Middle distance star looks to prove he’s worth the hype
April 22, 2018
James Preston is ready to prove that his success at the 2016 World Junior Championships was not a one-off.
Two years ago Preston was hailed as New Zealand’s next distance star in the making after he broke the New Zealand under 20 800m record at the World Junior Championships in Poland.
His time of 1:48.06 in the semi-final saw him rise to 18th on New Zealand’s all-time 800 rankings, making his goal of going to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games seem much more realistic.
However, Preston’s progression since his breakout year in 2016 has been frustratingly stagnant.
After a hot spot in his left foot developed into a major stress fracture in January, 2017, Preston was sidelined for 17 weeks, forcing him to miss out the business end of the summer season. As a result, Preston missed out on a valuable opportunity to train, progress and try to meet New Zealand’s 800m qualifying time of 1:46.5 for the Commonwealth Games.
That extended period of not running was a difficult time for Preston personally, as he wanted to build off his strong performance at the World Junior Championships.
“I wanted to show everyone 2016 wasn’t a one-off. I saw a lot of people in the past who went off to World Juniors, and they would sort of just peter out into nothing when they come back. You would think, I haven’t heard much about them. I don’t know what they’re up to?
It wasn’t until October of that year that Preston was able to hop back on the athletics track, a feeling that he had missed.
“It was really to be nice to be back running even though it was just a combination of running and walking. At the same time, pretty frequently I was taking a day off here and there because you’d be like oh shit, I am noticing something in my foot, most of the time it was basically nothing, I didn’t want anything like this to happen to my foot again.”
Preston’s frustration was to continue when he returned to racing unable to get back into the sort of form he was in 2016.
Still holding onto his Commonwealth dream, it wasn’t until late that Preston and his coach Evan Cooper realised he was not going to qualify.
“Coming into this [most recent] track season we still thought it could happen, and then I guess the races we weren’t eyeing up weren’t fast enough.
“The form was there, but just because I hadn’t raced in 18 months, my legs didn’t know what was happening. It was super tough, particularly the last 300m of the race which is pretty crucial.”
Preston spent the best part of this track season around the 1:50-1:51 mark in the 800m, unable to dip under 1:50.
“The fastest I ran was 1:50.01 and that was off negative splits. I think I was 0:56.5 through the 400m and came home in 53.
“I was excited to be back racing but I guess overall I was pretty frustrated with those races because no one wanted to take the races on and I was just front-running, which was super foreign to me.
“It’s tough because a lot of the [top] guys go over to the [United States] to compete in the NCAA and that leaves a pretty big gap, and there is not a lot of quality races [in New Zealand].”
Regardless, Preston remains committed to staying in New Zealand saying that it is a massive part of his running.
“I am quite lucky because I get a lot of support from Athletics New Zealand. When you look at into it, it rivals anything you could get offered in the states.”
Since running 1:48 in 2016, Preston has received support from Athletics New Zealand through the Pathway to Podium and Performance Potential Squad. In the last 12 months his coaching circle has grown, as he now has a physiotherapist, sports masseur, strength and condition coach, and a sports psychologist.
The combination of the additional support has left Preston excited for the future.
“I ran some, there weren’t quick, but pretty quick times when I was basically just running. To think I can layer on strength and conditioning, I can layer on nutrition and sports psychology. It’s like shit, what can I run with all this stuff piled on top?”
Preston will have the opportunity to see what he is capable of in June when he flies to Europe with Coach Evan Cooper for six weeks of racing.
Cooper explained the plan is to base themselves in the Belgian city of Leuven.
“The first two weeks while we are there will be set aside to acclimatise and sharpen up. The following four weeks we will look to race five to six times either 800/1500m.”
Cooper said he’s excited about the prospect of Preston racing in Europe and sees it as a stepping stone in his development.
“The main objective of this is really just to use it for experience and development. So basically learn as much as we can, take everything we can from it and then we are in a better position next year for example when we will look to go again.
“At the moment we have been busting our arses because we know how much we want to run fast at the end of the six weeks.
“We are hoping to come back with some new personal best and a solid platform to work off for the future.”