JESSICA Judd stepped off the track after the European Championships 800m final knowing those two laps needed to be the last she ran this season.
The 19-year-old from Canvey had just completed her 14th 800m race of the season and her sixth in two weeks after making both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships finals.
And there was nothing left in the tank.
“I didn’t even warm down afterwards,” said Judd. “I was just so tired. I decided then that would be the end of my season. I would not have got any more out of it.
“I realised after the semi-final just how tired I was. I was so happy to have got through and I had a day off before the final and I didn’t want to go out for a run, I had to force myself to go out.”
Judd’s tiredness should be no surprise. After four months out over the winter because of a stress fracture in her pelvis, the Chelmsford AC athlete admits she was “always playing catch up” this track season.
With nearly a whole winter out, she was behind her rivals as they prepared for the summer season and then it was a constant race to meet her objectives.
First she needed the Commonwealth Games qualifying time, then the European Championships qualifying time, then came the British trials and then the two major championships themselves.
There was barely time to think, let alone to enjoy her running. So to come out of it with a fourth place at the Commonwealth Games and a seventh spot at the European Championships, and at just 19, was some achievement.
But there was a concern, voiced by the likes of her mentor Paula Radcliffe, that the teenage phenomenon had lost some of the free-spirited enjoyment of racing that had got her to where she is.
And looking back on her season, Judd, who is now on the second week of a two-week break, admits that might have been the case.
“I felt really, really tired,” she said. “After the Europeans I just wanted to stop and that’s not like me.
“I love running and for me to want to have a two-week break off is a big thing. I wasn’t enjoying it as much.”
Fortunately, it hasn’t taken Judd long to get her hunger back.
Jessica Judd - running in the European Championships
After a week of spending time at home with family and friends – “all I have done is eat”! Judd laughed – the former Castle View School pupil is now on holiday in Cornwall with her boyfriend Chris and sister Jodie.
And she is already excitedly drawing up plans for the new season.
Judd believes missing most of last winter and her traditional cross-country season because of injury was a factor in her not quite having the endurance in the closing stages of races this summer.
So you can expect to see her back on the country, possibly even running some Essex League fixtures, this winter as she aims for a spot on Great Britain’s European Cross Country team.
She will also look at throwing a few more 1,500 metres into her race programme next summer – “I love them and have missed racing them” – as she builds back up her endurance.
After a year off from studies, Judd will also be heading to Loughborough University in September to study human biology. Loughborough is also the base for British Athletics and where a number of the country’s top middle-distance athletes are based.
“I’m really excited,” said Judd who had originally intended to go to university in Bath. “I’ve already started shopping for bits for university. It’s going to be nice to have that independence.
“I decided that going to Loughborough would be the best thing for my running. I can get all the help I need there. The injury last winter was a big factor in the decision. I realised down here how lonely it is. Lee Valley (where British Athletics has some medical staff) is an hour’s drive away and I realised I can’t do this. If I want to be the best, I need to have the best facilities around me.
“I will be able to join in training with other endurance groups over the winter too when training doesn’t have to be as detailed. I’m looking forward to it. It will be nice to have people to train with as it can get a bit lonely training on your own.
“And it will be nice to study again. It’s all been high stress this year. There’s not been a race where it hasn’t been stressful and it would have been nice to have had something else to focus on.”
So as Judd sits on a beach on the north Cornwall coastline this week, how will she will look back on a year that has seen her set a new 800m personal best of 1m 59.77s, come fourth in the Commonwealth Games and seventh at the European Championships?
“I’m happy to have made two finals considering the year I had,” she said. “It’s always hard when the race finishes because I always want something better. It’s quite hard for me to be happy at the time because I always want more. But after four months off over the winter, to make it to two finals is something to be proud of.”
That said, you can tell the Commonwealth Games final still hurts. Judd ran a perfect race and was in bronze medal position in the final 100m when she said her legs died.
“I wanted to peak for the Commonwealths and I ran the perfect race there, I just didn’t have the legs,” she said. “That was a hard one to recover from. My dad picked me up from the airport and I was crying, I had such mixed emotions.
“On the one hand I was 19 and I had come fourth in the Commonwealth Games final and I had done everything I could. But I was in third place and would have stayed there if my legs hadn’t died. I only let one person come past me in the last 100m and that was Lynsey Sharp (of Scotland who won a silver medal and then when on to win a silver medal at the European Championships for Britain).”
Judd is convinced the experience of the past few months will serve her in good stead as she prepares for a massive three-year cycle that includes the World Championships next year, the Olympics in Rio in 2016 and then the World Championships in London in 2017.
“Learning how to run rounds and the recovery process between them would be the biggest thing I learnt,” she said. “I did have some experience of it at the World Juniors (in 2012 where Judd won a silver medal), but although it’s similar in some ways, the level of competition is stronger. It’s good for the World Championships next year to have learnt from that.
“This year was not how I wanted to run. I wanted to run 1m 58s and I think I was capable of that. It just never came out, but it’s been a full-on year. I missed so much time. I was disappointed not to medal but I’m only 19 and I can build on it. Every year from now on gets bigger than the last. It’s a big process, trying to get it right and I’m learning all the time.”