Scotland’s multiple world indoor and European medallist shares insight into her coaching relationship with Andy Young
Nine years under the tutelage of coach Andy Young have helped to propel Laura Muir from Scottish Schools also-ran to realistic Olympic medal hope, writes Peter Jardine.
But, as the training sessions together move from hundreds into the thousands, the lessons can be encapsulated in a mantra which runs to just four words: No pain, no gain.
Muir credits Young with teaching her to push herself like never before after they first met in the autumn of 2011.
He was coach to the Glasgow University athletics squad while she was a fresh-faced 18-year-old ‘Fresher’ who came to Glasgow with her veterinary degree as a far bigger goal than her track ambitions.
Young now claims it took at least a couple of years for Muir to get used to his methods. The British 1500m record-holder says it was quicker than that, but doesn’t dispute there had to be sea-change in mindset.
“He has shown me how to push myself,” she says, when asked simply for the basis of the coach-athlete relationship.
“There was a lot of intensity to the sessions Andy set. When I look back now, in my previous training prior to 2011, I don’t remember being in a huge amount of pain! Or being very tired. I know I was but I didn’t push myself as I do now.
“Andy always laughs about it and says, ‘When you first came to the group at uni you didn’t push yourself at all. It took ages for that to happen’.
“It definitely took a while. A transition, a learning curve.
“You can’t just throw a switch from one approach to the other. He kept telling me, ‘You can go faster’. And he set targets even within sessions – times you had to aim for and make.
“There were shorter recoveries, there were double runs (two runs in one day) – I’d not done that before. My Sunday long run started to get longer. There were circuits. I’d never done any strength and conditioning work prior to being 18 years of age.
“He brought all that in and overhauled everything.”
Muir was speaking to Scottish Athletics’ Sue Gyford in a video interview about her career and the influence of coaches.
Less than three months after the partnership began, Muir won her first GB and NI vest as she finished 31st in the European Cross Country Championships under-20 women’s race at Velenje in Slovenia.
“Slovenia in December 2011 was amazing – my first GB vest,” she smiles.
“Derek Hawkins was on the team and he looked after me on the trip, Andy Baddeley, too. I was away abroad with experienced GB athletes. We won team gold in the women’s under-20 race and that felt great.
“Andy had said to me a few weeks earlier, ‘I think you should run the cross country at Liverpool’. I said, ‘Why would I do that in late November?’ He told me I might make the GB team for the Euro Cross Country Champs. I didn’t know that such an event existed!
“So to get on the podium with the team and come home with a team gold medal was a bit surreal.
“After all, I’d hardly ever made teams with the Scottish Schools only a few years earlier! I did make the London Mini Marathon but that was about it.”
Fun and friendships were still more the focus back then for Muir after starting out at Dunfermline and West Fife club and then Dundee Hawkhill Harriers with Alan Macintosh her coach. At one stage, because Dundee was too far to travel from her Milnathort home, a small group trained in Perth.
In Glasgow in that autumn of 2011, her approach began to change under the watchful eye of Young (pictured below).
“I joined a few clubs in Freshers Week, as you do, and the athletics one was a big group,” she says.
“After a few weeks that dwindled a bit but I enjoyed the programme Andy was setting us. He had a great mix in terms of his coaching – encouragement, motivation, inclusion, humour.
“Warm-ups were fun and he’d include everyone and get them involved. We enjoyed it and he encouraged us but the hard work itself was exactly that – hard work.
“I’ve known him now for almost 10 years and I know what he’s going to say and he knows what I’m going to say – we’re on the same wavelength and it works.
“He knew how to take me up through the phases.”
Five European titles, two world indoor medals and a string of British and Scottish records have followed – a double gold in Belgrade at the 2017 European Indoors something of a breakthrough as Muir won at 1500m and 3000m. Two years later she repeated that at Glasgow 2019.
The coach, it seems, will rarely get too high or too low.
“Andy is quite reserved and he doesn’t show his emotions all that much,” Muir says. “If I get a hug after a race or a medal then I know I have done well!
“He will tell me like it is. He will say ‘that was good’ or ‘that wasn’t too good’. If it goes well, then you know he is in a good mood.”
Lockdown training is a little less than usual – there is no physio support available, for example – but the ‘pushing’ will continue with Japan now a further 12 months distant.
“I do push myself now, yes, but it is still important to have Andy there pushing me on, too,” Muir says.
“He will say ‘I want you a second quicker’ and you have to drive yourself on to try and do it. That helps if you are maybe feeling a little tired or not motivated that day.”
With the Olympics now in 2021, Muir and Young could yet have something significant to celebrate to mark their 10-year coach-athlete milestone.