During lockdown, Melissa Courtney-Bryant could be seen in videos produced by Sport Wales, showing the nation how to do a proper warm-up routine before home-based exercise. Now, she’s back warming the tracks across Europe with some super-charged performances as she tells Owen Morgan.
Melissa Courtney-Bryant is certainly making up for the racing time lost due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Welsh middle distance runner is zig-zagging Europe to make the most of every opportunity to get onto the track following the worldwide sporting shutdown.
All the travel is paying off as Courtney-Bryant has notched two hugely impressive wins, a new personal best, and is chasing a third Welsh record to add to her already impressive collection.
The hectic schedule is the perfect preparation for the next two years during which she has her sights set on next year’s Tokyo Olympics and a gruelling treble of Commonwealth Games, World Championships and European Championships in 2022.
Despite her busy timetable, she enjoyed a trip to the Peak District to celebrate her 27th birthday with husband Ashley Bryant on Sunday, the day after another win in Stockholm.
But she was back in training first thing on Bank Holiday Monday morning. Speaking immediately after her session, Courtney-Bryant told Dai Sport: “It’s been busy!
“I had an early flight from Gothenburg to Manchester, that was the only direct flight to the UK, all of the others were quite long and connecting.
Happy birthday to Commonwealth & European medallist and winner of yesterday’s Gothenburg GP 1500m. Melissa Courtney-Bryant @AthleticsWeekly @poolepartners @mcourtneybryant @WelshAthletics @runbritain pic.twitter.com/E1pWzybF13
— Mark Shearman MBE (@AthleticsImages) August 30, 2020
“I landed in Manchester about midday and then I had the afternoon with Ash in the Peak District before going home, so that was really nice.”
The schedule isn’t likely to ease up any time soon as Courtney-Bryant is delighted to be racing again after lockdown and is keen to make the most of her outstanding current form.
During August she chalked up impressive 1500m wins at the Paavo Nurmi Games in Finland and the Folksam Grand Prix in Gothenburg.
Sandwiched in between was a new 1500m PB at the Gothenburg Diamond League meeting when she clocked 4:01.81 and finished third to Laura Muir, who set a new world lead.
Commenting on her excellent post-lockdown form, Courtney Bryant says: “I think I was just so excited to race!
“The first time I did, I was just so grateful to have the opportunity because a couple of months before that I thought it just wasn’t going to happen. I might be waiting until next year.
“So, I think I’ve just been glad of the opportunity. After the win in Finland, I got invited to the Diamond League in Stockholm and I couldn’t turn that race down.
1500 m femeninos🚺 #StockholmDL
1️⃣ Laura Muir 🇬🇧 – 3:57.86 (WL)
2️⃣ Laura Weightman 🇬🇧 – 4:01.62 (SB)
3️⃣ Melissa Courtney-Bryant 🇬🇧 – 4:01.81 (PB)
4️⃣ Winny Chebet 🇰🇪 – 4:02.58 (SB)
— Score Sport Magazine (@score_spport) August 23, 2020
“I was really excited about that one and trying to PB there. So I’m on a bit of a high at the moment and really enjoying it.”
And the European races keep coming for Courtney-Bryant with a 5,000m race lined up in Ostrava, a 1500m in Berlin and a Diamond League 3,000m in Doha before September is out.
Courtney-Bryant sees the 1500m at Berlin’s iconic Olympic Stadium on September 13 as an opportunity to dip under the magic four-minute mark and possibly break Hayley Tullet’s 1500m Welsh record of 3:59.95, set while winning a bronze medal at the 2003 World Championships in Paris.
Only Tullett and Kirsty Wade now stand above Courtney-Bryant in the all-time Welsh 1500m rankings following the Poole AC athlete’s 4:01.81 at the Diamond League in Stockholm.
The Welsh 3,000m and 5,000m record holder said of the 1500m record: “I think that is one of the hardest ones to break.
“Kirsty Wade and Hayley Tullett were just phenomenal athletes. The fact that I am getting closer and closer to them is really good, but I’ve still got a little jump to try and get ahead of them both.
“Hayley, when she ran that 3:59, won a bronze medal at the World Championships, so that’s such an incredible feat.
“It would be fantastic to go quicker than she did. It’s definitely my aim, I’ve always wanted to go sub-4 ever since I was little. It’s every female middle distance runner’s dream.
“I think only five British women have actually done it. Kirsty Wade went four flat, so she was very close as well. That’s definitely the aim. Hopefully, if it doesn’t happen in my next race in Berlin, then next year.”
Courtney-Bryant has happy memories of the historic Berlin venue, which is where she first claimed the Welsh 5,000m record at the European Championships – a mark she has since lowered to 14.53.82.
“It’s definitely a dream,” she said. “I’m hoping for a really quick race in Berlin. It’s a special track because it’s where I broke the 5k Welsh record when I ran my 15.04.
“It’s such a lovely stadium. I’m really excited to get out there and hopefully do a fast time.”
The 2018 Commonwealth Games 1500m bronze medallist is also particularly looking forward to the Diamond League meeting in Doha, which she feels will be good preparation for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I’ve just been confirmed for the 3K out there. So that’s really exciting having missed out on going to Doha for the World Champs last year.
“It’s going to be an exciting experience, it won’t be in the World Champs stadium, I think it will be in the normal Diamond League one.
“But it will be very hot and I think that will be good practice ahead of Tokyo, just to get myself acclimatised to what it feels like to be racing in that kind of heat.
“I think this year has just got me even more fired up and excited about the Olympics. I’ve just looked at lockdown as an opportunity to have another year to get better and stronger.
“Coming out racing now I’ve realised I was actually in good shape. It was a bit hard to think I could have been at the Olympics in this shape, but hopefully in a year’s time I’ll be in an even better place.
“I will have had a chance to work on other weaknesses. Like this year I’ve had the chance to do more 1500s, which I haven’t really had the chance to do since the Commonwealths, so that has been fun.”
Despite her 1500m successes so far this season, the 5,000m will be the target in Tokyo.
“That’s the one I’ve already got the qualifying time for last year. I’ve run the 1500m qualifying time this year, but unfortunately it doesn’t count. I will race them both next year as well ahead of the Olympics.”
That flexibility over 1500m and 5,000m will certainly be useful the following year which will feature the World Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships within the space of six weeks.
Some observers have already commented it will not be possible for many athletes – particularly in middle distance and endurance events – to compete in all three events.
The current British indoor 3,000m champion has other ideas. “I really want to do all three! I have already had this conversation with my coach! I don’t want to miss out on any of those championships.
“The Commonwealths are so special to me, getting to represent Wales, it’s where I won my first medal.
“I still get that excited feeling when I think back to that 1500m final, seeing everyone on the lap of honour, I really loved that championships with the Welsh team, so I want to experience that again in Birmingham.
“But I’ve never been to a World Champs either, so I’ll be busy. I’m not sure if I’ll run the 5k in all of them, or whether the timetable means I could run the 1500m in some and 5k in others.
“Hopefully because I’ve got those two events we could work it out that I could do all three, but until we know the timetables it’s a bit difficult to know.”
Her current schedule is certainly good preparation for what may be to come during 2022, although it does mean she has had to drop out of this weekend’s British Championships in Manchester which will be televised live on the BBC.
“Initially, I had wanted to do the 1500 at the British Champs. Obviously, normally I am focussing on the 5k, but I just thought, with the season I have had with more 1500 opportunities it would be a bit of fun and a bit different.
“But after I got invited to Stockholm my coach and I realised I’d have three weeks in a row of 1500m racing and then British Champs the following week. I had already committed to the Ostrava 5k the following week, as well as Berlin, it was too many races.
“I can’t do them all, one of them’s got to go. So we decided to drop the British Champs because it was a bit close to Ostrava, which is on Tuesday, September 8 and that’s the only 5k I have managed to get into.
“There’s only been that one and the Diamond League at Monaco and I couldn’t get into that. So I just thought I really want Ostrava to go really well.
“Some of my training partners are going up, and it’s a bit sad not to be going up too, but I’m looking forward to watching it on the TV for a change and getting ready for the 5k.”
So it will be back to travelling to and from European destinations, a familiar routine for international athletes, but one which has been complicated by Covid-19.
Göteborg GP (8/29)
🥇4:05.07 Melissa Courtney-Bryant🇬🇧
🥈4:05.47 Jessica Hull🇦🇺
🥉4:09.63 Katie Snowden🇬🇧
④4:10.43 Meraf Bahta🇸🇪
⑤4:10.76 Genevieve Gregson🇦🇺
⑥4:11.33 Hanna Hermansson🇸🇪
⑦4:11.42 Rosie Clarke🇬🇧
⑧4:16.95 Marta Pen Freitas🇵🇱 pic.twitter.com/RhgQ7LUO4T
— Y (陸上長距離) (@yrdbki) August 29, 2020
“I’ve found it really good on most flights,” she says. “I haven’t had anyone sat next to me on any of the flights, I’ve either had one seat in between or the whole row to myself.
“Obviously, everyone’s wearing a mask around the airport but you do spot some people who are trying not to wear them which is a bit frustrating.
“I take a hand gel with me everywhere and antibac wipes, so I clean down the entire seat, the sides, the seatbelt, everything before I sit down.
“I’m getting used to doing that now. Lots of the flights, especially to Sweden, weren’t that regular. So the one on the way out, I had to do a connecting flight to Amsterdam before going on to Sweden. It’s a bit frustrating but it’s working out ok.”
Courtney Bryant is well used to having to be careful about her health having been taken ill in 2017 by a mystery condition, which was eventually diagnosed as a metabolic disorder now controlled by medication.
“The new thing really is wearing a mask,” she says. “Even going forward, hopefully when there is a vaccine and we don’t have to worry so much about Covid I think I will still want to wear a mask on a plane.
“I feel much more protected, especially on a long-haul flight. I will often pick up bugs or a cold when I get off a long-haul flight from travelling for a camp or a race, so I think I might stick to wearing a mask.
A woman on my flight just got on the plane with no mask then said she didn’t have one to the air stewardess 🤦🏼♀️she has now been given one but can’t seem to wear it over her nose.. 🙄 Seriously how can people be so inconsiderate?!!
— Melissa Courtney-Bryant (@mcourtneybryant) August 24, 2020
“It’s been really good, every meet, pretty much everyone’s had their own room whereas normally we are sharing. I’ve only had one meet where I’ve actually had to share and that was with my training partner who I am actually in a training bubble with anyway. I was happy to share at that one.
“Every meet you’re at you’re given hand gel and a big pack of masks. That’s all we seem to get in our goodie bags these days is hand gel, antibac and masks!
“But I do get quite excited about getting these big bottles of hand gel because I don’t have to buy any more now, I’m stocking up!
“At the last meet, instead of having the normal buffet, you sat down at the restaurant and they brought your food to you to avoid people having to touch everything at the buffet so I thought that was good.
“Everyone at the meetings has to have a Covid test. So I’ve had quite a few of them now. You know at least before someone’s travelled they’ve had a negative Covid test.
“I don’t go anywhere else other than the track and the hotel they put us in. I don’t go to any of the supermarkets, coffee shops or anything.
— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) August 30, 2020
“I literally just go for a run around the track and then stay in the hotel. That’s it. So I’m not really mixing with anyone, which I think is the safest way of doing it really.”
Despite all the restrictions there have, however, been upsides to the whole Covid-19 situation for Courtney-Bryant, who married British decathlete Ashley Bryant at the end of last year.
“Normally, I spend a lot of my time on camps or at races but I actually got to spend those three months at home here with just me and Ash.
“We didn’t have our family close by throughout lockdown, either, because they are down south. It was quite strange with just us two, but it was nice to be able to help each other.
“We had a gym set up in our shed. I had a treadmill in my kitchen. So we were all sorted and it went by quite quickly. Having each other really helped.
“Normally, I don’t get the opportunity to stay at home all that much. I normally go on a training camp for a month, I’m back for a couple of months then go again. So, it was really nice to actually be at home. I can’t remember the last time I was at home in April.
“It was nice to get to spend some time together, just Ash and I. He helped me on lots of my runs. He would come on the bike and be company. Doing those 14, 15 mile runs on your own can be quite hard, so that was really good.”
The 27-year-old certainly seems to be reaping the rewards of the time spent at home and the company of her new husband on those long training runs.