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Marathon movers

08 December 2022, 4pm

Thirty-one years ago Liz Lynch (later McColgan) was blazing a trail in long-distance running. In 2022 her daughter Eilish McColgan followed in her footsteps

Anything you can do…

Eilish mccolgan 2022 commonwealth games 3

Although their career paths were separated by 26 years – Liz was born in Dundee on 24 May 1964 and Eilish on 25 November 1990 – they bear striking similarities.

One difference was that Liz Lynch passed her early years without any contact with athletics. It was only through a sports teacher’s advice that she joined the local athletic club, Hawkhill Harriers, and met Harry Bennet. He became her coach and was instrumental in finding her an athletic placement in Alabama, but died when she was still only 17. She became self-coached with great success, winning the Commonwealth Games 10000m title in 1986 and finishing 5th in the World Championships the following year, improving the UK record to 31:20. In 1988 she further improved to 31:07 and won the silver medal in the first-ever women’s Olympic 10,000m in 31:08. She retained her Commonwealth title in January 1990 before becoming pregnant with her first child – Eilish was born that November.

Liz hardly broke her training stride during the pregnancy, with her last run only five days before the birth and back up and racing again only six weeks after. Her recovery took her to even greater heights than before giving birth as she finished third in the World Cross-Country Championships in March and ran the second fastest 10,000m ever (30:57) in June, which stood as a Scottish record for 31 years.

This was all just setting the scene for the standout performance of her track career in the 1991 World Championships in which she had an emphatic win, lapping metronomically to finish 21 seconds ahead of her nearest rivals. Rather than finish her track season she redoubled training to make her marathon debut in New York just three months later, and less than a year since Eilish had been born. She won the race on the famously tough course in a new record time for a debut of 2:27:23.

It was a something of a watershed as although she finished 5th in the Barcelona Olympic 10,000m in 1992 she was now having growing success in road racing, winning the inaugural World Half Marathon Championships and, two months later, the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon.

Injuries intervened and it was not until 1995 that she ran another Marathon, finishing 5th in London and then 6th in the World Championships 10,000m. She won the 1996 London Marathon in 2:27:54 before finishing 16th in the Atlanta Olympic Marathon after suffering a poisonous insect bite. She finished second in the London Marathon in 1997 and 1998.

Eilish McColgan was born into a running household. Both parents were athletes, Peter McColgan being an international standard steeplechaser. Eilish had some success as a junior at 1500m but became injured when on the verge of her senior debut. Her chance came when, as a reserve, she competed in the steeplechase and exceeded expectations. In the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics she qualified for the steeplechase but didn’t make it to the final.

She also competed in the steeplechase at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but, as her mother had been, she was side-lined with injury for a lengthy period. She returned to running on the flat and qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she made the final of the 5000m.

Her first taste of championship success came in the 2018 European Championships in Berlin where she took the silver medal, but it has only been in the last year or two that she has become competitive with the best in the world.

In July 2021 Eilish beat Paula Radcliffe’s 17-year old British 5000m record by running 14:28:55. She had qualified for the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics for both 5000m and 10,000m. In the 10,000m she finished 9th, in 31:04.46.

She opened 2022 with a new British road record at 5km. Her 14:48 mark improved Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 time of 14:51 – and her mother’s 1991 time of 14:57. Within a month she ran 1:06:26 for the half marathon to beat Radcliffe’s 21-year old British record – and again surpassed her mother’s best – by 45 seconds.

In August Eilish had her biggest win yet at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where she won the 10,000m. Her 30:48:06 time broke her mother’s 31-year old Commonwealth Games record and made it three titles between them. She later took a silver medal in the 5000m

Her season wasn’t finished as she went straight on to contest the European Championships where she took silver in the 10,000m and bronze in the 5000m. By this time she had completed six outdoor championship finals in the same season. During 2022 she also ran 30:19 for 10km on the road in Manchester, setting a British and European record.

Eilish had originally planned a debut Marathon in the London Marathon on 4 October 2022 but had to pull out with low blood sugar – perhaps a cautionary sign after such a busy summer track schedule.

During 2022 Eilish McColgan comprehensively re-wrote the British distance running record book, replacing her mother’s entries with her own on both track and road. Looking forward to 2023 she is likely to make the step up to the Marathon distance and a new chapter will begin.


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