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Eilish McColgan's altitude error will be a valuable experience

THE education of Eilish McColgan is a lesson as yet unfinished.

Eilish McColgan is aware of the Kenyan threat, but will be happy to be 'among the minor medals'. Picture: Nick Ponty
Eilish McColgan is aware of the Kenyan threat, but will be happy to be 'among the minor medals'. Picture: Nick Ponty

In Oregon last Saturday, the steeplechaser's first race of 2014 was beyond her wildest nightmares. An 11th-placed finish and a time to forget brought the most negative of self-critiques. Yet, it served its purpose. With her entire focus on the pursuit of a medal at the Commonwealth Games, tweaks have quickly been enacted to profit from the hindsight.

"I know I won't be going to altitude and come down in a day and a half, which I was originally planning to do," she said. "I'll definitely be waiting five days or longer to ensure I'm fully acclimatised to sea level again. As an athlete you have to [go in for some] trial and error and see what works for you."

McColgan was provided with an unimpeded run at Hampden yesterday as one of the first to sample the track which has been laid above the existing football pitch to facilitate the intrusion of athletics upon Mount Florida. A self-confessed soccer agnostic, the 23-year-old believes the sport will relish a summer residency which will also include the national schools championships later this month, and the subsequent Diamond League meeting, before the Games themselves begin.

Let there be no more bumps on the road, she hopes. Breaks, stress fractures, viruses, they have all been sources of immense frustration for the young Dundonian since her emergence. The sports scientists have emptied their box of tricks in her cause, keeping track of her ecosystem with an Orwellian zeal.

So far, touch wood, so good. This, she reflects somewhat ruefully, has been her longest period of extended health. "It's definitely made a difference," she nods.

Yet it is not quite full steam ahead. If the 2013 world championship finalist acknowledges a weakness to address, it is a hurdling technique which lacks the fluidity of the omnipotent Milcah Chemos of Kenya, the presumed favourite for Commonwealth gold. The shin issues which hampered McColgan last summer have not fully dissipated, she reveals. Which has enforced a conservative approach once again to deliver her, in one piece, to the starting line in Glasgow.

"It's not the right time of year to start doing strength work to make myself more robust," she underlines. "But this winter will be a massive change. I will be doing more body weights and strength to make sure the lower body is more compact and robust and so I can start hurdling more and maybe doing it every two weeks. That will make a massive difference next year, looking ahead to the world championships and Rio in 2016."

The short-term portents, she maintains, remain positive. Shrugging off the jet leg from her Stateside stint, a Tuesday training session at Scotstoun provided reassurance that one setback does not a disaster foretell. Texts and Tweets have been exchanged with her mother and coach Liz Lynch-Nuttall, now based in Qatar, to assuage any doubts. With genuine Scottish contenders at the Games in thin supply, McColgan remains among the most visible.

No bold forecasts will be made. "I have to be realistic in what I can achieve," she says. "The Games is a lower level than the Olympic Games or World Championships but unfortunately I have all the Kenyans who dominate the steeplechase. So, realistically, I'd have to be beating a world champion. It's difficult."

All hope is not lost, though. "If I can get in among the minor medals, I'll be more than happy."

There will, of course, be a second chance of success should she fall short. The subsequent European Championships have become a mere after-thought despite their greater prestige. Zurich in late August, she is aware, may offer shorter odds on a place on the podium. But sentimentality, often superfluous in sport, has dictated her priorities.

Lynch, once a world champion, impressed upon her daughter the elation she felt when she won Commonwealth 10,000m gold in 1986 in Edinburgh, where the crowd enveloped her with congratulations. It feels, she confirms, like destiny she should emulate both her parents by lining up at a Games.

"It's a really special moment," she admits. "My gran and grandad - my grandad isn't here any more - run on to the track. My mum spots them in the crowd and runs over to them. It's moments like that . . . it's such a special moment.

"You can see how important it was to have them there and for the crowd. I'm really looking forward to having that sort of experience."

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