“There’s nothing better than going for a run on the Northumberland coast.”
Runner Laura Weightman is heading towards her third Olympic Games. She tells High Life North about training in a pandemic, staying motivated and why Alnwick will always be home.
BY: Jo Dunbar
Northumberland athlete and Morpeth Harrier Laura Weightman hasn’t had the Olympic year she expected. However, the Commonwealth Games and European Championship medallist still managed great times and a personal best in her middle distance events this summer and looks to be in great shape to take on the postponed Olympics next year. High Life North spoke to Laura about how lockdown affected her plans, training under North East track hero Steve Cram and how she’ll celebrate Christmas.
Laura, how has your year been?
2020 has been an extremely strange year, a year I’m fortunate to have had professionally. In March when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed, I was obviously really upset because I’d trained for 4 years post Rio and I was targeting a really good games. I also think Tokyo would have put on an absolute spectacle of an Olympic Games. Obviously, postponing was the right decision: the spirit of the Olympic Games is about fairness and equal opportunity for everyone around the world. I don’t believe that all sports and competitors would have had an equal opportunity to be fully prepared
How was your training affected?
Being an endurance athlete, I felt extremely fortunate that my training wasn’t overly affected by the pandemic. We were lucky that we could go out training once a day: it was beautiful weather so I could go out for a run then do my gym exercises at home. Where I live in Leeds, there are beautiful running routes and trails: I just had to adapt. I didn’t have a track to train on, but I used cricket pitches, road circuits and I had to make the best of a bad situation. I felt very fortunate because so many athletes in team sports or gymnasts or swimmers need facilities. I made the best of a bad situation.
You were able to compete over the summer, too.
In June a few races started to get announced and the big one was Monaco Diamond League in the middle of August. It was a really big motivator to keep training when things were getting a bit harder. At that point I hadn’t had training partners for a while, I was still training on my own. My coach kept me motivated and the rest of the summer really paid off.
Despite everything, you have had a really good year professionally
Looking back, I’m incredibly proud of what I achieved this year. Despite the pandemic it was one of my best international competitive track and field. Running a 14.35 5000m in Monaco was out of this world. I’m second of all time to Paula Radcliffe and competing with the best athletes in the world: the two athletes that beat me are global gold medallists. Off the back of that I ran a personal best in the 1500m which is bittersweet because I didn’t break that magical 4 minute barrier that every female 1500m runner wants to. I finished off my season running a very fast 3000m time, getting close to athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia. It’s confidence boosting for me that despite the pandemic I’m getting within touching distance of the best in the world. It was a brilliant season. I couldn’t have asked for much more. If I can do that this year – within a global pandemic – what can I do with everything back in place?
You live in Leeds now but does where you grew up hold a special place?
Northumberland will always be home – I’ve lived in Leeds in for 10 years now but going back to my parents’ in Lesbury, that is home. I don’t mind being at home and having to “work” because there’s nothing better than going for a run on the Northumberland coast, is there? I can see Alnmouth beach from my parents’ house and within seven minutes I can be there. I love nothing more than running up the Northumberland coastline, as far as I can go. To me there’s no more beautiful run so I’m very lucky. I love running in Kielder forest when I have the opportunity too.
Will you get to indulge over Christmas or is it strictly food for fuel?
November in December is base building time – working on strengths and weaknesses ready for hard work in January. I do indulge at Christmas. For me, life is all about balance. My job is being a professional athlete and part of that job is fuelling my body in a certain way and training hard. But there are other things to life and I absolutely love Christmas. For me, it’s going home and spending time with my family, I’ll train over Christmas but we’re an active family – we often go out for walks and my mum loves to run as well. I might have a day off over the Christmas week because I do have a day off or a rest day every couple of weeks. Doing the mileage I do, I can enjoy the sweet treats and I would never restrict myself.
North East legend Steve Cram coaches you – how did that come about?
I wouldn’t be sitting here now, with all these achievements, without Steve. Steve’s been my coach for 11 years now, which in elite professional sport is actually quite rare. It’s because of our North East connection that we are working together, Steve started coaching me just after my 18th birthday. His son ran for Morpeth Harriers at the time and I was chatting to Steve at a cross country race and saying I wasn’t sure where I was going and what would be my next step in the sport. Steve gave me his email address and it evolved from there. Had we not had that North East connection, that wouldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have had all these experiences. I’m very fortunate and lucky to be learning from one of the best Britain and the world have ever had in 1500m and middle distance events. It’s a special relationship we have – he knows me better than I know myself sometimes.
The Olympic Games will hopefully happen next year: are you excited for that?
I hope the world will be in a better place next year and the Olympics will go ahead. I’ll be really sad if they don’t. I like to err on the side of positivity about next year but, having said that, the health of the world comes first. The Olympics is a very special event and should only go ahead if it can be done safely but from an athletics point of view it would be an incredible achievement if I can go to my third Olympic Games.
Follow Laura on Instagram @lauraweightman1