FOR some athletes, their pursuit of success results in them being somewhat one-dimensional. 

The nature of elite sport, more often than not, leads individuals to develop something of a selfish, narrow focus which sees them concentrate purely on getting the best out of themselves. 

Mhairi MacLennan could not be further from this stereotype. 

The distance runner is a Scottish and GB internationalist but she has a hinterland that goes far beyond athletics. 

Last year, MacLennan revealed that she had been abused by her former athletics coach, John Lees.  

She was only a teenager when she relocated from Inverness to Edinburgh and joined Lees’ training group, with the abuse including inappropriate touching during sport massages, and inappropriate comments of a sexualised nature. 

It was, unsurprisingly, a hugely distressing part of MacLennan’s life but over the past year, she has set things in motion to ensure good comes from the trauma she suffered. 

Early in 2021, MacLennan joined up with two fellow female athletes in penning an open letter to UK Athletics seeking lifetime bans for coaches found guilty of physical or sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse. 

That led to MacLennan, alongside Welsh internationalist, Kate Seary, founding Kyniska Advocacy, a lobbying organisation which aims to protect women in sport through policy changes, as well as MacLennan disclosing what she herself had been through. 

Since speaking out about her abuse life has, she admits, been something of a whirlwind but she is steadfast in her belief that however challenging things have been over the past year, she has done the right thing. 

“I’m not sure if speaking out was a conscious decision – I feel more that I got kind of swept up in a whirlwind of things,” the 26-year-old says. 

“I’ve always believed you should stand up for what’s right but I’ve maybe been a bit scared to do that myself.  

I’ve always really admired people who’ve done that and I felt like well, maybe this is my time. Even though I maybe didn’t feel ready, I just threw myself headfirst into it. 

“It was really scary – there’s always fear when you speak up about abuse that you won’t be believed or not listened to or people will play it down and I was really nervous about that. 

“Fortunately though, I didn’t receive any of that, people were overwhelmingly supportive and that gave me even more strength to keep pushing forward and actually for me, doing all of that was a huge part of my healing process. 

“At times, it was really hard- it was draining and exhausting and I had moments when I felt like I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was abused and spoke up about abuse and sometimes, you just want to be able to switch it off.  

“But at other times, it was really empowering to know that I’d forced my way through the pain and that something good could come out of it.” 

It is still early days for Kyniska but MacLennan is hopeful the positive impact the organisation has already made will continue. 

She is in no doubt that further progress must still be sought, with sport having a considerable distance to go before it can be universally considered a safe space for women and girls. 

“It’s hard to know exactly where sport is. Yes, UK Athletics admitted their past failings and there’s been progress because of campaigning that we have done, but not every sport has a group of athletes campaigning for the protection of athletes and that’s what we’re trying to do,” she says. 

I think sport is behind; there’s so many reasons for that and a lot of it is money.  

“Effective safeguarding can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and while some of the bigger sports have that money, they don’t want to spend it there because sport is about performance and winning medals. 

“It feels like in some areas, there’s real appetite for change but there are huge barriers.” 

Maclennan may have had some considerable distractions away from athletics over the past year but she very much retains serious aspirations in her running career. 

On Saturday, she will once again pull on the Scottish vest as she competes in the British Cross Challenge in Belfast. 

MacLennan has long produced some of her best results in the muck and mud of cross-country and she admits she is one of those strange creatures who relish the difficult conditions that cross-country all too often throws up. 

“I love the bad weather and I really embrace it; that’s what, I think, cross-country’s all about,” she says.  

“It’s not necessarily that I’m good at running through mud, it’s that it slows me down less than it slows other people down. 

“It’s always an honour to race for Scotland and I feel in good shape so I’m looking forward to it.” 

Looking ahead to the outdoor track season, MacLennan has already turned her attention to the possibility of securing a place on Team Scotland for the Commonwealth Games in either the 5000m or 10,000m. 

With places severely limited, she is under no illusions about the size of the task ahead but, as her work over the past year with Kyniska has proven, she’s not one to shy away from a challenge. 

“The Commonwealth Games is in the back of my mind,” she says.  

“It’s something to aim for - and this is the first time in my life I’ve been able to say I’m targeting something this big. At the same time though, I’m well aware of the likelihood of making the team and how tough it will be.  

“But if you don’t go for it, you’ll never make it. I think I owe it to myself to give it a real go.”