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Eilish McColgan: Having a partner who is also an athlete has made life less lonely

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After a stellar year, Eilish McColgan reflects on her journey to success and why she’s grateful to have found her groove. By Imy Brighty-Potts.

Eilish McColgan didn’t plan on being a runner – not a professional one, anyway.

“I didn’t come into the sport to be an Olympic athlete,” says the Dundee-born 32-year-old, who was recently named BT Sport Action Woman of the Year 2022 after winning gold in the 10,000m at this summer’s Commonwealth Games. “I have just always loved running,” she adds.

This might be a little hard to believe, considering her parents are both former athletes – Northern Irish steeplechaser Peter McColgan and 10,000m Olympic silver (1988) and World Championships gold (1991) medallist Liz McColgan.

“I was always aware that they were runners, but I just thought everyone’s parents were like that,” McColgan quips.

Fresh off a flight when we speak, she seems grounded and relaxed – and as enthusiastic as ever to be talking about her sport.

“I was around 15 when I started taking the sport more seriously,” she reflects. “When I started competing myself, I realised how huge it is to be the fastest woman in the world over 10,000m like my mum.”

Now she has won that same accolade at the Commonwealth Games, it seems success and determination runs in the family. McColgan’s summer win also set a new record for the event – beating the one formerly set by her mother 32 years earlier.

But achieving this level of success isn’t always easy.

“It is a lot of time away from family and friends, there are a lot of hard parts to being a professional athlete,” McColgan admits, noting the impact on relationships is one thing – especially when it comes to going away to compete.

“In previous relationships, someone who isn’t in the sport, it looks like you are off seeing the world galivanting and it is actually just hotel rooms and work. If they aren’t in the sport, it is harder to be apart and rely on communication via WhatsApp. I feel like I haven’t seen some of my friends in about six years.

“That love of running drives me on,” she adds. “Now my partner Michael [Rimmer, fellow middle-distance runner] can travel with me, it makes a huge difference to be able to do it together. Because he is a pro-athlete, he gets it. Having a partner also in the sport has made it so much easier. It was very lonely before, and I am a lot happier.

“It felt like life was going on without me before, now we are a team. Doing it together keeps me on the right track for the goals I want to achieve.”

There have been shifts for McColgan on the self-care front, too, and she’s made taking care and understanding herself more a priority.

“I don’t drink alcohol at all – I drank enough at university to put me off for the rest of my life! I don’t feel the need to drink to impress anyone anymore. You want to fit in and it’s a way of socialising – for me, I never enjoyed the taste, I just did it to have a social life. It built up my confidence,” she admits. “As an adult, I realised I don’t need to drink if I don’t like it.”

In recent years, there’s been growing focus on sexism in professional sports and athletics too – from high-profile names such as Simone Biles speaking out about experiencing abuse in the industry, to the racism and sexism the Williams sisters have faced during their careers.

Along with fellow pro athletes like Dina Asher-Smith, McColgan has joined in calls for greater awareness around how menstrual cycles can impact performance.

“It’s great that we are talking more about periods and the menstrual cycle, and how that impacts performance, but there is still a lag in how men’s and women’s performances are reported,” she says today. “If you pick up a newspaper and look at the sports pages, you will find it more difficult to find a woman’s story or feature.

“There needs to be better reporting of performances and successes, like there have been for the Lionesses,” she adds.

One thing she is grateful for is the supportive community female athletes have created for one another.

“There is a lot of respect for other female athletes on the circuit, because we all know what the others are going through,” says McColgan. “There is mutual respect in the fact we are all going though similar things. You know what it took for them to get there.”

Eilish McColgan is a sporting ambassador for wearable sports and fitness technology brand Polar. For more information, visit polar.com/uk-en



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