My name is Lilly Coward, I am 20 years old, a middle distance runner and I am currently attending St Mary’s University studying Primary Education.
I have been in the sport of athletics since I was 7, when I started out doing indoor athletics at my primary school (Minterne Junior School).
I had very encouraging teachers and coaches that made me really progress through the sport at primary and even made me team captain in year 6. They then encouraged me to continue athletics when I left the school and gave me a leaflet for a club in Canterbury. I joined Invicta East Kent AC where I started some ‘serious’ and intense training with older children and adults who were competing in bigger competitions. Until now this has been the biggest challenge I’ve come across in my athletics career. My parents were taking me up to Canterbury three times a week in order to train with the team and it then wasn’t long till I was competing and my Saturdays were taken up by competing around Kent. As the weeks went by I gained some really close friends which I am still close with today and I wouldn’t be where I am without them. They have really kept me going through the sport, through the ups and the downs.
I remember my first race being only a couple of weeks into training and it was an open meet at Invicta’s track and I was competing in the 600m (at the time this felt such a long way). I was so nervous and really didn’t know the drill of runners competing at this level; I just rocked up in my trainers, baggy shorts and a football top while looking down at the other children’s racing spikes. Now the drill before a race is completely different and never in the world would I just rock up to the start line (even though I wish I could). I came towards the back of the race, but came off with the biggest smile on my face and saying to my mum ‘I really enjoyed that’ and from then, I knew I was really going to enjoy this sport even more. I started to look into cross country races with my coach and the thought of getting muddy, the course being hilly and the long distance really didn’t appeal to me, but I knew I had to give it a shot. My first cross country race was in the Kent league where I placed 3rd in the u13 girls category. I was absolutely over the moon with my performance that day and it gave me so much confidence. Over the cross and throughout that cross country season I kept finishing around the 3rd-5th place, which left me in 3rd place overall for the season out of around 50 girls.
My first full season of track was my first year at u15, where I achieved the times 2.26 for 800m and 5.12 for 1500m and continued breaking my personal bests through my second year of u15. When I was u17, I really struggled through the seasons of cross and track; I really wasn’t performing or training hard enough to be as good as I wanted. When I was performing I started to really fall out of love with the sport, and just kept competing and training for the fun and to see my close friends. This continued until I went to university at St Marys in September 2015. I had new setting round me, around runners who were inspiring and a new coach. During my first year of university I didn’t really compete, I was settling into university and finding my way round the place and enjoying university life. In Easter of 2016 I went altitude training for the first time in Font Romeu. It was here where I really started to enjoy training again and started to really get fit. Out there, I had my first glimpse of real hard training and when I got back to the UK after 3 1/2 weeks of altitude training, I was ready to start my season. I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t really know how fit I really was. My first race of the season didn’t go the way I planned; it wasn’t a great opener but as the season went on, and the more training I did, the better I got. In my last race of the season I achieved a 4 second personal best over 1500m, I left that season on a high and really wanting more. This then leads me into my second year of university in September 2016. I started that university year with a season over the cross. I haven’t had confidence in the cross for many years, so I was excited to see what I could do as a new athlete with more confidence. I started with coming 2nd in my first league race and the season continued moving well as I came 2nd in Southern inter counties. I still think of that race as my break through race and I always look back onto it.
In January 2017 I started my first ever indoor season, where I achieved a massive personal best of 4.33 in the 1500m. I was over the moon with my time and when I found out it was a British Indoor invitation time, I was on cloud 9. This was going to be my biggest race to date; I was going to be performing along side Olympians and world-class athletes. The race did not go well, but I was overwhelmed by the experience and opportunity and I could in no way be disappointed. That indoor season leads me into the current one.
In April 2017 I was back out to Font Romeu to bring me to the current season. I am presently training 6/7 days a week and sometimes even having double days and gym, I am currently aiming for 40-50 miles a week over the track, whereas winter I would try for 60-70 miles. I have so far achieved a massive PB over the 1500m of 4.21 and 800m PB of 2.07, never in the world did I ever think I’d be able to achieve these times. This season I have also come 2nd at South of England 800m, 4th in the British University Sport and 4th in the National u23s; gutting isn’t the word for 4th place but, to even have achieved that much already this season, I could not complain. My times this season also led me to get an invite to the world trials in both 800m and 1500m, where I chose to compete in 1500m. I missed out on the final by a few seconds, but achieving what I did against world-class athletes meant I was very happy with my performance. This now brings me to my most recent race where I competed in Belgium over 1500m. I achieved my most recent personal best of 4.21 and I had won my first ever international race. Getting the win beats my time by anything; it was such a nice feeling to have won in front of crowd that I did. This season has been so consistent and I am so grateful for all the support around me; my coach always being there, my training squad always helping me out and supporting me; my family for helping me with all my funds and travelling and always being there. It’s not a cheap sport when you’re successful as you have more travelling round the country.