Human beings are creatures of habit. I would go one step further and suggest that habit is an essential attribute, possessed by every successful runner that there has ever been. Habitual routine is the love for those dedicated in their pursuit of perfection. Habit to the point where any distraction or deviation from routine is viewed upon as an unnecessary evil, detracting from the ultimate goal. After the mental and physical stress in the build up to the Berlin marathon, I promised myself that this time things would be different. Instead of targeting records or exceptional times, this springtime, Olympic qualification is the only goal. A realistic goal which should be well within my capabilities.
The plan was for training to be more relaxed. A missed gym session or a workout where times were not hit, was nothing to become stressed over. As long as I remained injury free, the fitness would eventually return. And so it is proving to be. Since the new year, everything has been going smoothly. Nothing exceptional but week on week becoming stronger, becoming faster. Despite running a local parkrun 5k close to fifteen minutes in the last few days of January, I still had had no real test of fitness. That was to come a fortnight ago on the roads of Chichester, against some of the UK’s best distance runners. On a windy day, with a strong field, I came away with an unexpected win over the 10k course, in a relatively decent time (29.42). Winning the dash to the finish line in a sprint proved, more to myself than others, that my fitness was progressing in the right direction. The reward of training was beginning to show.
Having sat down with my coach in October last year, we had agreed upon our 2016 plan. With the top four Irish Olympic qualifiers currently separated by less than 250 metres over the marathon distance, the criteria state that ‘form’ will be used to help decide which fortunate three will be picked for Rio. Therefore, my coach’s plan outlined four key races in which to prove form. Four days in which to show to the selectors that I deserve a place on the Irish Olympic team. Chichester was the first of these days and while the weather put paid to a fast time, the victory in itself was another positive step in the right direction. The second of the four races took place last Sunday, in the form of the Wokingham half marathon. With the World half marathon championships taking place in Cardiff at the end of March, a sub 65 minute clocking was necessary to qualify for Ireland.
I had been checking the weather forecast for a fortnight prior to the race. As much as I wanted the forecasters to be wrong, I knew that luck was not to be on my side. While the course should have been fast and the field was again strong, the gales were even stronger than they had been in Chichester. In addition, with my last half marathon being nearly seven months ago, I was unsure how my body would handle the distance. I need not have worried as everything held together and despite the wind, I managed to notch up another win in a solid 63.46. Thankfully this time, no sprint finish was required after a mostly solo effort. More importantly, in breaking 65 minutes, I managed to hit the qualification standard and in doing so, given myself the opportunity to race against the world’s best in five weeks’ time. That day will be race three of the plan, before its culmination four weeks later with the iconic London marathon.
Two years ago, I ran my personal best around the streets of Copenhagen, at the previous World half marathon championships. I have fond memories of the race and realistically, it is probably my best result to date. With luck, at the end of March, I can repeat and improve upon my Danish experience by running a personal best in Wales. At the last two outings of these championships, I have been Ireland’s sole male representative. With ten days left before the qualifying window closes, I am hopeful that this year will be different, especially given the recent advances in Irish marathon running. It would be great to be part of a full Irish men’s team at these championships to provide a basis for future years. Currently though, with only Mick Clohisey and myself having qualified, it looks unlikely that three more athletes will run the qualifying time. Either way, I hope I get the opportunity to wear the green Irish vest with pride once more in Wales. In my experience, these championships can prove to be a useful stepping stone for the bigger and arguably more important championship races that lie ahead.
I wish I had motivational words of wisdom or advice for aspiring marathon runners, especially since the majority of newbies are beginning their training for spring marathons around this time. However, this month the message is easy. Running can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. At the moment I have found a balance that appears to be working. My fitness is slowly improving and my body is injury free. 2016 is, so far, going exactly to plan. With a little over eight weeks before the London marathon, I have only one thought. Let’s just keep this going.