Eilish McColgan: Athletics star wants to help girls stay on track

The Dundee-born Hawkhill Harriers star was always destined for a future in athletics and had the advantage of being the daughter of one of the greatest female athletes Great Britain has ever produced.

But McColgan, now 31, has been perturbed by the sheer volume of promising young female athletes who quit sport in their teens.

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Now, in an attempt to keep young female athletes in the sport, McColgan and her partner, English middle-distance runner Michael Rimmer, have set up a non-profit body, Giving Back to Track, to encourage continued participation.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” she said. “Every time I go home to Dundee I’m reminded of the great facilities we have now, and how much of a difference that makes for young athletes looking to progress, but with that comes increased cost or participation and competition, which can put people off.

“Once you start to factor-in traveling to competitions, accommodation and so on, I guess I’ve just become very aware that for some families it’s virtually impossible to do all that.

“I’ve been there and done it – injuries, surgery, the ups and downs – and know how challenging it can all be. I think it’s important to be honest in sharing my experiences. It’s not all roses and unicorns, there’s good and bad, but for me the enjoyment factor far outweighs the difficulties.”

Eilish McColgan wins the Muller British Athletics 10,000m Championships and the European 10,000m Cup at University of Birmingham, clinching her spot on the GB Tokyo Olympics team for her third summer games. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

McColgan last month broke Paula Radcliffe’s British half-marathon record which had stood for 21 years.

She ran 1hr 6min 26sec in finishing sixth at Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, beating Radcliffe’s time of 1:06:47.

It also beat her mother Liz’s best of 1:07:11, and Liz tweeted: “Well that’s another of my family records gone.”

McColgan continued: “Getting females through those teenage years, when they’re experiencing changes in their bodies and their personal lives, is crucial. You can have all the talent in the world, but once your body starts changing it makes things much harder for you and it’s easy to be put off.

“I won my first British title aged 13, in cross country, and did well for a few years. Then I started growing and going through puberty and I soon found I had no energy and was really struggling. I went from winning races to being last and it made me shy away from competition. I can totally understand why some girls get frustrated and demotivated and ultimately leave the sport.

“I want to say to them that this is all normal. Your body is changing and that’s a challenge but you just need to keep at it because once you have adapted you’ll feel stronger and the enjoyment will come back. If I can do something to give girls a boost, and encourage them to stay in the sport, I’ll be really happy.”

McColgan and Rimmer offer a mix of practical, financial, and emotional support as the cost of living in particular affects parents’ ability to travel to events.

“One of the things I want to do is to offer free access to athletics and encourage people to give it a try,” says McColgan. “It’s so much more than just running – there loads of different events in track and field.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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