WRITTEN FOR THE IAAF WEBSITE
For mother-daughter team Liz and Eilish McColgan, the forthcoming IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha (Sept 27-Oct 6) represent an exciting opportunity for the duo to continue an impressive family tradition in the Qatari city they call their second home.
With 1991 World 10,000m champion Liz overseeing her training plan, 28-year-old Eilish has her sights firmly set on a top-five finish in the 5,000m final – but Doha, 2019 is only the next step in a bigger long-term plan of the Scottish pair’s to move up in distance.
“I’d love to break into the top five or to break 14.40,” Eilish reveals. “Either of those and I’ll be really happy!”
With Liz permanently based in the Arabian Gulf country working as a kids coach at the Al Saad Sports Club for the Doha Athletics Club, which she established following her move in 2014, Eilish continues:
“I love training in Doha – of course the weather can be challenging but it’s a beautiful country with fantastic sporting facilities. It’s somewhere I feel very at home so all of my plans are building towards making that (British) team.”
Coach Liz, 54 and a mother of five, explains the joint decision to move her eldest child onto the 10,000m discipline for next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, before moving up to the marathon event in 2021 – a distance in which she herself covered in 2:26.52 before claiming the prestigious London marathon crown the following year, back in 1996.
“Eilish is a very talented athlete and I feel she has a lot more to go in her running,” believes the 1988 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist.
“She has a lot of room for improvement in her endurance and hopefully we will see that in the next few years as she moves up in distance.”
A silver medalist at the 1987 World cross country Championships and at the 1989 World indoor Championships over 3,000m, Liz splits her time between guiding Eilish, children at the ‘DAC’ and delivering coaching programmes within schools across Doha.
“The IAAF World Championships will be different mainly due to the culture here in Doha but they will put on a great event,” she says.
“Facilities are in place and the schedule is set in the evening to deal with the heat. Qatar have held various world championships in other sports so it has the experience on how to deliver, and I am sure the athletes and spectators will have a great championship and experience.”
2017 and 2018 breakthroughs
Achieving the goal of featuring highly in the global 5,000m final six months from now should be a realistic aim if Eilish can replicate the form she showed in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The former 3,000m steeplechaser – with a 9:35.82 Scottish record and a 2013 World Championship placing to her name – first switched to flat track racing with success in 2016, finishing 13th in the Olympic 5,000m final.
Based in Manchester with her boyfriend, 2010 European 800m silver medalist, Michael Rimmer, Eilish trains alone but captured her first senior international championship medal at the 2017 European indoor 3,000m final with bronze in Belgrade, before reaching the 5,000m final at the World outdoor Championships over 5,000m in London later that year.
2017 was undoubtedly her breakthrough campaign, as Eilish enjoyed a series of superb lifetime best achievements including an indoor 8:31.00 3,000m, a 32:10.59 10,000m, a 8:43.02 outdoor 3,000m, a 4:01.60 outdoor 1500m, a 14:48.49 Scottish 5,000m record and a 4:20 road mile.
“2017 was by far my best season to date – I managed to stay much more consistent with regards to injury and illness and it made such a huge difference to my performance and confidence too,” explains Eilish.
“I went into races knowing I was in the shape of my life and ready to perform. That confidence continued to snowball and it was the first season I had broken some of my mum’s personal bests too, so that was really special and really helped to drive me on to run faster!”
The turn of 2018 saw her claim the European outdoor Championship 5,000m silver medal in Berlin and record a 4:08.07 indoor 1500m personal best, yet illness affected her performances at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, as she trailed home in sixth in both the 1500m and 5,000m finals.
Her form however returned with a 4:25.07 track mile, a 54:53 10-mile debut on the roads and then a fine 31:51 10km road lifetime best in Doha in the New Year, before illness struck again – causing her to place only seventh in the European indoor 3,000m final last month.
“I had a horrible start to the year with a virus so silver in Berlin meant a lot to me – being able to turn the year around and finishing on such a high,” she continues.
“Since stopping the steeplechase, my serious injuries have reduced however being more consistent in my training has had an impact on my health and my immune system seems to take a hard knock – I picked up something in South Africa this year which just wiped out my entire indoor season.
“It’s frustrating but I’m making some small changes to my travel plans, sleep routine, diet and even my training schedule to try improve my immunity.”
Natural comparison and driving force
Currently enjoying a stint of altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona Eilish is looking to open her 2019 outdoor season at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford, California in early May, before another spell of altitude training in St Moritz.
Supported by Asics – as was McColgan senior in her heyday, she reveals:
“Asics has always been a brand very close to my family – they sponsored my mum through some of her greatest achievements and my first pair of baby shoes were Asics so it’s nice to feel like it’s gone full circle and it’s pretty special.”
Each year, Eilish joins her mother in Doha for a few weeks over the Christmas period with her siblings, and Liz enthuses about the partnership she and husband, John Nuttall – the 1994 Commonwealth 5,000m bronze medalist – have in Qatar:
“We try to help nurture and develop athletic skills here in Doha. It’s very challenging to be doing what I do here because we coach a mixture of boys and girls of all ages and we have no indoor facility to use, so there can be challenges with the weather. I do enjoy the opportunity to work with some very inspiring and talented kids and adults.”
A winner of the New York and Tokyo marathons, Liz still runs each day and works out in the gym twice a week. She explains:
“I always knew I would get into coaching when I retired as I started to coach athletes before my own career was over.
“When I arrived in Doha, I gave some motivational talks in the international schools and it became very clear that a lot of kids wanted to run but there were no opportunities for them, so I set up a little running group that grew very quickly and then developed DAC.”
With an athletic CV that also includes a 14:57 road 5km, 15:03 5,000m, 30:57.07 10,000m and 67:11 half marathon, Liz is in high demand to guide the local potential stars of the future.
“We saw so many little ones with poor athletic skills so we then set up our mini and schools ABC programme – this teaches the simplistic run, jump, throw approach and getting kids active. With the weather here, kids are reluctant to get outside and be active so we try to change that thinking – our schools programme is doing really well.”
Having sped to the global 10,000m title only nine months after giving birth to Eilish, Liz may be inspiring future generations but it is her first-born who is hot on her heels to emulate her success:
“I never used to compare myself to my mum as I always felt I was an entirely different athlete but now that I’m competing on the flat, it’s natural to compare,” Eilish explains.
“My mum’s the driving force behind everything I do and I wouldn’t have achieved anything without her behind me all the way.
“Year by year, we are building a plan towards getting stronger and faster – ultimately building towards the marathon and that’s always been her plan from the start. Of course it’s not easy following a long-distance coaching plan but we are lucky in this day and age to make sure we are continually in contact.
“I never focus on my mum’s achievements too much because we are different people and different athletes but I have her personal best times within my grasp and so those are what i am aiming to beat!”