After a silver surprise at worlds, it’s now on to Gold
THE frenetic chaos of an Italian motorway provided the unlikely spot where Zoey Clark was finally able to relax. These congested, tollbooth-laden “autostrade” are not for the faint-hearted – the 22-yearold was glad to be only a passenger while her partner drove – but they helped join up a fortnight’s holiday that took her from Milan to Venice and down to Rome. After all her endeavours over the past 12 months, both professional and personally, it served as a much-needed and well-deserved rest.
“I definitely felt like I needed a break; mentally more than physically,” said the Aberdonian 400 metre runner. “This year has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and I just needed to switch off. In the first week of my holiday my mind was still racing but towards the end I was definitely feeling quite chilled out.”
This has been a breakthrough year for Clark, but it has been achieved in tandem with the completion of her honours degree in chemical engineering at Aberdeen University. While that must have been a timedraining pursuit, it did not hinder Clark on the athletics front. Instead, she has thrived.
Winning the British title at the trials in Birmingham in July gave her a place at her first world championships and she surpassed even her own expectations in London. If there was personal pride at reaching the semi-finals of the individual event and then posting a personal best, the glory lay in being part of the Great Britain 4x400m team that clinched relay silver.
That success thrust a hitherto up-and-coming but largely unknown young Scots athlete into the wider spotlight.
“What we did in London definitely surpassed what I had hoped for,” Clark admitted. “Going into it, you’re hoping for a medal as that’s the mindset you have to have, but actually doing it was quite surreal. There was definitely quite a lot of focus on the relay teams as there hadn’t been that many individual medals won and there was talk about hitting targets. So there was quite a bit of pressure, although we tried to block as much of that out as possible as you don’t want that interfering with your preparation.
“But it was just great and I’ve had such a good response since then. It was all a bit crazy. I was inundated with requests to go and speak at events or do interviews so that’s been something new to deal with.
“I was really delighted with how my individual event went, too. I had been hoping to reach the semi-finals but I wasn’t sure if that would happen as the competition was so strong. So doing that and then running a personal best time – you can’t complain about that. All of my runs, including my relays, were really consistent, so I came away from the championships really happy with how it went.
“Towards the end, I started to feel more comfortable in that setting. I was glad I had run in the individual 400m before the relay as that had given me exposure to the track and the atmosphere.
“I definitely enjoyed it. I remember being at Glasgow 2014 and letting the pressure get to me and it wasn’t as enjoyable. But you learn from that and I definitely enjoyed this experience a lot more.”
Holiday over, Clark will soon begin the process of reaching her next Commonwealth Games. The timing of the event next April means ripping up the usual training schedule and planning something different, although her decision to go full-time into athletics and leave job hunting for a while means there will be fewer distractions in the build-up.
“It’s more difficult to prepare with the Games being in April as usually we wouldn’t have started by that point,” Clark said. “So we’re thinking I’ll need to run a pretty full indoor season and then have the Games coming off the back of that. We need to move everything forward in training. So, for example, we’ll do speed work a lot earlier.
“I’m going to commit full-time to athletics. My degree was pretty full on, so I just want to see what happens if I can devote all my energies to running now. The rest is something I can come back to later on. It’s difficult to predict how I might do in Australia but I will definitely look to be competitive. I’ll put in a good winter’s training and see where it takes me.”
Clark will plot that path in conjunction with her coach Eddie McKenna, the pair having worked together in Aberdeen since a chance meeting when she was just 15. “Eddie is great and I’m so lucky to have him as a coach,” Clark said. “It’s a bit of a fluke that we ended up together. I came down to the track one day as I wanted to start athletics and was just wandering around aimlessly until Eddie came over and asked if he could help.
“And that was the start. Staying in Aberdeen and working with the same coach has been hugely beneficial.”
That seems something of an understatement.
Going into it, you’re hoping for a medal but actually doing it was quite surreal
Zoey Clark with Eilidh Doyle, Emily Diamond and Laviai Nielsen as they celebrate winning silver in the relay at the World Championships in London