22nd August 2019


Four years ago, Sarah McDonald (club: Birchfield Harriers, coach: David Harmer) towed the line in the 1500m for the first time in Birmingham for the British Athletics Championships. In previous seasons she had tried her hand at the 800m, unsuccessful in her two previous attempts of making it out the heats.

Her fate was no different over the longer distance that year, with a  12th place finish in her heat seeing the then-21 year old knocked out decisively. Such an episode would have no worth in being mentioned if there wasn’t a turn of events however, with this turn coming at the following season’s championships.

Cruising to a win in the heats while bettering her time from last year by over 15 seconds come the final, the strides McDonald had made in those twelve months served as something of a preview ahead of further success in the following years.

Though she finished fourth at the aforementioned edition of the championships in 2016 – a year in which Olympic qualification was at the forefront of the minds for many, but not McDonald, the near-miss of the podium and the importance of Rio for those who qualified for those Games – Laura Muir and Laura Weightman – meant the door opened for McDonald to earn her first senior British vest at that summer’s European Championships.

Making it through convincingly in the heats at the championships in Amsterdam, McDonald was ninth in a blanket finish for the medals with less than two seconds covered the first nine spots. More was to come the following year, with a sixth-place finish in a frantic 1500m final at the European Indoor Championships then backed up by an un-wavering world championships debut in which McDonald missed out on the final by under a second..

As is the way in elite sport, ups and downs are part of the journey. Lining up for the final of the women’s 1500m and knowing that the maths of four top-names athletes – Muir, Weightman, Jemma Reekie and herself – for three team spots didn’t compute, it was McDonald who was left watching the European Championships from afar, with a third-place finish and bronze medal not enough to see her selected.

Athletics is full of peaks and troughs however, and for the disappointment of 2018, this year looks to be by far her best yet. She has jumped to second in the British rankings this year over her favoured distance with a time of 4:00.46 for 1500m. A sub-2 clocking over 800m just over a week ago – something her coach David Harmer identified as a must if she is to become a world class middle-distance athlete – soon followed, with such results setting her up ideally ahead of this weekend’s Muller British Athletics Championships.

“I’m really confident, especially after running 1:59 in Tipton for the 800m,” says McDonald.

“A lot of people ask me if I’ll do the 800m rather than the 1500m. I think it was good to do the 800m just to see what shape I’m in for the 1500m.

“Championship racing in the 1500m usually comes down to a quick last 800m, so I’m really excited to see what shape I’m in coming up to Doha.”

McDonald’s in the form of her life, motivated by the hurt of missing the European Championships last year. However, she also has a new training partner in the form of Lynsey Sharp who joins her, Melissa Courtney and Rosie Clarke in her training group. Sharp paced her to that PB in Tipton, with McDonald attributing her presence in the training group as a key factor in helping her stay sharp over faster sessions.

“Lynsey’s a massive help to me. Before she joined, I had Rosie and Millie who do 3000m steeplechase and 5000m and now I have someone on the other side of me who keeps me on my toes over the faster stuff.

“It helps Lynsey a lot too because near the end of the session I tend to be quite strong and relentless while Lynsey is really strong at the start so we do help each other out. We all really work well together.”

Notably Sharp has just moved back from the states to train in the Midlands. McDonald is one of the middle-distance athletes who is still based in the UK – making Birmingham her home after moving from Newcastle for university. She’s been asked about college life across the pond but it’s never interested her.

“Lots of people asked me why I haven’t gone to America on a scholarship but I didn’t see why I would do that because I had such a good set up down here and I was happy where I lived. I just like the UK and it didn’t make sense to just change everything.

“I like Birmingham as a city and I have a house here and live in a good area. There’s a lot of good coffee shops and canals. Where I live is great for running and trails. I can leave my house and within a quarter of a mile I’ve got a trail I can run on.”

Having trained under the watchful eye of Harmer for the past two years, McDonald has claimed that he’s installed confidence that was once lost and praised how ‘meticulous’ he is.

“David has been so amazing since day one, I’m glad I changed two years ago,” she says, “I’m just running a lot happier and the results show that as well.”

Now in the best form of her life and second to only Laura Muir over 1500m this year, McDonald is still taking nothing for granted ahead of this weekend, with the strength in depth in British middle-distance running and the jeopardy often involved with the championships meaning nothing is a foregone conclusion.

“It does make it difficult and makes the trials a nerve-wracking experience.

“At the same time, the competition in the UK gets better and we keep pushing each other on. We make sure we don’t become complacent in the times that we run and strive to be better to take on the best in the world.

“Last year missing out on Europeans, made me stronger this summer. I always vouch that I’ll make sure that I do all that I can to make sure that that won’t happen again.”

Sarah McDonald races in the women’s 1500m heats at 18:30 on Saturday, 24 August with the women’s 1500m final taking place at 16:15 on Sunday, 25 August.

Tickets can be purchased at: https://www2.theticketfactory.com/british-athletics/online/