and get inspired by an athlete?

LM: I started running by chance. My PE teacher Phil Cairns was a runner and made us go on cross-country runs. He noticed I could run, so I got on the school team and was then encouraged to join a club.  Running was free to do and I came from a family with unemployed parents so we could not afford out of school activities. I also like to train on my own and loved running on the country roads. It was like escapism from the life and troubles that surrounded me. I never watched sport on the TV so never had anyone to be inspired from. 

CK: There seems to be a resurgence in competitive Scottish running right now. What has changed over the past few years?

LM: Our governing body in Scotland is supportive of the athlete and their coaches. They needed to help them to develop. And this support attracted a change around 2003, and it has worked across all disciplines. Success breeds success and Scotland has some great talent.

CK: You recently tweeted concern about performance and how shoe technology (of all things) is boosting results. Other sports have equal equipment to create an even playing field. Should World Athletics ban the carbon plate technology?

LM: I feel strongly that the time has now come to cap technological input, all athletes should compete at the same level of shoe technology, no one should gain an advantage. Cycling and swimming saw this very early on in their sport and put a stop to it.  Nike is dominant and has resources far above what other sporting brands have. Their shoe technology is aiding in athlete performances so they have a clear and unfair advantage.  All athletes should be on the start line as equals and presently they are not.

Liz McColgan

CK: Why do you think it has been permitted to date? Is it just “early days” right now and World Athletics will need to take a careful approach in how they address the shoe technology rules?

LM: I feel there is a lot of politics and money behind decisions being made or ignored in the sport of athletics presently.

CK: So, considering that no one should gain an advantage, some people have suggested that Nike produce the shoes but the brand on them reflects the athlete’s sponsor. What do you think of that idea?

LM: No, I do not think Nike should be allowed to be that dominating in the shoe market. I feel that there should be set criteria for the shoe, no hidden secrets, that all shoe companies have to apply to so that all athletes race in the same standard of shoe.

CK: Otherwise, have you been a big fan of the sport since retiring?

LM: I am actually losing my love for athletics as I even question now when a great performance is achieved,  I question what shoes are being used etc,  so it demeans the performance for me.

CK: Your daughter Eilish said in an Athletics Illustrated interview, “I have no recollection of my mum racing or even training to be honest. My parents always really sheltered me away from the sport – perhaps because they wanted me to have a normal upbringing and choose the sport myself rather than be pushed into it. I genuinely don’t remember any running-related memories as a kid!” 

So, without pushing her into the sport, it must be rewarding to watch her do so well and take some of your records?

LM: Yes I never wanted to push my kids to follow in my footsteps, the sport is just too tough to be successful, creates more heartaches than success, it is not an easy sport, takes lots of hard work and dedication. So I am extremely proud of Eilish and what she has achieved so far. To run and beat my times is amazing and brilliant, but she is very dedicated and trains extremely hard and deserves the results and times she has achieved.

I am very proud of the athlete she has developed into and the person she is.

CK: Are any of your other kids athletes? 

LM: I have two boys who like running and very good at it but they presently have chosen just to run for fitness but you never know when at university and they join the running clubs there.

CK: You had great range running 4:01.38 in the 1500m and 2:26:52 in the marathon. What, in your opinion, gives an athlete big range – I am thinking Rod Dixon, Lorraine Moller, Mo Farah among others.

LM: From a very young age I was always a high mile runner, 90-miles a week at 16 years, but I worked my way through the distances also as a track athlete and was beneficial to bring the shorter distance leg speed to the longer distance.

CK: You ran so well over 10,000m and 10K on the road going well under 31-minutes. Was the growth of road racing and professionalism something that motivated you at that time — a good transition between middle-distance and the marathon?

LM: I never got into road racing until I went on scholarship to the states. In Scotland, as a youngster I ran a lot on the roads, so have always found road running fun and easy. It was an easy transition for me from track to road running as a high mileage runner, not a lot changed in my training we just added more miles 120-140 miles a week.

CK: Can you describe a typical off-season week of training, versus peaking for track or shorter road races — what the racing season looked like?

LM: 

Winter
AM PM
Monday 7-mile 5-mile
Tuesday 5-mile 6  x 1-mile
Wednesday 10-mile 5-mile
Thursday 10K – Tempo 7-mile
Friday 5-mile 5-mile
Saturday Long fartlek – road 5-mile
Sunday
Summer
AM PM
Monday 5-mile 5-mile
Tuesday 5-8 x 1K
Wednesday 7-mile 5-mile
Thursday 20 x 400m-1K
Friday Rest or 5-mile
Saturday 2K-5x400m-1K
Sunday 10-12-mile


CK: Your long run, considering your overall mileage, wasn’t that long. Did you run up to and over 20-miles when you started marathon training?

LM: No, I ran around 19 miles, I did not feel the need to go over distance as was confident of my performance over the marathon distance.

CK: Did you ever employ a very sharp peaking workout? Very short, full-out intervals?

LM:  I had a key session I ran to see what shape I was in, for the 10k it was 6 x 1-mile off 60-sec rec, for the marathon it was 10 x 800m hill session with 60-sec rec (drive downhill in car).

CK: Do you continue to run for fun or health or for masters competition?

LM: Just for fun. I am not motivated to race as I run so much slower than I used to and my enjoyment in running was all very time-oriented. 

CK: What do you make of the incredible doping crisis currently going on in Russia and Kenya?

LM: I believe in a clean sport and I believe all countries that do not follow anti-doping procedures should not be allowed with their athletes to compete.

CK: Of all of your great accomplishments, what is your best competitive memory that you continue to reflect on?

LM: Being a world champion was very special especially because it was such a difficult race to run due to the difficult weather conditions. To be the best in the world at one moment in time is always the best feeling.

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