On Monday next I, along with over 15,000 other participants, will take part in the Dublin Marathon. It was a challenge I set for myself early in the year and I am delighted that I am close to fulfilling it.
I retired from international race walking competition in 2014. I was proud to have an international career that spanned over 15 years that included two Olympic games and some top 12 performances at World and European level. While I knew I could no longer commit to being a full-time athlete with the financial sacrifices given my age and career path, I found retirement to be a difficult adjustment. I missed the excitement and adrenaline buzz of competition. I also missed the structure of training with a goal in mind.
I had been keeping fit by running, cycling and weightlifting, but I found it difficult to train without an incentive. Over time I got bored just going out for the sake of it and doing 30 minutes of exercise here and there. There were days I wouldn’t train because I didn’t feel like it. It just depended on my mood. I didn’t let myself get too much out of shape. My weight got up to 79kg having held at 71kg when in peak condition. That may not seem like much to many people from the outside, but I noticed it!
I’ve never been one for new years resolutions, but at the start of 2015 I put it out there that I wanted to run this years Dublin Marathon. In my work as a coach and a practitioner in a sports medicine clinic, I help people improve their performance or feel better when returning from injury. I always like to practice what I preach, by looking after my body to be physically fit and mentally sharp.
In the spring I began to train with a little more structure and enter some races. I took part in a few Saturday 5km parkrun’s in St Anne’s Park in Raheny, close to where I live with some performances in the 16.40’s. I took part in the Samsung Night Run at the end of April with a time of 34.33 for 10km. In August I took part in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon where I ran 73.53. Then I won my local club Ballinamore AC’s 10km road race in 34.05 – a 10km PB. In September I dipped under 16 minutes for 5km for the first time with a time of 15.57 in the Grant Thornton Corporate Challenge – another PB.
Unlike when I was a full time athlete, where I was meticulous about every small detail of my training covering over 120 mile per week with additional gym sessions; I have been a lot more flexible with my approach in my newly acquired running programme. I have had no choice. I had to fit training into a demanding and often unpredictable work schedule. My week involves working at the Sports Surgery Clinic as a Rehabilitation Coach where I operate a specialist Running Clinic, as well as running my business The Altitude centre Ireland. From the start of September things have become more hectic as I commenced a Masters degree course in UCD, began working with an inter-county gaelic football team and also preparing for my upcoming wedding in November.
My approach has been to make the schedule work for me rather than trying to work to a schedule. I have prioritised what’s important in a training week, which would be a long run of 15 miles or more, an interval session or steady-state run and two strength training sessions. My strength training would involve plyometrics, an Olympic lift and some sub maximal strength in a squat or deadlift. If I managed to squeeze a 25-30 minute run early morning or late evening on non-priority training days that would be a bonus. I would average 30-50 miles per week most weeks. As a retired race walker I would have a well-developed aerobic base, but my running mechanics would not be most efficient. So I believe that enforced training balance was important so as to minimise the risk of injury.
I have to admit the last 6 weeks have been quite a challenge in getting enough work done. I completed a handful of long runs over 15 miles averaging 6.20-6.30 per mile. I only managed one run longer than 18 miles – that was a 21 miles two weeks out from Marathon race-day. My specific intensity work has included extensive interval training sessions such as 6 x 2km at 5.30 per mile or 3 x 5km at 5.40 per mile. I included one extensive fartlek session of 15 miles where I alternated between 3 miles at 5.45 per mile with a ‘floating’ 800m at 6.15 per mile pace. I also did some steady-state runs in or around 6 minutes per mile pace covering between 9-15 miles.
An obvious question would be – what am I hoping to achieve on Monday? First of all, I want to enjoy the atmosphere and experience. I will aim to sustain close to 6 minutes per mile pace and hopefully have some reserves over the last 6 miles. It will be an interesting challenge and an experiment of sorts!
I will write a follow-up blog after my race to report on how it all went.
Best of luck to all the other readers of this blog who are taking part this year.