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Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club's Holly Archer battling back to recapture form that guided her to European Athletics Indoor Championships silver medal

‘Mentally it was tough. You question a lot of things. Am I good enough? Am I doing the right things or training hard enough?’

It was not how Holly Archer envisaged her first full year since turning professional would unfold.

The Under Armour athlete, who is a member of Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club, was on an upward trajectory after winning a 1,500m silver medal at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in March 2021.

Holly Archer is working to put a tough few months behind her. Picture: Richard Marsham
Holly Archer is working to put a tough few months behind her. Picture: Richard Marsham

And so 2022 was mapped out as being the big breakthrough, one with selection for the European Championships, World Athletics Championships and a home Commonwealth Games all a realistic ambition.

But three bouts of Covid during the first part of the season forced the momentum to a shuddering halt, and subsequently left the former Cycle Pharmaceuticals employee questioning whether she had made the right decision to go full time.

“I’d set so many goals for 2022 and I ended up getting Covid three times. I caught it at Christmas and that messed with my indoor season and then again in March,” said the 28-year-old.

Holly Archer with her silver medal at the European Indoor Athletics Championships. Picture: European Athletics
Holly Archer with her silver medal at the European Indoor Athletics Championships. Picture: European Athletics

“I got it again in May and it really impacted on my respiratory system. I could do the sessions and do the work outs but then two days later I’d be flat out struggling to get out of bed.

“You don’t have any other focus when you go pro. It’s your job and each race has a quota or a target.

“It’s tough because I come from a working background where if you’re not done at the end of the day you stay late and get it done, but you can’t do that in athletics.

“My job was to make the Commonwealth Games and I didn’t, although the selection was harsh for that. They took one athlete when they should have taken three.

“But I wanted to make the Euros, the World Championships as well, and I failed.

“Mentally it was tough. You question a lot of things. Am I good enough? Am I doing the right things or training hard enough?

“It (turning professional) was a big risk because you have to put your life on hold and it does make you question whether it’s worth it when things are tough.

“Your social life stops in a lot of ways because you’re in and out of the country at training camps.”

Changes were clearly needed. Primarily based in the USA since signing with Under Armour, the ex-Long Road student decided to return to more familiar surroundings in a bid to recapture her form and confidence of 12 months ago.

And she also continues to pursue a marketing career outside of the sport, albeit on a less demanding basis than her previous employment.

“Athletics can be a weird world and it’s so easy to get absorbed in times, results and what other athletes are doing,” she said.

“I need to snap out of that sometimes and that’s why still working part-time helps me a lot, it’s quite refreshing to have different deadlines and targets.

“Athletics is so strict, it has to be that. Strict diets stuck up a mountain at altitude. It can be quite isolating with only your coach and other athletes to talk to.

“Turning professional was a dream and I wouldn’t change it but I need that escape as well.

“I was more based in the US at altitude but with the way Covid affected my body it just wasn’t working.

“Altitude is great if you’re in prime shape because it boosts your red blood cells but if you’re suffering with illness or injury it can leave you in a bit of a hole.

“You struggle to keep up and to match what is expected of you and that’s where I felt like I had got to.

“I’m hoping a change in set up to something closer to what I had in 2021 will help to motivate me and get me back on the right track.”

The middle-distance runner, who was raised in Kedington just outside of Haverhill, certainly did not anticipate March’s Cambridge Half Marathon to lead to her return to the international scene this weekend.

In between battling Covid she had intended for the 13.1-mile run around the city to be nothing more than an extended training session.

But a finishing time of one hour, 13 minutes and 20 seconds caught the eye of England Athletics selectors and, after a late drop out, Archer has been drafted in for the Copenhagen Half Marathon on Sunday.

The 11th hour selection means the Andrew Parmenter-trained athlete feels far from prepared for the rigours that lay ahead in Denmark, yet she is planning to use the event as a major learning experience.

“I’d done a 1,500m the previous Sunday and it was only meant to be a long, hard run with my friends and family around me,” she said.

“But I’m too competitive and I couldn’t treat it like that once I got started.

“I ended up running a pretty good time, although I didn’t think it would be anywhere near good enough for England.

“The call came really late. I’d like to have known when the others in the team did eight weeks ago so I could have done some long runs and trained the body but it hasn’t worked out that way.

“The selector who called me said there was no pressure. I can go and learn, speak to people and use it as a real experience for the future when I’m perhaps done with the track.

“I’m just looking forward to putting that England vest on, enjoying it and hopefully that helps me to put in a good performance.”

While those long distance races could well represent the future, Archer’s more immediate focus after Copenhagen will be on rediscovering her form on the track.

Like all athletes it is tough to ignore that the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris is drawing ever closer, but having struggled both mentally and physically in recent months, Archer is not planning to look too far into the future.

“There is an indoor European Championships next year and that’s what I got my medal in so I’m looking to get back into the team and go from there,” she said.

“I’ll see where it goes. There is World Indoor Championships next year as well so there’s plenty to do, but I just want to stay healthy.

“It’s a week-by-week thing rather than setting any big goals. There is an Olympics in 2024 and that’s always in your mind.

“You’re more likely to get noticed if you can get some momentum going in 2023, but there are no major goals.

“I want to get fit, stay healthy and then hopefully the results follow like they did before.”

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