Five things you should know about Eilish McColgan ahead of the Olympic Games

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Photo credit: Matt Lewis - British Athletics - Getty Images
Photo credit: Matt Lewis - British Athletics - Getty Images

It’s not often a runner comes along and manages to break a decades long record set by a bona fide athletics legend. But that’s exactly what Eilish McColgan did earlier this year, when she smashed Paula Radcliffe’s 5,000m record, taking 18 seconds off her own personal best in the process.

McColgan is certainly one to watch in Tokyo – so here are five things you should know about the distance runner.

Running is a family affair for the McColgans

It’s fair to say running, ahem, runs, in Eilish McColgan’s blood. Her mother, Liz, was one of the most successful Scottish athletes of her generation. She took home gold in the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in both 1986 and 1990, and won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics.

Eilish was born in 1990, but Liz didn’t wait around – by 1991 she was back at the top of her game and was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Later she was also a successful marathon runner, winning in 1996 and coming second in the two subsequent years.

Now, she is using that considerable experience to coach Eilish. This week The Scotsman reported that McColgan senior had been helping Eilish to prepare for the Games in the south of France.

'I do get a little bit more anxious than I used to when she was younger’ she told the newspaper. ‘But now it’s been a great journey with her. I think, as a mother, I’ve been very honoured that I’ve been able to be part of such a journey with a child of mine. It’s just been amazing.'

Tokyo is significant for both mother and daughter

In 1991, 30 years before this year’s Games, McColgan’s mother Liz was making history of her own in Japan. The older McColgan won a gold medal in the 10,000m race at that year’s World Championships, also held in Tokyo, running 31:14.31.

Eilish was just nine months old at the time. This summer she’s hoping to make her mark in the 10,000m – the same race as her mother ran all those years ago.

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Her training regime keeps it simple

McColgan’s training regime doesn’t come with any major surprises. In 2019 she told Runner’s World UK that she runs once a day, which she combines with a cross training session like spinning or aqua jogging in the evening. Two days a week she’ll do a much tougher track session – usually on Tuesdays and Saturdays. She does have a rest day almost every week though.

‘I don’t do anything too unusual,’ she said. ‘I’ll be literally sitting on the sofa, watching Netflix, going out for walks with my dog, generally chilling out with my boyfriend throughout the day.’

Her diet is also relatively simple. Porridge topped with berries and a banana does the trick, including on race days. Although she doesn’t restrict her diet too much, she said her cheat meal would probably be a classic fish and chips.

Her race of choice has changed over the years

Tokyo will be McColgan’s third Olympic Games, but her preferred event has been slightly different in each.

She started out in the 3,000m steeplechase, perhaps inspired by her father Peter who represented Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the discipline. In 2012 she won the British trials race in 9:56.90, but failed to reach the Olympic final, coming eighth in the third heat.

By 2016 she had shifted to the 5,000m. She came second at that distance at the UK Championships that year, before reaching the final at the Rio Olympics.

In Tokyo she’s targeting the distance double of 5,000m and 10,000m. She told the BBC this year: ‘It feels like a natural progression… We’ve built up to that both physically and mentally to try to get me to believe I’m capable of running that distance.’

She might have a marathon in her

While she’s already on her third Olympics, McColgan has hinted that she could commit to a fourth, with an entirely new event too. In an interview featured on, she suggested she might have a marathon up her sleeve.

She said: ‘When I first made the GB team, we did a physiological test - it was Barry Fudge who did it, the head of endurance at the time - and he wrote to my mum to say that I had the perfect physiological aspects for a marathoner.’

‘And for me at that point it was heartbreaking! I thought, “Oh my god, I’m going to have to do a marathon at some point in my life!"'

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