from UK Athletics


Marathon Olympian Tracey Morris

20 Apr 2004 12:09

Two days after she earned her place in Team GB for the Olympic Games in Athens, 36-year-old Tracey Morris (Valley Striders) still cannot really believe that she is really good enough to have a place in the UK Athletics National Marathon Squad.

“Going on that first Training Camp was just as scary as standing on the London start line,” she says – as modest as she is bright and articulate; finding it “unbelievable” that she has been on a few more front pages and even more sports pages than even Posh and Becks so far this week.

Try explaining to her that the image of her sprinting along The Mall to the finish of the Marathon, so obviously bounding with energy and full of the joys of spring, encapsulated the image that millions of us have of The Typical Olympian, and she smiles modestly: “I still feel I’m talking about somebody else.”

So who is the real Tracey Morris? “I thought it was all going to be over today," she says, back home in Leeds, keen to get back to her work as an optician. “I thought I could start going back out again. I was going to carry on running, but certainly had no real plans for competitions. I was looking forward to having a drink on a Saturday night rather than being the driver. But I can’t do long runs with a hangover. Silly me!”

So what transformed her into “the kind of inspiration the late Chris Brasher had in mind all those years ago when he firmly believed the London Marathon could generate an improvement in running standards” (as described her in the Flora London Marathon preview last Friday)? Bud Baldaro, the UK Athletics National Marathon Coach, bears a huge responsibility.

He approached Tracey, with some embarrassment, after she won the Leeds Abbey Dash 10km in 33 minutes 23 seconds on 30 November last year. He had done the course commentary and was red-faced because his encyclopaedic knowledge of the UK endurance scene did not include her achievements, chapter and verse.

She explained to him that she had finished 13th in the Bupa Great North Run in 76:34 on 21 September, having earned a place alongside Paula Radcliffe and company on the elite start after running the York Half Marathon in 81 minutes and the Wilmslow Half in 78 minutes.

Whether she also mentioned that she had finished first woman (behind only 11 men) in the Bridlington Half Marathon in 76:48 on 12 October is not clear. Similarly, modesty might have led to her also over-looking her victory over all the other women and all but seven of the men in the Roundhay Park 5 in Leeds on 16 November, when she clocked 27:38.

And she certainly didn’t go into her 1999 London adventure. “I really enjoyed it at the time,” she recalls. “I didn’t say ‘Never again’ because I found it difficult. It was such a long distance. There was no way I was going to go into marathon running. But I carried on running for fitness – four or five miles round Leeds a couple of times a week. Come the summer months, I hated being in the heat – and now I’m heading for Athens in August! So I went to the gym. I entered a few races with people at the gym. Then it was getting lonely running round the streets the next winter, so I joined Valley Striders and started to listen to people about how to do more than 25 miles a week.”

As she had left some good quality athletes in her wake in the Abbey Dash, Baldaro asked if she was doing the London Marathon. She said she had applied but had heard nothing. A week later, Baldaro phoned her and asked if she had heard from London. Yes, she said; she had been rejected in the ballot.

Days later, Baldaro buzzed again. He offered her an elite entry – and an invitation to the National Marathon Squad training weekend at Loughborough. “Oh, go on then,” she replied.

And as she travelled to the Midlands, her sole thought was: “I just hope I can keep up with them.” She explains that her only previous marathon, with friends for a charity for the blind in 1999, had taken 3 hours 39 minutes. When that stat appeared on the info distributed to squad members, a few of them asked her if it was a printing error.

But she overcame the nerves, explained the 3:39 marathon – “and once we got started, I really enjoyed it: the speed work, the talks, the advice on nutrition; the whole package. You come back and think, ‘I really want to do that now!’

“I didn’t even have a training plan. So Steve O’Callaghan, the coach at Valley Striders, said, ‘We really need to decide what we’re doing.’ And Phil Townsend and Gill Keddie at Leeds City AC came up with some tremendous advice.

“I have actually enjoyed the training. It’s been so new to me. I thought I’d done well up to Christmas – I got up to 40 miles a week for the Great North Run after they told me I was on the elite start – but I almost doubled it in the weeks leading up to London.”

Her self-deprecating attitude shines through as she reveals her first attempt at a 70 mile week almost ended at 69.3. “We got to the end of my last run of the week, and I had to say to Paul, ‘I can’t come in the house yet.’ I ran round the little block in the neighbourhood, then went in.”

Another example of the precise mileage counting that went on while she worked a 39-hour week, basically from 9am to 4.30pm: “I work until 7pm on a Thursday, so I got into the routine of getting up at 5.30-6am and running to work, then running home at night. It’s 7.2 miles there – I’m getting to be a real runner, measuring it like that, aren’t I – and 6 miles back. But I pulled a calf in the snow – I think I didn’t warm-up properly – so I had to stop while the weather was extremely cold.”

Her highest mileages were weeks of 86 and 84 – “and I had to learn to run tired,” she says, echoing a sentiment that will have been experienced by every one of the thousands who prepared properly for London. That said, she had a tremendous sequence of victories in local races:

“I felt so tired,” she recalls. “But Steve said, ‘It will all come together next Sunday. Just taper down your training now and your legs will be ready to run by next Thursday. But I got to Saturday night and my legs were still not ready to go.

“And then I nearly didn’t get to the start. Getting out of the bath in the hotel at 10pm on Saturday night, I slipped, banged my back and my calf and cut my ankle. Paul gave me a massage and I went running up and down the corridor of the Tower Thistle Hotel to convince myself that everything was just fine.

“Even then, I didn’t sleep. I even felt fat from all the carbo loading and not really exercising.”

At the Elite Start, her sole worry was that everyone would run off and leave her. But that didn’t happen … until they reached the cheering crowds on Tower Bridge.

Tracey takes up the story of her race not only to Athens but into the hearts of millions of TV viewers: “The British girls all seemed to be together up to 13 miles, then everybody went and I thought, ‘Oh God!’ I couldn’t go with them. I sat back and kept running how I felt.

“Even when I passed Jo Lodge and Birhan Dagne, I had no idea I was the first British girl. I hadn’t passed Michelle Lee. I didn’t know she had stopped briefly beside the course.

“So when I went over the line and my club mate Vicky Chapman said, ‘You’re first Brit’, I assured her that there must be a blonde girl in front of me. Vicky was just saying, ‘I must have missed her’ when I was whisked away – and it seems I haven’t stopped talking to the media since.”

And now? “I’m having a week’s rest to make sure the body has recovered. 14 weeks to Athens … I shall give it a good go!”