Operation Glory for the flying vet

Simon Turnbull talks to the brave runner with a real job on her hands

Catching up with Hayley Haining is not an easy proposition, as all but eight of Europe's leading cross-country runners would testify. A phone call to her work-place on Friday lunchtime met with the polite response: "I'm sorry, but she's operating at the moment." The remarkable thing about Haining is not just that she has made an impressive return to international level after five injury-plagued years, but that she has time to run at all.

While Paula Radcliffe, the rival from junior days with whom she has renewed acquaintance on the cross-country circuit this winter, packs her bags to prepare for the world cross-country championships at high altitude in Albuquerque, Haining is contemplating how to fit her training into her 60-to-70 hour working week as a veterinary surgeon. Perhaps it should not happen to a vet, but it says much for the Scot's natural talent that she has competed with the professional foot-sloggers as an international athlete. The eight women who finished ahead of her at the European cross- country championships in Charleroi in December were all full-timers.

That run in the Belgian mud was Haining's first international cross-country race as a senior. Ninth place, leading the British team to bronze medals, was a fine performance in itself. The fact that the young woman from Dumfries had all but hung up her racing shoes made it all the more meritorious. Having emerged in her youth as a natural successor to Liz McColgan, it seemed all her promise would be wasted by a catalogue of back, pelvic and leg problems.

"I just seemed to jump from one disaster to another," she recalled. "I thought I would never run seriously again but my mother never let me throw my trainers away, even though I wanted to. It seemed every time I pulled them on I got kicked in the teeth."

That Haining, 24 now, has a high-class running pedigree is beyond question. In her days as a teenage prodigy north of the border she eclipsed McColgan's Scottish league records and enjoyed her finest half-an-hour on the same afternoon that her idol finished third in the world cross-country championships in Antwerp six years ago. Haining was seventh in the junior race, three seconds behind Gete Wami, the Ethiopian who took the Olympic 10,000m bronze medal last summer, and eight places ahead of Radcliffe, who was fifth in the 5,000m in Atlanta.

That was Haining's last international cross-country race before her re- emergence in Charleroi. Her target now is to join Radcliffe in the British team for the world cross-country championships in Turin on 23 March. Her build-up to the trial race in Northumberland on 2 March will include a club race next weekend and the Scottish championships in Perth the following Saturday.

"Hopefully things will go well for Hayley in the trial," Jock Redmond, her coach, said. "But the fact that she's just running at this level is a bonus. She's done virtually no speed work since she came back. If she gets in a summer of track work I think we'll see the real Hayley next winter."

Haining's weekly training mileage is in the 40-to-50 range, roughly half that of her rivals, though Redmond points out: "We've never believed in high mileage." Her coach does admit that the miles are fitted in "with great difficulty" and that Haining's work has left her jaded in some races, notably in Durham, where she finished 11th, eight places behind Radcliffe.

It could be that the flying vet might have to place her career on temporary hold to fulfil her rich potential as a runner. For the time being, though, she is glad to be back near the front of the pack. "I spent five years on the scrap heap," she said. "I find it hard to believe I'm back in international athletics again."

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