Eleven and half months ago I walked out of hospital, free to embark upon my life as a full time athlete. The past year has been filled with highs and low, as might be expected. After finding a house to live in Teddington, with three wonderful girls, all that lay before me was a lot of hard work and miles on the road. The sport of running, which once was simply a hobby, has become my way of life and my job. People often say I am ‘Living the dream’ and that they would love to do what I do. I am eternally grateful that I have this opportunity, to wake up every morning knowing that my only plan for the day is to become stronger, fitter and more prepared for the races which lie ahead.
I began the year, and the start of my athletic career, with a decent run in the World Championships Marathon, placing 21st at Moscow. Finishing the race strongly, I was starting the winter training full of confidence and optimistic expectation. In November, I won the Irish cross country title in perhaps my best race of the year. My only regret that day was that I didn’t push myself harder and really show off the level of fitness and winter base that I had gained. Two days after the race, I got knocked back with a flu from which I never recovered my cross season. After an extremely disappointing run at the European Cross, it was time for an easier few weeks before hitting the indoor track.
Having never trained on an indoor track before, I found the Lee Valley centre in Northern London to be an amazing facility. I would look forward to each Saturday morning and the lactic producing sessions that it bought. While I really enjoy and believe my strength lies in the marathon distance, there is no comparable feeling in the world than that when you are running fast. And inside, on an indoor track, those senses are heightened to another level. After running a 2.24 kilometre time trial in training, in which I hit my 800m pb, I knew things were going well. The aim was to run 7.54 for the 3k to gain selection for the World Indoors team. However, after a disappointing placing at the UK indoor championships, it was decided that there was no more benefit to be gained by doing additional indoor races. It was time to move on.
As a backup to missing out on the World Indoors, I decided to compete at the World half marathon championships two weeks later. This was to be another great day of running for me. I remember laughing at my coach when he told me that he wanted me to run at 4.42 per mile pace. Clearly he was more aware of my body than I was, as I went on to run 62.09 for the half and one of the fastest times ever posted by an Irishman. It was a great start to my outdoor season and with five weeks of altitude training ahead I felt like I was ready to make the next step. However, things began to falter. Training was going steady but not exceptional. I raced 28.32 at the Stanford 10k followed up by 14.07 at the Oxy 5k. Both decent times but well slower than what I was capable of producing, especially considering the level of fitness I had reached. I returned home from altitude on the 18th May and the next six weeks were hampered by debilitating sciatica type pains and peroneal tendonitis in my ankle. Days turned into weeks and training was being missed. It was near the end of June before an MRI finally revealed the degree of the problem and after a steroid injection into the tendon, combined with more rest, it was time to build the miles back up slowly. From having too much time to prepare for the European championships marathon, it would now be a race against time to be fit for the big day.
And that’s where I am now. This is my second week back running at full mileage and I am starting to feel like a runner again. With the Commonwealth 10k in sixteen days it will be a big ask to produce something special but I am determined and judging by my previous experiences, I have the ability to get fit quickly. A further seventeen days later and it’s time to race the European championships marathon in Zurich, my main goal for the year. Before altitude training, I was confident, perhaps overly so, that I would win this race. I still believe it is possible but it is not going to be easy. On Sunday I did my first 20miler since getting injured. I finished in 1.47, a decent time given that it was a progressive tempo starting out slow. This Saturday I have a 32mile day. With so much time missed, the luxury of having easy days has gone out the window. As my coach, Andy Hobdell, says, this five week training block is straight out of the Big Book of Unorthodox Marathon Training! If it was anyone else I would be starting to get worried, but by now I have come to realise that Andy Hobdell has a funny knack of getting these sort of things right. We both know what the goal is and what needs to be done to get there. I have a long 30 days ahead of me. The Commonwealths might prove to be a bit too soon for me to be dreaming of a medal this time round but at the Europeans I have a chance, definitely a chance. Either way, on reflection, I would describe this year as having been average, a solid 6 out of 10. I am starting to learn what works, or perhaps, more importantly, doesn’t work for me. I am starting to believe that I belong and will be able to mix it amongst top class competition. I am not a world class runner yet but then again with the Olympics two years away, I still have time. Citius. Altius. Fortius. Believe.