With just over eight months until the start of the Summer Olympics, Ireland’s Emma Mitchell is pounding the pavements in the cold, dark mornings and evenings as she targets qualification for the big dance in Paris next year.
The Banbridge flyer – under the tutelage of coach Eamonn Christie, also a Zerofit ambassador - has been relying on the new Move AWT Baselayer and Move Leggings as she ramps up the training with the ultimate goal in sight.
‘As cheesy as it sounds, it would be a dream come true. I’ve been in the sport for 15 years, so it would be the one moment where everything made sense, everything was worth it. It would be amazing, simply amazing, and to be running in Paris too,’ she says.
The Heatrub Move AWT has been designed to be the only layer runners need during the winter months and because it is now offered in Dayglo, it means athletes can be highly visible even in the darkest of conditions.
‘I’m really enjoying wearing the Dayglo Move and Leggings. It’s so important at this time of year to be visible when out Running in the morning and evenings. And now with the Zerofit Dayglo Move I can be both warm and safe when out training,’ says Emma, who is working towards the qualifying time of 2:26.50 for the Olympic Marathon.
‘As for Olympic Qualification, I hope to race on the roads in the new year. The aim would be to run the marathon standard, but I hope to produce a few good half marathon times and 10k also to help towards ranking points towards qualification. I’m hoping to start racing in February after we put a plan in place after Christmas,’ she adds.
Emma describes herself as an active child, playing lots of sports but it wasn’t until she was in her final years at primary school that the running bug truly bit.
‘I have a really funny memory from when I was in Primary 6 and 7, and I had a teacher called Mary Mark, who was from Banbridge. I remember she used to get us ready for the little inter-schools running competition. There was a flat start, about 50m, and then you had this massive hill to run up and then a lap of the sports pitch. And every single week, I beat everybody, boys included.
‘Once she said “go”, I was away and gone. She was really encouraging and would tell me how good I was, and at that age – I was 10 – it’s hard to explain, but she was incredibly positive. “You know, you’re really VERY good at this!” I raced a year above myself and came in second in a 600m race and I thought “I actually really enjoying running” but I never thought anything more until I was in secondary school and that’s when I went to my local athletics club which was Banbridge AC.’
It was a wise move, one that set her on the pathway to being an elite athlete.
‘I started to go once a week, every Tuesday night and I absolutely loved it – I was coached by Heather Martin, who at the time herself was running marathons and that was where the link to my current coach Eamonn (Christie) came from. I joined his group when I was 15 and I’ve been coached by him ever since.
‘He had the likes of Ciara Mageean (who has gone on to be a three-time European Championship medallist), so I started going there every Thursday, and then that turned into every Saturday morning as well and then onto three times a week.
‘Within three months I’d made the European cross-country team as a junior which was huge, even though I’d only be under Eamonn’s guidance for a short period of time. It was a completely different level to what I was used to.’
Eamonn’s meticulous and dedicated approach was starting to pay serious dividends, and Emma was crowned Junior and U23 1500m and 5000m Irish Champion, and in November 2016 she won the Seeley Cup 10k Championships, despite a troublesome year with injury. It was the fastest time by a Northern Irish woman in over a decade.
More success followed in 2017 with an incredible seven victories in multiple distances - 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and 10k.
Emma and Eamonn then went about setting in stone the 2018 Commonwealth Games as a target, and the work paid off. Emma set a National Record for 10,000m on the Gold Coast, posting a phenomenal time of 32:49.91 in Queensland’s Carrara Stadium. Four months later, she was back on the track at the European Athletics Championship in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
A consolidatory year in 2019 followed, with attention turning to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 before COVID hit, only for Emma to then suffer a series of injury setbacks.
A return to fitness and form in 2022 helped her to victory in the Northern Ireland 5000m Track and Championships and the Northern Ireland 5k Road Championships, and this year - although again hampered by injuries - Emma recorded wins at the 5k and 10k Expleo Running Festival, as well as at the Lisburn 10k.
But as the year closes out, the 30-year-old is preparing for the next great challenge and the Holy Grail of Olympic Qualification.
‘I’ll get a really good solid base of training, including cross country. That gets me so fit, and so strong – I don’t particularly enjoy it, but it really is worth it. Moving into the new year, it will be more marathon specific training. You can’t do an awful lot too far out and an 18-week programme is sufficient for a marathon.
‘You have to aim high, strive to work hard and have those goals in mind. But it seems so unachievable! I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s the pinnacle. If I look back to 2017, I was a 1500m runner, a 3k runner. I might have run one 5k, in something like 17m30s, or even 18 minutes. I’d never ran a 10k before, but I had these goals that I was going to make the Commonwealth Games in 2018. I needed to run 33 minutes 6 seconds – and I just had these wild expectations that was going to be possible. And it was! So, with that in mind, you have to think and believe.
Everyone at Zerofit is behind Emma’s bid for Olympic Qualification, and we wish her all the best!