My 2010 athletics season started out without direction or motivation. I had no interest in training or racing and wondered if I’d ever get the fire back. Was I going to quit before reaching my peak? At the end of February it looked that way. I was running an average of 25 miles per week. In 2009 there were several days where I hit that mileage. What was going wrong? I had distractions in work and in my personal life, but it’s not a valid excuse. As Eamonn Tierney put it to me recently – ‘Do you have a sick child? If not, then there is no excuse not to train’. I don’t have a sick child, so I was all out of excuses.
On 1st March I started back training properly. Since the 2009 national track 10km only 6 months previously I had gained almost 10kg in weight. I remember my first long run back with Rathfarnham running mates and being embarrassed with my fitness. Mike Freely and I were rightly getting abuse – too many pies over the holidays J By my birthday on 11th April, I had put in 6 weeks training hitting an average of 60 miles a week. Nothing fantastic, but a solid start. My first race back was the Raheny Relays, running a 2 mile leg in 9:55. I was happy enough with the time, particularly as I tweaked my hamstring over the first mile. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to race. Thankfully the hamstring injury wasn’t serious and I only lost 4 days training to recover.
Motivation levels were still low. I was training out of guilt, not desire. I needed to do something to get the desire back and so went back to my running roots – IMRA (Irish Mountain Running Association). In 2009 I took a break from the hills to focus on the road and track, but it felt like the right time to return. I remember being particularly anxious on the start line of Howth, my first Leinster League race of 2010. My fitness levels were poor. The competition Eoin Keith and Brian Furey were in shape. I started the race hard, opening up a wee lead on the first of two laps. By the time I hit the main climb a second time I was exhausted and was passed easily. Thankfully I managed to hang on to the back of Eoin and Brian. Eoin was pushing the pace for a while and then Brian took over. Inside I was thinking I just need to hang on until the finish line is in sight as I fancied my chances in a sprint finish. About 400m from the finish, Brian made a slight error and took a wrong turn. I called him back and he corrected himself almost immediately, but it had taken the spirit out of his fight for the race. I made the most of the error and pushed for home, winning in the end from Eoin and Brian. It was a huge relief to win – not sure if I deserved it, but I survived and knew I would be better prepared for subsequent races.After Howth, I continued to race to get fit. A backward way of doing things, but it helped with motivation levels as it’s hard to beat the buzz of racing. Races included the national duathlon (fastest run leg, but 14th overall), Limerick half marathon (2nd in 70:45, losing out in a sprint finish L), Croghan Hill 10k (1st in 33:32 on an extremely challenging course), European Masters Hill Championships in Barcelona (3rd and team silver), and a further five IMRA Leinster League races (five victories at Hellfire, Prince Williams, Tibradden, Three Rock, and Brockagh). I raced twice per week over a six week period and finally felt fit again.
At the start of June I decided to hit the track again. I had only one track session behind me, but lots of races. Not ideal preparation, but I like to throw myself into the deep end. I entered three track races in one week. The first was a 3km graded meet, finishing in 8:42. It was 10 seconds off my best, but I was delighted given my preparation. Then came the 1500m Irish Milers Club race in Tullamore. I felt compelled to enter as it was on in my home town and amazingly I broke the 4 minute barrier – only just in 3:59, but it was more than I expected. The following day I entered the 5k Leinster Championships, also on the Tullamore Harriers track. With my family watching and still on a high from the 1500m, I won the race in 15:02 from Gerry Ryan and Paul Flemming and with it my first Leinster senior championship title.
|In action in AAI 10km|
In three months I had got back my fitness and motivation. Now it was time to focus on a big race and avoid weekly racing. My target was the AAI national 10k on the track and I had 5 weeks to prepare. I still had one more IMRA Leinster League race to take the 2010 title. I ran in the Powerscourt Uphill race as it was a low risk option with no descent. I cycled to the race, which was a big mistake. I took victory, but it was a heavy price as I was shattered afterwards. It was certainly not ideal track preparation. Over the five weeks preparation, I got eight quality track session in – split evenly between long reps (1k+) and shorter 400m reps. I also squeezed in two track races – racing on the track is important preparation for a national track race as it’s the only way to get used to the intensity. The prep races were the Dublin 5k championship, where I finished 2nd in 14:57 behind Eddie McGinley, and the Cork City Sports 3k, where I finished in a disappointing 8:38.
Despite my relatively poor preparation and poor showing in the Cork City Sports, I was feeling confident going into the national 10k. I felt good and I had family and friends watching – this always gives me extra motivation to perform. The competition was hot. Gary Thorthon from Galway was favourite. Then there was Joe McAllister, national half marathon champion. Joe took bronze in this race in 2009 so he was certainly one to watch. Brian Maher was in top shape, having finished the Cork City Sports 3k in 8:18. Then there was Sergio Ciobanu, who had won every big marathon in Ireland over the last 12 months (Dublin, Cork, Longford, and Connemara), and Greg Roberts, who was making huge performance improvements following his Ballycotton 10 mile victory.
The race settled into a nice rhythm very quickly. Gary took off like a man possessed and no one responded. A chasing group formed with Brian setting the pace, followed closely by myself, Joe and Sergio. This is the way the race remained for 8k. Gary was untouchable in front and was clearly on his way to a national title. Brian continued to set the pace for the group chasing the minor medals – consistent 3 minute kilometres. There were calls from the sideline to share the load, but I was on the limit and so couldn’t help. With about 2k to go Brian and Joe pushed for home, with Sergio and I losing contact. The closing stages of the race were a real struggle and I had to settle for 5th place. I was disappointed with my placing, but very happy with a 40 second personal best time of 30:21. Friends and coaches seemed surprised with the level of my performance, so I guess it’s something to be proud of. I certainly was in good company – the competition was top quality. I with delighted for Brian Maher taking silver – it was what he deserved given the workload he put in for the chase group.
The national track 5k was on the following day and I had intended racing, as I did in 2009. Unfortunately there was a mix up with my entry and I wasn’t allowed race – perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Focus turned to the European Masters track 5km in Hungary. I was also running in the 1500m, but was really only using it as a prep race. The 1500m went badly – I made schoolboy tactical errors, getting boxed into a chasing group. It took too much out of me to get back to the lead group and I had nothing for the sprint home. With 300m to go I gave up and jogged home, distracted by the 5km. It shows that if you don’t give a race 100% focus you cannot perform. I had the ability to snatch a medal, but failed to deliver. Paul Flemming did deliver with a silver medal finish. The 5km was a different story – I was fired up for it and confident. On paper there didn’t seem to be any outstanding performers. The race started as a tactical affair, with no one wanting to set the pace. It was understandable in fairness as the heat in Hungary at the time was unbearable – consistently over 30 degrees. About 800m into the race I felt as if I was tripping over myself with the slow pace and picked the pace up to 3 minute per kilometre. This is a pace that several in the group should have been able to manage, but thankfully no one responded. With 2km I was still leading, but the peloton were catching (thanks Pat for the heads up) and so I picked it up again. I managed to hang in for a relatively comfortable victory and with it a European title! It was fantastic to receive the medal to the sound of Amhrán na bhFiann. Paul Flemming took silver in the race, so it was a special moment for the Irish.
On returning home from Hungary I decided to have one last attempt at a track PB. My 3km time is relatively weak at 8:31 and I felt an 8:25 time was possible. For six laps it was looking very promising as I was well on schedule, but unfortunately the legs were just too tired and gave way. I struggled home in a disappointing 8:37. A rest was certainly required and so I took two weeks off. Good timing as I was off to Slovenia on holidays. I didn’t run in Slovenia, but we did have the bikes and got in some nice alpine cycles. On returning from holidays I made a bold move to enter the World Mountain Running Championship trial race. I had no hill training in the bag and was returning from a break – far from ideal preparation. It was uphill only, which is not my forte – I’m more of an up/down athlete. I finished a distant second from Brian McMahon – he’s certainly Ireland’s top uphill runner at the moment. The race for second was a close battle between myself and Eoin Flynn – it was nice to hold on.
|Irish Team with Pat Hickey|
After the trial all focus turned to the Dublin Marathon. I drew up a 10 week plan. Unlike 2009 I didn’t have a good mileage base behind me, so the marathon was high risk. I had averaged 55 miles per week since starting back training in March. It was enough for a mediocre track season, but it wasn’t going to cut it in the marathon. Over the 10 preparation weeks I averaged 80 miles per week – not ideal, but I was focusing on quality over quantity. Typically I was getting in two good sessions and one long run per week. Sessions with the Marathon Mission squad really helped. Sessions weren’t overly long – I did one tortuously long 10 x 2km session, but the remainder were typically 8 x 1km or 3 x 2 miles. Long runs were at a faster pace that I was used to – typically 6 minute mile pace. I got two quality tempo runs in – 17km in 60minutes and a half marathon with Brian McMahon in about 72 minutes. Otherwise it was all easy runs.
I had 4 races over the 10 marathon preparation weeks. First up was Sligo’s Warriors Race. It’s a classic 15km race, steeped in history. The 15km is predominately on undulating roads, but includes a nasty 1,000ft climb up Knocknarea to Queen Maeve’s tomb. Race preparation was pi$$ poor. I was distracted and couldn’t focus on the job at hand. As an example, I drank 1 litre of water about 10 minutes before the start – as a relatively experienced athlete this was inexplicable. The race start went very well – thankfully a relatively easy pace as I digested the water. As we started the climb, myself and Owen Gahan broke away from Martin Bradshaw. I was feeling very good up the hill, running within myself and still managing to open a gap on Owen. Unfortunately I kept taking little navigation errors, which allowed Owen close in. At the top he was within 5 seconds. The descent is where I came undone. Normally I’m good at descending a hill, but Owen was a different class on the day and opened a 30 second gap over the course of 3 minutes. When we returned to the roads, I started catching Owen. It was slow progress as he’s no slouch. With about 2km remaining I caught him – I should have just kept going at the same pace to put some distance between us, but I felt confident in my sprinting ability and so decided to hang tight. This was a huge mistake as it allowed Owen to gather composure and confidence. I didn’t know the route and made a blunder 800m from the finish – an unexpected hill allowed Owen to inflict serious damage and he held on for a relatively comfortable victory. Obviously my legs had nothing left for a climb after putting in the effort to catch. It was a well deserved victory for Owen and a learning experience for me. All-in-all it was a very enjoyable experience and we had super good craic that night with our local tourist guide Turlough Conway.
|World Uphill Championships - struggling|
Next up was the World Mountain Running Championships. It’s always something special to be wearing the green vest. In the past I had let similar occasions get the better of me, so I was determined to put in a solid performance. It was a great trip to Slovenia – more relaxed than previous trips. Brian McMahon led the team home in 38th, followed by myself in 75th, John Heneghan in 77th, Peter O’Farrell in 106th, Eoin Flynn in 111th and James Kevan in 126th. These championships are getting more competitive every year, so the performances were indeed solid. The women also had good performances with Karen Alexander in 39th, Sharon Bird in 46th, Sarah Mulligan in 62nd and Kate O’Neill in 65th. Two good weeks of training followed and then the Great North Run. This is the world’s largest half marathon and it showed on arrival. The organisation was exceptional. Haile Gebrselassie was the star of the event and didn’t disappoint to finish first inside 60 minutes. I finished in with a PB time of 68:12, but the reality is it was a missed opportunity. I ran the race solo – not something I was expecting in a race this size. I didn’t taper for the race – with a proper taper 67:30 was certainly achievable. I had calf problems throughout the race – perhaps a pre-race massage could have helped? It still showed that I was on course for a good marathon and so I went home to Dublin relatively happy.
My last pre-marathon race was a mistake. It’s always a temptation to race the Rathfarnham 5k as it is organised by our club, but I should have resisted the temptation. There was certainly no taper, having run a 35km reccy of the Athlone ¾ Marathon route at 6 minute pace on Friday evening. The race itself went well – a good battle for 6th place with club mate Eoin Flynn. I lost the battle, but finished close behind in a solid 15:03. What followed was extremely worrying for my marathon plans. I ran a half marathon tempo on the following Wednesday evening, but almost collapsed on route home. I obviously over cooked it. Saturday was a Marathon Mission session – 3 x 2 miles. The first rep went ok, but half way through the second my legs went. I finished the session slowly, but was in pieces. Only a month to the marathon and I was exhausted. I was also organising the Athlone ¾ Marathon with Paul Mahon – the additional workload was obviously taking its toll. Thankfully the Athlone ¾ Marathon went particularly well. Afterwards it was pure focus on the Dublin Marathon. To aid recovery the following week was pure easy running with no sessions. Over the last 3 weeks mileage dropped as did session volume. I needed to recover fully – I probably had little to gain from last minute sessions. I needed one more quality session before the marathon. Normally I’d pick something like a 10k race, but instead I went for 5 x 1 mile session with Sean Connolly. It was exactly what I needed. I was about 10 seconds off Sean on each rep, but he’s a class act and was in peak training for 10 miles. It gave me the final confidence boost I needed pre-marathon.
|Thumbs up at Inchicore|
The Dublin Marathon itself was a hugely enjoyable experience. It is the pinnacle of the Irish racing calendar. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t participated in the race. The support is unbelievable. I started in a 5 man group – myself, Joe McAllister, Brian McMahon, Greg Roberts, and Steven Duncan. We worked together for the first half marathon. The first 10 miles were particularly smooth – it felt so easy. I sat for this period as I felt the least prepared within the group. There was no wind, so there was little to be gained. It’s still a psychological benefit as you don’t need to think. Between 10 and 14 miles my legs didn’t feel great, but once I hit Bushy Park there was renewed energy. I was on home turf, with lots from Rathfarnham WSAF shouting me on. Joe had to take a toilet break, Steven fell off the pace, and it seemed Greg was suffering. Myself and Brian were now pushing the pace. By Milltown I even had about a 20 metre advantage on the competition, but it was short-lived as by UCD Joe and Greg had caught back. We passed Alan O’Shea at Roebuck Road – he had started out at a blistering pace and was obviously paying the price. We now knew that only Sergio Ciobanu was ahead from an Irish championship perspective and so it was a race between three for two medals. Unfortunately I was now suffering with calf cramps as I did the previous year in Florence. I wore compression socks to help resolve this problem, but it didn’t work. I lost out on the race for the medals with Joe taking silver and Greg bronze, but still finished a credible fourth Irish in 2:22:01. All considered I was delighted with my performance. It was a strong step in the right direction with mediocre preparation.
Overall 2010 was a good year from an athletics perspective, particularly given my condition in March. Solid improvements in my 10k and marathon times have given me the confidence required to push new boundaries. I know my primary talents and with it any hope of an international vest lie with the marathon distance. And so my targets for 2011 will be primarily focused around the marathon as I now know a 2:18 time is possible if I put the work in. You need luck with the marathon distance, but as someone once said ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’. A consistent theme of 2010 is a lack of preparation going into races. I plan not to make the same mistakes in 2011 ...