This is Stuart Weir’s first piece on Laura Muir. Stuart wrote 110 columns for RunBlogRun last year (111,000 words). He watched Laura Muir in most of her races in 2023. Here is Stuart Weir’s column on Laura Muir and her year of changes in 2023. 

A happy athlete is a fast athlete – Laura Muir reflects on 2023

It is hard to sum up Laura Muir’s 2023. It started with a gold medal in the European Indoors, then she had the change of coach from Andy Young (her first and only coach) to Steve Vernon and a relocation to spend blocks of time in Loughborough, rather than Glasgow, where she had been based previously. This is a well-researched article, as your correspondent watched Laura run 12 times in 2023.

While there was a national mile record in Monaco, her main aim at the start of the season was a medal in the World Champions, but she finished sixth.  Then, she finished her season with three magnificent Diamond League performances in Zurich, Brussels, and Eugene. I wrote “season,” not “year,” as Laura had one more race to come, a 3000m in Cardiff in December, to secure her World Indoor qualification mark. I write from the privileged position of having seen her run 13 times last year.

When we spoke just before Christmas, Laura gave me her own summary of the year: “I would say that I am proud of myself, given that it was probably the most difficult year of my life.  I think I ran incredibly well, given the circumstances. It was a life-changing year but in a very positive way and an exciting one going forward”.

Let’s start with the European Indoors – an event in which Laura always seems to do well.  This was her fifth gold medal at the event, whether 1500m or 3000m.

Laura MUIR wins the Women’s 800m with a time of 1:57.71 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Zurich on 31 Aug 2023, photo by Getty Images for British Athletics.

When we spoke of the World Championship final, where she came sixth, her attitude was very much disappointment but no regrets: “I think I gave all that I could in that race and ran the best that I could on that day”. There was a conviction that had the race been run differently, she could have finished higher. She explained further: “I think I was a little bit unfortunate with the semi-final being so fast as well. But it’s so competitive now in the 1500, and you can have a good run and finish anywhere from second to eighth. It depends on how you are on the day and, how other people run on the day, and how the race pans out. I was disappointed because I felt, had it in a different day, a different race, I could have placed higher”.

“Sometimes it’s your day, and unfortunately, in the biggest race of the year, I had one of my biggest off-days in the year. But you know these things happen. Sometimes, races go your way, and sometimes, they don’t.  I was really glad that I was able to run really well off the back of the world championship and showed the form that I was in. I don’t think the World Championships showed the shape that I really was in.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – MARCH 04: Laura Muir of Great Britain celebrates after winning the Women’s 1500m Final during Day 2 of the European Athletics Indoor Championships at the Atakoy Arena on March 04, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

“And it was pretty hot in Budapest, particularly during the heat [prelim] and semi-final. There’s probably a variety of different things, but having rounds, running really fast in that heat… I don’t think I did anything wrong, just sometimes things happen. But I was in a good place, so it’s just about getting fitter and stronger for next year”.

Immediately after Budapest, she won an 800m at the Zurich Weltklasse in 1:57.71, controlling the race and beating a strong field.  She told me: “I remember thinking as I stood on the start line that I didn’t have a ranking and that I didn’t have any Diamond League points at 800m. I didn’t even have a season’s best. It was a complete blank slate, and I think I did very well. In an 800, there are fewer tactics involved, and with fewer athletes, it’s easier to do your own thing and try to play to my strengths, which in Zurich was enough to get the win”.

She then won the 1550m in Brussels in 3:55.34 and came third in the Diamond League final in Eugene behind Faith Kipyegon and Diribe Welteji in 3:55.16 (SB).  “Yes, I was really happy with them. That showed my fitness level, where I was at. And to finish the season on a high is always important. I was pleased with 3:55 in Eugene because it was a really strong field, and I was tired. It wasn’t as if it was a weak field because everybody was there. To come third, and to be quite close to 2nd, and to run that time, the second fastest time of my career, was pleasing.  It wasn’t the smoothest of races, so the time would have been better if I could have run in lane one, but there are times when you have to move out to pass people”.

Laura Muir, Istanbul 2023, 1,500m heat, photo by Chiara Montesano for European Athletics

But even then, she was not entirely happy: “I felt that I was in the shape to break the British record – and had been for a few weeks – and it would have been nice to have done that in 2023.  But you need the perfect race. It’s nice to know it’s there. It was one of those things. I don’t know if I would have been able to have that performance in Budapest or not. I‘d run the best I could in Budapest. I mean, I was in the same shape but just sometimes things go your way better than others – like your legs don’t feel as good for some reason. But I was pleased to finish the season on a high rather than fading away. It’s always good to finish with a good race”.

Going back to where we started and the changes in 2023, she is enjoying working with new coach Steve Vernon: “He is quite scientifically based, which I like. We do quite a lot of lactic testing and things. I’m finding out a lot about myself physiologically, which I really like. That is all new to me. He is very athlete-focused as well – believing that a happy, healthy athlete is a fast athlete. That is something he would say, and it’s not just about the athlete as an athlete but the athlete as a person, making sure that they’re happy and set up properly”.  

It certainly seems to be working.