Why I’m feeling on top of the world

In the second of her exclusive blogs for The Mixed Zone, European 400-metres hurdles champion Eilidh Doyle reports on her confidence-boosting first race of the season, offers an insight into how to tackle the race and gives her view on the Zika virus epidemic

I have been notorious for starting my seasons slowly and I really wanted that to change this season. And I did. Not only did I win the 400-metres hurdles at the Diamond League meeting in Doha, but my time of 54.53 seconds was the fastest in the world so far this year.

Of course, it’s still early days, but it’s definitely a nice place to be. It sank home a few days later when I was watching on television a race in Jamaica that some of my rivals were running in and at the bottom of the screen was the world leading time for 2016 – and I was, like, that’s me! How cool is that? How long it will last I don’t know, but hopefully I’ll be going even faster than that in the next few weeks. But it’s good to stamp your authority on the season so early.

Doha was the fastest time that I have ever opened up my season with by almost a second, so it was a good confidence boost and a great place to build from.

I knew that everything had been going well in training, but until you go out and do it in a race, none of that really matters. I have to admit that I was pretty nervous before the race. I always get nervous before I compete, but there’s that extra layer of nerves when it’s been a long time since my last race. I hadn’t raced since September and I needed to get back into the swing of things to settle those nerves. And then once the first race is out of the way I’m like, oh yeah, I remember what I’m doing now.

People often ask me what it’s like to run a 400-metres hurdles race, and the funny thing is, I find the hurdles much easier than running 400 flat. Hurdles is all about rhythm – you’ve got your stride pattern and that’s the key thing. If you get your stride pattern right then the race is nice and smooth; it’s when you lose momentum that it goes wrong. I feel like the hurdles help dictate your pace rather than in the flat where you can go off too fast or too slow. The hurdles break the race up – you don’t really focus on the whole 400 metres, you just focus on the next hurdle. You don’t really feel that lactic acid until the final 40 metres or so, whereas in the 400 flat, I’ll feel the lactic acid starting to build around halfway.

Concentration is really important in the hurdles. I’m not bad at keeping my concentration, although I’ve had my moments. My coach used to say I had turtle syndrome meaning that if I did something wrong, I’d just go into my shell and hide from everything. If I hit a hurdle or took it with the wrong leg, I’d panic and that would ruin the whole race rather than just saying, Right, I’ve still got five hurdles or whatever left, I can bring it back.’ But he says I’m much better at that now – I’m thinking more and I’m concentrating better.

The hardest section of the race is probably between 200 and 300 metres. It’s that bend where everyone says that you can win and lose races. That’s also where my stride pattern changes and I start hurdling with my opposite leg. That’s the part you really need to nail. I don’t feel that section in my legs as much as I feel the last hurdle, but technically that section is the most important.

Sometimes when I’m racing it’s my breathing that goes and other times it’s my legs. In Doha, it was my breathing that I felt because it was so hot. When I crossed the line, my legs were going. But I think because I’d won, I was so happy that I didn’t really feel that too much. But then I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t breath and I feel sick!’

I know that the Zika virus has been back in the news again recently. To be honest, I just switch off to a lot of it. I put my faith in British Athletics and I completely trust that they’re going to make sure we’re safe and we’re prepared for anything and everything. Maybe that’s naïve, but I do put a lot of faith in those guys. They know what they’re doing and how to keep us safe.

Scare stories come up before every major championship. I remember before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 there was so many horror stories. We were hearing it wasn’t going to be ready, it was going to be a disaster, there was even some discussion that Scotland might withdraw. That was my first multi-sport championship and the talk make it sound it like it was going to be the end of the world. I really didn’t know what I was going to find when I arrived in Delhi. But then when I got there, it was all fine. It wasn’t five-star luxury, but the conditions certainly weren’t going to affect our performances adversely, which is the main thing.

I’m quite a chilled-out sort of person and I don’t really let these things bother me too much. My family are all like me, too – none of them have even mentioned Zika to me, which actually makes it sound like they’re not all that bothered about my health and safety … My attitude is that I can’t control anything that’s going on over there and I really trust those people in charge of the team. You can’t miss these kind of stories when they appear, but I wouldn’t purposely go and seek them out. I think I’ll just deal with things as they come.

I’m now in Tenerife. I was only home for a few days after I got back from Doha and then it was off to Tenerife for a two-week warm-weather training camp before I race again. It’s really nice to be going into this training block on the back of a good race – it let me know that I’m on the right track and I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eilidh Doyle (formerly Eilidh Child) is a 400 metres hurdler who has represented GB for the past seven years. She is reigning European champion, as well as having won two Commonwealth silver medals and two World Championship bronze medals. She was a member of Team GB at London 2012 and is currently training for Rio 2016. Eilidh is originally from Perth but is now based in Bath with her husband, Brian, and her dog, Ben. Eilidh’s latest articles.

Eilidh was talking to Susan Egelstaff

Susan Egelstaff is an Olympic badminton player who competed at London 2012, as well as representing Scotland at three Commonwealth Games, winning two bronze medals. She retired in the aftermath of the London Games after a 12-year international career. Having written the occasional article for newspapers while still competing, she decided to try and make sports journalism a job. Susan is now a columnist and sports writer with The Herald, The Sunday Herald and The National and is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Scotland. Susan is also heavily involved with the Winning Scotland Foundation, a charity which helps children achieve their goals. Susan’s latest articles.

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