Amy-Eloise Markovc holds the unique distinction of being the only athlete to compete at five major championships in 2022. World Indoors, Worlds, Commonwealths, Europeans and European Cross Country.
To call it a busy year would be an understatement, more so when you add in life away from the track. It brought about significant change. A new country and home, having relocated back to England after a number of years in the United States. A subsequent new coach and training group, led by Rob Denmark in Loughborough. In addition, a new sponsor in On.
Coupled together, these led to a series of highs and lows, but also valuable lessons for the season ahead.
Ahead of her first race of the indoor season where she looks to defend her European Indoor title, Amy-Eloise spoke to James Rhodes from her training base in Kenya about the past year gone, settling into a new training group and her goals for the future.
A New Life
Second to moving back to England, the biggest change of 2022 has been acclimatising to a new training set up. Since last summer, this has been at the hands of Rob Denmark. Himself a fine athlete, with a CV including Commonwealth Games gold and World Indoor bronze.
The transition, when simultaneously coupled with wider life changes and three major championships in quick succession, was a stressful period. However, it is one that has been fruitful.
“It was stressful when that was all happening, but the transition off the other end has been very easy because I feel at home. I’ve got lots of family around and I’ve settled in really well.
I feel like I can be myself, so even within the first week I felt like I was really in the right group. I felt like I could be me, which I think makes a huge difference.
Key to the transition has been total buy-in; an openness to new approaches and ideas but also trust in Rob. One new approach has been a shift to using heart rate to measure effort. It has been going well and positively addressing some areas missing previously.
The biggest change, perhaps, is a first-time training visit to Kenya and first experience of altitude training. It could be a daunting setting, but the experience of training partners Adelle Tracey and Melissa Courtney-Bryant provided welcome reassurance. Their advice and experience, coupled with being careful about a first visit to altitude, has provided a rewarding environment.
The primary focus has been taking it week-by-week, achieving decent volume whilst keeping a close eye on energy levels.
However, an average week incorporated two sessions, on either the track or dirt track on Tuesdays and Saturdays. These sat alongside a longer LT1 or shorter threshold effort on Thursdays and a Sunday long run. The latter was noted as not intense, but more about getting the miles in. All complemented by gym sessions a couple of times a week and easy running in between.
The change of scenery and extent of soft surface trails make a positive difference during a big training block. The weather, particularly when accompanied by photos of snow sent by her husband from home, provides an added bonus.
Having returned to the UK, a short three-race indoor season is planned. After a couple of welcome nights at home, a trip to France and season opener at the Meeting de l’Eure. The goal is clear, to obtain the European Indoor standard (8:48.00).
This will be followed by the British Indoor Championships and, all being well, the European Indoors in Istanbul.
As the first to include a title defence, it is a particularly meaningful season. Having won the previous edition in Torun, the opportunity to be announced as reigning champion was too good to miss. Furthermore, 15 laps indoors is one of Amy-Eloise’s favourite to race.
“Let’s be honest, that’s the reason I’m doing it – I want to defend my title. If nothing else, it’s going to be good for me to go in with that mentality.
I had such a good experience before. Me and Melissa are both hoping to make the team, it would be amazing if we could both stand on the start line and compete for medals. You can’t ask for any more than that.
The 3000m is such a fun event indoors. It’s refreshing, I don’t think you can fake fitness too much. It’s fun and I think it gives you a pretty good indication of where you are and what you can do for outdoors. It’ll be exciting!”.
Ups & Downs
As Ronan Keating says, life is a rollercoaster. If there is an athletics version of this metaphor, it is the past season. It had its fair share of ups and downs and has provided valuable learning experience going forward.
Indoors started well; a maiden British title over 3000m was preceded by two races in the States. The first, at the Millrose Games (8:49.49), was less than half a second outside the World Indoor standard. This has inadvertently become somewhat of a theme when it comes to obtaining qualifying times! Swiftly banished, however, with a PB a week later at the NB Indoor Grand Prix (8:44.15).
Interjected were a couple of notable shorter distance races. A 4:30.78 mile and a 4:08.68 1500m were the fastest time by a Brit in 2022, the latter impressively inside the World Indoor standard. Coupled with how the season ended, it was the start of a year demonstrating impressive range.
March’s World Indoor Championships in Belgrade did not replicate last season’s highs, finishing fifteenth with 8:53.57. Not every performance can be controlled, however, and it turned out Amy-Eloise was racing with COVID (“no wonder I felt terrible!”).
A rare opportunity to race the favoured 3000m at the Rabat Diamond League was jumped upon in May. A fine second place finish in a strong field, just three hundredths of a second behind Mercy Cherono. Given the coverage afforded to the Diamond League, it was perhaps a race that brought attention to a wider audience.
The time, 8:40.32, was less than a second off the European Indoor standard for outdoor performances. That theme re-emerges; “classic me, being just off!”.
A second British title followed, this time over 5000m, securing a World Championships spot. A less stressful selection than for the Tokyo Olympics, backed up by Commonwealth Games and European Championships selection.
The World Championships, particularly in relative proximity to where had been home, were an exciting prospect. There were, however, two types of heat to deal with – the race itself and the temperature, which reached 36 degrees.
Not dissimilar to Belgrade, another uncontrollable element that negatively impacted the outcome; 15:31.62 to finish twelfth and not advance to the final. “The experience as a whole was great, but the actual race itself I struggled with the heat. I was delirious afterwards”.
If Eugene was a disappointment, the Commonwealth Games less than three weeks later was anything but. A step-change performance, finishing fourth in 14:56.60. Markovc’s first time under 15 minutes, the twelfth British athlete to break this barrier.
It was a performance that went somewhat under-the-radar, particularly given Eilish McColgan’s silver and second medal of the Games. Noting the atmosphere provided an amazing experience and the best stadium to run in, it was the bounce back from Eugene that provided the biggest pride.
“I think the reason that I was so proud of Birmingham was because I’d had such a terrible experience at the World Champs. Being able to bounce back, even though I know I was capable of running faster than I did, and I got fourth and that wasn’t a medal, I was quite proud of that race because I had had such a low such a short time before.
The stadium was so loud it was impossible not to get excited. When I was warming up, I could hear Jazmin Sawyers being introduced, and the crowd went crazy. Later in my warm up I heard she’d done a huge jump and it was hard to not be excited about that. It’s something Birmingham should be very proud of”.
Looking to the summer, where focus sits firmly on the World Championships, valuable lessons will be taken from last summer.
“With all three championships and changing coaching, changing everything, I think we kind of mixed up my peak a little bit, so I really struggled to execute at the right time.
It did show me, if you have one championship, you peak for the right time, and have more confidence going into it, all of those things can come together. I know I have a really good one in me and I want to show that”.
Whilst the racing calendar for the summer remains in draft, the early stages are more fixed.
A trip to Flagstaff for April, assuming the indoor season goes well, with an outdoor opener over 5000m at Sound Running in California, a competition that often provides early season qualifying times. A fortnight later will see a return to Highgate for the Night of the 10000m PB’s.
Highgate brings fond memories, having lived up to its name with a 31:25.57 PB last year. Albeit, in true Markovc style, that was less than one second outside the World Championships standard!
Impressively, having raced the distance just three times, Markovc sits tenth on the British all-time list for 25 laps. It asks the question whether focus may shift towards this over the 5000m.
“I have a lot of unfinished business in the 5000m. A few years ago, I thought I would have moved more to the 10000m by now, but I think I have a lot of speed, and the past year has taught me that I want to use it.
Right now where I’m at with my training, I really just want to nail a good 5000m. That’s really what I’m hoping for this year. I want to make teams, obviously, but I want to have a race that I’m proud of when I’m there.
That said, I am going to run Highgate, because I want to also run fast in the 10000m and I am open to what happens there. I’m not going to turn down any opportunity”.
In the past, goals may have been more time-focused, this year brings about a shift in priority and mentality. That’s not to say time-based goals do not exist, achieving 14:4X for 5000m remains a firm target.
“Even though I do want to run quick in the 5000m, and I do have time goals, that has become less important to me.
I made every single championship this year, but I didn’t necessarily perform to the level that I wanted at each of them. I really want to go and change my mindset. That’s the biggest goal now. It’s not just about making teams, it’s about competing to perform well in the final. I want to walk off the track and have a feeling of ‘ok, that’s something I’m really proud of’.
That’s the number one goal of the year. to get that feeling when I walk off the track like I really nailed that today”.
Increasingly important, also, is enjoying the process of racing. As Amy-Eloise noted, and many will have similar feelings, “when I’m relaxed and happy and really enjoying everything, I run quite a lot faster”.
Their nature may differ, but lessons from a World Championships or Commonwealth Games can be easily applied to club-level competition. This was something Amy-Eloise was keen to end on;
“I think it’s important to understand, especially for club runners at any level, that even at the professional level there’s lots of ups and downs. I had plenty of sub-par races this year, but I also had really fulfilling ones.
Some of the most fulfilling races weren’t necessarily the fastest ones. The tactics of racing mean sometimes your best 5000m isn’t necessarily your fastest as well, because of the context of the actual race itself.
I do this because I love doing it, I don’t do it because it’s the most secure and lucrative job in the world. I’m just focusing on loving what I’m doing, getting back to my routes, being more connected to the UK running scene, and also be open to change”.
Throughout the whole changing environment of the past year (“my year of chaos”), the priority has been enjoying the sport. A focus not just on time, but on enjoying both the process and outcome. As Amy-Eloise puts it, “you get more out of it and are more fulfilled in the long run”.
Pun intended or not, it’s an approach applicable to any runner.