SITTING eating a ready meal late one night, Lauren Hendry found herself watching the Athletic World Championships just because it was on.

Although seriously unfit, she became fascinated by some of the events, particularly as Jessica Ennis-Hill was competing in the heptathlon not long after she had had a baby.

“She won gold and it was good to watch but I couldn’t remember any events in the heptathlon so I started googling it and it turned out to be a bit of a rabbit hole,” Hendry tells The National.

From the heptathlon, she went on to find there was such a thing as a tetra-decathlon which has 14 events rather than seven. It has been described as 14 kinds of daft, but even dafter seems the decision by Hendry, a theatre maker, to get off her sofa and train for the world championships.

Hendry had never taken part in athletics before but saw that only 13 people had taken part in the most recent world championships and there was no need to qualify for entry.

“I thought I could be 14th if I could just make it to the end,” she says.


AT that point, the next world championships were in two years, so Hendry decided to just do it.

“The carrot was that I would be able to take part in a world-class competition without having started doing that sport from birth,” she explains. “I felt it was something I could achieve even if it meant I had to walk some of the events and throw the shot putt 10cms.”

To provide an extra incentive, she not only announced her intention to her friends and family but decided she would make a show about her struggles to become a world-class competitor.

The result, Tetra-Decathlon, tells the story of the many, ahem, hurdles on the way to the start line. Without giving away any spoilers, it’s a funny and inspiring show that celebrates coming last – then going back for more.


WHEN Hendry started her training she was shocked at how hard it was.

“At that time, I was producing other people’s work so I was desk-based. I was not doing any exercise at all and it was so bad my partner said I had to do something or I would die!

“But athletics was so different from anything I had done before. I didn’t know, for example, that running makes you want to puke. A lot of the training is interval sprints where you really push it for 100M or 200m and by the end of that I was in trouble. The training is really hard, really dreadful.”

At that point Hendry, who is from the Black Isle, was living in London and joined her local athletics club before joining Giffnock North after moving back to Glasgow.

Here she found that while many people are in running groups in Scotland, not many adults train for sprints unless they are elite athletes.

“They didn’t know what to do with me but the fastest group was the 15-year-olds, so they put me in with them.”

An additional problem with training for a heptathlon or tetra-decathlon is that the training is different for all the events.

“For throws you have to be muscular but for long distance and high jump you have to be light,” Hendry explains.


HENDRY began training on January 1, 2016, but had only eight months to train for the European Championships, which she decided would be her test run before the World Championships the following year. “It was dreadful,” she says. “I just wasn’t ready. Doing 14 events back to back destroyed me. My mum kept saying I could quit any time I wanted and my partner was having to feed me, get me up and keep me moving between events so I didn’t seize up because I wasn’t capable of looking after myself.”

A picture taken of her at the start line of a race during the European Championships graphically sums up her experience.

“I am very short – only 5ft 2ins – and I am standing beside a woman who competes for Nigeria and also features in action films,” says Hendry. “She is a goddess of a woman standing next to me. The hurdles come up to my belly button and they are only at her thigh.”


HENDRY, unsurprisingly, started to question whether she should keep going.

“While my body did change, going from squishy to becoming more muscular, I didn’t turn into an amazing goddess,” she says. “In fact, my sister says I look like a shot putter but don’t perform like one. I don’t have any stamina and didn’t have enough time to train for the long-distance events. I hate the 800m and when I get to the end of one I have to lie down. Then I feel like I will never get up again.”

Despite the problems, Hendry did decide to keep going.

“The good thing is that it doesn’t feel like other athletic competitions,” she explains. “It is quite a small group of women with so many events that everyone is shit at something and that fosters a more supportive environment. When people see you are really struggling they try to help out. Even in the first year nobody asked what I was doing there – although you feel they must have wondered.”


HENDRY says it helped that she had another full year of training before the World Championships so while she didn’t astonish anyone she actually enjoyed them more than she expected.

“The whole process has been hilarious – through the tears – and it has been an exciting process for me to see you can improve,” she says.

The play, which is directed by two-time Fringe First winner Jenna Watt, tracks her progress and is designed to encourage others to live life to the full.

“I want to have audiences going away wondering what they could take up,” says Hendry. “I never thought of myself as an athlete, and while I did gymnastics when I was younger it didn’t feel like a sport. I felt like running was not for me.

“I also think it’s important to remember when you are starting out on something like this that although you think people will think you look ridiculous they really don’t. They are too busy with their own struggles.”

Tetra-Decathlon begins its Scottish run at the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling on July 27/28 and goes on to Glasgow’s Tron, then Crieff, Dumbarton and Motherwell before arriving at Summerhall for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 14-26)