Isla Short: cyclist reckons Covid layoff has triggered intense spell of practice

The Covid-19 lockdown spell has ironically signalled a long training session for ex-Biggar resident Isla Short, writes Ralph Mellon.

Isla Short (centre) is pictured in 2017 after being named Clubsport Tweeddale Sports Personality Of The Year following her qualification for Scotland’s 2018 Commonwealth Games squad

The top cyclist reckons the global sporting lay-off of recent months triggered her most intense spell of practice ever.

Isla (23), of Peebles, is due in Switzerland this weekend for some more competitive action, after a recent visit to the Czech Republic for the first event of the season.

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The international cycling calendar, however, like so many other sports, has been hit by numerous call-offs and rearrangements, so Isla is trying to plan her competition schedule carefully.

“It’s slowly getting back to normal but things are still getting cancelled and shuffled about, so it’s a matter of taking things step by step,” she said.

After a magnificent fifth-place finish in the women’s cross country section at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, on Australia’s Gold Coast, Isla decided to give up team cycling and ride independently, which has allowed her a certain freedom in choosing events. She can still enter the same races and is able to travel with her sponsors, her mechanic, or her dad, rather than a team.

“It’s really refreshing to kind of be my own boss,” she said. “I can largely do the races I want and travel when I want, which makes things easier.”

Many high-achieving sportsmen and women found motivation the biggest problem during the lay-off but Isla said enthusiasm was something she rarely struggled with.

“I would say training was really my sanity during lockdown, because it was the only thing that felt normal,” she said.

“So I chose not to have time off, because I just wanted to keep training and feel useful.

“That was really helpful but I think the biggest problem with me was knowing how to train.”

A successful throat operation in March to correct a breathing problem did, however, give Isla some time off, and she came back “super motivated to train” after the recovery spell.

However, because the race diary had become so erratic, it was difficult to know what kind of training to do.

“If I kept on high intensity stuff, I would be burnt out by time the races scheduled for September and October happened,” she said.

While plans may still be subject to alteration, and pandemic self-isolation and social distancing regulations could change in some countries, there are two World Cup events (from a normal schedule of seven or eight) and a World Championship contest earmarked for September and October.

Isla is keen to take part but, with some uncertainty still faintly looming in the background, she felt the main thing was to just enjoy being able to race and not worry too much about the outcome.

Although effectively having an extra year to practice and get stronger for the postponed Tokyo Olympics, Isla said the World events remained her principal target.

“Those things are really big in our sport,” she said.

“The more the world goals take me in the direction of the Olympics is fair enough but just to focus on that is not a useful mindset for me.”

However, Isla declared another firm ambition is to be in Paris for the Olympics in 2024.

She is living in Glasgow just now for university, where she is studying biology and sports nutrition, but is frequently back in Peebles for practice.

Her recent three-month training block is being followed by more intense routines to get ready for the races.

“It’s funny – lockdown was the hardest I ever trained, which is a weird mindset, but it’s nice to have had time to do that at home and not travel,” she said.