Aberdeen AAC’s Kelsey Stewart has conceded that worrying about the spread of the coronavirus had a bigger impact on her mental health than she initially realised.
The Scotland international 400m runner trained well throughout lockdown, despite limited access to proper facilities, and she was looking forward to competing at the British championships in Manchester next weekend.
But the Stonehaven-based athlete, a two-time Scottish senior champion, has decided to call a premature end to her season after a couple of below-par performances left her feeling dispirited.
Track and field competitions have only recently returned and Stewart got back into action for the first time in more than 12 months by running at Loughborough earlier in the month.
But it was not quite the start she hoped for as she posted a 400m time of 56.75secs, well adrift of her PB 53.63.
Worse was to follow in the scottishathletics national open meeting at Meadowmill, East Lothian, last weekend where she clocked 57.67 – her slowest time for five years.
Stewart said: “At Loughborough, I went off far too fast and paid the penalty in the final 100m. Then, at Meadowmill, I got cold and wet in the warm-up and was never really in the right frame of mind.
“I know I am much better than these performances suggest. Physically I am fine, but mentally I just wasn’t in the right place at all.
“I’m the sort of person that needs everything to sync properly if I’m to do my best and it just wasn’t happening.
“On reflection, I feel I’ve let the worry of this whole Covid-19 situation wear me down. All the way through I’ve watched all the news stories and followed it in so much detail that I think it has affected me badly.
“I was so concerned I might catch it. When you hear about the possible long-term consequences of having Covid, you realise it could potentially end an athlete’s career.
“The spike in cases in Aberdeen recently coincided with my first races so, with all that lurking in the back of my mind, when it came to competing, I just wasn’t properly tuned in.”
Stewart is studying for a masters degree in strength and conditioning at Cardiff University, but has been based at her Stonehaven home throughout lockdown. She said: “I was becoming nervous about travelling to Manchester for the British championships.
“I was thinking about having to warm up indoors with other people and the whole thing was stressing me out
“My coach, Matt Elias, is in Cardiff and I’ve discussed the situation with him. He reassured me I’ll be fine, but after a chat we decided the best thing to do now is to end my season and start focusing on 2021.
“I’m relieved we have made this decision and I can now start looking ahead to 2021.”
Stewart on training with Zoey Clark – ‘I’ve certainly learned a lot’
Kelsey Stewart says she has benefited enormously from training with Olympic hope Zoey Clark, 25, in recent weeks.
Both Aberdeen athletes were part of Scotland’s 4x400m relay squad at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, although Stewart wasn’t given the chance to run.
Clark is by far the more experienced of the duo, being a mainstay of the GB senior women’s relay team for a few years. She has won four major 4x400m championship medals, picking up world outdoor championship silver at London (2017), world indoor bronze at Birmingham (2018), European outdoor bronze at Berlin (2018) and European indoor silver at Glasgow (2019).
Stewart said: “We’ve had the chance to train together quite a few times recently and it has been absolutely brilliant. I think it has been of benefit to both of us, but I’ve certainly learned a lot.
“Zoey has given me lots of encouragement and kept telling me I’m in good physical shape. She is so chilled as well, which is great because that helped me to relax.”
Now Stewart has abandoned plans to compete in next month’s British championships, she will take a short break before building up again for 2021.
She said: “I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to do the North Coast 500. When I come back, it’ll be a case of building a base before winter training gets into full swing.
“I really hope there’s an indoor season as I’m keen to get some competition and put this year behind me.”