Libby Clegg has won two Paralympic silver medals and is currently working towards giving her best at Rio in September.
For people that haven’t seen you run, can you explain how your disability impacts you as an athlete?
I’m registered blind. I run with a guide runner on the track so when I’m doing all of my training and that kind of thing I’m usually running with people in a group – I’m next to someone so that I know where I am on the track. If I’m doing a technical session with my coach working on my technique and fine tuning things – they tend to be one-to-one sessions or in a very small group of athletes – two or three of us. It’s easier for me to concentrate on the smaller aspects of the training that require a lot of skill and concentration.
Do you talk with your guide when you’re running?
It depends on who you’re running with as a guide. It could be about technical things or it could be whereabouts you are on the track because even though 100 metres looks very straightforward and simple it’s not as straightforward as it looks.
There are different things you need to do throughout the race to get maximum speed. My guide will tell me just before we hit a mark. I’ve got a cue at 20 metres to tell me that I’m there and at 40 metres I’ve got a different cue and they also tell you when to dip at the line. I dip before my guide so that I don’t get disqualified.
Over 200 metres you have to lean into your guide a little bit or they lean into you depending on what side your guide is on – and basically that’s to get to get maximum use out of the bends and it’s not as easy as it looks – its far more complicated.
Your guide must be a crucial part of your life as an athlete…
I’ve just recently got a new guide so I’ve been working with him since the middle of January now so it’s still very, very, new. It’s a difficult decision because having a guide isn’t just about getting on with someone and them running quick enough – it’s all the other aspects of it such as stride lengths and the technical aspects of it as well as the race tactics. Lots of things come into it, like commitment and trust as well. It’s quite complicated when you get down to it.
How difficult is it for two people running together to hit peak performance at the same time?
Different coaches have different ideas and different theories and that kind of thing and they like races to be run in all sorts of different ways. On the track my guide just does what I and my coach ask him to. It isn’t as straightforward as an able bodied person running – there are other things that you’ve got to think about.
Once you get the synchronicity correct then you naturally become more efficient which means that you can put more power through and obviously run quicker. Once you get the timing right, everything else slots into place and it becomes a lot easier.
Does anyone ever ask you about being born in Bollington (in England) and representing Scotland?
People ask me about it but to me Loughborough is my training base – it’s not my home. My family all moved to Scotland in 2002 so for me that’s where the majority of my life has been – also when I was up-and-coming as a development athlete Scotland supported me in my teenage years.
They supported me, so for me, it wasn’t really a question of which one to pick, I was always going to compete for Scotland in my mind.
What are you doing between now and Rio?
I’m also looking forward to the European Championships in June. I’m hoping to run sub-12 this year. It’s absolutely crucial to do that to be in with a chance of medalling in Rio. I’ve got a tough year ahead and I’ve had quite a few injuries, so I’ll be basically trying to prevent getting any injuries and manage the current ones I’ve got – it’s not ideal but I’m confident that I’m in the best hands.
At this stage, do you train harder or preserve energy? You were ill after the Commonwealth Games, for example, and unable to defend your European title in Swansea just afterwards.
It’s a very fine line. Competing means you’re pushing yourself to the limit but making sure you’re healthy. People have a tendency to back-off because they’re so frightened of getting injured that they don’t actually train properly. It’s about making sure that you make sensible decisions and sometimes you just don’t know until you’ve made them. I think I’m experienced enough to know my boundaries and my limits; going into Swansea I think, looking back, that I tried to do too much after the Commonwealth Games and maybe should have backed-off a bit instead of ploughing on. That probably wasn’t the best of ideas – but you live and you learn and hopefully it’ll be OK this year.
It’s clear that the path to success will involve setbacks. What do you say to other disabled people that might struggle with their own setbacks?
I think for me it’s literally about finding that fine line and thinking about whether or not you’re going to benefit. Sometimes it hurts and I think – this is not great – it’s quite sore but on the other hand you’ve got to think, is it going to make it worse? Sometimes it’s just a bit sore because it’s not 100% yet – but it’s not sore enough to do nothing – or too sore to do something and it doesn’t feel right. You do need to test these things because if you just back-off every time something is a little bit painful then you’ll not progress or move forward.
In training I’m sometimes chucking my guts up and I’m physically in pain and I’ve got really bad muscle soreness but it’s actually not going to do me any harm. It’s knowing the boundary. It can be painful because it’s hard work. You need to try to determine the difference between different types of pain – it’s knowing and understanding what you’re actually feeling and sometimes you don’t know that until you’ve experienced different types of pain.
On days when you don’t feel ‘the burn’ do you go back until you do?
It depends on what kind of training sessions you’re doing. Some training sessions are not going to hurt you in the same way as others. You kind of know what you’ve been doing in the previous weeks so you have an idea of whether you’ve trained hard enough or not. You know yourself if you’ve not put enough effort in.
Who else should we look out for on the ParalympicsGB team that we might not know about?
There’s a person in my training group who has been injured so he’s a bit of an underdog: Shaun Burrows. He’s definitely one to watch and I think he could pull something out of the bag at Rio.
You’ve won two Paralympic silvers – what could make the difference between that and gold this year?
I’m not being lottery funded as I have been in the past so everything’s off my own back. This year is really important for me and I’ve chosen my own team and I know how I want them to work. The responsibility is fully on me. Any decision that’s being made is my decision so taking full responsibility and ownership of my programme could be the difference between a gold medal and a silver one.
Everything’s down to me and my sponsors in making sure that I put everything necessary in place and that I do everything possible to get on the podium. I would like to win that gold medal. It’s the one that I’ve not won yet. I’m quite optimistic and I’m looking forward to it.