Monday, 13 December 2010

The South African Adventure

Hi to all back home in Northern Ireland, I hope you all survived the early part of winter! I heard there was alot of snow, not to mention freezin!That made me feel so much better,(sorry), that I had made the right decision to get out of there before the white stuff arrived.

I am at the end of my fourth week in Potchefstroom, South Africa, at 1400m altitude, with blue skies and average temperature of 30+ degrees. Awesome.

I arrived here after a bit of a problem, as I was due to go to Florida with Jason (Smyth), but it all fell through and I knew I had to get away. So I contacted James Nolan three-time olympian and also my new Paralympics Ireland team manager and he put me in contact with Jean Verster, the Mr. Fixit for world class athletes who want to train in South Africa.

So I had a flight to Heathrow on Saturday 13th November, and then an 11 hour journey to Johannesbourg. After being picked up at the airport by ATP rep Jenny, I made the final 90 minute transfer to my new "home in the sun", Huys Ten Bosch, right on the edge of the Potchefstroom High Performance Centre.

I spent the first day getting to know my surroundings and the next day I met with a group of local athletes that I have since trained with on occasions, that includes Samuel Seppeng, brother of former Olympic 800m champion Ezekiel.

The first few days I found it very difficult to adapt to my new situation, I was away from home, in a strange country, knowing absolutely no-one and staying in a B&B that can accommodate 26, but I was the only person there! To make things worse, the owners didn't live there and when they locked up I felt like a bit of a prisoner in isolation. Add to that the fact that it was dark by 7 o'clock and you start to get the picture. I was more than a little homesick! I spoke to my dad on facebook on the third night of solitude and said I didn't know if I could hack it or not; he then told me some home truths and talked me round and my little sister's comment was "Man up!" From there I took her advice and moved on with the adventure.

Since then, I spent 6-7 days getting used to the altitude and the heat with daily visits to the grass track and the trails that surround it,just running easy miles and trying to keep my heart rate below 200!!, interspersed with trips to the gym and ice bath, where initially my tolerance lasted about 30 seconds!Lol Unfortunately the South African group of athletes took off to a high altitude training camp at 2400m above sea level, which didn't help. But hey!

Did my first workout on Tues 23rd 6x800m + 2x400m on the grass track(beautiful surface) and then 10 x 300m on thursday.

At the weekend, I was taken to a private farm where Jean has an agreement with the land owner, so that athletes can use the roads that run through his land.Contained within was a perfectly smooth road surface that I was to use for my sat hill session. Oh joy! The hill goes on forever! But perfect for what I need with no through traffic.

With my own weekly routine established with tues, thurs,sat session interspersed with wed and fri gym sessions I was firmly in the groove and enjoying the routine of a full-time athlete, with the realisation that being out of my comfort zone was actually good for me and was so I can be the best I can be in January, in the IPC World Paralympic Championships in New Zealand.

In the last ten days a group of Slovenian athletes have arrived and I have made good friends with them and do some of my easy runs in company, as well as having company at dinner each night, and watching plenty of Premier league and Champions league football together.

I have just over a week to go here, before I head back home for christmas, but before that I have 2 more sessions and a time trial to go. Just hoping the weather is kind when I get home and allows me to continue my build up to the championships.

This has been a real journey for me in many different ways, a real learning curve, about athletics and about myself and what I want from life. Very worthwhile and hopefully building the foundations for a great season ahead and hopefully contributing to among other things, St. Malachy's A.C. retaining their Senior Cross Country title!

Best Wishes
Michael McKillop
St. Malachy's A.C.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lee Valley Experience Blog 3

Thursday was the group’s recovery day following the heavy lactic session on Wednesday. This consisted of a slightly reduced warm up routine, multiple jumps unit, general strength, multiple throws (Medball), hurdle mobility and finally body building (gym session). Dan feels that this type of recovery acts to reboot the parasympathetic nervous system.

It was a fairly quiet morning for Lee Valley as many had struggled to get there through the snow. The group were adamant that I join in the session as it was an “Easy” day and it was the best way to learn. Secretly I had been dying to get involved although a bit apprehensive of training beside these guys.

Marlon Devonish proceeded to take me through the full warm up grid, giving me great feedback. It was definitely more of a learning curve than just watching the drills from the side. I learned more about the correct body positioning and execution than I ever could from observing. The drills looked easy when you were watching but doing them correctly was a whole other ball game. When it came to the build up runs over 30m the thought of running beside Marlon made me feel sick. However I tried to relax and think about my own acceleration mechanics. Maybe it was the nerves but I went for it and was a stride ahead at 30m. Obviously he was going easy but I think he was slightly shocked. Go me! HeHe

Next up was two Multiple Jumps Circuits, “Everest” and “Kilimanjaro.” As the names suggest they are not exactly easy. The jumps were plyometric and multi-directional as Dan believes in working the body in all planes (sagittal, frontal and transverse). This was followed then by a multiple throws session and lastly into the gym for some ancillary lifts. It was not a shock to me to find some rotational type lifts in the programme, which are quite indicative of Dan’s programme. The variety in the programme helped to keep the mind fresh throughout the session whilst stimulating the body in a holistic manner, reawakening areas that had “Shut down” due to the hard work inflicted on them the previous day thus encouraging active recovery.

Friday came too soon and all of a sudden it was my last day with the team. The morning started with some of the athletes having their skin folds taken. Steve Lewis very kindly let me practice on him. My data was slightly lower than that of Stuart’s initial assessment, however it was consistently lower and so Steve was convinced I was more accurate giving him a better result. Sorry Steve but I think Stuart was right! Once the warm up was complete it was onto Acceleration Development, the session I had been waiting on all week! I decided to do some video analysis, mainly to assist my own learning but the guys were happy with the trackside feedback the recordings could give them. It was during this session that it was drilled home to me that if I have a “Coaching Eye” at all, Dan has “Coaching Binoculars.” Where I observe things almost in one dimension as this is all my “Coaching Eye” can cope with at present and I need time to analyse what I see before I can make a judgement. Dan’s “Coaching Binoculars” observe movement in three dimensions and he can instantly assess what the problem is using his Knowledge of functional anatomy and instantly cue the athletes to correct or intervene with therapy to make the necessary change. Dan has developed these skills over many years coaching and I feel that this is the key to his success. Boy, have I a long way to go to develop my “Coaching Eye.” I think I have cataracts!

The highlight of the week for me (and it was very hard to choose one) had to be during this session when Rhys Williams (400mh) and Gianni Frankis (110mh) actually asked me for feedback on their acceleration mechanics. Using my “Coaching Catarats” I gave it my best shot and they seemed to take it on board. The highpoint in my Coaching Career to date!

My experience at Lee Valley working closely with Dan Pfaff, Stuart McMillan and their group has been the biggest learning curve for me and really has identified how much I have to learn and develop to get to where I want to be with my coaching. Not only that, but it has given me direction as to where I need to go with my learning. Coaching is a vocation, were you must have a balance between the art and the science and sometimes it is hard to know where to start. This past week has made that decision a little bit easier for me and for that I would like to thank Dan and Stuart for inviting me to shadow them and for their time and patience over the week. I would also like to thank Athletics Northern Ireland for their support and encouragement to take advantage of the opportunity. Time to get my head down!

Elaine McCaffrey

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Elaine McCaffrey Lee Valley Experience- Blog 2

Tuesday was a very fun day at Lee Valley with many top training groups present and working hard.  For a novice like me in this environment it was very hard to decide who to focus my attention on.  The choice was too tantalising with Tony Lester working with Nicola Sanders in one corner, Ayo Falola putting Marilyn Okoro through her paces in another and of course Dan’s group.  In my initial attempts to take it all in I noticed that the coaches were working very hard on drills and skill of running technique and again the focus was on correct execution.  I feel this may become the theme of the week!
Later in the session I got the chance to work with Pole Vaulter Steve Lewis, Videoing his vaults and then working with him on some Medball Multiple Throws Exercises.  Unfortunately as it was just the two of us and most of the exercises required a partner I had to join in.  It was great to experience the exercises first hand and so fully understand what effort was required. 

Wednesday was a big day for Dan’s Group with lactate profiling planned during the running session.  The warm up was extremely important and each drill is used as a screening tool to assess if the athletes have any mechanical issue cause by soft tissue dysfunction.  These issues are then worked on immediately at the track side using therapy techniques, most notably active release.  Active release enables the issue to be resolved whilst keeping the athletes fired up so not to interrupt the warm up. 
15 minutes after the warm up the lactate profiling started.  It was then repeated during and after the session at specific times.  The lactate profiling will be done over a number of weeks and the team hope the data will give an indicator of where the athletes are at and alter training to try and develop any issues uncovered.  This was a very exciting task for me and I was in my element testing Marlon Devonish, Ryan Moseley and Steve Lewis throughout the session.  The results were instantaneous but further analysis of the trends will produce some areas for the guys to work on. 
After this gruelling workout the guys then went on to some multiple jumps.  The aim of this is to teach the body to work with the lactate in the system.  This was then followed by weight training in the gym.  This really is a full time job for these athletes.  From witnessing and being involved with this heavy training day and questioning Dan as to how this would work for part time athletes I learned that the similar training protocols can be utilised by part-time athletes however the work should be spread over a longer period of time with adequate rest and recovery factored in, taking into consideration their other commitments.  If you do not have the luxury of time on your side you must stick to the correct training philosophies but be smart about how your training is structured.
This was probably the best day of my career so far, learning from the best athletes and coaches and being right there in the middle of everything.  I’m not sure if it can get any better but here’s hoping for tomorrow!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Lee Valley Experience Day 1

Athletics Northern Ireland's Elaine McCaffrey has had the opportunity to work with some of the top coaches in the UK this week!
Today I flew to London to start my week shadowing Dan Pfaff, UK Athletics Director of Lee Valley High Performance Centre and his assistant coach Stuart McMillan.  Dan has a rich coaching pedigree which includes coaching 33 Olympians to seven Olympic medals and 45 athletes to the IAAF World Championships, where they have won 10 medals.
Among the athletes he has coached is former Olympic and World 100m champion and world record holder Donovan Bailey.  As you can imagine I, along with thousands of other budding coaches’ wish I could have one ounce of his experience and so I travelled excitedly to Lee Valley for the first of five days with the team to try and learn a thing or two. 
The first thing I learned on my arrival was that good news has obviously travelled fast (as fast as I did when I got the invite to Lee Valley) and Dan’s group consists of a very large number of talented athletes from all event groups.  The majority are fully funded athletes but unsurprisingly there are a few self funded athletes hoping that Dan’s magic might give them the chance to actualise their true potential.  To name a few of those I had the pleasure of observing and interacting with today included Marlon Devonish, Martyn Bernard and affectionately known as the “Queen” of the group, Goldie Sayers.  Witnessing the goings on, I was like a child in a candy store!
Unfortunately due to snow in Belfast in November my flight arrived slightly later than planned and I missed the first 2 hours of the session but luckily enough there was about another four hours worth to witness.  Being a full time athletes is definitely not all fun and games and the athletes had to maintain focus and technique throughout a long session of track work, multi throws unit and then into the weight room for lifts and specific strengthening work.  However the large group of individuals seemed to keep one and other focused and motivated.
The biggest surprise for me came in the weight room, where I expected these guys to be lifting everything in sight but in contrast the loads were manageable with “Perfect” technique controlling all loading and the team watching every athlete like a hawk.  This seems indicative of all Dan’s Coaching Philosophies and although all coaches look to observe technique it was the attention to detail that was a contrast to the norm and could possibly be a big insight into where many coaches and athletes are going wrong. 
The gist of his thinking from questioning him on his views are that... loading poor technique in the weight room will ultimately lead to issues on the track.  I feel that tomorrow’s session on running technique will uncover more of Dan’s Philosophies and I look forward to learning some new skills from both Dan and Stuart.
More to follow later in week! UKA have a great coaching resource- UCoach- click here to visit.
Elaine McCaffrey
Talent Development Coach

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Athletics NI President wins 'Frank Horwill Trophy for Services to BMC’

What a weekend! On Saturday afternoon I watched the cream of British and Irish Masters battle it out over the fields of Santry Desmene, where I ran in my first All Ireland Championships well over 40 years ago.

On Saturday night I was the guest of Athletics Ireland at their Annual Awards Dinner and had the pleasure of seeing Eamonn Christie and Ciara Mageean pick up two well deserved awards. I also got the opportunity to speak to and receive an autograph from the great Ronnie Delaney, the Olympic Champion from Melbourne in 1956 and hero of all aspiring young middle distance runners in Ireland of my vintage.

On Sunday morning I was up before the larks and on my way to Dublin Airport for what I hoped would be a reunion with another legend.

 I first met Frank Horwill in October 1973 when he was invited by Sean and Maeve Kyle to lead a training weekend based on the North Coast around the dunes of Portstewart. By the end of the three days Frank had approved my qualification as a BAAB Club Coach and left me a quivering wreck.

I had finished the 1973 season fairly satisfied with a 1:52.4 800m and a conviction that I knew what hard work was all about. Mr. Horwill knocked that idea on the head. On the Friday night after Registration we did a 35 min run. The following morning the session was an 8 mile run including 2 miles fartlex. After lunch we returned to the dunes for 10 mins hard sand running including a ‘sprint’ up a giant sand dune. This was followed by 4 x 5 x 100 metres with 20/15/10 and 5 seconds recovery and 2 minutes between sets. Sunday being the ‘day of rest’ we began with a mile warm up and some exercises on the sand. Then it was into 3 x 800m fast with 4 minutes recovery and a mile and half jog back for lunch. All that remained was an afternoon stroll of 10 miles!

It took me two days to recover but I left Portrush inspired by this man and in possession of a signed copy of what was to become my ‘bible’ , The Complete Middle Distance Runner by Horwill, Denis Watts and Harry Wilson (coach to Steve Ovett). Frank had inscribed the book with the words “Coaching an athlete from nothing to something is a noble cause”.

Frank was not everyone’s cup of tea but he was full of qualities that I admired. He did not treat fools gladly and British Athletics had more than its fair share of fools. He was the scourge of the English Womens’ AAAs because he had the audacity to believe that girls should be training as hard as the men and running long distance races like 3000 metres! He spoke his mind and cared not a jot about what others thought. He was generous to a fault and he lived and breathed running.

He was also a fighter, a quality which has stood him in good stead in the last number of years as he has fought illness time and again. I have known his qualities as a fighter since 1974 when having shattered my personal bests for every event from 100 metres to 2 miles Frank invited me to run in a British Milers event at Crystal Palace. The invitation included being hosted by Frank in his one roomed flat in London. In the evening he took me for a meal to his favourite Greek Restaurant in Golder’s Green.

As the meal progressed we noticed that another of the customers in the restaurant was one of Britain’s greatest runners and I was totally star struck. Unfortunately the athlete in question was, in modern parlance, ‘blocked’. He was also somewhat belligerent and called Frank some very nasty names and questioned his parenthood. Frank accepted the first onslaught but issued a warning of retribution if the insult was repeated.

The insult was duly repeated and retribution followed in the form of a punch to the nose which sent this very famous athlete flying over the dinner tables. Frank compensated the owner and we left. In the early hours of the morning we were awakened by the phone as a sobering famous athlete issued an apology!

The significance of all this to my weekend was that I was travelling to Manchester to meet Frank again for the first time in nearly forty years. During that time Frank’s training methods produced the best ever performance by a British athlete at the World Cross Country when Tim Hutchings took the Silver Medal and Peter Coe acknowledged Franks’ influence in his coaching of Seb to Olympic Gold. His ideas are heralded throughout the world and countless athletes owe their success to his methods and in particular his ‘five pace’ system all of which can be read in ‘Obsession for Running’ of which Frank is the author.

Arguably Frank’s greatest contribution to middle distance running was his formation of the British Milers Club. Formed in 1963 the aim of the club was, and remains, to improve the standards of British Middle Distance running. This is to be achieved by coach education, providing competition opportunities where the main aim is to improve times and to encourage the top British athletes to compete against each other.

As a further consequence of that initial meeting with Frank I found myself in 1975 succeeding Neil Morton as the Northern Ireland Regional Secretary for the British Milers Club. I would be the first to admit that my contribution to the above mentioned aims has been somewhat minimal. But in the last few years I have shown a greater commitment and have promoted several middle distance meets under the BMC banner as well as a couple of high profile races at Ravenhill with Ulster Rugby. I also came into contact with the BMC Treasurer and Chairman Pat Fitzgerald and Tim Brennan and when the idea of a Grand Prix BMC meet in Belfast was muted I jumped at the chance.

Thanks to the efforts of Pat and Tim and a lot of hard work by the staff of Athletics Northern Ireland the event was considered by all to have been a great success. Frank was unfortunately too ill to get across to Belfast but he too was convinced that the meeting was a success and so it was that I found myself on my way to Manchester to receive the ‘Frank Horwill Trophy for Services to BMC’ from the man himself. Despite being hospitalised again during the week I was delighted when I saw Frank entering the room and I was therefore given the opportunity to publically pay tribute to the man who has had an immense influence of my running and coaching career.

Despite the fact that the criteria for the award required the ‘Services to BMC’ to be for at least 10 years I am acutely aware that it was the success of the Belfast Grand Prix which was the main contributing factor in the award and I would like to thank all those who worked a lot harder than me in making it a great success.

However it is my name on the trophy and I am keeping it!

Visit John Glover's NI Stats website at: 

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Kirks Trip to India!

Our adventure to Delhi started at the Belfast City Airport on a wet Friday evening. 12 hours later we touched down at Terminal 3 in Delhi Airport. We knew that the athletes had arrived at around the same time as us so we hung around waiting to see Katie and the rest of the team before they were whisked away to the Athletes Village. 20 minutes later we saw them!

It gave us some idea what might be in store for us. The group of athletes were being escorted out the airport by a large number of armed guards who did not like us approaching them! A quick exchange of hello’s and goodbyes and they were escorted onto their air conditioned bus. We battled through the hoards of people crowded outside the entrance of the airport and took a taxi to our hotel.

Our first mission was to collect our tickets from one of the outlets near our hotel. On paper this seemed like a simple task in reality it took us about 3 hours and lots of hassle. No one seemed to know where we were supposed to go and we were sent from pillar to post! To make things worse when we arrived back at the hotel tired and thirsty and definitely in need of a beer there was none to be had it was Ghandi’s birthday and the hotel had declared it to be a dry day!

The following day was the opening ceremony. 3 hours after leaving the hotel we eventually got to our seats. Security was very tight the queues were enormous and there was pandemonium around the stadium. We were searched three times once we passed through the gates of the stadium. No water was allowed no food no video cameras no coins no batteries no flags the list went on and on. When we eventually got to our seats we were not allowed to take our drinks (which we just queued 30 minutes for) down to our seats!! Very annoying! Especially in 34 degree ‘s heat!

The opening ceremony was spectacular though and it was great to see the Northern Ireland team coming out into the arena.

The first day of athletics followed a few days later. We were fortunate that the BBC commentary team were staying our hotel and they had warned us about the state of the track as they had got down onto it that morning. It was undulating and had undergone major patching up following the opening ceremony. Strangely it was not a Mondo track like most modern day stadiums but the same type of track surface as the Mary Peters Track which is basically a surface that is used for training tracks. They were of the opinion that pb’s would be few and far between.

The 400m girls were running their heats on the 1st night and all competed very well given the hot humid polluted conditions.

Katie was in the 4th heat which had an Indian athlete running. The noise from the crowd during her heat was unbelievable! Even when the athletes were called to their marks the locals were screaming and whistling. A lesson learnt for Katie as she let it distract her and didn’t hear the gun go off!

Others nights in the stadium were equally as noisy especially when Indian athletes were competing. The loudest cheers were saved for the woman’s 4x400 final when the Indians pulled off a surprise win. I have never experienced anything like it. The noise was literally deafening!

We managed to get a visit to the village which was interesting, especially given all the bad press it received before the games. The apartments were ok but poorly finished and still dusty, but better than the accommodation that we had when I was at the Commonwealth games in Auckland. We slept in bunk beds in prefab type huts with paper thin walls. Not good when the person in the room next door snored all night! We were able to sample the food in the dining hall and it was really very good especially the naan bread which you could watch being made. Security into and out of the village was very strict. We had to surrender our passports before we were let in and were searched three times on the way. We were starting to get used to this though, experiencing this every time we went into the stadium. The Delhi police advised that the athletes were not to leave the village and if they did so they were not to wear their sports gear. We managed to smuggle Katie out for an afternoon at our hotel much to the disgust of some of the team who were looking to escape as well!

At last it was time to make our way back to the airport and fly home. We left with mixed emotions. The extreme poverty we witnessed will be forever etched on our minds. The poor organisation was also disappointing. Delhi 2010 was the first event I had ever been to that there was no merchandise to bring home- no tee shirts, no polo shirts really no branded mementos at all! Ticketing was a disaster we queued for ages only to be told that the computers were down (again)! Then eventually when they were up and running they would tell us that the event was sold out! This was not the case as we could see loads of empty seats on TV!

On the positive side we met some really nice Delhiites who were very friendly and welcoming. We watched some great athletics. Some of the food we had was awesome. Saying that, it was great relief when we got back to cold and wet George Best City airport!

Mark Kirk
Father and Coach to Katie Kirk (4x400m Relay)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Commonwealth Games- an amazing experience!

It’s a bit of an anticlimax being back studying after the most amazing 3 week experience; one which I will never forget…

The whole experience started back in July when the athletics team was announced. My year up to that point had been mixed. My indoor season took a while to get going, but ended with a big indoor PB in Birmingham, which gave me great confidence for the outdoor season. My outdoor season then proved inconsistent due to a back injury, however I still managed to improve my PB on 3 occasions and my confidence going out to Delhi was high.

Portugal was fantastic. The food, accommodation, training facilities and area were super and the week was brilliant. It was great to have Dan out in Portugal to help with my training and Niamh, the physio was fantastic help. Half way through the week I did a 400m time trial, which went very well and made me confident I was ready to run faster than I ever have before in Delhi. However after this run I felt severe pain down my right side, which I managed to put to the back of my mind as much as possible. The week ended on a high with a team meal in Villa Moira and team spirits were high going out to Delhi….

After a lot of hassle with getting our ‘slightly’ oversized bags onto the plane to London without being charged excess baggage (N.B. Giving gifts to the check in staff always help this matter….on this occasion Jackie sacrificed a Team NI T Shirt!) we were on our way. After arriving in London, we faced another problem in transferring the pole vault poles to Heathrow from Gatwick. Luckily we all made it just in time to catch the flight to Delhi, and 8 hours later were landed.

We were all a little apprehensive about what the village would be like, as the press hadn’t been so kind, however when we arrived we all stopped worrying. Bar nothing a few dettol wipes couldn’t sort out…everything was grand! We had a comfortable apartment, not far from the 24 hour food hall which we were to spend much of our time!

I had just over 5 days until the first round of the 400m and felt I could manage my injury with copious amounts of pain killers and physio sessions.

The 400m heats were in the evening, so after a couple of trips to the food hall we were ready to head to the stadium. I was in heat 3, and although the line up looked difficult, qualifying for the semis didn’t look impossible. The call room process wasn’t the best, but we all had to endure the same….we were then taken onto the track and told to sit in the middle of a bug cloud for about 20 minutes before the race started. It was an unbelievable atmosphere out in the stadium and I was excited about racing.

On your marks, get set, go! I was in lane 2 and completely stumbled out of my blocks. Third step into my race I felt a sharp pain shoot down from my back to ankle. I slowed the pace for a few metres, hoping it would go away however this wasn’t the case. I decided to keep running and tried to pick the pace up towards the end, but the pain was unbearable. All this training, all the hard work to be dealt a blow all due to a poorly executed start. I was devastated, more because I knew I was in great shape and had high expectations of myself going into the event.

The relay was the following Monday, and I was determined to run! After much rest, I convinced everyone I was ‘healthy’ enough to run…but the order was changed so I would run last and not have to do another rubbish start! It was great fun, and although we failed to meet our target of either breaking the NI record, or reaching the final we all left the track determined to come back in Glasgow 2014 and cause some trouble. It was a great experience, and with the team so young, I’m convinced the future will hold great things!

Memories from Delhi are never ending….Amy getting fed ketchup nut birthday cake on arrival at the airport, Pool Champ Kelly and her mad obsession with collecting pins, Jo Mills and her super ability to stay protected from mozzies and her cool banana case, Katie and her ‘love’ of all bugs big and small, Ciara and her toad handling skills, Teen and her amazing flexibility, Tom and Camilla, Jackie and her ability to sprain her ankle while not doing anything, and Davy and his love for all things Indian (food, mozzies etc).
Almost a month since we returned from Delhi, and life is getting back to normal. I have just started winter training, which so far has involved a lot of rehab work and not a great deal of running…but that will come soon!! Being part of Team NI was an incredible experience and one which I will cherish forever. The whole team were amazing, and I know with all the youth and raw talent, things can only go up in the future…Bring on athletics in 2011!!

Jo Patterson

Monday, 8 November 2010

My Half Marathon Blog (Half Marathon Series)

At the start of the year when I was putting up my wall planer 2010 and printed off the race fixtures, I sat down to plan which races would fit into my Dublin Marathon training, when the half marathon series was announced, I thought I would attempt to do all 7.

Larne 20th March

I persuaded a few of the club members to train for this as their first half, as I did this last year I knew the route and it was reasonably flat till mile 6-8 and then all downward home to finish. I ran along with Francey for the first 6 miles to keep her paced as this was her first ever half. The crowd was great and the atmosphere was brilliant running along the promenade to the finish line. I ran home in 2.21 to start the half series off with a PB.

Omagh 27th March
With only 7 days after Larne I knew I would have to do this all over again. Omagh was a surprise to me, very hilly and I wasn’t prepared enough for it. I ran a reasonably race; my legs were tired after last week. With great support along the route I ticked off the miles……we ran along the track to finish, this was amazing. I ran home in 2.27 and ended up with a blood blister on the sole of my foot due to a small stone in my shoe…. But 2 down and 5 to go….woo hoo

Next day I did mud madness for fun, I knew it was two months till the next half so I could concentrate on the distance and pace in between. 145 miles later I was prepared as much as I could for Newry.

Newry 21 May

Leaving the house at 7am to travel to Newry I felt great, the weather was perfect, sun was shining. I knew the route again from last year, but this year I would be able to finish in a more reasonable time as I picked up an Achilles injury and limped home last year. A few hills on the way out until we reached the massive hill around 8 miles, god that hill was murder, but what goes up must come down again. Then flat all the way home, running down the home straight to the shouts of our club members made all the difference. I ran home in 2.30 not bad, but very pleased.

Lisburn 16th June
This was a Wednesday night race and another I ran before and loved. By the time the race started it was getting very warm….I was struggling, felt sick and throw up at 1.5 miles. Once this happened I was grand. The first 8k was brilliant till we split off from the 10k pack, up along the carriage way at Sprucefield; it seemed a never ending hill. Once over the hill and we turned into the countryside, at 8 miles I caught up with a club runner I had been trying to catch all night. The local support was brilliant, a man give me a bottle of energy drink and I don’t know if it was that or the fact I caught my club mate that I found my energy again, from mile 8 to 12 I flew, once I reached the long hill home I looked at my watch and knew I was going to knock minutes off last years time. So I had a massive smile on my face crossing the finish line. I ran home in 2.27.

Newtownards 2nd July

After I finished this race last year I vowed NEVER ever to run it again, but I had to give in as it was part of the half series, wasn’t looking forward to all the hills, mostly up. Running it this time was a completely different experience, I had a brilliant time, I ran along with another club member for a few miles, the boy scouts at the water stations were a god send, the best part of ards for me was the down hill at mile 12, passing all the walkers, knowing I only had 1 mile to go. With a lot of the members waiting for me to come up the home straight, shouting, encouraging all the way over the mat I had a big grin on my face and got a big hug from Chipman. I ran home in 2.27 again for the 3rd time. Next race I will have to break the dreaded 2.27.

Cookstown 25th July
This half I slotted into the beginning for my marathon training, I hadn’t done Cookstown before so I ask around and was given a mixture of reports on the route. We started off down hill which I thought was the start of a good route till we turned the corner and it was more up hills than down. I was told about the big hill at 12 miles and to keep something in my tank for it, but I used up all my energy on the rest of the hills before I reach the 12 mile mark, with only 1 mile to go I pushed on and hoped for a long down hill, we turned the bend at the top of the hill to a very short down hill, I was feeling it in my legs by now, I knew we had a up hill to finish and over a cattle grill. I don’t know where I found the last bit of energy to sprint home up into the leisure centre.
I ran home in 2.26 wow. I finally broke the 2.27 by 1 minute, I didn’t care, I was overjoyed at my time. Talking to a few other runners from North Down afterwards and the all reported the route took everyone be surprise. This was the hardest of all the halves so far, harder than ards. 6 of 7 completed yippee!

Derry 12th Sept

The was reported to be the flattest half of all. We had 10 club members that travelled to Derry early on the Sunday morning for the last half in the series. I was only too pleased to be standing on the start line injury free. I was very relaxed and all I wanted to do was finish in one piece, no time target, no pressure to get a PB. I ran my own race, I normally stop and run along with someone who is struggling or has stopped cause of a stitch, which I help to push out. Ticking off the miles one by one was easy, they seem to fly by, running around the industrial estate and seeing all the other running ahead of me on the loop back home, shouting encouragement to them, I loved it. We came back into Gransha at mile 12, I knew I was on to break my PB of 2.21, the club members had all came in before me and were waiting to cheer me across the finish line to complete all 7.  I ran home in 2.22 to top it all off, I started the series on a high and finished on a high.

I will be encouraging everyone to complete the half series in the club next year; it was massive achievement to cross that finish line in Derry. Roll on next year, I’ll have to set my goals higher now and try to improve my times, barring any injuries I’ll be back. Thanks to all our club runners for all the encouragement and company along the way.

Also thanks to Glenn (chipman) always a big smile when I cross the finish line, all the event sponsors and supporters without you things like this would be possible.

Up and Runners

The Half Marathon Prizegiving Photos are available here and further details on the 2011 Series will be on in the New Year!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Delhi Decathlon

Decathlete Tom Reynolds talks about his Commonwealth Games experience.

Well, what a month it has been! Injuries, arguments, last minute technique changes, PB's and great experiences.

Things were looking very bad just over a month ago, a series of back injuries left me limping and unable to do much at all in the weeks before we departed for Portugal.

There were a period of a few days where I thought I wouldn't event be on the plane but thanks to the NI physios Phil, Naoimh and Chris I arrived in Portugal in once piece, was able to do all my planned training and make it through the Decathlon without any major injuries.

Portugal was brilliant, excellent hotel, facilities and weather. It was great having my coach Brendan McConville out there and he managed to completely sort my pole vault out in two sessions. It was good having the rest of the squad training there too and we all supported each other. Towards the end of the week I was getting up at 4.30am to try and adjust my body clock for the time change in India, this made the 26 hour journey to India a little easier.

The first few days in India were surreal, the heat and humidity, meeting Olympic Champions like Steve Hooker and Valerie Villi in the Village and having as much free food and drink as you want 24 hours a day! Stranger still was my first session at the village track; I was doing a quiet shot putt session with my old flatmate Roger Skedd (Scottish Decathlete) when all of a sudden a crowd of people were moving towards us including loads of press, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowls. We didn't have time to put t-shirts on and that is why the press took so much interest in it. Charles and Camilla seemed to be quite amused by our "attire" but they said it was very sensible given the conditions! They were also very interested in learning about the Decathlon. We carried on training and forgot about it, they next day I was hearing from home that it was in every major paper and even on the TV show Loose Women, hopefully it led to a few extra people watching our Decathlon!

The Decathlon itself was two extremely long and hot days of ups and downs. The 100m was brilliant, from the day I was selected I was dreaming of winning my heat in a new PB and if you were watching you could see how happy I was to do this. The time I was dreaming of was 10.99 of course but I guess with my injury and a headwind that was too much to ask. Long Jump was a complete unknown, I hadn't jumped over 6.70 since June and had hardly been able to train for it but a first round argument with the officials about the plastacine not being rolled properly (which lead to me fouling when it shouldn't have been one) was exactly what I needed to fire me to a 7.04m jump and my 2nd best ever. The shot and high jump was a little disappointing but no major losses there. The 400m was 0.01 off my pb and even though I died more than ever before, the 45,000 crowd made it a very enjoyable race. So after day 1 I was 60 points off my PB in 11th place. By the time I had an ice bath and dinner it was about 11.30pm, I perhaps got 3 hours sleep but that is standard Decathlon procedure!

Day 2 and the physios did a great job to get me going in the morning. The main problem was the hurdles, where I had to change my legs in the blocks around becuase of my back injury. This didn't cause many problems for the 100m but in the hurdles it meant I had to take one less stride to hurdle 1, which is a massive change. I managed to do it ok but it was very difficult to adjust to the new rhythm, I felt I should have won the event but once I have had a year to perfect the new technique it will make me much quicker. The discus was solid but it is one of my worst events and needs improved! For me the Pole Vault was the best event, there were only about 3-4 thousand people watching (as opposed to 45 thousand plus for the evening events) but they had obviously never seen Pole Vault before and the noise they made was incredible. I had more arguments with the officials about being given 25 mins warm up time, most of which was spent watching them put up the bar and knocking it down by mistake.

This resulted me having to start the competition without having done a single vault, thankfully everything worked out and I managed to beat my PB from 2007, there is a lot more to come as I could see from the replay screens that I was 25-30cm over 4.60. Javelin was my 2nd best ever but I had been throwing much better in training before the Games with my javelin coach Paddy McGrattin, so I was slightly disappointed, this also meant my chance to break the NI native record was gone, it will have to wait! The 1500 was horrible in that heat and huimidity, i knew I was in PB shape but had completely run out of energy.

In the end I finished 9th with 7210, my second best score ever and still over 400 points better than my PB before 2010. I was 15 points short of my goal of top 8 and 40 points short of 7th place, but this has spurred me on to continue to Glasgow and aim for the top 5. It was a briliant experience that I will never forget, and it was great to do it along with so many friends (three of my uni housemates were in the decathlon too). It was great being with the NI team and supporting each other.

Pictured: Me and Brent Newdick, the silver medalist who lives and trains with my Brother Luke in Auckland!
Me and some of the girls at the closing ceremony.

Follow the Athletics NI Twitter account and Facebook account.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Road to Delhi: The Challenge of Continuous Improvement...

Soaked through to the skin at my last golf match of the regular season which leaves a bit of time for athletics planning and blogging.

Review training schedules, check dates/ times- make a list!! Less than a week until we leave, exciting times, but also apprehension. I have been to the last two games with Team NI, packed with our best, and my goodness how tough it is on the dancefloor in the stadium. All throughout the qualifying period this was at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately our ten do not have to look too far for inspiration as our last medallist is supporting them throughout the qualifying period.

It’s been an interesting year in terms of planning as a personal coach. Normally its Ballyclare in Welly Boots in October, instead we’re in India trying to run PB’s! It’s been a challenge for periodising the year, and I have learned an awful lot about myself as a coach throughout the year. Will add more fuel to the fire for my annual/ quadrennial planning lectures! ‘Coaching is a process of gathering scars’. Next year’s challenge is a more normative one- Asia in august.

With an average age of 21.4 the team is definitely going to be around again for Glasgow 2014, which can only be progress for the sport. I have worked with the two experienced members of the team throughout the year who have been great in terms of supporting the younger athletes and I’m sure James and Kelly will continue to mentor and support the younger members on camp, before getting down to the business on getting on the start lists for the middle distance finals. Let’s hope lots of 15/16 year olds watching on tv in NI are inspired to make the next team.

Ciara, Amy and Christine have already brought home plenty of medals from major age group competitions so that should stand them in good stead for this new task. Having a decathlete in the squad is great in terms of drama and excitement. I worked with Louise Hazel at the 2005 Europeans and one minute you’re smashing a PB in the hurdles and the next you’re facing a pressure last jump in the long jump to stay alive. It’s like a mini soap opera.

For those of you that were unfortunate enough to see me in a vest and shorts you’ll know how much I love the 4x400m. My fondest moments in athletics as an athlete came in relays, and most of my friends were members of those teams either for Irish Universities, Northern Ireland or my club City of Lisburn. There is a nucleus of a top class squad here that if we add to it can become one of our strongest events at the next two games in 2014 and 2018. I’m looking forward to watching the team unit develop on camp and at the end of the athletics programme for some big PB splits as a fantastic end to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

I’m grateful to get the opportunity to support the squad over the next three weeks. Thanks to Athletics NI for the foresight in providing a preparation camp in Portugal. The weather has turned recently and as you can see from Stephens blog it’s difficult to get quality work in. Over the last 17 years I have travelled to camps/ golf holidays in Portugal many times. It’s a great country and blessed with excellent athletics facilities (and golf courses!)along the Algarve.

Despite mass speculation Athens was ready, Beijing was excellent and New Dehli looks prepared for the event. I remember the dignatories touring Melbourne village and an assistant making notes. Having a track in the village is just luxury, and makes our job so much easier. (Jackie, James and Kelly will remember me driving the team bus the wrong way up the road in Manchester looking for the training track!) The recent photos of the village facilities look like they did in Manchester and Melbourne and the Stadium looks spectacular.

A couple of weeks hard work and it’s time to shine. Keep the messages of support coming through!

David Reid
Assistant Team Coach, Delhi 2010

Also launched is the new NI Commonwealth Games Council website which is currently being developed. A sneak preview is available to view at- . Over the coming days it will provide information relating to athletes, venues, competition schedules etc. You will also be able to keep up to date with the latest news by joining us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

It’s the final countdown!

The NICGC had a team get together on the 10th and 11th of September which has brought home how close the XIX commonwealth games are to getting started. Collecting the kit, meeting the other sports officials and competitors and getting talks on final preparations, has brought it home that in exactly three weeks time the athletics events will be underway in the Jawaharial Nehru Stadium.

Next week sees the Athletics Northern Ireland Team head to Portugal for final preparations and a chance to get into competition mode. The athletes and their personal coaches have been given the opportunity to attend a training camp on the Algarve and as the September weather conditions become more and more like winter, the week in the Algarve will assist in the athletes acclimation to Delhi conditions and will allow them and their coaches the final push to get ready for the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

I am looking forward to seeing the team, that has a mixture of youth and experience, take on the Commonwealth. It is worthwhile noting that eight of the ten athletes have already taken part in a multi sport competition/championship (European Youth Olympics, World University Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games etc) – so whilst the team may be young they are extremely experienced.

Jackie McKernan- Athletics Team Coach

Also launched is the new NI Commonwealth Games Council website which is currently being developed. A sneak preview is available to view at- . Over the coming days it will provide information relating to athletes, venues, competition schedules etc. You will also be able to keep up to date with the latest news by joining us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. 

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

"Runners to the line", "Toes behind the line"

On your marks, get set, go.... I find myself sprinting into the clear, arms up high defending position on the rail, and float around the bend, 3 laps later my heart is pounding in my chest, a weak athlete would slow, give in to the pain, I find myself questioning fate, one last effort to make the commonwealth games, I find another gear, im kicking hard, now im leading, but it's too early. Arms stephen arms, keep driving your arms.

I hear John Allen, "Keep working to the line", it wakes me up and I kick again, catch my balance at the line and its over. I've been running for 11 years now, and It all came down to running fast on my home track in Belfast. I've been lucky to find people to help me along the way, and provide the vital support required that got me both mentally and physically ready for Belfasts Grand Prix.

It's been a really great and enjoyable last few months, which took me from the downfall in Marseille, to the fast tactical 1500m in Budapest, then to Sweden for a painful experience over 5000m, and back to London for Solihulls breakthrough, and finally the big one in Belfast. But the whole journey has been enjoyable and that all began under Coach John Moffett at the Mary Peters track in 1999. Since then ive changed coach a number of times, and continue to have contact with most. You have to learn how to use the people around you, and let their knowledge and experience help you push forward.

I've just gotten word that im selected for the Commonwealth games in India, It hasn't completely sunk in yet. Im blogging from Belfast City Airport, before I board my plane back to London. A great place to base myself for the pre build up training. The commonwealth games will see me race hard in front of thousands, but for me its important to learn from the big occasion. Its an honour to represent the country that made me, the country that taught me to survive on the 1st three laps of my 1500m, and the country that taught me how to fight on the last lap.

For now, I will be enjoying a little lay off period for a week; however, I have some work to do if I wanna be ready for India. Were given these opportunities in life to test us, and see how good we can be. Its time to fight for Northern Ireland, and put our country on the map. Lets bring some pride back to Northern Ireland, someone has to take home glory, why can't it be the small team from Northern Ireland.

Stephen Scullion

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Jason Smyth takes hype in his stride ahead of Europeans

Jason Smyth's take on becoming the first Paralympic athletic in history to compete at a European Championships has to be gently teased out of him. The unassuming Northern Irishman's appearance in Barcelona later this month has been generating copy around the world but Smyth is taking matters in his increasingly lengthening stride.

"The first Paralympian to compete in a European Championships - that's what I've been told," the 23-year-old shrugs when interviewed by BBC Sport.

"But I never get too bothered or stressed about things like that. I just focus on myself and don't get distracted by silly things that are going on around you." That approach has worked well for Smyth so far.
The Derryman had perfect vision up until the age of nine before a hereditary condition known as Stargardt's Disease began to cause his sight to deteriorate. It wasn't a sudden loss of sight but adjustments had to made in his life from then on.

"I would be able to see things generally around me," said Smyth in a Sunday Times interview in 2006. But getting things further away would be more difficult. I would be able to see colour and images and people pretty much."

He still managed to become a regular on the school football team although judging the path of the ball or finding an unmarked team-mate was not always easy.I worked much harder than I had ever done previously
However, he was to find his real sporting call in 2003 when he hooked up with Strabane man and emerging athletics coach Stephen Maguire. Maguire, though, didn't even learn of Smyth's visual impairment until after the youngster became Irish Schools champion nine months later.

The coach realised Smyth might be eligible for Paralympic competition and by the following summer he was a double European Paralympic champion, those performances qualifying Smyth for the maximum 40,000 euro Irish Sports Council grant. Further financial help from his uncle Stephen, a successful businessman in the US, enabled the athlete and coach to effectively go full-time.

Double World Paralympic gold - both in new world records - followed in 2006 and, apart from a blip at the World Junior Championships where he got stuck on the blocks, success followed success in the run-up to the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Smyth arrived in China as the red-hot favourite for double gold and he didn't disappoint as he took the titles with two more world records of 10.62 and 21.43.

Those performances convinced athlete and coach that becoming the first competitor to compete at an Olympics and Paralympics in the same year was a realistic goal for London 2012. But Maguire knew that the training regime would have to be upped significantly for Smyth to reach a level which would give him even an outside chance of making sporting history.

Prior to Beijing, Maguire had already been in regular email correspondence with top coach Lance Brauman, whose group includes Tyson Gay, and the Florida-based American invited the Irish duo to the United States for a training stint in the early part of 2009.

"We went out there last year for six or seven weeks and that led to us going out for the whole winter this year," says Smyth. "My family and my two uncles and their families have bought a holiday home out in Florida. We are there over the winter and they head out in the summer. Otherwise realistically, we couldn't afford to do it."
Last year's six-week stint was a taster but Smyth knew that a full winter was needed in the US for him to have any chance of reaching his full potential.

"We went out last November for two months and then came back for three weeks - then out again for two months and back again. We were out for three different blocks during the winter and spring and I worked much harder than I had ever done previously. We trained six days a week and usually kicked off at 9.30 and kept going until half past two. We would be on the track for a few hours and then we would head up to the gym.
I was in the gym four times a week doing heavy weights, whereas here at home the year before it was once a week. Every one of the six days, we were on the track and sometimes doing really hard sessions. By the time dinner time came around, I was just about ready for my bed - absolutely shattered. I was kind of living a life of just training."

Gay, double World Champion in 2007, missed Smyth's opening weeks in the US last winter as he was recovering from injury but the Kentucky man began to take the Derry sprinter under his wing after rejoining Brauman's group after Christmas.Without a doubt that's where we want to be. Run in the Olympics and retain the Paralympics titles.

"He was always coming over and telling me different little things. He'd be saying 'this is what you should be thinking of, this is what you should be feeling at different stages of the race'. I suppose there was [an element of him taking me under his wing]. Within the group, everybody is so supportive of each other and wanting each other to do well."

The group also contained the multi-medalled Bahamian Debbie Ferguson and Jamaican Steve Mullings and the Irishman in the African-American and Caribbean sprinting posse came to be affectionately known as the 'white rabbit'. The camaraderie is tremendous. Even people that weren't competing would go to competitions to watch the others," he added. And people are always interested in what I'm doing back here." Smyth started his summer season by shaving .01 secs off his 100m personal best in the US as he clocked 10.41 to again better the European Championship standard.

However, the immense value of his Floridian winter was put into sharp focus by stunning runs on successive Saturdays last month as a new Northern Ireland 100m record of 10.32 was followed up by a wind-assisted 10.27 when beating 2004 Olympic silver medallist Francis Obikwelu at the European Cup meeting in Budapest.
That run in Hungary suggested that Smyth is on course for the European Championship semi-finals in Barcelona and a place in the final may not even be beyond the 23-year-old - although Maguire is frantically playing down any such suggestions.

"I would never think about the final," adds an on-message Smyth. "It's all about focusing on one race at a time. I'll try and run quicker and quicker and if that got me to a final, that would be a fantastic achievement. "It's just about getting there injury-free and if I can run in the low 10.20s - whatever happens I would be delighted. This time last year, I wouldn't have predicted that I would be getting near to that kind of category."

The mention of injury is salient because Smyth has been bothered by a hamstring niggle since the Budapest win although he has still been able to train well. He has been named on the Irish tean for the European Championships band intends to have a race on the weekend of 17/18 July "blow out the cobwebs" before the Europeans start on 27 July.

The Barcelona championship will only be the start of a "massively busy" six months for the Londonderry man with the Commonwealth Games following in Delhi in October and the World Paralympic Games in New Zealand next January.

2011 could also see Smyth competing alongside the likes of Gay and Usain Bolt at the World Championships in Daegu in South Korea in the final major outdoor championship before London 2012.

Smyth says that his performances so far this summer have proved to him that competing at the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 is "definitely achievable".

"Legally I've run 10.32 and I should go low 10.20s this year. Without a doubt that's where we want to be. Run in the Olympics and retain the Paralympics titles.

"I'll aim to continue to progress and be in Florida over the winters over the next two years. I don't see why I can't continue to improve and achieve what I plan to achieve."
Jason has his own website- Click Here. Interview above with BBC Sport.