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04 Sep You’re not done until you say you are | GB 800m athlete Alison Leonard reviews her season

Alison Leonard is a Great Britain & NI 800m athlete. Follow Alison on Twitter HERE.

“If anyone starts questioning your sanity for carrying on; don’t listen. You’re not done until you say you are.”

I wrote that in the spring of 2013, when I was beginning to emerge from several years of poor form which had left my faith in running fairly threadbare. Looking back, I am so grateful for whatever shred of madness was left in me that made me keep going, because 2014 has been, with admittedly a few notable exceptions, a good year.

I apologise if you’ve read that blog, but to sum up; after an early career that involved making top 4 at World Youth, World Junior and European Junior level, I hit a plateau that lasted several years, and remains pretty much unexplained. Training, check. Racing, check. Fast times…. Not happening. Apart from a few minor injuries and my own inability to eat enough red meat leading to anaemia, I still don’t know why I ran so badly. I just remember racing, repeatedly, and imagining, knowing, that around me people were looking and saying “what happened to HER?”. Egocentric, I know, and most people undoubtably didn’t care where I’d gone. But I cared. I cared a lot and it brought me down. The ‘highlight’ was a 2:11 clocking in the invitational race at Olympic Park in 2012. It really wasn’t logical to keep on bothering.

But for whatever reason, and I think in retrospect it may have been for a lack of knowing what to do with my life, I decided to hang in there. In spring 2013 I had a good indoor season, and realised that I was on my way back up. I was a bit ahead of the game; I imagined that 2013 would be the year of massive breakthroughs and PBs every race, whereas in reality I only just broke 2:03, although I did manage a PB in the 1500. It was enough to keep me going though, and ready for 2014.

2014, which was, in my head, the ‘do or die’ year. One more season to get it together, and if not, it would be full time work and a change of city, so my boyfriend wouldn’t need to keep commuting long distances. He, along with my family, coach and friends, had been loyal supporters of Birmingham City (drowning in mediocrity at the bottom of the Championship*) for too long. It was time for them to get Barcelona, or at least Arsenal. I started off with a fairly average 800m late at night in chilly Watford, but as I raced more, the times started creeping down, and just as importantly, I was winning races too. Like so many others I was in a race against the calendar to get a qualifying time for the commonwealth games, and in the end, I missed that target.

However, at my last attempt I did manage to run a 0.01 second PB… A millisecond, but after 4 years, a millisecond means a lot. And then one month later… 4 seasons of PBs in one race… 1.7 seconds, give or take, taking me down to 2:00:08. As someone jokingly(ish) commented “I’d have been impressed if you’d done that 3 years ago…”

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about my whole season; it’s on Power of 10 for anyone who wants to see, the good results and the PBs, as well as my less than stellar exit from the European Championships Semi-final (which of course it feels like everyone saw). I’ve got a lot to work on, such as not panicking when things start going wrong in races, but also in terms of training and conditioning. I need to stop making and eating so much cake, and remember to do my rehab exercises more. But I’m still here, and I want to stay. I’m rediscovering what it’s like to run with confidence, and I finally achieved what I’d been hoping for for 5 years… a senior GB vest. I’ve got a fantastic coach and training group, and support from the same friends and family who have been there every step of the way – I’m looking forward to the next few years.

So the take home message is the one I started this blog with; if you’re not ready to stop, then don’t. I’m not guaranteeing you’re a dead cert for Rio 2016, but if you want to go for it, then don’t let things like reality stop you. After all, no one stays in this sport past 20 years old without some kind of backstory; it’s ok for you to keep trying for another chapter. The uncomfortable truth about our sport, and sport in general, is that hard work does not always equal success. The phantoms of injury, illness, and personal issues haunt us all; to me it’s evident that you can’t get anywhere without a little bit of good luck. So my advice is to keep working hard and I hope you get your stroke of luck, and I hope I keep getting mine.

*this is not the ill informed opinion of someone who has never seen them play. I have sat through many BCFC games through my part time work, and can confirm they are the very best in mediocre.