The world indoor and European 4x400m medallist tells Alasdair Hooper about the year in which she made her mark
As 2019 approaches, 400m runner Amy Allcock can look back on a year where she finally made her mark.
The 25-year-old, by her own admission, is relatively late on the scene but a personal best of 51.36 at the Anniversary Games in July of this year suddenly made people pay attention.
The potential has always been there – Allcock comes with sporting pedigree in her veins thanks to having two former international hockey players as parents.
But through a combination of injury and mental battles Allcock hasn’t hit the high notes as she would have wished until now.
Alongside her coach Glyn Hawkes you get the feeling this is just the beginning.
“It was essentially a breakthrough year because I’ve been off the radar for such a long time,” Allcock told the SportSpiel podcast.
“But, in a way, we wanted that to happen and the plan had always been for that to happen.
“51.3 wasn’t necessarily in the plan, it did just happen on the day.
“I felt great on the day and that’s what happens when you feel great. But the plan had always been to PB and the plan had always been to be competitive in the final.
“So in that sense it went to plan.”
Mental perseverance is a huge thing in athletics, as is the ability to look after yourself properly.
Allcock had to learn that for herself and when she moved to study at Loughborough University that was the start of what she calls the ‘downward spiral’.
But, from a learning perspective, it was the best spiral she could have had.
“It was pretty much a downward spiral from the moment I moved out but it was also the best downward spiral I had. I learnt so much from it and I almost had to build myself back up from nothing again”
“Moving to university was tough,” she explained. “Food preparations and eating right was such a shock to the system.
“Although I thought I was cooking the same food that my mum used to cook me I really wasn’t. Things like that obviously don’t help with injury prevention because if you’re not eating right then your body isn’t refuelling in the right way.
“It was pretty much a downward spiral from the moment I moved out but it was also the best downward spiral I had. I learnt so much from it and I almost had to build myself back up from nothing again.”
She added: “I didn’t really feel the frustrations at the time because I had so much going on.
“I just distracted myself with going and doing other things with people that I was living with. They did sport but they didn’t do it to an elite level so it was all recreationally based around my first year at uni.
“It was the perfect opportunity for me to go out and experience things.
“A lot of people say you either go to uni, and you’re completely committed on what you want to get out of it, or you experience uni life for a little bit and then you make your decisions from that.
“If I’d gone to uni in another circumstance then maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’m very much a believer of everything happens for a reason so I needed it.
“I needed to learn and I needed to learn it for myself and not have other people telling me.
“It’s all well and good having someone saying to you ‘do this, do this, do this’ but, if you don’t genuinely believe that, you’re never going to embolden yourself into that lifestyle.
“I was a very stubborn kid so I think that’s quite a me thing to be like ‘you’ve told me to do that so I’m not going to.’”
One of the main things Allcock has had to accept is the pain that comes with the sport, most notably that of lactic and being sick.
After she achieved her PB in July it was one of the first things that came into her mind when asked why she had improved so much.
It was about conquering that fear that lactic gave her.
“When I did 300m and when I trained for 300m I didn’t get lactic,” she said.
“I’m a very speed-based runner and I managed to have enough speed endurance to get the whole way round without experiencing the lactic.
“When I started training for 400m it was literally a complete shock to the system. I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t realise that in some sessions you just don’t move.
“It was just such a learning curve and, when I was younger, I completely freaked out and I hated it.
“I was like ‘this means that I’m not going to achieve anything and I don’t want to be a failure’ so I switched to the 200m. It was purely because I went to something that was comfortable – speed is always going to be my go-to option.
“That’s how I run my races, that’s how I prefer to train.
“A lot of everything we do is speed based and speed endurance based because that’s who I am.
“Having to include lactic work and just accept that you will get lactic in a 400m – there’s no way I would know anyone that doesn’t to be honest.
“It’s just accepting that everyone is in that boat at the same time.
“In that last 50 metres I would be so surprised if anyone walks up and said they didn’t have lactic.
“It’s accepting that it happens to everyone and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad runner because you get lactic.”
“When I started training for 400m it was literally a complete shock to the system. I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t realise that in some sessions you just don’t move”
She continued: “When I was struggling with the 400m mentally I would have this big issue that whenever I hit lactic I would stop in a session.
“I went through about a year and a half where I don’t think I finished a session once because I was just so scared of the pain of lactic and what it meant.
“I looked into it too much and thought ‘they’re running further than me and they don’t seem to be dying from lactic so they must be better than me’.
“It completely blew my confidence.
“So having a smaller group was definitely a help for me because there wasn’t as many people around for me to be comparing myself to all the time.
“It’s one of those things, you do just accept it. It’s not a very nice thing to say but I’ve accepted that I will be sick after most of my races because that’s just who I am.
“Some people aren’t, some people are, and unfortunately I am the lucky one that gets to be sick.
“But I’ve just got used to it now, it’s quite normal for me to do.
“I’d rather not but it happens so you just have to get on with it I suppose.”
Looking at the Amy Allcock of 2018 and there is a stark difference to the one who admits herself that she never really committed to her sport while at university.
She’d intended to split her final year over two years in order to give running a go but it took a conversation with her parents to realise that her commitment wasn’t there.
“For the first two years of my degree I didn’t really commit to anything,” Allcock said.
“I sat down with my parents and my dad was like ‘you’ve not really shown you want to be a runner so why would you split your year?’
“I think it was at that point where I went ‘actually I haven’t’.
“’I’m going to come out of this degree and have nothing to show because I haven’t committed to either of them enough.’
“I think that was the main time that I sat down and gave myself a talking to.
“If you split your year then you need to prove that it’s worth it.”
As it turns out that conversation, the downward spiral and facing up to her mental fears is a large part to why we are seeing this current incarnation of Amy Allcock on the track.
Without every step of that journey it could have been so different.
Next year the Loughborough-based athlete will be part of British Athletics’ World Class Programme, which will give her and coach Hawkes a strong base to work from.
But there is still plenty of learning to be done.
“I actually think I’m still learning everything and everything changes where there’s always new things,” she said.
“In the past three years that I’ve been working with Glyn I’ve had to accept that a coach is always right.
“I probably didn’t have that mindset before I worked with him.
“As a team we’ve been working together for nearly three years but we’re still learning every day and there’s challenges every day that neither of us have had to deal with.
“Things like coming on to the World Class Performance Programme has been a whole new experience for both of us because we’ve never had to experience the factors involved in it that aren’t the main factors.
“Going to meetings – the two of us – and working as a team is not something I’ve ever had to do before.
“I’ve always seen athletics as a very individual sport because you do it yourself, that’s why you’re there.
“Whereas in the past few years I have really seen how much a big support team helps.”
» Photographs by Melissa Gresswell/@lissgphotography. Listen to the full SportSpiel podcast at sportspielonline.com/2018/12/23/episode-33-amy-allcock