Why 36-year-old Haining is in with a shout against Yelling

Running is only a hobby but Scot is challenging for a spot in Beijing. Mike Rowbottom reports on a remarkable comeback from serious and traumatic injury
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With Paula Radcliffe unable to seek a fourth London Marathon title because of a toe injury, the main domestic interest in tomorrow's race will concern Radcliffe's old training partner, Liz Yelling, and Scotland's Hayley Haining, who will be involved, effectively, in a run-off for the last available Olympic place behind the likely pre-selections Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi, the winner of last year's Osaka marathon.

While Yelling, a full-time athlete for many years, finished 15th at the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh a fortnight ago, the build-up for tomorrow's race has taken the form of low-key local races for Haining. Dr Haining, that is, who declares: "Running, for me, is a hobby. A relaxation."

The Scottish athlete, who is now 36, set a British Under-15 record for 1,000m back in 1986 before becoming a cross-country runner who outshone even the youthful Radcliffe in the early 1990s. But even before she wanted to be a runner, Haining wanted to be a vet.

"Apparently I decided at the age of four," she said with a smile yesterday. "And I have never wavered." After qualifying as a veterinary surgeon, Haining added a PhD to her CV four years ago and is now a clinical pathologist at Glasgow Veterinary School, where she analyses samples belonging to all creatures great and small – ranging from family cats and dogs to livestock, golden eagles and exotic reptiles.

Quite simply, it's her dream job. Now, however, she finds herself entertaining the unexpected possibility of realising an Olympic dream she thought had become impossible when her precocious junior career foundered on a succession of serious foot injuries.

"When I gave up running in 2000 I honestly thought that that was the end of my racing," said Haining. "I didn't think I would have the confidence to try and get back again, but in the last three years I have been able to run free of injury so now it will be interesting to see what I can do.

"If it is enough to get me to Beijing, then wonderful, but to be honest I haven't focused on it. I never really thought I could go there, so it's not something that can define my athletics career. I keep it in my peripheral vision, because I've got a job to do in life, and I've got an injury spectre behind me."

For all the problems brought about by her running, her most serious injury – so bad that it put any future athletics in jeopardy – was inflicted when she was 15 by a pair of young horses, who pulled her over and trampled her so badly that she still bears the scars on her legs.

"They said my hamstring had nearly been torn off the back of my leg, but luckily I had new jeans on and they were really tight and helped hold the leg together, which meant it just got squashed," she said. "I still have very little sensation in the scar tissue."

Scarred or not, Haining has been back in the running since 2004, finishing 12th in London the following year and ninth in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games of 2006 before achieving sixth place at last year's Berlin Marathon in a personal best of 2hr 30min 43sec – one second faster than Yelling's best.

Despite the selection challenge, Haining does not plan to track her domestic rival from the start tomorrow.

"To be quite frank, I might not see Liz," she said. "She could be off like a rat up a drainpipe. I will be trying to concentrate on getting myself round in the best way I can. It's a marathon, after all."