By Dami Adewale
LAST MONTH prolific 400m hurdler Hayley McLean returned to action after more than a year without competing.
Athletes have had to be innovative in finding new ways to train because of the restrictions imposed during lockdown.
For McLean, she credits her coach Chris Zah for helping her navigate such a difficult period.
McLean said: “I had to put a lot of trust in my coach. He was very good at being able to invent new ways of training.
“We did a lot of training on concrete and I had to build hurdles in order for me to train.”
As well as being an athlete, McLean also works at Basildon Sporting Village where she was given access to track facilities six months ago.
Support from Basildon has allowed her to stay on track whereas the progress of other athletes has been hampered.
McLean’s main event is the 400m hurdles, but she also participates in the flat 400m. The difference between the two races may come as a surprise to some.
McLean said: “I find the 400m hurdles easier, only because I have the ten barriers to get over and mentally it’s easier as I’m focusing on each barrier as it comes.
“My approach, technique, which leg I’m going to hurdle with etc. So I find that race goes quicker because before I know it, I’m at the end and I’ve gotten over the 10 barriers.”
For the flat 400m, she uses an interesting technique to propel her around the track.
McLean said: “The flat 400m, for me a find a little bit trickier, obviously there’s nothing to take your mind off the lactic fatigue that you’re feeling.
“With the flat 400m I try and listen to songs beforehand so when I’m on the start line, I’m singing those songs in my head to try and get me round. “
“It sounds really silly but I try and do anything to take my mind off the fact that it’s going to hurt.”
Speaking of being hurt, the lockdown period is not the first time McLean has had obstacles to overcome during her career.
As a junior athlete she was highly successful, raking in accolades including the England Athletics Championships in 400m hurdles at U23 and U20 level.
However, McLean experienced some problems when transitioning from a junior athlete to a senior, and it had nothing to do with her ability.
McLean said: “The biggest change was a major injury I had, which was a bit of a spanner in the works. I tore my quad 7cm which was quite bad.
“So that put the brakes on a little bit, of me going into senior. Apart from that, all the aspects are pretty much the same really.”
Despite that setback, the transition has been business as usual for McLean. She acknowledges the obvious challenges, like getting older meaning you have to train harder.
The recovery stage is longer as well, so she has not been able to do a lot of training sessions consecutively.
McLean’s experience means she is now able to impart some of her knowledge onto younger athletes.
McLean said: “I would say to persist with it, you’re going to have challenging times.
“I think injuries are a given, which was something I was a bit naïve about when I was younger. I just thought you get on the track, you run and everything’s great, so I’d just say prepare for that.”
Now that the season has started, McLean has an eye towards her short term and long term future.
Tokyo is an ambitious goal, but the more realistic option is the Commonwealth games in Birmingham next year.
The qualification standards for the Commonwealth games have been released and she is only a few tenths away from the requirements.
In terms of this season, the goals are the same as any other year: to be better than last time.
McLean said: “I would love to be able to improve on my PB in either the 400m or the 400m hurdles. Either one would be great as it would indicate that we’re on the right track and there’s some progress happening.”
Up for another race this weekend, here’s hoping McLean can stay fit and continue to pursue her goals.