Laura Muir had made it a habit of making the unconventional seem the norm and the extraordinary seem oh-so-matter of fact.
The late bloomer who effortlessly made up for any lost time. The butter-wouldn’t-melt ingénue with the ruthless kick of an assassin. The focused-on-the-top record setter who, nevertheless, would not let it supplant her desire to qualify as a veterinarian.
No slacking, no fear, no compromise.
Traits which have allowed the 24-year-old to survive four months of double duty that would have pushed many to buckle under the strain. And permitted her to stay on track for a maiden global medal at March’s world indoor championships in Birmingham despite a schedule that has involved juggling night shifts at the animal hospital in Glasgow with morning runs and a sleep pattern that’s darted all over the clock.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, the double European indoor 1,500 and 3,000 metres gold medallist smiles.
“It has been really tough, especially on the months leading up to Christmas when I was doing really weird shifts,” she reveals. “I look back at it now and I’m not sure how I did it.
“But you make your priorities. You just get it done. You finish work. You go and train. It’s not more complicated than that. I’m fortunate that the rotation I’m on now isn’t quite as demanding with hours and I’ve got the weekends free so I can race.”
Since Christmas, it’s been anaesthetics for starters followed by imaging – animal x-rays to the uninitiated – combined with a mixture of cross-country and indoors.
Less taxing options for Muir, and for her coach and almost-full-time business manager Andy Young.
“It is still a full schedule,” she says. “Monday – Friday – 9-5. But Andy’s been great in wrapping training around for me so it’s just been a matter of knowing what needs to be done and doing it.”
Sticking to the formula
The easy option would have been to slash and burn and do what many, including her frequent Scottish running mates Callum Hawkins and Andy Butchart, have done and remove one log from the pile.
Butchart had a handful of cross-country outings this winter. Hawkins not even one. But their female counterpart has deviated not a jot, still a regular on the Caledonian circuit, unwilling to bend too much from a formula which has worked well.
“I guess it’s just about getting out there and building that mental toughness,” she declares. “Working really hard and being able to push yourself to your limits. If you can do that on the grass and on the mud, you can do it on the track.
“I’ve done less this winter than I’ve done previously. There is that injury risk with certain courses so you have to be quite selective in where you choose to run. The big attraction though is that I really enjoy it.
“Cross-country got me into running in the first place, it was my very first athletics race. It’s where it all started. It’s important to keep that foundation there and that link.”
There are evident spin-offs too. To watch Muir in the security guard-free sphere of a local race is to witness patience personified. The lines form for selfies and autographs, some strident, others shy, each given personal attention and ample encouragement from the star in their midst.
That, she signals, is one of the boons of cross-country. On the Diamond League track, those young girls and boys can only watch and admire. On a grass-coated circuit, for a short while at least, they are racing against Muir and her against them.
“It’s really nice,” she proclaims. “I get the sense of athletics being a kind of family. There are girls who were coming up with me who I’ve been going against my whole career.
“It’s nice when you go back now and still are able to race against those girls I’ve known since I was 12 or 13. You’re seeing familiar faces on the start line. And you’re supporting events that helped put you on the road when you were younger.”
Admired and adored
Muir is nothing if down to earth. Part of the appeal, surely, when a recent poll conducted for the Daily Telegraph put her second only to Mo Farah in the list of the UK’s most admired sportspeople, above such luminaries as Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Joshua.
That she is set to graduate in the summer as a fully-fledged vet while maintaining a trajectory that saw her come close to landing an Olympic medal in Rio before coming fourth in the world at London 2017 has still surprised many.
Lowering the Scottish indoor 800m record to 1:59.69 in Glasgow on 28 January underlined she has lost not a step, becoming the only female in history to go sub-2mins indoors for that event in tandem with breaking 8:30 for 3000m and 15min for 5000m.
Amid it all, her only real accommodation to her studies was the decision to skip the Commonwealth Games in favour of polishing off her degree.
It is no sacrifice, she affirms. This has all made her stronger, pursuing a dual track in life rather than suffering the angst of picking between two passions equally enjoyed.
“It’s been a huge part of my success in both areas,” Muir says. “I’ve not had to choose and that’s been a real positive.
“We’ve seen the issues of sport and mental health come to the fore and it’s also something flagged up in veterinary where it is a big big issue. So having the two alongside one other, where mental health is something you look out for, has been a huge help to me in coping with my workload.
“I have had a lot of support from both communities – veterinary and running – and it’s definitely good that one is able to distract my mind from the other and vice versa. That’s probably played a big part in my success.”
The unconventional, she hints, might be the road still travelled once her student days come to an end.
The European outdoor title in Berlin will become the immediate goal, beyond that world and Olympic tilts.
But having worked so hard and so often to get to this point, she is not ready to throw all eggs in a single athletic basket.
“I’m keeping an open mind just now,” she confirms. “My plans change so much every year that’s difficult to plan too far ahead. But I’d love to keep veterinary up if I could.
“At the same time, I’m realistic that I won’t be able to do a part-time job and fulfil my potential in running. But I’ve sounded out a few people and there’s a possibility that some voluntary role – maybe with a charity – might be possible.
“That would be good. But I think I’ll need to sit down after my finals, chat with Andy and see if I go ahead. Because there’s a finite time I can do running.”
Extraordinary options lie ahead. What can be sure is Muir will not slack or not compromise.
Something which should strike a fearful note for those hoping to keep the young titan at bay.
“I am really happy,” she declares. “I just need to keep working away with the training, getting it all done, my results so far have been very promising.
“Now it is just a case of working towards the world indoors.”
Watch Laura Muir’s post-race interview after setting a new Scottish Indoor 800m record.