Exciting athlete Mari Smith believes her renewed form is all down to confidence after she smashed a 32-year-old track record.
Mari took almost four seconds off an 800m record which had stood since 1984 on her way to victory at the Leicestershire Schools Track and Field Championships earlier this month.
And last weekend the Frisby middle distance runner mixed it with the best of her national peers at the UK National Under 20s Championships.
“I was pleased to get the record. I am just a totally different runner when I’m confident and relaxed,” she said.
“I really have to crack that at big championships when it matters.
“I used to get really nervous, but now it’s a lot better and I have it much more under control than I once did.”
The 18-year-old is a runner reborn after distressing struggles with injury and a mystery condition in 2012 which she feared had wrecked her promising career for good.
Blood tests finally revealed Mari’s tiredness and loss of zip was down to anaemia.
Following diagnosis and treatment, she began to run freely and with the renewed passion of someone given a precious second chance.
Mari added: “I didn’t feel like myself. I was training a lot, but I was getting to the point where I couldn’t run.
“I thought it was because I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough, so it was a relief to find out something was physically wrong.
“Now I feel 100 per cent again.”
She started the season in blistering form, surprising herself by clocking 2min 08secs at one of her first outdoor meets.
The time was just a second outside her personal best and within three of the qualifying mark for July’s European Junior Championships in Sweden.
Her chances of realistically making the British squad came too late, but she is still determined to break her PB and get the psychological satisfaction of reaching that qualifying mark.
With a load lightened by the completion of A-Levels and a lack of expectation, Mari reached the 800m final at Bedford last weekend as a fastest loser in the heats.
She said: “I did quite well in the heats and got properly involved in the race.
“I was pleased to get through because I wasn’t sure I was going to run, even on Friday, because I had just finished my exams.
“I didn’t want to go if I was tired and lose confidence if I performed badly. So the final was a bit of a freebie really.
“I’m hoping to get a PB in the next few weeks because now I have my exams out of the way I can really focus on the season.”
Her form has helped her qualify for the British Senior Track and Field Championships, from July 3 to 5, for the first time.
And a week later Mari competes for the final time at the English Schools Championships.
She is one of the few athletes, at least in Leicestershire, to qualify every year of her secondary school career.
Mari’s coach Bill Winter believes mental barriers are all that stand between his student and the next level.
He said: “Physically she is in the shape of her life as she has never started a season running as fast.
“It’s all about mind-set with Mari and when she gets intimidated she doesn’t always run well.
“She is a fantastic athlete and confidence is something we have been working on.
“When she gets the bit between her teeth we will see something spectacular.”