“I am not indestructible, and must listen to my body and rest when told to”. Those were the wise words of an athlete beyond her years, provoked after Hayley McLean was forced to take a step back and reflect after injury derailed her 2015 season.
But few can blame the hurdler for her dedication to better herself. After all, McLean’s desire to push herself has seen her make the transition from fledgling teenage athlete to U23 European Champion and Commonwealth Games competitor.
And with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio on the horizon, the Chelmsford AC athlete is looking to get back to her best. It’s been three years since TrackField97 last spoke to Hayley, and in that time things haven’t transpired too badly for the British hurdler as she wistfully recollects:
“I suppose I have had two major highs since I last spoke to you. My first was winning the 2013 European Junior Championships in Rieti. Although, I went in to the championships ranked number one, I still didn’t really expect to come away with the gold medal and a new PB.
“Standing on the podium, trying to sing to the national anthem (through the tears) is a moment I will never forget. Also being selected to represent England at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 was an amazing experience. I got to stay in a holding camp and experience living in an athlete’s village.”
After her eye-opening experience at the Commonwealth Games, Hayley was gearing up for what looked to be a promising 2015 campaign, with the hope of adding an U23 title to her Junior European Championship gold. That was until injury struck: “The lowest point of my career has to be my injury in January 2015. Training had been going really well up until that point. I was in South Africa for warm weather training and felt that my quad was tight. After seeing my physio and after having a scan, he informed me that I had been training on a 2cm tear which had now torn to 7cm.
“I was devastated. It was extremely difficult watching the rest of the squad train while I had to stop training. This was my first ever serious injury and to be told I would be out of action for 2-3 months was hard to hear.”
Sidelined just before the season started, McLean didn’t clear a hurdle in competition until April. Robbed of three months’ worth of solid training and an indoor season, the best she was able to manage all season in the hurdles was almost two seconds slower than her personal best. But as the 21-year-old explains, her recovery was more than physiological: “Going into the 2015 season my key target was to qualify for the U23 European Championships. However, after my injury early in the season, I was unable to get back to full competitive fitness in time for the major championships.
“I also found it hard psychologically, to stay positive and optimistic. I had to re-evaluate what I wanted out of the season and winning the bronze medal at the UK championships was one success I could take out of the season. Although the year was not successful in the way I wanted, I believe it has still been a constructive one.”
Despite the heartache and misfortune that 2015 brought, the junior gold medalist remains optimistic. With a bronze medal around her neck providing a glimmer of hope towards the end of the season, the British athlete is already focused on making 2016 a great year: “This winter my coach and I are focusing on improving my training times from last year. As it’s an Olympic year, we have started a little harder and increased the volume of work load from around 2000m per session to 2400m. We are also working together on making sure I get enough recovery between hard sessions – as last year (as Lloyd discovered) I found it hard to actually rest on my rest days.”
Last year she made the tough decision to part ways with her coach of six years in order to work with British Athletics coach Lloyd Cowan. She has since trained alongside well-known names such Christine Ohuruogu. The young hurdler believes that the experience of training with senior athletes helped bridge the gap from junior to senior: “I didn’t really find the transition from U20/U23 to competing with seniors noticeably any different. In my first year in the U23 age group I won the age group championships and a bronze at the UK champs.
“I had been running with the senior women while in the U20 age group so didn’t really notice the step up in age group. I think running with the senior top hurdlers actually takes the pressure off a little and I get to see how I compare to the top hurdlers.”
How McLean stacks up against those top British hurdlers will determine whether she can realise her Olympic dream. And even without Shakes-Drayton, McLean still believes the British hurdling scene is as strong as ever: “It is sad that the event has lost Perri Shakes-Drayton, as she was an exciting athlete to watch and was just becoming competitive with the world’s top hurdlers. I think to be truly competitive in the 400m hurdles now in this country you have to be running around 55.00 seconds consistently. It’s great that there are many hurdlers fighting for positions as this creates healthy competition and pushes me to work harder.”
Lucky enough to run in the test event for the Olympic Games back in 2012, Hayley now has a shot at the real thing. It’s been a topsy-turvy year for the Chelmsford athlete and in the run up to Rio 2016, she knows what she wants: “Firstly, to remain healthy and injury free and to be consistently running under the Olympic standard (56.20) time.
“Watching the games in London was totally inspiring and very motivating. I think every athlete’s main goal is to represent their country at an Olympic Games.”
Facts about Hayley McLean
Personal best performances:
Ultimate goals – “I would love to represent my country at an Olympic Games and my ultimate goal is to hopefully break Sally Gunnells British record (although she has set the bar high for any British hurdler)”
See previous feature: http://www.trackfield97.com/hayley-mclean-british-junior-international-on-the-rise/
Feature by Daryl Hammond
Photography by TrackField97.com