Laura Muir – then and now

I have been watching Laura Muir since 2011—some 120 races in all. Yes, I know I am a nerd to have counted! It has been fascinating to watch her development from a student who ran, pursuing a demanding course in Veterinary Science—remember, there are no sports scholarships in the UK—to becoming a serial medal winner. We discussed the journey in a recent chat.

Now, in one of the first races I saw you run, you ran a 4:18. Did the Laura of 11-12 years ago think that one day she’d be running 3:55 and be disappointed with it?

No, no, no, no, definitely not. I don’t know what I thought I could do back then. I had no concept of anything at that age. I think I just wanted to get a PB and see where I ended up. But no thought of running that fast.

Laura Muir, just after the 800m finish, waiting to hear if she won the bronze! Bobby Gavin/Scottish Athletics

What do you think contributes to what you’re doing now? Maturity, fitness, experience training better, shoes, faster tracks. What do you think?

I think it’s a combination – everything, really. You have got to have the right mental attitude. Physiologically, you have to be able to do it. You must train correctly and be strong enough to withstand the training. Injury prevention, ensuring you recover and get nutrition right, is vital. Having the right support network around you is important, too. Being happy as well. It’s a huge thing – you must have everything come together at once and everything going well. You need everything working together to get that big performance. It feels like juggling a lot of plates at the same time. If you get them all going, it usually ends up pretty well. Knowing the best way to get your body to work – what to do, what not to do. It is a big learning curve to get all these things right, and the more of the little things you get right, the better things tend to go. So, it’s really an extensive combination of everything.

Is it easier being a full-time athlete than not having to fit in your studies?

Yeah, definitely. Being a student-athlete gave me a bit of a routine, but even now, I have a good routine as a full-time athlete. It’s good not to have the other pressure, and I think I made a bit of a shift after I qualified. It was very stressful as a student because you had exams twice a year and were doing placements working as a vet, given the nature of my course. It was physically demanding, long days, on your feet all day – holding cows and sheep! More physically than mentally fatiguing. But I loved it, and I wouldn’t change anything about it – I would do it all again – but it was a lot to fit in at the same time. It also taught me a lot at the same time and kept me grounded, and it makes me now appreciate how lucky I am to do athletics full-time, knowing how hard it is to juggle a full-time job. It has taught me a lot about myself – as well as the animal facts and a lot of life skills.  Learning some anatomy and physiology is useful as well. I learned a lot from it. But I never planned to do both. I went to uni to become a vet and to do running as a hobby. I never planned to take on so much, but I made it work, and it did work. But it would have been too much to carry on doing both once I had qualified.

Laura Muir, Istanbul 2023, 1,500m heat, photo by Chiara Montesano for European Athletics

You are now a very experienced athlete – how does that experience help?

I think it’s about knowing where your abilities lie. If somebody makes a move in a race when you’re young and less experienced, you might just go with it and not think about it, but as you get more experienced, you might think, ‘no, I’ll just need to let that person go’ or ‘I need to do this, I need to do that’ to get the best out of yourself. When I was younger, in situations like that, I wouldn’t have been thinking about the repercussions, but you learn from it, and you learn the hard way, and perhaps you train a bit differently to give yourself more tactical options. It’s about learning what your own body is capable of and you don’t really know until you push it to its limit and then you find that ‘OK I can do that or I can’t’. Perhaps you go back to the drawing board and make yourself fitter and stronger so that you can hopefully do that move if you need to.

Laura Muir wins 3000m at Glasgow 2019, photo by European Athletics.

Having achieved more than you ever expected, are you ready to retire?

Not really. I think I’ll always be someone who runs. I love it. I could finish up being one of those people in their 80s still running around. The question is at what level and how competitive I would be. Hopefully, my body will allow me to run for a long time. I would love to run competitively for as long as I can – until the enjoyment goes. Managing another Olympic cycle would be really nice. It’s very hard to say because it’s out of your hands in some senses because you don’t know what will happen. I will appreciate every year as it comes and every championship. Hopefully, I’ll have a few years left, and you’ll see me racing a few more times, Stuart.

Laura Muir, Zurich DL, photo by Diamond League AG