This should have been the month Melissa Courtney-Bryant was competing at her first Olympic Games in Tokyo. Instead, she has had to test her resilience and ingenuity as she looks ahead to the re-scheduled Games in 12 months’ time as she told Jenny Nesbitt.
The past four months have been challenging for us all, but what has it been like for elite athletes?
For Melissa Courtney-Bryant, everything was seemingly going to plan. As January rolled into February, the Welsh middle distance runner returned from a stint at high altitude training in the running mecca of Iten, Kenya.
Then, taking to the indoor boards of the Emirates Arena, in Glasgow, she seamlessly went on to win the 3,000m at the British Championships.
Next on the agenda was preparing for – and hopefully securing – a place on the Great Britain Team for the Tokyo Olympic Games. We all know what happened next.
Like a lot of people, March’s lockdown came as a surprise to Courtney-Bryant. But a bit of quick thinking on her part meant that by the time full lockdown came into place, she was prepared for all scenarios.
She had a treadmill delivered by her dad and gym equipment on loan. In short, she moved her training base into the front room of her Loughborough home.
He original plans for the spring looked very different. April had been put aside to live and train in the skinny air of Flagstaff, USA.
Got to have fun at training! It’s rare we get to do sessions together so it was fun doing a 1500m session with @mcourtney93 today with Coach Rob on the bike! pic.twitter.com/2gDueMir1P
— Ashley bryant (@Ashley__Bryant) February 24, 2018
That would have been followed by a trip down to sea level in Stanford, California to race in the Payton Jordan Invitational.
It would have provided a high class 5,000m race to start of the season, with the hope of her season continuing to progress upwards from there.
Instead, showing brilliant initiative and adaptability, the 26-year-old measured out a 400m grass track and made use of the local areas on her doorstep.
Her husband, Ashley Bryant – a Great Britain decathlete, who finished 11th at the 2017 World Championships and won silver at the last Commonwealth Games – became a great substitute for her training group and together they managed to keep each other motivated throughout some difficult times.
“Living with my husband, who is also an athlete, definitely helped as we would go and do sessions at the same place and have one and other for company, even if we were doing very different running sessions!” says Courtney-Bryant.
Like a lot of athletes working towards their Olympic berth this summer, Courtney-Bryant’s initial disappointment at the postponement of the Games, ultimately turned into greater motivation and bigger aspirations.
“I was really sad with the postponement of the Olympics. Having already achieved the qualifying time last year, and knowing I was in good shape coming into the summer, it was disappointing.
“However, I think having longer to prepare will only make me a better athlete.
“Hopefully, with another year’s training I can push on and be faster and stronger than I was this year.”
With the prospect of being faster and stronger by the 2021 Olympics, the 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist didn’t rest during lockdown, but instead prolonged her winter training base.
“I couldn’t train on a track and we delayed doing any faster work and extended our winter base training.
“I think being an endurance runner was definitely an advantage as I was able to continue a pretty normal training routine compared to other events.”
In doing so, her routine didn’t change too much. Like a lot of endurance athletes, the basic philosophy of train, eat, rest and repeat was easily implemented into lockdown daily life.
“As an athlete my routine is very simple: training, eating, resting – so I think that made lockdown much easier for me as I’m used to not doing much!”
For Courtney-Bryant, one of the most challenging aspects of 2020 so far has been the limited access to physiotherapy.
Without the regular treatment she has been used to, she has had to be more diligent with her foam rolling, stretching and prehab exercises.
Yet again, her professionalism has shone through as she recognises she has had to make, “more sensible decisions throughout lockdown to keep my body in a good place”.
Regular video calls with Welsh Athletics’ lead physio, Adam Rattenbury has meant last year’s European Indoor bronze winner has been able to get her “husband, come training partner, come physio” to help provide any treatment necessary to ensure she can return to the track.
Which is where she is right now.
Being based in Loughborough, Courtney-Bryant has been adhering to the English lockdown regulations, meaning that she has been able to get back on track more quickly than athletes in Wales.
“It’s definitely been an advantage, living in England, in terms of getting back to normal training.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be back training on a track for the last five weeks. I live in Loughborough and being a British Athletics-funded athlete I was able to access the track as soon as they had it approved to open.”
As an athlete, the importance of having a coach to observe and oversee your sessions can be fundamental in seeing how you are running.
For Courtney-Bryant, the relaxation of lockdown rules has meant she has been able to get back to face-to-face contact with her coach, Rob Denmark, which is not only a big motivation boost, but also a step forward in a return to normality.
Training is still far from normal, but she adds: “It’s very different to how it used to be – with social distancing rules and booked time slots to use the track and limited numbers.”
But, even at a distance, the distraction of being able to run with training partners has come as a big relief.
“I’m just very happy to be back training on the track and returning to normal training, even if it means still keeping distance between my training partners.
“It’s just nice to have some company on the track.”
As to the future, she admits the uncertainty that surrounds every day at the moment can be quite scary.
The prospect of a second wave of infections, or when a vaccine will be developed, is certainly on her mind, but accepting and working with a new normal is just another adaptation that will surely be a compromise worth taking.
“I really miss racing, being in July and having still not raced seems so strange.
“My training has pretty much resumed to normal now apart from abiding social distancing, so for me I just can’t wait to be able to race and feel the nerves and excitement of standing on a starting line again.”
As an athlete who is viewed as a role model by many, Courtney-Bryant is used to interacting with and inspiring the next generation at races.
“It will be very strange to be at a race and not hug or shake hands afterwards or even high five kids in the crowd.”
The question of when crowds might return to athletics remains unanswered, but one thing is for sure – when the opportunity to race comes around, Courtney-Bryant will be ready.