At just 26 years of age, Laura Weightman has already achieved her childhood dream. Like most athletes, she’d always aspired to compete in the Olympic Games, and managed to reach the final in the 1,500 metres at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. After ticking such a big goal off her bucket list in her early twenties, it’s no wonder that Laura now wants to mix things up at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia which kick off on 4 April, stepping up from the 1,500 metres to the 5,000 metre event.
Laura’s journey started at the age of 12, when she was encouraged by a teacher to join the Morpeth Harriers Athletics Club. ‘I’d taken part in sports days and cross country races from the age of 10, and consistently finished in the top few,’ says Laura. At that time, Alnwick, near Laura’s home village of Lesbury, didn’t have its own athletics club; she was quick to settle into the Morpeth-based club, enjoying competitive success and training as hard as she could every weekend.
After bagging a series of gold medals at the English Schools Championships, Laura went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at Leeds Metropolitan University. ‘Moving to Leeds was a massive decision for me,’ she explains. ‘I was looking for somewhere I could call home, and I’m still living and training there five years after graduating.’ As an 18-year old arriving in the city for the first time, Laura had no idea that she would be taking part in the 2012 Olympic Games in her second year of university.
Since then, it’s all been uphill, and Laura cites coming sixth in the 2017 World Championships in London as one of her career highlights, despite being dropped from British Athletics’ elite performance funding prior to the event. ‘That win gave me a lot of confidence and belief in myself,’ she says.
With greater faith in her athletic ability, Laura has made the decision to run the 5,000 metres in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, supported by her coach Steve Cram – ‘The Jarrow Arrow’ – who was one of the world’s leading middle-distance runners in the 80s. ‘Steve’s been coaching me since 2009,’ Laura explains, ‘so I’ve grown up with him and feel like I’ve really developed and matured as an athlete alongside him.’
When Laura said she wanted to take on something different, Steve was on hand with expert advice, and the pair decided that now would be the best time for the new challenge. ‘With the Olympics and London World Championships as priorities in the last couple of years, I couldn’t commit to training for the 5,000 metres,’ says Laura. ‘But the time feels right now – I hope the change will refresh me mentally and really stimulate me.’
Having run longer distances as part of her training before, Laura is confident that she has the strength needed for the 5,000 metres, but the challenge will be getting her head around the tactics of running that distance competitively. ‘There’ll be a lot more laps to get through,’ she says, ‘and it’ll be fast and hard alongside other runners, so I need to address those factors in order to get the best out of myself.’
Training is currently going well for Laura, and she finished with an impressive time of 32 minutes 31 seconds at the Ribble Valley 10K Road Race in December last year. ‘I’d never done one of those races before,’ she says, ‘and it was a good indicator that my endurance levels are strong.’ Laura has also recently completed a five-week altitude training camp in South Africa, which incorporated an intense mix of running and weights sessions at an altitude of 1,400 metres. Of course, taking time out for rest and recovery is also crucial, and discovering amazing parts of the world plays into this. ‘Last time I was training in South Africa, I managed to go on safari,’ explains Laura, ‘but I’m also perfectly happy enjoying the sunshine with a good book.’
Laura’s excited to experience another country when she heads to Australia shortly for the Commonwealth Games, and it’s important for her to continue training hard while also minimising the risk of injury with stretches and gym work. After hopefully dominating the 5,000 metres, Laura will return to the 1,500 metres for the European Championships in August in Berlin. It’ll then be time to plan for Tokyo 2020 with Steve, and she’ll choose which distance to compete in.. ‘That decision all depends on my performances this year,’ says Laura.