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: http://www.track-ni.org/ 

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 http://www.niathletics.org/ in the New Year!