FAMILIARTY breeds contentment. In the hope of generating a fresh start following an injury-ravaged and disappointing 2016, Guy Learmonth has gone back to what he knows best. That means leaving behind the modern, stellar athletics facilities of Loughborough University – where he studied for a sports management degree – and returning home to Berwick-upon-Tweed. There the 800m runner is working again with Henry Gray, the coach who helped develop him in his formative years, a reunion that has helped restore an air of both calm and optimism.
The early signs are promising. From the disappointment at failing to qualify for last year’s Rio Olympics, Learmonth has opened 2017 in impressive style, posting a personal best in Vienna last month. Next in his sights are next weekend’s indoor trials in Sheffield where he hopes to qualify for next month’s European indoor championships in Belgrade, while making the Scotland team for next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast also features prominently on his radar. Being back in old, reassuring surrounds, he hopes, can make all that become a reality.
“A lot has happened in my life over the last two years so it’s nice to have started the year well in Vienna by burying a few demons,” he said. “I’m in really good nick so just want to grab this opportunity with both hands and see what I can do. After the Rio disappointment, injuries and a few other wee problems it felt like it was never-ending last summer. The whole of last year, in fact, was just a write-off.
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“So moving back home and away from Loughborough has been a big thing, as has getting back with my old coach Henry Gray. He’s always been there over the years but it’s just him and me now. It’s a lot better and mentally I’m in a much better place than before.
“It was good to do the full winter programme with him, the first I’ve done with him since I was 18, and just getting back to old ways. Henry knows what makes me tick. In Loughborough you’ve got all the facilities, while in Berwick we don’t even have an athletics track. The nearest one is in Tweedbank near Gala. We maybe travel there once a week but it’s an hour away.
“But we just use what’s on our doorstep, the natural training resources, and I’ve got my own gym in the house. My dad and I converted the garage and put in everything I need so I can do my rehab and core exercises. It’s all very old school but that’s what I was brought up on when I was a junior and breaking PBs left, right and centre. So it’s good to get back to that. I don’t need any fancy facilities or things like that just now. Working with Henry is perfect for me.”
Learmonth made the final of the European indoors in Prague two years ago, an achievement that has set the benchmark for this year’s indoor season. The 24 year-old, however, already feels he ought to be looking for an improvement in Belgrade.
“In Prague I finished sixth and I want to better that this year,” said the New Balance-sponsored athlete. “With how I’ve started the season – with an indoor PB – I’m feeling good and I want to fight for some medals in Belgrade. I think I’m strong enough, and mentally and physically in a good enough place to do that.
“Obviously I don’t want to get ahead of myself as I need to get the job done in Sheffield first and make sure I qualify. But I’m feeling confident. Henry and I now expect big performances from me at major championships and I want to bring home some silverware. It’s time I started doing that. I need to take my career to the next level.”
A former rugby player as a teenager, Learmonth remains close friends with Stuart Hogg, the Glasgow Warriors and Scotland full-back. While his athletic commitments may preclude him from travelling to Murrayfield to watch Hogg in Six Nations action this spring, he remains rightly proud of his friend’s success and suspects that feeling might be mutual.
“When we were about 14 or 15 we went away on a Scotland rugby training camp together up in Struan. It was a week’s bonding where we were camping in tents, doing our rugby training and getting ice baths in lochs and things like that. So we’ve been good friends ever since.
“I saw Hoggy play against Italy last year and I’ll try get up this year if I can. But I’ll be watching all the games and we speak most weeks as well. He’s a legend so I live my rugby career through him now! It’s amazing that we’ve both grown up together and he’s now taking over the rugby world. I just hope to emulate some of that success with my athletics now.”