In our latest runtalk feature, we speak to Olympic hopeful Marilyn Okoro about London 2012, training and being like any ordinary runner.
With the clock ticking towards the London Olympics, Marilyn Okoro has stepped up her training over the previous months and is beginning to reap the benefits. A trip to South Africa in early January to work at altitude set the tone for what has been an intensive schedule and since focusing on competitive fixtures, Marilyn has posted three Olympic A qualifying times in the 800m over the last two months.
As it stands, she is the fastest UK runner over the distance this year, clocking 1:59:33 recently in Holland. To round things off, she was this week selected in the GB team for the European Athletics championships, where she is expected to compete in both the 400m and 800m.
Although this sounds like an athlete seamlessly peaking at the right point with the Olympics approaching, her journey has been anything but smooth, with the sprinter suffering from severe knee and back problems since Beijing in 2008.
Despite these setbacks, her performance in Holland is the fastest she has recorded in four years and speaks not just of physical recovery, but determination, too: "When being out injured, I think you learn a lot about yourself and what you are made of and why exactly you are doing it. I certainly feel it has made me stronger both physically and in the mind."
In this, Marilyn is quick to draw parallels with all types of runners, saying they suffer from almost unremitting need to remain active when holding back can often be a useful measure: "My whole attitude to training and being an athlete has really changed. Before, it was all about pushing and pushing myself and running fast every day, but now I have really learnt about pacing myself in both life and in training as well as in my race."
This reassessment has meant Marilyn has incorporated more strength and conditioning work into her training, a strategy that has been implemented by her physio and fitness team. While she accepts her recovery has been the result of a serious training regime, she is quick to praise the team around her: "With running of any sort, you rely on a network of people who provide both physical and emotional support. After I finish a race, I often get a text from my physio, which is just like anyone getting a message from their partner. When you see a runner on the track, you don't see the people behind the scenes."
On her website, Marilyn Okoro tells us of how she used to look upon Olympic stars with admiration and revel in their superhuman qualities. Now that she is cast in a similar light however, she feels her achievements stands testament to the fact Olympic heroes are just 'ordinary people with extraordinary perseverance, determination and discipline'.
While my initial thoughts were that this sentiment was borrowed from the expansive book of sporting clichés, the comparisons she draws with recreational runners - the incessant thoughts about training, pushing to the next level, and the network of support - suggests that she regards herself as any ordinary runner, even with the prospect of the Olympic Games on the horizon.