Patience is the name of the game for Emelia Gorecka, who has spent the last two years re-building her strength, speed and racing confidence after teaming up with Aldershot, Farnham & District club-mate, Chris Thompson.
The 2013 U20 European cross country champion, who took the European 3000m title the same year along with multiple national and regional victories on the country domestically dating back to 2007, had dominated her age group on track and country for an incredible nine years before two stress fractures in 2015 forced her to stop and reevaluate.
Those injuries followed a promising set of results earlier in the year, including victory at the British University cross country championships and a 9:06.79 result at the European indoor championships over 3000m. They also, coincidentally, coincided with her final year as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway University, where she studied psychology.
It is a testament to her strength of character and determination to succeed at everything she does that she graduated with a first-class degree, an achievement she is rightly proud of.
“I set out to get a first, and managed to balance my training and studying well,” she says. “I would love to use my degree at some point in the future – (Gorecka studied delusion formations for her dissertation!) – but I need to concentrate on training for now.”
Chris Thompson’s guidance
She was three months into her comeback trail when she first met up with Chris Thompson in early 2016, having discovered he lived close by, to discuss the possibility of him guiding her into the senior ranks.
Gorecka says that first meeting with Thompson involved ‘a very honest, frank discussion of what it would take to make it work’. She adds: “That included three main points: to ensure I was happy, healthy, and to lay down the necessary foundations to become a strong senior athlete.”
Articulate and bright, the 23 year-old says rebuilding her running regime was like rebuilding a car: “Developing and finding out what works for each individual athlete is like a taking a car apart, working out how each part works alongside each other and then putting it back again to work more efficiently,” she explains.
It was a slow process at first, starting over from scratch by building her strength back up in the gym – under the expert guidance of Thompson’s partner and former elite middle distance athlete, Jemma Simpson – before she even started running again.
“It was eye-opening to learn what was working well and what wasn’t, and how to address that with Jemma,” she explains. “It was a while before I was back doing tempo runs and track sessions, and then racing, but I really enjoyed my comeback, toeing the line again, sucking it up with slower race results, all the time knowing they were stepping stones in the right direction.”
An important part of her journey back to full strength has been learning what nutrition works for her as an individual to support her as efficiently as possible: “I’ve learnt what works for me over time, picking up different cues, listening to my body and understanding that food is fuel and is key to recovery,” she says. “I am a great fan of having a routine with my meals, but also ensuring that I can be adaptable with eating when travelling.
“Porridge is a great example of that – I love a big bowl with plenty of fruit such as apple and banana, along with nuts and seeds to tick the boxes for bone health, sometimes adding some cocoa powder on top for sweetness too. When I’m competing away from home, I just take pots of porridge with me, to ensure I am still fuelling correctly and it’s one less thing that can go wrong at a time when I need everything to be running smoothly.”
She’s quick to point out she doesn’t restrict herself with food, however, even allowing herself the odd slice of cake, “as long as I’ve eaten my brown rice or brown pasta first – food is to be enjoyed and I always eat until I’m full!”
Since those tentative first beginnings under Thompson’s tutelage, she has remained injury-free, a result she says of allowing her body to adapt to the new training regime, having patience and believing that the process would work for her – no matter how long it took. She mostly trains alone, albeit with Thompson or Simpson timing her sessions on the sidelines, although sometimes they will join her on a run.
Supporting women in sport with FitrWoman
Now a full-time athlete, when she’s not training she spends time helping to promote issues affecting female athletes. One movement she’s an ambassador for is FitrWoman, a branch of the sports science company Orreco. FitrWoman aims to help women make more informed decisions in sport using a specially developed app focussing on how previously ‘taboo’ subjects such as periods can affect performance.
“FitrWoman is still developing and is a really exciting way to enable women to train the best they can,” she adds.
Gorecka kicked off her outdoor season with a win on a relatively low key level at the Hampshire cross country league in March, having been determined to simply ‘get racing’ in 2017, using each race as a stepping stone in developing herself within her new training set up: “I really enjoyed racing again with no pressures or expectations being placed on me after having time out from competition,” she explains.
Her times gradually picked up, with a 15:44.34 5000m on the track at the Payton Jordan Invitational in May and a fast 15:40 5km victory on the roads in Ipswich in August proving her patience in Thompson’s coaching process was paying off. She followed that up with a 9:03.85 3000m in Rovereto, Italy, her fastest over the distance for four years.
A strong run on the country at the national relays at Mansfield in early November served as an ideal sharpener for the impending European trials at Liverpool, where she held off fierce competition – in what she describes as a “very tough year to make the team against inspiring British female athletes” – to earn a hard-fought victory and her first senior international vest.
European Cross Country Championships
She admits it was no easy task stepping up in distance to 8km at such a high level, though, the Europeans being only the third time she had raced that far on any terrain.
“I am still learning to execute a race well at this distance, and to prepare for the different dynamics that 8km entails,” she reveals.
It is clear that the team element at the Europeans was a hugely important factor in the Aldershot athlete’s enjoyment of the event: “You can’t fail to bond with your teammates when you’re all lined up at the start wearing very few clothes in sub-zero temperatures!” she jokes. “It was such a special day on a very quick, demanding course, so winning team gold against such a strong field was an unforgettable moment.”
Looking to the future
The first year senior is now looking ahead to her favourite cross country race of the season, the Simplyhealth Great Edinburgh XCountry on January 13th, an event she won as an U20 in 2012.
“It is such a cool course on home territory, and will serve as another stepping stone,” she says. “I love the fact that it’s a team event as well, and presents another opportunity to race against really strong athletes.”
Gorecka plans to get stuck into another block of training after Edinburgh to build on the fitness she has already developed over the past two years ahead of the 2018 track season.
“These are exciting times for me, there’s still so much to be done, I’m still developing, but I know that next year’s competitions will be built on far stronger foundations than this year’s,” she adds. “Looking back to the beginning of 2016, I couldn’t believe how long Chris said it would take to take me from where I was then to where I am now, but he was right.”
Still aged just 23 years old, it’s clear there is lots more to come from this bright young talent.