by Craig Wright
“I think it’s probably the first time I’ve really enjoyed the whole experience of a marathon.”
Those words will bring sheer joy to the organisers of the Stirling Scottish Marathon, coming, as they do, from someone who knows a thing or two about the world of athletics. For Liz McColgan, former world champion over 10,000m, the key to the success of the inaugural event? The sheer passion of the Stirlingshire support.
“The event was really good [last year] – we had great numbers taking part, and although there were a few issues with the course, the support from the locals on the route we ran was really good” said McColgan.
“[The support] is really important. The marathon is a long event, a tough event, and it’s a real rollercoaster ride. Some parts you feel bad, some parts you feel good, so when you’ve got support the crowds just lift you all the time.
“When we ran last year, there were people handing out jelly babies and Mars bars when you ran past their homes, and I think everyone needs that support. I really enjoyed taking part.”
Whilst the double Commonwealth Games gold medallist is unable to take part in the 2018 event – “I’m self-employed, so I have to work some of the time!” -, the Dundonian is enthusiastic about the changes to the route that have been made ahead of the second running of Scotland’s premier marathon.
“The course has been improved this year, which is a massive plus” she said.
“It’s a better layout this year. With it being the first year last year, the organisers have listened to feedback on what worked and what didn’t work so well, and it’s all about improving for future years.
“The main issue last year was that there was some bottle-necking at some parts, which have been taken out this year. It should be a better, and a faster, race.”
However, despite the potential for faster times in 2018, McColgan has a word of warning for those counting down the days until the starting gun is fired.
“I think a lot of people actually ruin the race by being too focused on times. People get so bogged down on the time they’re aiming for rather than just focusing on the benefits of training and enjoying the event.
“If you have a really good race, the time will come anyway, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to focus on times.”
McColgan is in a better position than most to assess the state of Scottish athletics at the start of a new year. Still the Scottish record holder for the women’s marathon and an ambassador for the Stirling Scottish Marathon, the 53-year-old now coaches in Qatar whilst her daughter, Eilish – herself a double Olympian -, will compete at the upcoming Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in April. So how does she assess the current health of the sport?
“The state of Scottish athletics is very, very good at the moment. We’ve got a lot of athletes on Great Britain teams now, especially in the endurance events. The standard in Scotland is pretty high, and to make the team is pretty tough – you need to pretty much be world class to make the team for the Commonwealth Games now, so it’s great to see.
“We’re seeing a lot of people and young kids getting motivated as a result, though things like Passport to Sport, so there’s generally been a turnaround in activity in Scotland, right down to school level. Whether it’s the government or the clubs, there’s been a real change, and hopefully now people are realising that kids need some form of exercise to go out and be healthy adults.”
Indeed, it is the grassroots level of the sport that, on the evidence of the Stirling Scottish Marathon, is experiencing a significant surge in participation. With just over three months until the second instalment of the event, McColgan is happy to extol the virtues of running, regardless of your own personal marathon ambitions.
“Running is so beneficial in a lot of ways, both physically and mentally, and I think a lot of people need that in their daily lives” she said.
“Even if you take 20 minutes to go for a walk or a run, it really clears the head and makes the body feel good. Everybody should at least try to fit in 20 minutes of exercise of some form, but when you get into running, it has a real sense of euphoria about it. The challenges you set and beating them – its something achievable to everybody.
“it’s not about how fast you do it, it’s about getting up off the settee, going out and going it. The biggest challenge is that first step – once you do that, the rest falls into place.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Brig