Eilidh Doyle admits heart ruled head on European Indoor Championship decision

Eilidh Doyle admits her heart ruled her head when it came to mapping out plans for 2019.
Eilidh Doyle will be one of the GB athletes at the European Indoor Championships. Pic: Alexander Hassenstein/GettyEilidh Doyle will be one of the GB athletes at the European Indoor Championships. Pic: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty
Eilidh Doyle will be one of the GB athletes at the European Indoor Championships. Pic: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty

Next weekend she will be one of nine Scottish athletes representing Team GB at the European Indoor Championships, but she is only there because they are in her home country.

“If it hadn’t been in Scotland then 
it probably wouldn’t have been on our radar. We wouldn’t have focused on indoors because the World champs are so late this year, in October, so we probably would have gone to a training camp. Because the indoors are in Glasgow, it was definitely a heart thing. But if we thought it would jeopardise the outdoor season we wouldn’t have done it.

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“Last year the Commonwealth Games were in April and that wasn’t ideal but I wasn’t not going to do them and we just had to plan around it. That falls on Brian. He has to find a way to make it work!”

Brian is Brian Doyle, her husband. The pair married in 2015 and since the retirement of long-time pedagogue Malcolm Arnold around two years ago, he has also been coaching the multi-medallist, who has graced the podium at European, Commonwealth, World and Olympic level.

“It was an easy decision,” says the popular and grounded athlete, who was the poster girl for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and also chosen by her peers to carry the flag and lead the Scottish team into the fray in Gold Coast four years later.

“Malcolm took me on in 2011 and right through to the indoor season in 2017 and I learned so much from him and won so many medals with him so the fear for me of him retiring was who I would get to coach me. Without him I was worried what would happen. It was Malcolm and Brian who came to the decision that it would be better for Brian to take over and Malcolm mentored him for two years so when it came to Brian taking over it was a very easy transition.”

“For me, it was who did I trust with my wife’s career,” said her partner in life and in sport as they relax after another tough training session. “Who was going to work harder or better for her than me?”

Without Arnold tying them to Bath they moved back to Scotland last year and the set-up is working well, with Doyle enjoying the balance of training and being able to spend time with family and friends.

That has given her confidence that she can eat away at her times and get back towards her best, despite the fact she is now 31 and approaching the final bend, if not quite on the home straight, of her top level running career.

When she first broke through, there wasn’t any real depth in Scottish athletics. “Back then if you asked someone to name a Scottish athlete, they would have struggled. Lee McConnell would probably have been the only one. But now there’s Laura [Muir] and Eilish [McColgan], Chris [O’Hare] and loads more.”

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With a place on the board of Scottish Athletics, Doyle believes the work being done behind the scenes will see even more come through and the burgeoning strength and depth has stoked her own enthusiasm, offering her inspiration as well as some respite. While there have been other Scottish contenders there or thereabouts in her time at the top, for a while she was regarded the nation’s go-to girl when it came to medal hopes at major events.

“That is the nice thing. I feel that my reign has been. My time was 2014, not just the Commonwealths, I was also favourite going into the Europeans as well, and that was a lot of pressure and I didn’t even realise until it was over just how much it had taken out of me.

“I felt I’d had my shot and that was fine but then I actually put a lot of pressure on myself last year in Gold Coast because I carried the flag. I felt I really had to go out and perform.”

This weekend, though, the stress levels are manageable. This time she did not qualify automatically and while she is confident “there is a quick time in there” and is still out to medal, she says fewer people will expect that.

“So, I’m happy to be in the team but I you still walk out there and think ‘wow’ but there are others like Laura and Eilish, and Chris who can step up. They have won medals at this level so we can all share the burden!

“This one is a big one for Laura because this is where she trains, this really is her home track and she didn’t get to have the best experience at Glasgow 2014 so this is her chance at a home champs to hopefully do well and experience it all.”

Doyle is well-placed to advise, but doesn’t believe there is any need for her to do so any longer.

“I shared with her at the Commonwealths in Glasgow in 2014 and I remember how distraught she was after her race but I said to her, ‘look, this could be a really important moment, it could be a defining race as long as you learn from it’. I reminded her that everybody has those disappointments and it is about how you react.

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“I had an awful experience in London 2012 [when she failed to make the 400m hurdles final] and I hated those Olympics but I knew I had to learn from it because I didn’t want to feel that way when it came to the Commonwealths in Glasgow.

“Laura has been able to go and compete and prove herself and I’m sure that the experience of 2014 will help her perform well here.”

The role of picking her up after disappointments remains the domain of her mum, who is the first person Doyle calls if she wants a confidence boost – “it doesn’t matter how I run, she always tells me it was great!” But having her husband beside her is also an asset, even if he has had to refine when is the right time for a hug and when she needs a dose of some tough love.

“He knows that when I don’t run well then there is no point in trying to speak to me about the race because I am a bit too emotional. I just need that TLC. It is the next day or next week when I can be more logical and we can analyse what went wrong.

“His feedback is always honest so although it is not always what you want to hear, you know it is the truth and that is the only way you learn.”