JESSICA Judd’s strong showing in her first race since the Moscow World Championships has restored her belief that she will be back mixing it at major championships this summer.
The 19-year-old finished sixth in the under-20 women’s race at the UK Intercounties Cross Country Championships on Saturday, despite having just six weeks of running under her belt.
Judd hopes she is now clear of a run of rotten luck she’s experienced since being picked to race the 800m for Great Britain at her first senior World Championships last summer.
A lower-leg injury to the plantaris tendon just before the championships was compounded by developing a stress response in her pelvis as she tried to compensate for the initial injury.
After a spell of rehab, the Canvey teenager looked to be back on track, only for a freak training accident to set her back once again.
Judd tripped and fell while jogging in Basildon’s Gloucester Park before Christmas.
Initially it was thought she had got away with just a minor ankle sprain, but a week later, while on a long run, her back seized up.
Judd had, in fact, bruised the sacroiliac bone at the base of her spine in the fall. Running on it had then caused a fracture in the bone which, in turn, sent the muscles around it into spasm.
“It was a worrying time,” said the Chelmsford AC athlete. “I was just powerless when my back went.
“At the time you do think, ‘how serious is this?’ “I couldn’t move at all and had to be helped back from the run when I did it.
“There’s a picture of me just before Christmas where I’m lying on the floor having to watch the TV through the reflection of my phone because my back was so bad that was the only position I could be comfortable in.
“That seems a long way off now, but it was only just before Christmas. Back then I would have been happy just to be running again, so to come back in the intercounties and finish sixth is fantastic, I’m just so happy.”
As well as the physical effect of the injuries, Judd also had to cope with the mental side of being unable to run.
First off she had to scrap her ambitions to race in the World Indoor Championships, which took place last weekend, and to set a new British junior 3,000m record.
On top of that, doubts started creeping in over whether she would be fit for the summer season where the European Championships and Commonwealth Games are both big priorities.
But her race at the intercounties – her first cross-country since the Edinburgh International in January 2013 and off the back of just two weeks of proper sessions – has lifted her morale.
“I did start to worry with it being European and Commonwealths year,” she said. “December’s not that far off from the track season. But this (the intercounties) has given me a real boost. To think I can compete that well off the back of just six weeks of running is encouraging.
“It has been hard watching the indoor season on television, especially the 800m and 1,500m races. Even though I would have been racing the 3,000m indoors, it’s tough seeing people who you hope you will be up against in the summer, coming out and running well.
“But I just have to let it go now and think about the summer.
“I have been improving day by day and it is coming back quite quickly. Hopefully that can continue.”
Judd has this week been training in Loughborough where she linked up with former World 1,500m silver medallist Hannah England for a session and she will be part of an elite British endurance team that goes to train at altitude in Salt Lake City, USA, for a month in May.
That trip will also include her first taste of racing in the Diamond League overseas as she is pencilled in to race in Oregon.
So there is much to look forward to for the World Junior silver medallist.
But for now she is just delighted to have got her first race of the year under her belt.
“It felt great to be racing,” she said. “I was so nervous beforehand because I had nothing to gauge it on.
“Rob (Denmark, Judd’s coach) said to go out and win, which he knows is what I always try to do, but in the back of my mind I knew I couldn’t keep up with the top girls.
“I was happy I did not die though, although I was really, really tired at the end.
“But I didn’t blow up and I don’t think I let anyone past me, apart from maybe one, so it was good, I’m happy!”