Hello, and thanks to everyone who continues to read the column. So, as I near the end of my three month spell in Iten, Kenya, it’s time to start planning the rest of the summer seasons activities.
First things first, a little bit of shameless self promotion! I’m currently unemployed, so all ideas or offers are greatly appreciated! On a more serious note, I won’t have much time to hold down a full-time job once I get back, as I’ll be straight into a heavy, and hopefully successful, track season.
Planning a season’s racing is a difficult thing to do. It’s an even harder thing to get right. Unlike almost every team sport, whether you’re playing for your local hurling club or playing intercounty GAA, most of your season’s games are scheduled for you.
You can certainly have some say in when and where you play your practice matches, but in athletics you can pick and choose when and where you want to run all year round. If you’re a fun runner that’s great, as you can run with your friends and family and support local races, and even run for charities, raising lots of cash in the process.
The season ahead of me is somewhat different. I have to run certain qualifying times in order to make certain major championships. The first major championship of the summer is the European Outdoor Championships in Helsinki. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a target of mine to represent Portlaoise AC and Ireland at the Europeans.
In order to run the qualifying times a few things need to be in order. Firstly, I have to be in very good shape, and injury free. That’s not a problem. Secondly, I have to get into the ‘right’ race. That’s easier said than done. For instance, the qualifying times I have to run are as follows;
A Standard - 3:39.50; B Standard - 3:41.40
A Standard - 13:38.00; B Standard - 13:40.00
A Standard - 28:35.00; B Standard - 28:55.00
There has not been a race as fast as any of those times in Ireland for some time now; in fact I can’t remember there ever being a race as fast as any of the ‘A’ standard times. That means in order to increase my chances of getting the qualifying times, I need to select races with designated pacemakers and good reputations as being fast.
The reason there are two standards is as follows; if one or more athletes, up to a maximum of three, achieve the ‘B’ standard they can be sent to the championships. This is the same rule for athletes achieving the ‘A’ standard. However, if one athlete gets the ‘A’ standard and two get the ‘B’ standard, only the athlete achieving the ‘A’ standard will be sent to the championships.
I will run over many different distances during the season - 1500m, 1 mile, 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m. Running a race where you’re pushing your body to its absolute limit from the start is very difficult. As a result you can’t really afford to have too many bad days.
If I was a sprinter and running over no more than 200m, I can always try another race tomorrow or the day after or next weekend. However, running 3000m and above takes so much out of your body it’s almost impossible to get the best from yourself without taking a few easy days after each race, and even a few weeks between races.
Picking which races to do and which ones not to do is obviously an important part of the pre-season planning. Not having lots and lots of really high quality track races in Ireland means that athletes in my position have to travel abroad to try and achieve those qualifying times.
This time of the year sees Irish athletes travel as far as Australia and the West Coast of America in order to try and get an early qualifying time. Moving to Kenya and staying here for three months ruled that out for me, and so I now have to try and get the qualifying times in close succession, and most of my races will be in the UK and Europe.
Planning the logistics for such a season can also take some time. My first race is in Manchester and I will hopefully run a Personal Best over 1500m. The races in this particular stadium are always fast, and the meet itself usually attracts good athletes, which helps to make the races faster.
From Manchester I’ll next race over 5000m in Brussels. This race has been set up for athletes like me to get the qualifying time for the European Championships. Having a race specifically for athletes to get a certain time gives you, as the athlete, a certain amount of confidence in the race. On the night you still need a lot of things to fall into place. To run a fast 5000m time the weather needs to be good, you also have to avoid being tripped, which happened to me last year, and you obviously need to have your tactics right on the night. Missing a break and falling off the target pace for even one lap can mean your chances of getting the time are gone.
Hopefully the first two races will go according to plan, which will certainly give me more confidence before my third race. I have often run over 200km in a week, and more times than I care to remember I have run up to and over 25km in one go, but I have never raced over 10,000m on a track.
The distance, 25 laps, will not be a problem. As with all races, it’s the speed that kills. Never having raced over 25 laps makes me a little apprehensive, but in order to get the required qualifying time I will have to commit early in the race to a fast pace or miss the time. Missing the qualifying time in this race would certainly mean the end to running anymore 10,000m races this season, as it’s so long and there are only so many you can ask your body to do.
If everything goes according to plan, I hope to run personal best times in all three races, and hopefully that puts me close enough to the qualifying time.
Thanks for reading, and do get in touch with any comments or questions you might have.
Read Dan’s exclusive column first every Wednesday in the Leinster Express