From almost leaving the sport for good at one point to then captaining her country at the world championships, Leeds runner Claire Duck has faced a fairly rough course throughout her cross-country career.
When given the opportunity to train in Chicago for two years in 2007, it seemed too good to turn down, as the then-Leeds University student stepped onto the plane full of anticipation.
Yorkshire’s full of fields, trails and hills, especially Leeds you can’t go anywhere without going up a hill. I live on a massive hill which I run and cycle up everyday, so Yorkshire’s a much nicer place to run, even if it isn’t as warm!Claire Duck
After her return to home soil two years later however, she found herself barely having enough motivation to even pick up a pair of running trainers.
“I sort of lost my love for the sport (when I came home),” says Duck. “I had a good eighteen months where I didn’t run or race...I was tired, I kept getting injured and I just wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.
“I trained a lot on my own when I came home and there wasn’t a group around me, so I think you lose passion when there aren’t as many people around you to train with.”
Despite the excellent facilities on offer, the training camp was miles away from home for the Thirsk-born runner in every sense of the word, providing very little relief from an already demanding American race circuit.
“Chicago’s very flat,” says Duck, “it’s just a big city and there aren’t many grassy areas to run in. Yorkshire’s full of fields, trails and hills, especially Leeds you can’t go anywhere without going up a hill. I live on a massive hill which I run and cycle up everyday, so Yorkshire’s a much nicer place to run, even if it isn’t as warm!”
Since making her return to running under current coach Mike Baxter in 2011, the 32-year-old has stormed her way into the crop of Britain’s finest long-distance runners, battling regularly for national titles, British vests and also dominating at the Northern Championships.
The elements for this have always been there, with the cherished group dynamic now even better than ever, but it wasn’t until recently when the possibilities that seemed light years away finally started to come into fruition.
“Even a few years ago I didn’t think I’d ever get this far.” says Duck. “I had a few injuries over the first couple of years with Mike which stopped me being consistent. But then the last couple of years I’ve managed to have regular periods of training to work on a few of my weaknesses and keep injury at bay, so that’s really helped.
“I’ve got a good training group. On a Tuesday night there are a few guys and girls that I train with like Nathan Dunn and Adam Stacey, then on a weekend I do a nice Sunday run with girls like (Olympic finalist) Laura Weightman, Georgia Malir and Zara Knappy. There’s also Bronwen Owen who’s a triathlete, so there’s a lot of variation.”
The sport does still provide regular challenges, with Duck having to maintain a full-time career in sonography along with her tough training schedule.
However, after first competing for Britain amongst the likes of Mo Farah and Laura Muir at January’s Great Edinburgh Cross Country, the Northern Champion is hungry for more, with trials for this year’s European Championships, amongst others, on the horizon.
“(Qualifying for the Europeans) is my big aim this side of Christmas” says Duck. “I was quite close last year and think I’ve made improvements since, but there are lots of really strong women going for it so it’s going to be very tough.
“I’d really like go to Edinburgh again and there’s also the Nationals, Inter-Counties and obviously the Northern Championships at Harewood House; it’s really hilly round there so that one could be interesting.”
With her past issues seemingly buried deeper than the mud of cross country, the next few months promise a lot of excitement for Duck; simply saying “the muddier the better” when picturing the ideal race for her.