June. A month of preparation. Tennis players getting ready for Wimbledon. Cyclists preparing for Le Tour. And distance runners getting ready for a summer of racing. As an athlete, some months can pass quickly, as you bounce from one race to the next. The spectrum of emotions is vast from the nervous expectation in the lead up to a race, to the overwhelming post-race euphoria and inevitable comedown. The month of June however, has had almost none of that. It has been a month of grinding. A month of simply getting the work done, preparing the body for the races that lie ahead.
It is sometimes easy for onlookers to forget the hard work that training entails. The need to pull on the trainers twice a day, six days a week. The need to take a moment to stop and think before agreeing to meet friends or eat certain foods. Will this detract from the next training session, likely to be only a few hours away? Life becomes little more than a monotonous, repetitive routine. But for me, it is that routine that provides the most enjoyment. Days turn into weeks, and sessions are forgotten nearly instantly, as you are already preparing for the next hard run.
There is a serenity to the routine. A calmness. Life as an athlete can sometimes be so unpredictable. Between flights and long car journeys, your suitcase can sometimes feel like your home. This month however, there have been no distractions, nothing to deter from the goal of becoming fitter, stronger and hopefully, faster.
In two weeks, I will once again be standing on a startline in the green vest of Ireland. This time it will be over the half marathon distance at the European Championships. With a strong Irish team selected, the possibility of a team medal, while difficult, is definitely a realistic goal. With six Irish athletes scheduled to toe the line, at least three of us will need to deliver solid performances. From an individual perspective, this race will provide the first real opportunity to assess my fitness.
With the Rio marathon less than eight weeks away, my first small test of fitness came last weekend. At the John O’Callaghan 5 mile road race, located near where my coach lives in Luton, it would be a smaller scale than that of my previous race in Cardiff. That is not to say the level of excitement was any less. If anything, the local community were more involved and there was clearly a supportive, well wishing atmosphere towards every participant. I had never heard of John O’Callaghan before, but it was clear from the atmosphere surrounding the event that he had been a much loved gentleman.
With the aim of testing my fitness, the plan was to go off hard. Immediately, I had opened up a gap and after a 4.31 windy first mile, I found myself alone and hitting hills. As my head dropped, with the prospect of four more miles in isolation, the time started to slow. I was willing myself to push on into the painful zone but without any company, it was too easy to relax and settle for the win. Crossing the line in 24.09 and a course record, it was hard to know what to feel. Yes, I think there was more there but still, that was tough going. And so, I am still left with unanswered questions about where my fitness level truly lies. Hopefully Amsterdam and the European Championships will be able to provide a few more answers.