Feature15 Apr 2019

For McColgan mother-daughter team, family and Doha ties key to success


British middle distance runner Eilish McColgan (© Getty Images)

For mother-daughter team Liz and Eilish McColgan, the forthcoming IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (Sept 27-Oct 6) represent an exciting opportunity for the duo to continue an impressive family tradition in the Qatari city they call their second home.

With 1991 World 10,000m champion Liz overseeing her training plan, 28-year-old Eilish has her sights firmly set on a top-five finish in the 5000m - but Doha 2019 is only the next step in a bigger long-term plan of the Scottish pair’s to move up in distance.

“I'd love to break into the top five or to break 14.40,” Eilish reveals. “Either of those and I'll be really happy!”

If that happens, she’ll gladly credit her mother.

“My mum’s the driving force behind everything I do and I wouldn't have achieved anything without her behind me all the way.”

As coach, Liz finds second home in Doha

Mother Liz is permanently based in the Arabian Gulf country working as a kids coach at the Al Saad Sports Club for the Doha Athletics Club, which she established following her move in 2014.

“I always knew I would get into coaching when I retired as I started to coach athletes before my own career was over,” said Liz, who at 54 still runs every day and works out in a gym twice a week.

“When I arrived in Doha, I gave some motivational talks in the international schools and it became very clear that a lot of kids wanted to run but there were no opportunities for them, so I set up a little running group that grew very quickly and then developed DAC.”

Given her athletics CV, Liz is in high demand.


Liz McColgan


“We saw so many little ones with poor athletic skills so we then set up our mini and schools ABC programme - this teaches the simplistic run, jump, throw approach and getting kids active. With the weather here, kids are reluctant to get outside and be active so we try to change that thinking - our schools programme is doing really well.

“We try to help nurture and develop athletic skills here in Doha. It’s very challenging to be doing what I do here because we coach a mixture of boys and girls of all ages and we have no indoor facility to use, so there can be challenges with the weather. I do enjoy the opportunity to work with some very inspiring and talented kids and adults.”

That also includes her daughter, the eldest of her five children, who she hopes to guide towards a successful career in the marathon - eventually.

“Eilish is a very talented athlete and I feel she has a lot more to go in her running,” said Liz, who also took silver at the 1987 World Cross Country Champioships, the 1988 Olympic 10,000m and 1989 world indoor 3000m.

“She has a lot of room for improvement in her endurance and hopefully we will see that in the next few years as she moves up in distance.”

For next year, the two have decided a move to the 10,000m for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and then the marathon in 2021. That’s a distance Liz knows well, with victories in New York, Tokyo and London among her numerous laurels.

“I love training in Doha,” Eilish says. “Of course the weather can be challenging but it's a beautiful country with fantastic sporting facilities. It's somewhere I feel very at home so all of my plans are building towards making that (British) team.”

2017 and 2018 breakthroughs

Achieving the goal of featuring highly in the global 5000m final six months from now should be a realistic aim if Eilish can replicate the form she showed in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

The former 3000m steeplechaser - with a 9:35.82 Scottish record and a 2013 World Championship placing to her name - first switched to flat track racing with success in 2016, finishing 13th in the Olympic 5000m final.


Eilish McColgan in the 2017 IAAF Diamond League in Birmingham


Based in Manchester with her boyfriend, 2010 European 800m silver medalist Michael Rimmer, Eilish trains alone. She won her first senior international medal in 2017, taking 3000m bronze at the European Indoor Championships. She reached the 5000m final at the World Championships in London later that year. That year was her breakthrough campaign, with career bests over a wide range of distances: a 4:01.60 outdoor 1500m, a 4:20 road mile, 8:31.00 at 3000m indoors and 8:43.02 outdoors, a 14:48.49 Scottish 5000m record and 32:10.59 for 10,000m.

“2017 was by far my best season to date - I managed to stay much more consistent with regards to injury and illness and it made such a huge difference to my performance and confidence too.”

“I went into races knowing I was in the shape of my life and ready to perform. That confidence continued to snowball and it was the first season I had broken some of my mum’s personal bests too, so that was really special and really helped to drive me on to run faster!”

In 2018 she raced to 5000m silver at the European Championships in Berlin and recorded a 4:08.07 indoor 1500m personal best, yet illness affected her performances at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, as she trailed home in sixth in both the 1500m and 5000m.

Her form however returned with a 4:25.07 track mile, a 54:53 10-mile debut on the roads and then a 31:51 10km road lifetime best in Doha in the New Year, before illness struck again, causing her to place only seventh in the European indoor 3000m final last month.

“I had a horrible start to the year with a virus so silver in Berlin meant a lot to me - being able to turn the year around and finishing on such a high.

“Since stopping the steeplechase, my serious injuries have reduced, however being more consistent in my training has had an impact on my health and my immune system seems to take a hard knock - I picked up something in South Africa this year which just wiped out my entire indoor season.

“It's frustrating but I'm making some small changes to my travel plans, sleep routine, diet and even my training schedule to try improve my immunity.” 

Natural comparison and driving force

Having sped to the global 10,000m title only nine months after giving birth to Eilish, Liz may be inspiring future generations but it is her first-born who is hot on her heels to emulate her success. Comparisons naturally beckon.

“I never used to compare myself to my mum as I always felt I was an entirely different athlete but now that I'm competing on the flat, it's natural to compare,” Eilish said.

“I never focus on my mum’s achievements too much because we are different people and different athletes but I have her personal best times within my grasp and so those are what I am aiming to beat. 

She is also sponsored by Asics, as was her mother. 


Eilish McColgan after her 5000m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017


“Asics has always been a brand very close to my family - they sponsored my mum through some of her greatest achievements and my first pair of baby shoes were Asics so it's nice to feel like it's gone full circle and it’s pretty special.”

Currently enjoying a stint of altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona, Eilish is looking to open her 2019 outdoor season at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford, California, in early May, before another spell of altitude training in St Moritz. All leading to a season-capping appearance back in Doha, an event mother Liz is very much looking forward to.

“The IAAF World Championships will be different mainly due to the culture here in Doha but they will put on a great event,” Liz says. 

“Facilities are in place and the schedule is set in the evening to deal with the heat. Qatar have held various world championships in other sports so it has the experience on how to deliver, and I am sure the athletes and spectators will have a great championship and experience.”

Nicola Sutton for the IAAF