Wednesday, 19 May 2010
For most athletes in Northern Ireland it is a great accomplishment to represent their Country, some athletes choose to run for Ireland, and others choose to run for Great Britain. However, in the Commonwealth Games it's an opportunity to represent the small country of Northern Ireland.
Up until recently the Commonwealth games were just a competition late in the season that I honestly didn't believe I could qualify for. The times were released last year and my Pb's were a long way away, with some athlete's already qualifying including magnificent junior Ciara Mageean, and the well established 1500m runner Kelly McNeice. I decided that I wouldn't put all my focus into the commonwealths incase I was faced with dissappointment. During previous years, I spent alot of time chasing qualifying times for the 3000m S/C and I believe this affected my performances in other competitions. The problem with chasing qualifying standards leaves room for negativity if you fail to accomplish these goals. Such negativity in previous years has lead me to almost quiting the sport, World Juniors in Beijing 2006, my parents, who have supported me in more ways than they possibly could, spent a large sum of money on a flight for me to chase the time in the AAI National Championships. When I failed to qualify I was massively dissappointed, even though I just ran a personal best and gained a bronze medal in the National Seniors.
My recent changes in attitude have lead to some great improvements in my running, attitude towards the sport, and general approach to achieving success. I decided to forget about chasing qualifying times, and setting limits. I believe anyone can set big goals; however, even the biggest goals can set limits to your potential. The only goal I aim for now, is to reach my full potential in everyway possible, sometimes this is very good, and allows me to push hard in training, and run up to 80 miles per week, but other times its hard work, when I am forced to rest or relax if I have small problems. I decided to search long term into the sport, believing everything else will fall into place, If you go about your business well, and make good choices not only during training 2 hours per day, but also the other 22 hours in the day. You will no longer need to set targets and goals, they will find you, recently any targets I had set for a session, race or season, seem to change daily. It is not a bad thing to set targets, or to have dreams, but I would encourage that you do everything you can to move forward. Every athlete needs to learn to respect how difficult athletics is as a sport, so many factors like Lifestyle, Nutrition, Medical support, and Coaching are essential for elite performances. Consistent training and lifestyle can change everything for you.
Having now been running since primary 6, I believe I have been competing for 12 years, this is a very long time but in running years its very small. In September, I attended St Marys University in Twickenham , my goals were simple, to learn from the established athletes around me. Through watching and experimenting I now have a lifestyle that allows for big improvements. I regularly run between 70-80 miles per week, I have averaged 65 miles for the last 2 years( that includes weeks of due to recuperation or injuries).
At the university I changed coach from Mick Woods, to Nick Anderson, and I am now training with a very experienced athlete Andy Vernon. We regularly take part in Drills sessions, Body weight core work, and General dynamic stretching. These are sessions that I had not included in my training before, and websites do have sample programs for other athletes to see. The biggest change is having company for most runs, and sessions making the hard work a lot easier. I would advise anyone who trains alone, to find company for steady and long runs, most athletes can run at the same pace for these. Training didn't change dramatically at the university, mileage stayed the same, and runs became slower, sessions where longer, and tempos where introduced weekly, the amount of Threshold training I did each week went up to almost 60 minutes on some weeks. I believe this training is neglected by many athlete's and it has been a key ingredient to my improvements.
My ex coach Damien Gill, used to follow a program closely linked to what I do now, he encouraged myself and other North Belfast Harries to get a Vo2 max test which would help are training, after 6 weeks of threshold blocks with Damian I was 2nd in the Schools Internatial, (2005). I am still very stubborn and believe if I had continued this threshold training, I would be a much stronger athlete now.
I have some races set up for the next few weeks, including a 1500m on Wednesday 19th May, this can hopefully set me up for a fast 5000m in Manchester BMC, the Commonwealth Games standard is a fast 13.40.00, I can only hope training goes well, and the race is fast. I have also committed to racing a fast 10k race on track in June or July, and I will have a chance to run under the standard of 28.45.00. It would be a great achievement to recieve either; however, I believe I have done everything possible to run fast, and if I run slower than either of the times, Im sure I will still be happy and learn from the results. I try to analyse most of my races now, and if I have a good race I try to pinpoint any changes that lead to the improvements, and also look at further changes that could lead to better results in the future Sometimes too much pressure is put on reaching times each year, but if you continue to improve each year, the times you ran last year become irrelevant. The challenge most athletes are faced with is staying positive and not quiting one of the hardest sports there is.
Feel free to follow my results and training on Twitter, remember to live each day trying to improve your performances, for every good decision you make in your life daily, all the percentages will add up. A change in lifestyle and attitude towards the sport can create huge improvements, follow your dreams and good luck.
Monday, 17 May 2010
I went for my first run 20 years ago. I was 13 and it was the summer before I was to start eighth grade at Harrington Elementary School, in Harrington, Maine, USA.
On Sunday April 25, with two decades of running behind me, I completed the London Marathon in 2 hours, 41 minutes and 45 seconds. This time qualifies me for the US Olympic Marathon Trials, which are scheduled for January 14, 2012 in Houston. The qualifying time for the US Trials is sub-2 hours, 46 minutes. Runners have between January 2010 and December 2011 to qualify. The first three finishers in the Trials race make the US Olympic Team.
I’ve been running for Abbey AC in Belfast and Newtownabbey since 2006. I’ve lived in Ireland pretty much full-time since I first arrived in 1999 to start graduate school, but I’m not yet eligible for either Irish or British citizenship.
Especially since 2008, I’ve really benefitted from the support of Athletics Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland running community, returning to a level of training similar to what I did under Coach Ray Treacy at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, USA (1995-1999).
London was the third marathon that I have trained properly for. I ran London in April 2009 in 2.47.53, and Amsterdam in October 2009 in 2.46.46. For a period of seven years between 2000 and 2007, I had a chronic pain condition that prevented me from running seriously – even though I was a member of Dundrum South Dublin AC and scored for the club on three occasions when we won the National Inter Clubs cross country championships. I had a lot of pulsing and throbbing in various parts of my body, as if my nervous system wasn’t working quite right.
This was hard for me, because I loved competing. During that time I was completing a doctorate in Politics at University College Dublin. In 2006 I got a job lecturing in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin at Belfast (on the Antrim Road). That’s where I still work.
In 2007, not long after I returned to Northern Ireland from doing research in Zimbabwe, my pain condition (which no regular doctors or sports doctors had ever really been able to explain), started to gradually get better. In 2008 I married an Irishman, Brian O’Neill, and he and his family have been a great support to me. It especially helps to have a husband and mother-in-law who are good cooks and ready to feed you after a long run!
For my marathons, I have devised my own training schedules and taken advice from my coach at Providence College, Ray Treacy, and North Belfast Harriers veteran Matt Shields, one of the fastest marathoners ever from Northern Ireland. Irish Olympian Maria McCambridge of Letterkenny AC, who was my teammate both at Providence College and in DSD, has also always been supportive and offered a useful perspective on training.
London 2010: Running the Race …
Because of my experience in the two marathons in 2009, I knew I was close to the Olympic Trials qualifying standard and I knew what to expect in the race itself. If you are trying to race a marathon, it is inevitable that you are going to experience a great deal of pain for much longer than is normal in other races.
I had been doing good long runs with some of the top marathon runners from NBH, and judging from my performances in workouts and races I thought it was reasonable to try and run 6.10 per mile pace from the start. My first two miles were right on target, but then I went a little faster than I should have! I went through halfway in 1:19:55, about a minute faster than I had planned for that stage.
That’s not a huge misjudgement for a marathon. But in my previous races I’d gone out in roughly 1.21.30 so I was concerned that it would all fall apart. By 16 miles it was becoming increasingly difficult to hold the pace. I knew that I had to relax and concentrate on running one mile at a time. To think that there were still more than ten miles to go would be overwhelming! At every mile mark, I tried to add 6 minutes and 10 seconds to the time on the clock, so that I had an overall time goal to be shooting for at the next mile marker.
Back in high school, my coach Ric Lamoureux had said it was important to relax in races. He tried to get me to smile as I was running by him, as smiling relaxes the muscles in your face. If your face is relaxed, then the relaxation can spread more easily to your neck, shoulders, and all the way down to your legs. So I tried to smile – although it probably looked more like a grimace of pain.
When I turned the final corner in the race, to run down the mall, I could see the time on the clock ahead and my overwhelming emotion was relief. I knew I would finish well inside the qualifying standard and I was happy that I’d soon be meeting up with my husband, friends, and runners from North Belfast to enjoy the accomplishment.
Next Steps …
Leading up to the Trials, I hope to keep running marathons. I plan on running the Dublin Marathon this autumn, and competing well there for Abbey since the Dublin Marathon is also the AAI National Marathon Championships.
I ran about 70 miles a week in preparation for the London Marathon. I know that mileage total puts me on the low end for women who will be competing in the US Trials, but that is simply the level that I’ve been able to build back up to after my seven-year hiatus and also while working a full-time job. To put it in perspective, the top women marathoners in the world routinely run more than 100 miles in a week. I read recently that Kara Goucher, one of the leading American marathoners, is four months pregnant but still running 70 miles per week!
Before my previous two marathons in 2009, I averaged 60 and 55 miles per week. 55-60 miles per week would have been my normal training load during most of my years in Providence, training for cross country and the 10,000 on the track.
I’m excited, though, because I think there’s a lot I can do in the next few years to keep improving. Apart from taking advice from experienced coaches and runners, I would also read a reasonable amount about training and I have found the letsrun.com website and books by Matt Fitzgerald especially helpful.
I think that after every training cycle you can find something in your preparation that you could have done better, whether it is drills to improve stride efficiently, using hills more strategically, or adding core stability exercises.
But what I’m most excited about is that I am able to run again. I’ll treasure every step, and every smile, on the road to Houston.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
It’s not every day you see an elephant on the equivalent of the West Link!!
Well this was exactly what I did see when I traveled to Delhi with a number of NI Commonwealth Coaches to see the facilities for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in October. The information gathering trip included presentations from the organising committee on various aspects such as catering, transport and of course detail of the various competitions and a visit to the stadia.
The city is full of activity getting ready for the Games with Delhi under going a face lift for the October event. Millions of pounds have been spent on the facilities and the athletes village is starting to take shape. The athletics stadium is in the process of having a major face lift and will be an impressive venue.
It’s now 152 days to the start of the Games and the Indian authorities are certainly putting in the resources to make the event special. The Games will add to the already vibrant and busy city.
It’s also the start of the Athletics season and it won’t be long before the athletes will be posting performances hoping for selection.
The vibrant city of New Delhi, home to 14 million people, will host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. This will be the first time India has hosted the Games and only the second time the event has been held in Asia. The dates for the Games are 3 - 14 October 2010.
The Athletics Northern Ireland team for the Commonwealth Games will consist of a maximum of 10 athletes (inclusive of IPC athletes). The number finally selected will be at the discretion of the ANI selection committee and subject to approval by the Commonwealth Games Council.
Visit the NI Commonwealth Games Section
Jackie McKernan, Athletics NI High Performance Manager & Team Manager for Commonwealth Games (Athletics)