It is October 2016 and my car is once more filled with the majority of my life’s possessions. Sitting on the Belfast to Liverpool ferry, I find myself staring out across the vast, watery expanse of the Irish Sea. It hits me again, just as it has done in the majority of quiet, reflective moments over the past two months. I am an Olympian. Did Rio really happen? All the stress. The rollercoaster of emotion. It seems hard to believe that it was only nine weeks ago. Having missed the blogs of August and September, through a combination of pre-race nerves and post-Games apathy, I feel that the time is now right to continue this blog. I started this monthly blog in September 2013 so that I may have a record, for the future, of my journey into the professional world of running. I feel that this journey has not finished quite yet. In fact, I hope that it is still only just beginning.
For the past number of years, my life has been all about ‘Rio’. Questions about what happened the day after the Games finished were always answered with the same response, ‘We’ll see’. There was no plan in place. No clear path upon which to tread in order to reach my next post-Olympics goal. To tell the truth, I had no ‘next goal’ to target. The Olympics are the very pinnacle in athletics. Training for them was all consuming, with thoughts of anything else, an unwelcome distraction. Therefore, returning home to Belfast the week after Rio, I found myself with several questions and few answers.
Through racing in Rio, I achieved one of my few goals in athletics. Is it now time to walk away and return to the real world? It would be relatively straightforward to return to medicine and the security that a full time job brings. Without the need for all the sacrifice that running requires, life would in one sense be a lot happier, not only for me, but for those around me as well. For you see, running, or more accurately marathon running, can be a very selfish sport. At least I get to see some reward after all the sacrifices that are made. The same cannot be said for those people around me, who have sacrificed equally as much, if not more.
Ultimately, however, my decision was made a lot easier on the day of the Rio marathon. I was delighted that I made the startline in one piece and managed to run one of the fastest Olympic marathons by an Irishman. Indeed, I think I actually performed marginally better than what my fitness and training at the time would have predicted. However, I crossed the finish line knowing that I had not reached anywhere close to my potential. After finishing well off the pace at the European Championships half marathon six weeks previously, I knew that I was going in to the Olympics chasing fitness rather than maintaining fitness. And in the marathon that never bodes well.
So having come away from Brazil, with a fantastic experience, having met several interesting and inspiring people, I find myself wanting more. If I were to walk away now, I would always be filled with regret and disappointment that I never produced what I thought I am capable of over the marathon distance. It is time to put that right. I do not know quite yet whether I will still be competitive when qualification for Tokyo 2020 opens up, that is a conversation for another day. What I do know though, is that I am hungry. I have had small glimpses of the talent that I possess, provided I can stay injury free. It is time to focus now. With the Olympics, and the inevitable emotions that they bought, now at an end, the stress is gone. All that is necessary now is quite simply to train. To try and run fast. To try and race hard. With the cross country trials just around the corner, fitness is beginning to return. I am enjoying my running again and as the old saying goes, ‘A happy runner is a successful runner.’ Roll on the winter training. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, it will not be too long before I can cross off another one of my athletic goals.
Finally, for all those taking part in the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon on Sunday 30th October, good luck. Four years ago, it was the first marathon that I had ever run. As a novice, I sprinted off at the start, a move that I only began to regret after the ten mile mark. It was a tough slog to the finish line but I made it. Work out your race plan beforehand and stick to it. I crossed the finish line in what I later found out to be a World Championship qualifying time. Hopefully this year, there will be a few more surprise results as the next generation of Irish marathon runners step up to the plate. For anyone, not able to race, I would highly recommend getting out on the streets to cheer on all the runners. The marathon is now the fourth largest in Europe after Berlin, London and Paris. Having run both the Berlin and London marathons in the past, I can honestly say that in terms of atmosphere, Dublin is right up there. Hopefully it will be a good day for everyone involved, spectators and runners alike.