Every athlete has one – the killer session that confirms they are in the shape of their lives. In the first of a new series, Liz McColgan gives AW an exclusive peek at her training diary from 1991

At the 1991 IAAF World Championships, Liz McColgan battled against the heat and humidity of Tokyo to bring back Britain’s only individual gold.

McColgan diary coverRemarkably, this achievement came just eight months after giving birth to her first child and now, 25 years later, McColgan has dusted off her five-year training diary to provide AW with an exclusive insight into how she prepared in the months and, crucially, the final 12 days leading up to the 10,000m in which she became world champion.

“It wasn’t the typical build up I would have liked, heading to the championships,” McColgan recalls. “I’d had my first child at the end of November 1990 and so it was a quick turn around to try and get back into shape for Tokyo the following year.”

Training mostly in Gainesville, Florida, in an attempt to simulate the heat and humidity of Japan, McColgan built up her mileage to a maximum of 115 miles per week.

“My lowest mileage heading into the Worlds that year was around 95 miles and I worked really well off of 105, 110, 115 and 95 miles, in rotation over the month,” she says.

Comparing times from previous sessions can sometimes knock an athlete’s confidence but a track session of 8x1000m repetitions in the lead up to her Tokyo appearance, proved to be the killer session of her career, the one workout that secured in her mind that she was as well-prepared as she could ever be for the event.

Completing each repetition in an average of 2:57 with only a minute recovery in between, Liz was confident of coming home with gold.

“I knew then that I was in the shape to win,” she says.

But it wasn’t over yet. Arriving at the holding camp, eight days before the 10,000m heat, Liz completed her final track session. Not everything went to plan as the scheduled 8x800m repetitions were cut short due to the weather conditions. Still, her 6x800m with a 1min recovery – 2:15.83, 2:14.6, 2:14.96, 2:15.25, 2:15.4, 2:17.72 (average time of 2:15.6) – confirmed that she was in the form of her life.

“Considering the conditions, my sessions out in Japan were okay,” she recalls. “Back home, I would be used to running four extra reps in similar times, so my pace was a little down but that was to be expected when easing into race week.”

Environmental factors meant keeping those final days of training in perspective. “It was a real killer out in Tokyo,” McColgan says. “The heat and humidity completely knocked me for six, so much so, that I lost around 3kg in sweat throughout the session.

“I was very leg-tired too, not just due to the weather conditions but with the long haul travel heading into the camp,” she says. “I wanted to keep a cap on things during my final sessions and make sure I was fresh for when it truly mattered.”


In the 12 days before the World Championships, McColgan was easing down from her high mileage, typical week of training. Here’s how it panned out:

Monday 19 August 1991

7.30am: Easy 3-mile run, 20 minutes
4pm: 2 miles warm up and down. 6x800m (1min recovery) 2:15.83, 2:14.60, 2:14.96, 2:15.25, 2:15.4, 2:17.72. (Average 2:15.6)

Diary entry 1 Liz McColgan

Tuesday 20 August 1991

8.15am: 8 miles in the park, ran for 49 minutes. 4.20pm: 3 miles fast-ish, 18.03, 1 mile jog

Wednesday 21 August 1991

9.30am: 2 miles warm up and down, 12x400m, jog 100m recovery. 66, 66, 66, 66, 66, 66, 66, 66, 67, 66, 66, 63 – average 66.31. 100% humidity. 6x100m accelerations
4pm: easy 3 mile

Thursday 22 August 1991

7.30am: 5 miles, 2.5 miles out in 16 minutes, back in 14:47, felt stiff but ran fast-ish. Travelled into Tokyo from holding camp –2.5 hours
5.30pm: Easy 5 miles 33:24, felt okay

Friday 23 August 1991

10am: 10 miles run in the park. Felt good until 40 minutes then legs felt tired so ran easy – 62:30

Saturday 24 August 1991

8.30am: 2 miles warm up. 7x2min, 1min recovery. Ran fast, 1.5 mile jog
4pm: Easy 3 miles jog, felt better

6 x 800m session Liz McColgan

Sunday 25 August 1991

7am: Easy 5 miles, 33:30, Hamstring tight, felt rubbish
4pm: Easy 3 miles with Peter and Jill, 20:50. Hamstring still very tight

Monday 26 August 1991

4pm: Easy 3 miles

Tuesday 27 August 1991

7am: Easy 3 miles
9.10am: 10,000m World Championships heats, 3rd, 31:54. Felt easy and relaxed. 1 mile jog, 2 miles warm down

Wednesday 28 August 1991

7.20am: Easy 3 miles, felt good

Thursday 29 August 1991

7.00am: Easy 3 miles and 5 strides, felt rubbish
4pm: Stretching and strides 1 mile

Friday 30 August 1991

7.10am: Easy 2 miles jog, felt okay
7.05pm: 10,000m World Championship Final. 1st, 31:14, (15:34, 15:40), felt strong. Won by 20 seconds, Slowed last 50m

» Interview by Eilish McColgan