HANNAH England remains confident of returning to the highest level of athletics – and says she would have retired if there were any doubts, writes STUART WEIR.

The Oxford City athlete, who turns 31 today, has not qualified for a major championship since competing at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships four years ago.

England finished fourth in the 1500m at the British trials last month, so was only a spectator for last weekend’s World Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham, where she now lives.

Injury and illness have held her back in recent seasons, but despite the setback indoors, England’s real target for 2018 is qualifying for the European Championships in Berlin this August.

She said: “It’s been annoying to have been off the team for a few years.

“But I feel that every year I have under-performed in the summer, I have had a reason.

“That gives me the hope and confidence that if I have a smooth run, I have still got the physical capability to compete at that level and to get onto the British team.

“It’s very frustrating particularly when you think ‘I’ve run these times and beaten these people a few years ago. Why is it not still there?’

“It can be disheartening and frustrating, but it’s just part of sport.”

She added: “I think I’ve had enough indications in particular training sessions or in races to allow me to believe that there still is that capacity in me.

“So I just need to be patient. If I did not believe that, I would have retired.”

A world silver medallist in 2011, the competition England faces in British athletics is now incredibly fierce – with Laura Muir finishing second in the 1500m on Saturday.

The Oxford-born athlete will stick to her usual altitude training in the spring, before a first race in mid-May.

And given the standards at home, whoever makes it through the British Championships would fancy their chances of challenging for a medal against the continent’s best in Germany.

England said: “I would really like to make the team for the European Championships.

“And with the strength of British middle-distance running, making the team gives you a great chance of achieving things at the championship.

“Making the team is the first step but it’s such a hard task that it transfers well to the world stage.”

She added: “I have to keep the disappointment (about the World Indoors) in perspective because 12 months ago, I had not managed any running at this stage of the year.

“So to be healthy is very satisfying.“Even though I fell short it helped me in other ways and gave me a good platform to work towards the outdoor season.”