News22 Oct 2013

Athletics is a labour of love for Birmingham


Collis Birmingham winning the 5000m in Hobart (© Getty Images)

Collis Birmingham just loves running.

While many international track runners have spent the past month taking a well-earned rest and putting their feet up in readiness for another gruelling winter of training, the 28-year-old has swapped his spikes for racing flats, choosing to return to the Half-marathon distance at British races in the autumn.

It has been a long season for the Australian, whose season began in January and has never really ended, having raced in every calendar month since then.

At the start of the year he set an Oceania record of 1:00:56 at the Marugame Half Marathon in Japan in February. His most recent effort was a fourth-place finish at the Great Birmingham Run on Sunday (20) and his 1:03:44 clocking on a tough course was an improved performance after a slightly disappointing run at the Great North Run in September.

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said of his performance in the city with which he shares a surname. “I knew the course was going to be tough with a big long hill at the end and for me it’s the end of a long season rather than moving up.

“I was in New York at the 5th Avenue Mile just over three weeks ago and that normally is the end of everyone’s season, but for me, I decided to kick on. I just enjoy running on the road and I think I’m going to be doing it more often in the next few years. So, if anything, it’s about gaining experience and racing good guys.”

An all-round athlete

With world-class personal bests over distances as diverse as the 1500m (3:35.50) and the Half-marathon (1:00:56), and the ability to compete well in cross-country, Birmingham is a highly versatile athlete – something that has both its advantages and disadvantages.

“It’s always tough trying to do Half-marathons and still run on the track,” he said. “While I’m still a track runner, I have to sometimes maybe sacrifice the results slightly but race on the roads just for experience.”

This year has been one of mixed fortunes for Birmingham, starting as it did with that national Half-marathon record in February and a superb eighth-place finish at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March, before culminating in a disappointing 24th place in the 10,000m final at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.

“I was disappointed with the year. It started off so well and I definitely had some good races. As well as the World Cross and Marugame, I ran a good 10k in New York in May and a couple of good track races over 1500m and 3k, but I guess you always rate your season on how well you do at the major championships and the big European races and this year I think I was slightly off previous years.”

Confidence is often considered to be a vital ingredient for all athletes, but, paradoxically, Birmingham feels that the increased levels he felt after his excellent run in Poland, where he showed that he could mix it with the best that East Africa has to offer, might partly explain some of his struggles on the track.

“The World Cross certainly gave me a lot of confidence, but I feel that in a couple of races this year it affected me, because I was maybe a little over ambitious. The  Monaco 5k sticks out because I went a bit too crazy at the start and maybe stretched myself a bit too much. It’s still a case of taking each race as it comes and make sure I make the right decisions.”

World Half and Commonwealths the next big targets

Despite his disappointment over 5000m and 10,000m this season, the popular Australian still sees his immediate future on the track, even if his long-term plans involve longer distances.

“We’ve got the Commonwealth Games next year, where I’ll hopefully be doing the 5000m and 10,000m,” he says, “but I definitely see myself doing a Marathon in the future. When that will be, I don’t know. I’ll see how the training goes. While I’m still running well at 5000m and 10,000m, I’d like to keep on doing that.”

That said, the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen in March offer another stepping stone to his ultimate goals while still allowing him to peak for the 2014 track season.

“There’s no World Cross Country next year and we do like to either do World Cross Country or a Half-marathon at that time of year. It’s a good way to see how your winter has been before coming over to Europe not long after.”

Road running this autumn has been all about experience, but that won’t necessarily be the case next spring at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen.

“Realistically, given the results that I’ve seen in the past – and if I run as well as I did in Marugame and at the World Cross – then top 10 is certainly a possibility. It’s just a matter of getting back into winter training and seeing how that goes.”

For now, however, it’s finally a well-earned break before training begins for the Australian track season.

“We actually have our national championships for 10,000m in December, so it comes around very quickly!”

That certainly won’t be a problem for the man who just loves to run.

Dean Hardman for the IAAF