Scottish middle-distance runner revisits her goals for 2020 after surprise British indoor 800m record and victory over training partner Laura Muir
When Jemma Reekie crossed the finish line in a British indoor 800m record of 1:57.91 in Glasgow, her face exploded into mixture of delight and disbelief. She raised her hands above her head in victory before clasping them over her mouth in astonishment. Laura Muir – the runner-up, good friend and training partner – immediately and instinctively embraced her with a smile. On social media, Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and the holder of the record, Jenny Meadows, were gushing with praise.
“I was in complete shock with the time,” Reekie told AW. “It was so nice to cross the line and for Laura to be so excited with me. She knows how much I’ve improved in training and how much we’ve worked together and she was so excited that I’ve finally shown it to other people as well.”
Not only did Reekie beat Muir in a national record, but her time was the fastest in the world indoors for 14 years, an indoor PB by five seconds and easily improved her outdoor PB of 2:01.45. After being in the shadow of Muir in recent years, she is now being touted as a potential Olympic medallist in Tokyo.
Just 21 years old, she has not reached her training potential yet either. She currently does similar quality sessions as Muir – and other athletes in her group like Gabriela DeBues-Stafford – but does not yet do the same volume of endurance work.
Of her coach of the last four years, Andy Young, she says: “He has held me back in certain places and pushed me in certain places. He’s got it all planned out and I think that’s a big thing and I’ve kept moving along slowly.
“I didn’t expect to be still making big jumps at the stage I’m at now. I thought it’d be little margins and small bits of improvement here and there.
“I thought last year I was capable of going faster than I did. But it’s hard because I was stuck in this area where I was too slow to get into the good races that I needed to get into to get faster.”
She continues: “All I want to do is athletics but Andy has said ‘this is all you want to do but we need to do it slowly so that you’ll have a successful career’. I find it frustrating sometimes but doesn’t want me to peak this year and then go downhill.
“Even at my club when I was younger, I was lucky that I had two good coaches that didn’t push us too hard and it was all done for fun. My parents have also not been involved too much and don’t know what I should be doing. They just have the attitude that as long as I’m enjoying it then it’s good.”
Young’s training techniques have helped turn Muir into one of the best runners in the world and the group have already spent part of this winter in South Africa doing some tough sessions. “Since I’ve been with Andy I’ve learned what hard work is,” says Reekie. “After last summer I thought I’m going to work even harder. I say every year that I’m going to work even harder. And then the last couple of camps have just been going really well for me.”
On her recent South African camp, Reekie says: “I did a couple of quick sessions there and thought ‘I’m going pretty fast’. But if someone said you are going to run 1:57 I’d have thought ‘no way’. I would have been really happy to just break two minutes. I always tell people that they have to appreciate breaking two minutes isn’t easy.”
Her breakthrough run in Glasgow raised eyebrows and given the recent Nike Vaporfly controversy some cynics have suspiciously put her progress down to her Nike spikes. Young however says the shoes comply with the new World Athletics rules on footwear.
Reekie also had a sinus operation late last year to help her breathing, whereas she has steadily improved her PBs at 800m and 1500m in recent years from 2:07.23/4:24.22 in 2016 to 2:04.25/4:12.28 in 2017 to 2:02.62/4:06.11 in 2018 and 2:01.45/4:02.09 last year.
Reekie also won the European under-20 1500m title in 2017 and European under-23 800m and 1500m golds in 2019 (pictured above), despite her tactics in the European under-23 800m being “an absolute mess”. She is also, she says, totally committed to athletics now and spends most of her life travelling from one training camp or competition to another.
Not surprisingly, there is not much time for hobbies outside athletics. She has two dogs – a Collie and Chihuahua – and enjoys walking them. “I’m also a big sleeper!” she says. “I sleep about 12 hours a night and try to nap in the day, too, so after training and sleeping there’s not much time for anything else! Also running doesn’t last forever so I want to focus on it and see what I can do.”
This week she will doubtless take a nap on the flight to New York for her first race in the United States. She is set to run the mile at the NYRR Millrose Games and it will be fascinating to see if she can build on her 800m in Glasgow.
“I’ve tried to get back to normal this week,” says Reekie. “I’ve just cracked on with training again. I’m excited to see what I can do this weekend. I’ve never competed in America before and I’ve heard it’s an amazing atmosphere.”
After that, she hopes to run the Müller Indoor Grand Prix and Spar British Indoor Championships – both in Glasgow this month. As for the summer, her original plans to focus on 1500m might now change.
As a reward for her British record run, Young generously allowed her to cut short her Sunday steady run by 10 minutes. “I think he was in shock after the race,” says Reekie. “He didn’t really say much to be honest. He knew I was in really good shape and could probably run quite quick. But maybe not that quick.
“Now all of a sudden he has to rejig things. It was all about the 1500m this year but now that might change.”