Markhim Lonsdale has faced both psychological and physical challenges during 2019, but he has come out the other side stronger, happier and looking ahead to 2020…

Whilst the physical demands of being an athlete are numerous, with brutal track sessions and hours in the weights room to overcome, the mental side of the sport is something often underappreciated until it affects you.

For Markhim Lonsdale, 2019 has been about fighting psychological battles which have kept him away from the track. An undeniably talented 800m runner, Lonsdale made the final of the World Junior Championships in 2018, so naturally he expected his excellent trajectory to continue this season.

Due to a knee injury hampering his winter training, his outdoor campaign began late. Given his disrupted winter, outsiders would consider 1.49.72 a very respectable performance (Lonsdale’s personal best is 1.46.97, set when he was just 18). However, it left the Crook and District athlete with gnawing feelings of self-doubt. “It got way on top of me to the point where I didn’t see myself improving although training was going well. I went into every race not wanting to be on the start line as I just didn’t believe in myself anymore. I slowly felt very sad and depressed.”

To others it may be hard to understand how an athlete who has had so much success could lack confidence, but in sport, current form is everything and the mind can torment you to the point where the successes feel meaningless and the failures become everything. For Markhim, it came to a point where he had to take a step away from the track during the season.

It was at this point that the 800m athlete credits the support systems around him for aiding his return to the track. As part of the British Athletics Futures programme, and as a Jean Pickering Scholar, he had people and resources to help him. One of the most profound discoveries Lonsdale made during this period was through talking to British 400m hurdler, Jack Green, who has suffered with depression himself. “He helped me loads, telling me I’m much more than just an athlete.” Maximising other parts of his identity, such as his friendships and his YouTube channel, has been an important step in Lonsdale becoming a happier athlete, because it has meant that when his athletic form is faltering, he doesn’t feel that his whole life is falling apart.

The Jean Pickering Scholarship has assisted the budding YouTuber in developing his passion for media, by introducing him to advisors at Loughborough College, where he can take a course. Moreover, the financial support provided by the scholarship has enabled him to rent a flat in Loughborough where he will train with new coaches Paul Bradshaw and Alison Wyeth. However, the 20-year-old himself should be credited for his maturity and bravery in making these life changes to improve his mindset.

After being in the same coaching set-up for his entire athletic career thus far, making the move to Loughborough is a bold decision. Promisingly, there is already the sense that things have taken a positive turn. He explains that “for the past 10 years I have trained by myself so to start training in a group makes things more competitive and I can push myself more. It has got to the point where I am excited to go training. I have never done gym, plyometrics or hurdle drills and Paul has already mentioned these things for winter 2019.”

Ultimately, whilst the 2019 season on the track may not be much to speak of, away from the track, the 2017 European U20 Silver medallist has tackled and succeeded in facing one of the greatest challenges of his career. In his words “2019 started roughly, mentally and physically, but now I’m happy and ready for a solid winter of work. The scholarship is so helpful to me financially, as well as providing me with advisors and people to talk to. Next summer I strongly believe anything can happen, and the 2020 Olympics is never off the cards!”

Text: Ashleigh Spiliopoulou

Photo: Mark Shearman: Athletics Images