She is the new darling of British track and field, the next Paula Radcliffe (says her coach) and possibly our best chance of a gold medal on the track at this month’s World Champs. But according to Laura Muir, she’s just like the rest of us.
Coming from the woman who ended last year ranked number one in the world over 1500m (she’s no. 2 as we go to press), that's way beyond the standard athlete’s line in self-deprecation, but pushed further she won’t budge: ‘It’s true,’ she says. ‘I just train more. A lot more.’
While there’s obviously more to it than that, there’s no doubt that Muir’s prodigious work ethic has played a major part in her development, and her recent run of form (see boxout below) hasn’t surprised her. ‘It seems to the public like I’ve come from nowhere, but I’ve been working on this since I was a child and now the rewards are starting to come,’ she says. As with Hawkins and so many other athletes, the foundations of Muir’s success were laid with years of grit and toil away from the spotlight.
In her teenage years in Kinross, Scotland, Muir would run laps of the school playing fields in the depths of winter long after the other kids had gone home. The only light came from the headlights from her mum’s car.
‘ I HAVE TRAINED AND TRAINED AND TRAINED FROM SUCH AN EARLY AGE THAT IT IS SECOND NATURE TO ME NOW’
To watch her compete now, all grimace and elbows, battling her way down the back straight, you get the feeling those laps forged the Scottish steel we see today.
‘Yes, that’s true for sure,’ says Muir. ‘People ask me what the secret is but there isn’t one – that’s why I say I’m not that different from other people. But I have trained and trained and trained from such an early age that it is second nature to me now and I know it works. I come from a family where we are organised and we work hard and I apply those two things to my life both on and off the track.’
A necessity really, given Muir is also studying to become a vet. She would have her school books out in the car, doing homework in the back seat as her Mum drove them to athletics meets. She’d run her heats and in between sit trackside with her nose in a textbook.
ALL OR NOTHING Aged 24, not much has changed. ‘My coach and I had to have a serious conversation – a negotiation really – about how to fit in athletics and studies,’ says Muir. ‘After a couple of years of the degree it was getting harder to combine both. He wanted me to train more while I wanted to study more – animals have always come first for me – so we came up with a five-year plan of how I could do it all. I’ve gone part-time on the studying so it’ll take me seven years to graduate instead of five.
Now I get up early and train at around 7am, do my studies for the day, then train again. I don’t really have much of a social life but I don’t regret that at all. I’d love to be Olympic champion; I want to be a vet and I don’t want to have to choose between the two.’
A big feature of Muir’s performances has been her willingness to run from the front and take the race to the east Africans, who have a long history of dominance in middle-distance running. Muir, though, is utterly unfazed by this.
‘When I race I don’t think about what’s gone before or look at it in terms of Europeans and Africans. I just see athletes and that’s all. I do my training, assess the opposition, come up with my game plan and so – if I’ve done everything right – I’ve got as much of a chance as they have.’
This bullish approach will be put to the test in both the 1500m and the 5000m in London, a combination not often attempted owing to the world-class levels of both speed and endurance that are required. But Muir is confident of becoming only the second athlete after Bernard Lagat (2007) to achieve it at a World Champs.
‘Things can go wrong’ she says. ‘You get injured or your rivals spring a surprise, or you just have a bad race. But I feel in good shape and, while I can’t be sure about the colour of the medals, why shouldn’t they be gold?’
LEADER Callum Hawkins leads the pack in the Rio Olympic Marathon. He finished ninth