It has proven to be a year of two very different halves for Charlotte Purdue.
It started with despair, the marathon runner saying she was “thrown under a bus” when she was omitted from the Great Britain squad for the rearranged Tokyo Olympics, despite ticking off the required qualification time.
But 2021 is ending on a high, smashing her personal best by more than two minutes at the London Marathon to cement her place as the third-fastest British woman in history, following victory at the Big Half in August and a third-place finish at the Great North Run.
“Adversity is only the beginning,” Purdue wrote on Instagram on Sunday. The 30-year-old is looking forward – the past is in the past.
“I definitely feel I can put it behind me,” she told BBC Sport on Monday – her first complete rest day of 2021. “If I didn’t have London it would have been a lot harder because I wouldn’t have had anything to aim for, I would have felt probably a bit lost not knowing what was next.
“As soon as the Olympic door closed and I was able to focus on London, it was like ‘I’ll forget about that now’.
“Yesterday I just had to go out there and have a good run, so I’m glad that I was able to do that. I feel happy with that.”
Everything, for Purdue, had been geared towards Tokyo 2020. It was to be her first Olympics, and with the fastest qualification time of the British women, her place look secured.
But then came the Covid-19 pandemic and the Games’ postponement to 2021 – the moment from which everything “started spiralling”.
On the advice of a UK Athletics (UKA) doctor, Purdue sat out March’s Olympic trials because of an injury, having already achieved the time needed at the 2019 London Marathon.
But she then wasn’t selected for Tokyo on medical grounds, with Purdue claiming information cited at the selection hearing was false. UKA declined to comment.
“It was pretty stressful because obviously I had been planning to run in the Olympics for the last three years and all my training and all the races that I planned had been geared towards getting qualification, which I did get the time in 2019,” she said. “I do think I would have run well.”
Tokyo wasn’t to be but it was a good result for Purdue on the streets of London as she finished 10th, her PB of two hours 23 minutes 26 seconds just 14 seconds short of Mara Yamauchi’s second place on the British all-time list, with Paula Radcliffe first.
Sunday’s run “couldn’t have gone any better” but Yamauchi’s 2:23.12 is a target Purdue is still aiming for, confident she can shave further time off her best. Whether that happens at next year’s World Championships in Oregon, the Commonwealth Games or the Europeans remains to be seen with her schedule for 2022 still to be decided.
“Before I was two and a half minutes away so saying I was going for it was pretty bold, because it was a big jump,” she said.
“But I did feel that my training reflected that I could run around that time, so I think now to be even closer… if I say now I am going for it, it’s not so bold.”
‘I think about my safety every day’
With winter and its dark nights approaching, the treadmill will become a more prominent feature in Purdue’s training as she avoids going out for a run in the dark.
It’s something she has always avoided, but it’s a decision that has again moved to the forefront of her mind as the country reels from the horrific abduction and murder of Sarah Everard.
“Personally I’ve never felt safe running alone, definitely not at night. In the day, I always choose places that are quite busy, and someone always knows where I am. I would never run alone at night, and I never have,” Purdue said.
“When I was a young kid, my dad used to drive the car around with me. I ran a loop around the estate where we lived. They used to drive, park up, I’d run past and they’d drive the next part. My mum and dad have always instilled in me that I should never really run alone.
“I definitely wouldn’t feel safe running alone at night. In the daytime, I would feel safe, but someone always knows where I am and it’s something I always think about pretty much every day. I always have.
“I usually run in the same kind of places, but I’ll tell someone where I’m going. My boyfriend knows all the loops that I run so I’ll say I’m doing this loop and he knows, and he’ll call me when I should be done.”
She added: “Seeing it on the news in recent weeks definitely brings it more to my attention, especially when you might get complacent and think ‘oh, I’ll be all right’.
“I probably wouldn’t think that now.”