FOLLOWING the crowd has never been something that has appealed to Guy Learmonth. Throughout his career, the 28-year-old has always done his own thing and his willingness to experiment has led to a new addition to his training programme: ice-cold therapy.

In recent times, Learmonth has become an advocate and regular practitioner of the eponymous method of Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, which combines breathing techniques and exposure to cold. It is claimed, that adopting the method increases energy and sports performance, heightens focus and determination and improves sleep, as well as reducing stress and speeding up recovery.

Such is Learmonth’s commitment to the Wim Hof Method, he begins every day with a freezing cold shower.

“It’s not just a cold shower, it’s really perishing, but I can stay in the cold water now until my body goes warm,” he said.

The breathing techniques now allow him to hold his breath for a whopping eight minutes.

Learmonth’s new lifestyle, which also includes yoga, has, he says, made him “a lot more zen” than previously and the 800m British indoor champion admits he is unrecognisable from the person he was a few years ago.

“My partying and drinking in the past aren’t really a secret,” he says. “I ran my PB of 1 minute 44 seconds with the worst diet going. I was actually overweight when I ran that time.

“I was drinking too much and my lifestyle was disgraceful for a professional athlete but I got away with it because I trained so hard.

“I had to get away from all that though and all of this new stuff has calmed me down a lot. My girlfriend [fellow GB international, Jazmin Sawyers] thinks I’m mad but it works for me.

“I’m a lot more in control now. I’ve still got that super-competitive side because every sportsperson needs that, but I have a better balance now.”

It was missing out on a place in the GB team for the 2019 World Championships that gave Learmonth the kick he needed and made him realise he must make changes.

A switch of coach from long-time mentor Henry Gray to Melbourne-based Justin Rinaldi, with regular input from his own younger brother, Jack, was one of the first major changes for the Berwick-upon-Tweed native and he began 2020 in blistering fashion, winning his third British Indoor 800m title just a few weeks before the pandemic hit and decimated the sporting calendar for the year.

As disappointing as it was to have the opportunity to become an Olympian last summer snatched away, Learmonth remained motivated, driven in large part by the regret of missing out on Rio 2016 through injury.

Undertaking a diploma in Ancient Egyptian history was a welcome distraction when athletics became a strain and he has emerged from the past year in an excellent state of mind and with lofty ambitions.

Plan A had been to travel to Australia to begin this year but with that looking doubtful, an indoor season in Europe, including potentially defending his British indoor title in Glasgow in February, seems the more likely option. And Learmonth cannot wait to get back to racing regularly.

“I feel great. Training has been going amazing and I want to get down to 1 minute 43 and even below that,” he says. “I know what I can do and I know that pressure and being in big races is what I need to bring the best out in me. I’ll get that this year so I’m looking forward to getting back to those big races.

“I’ve gone through periods in my career over the last few years of hating athletics – hating racing and hating training. But now, things are so different. I’m completely re-energised and I’m loving it. I’m enjoying things more than I ever have and I feel like a kid again.”

Ensuring he makes his Olympic debut this summer is his priority this year. But Learmonth will not be content with merely making it on to Team GB.

“As I’ve got older, I’ve gone from wanting to prove people wrong to wanting to prove myself right,” he says. “I know how good I am and I know how fast I can run and I’m never shy in saying what I want to do. I’ve been to every major championship except the Olympics – that’s the one thing that’s missing from my CV so I want to tick that off.

“I don’t want to just go to Tokyo though, I want to go there with the intention of challenging for finals and medals. That’s always been my mindset and that’s even stronger now.

“So I’ll deal with everyone in the UK at the Olympic trials first and then start to get ready for Tokyo.”