The day before my Olympic debut and I started to get very emotional. My Papa had been my number one fan and we lost him to Cancer in 2012, in that same year I had been trying to make the London Olympics but had then picked up an achilles injury which ended my season prematurely. Before he died I had run a great race and he said “she’s going to make the Olympics”; it was very hard not being able to make it that year and I felt I had let him down.
So four years on and I was finally going to make him so proud, but not having him here to share this whole experience with me and be in the Olympic Stadium was upsetting. The Olympic Village had a reflection area and an Olive Tree where you could take time to write a message to the people who are no longer with us, I put a little message to him on a ribbon and tied it onto the reflection tree. He couldn’t be here with me but I hoped in some way he was.
That night (before the race) I didn’t sleep a wink, I tossed and turned and all I could think about was the race, I had had the same experience for the World Championships in Beijing one year ago. Not sleeping the night before a race is totally fine; it’s two nights before that usually matters for most people and I had slept well then so I wasn’t panicking the next morning when the alarm went off at 5:30am – it was an early race (10am) and so I had to make sure I had enough time to eat, get the bus to the Stadium, warm-up and get into the call rooms with enough time.
So onto the bus for the 35 minute journey to the Olympic Stadium after breakfast, it seemed very early but we had to allow for the time in the call rooms. Into the warm-up track and I got settled into my normal pre-race preparations. It’s difficult to run when you are so nervous, you feel drained, heavy and lethargic. It was a warm morning (26 degrees C). As I ran round the grass inside the warm-up track, I thought about my family who were coming to watch me today and wondered if I would be able to spot them in the massive stadium, which would be nearly impossible. Next thing I heard people shouting my name and as I looked up there they were heading in to find their seats. It was lovely to have a chat with them before the biggest race of my life and in some way I thought my Papa has helped them spot me.
The call rooms were very nerve wracking and warm but then seemed to be over in a flash. We were walked in a straight line through cement corridors and then held at the archway for what seemed an age on the approach to the Stadium. The sun was beating down and it was so warm. Finally we were called onto the track and hurried to the line. I had no time to even look at the crowds; we were off and it was fast, very fast. I could see a Japanese girl had hit the front and was running very fast. I remembered her from Beijing in my Heat there and she had done the same thing and it had resulted in her finishing last as her early pace was too hard. Straight away I knew I had to run my own pace at the back of the 18-strong pack and that she would eventually come back to me. We all started to string out quite quickly and I felt I was just having to run my own race and was not really able to work in a group.
I felt good though and I felt relaxed; with two laps to go I started to move towards and past a couple of girls – as I approached each barrier I was hurdling well and making good ground, the last water jump is always tough but I cleared it well and pushed through to the final barrier with two other girls, we sprinted to the line and I finished in a season’s best and was happy with my race, I looked up and there was my coach and team manager with big smiles, I gave them the thumbs up. It turned out to be the fastest heat and I was 14th – it was my second fastest time ever. The next two heats were run and then the rankings of the finishing places were revealed, I was 34th out of 52 runners. I was delighted with this as I had gone into the Olympics ranked 50th on season’s bests.
I would really have liked to run a PB (personal best) and also to finish a little higher, it was my hope that I would run into 9:30 something territory, but it just wasn’t the race for it, but the joy of finally becoming an Olympian, mixing it with the World’s best and finishing higher than expected was a great achievement.
I know there is more to work on and just a 3% improvement would bring me into the Olympic final. I walked out of the Stadium holding my head up high and also with fire in my belly and with the determination that I’m going to do this again.
The World Championships come to London next year (2017), the Commonwealth Games are in Australia in 2018 and after that Tokyo 2020 is not far away. If my legs allow me I definitely want to return as there’s unfinished business there on the track as I know with more work and drive I can mix it with many more of these girls.
I really enjoyed the rest of my time at the Olympics, supporting my team mates and friends from other countries and learning about other sports. It’s so exciting, inspiring and totally different to anything else I will ever do in life.
Not many people get to say they have been to an Olympics let alone say that they are an Olympian. I couldn’t have done this without the support I’ve had from my family, friends, my coaches, club Newcastle AC, and everyone that has wished me well and supported and followed my journey.
Special thanks to my sponsors that have been there every step of the way in my quest to become an Olympian:
McGrady’s of Downpatrick
Asics UK & Ireland
Naked Runner sunglasses
Terry Nelson Aqua Running
Phoenix Natural Gas
PwC Northern Ireland