Northern Ireland Running

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Runner Profiles:  Put names to those faces you see week in, week out!

Every few weeks we will feature a different runner in our 'Runner Profile' section.  This will range from someone who has just taken up the sport, right through to the most talented runners Northern Ireland has to offer.  We will ask each runner a few questions, so that you can find out a little about them, their interests and their plans for the future.  We will also list each runners personal bests for the distances they have raced.  If there are any runners you would like us to feature, please feel free to let us know.  If you would like to have your profile here, please contact us.  Enjoy...........!

Runner Profiles available below are (from top to bottom):  Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC), David Seaton (North Down AC), Laura Graham (Unattached), Susan McCartney (BARF), James Trainor (Dub Runners), Iain Whiteside (Carnethy HRC), Maeve-Francoise Lavery (Dub Runners), Jennifer Black (Orangegrove AC), Ryan Stewart (Dundee Hawkhill Harriers and Larne AC), Gemma Turley (Springwell Running Club), Matthew Nicholson (Run Armagh), James Brown (City of Derry AC), Francis Marsh (North Down AC), Judith Lonnen (City of Lisburn AC), Aislinn Crossey (Newry AC), Julie Balmer (North Down AC), Karen Alexander (Sperrin Harriers), Mark Walker (Unattached), Shileen O'Kane (Lagan Valley AC), Eddie McGinley (Annadale Striders), Keith Shiels (Foyle Valley AC), Nigel McKibbin (Dromore AC), Conor Bradley (City of Derry AC), Jessica Craig (North Down AC), Hazel McLaughlin (Lagan Valley AC), Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC), David O'Brien (Sperrin Harriers), Patricia O'Hagan (St Peter's AC), Thomas Leitch (Orangegrove AC), David Gamble (Seapark AC), Kerry Harty (Newcastle AC), Glenn Donnelly (Sperrin Harriers), Connor Magill (North Belfast Harriers), David O'Flaherty (Newcastle AC), Ben McKeown (Ballymena & Antrim AC) and Ryan Maxwell (Larne AC).

Runner Profile:  Zak Hanna

Our latest 'Runner Profile' is a young man who has burst onto the running scene and made a huge impression throughout 2016.  Newcastle AC's Zak Hanna has achieved in one year what many of us would aim to achieve in a full running career - his selection for both Ireland and Northern Ireland has shown the level of interest his performances have received.

Despite an incredible breakthrough year, there is still a lot more to come from the former cyclist... and he certainly has the talent and ambition to perform at the highest level.  

Full Name:   Zak Hanna

Current Category:  Male Open / Under 23

Associated Club:  Newcastle AC

Personal Bests (for the distances you've raced):  5k - 16:12, 10k - 34:04, 5 miles - 26:46

Given that a large percentage of your racing is in the mountains, where personal bests are not really the focus, tell us what you would consider to be your top three performances in the mountains?  That's a hard one - I would have to say my best three performances would have to be winning the Irish trial race for the World Mountain Running Championships, coming third and finishing under the Hour in the Slieve Donard race and finishing 4th in the Under 23 category at the Trofeo Vanoni mountain relay race. 


What is your favourite race in Northern Ireland?  Slieve Donard race is definitely my favourite. It was my first time racing it this year and it was class going up and down the mountain and finishing in Newcastle town centre. My body took a real hiding that day with a few spills on the descent but I loved every minute of it, even the Black Stairs!  Because this is part of the Hill and Dale series it's class to see the crowds gathering in Newcastle during the race, and it makes for a great story telling non-runners that you can run up and down the biggest mountain in Northern Ireland in under an hour!

How did you first get into running?  I originally came from a cycling background and I lost interest in it during December 2015, I had read a lot about the Hill and Dales in the local paper and with the persuasion of different people to take up running I made the decision to hang up my wheels and start running on Christmas Day 2015; haven't looked back since!

This year (2016), you made your international running debut, representing both Northern Ireland and Ireland.  How did this make you feel? Very surprised, when I started I was looking to get a year over me to learn the ropes but when I got my first call up for Northern Ireland for the British Inter-Counties in Wales I really got into it and ended up racing at Snowdon for NI and gaining selection to run for Ireland at the World Mountain Running Championships and at the Trofeo Vanoni. I enjoy travelling to different countries so fingers crossed next year I'll have a few more trips away. Beats work any day of the week!

Where you happy with your performances on the international stage?  For my first season running yes, when I finished 14th at Snowdon from near 550 runners I was delighted at getting that result against a quality field, and finishing first NI runner home was nice as well. Earning selection for the Worlds was a shock when I won the trial race, and but it has made me hungry for more and I want to do more on the international stage in the future. 4th Under 23 at the Trofeo Vanoni finished off the mountain season nicely, it was my first International placing and I'm hoping it won't be my last.

You seem to run well over every type of terrain, do you have a preference on what sort of terrain you like to compete on?  I love the mountains by a mile. Nothing beats racing up and down mountains, whether it be the Mournes or somewhere in Europe. I love the freedom they give you and the views they can give you at the top. I enjoy trail races as well, but when it comes to road I'm not a fan but I do them to help get some speed in the legs!

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My next race is the Irish Cross Country Championships in Abbotstown next Sunday, which is also a trial race for the Irish team for the European Cross Country Championships. Hopefully I can take something from it and have a good race against the best cross country runners in Ireland.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  It's hard to beat a good hills session. I live in a hilly area, and I'm a big fan of training on Slieve Croob in County Down which is the mountain I live beside. It's roughly a 9-10 climb for me and during my training for the Worlds I was doing 4-5 reps of the service road to the top, which have me near 12 miles and near 1000m of climbing from my house.  Newcastle AC's Tuesday night sessions are brilliant as it's good to get a speed session in with a group which helps push you that bit harder as there's a competitive element to it, plus it's a good laugh.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  For a pre-race meal the night before a race it's a tie between pasta, chicken and bacon or a Ribeye steak with sweet potato fries. Breakfast is a tie between porridge or Nutella and toast washed down by a few espressos.  Post race meal depends on how I'm feeling, it's a normally a see-food diet, I see food, I eat it!

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  With this season being my first ever in running I like to say that all my achievements are special; but my top ones would have to be:

- Representing Ireland at the World Mountain Running Championships in Bulgaria

- 14th in the Snowdon International race

- 3rd in the Slieve Donard classic race

- Winning my first ever race at the Castlewellan 10k

Your still young, so looking more long-term, what do you hope to achieve in your running career?  I want to be as successful as I can in this great sport; there are so many opportunities out there and I hope to make the most of them whilst I'm still young.  I've a list of things I want to achieve in running; but I'm generally just wanting to be the best I can be and hope that brings with it different accolades. I'd love a big result in a World Championship race but these type of results don't come easy, so it's the hard work I do behind the scenes that will help me!

Do you like any other sports aside from cycling and running? 

When I'm not running I'm enjoy getting out for a spin on my horse. I enjoy showjumping and cross country, I've grew up with horses all my life and it's good to get out to keep the mind fresh from all the training and racing. I'm a member of Mossvale Riding Club and have jumped in NI Championship events for them in the past.  I like football as well and like to play during the week when I'm free (which isn't very often) with a few ones from Dromara which is good craic too.

Runner Profile:  David Seaton

Our latest ‘Runner Profile’ is a man everyone will recognise, regardless of the length of time they have been running.  Athletics NI Chairman David Seaton can be found at pretty much every event – if he’s not ‘directing’ proceedings, he’ll be running or providing support to those competing.

David, the long-time Race Director and newly appointed Chairman of Belfast City Marathon has been involved in our great sport for the guts of 60 years and has won Northern Ireland Championships medals at Youth, Junior, Senior and Veteran levels, as well as representing Northern Ireland as a Marathon runner and also in Track & Field (3,000 metres Steeplechase).  

On top of this, the North Down AC man has managed the Northern Ireland World Championships XC team on three occasions (Rome - Italy 1982, Lisbon - Portugal 1985 and Warsaw - Poland 1987).

This is just some of the qualities that make up the legend that is Davie Seaton… enjoy our ‘Runner Profile’.


Full Name:   David Seaton

Current Category:   Male Veteran 70+

Associated Club:  North Down Athletic Club (previously with North Belfast Harriers)

Personal Bests:  3000 metres (Track) – 8:36, 5000 metres (Track) – 14:56, 10000 metres (Track) – 32:16, 3000 metres Steeplechase – 9:31, 10k (Road) – 31:32, 10 miles (Road) – 52:38, Half Marathon – 1:09:48, Marathon – 2:31:26


What is your favourite race in Northern Ireland?  I always enjoy the NI Senior Cross Country Championships irrespective of where they are held. Up until 1987 each of the Home Countries were able to enter teams for the World Cross Country Championships and this event acted at the trial race. Competition was always fierce and exciting as all athletes wanted to earn a place on the NI team.  Unfortunately there is now only one team representing GB & NI so no local athletes have been included, though some do make the Ireland squad.  Although the 'carrot' of International selection is no longer there via this race, I still have a 'soft spot' for the event and look forward to each year as it tends to throw up a few surprises.


You have made a strong reputation within the local running community, with long and successful career as a runner, your work with Athletics NI and also your work as Race Director of various high profile events. What do you enjoy about running and being involved in various aspects of the sport?  I derive great satisfaction in helping to deliver major events, whether it be the International Cross Country at Greenmount, the Belfast City Marathon, Titanic 10K or, in previous years, the spectacular meetings at the Mary Peters Track where we were able to attract such world stars as Steve Ovett, Zola Budd, Dave Moorcroft, Steve Cram, Linford Christie,  John Regis and Ed Moses.  I find being part of the 'delivery team' very rewarding and tend to look forward to the next challenge.


Also over the years I have very much enjoyed seeing new people enter our sport and watching their progress.  Some entrants like Paul Lawther, Mark Forsythe, Paul Pollock, Eddie McGinley and Katie Kirk you know right away will be very good athletes but there are others who, by sheer hard work and commitment, you feel will do well.  At the moment Mark McKinstry is an athlete in point who, under the guidance of Gregory Walsh, is developing well and going in the right direction.  I will watch with interest what the next few years bring for him athletically.


How did you first get into running?  As long as I can remember I always enjoyed running.  My first athletic competition was in 1955 when I ran in the Belfast Primary Schools Sports and also, in the same year, the Belfast Cub & Scout Sports.  I first competed under ANI (then NIAAA) rules as a 13 year old running for RBAI (Inst) in the 1958 Boys Cross Country Championships at Dundonald.  At this time I was also playing either football or rugby on a Saturday morning but at that age it was not uncommon to take on two or three different sporting challenges in the same day.  In 1959 I finished 5th in the All Ireland Boys Cross Country Countryship and this modest success probably helped take me along the athletics route rather than the football one which was then my first love.


You recently represented Northern Ireland at the British & Irish Masters XC in Dublin – How do you feel this went?  Interestingly, your daughter, Jodi Smith was also part of the NI Masters team at the British & Irish International; it’s not often that a father and daughter can claim to have represented their country as part of the same squad at the same event.  This must have been memorable?  I really enjoyed the trip particularly as Jodi made the female team and we were in the same race.  Thanks primarily to a great run by my good friend Gerry Lynch we claimed 3rd place in the Over 70 team race so I didn't go home empty handed.  Unfortunately Jodi was not so fortunate but I'm sure her day will come! Interestingly there were three parent/child partnerships that day on the Northern Ireland team as Pauline Thom/Brigid Quinn and Stephen & Barry Morris also competed.  Quite unique really.


You run well over every type of terrain, do you have a preference on what sort of terrain you like to compete on?  In the past I really had no preference but as you get older it becomes more difficult to lift your legs out of the mud so currently I tend to favour races on the road, provided they are not too far.


What is your next race and what do you want from it?  Presently I am injured so I'm not quite sure when I will be back competing.  I suspect therefore, if and when I return, it will be at a Parkrun as running in these events gives you an indication of your fitness level following injury or illness.


What is your favourite training 'session'?  Whilst I was a member of North Belfast Harriers I used to enjoy summer evening runs over the Cave Hill. We had a great team then which won many major races including the Northern Ireland Senior Cross Country Championship.  Mike Teer, Dessie Martin, Roy Kernaghan, Kevin McCormick, Billy Thompson etc were in the training pack and no prisoners were taken.  There was little time for chat or conversation so an undulating 10 miles was often covered in under an hour.  After I moved to live in Bangor the geography was slightly different with hills not as plentiful so I think my most enjoyable sessions were fairly fast runs around the coast between Ballyholme and Crawfordsburn.


What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I've been a vegetarian for over 50 years now so tend to have toast, fruit juice and herbal tea before a race.  Afterwards I always enjoy a few pints of Guinness but don't have a favourite meal.


What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  On the competing side I think my 3rd place in the 1978 Lisburn Cup in Newry was a fairly good run.  I ran 31.32 to finish just behind the great Danny McDaid and Welsh International and Army champion 'Taff' Davies on a day when everything just seemed to click.  A few months later I won the Northern Ireland 5000 metres track title at the Mary Peters Track beating Rodney Stone up the finishing straight in 14:56.  This victory pleased me too.


In 1965 I placed 3rd in the Northern Ireland Junior Cross Country Championship (now Intermediate) behind my North Belfast club mate Mike Teer and David Nixon of Queens University.  North won the team race that day with 57 points and had all their six scoring runners in the first 22 positions (1, 3, 7, 10, 14, 22).  That was a pleasing result for both me and the club.  Overall though I think my 57 years unbroken service in the sport would be my greatest achievement!


Do you like any other sports aside from running?  I follow quite a few other sports particularly football and boxing.  My first sporting 'success' came in football when in 1956 I was part of the Strandtown team which won the Primary Schools Cup and the Oval beating Orangefield 3-2.  The same year I captained the Belfast Cubs team against the Dublin cubs.  What, however, stands out in my mind was not the game which we won, but the fact that I had to make a post-match speech at the dinner.  My first speech in public so quite daunting at 10 years of age.


I have followed the Northern Ireland soccer team at Windsor Park since 1956 and rarely miss a home match other than when athletics duties take precedence.  I have many happy teenage memories of standing in the old Spion Kop watching the likes of Harry Gregg, Danny Blanchflower, Peter McParland, Wilbur Cush and Jimmy McIlroy perform.  Later on they were replaced by Pat Jennings, George Best, Keith Gillespie and Sammy McIlroy.  Lets hope France 2016 gives us something to be excited about again.


Boxing was always a favourite spectator sport for me and I can still recall watching such great  local fighters such as Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell at the Kings Hall.  Later on we had some good boxers like Jim McCann, Hughie Russell & Dave Larmour and I often attended and enjoyed their bouts either here or at the Ulster Hall.

Runner Profile:  Laura Graham

In June this year (2015), I was at the Lisburn Half Marathon (and 10k).  After an enjoyable three years of performing NiRunning duties I would like to think that I can pretty much pick out podium finishers and recognise them immediately as they cross the line.  That sunny evening, given the competitive ladies field - to be honest - I was surprised to see an unfamiliar face secure third place.  So, I approached said athlete and asked, “could I get your name please?”… “Laura Graham” was the reply!

Usually in this situation, subsequent conversation would reveal that the unknown podium finisher would be an athlete home for the summer, or someone visiting – not this time.  It turned out that Laura is from Kilkeel in County Down and is new to the local running scene.  That evening, as I spoke with Laura, it was obvious that she did not comprehend how good her performance was, or what she had achieved – all she went out to do was ‘push herself’.  It was clear to me at that stage that we would hear a lot more about Laura Graham!  

Since then, she (Laura) has achieved a lot, securing victories at several Born 2 Run and 26extreme events (amongst others), but most importantly, the down to earth, humble athlete secured an NI & Ulster silver medal at the recent Belfast City Half Marathon.  There is SO much more to come from this young lady, but for now… let’s see what Laura has to say!

Full Name:  Laura Graham

Current Category:  Female Open

Associated Club:  Unattached 

Personal Bests:  5 miles - 31:39, 10k – 37:03, Half Marathon – 1:21:27 and Marathon – 3:19:00 

What is your favourite running event in Northern Ireland?  I actually really enjoyed the Belfast City Marathon.  It was back when I started running in 2014 – I decided to do it for Chest, Heart & Stroke as it is a charity close to my heart.  My father had a heart attack and other close family members have suffered strokes.  I have to say though, I enjoy every event! 

When did you start running?  I started running in 2014.  I only really started training for Belfast City Marathon last February or March, when I finally decided I would do it.  From there, the running bug just took over and I am really enjoying it.

Why do you run?  I run as I enjoy it and it makes me feel good, with being a busy mum of four young kids, a wife, and working part-time, it helps to clear my mind and silly as it sounds, it is a great workout which can be done in half the time other exercises take.  This suits me as I have so many other things on as well.

You have only recently 'burst onto the scene' with great performances at the Lisburn Half Marathon, the Born 2 Run Sea 2 Sky 10k and the 26 extreme Mini-Marathon?  These were impressive runs, what would you put these down too?  In all honesty, I can’t really put this down to anything other than determination to try my best and with great support from my family, husband and kids - they are the reason I keep going!

You have a young family, do you find it hard to find the time to train? Would you have any advice for other running mums looking to get back into to the sport/return to training?  Yes, at times I do find it hard to get the training fitted in, especially with working and school runs etc and now with the darker evenings setting in it will be increasingly difficult.  However, thanks to my understanding family network and having a treadmill at home, I can get running regularly.  It’s hard to give mums advice as every family has different circumstances, but I would recommend running to any mum who is looking to get back into training.  In my opinion, it takes less time than gym would and if out with buggy, you can jog and build it up to a run - it definitely is a great way to switch off or unwind

What does a typical week's training involve for you?  I would try running twice during the week, roughly 10k at a time.  I also love walking with the kids also and I do like going on treadmill and bike a few times a week, although nothing is ever set in stone as every day is different.  Over the last couple of months I have been racing maybe once a week as well.  I’m going to have to up the mileage soon as I have entered Dublin Marathon.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I don’t really have a set, or infact favourite training session – I just fit in sessions whenever I can. 

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My next goal race will be Dublin Marathon in October.  I would like to beat 3:19:00, but I know I haven’t done the mileage and with the darker evenings setting in, it’s going to be tougher to run after work.

As an athlete who races and performs well over a variety of terrain, do you have a preference?  I actually don’t have a favourite, I like running on all terrain and like a change.  Different terrain offers different challenges, I like that!

You are not presently attached to an affiliated running club, do you see this changing any time soon?  I haven’t really given a lot of thought to this as yet, as it could be hard for me to commit to set training nights/session. Although, the more races I do the more I think I should join a club as I could do with advice from others.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  My favourite pre-race meals would be pasta and vegetables, or rice and post-race would definitely be Chinese takeaway.  Sometimes, the night before races, my diet wouldn’t be my strong point! 

What is your running ambition?  As a new runner, all I want to do is push myself as far as I can go to make my family proud.

Runner Profile:  Susan McCartney

Our latest 'Runner Profile' is a ultra-distance runner, an athlete who has built and maintained a strong reputation for pushing herself to the limit (and beyond it) each and every time she takes to the start line – Susan McCartney.

Susan, a Malawi born Northern Ireland athlete who now lives in England, has won several AAI National 24 hour Championship medals and claimed victory in some of NI’s toughest races, including the Mourne Way Marathon.  Last month, Susan made her international debut, representing Ireland at the World 24 hour Championships in Turin, Italy.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Susan last week…

Full Name:  Susan Mary McCartney

Current Category:  Ladies Vet35

Associated Club:  BARF (Belfast Association of Rock Climbers and Fell Runners)

Given the fact that you are an ultra and mainly an off-road runner, we’ll not dig too far into personal bests as such, but tell me some of your favourite races and your current course bests for them; 

·         Belfast City Marathon - 3:22:39

·         The Mourne Way Ultra (52 miles) - 9:13:15

·         Hoka Highland Fling (53 miles) - 8:26:53

·         Energia Belfast 24 hour race - 122.5 miles

·         The North Downs Way (50 miles) - 8:19:57

·         UTMB CCC, France (101km) - 19:22:34

·         Mourne Skyline MTR (21 miles) - 06:09:05

What is your favourite race in Northern Ireland?  My favourite race in Northern Ireland is the Mourne Way Ultra-Marathon.

When did you start running? I started running back in school when I was about 10 or 11 years old, doing cross-country but stopped during my teenage years.  In University I messed up pretty badly, went off the rails and got into all sorts of things I wish I hadn’t, running was very, very far from the world I inhabited at the time.  After that there were some difficult years, eventually after my second baby was born (9 years ago) I took up running again just to loose weight and get fit. It was awful! I used to struggle round a 3 mile loop near the house in Belfast a couple of times a week hating it! But for some reason I stuck at it.

You have made a strong reputation for yourself in the ultra-running scene with notable performances at the Mourne Way Ultra and the Energia 24 hour race, amongst others.  What made you decide to move towards the ultra-distance events? When I started running again as an adult and as I built up some mileage I thought I would like to do a marathon. To me that was the ultimate in distance running.  An extreme challenge only to be attempted by the super fit.  I managed to build up to that and did the Belfast City Marathon a couple of times. Then in 2010 I read ‘Ultra Marathon Man’ by Dean Kernanzes and something really clicked with me. There was something so freeing about realising these limitations were in my mind – I could just keep going! For me it was like a moment of enlightenment because I realised that the mental attitudes and expressions that you use to define yourself in one area filter across into other areas of life.  So if your attitude to running is ‘I can’t’ that permeates everything. 

Until you are so bound up in your insecurities and inabilities that you become unable to do anything, afraid of change and restricted by boundaries that are all in you’re head! I started to run and as I struggled my way through longer and longer runs I was amazed at the effect it was having, not just on my body, but on my head! I was growing in confidence, because I was doing things that I previously thought were impossible. I was achieving something I had set my mind too and that was incredibly uplifting.  That confidence spread into other areas of life; relationships, I was more outgoing, more sure of myself; at work I was more assertive, more sure of myself, I was more fun with the kids, I had a zest for life that I had lost when I lived in the already-defeated-before-I-tried-state. 

I’ve been empowered by running – given a new lease of life, I love it.  And for that reason I would love to see more women in the sport giving it a go. I think so many of us get stuck in a rut, life sweeps on with its pressures and anxieties and it’s so easy to think you ‘can’t’.  But so incredibly empowering and uplifting when you do that thing you thought was impossible.

Why do you run?  Hard question and I think I might have partly answered it above because it has empowered me and made me a better person. Running has been my saviour from a life lived badly. I’ve been purged in its pain and lifted by its highs. I run to be fit, I run to de-stress, I run to see new things or the same things in new ways. I run because it’s an adventure. I run because it brings vibrancy and interest in to my life. I run because when I don’t I’m irritable and difficult to live with. 

I run because it gives me space to be alone and also to build friendships with people. I run to get out into the fresh air and out into the countryside or up into the hills. I run to explore. I run because I like the challenge it brings, I like to push myself. I run to clear my mind and also to think things through. I run because it feels like I've found a niche somewhere I belong. I run to be engaged in life not just a spectator. I run because I want to be in the ring scarred and bloodied and trying-failing often but still trying; rather than on the sidelines timid, safe but only half alive. I run because I'm inspired to do so, by so many bitter sweet stories of challenge and failure and triumph. I run to reach those emotional highs and even the deep lows. I run to face my weaknesses and failures and keep moving forward.  I run because I love it and the feeling of strength it brings. But not only that; I run because it is hard and demanding and painful and at times I hate it but there is something about pushing yourself that is so ultimately rewarding. And now I run because its part of who I am and I can’t imagine life without it.

In 2011, during what was possibly your first at a 24 hour race (?), you collapsed after 12 hours, but returned to complete 86 miles.  I can't help but feel that any 'normal' person (in the nicest possible way) would have pulled out of the event in that situation - what made you return and finish!?  Do you believe that that desire is important in long distance races? Yes 2011 was my first 24 hour race. Yes I collapsed, lost consciousness and was in a pretty rough state for a few hours. I thought my race was over. But 24 hours is such a long, long time and when I stopped and started to come round a bit I realised there was still hours and hours still left for running. There seemed no reason not to start moving again, so I did.

To answer the second part of your question desire is probably the most important element of ultra running. I firmly believe anyone that wants to can run big distances – you just build up to it. Believe me, if I can anyone can!! If you want to and that’s the key, if you don’t want it you’ll just stop, or you’ll not do the training. But if you want to do it – you will. It’s a hugely mental process, especially in the training. Race day is a buzz and you are with people and its easy to want it then; but keeping that desire and focus through the long, dark, cold, wet winter days of training on your own can be hard. 

You recently represented Ireland at the World 24 hour Championships in Turin?  Tell us about that! That was an incredible experience.  I felt so honoured to represent Ireland and be part of a world event. The Irish team were wonderful and welcoming.  I shared a room with Ruthann (my hero) and Eoin Keith entertained us with stories about his adventures and races all over the world. There was an opening ceremony, colorful and bizarre in parts; we paraded behind our flags.  We were cheered by an audience!! There was a bus laid on to take us from the hotel to the stadium! We got team kit. Turin is really called Torino!

Sharing a track with people I’d heard about like Robbie Britton and Florian Reus was exciting.  And seeing people push themselves so far is really incredible.  There is a sort of raw emotional energy from being involved with people who push themselves to the absolute limit; even watching it is incredibly powerful. So being part of it and seeing the amazing performances, like witnessing Ruthann run until she collapsed was inspiring and amazing.  Incredible! And there were many stories like that a real privilege and honour to be part of it.

There was a solitary Mongolian - no crew, no team just one runner on his own. The Italian Mayor who saved the event from being cancelled after the previous administration embezzling funds, thanked everyone with such warmness and humility and handed out sponges soaked in water in the heat of the day still in his dapper suit and smart shoes. Ruthann collapsing when running in bronze medal position and the heartbreak of that. Small crowds of spectators gathered at various points at various times who got behind you. The indescribable heaven of eating an ice-lolly while running in the heat. The ramp up. The ramp down. The 360-degree turn round a cone in the road. The sunshine, the happy times noticing the dappling shade under the trees and the heat of the stadium. Seeing your crew getting sunburnt over the course of too many hours in the sun. Having two men dress you in the middle of the night.  Those small human connections, a kind word, a smile, eye contact.  My brother’s voice on the phone.  Feeling loved in the darkness. 

Competing in a World Championship – yes, me - really! Dream come true.  And painfully, slowly, excruciatingly falling apart. The pain, you forget how much it hurts. Gutting it out. The slow descent into brokenness trying to run and unable to do so. The softly spoken kindness of Eddie the team captain, whom everyone knew and loved. Wanting to cry but smiling instead.  Salt encrusted face and clothes and cold drinks. The cool of the evening beneath the trees. The power going off in the night and the fire engine and the smoke from the nearby fire drifting across the track. Seeing some competitors carried off on a stretcher. The endless night the clock that never moved forward. Brokenness. The final sweet relief of stopping, all expectations over, finished. 

After the race everyone walked the same and fell asleep on the bus. Watching the award ceremony and getting emotional for those who had done so well and achieved so greatly. The way the medallist’s hobbled up to the podium and second and third helped the winner climb the steps up onto the top spot and their joy of the. These are some of my memories of the event it was a wonderful experience, I feel really lucky and privileged to have been there.

Where you happy with your performance (at the World 24 hour Championships)?  No. I really was not. I made some rookie mistakes – I went out too hard and I didn’t eat enough and I really fell apart in the second half of the race. I’ve made these exact same mistakes before and I’m so annoyed with myself for repeating them. It’s hard to judge. At world events like that, possibly the biggest race I’ll ever be part of you really want to do your ultimate best. I knew I was running fast at the start and part of my brain was saying ‘this is too fast, slow down’ but the other part was saying ‘well this is what you came to do, you trained for this, its in the plan (I had a plan of what pace to run at every hour and I stuck to it – until I couldn’t) and if you want to get those big mileages you need to try hard’.

I wasn’t going to turn up to a world event and run a cautious race, I was going to aim high and either I would succeed and it would be wonderful or I would blow up and it would be awful and that is in fact what happened. The eating part – I wasn’t on top of it. I thought I was but I needed to have been more meticulous, maybe had a printed out timetable of what to eat at what time to help out the crew that were supporting me. 

We got into the confusing situation where they were offering me food every lap. So I was trying to work out when I'd last eaten and what time I should eat again and in my tired race addled brain (which is not good at Math’s at the best if times!)  I got confused and went for several hours (at various times) without eating and ran out of power -that's what it felt like someone unplugged the battery I was totally drained. 

The lack of energy affected me mentally and I got into a very black place. In all Ultra’s you go through highs and lows but this was something very black.  I’ve been in that place before and eating, getting some energy in the system, has always been the way out, but again in my tired state my brain didn’t catch on and I just struggled on zombie shuffle – pretty terrible.  So I’m very disappointed with that performance and more then that I was really ashamed to be representing Ireland and performing so appallingly badly. I wanted to do the team right make them glad they chose me – but sheesh – I was just awful, and let them down badly.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I might do the Mourne Way Ultra at the start of June – I love that race. I love being in the Mournes and I love coming back home. It will depend on how my recovery goes and whether I will have built up enough fitness again and enough hills. Then hopefully all being well I would like to do the Belfast 24 hour. Put right the mistakes I made in Turin and try and get a bigger distance at least get over the 200km mark and exorcise the demons from the last very negative race in Turin.

When training for shorter endurance events it's normal to train up to, or very close to the goal distance.  Obviously 24-hour events are different - tell us some key training sessions you implemented to prepare for the 24 hour World Championships?  I was lucky enough to have Ian Corless coaching me.  My wonderful, generous, super-fantastic family clubbed together and got me coaching sessions with him as a Christmas present – best Christmas present ever! His training was very focussed, so I did several key sessions that mimicked race conditions. I had to run at race pace in laps round the roads near the house, eating regularly as I would on race day. And following the race plan which involved breaking up the 24 hour block into 6 blocks of 4 hours and having 3 hours 45 minutes of running at a set pace followed by 15 minutes of walking.  I did several key sessions like this starting with 4 hours, 6 hours and the longest one was 8 hours. Any longer would have required too long a recovery period to make it worthwhile.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  My comfort zone is long slow distance, which I’ve had to challenge recently to try and build up a bit more speed in my legs. I love being on the trails and in the hills, unfortunately where I live at the moment is very flat so it doesn’t happen so much.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Chips! (post race).  Pre-race meals tend to be breakfast (when your ultra running it is often an early start) – so usually coffee and toast! That question has made me wonder if I should be putting more thought into pre and post race meals!

During ultra-distance events, nutrition is vital - do you have a specific 'in-race' fuelling strategy?  I’m still working this out, still trying to find out what works best for me.  For shorter races gels definitely work but they tend to make me sick.  For 24 hour events I try to start with solid food.  Eating some fats and some protein in the first half of the race.  The second half becomes a matter of what you can stomach and what weird cravings your body throws up. My plan in Turin was to eat every half hour – something small so I was getting a steady drip of energy into the system. Starting with solid food and alternating between sweet and savoury and then possibly moving onto gels later on in the race when I was more tired. As I’ve said that plan fell away, that’s one thing I really need to think about and get right for my next race.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Of course being selected to run for Ireland was a huge achievement for me and a wonderful honour.  To be honest finishing any ultra race feels like a great achievement, because they never come easy you are always battling against your level of fitness, or your demons, or an injury. Or even if everything is going perfectly they are always tough, they always hurt! I don’t always win those battles or get it right I’ve DNF’d several times, so finishing is always a great achievement for me.  Funnily enough that first 24 hour race in 2011 when I collapsed but was able to get up from that and run again felt like one of my biggest achievements and something I draw strength from. I think physically you can’t get much lower then loosing consciousness so being able to get up from that and keep going is quite good.

What is your running ambition?  Tough question, there are so many great races out there. I love to have adventures, see new beautiful places.  For next year my big ambition is a plan to run from Mizen to Malin with my brother and possibly other members of our family to raise money for the Niamh Louise Foundation Suicide Care after a tragedy in our family.  It’s very ambitious definitely the biggest thing we’ve ever attempted and there is no guarantee we’ll make it, so any help would be hugely welcome. The logistics of it are also a big challenge and the raising of money and awareness, which is the most important part of it; we want to make it really worthwhile.

Do you like any other sports aside from running?  I used to play loads of sports when I was younger and had time and opportunity to do so. But now I don’t have time for much else. I did a lot of swimming until recently when I learned that it wasn’t that great for my knees. I do a bit of yoga and gym work and Pilates. I play squash with my son now and then.

Runner Profile:  James Trainor

This months 'Runner Profile' is a young athlete that I have watched progress steadily over the last number of years.  James Trainer, a regular at the Queens parkrun in Belfast, were he has been 'first finisher' no less than fifteen times, and a podium finisher at the 'Run in the Dark' and Greyabbey 10k in 2014, has been in fantastic form over the last twelve months.  Despite a recent injury setback, the 4:48 miler hopes to retain his fitness and achieve his goals for 2015. 

Name:  James Trainor

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  Dub Runners of Belfast

Personal Bests:  Half Marathon – 1:21:51, 10k – 35:33, 5k – 16:54, 3k – 9:44, Mile – 4:38

What is your favourite running event in Northern Ireland?  It is hard to choose but I always enjoy the Queens Round the River 5k. It's a great location for a road race and I like the big events and testing myself against a really good field.  Also I did the Armagh road race for the first time last year and I am really looking forward to that one again. Although it's a 'timed run' and not a race, I have to give a mention to Queens Parkrun. PTI is always good too.

When did you start running?  I enjoyed cross-country and athletics at school but I really started the running in 2007-ish and began taking it a bit more seriously 2/3 years ago when I joined Dub Runners.

Why do you run?  I got back into it because there was a spell where I wasn't doing any sport at University and started running as the training was flexible.  I did my first 10k at the 'One World Run' in 2007 and after that, I was hooked!

You have been in good form this year!  You must be happy with this!? Can you put your finger on any particular reason for this improvement and good form?  I have been training with North Belfast Harriers for their tempo session and that has helped.  Until recently I had had a good long stint free of injury getting a good consistent block of training. Unfortunately now I have developed a groin tendon injury - I have taken a few weeks off entirely and I am slowly getting back into the running now -I kept running on it for too long at the time of the initial injury and paid the price.

You won the Run in the Dark 5k recently, running 17:39 over a tough course.  How did that race go for you?  Apart from having to re-tie my shoe it went well; once you get up the main driveway at Stormont the rest of the loop is pretty fast. It's a well-organised event and it would be great to see more club runners at it next year.

What does a typical week’s training involve?

Monday:  Easy run (distance varies) or day off.

Tuesday:  Speed intervals with Dub Runners.

Wednesday:  Easy run (which includes a chip from the Sphinx in Stranmillis).

Thursday:  Tempo run with North Belfast Harriers.

Friday:  Easy run.

Saturday:  5k parkrun/hills.

Sunday:  Long run (occasionally Dub club-run).

In saying this, at the minute I am in the garage on the turbo trainer trying not to loose too much fitness until I can run properly again. I gave aqua running a go this week and quite enjoyed it.

What is your favourite training ‘session’?  I enjoy shorter intervals, e.g 400m on the track or 1 minute sprints up a hill. Something like that.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I would love to do the Armagh International 5k road race.  I didn't have a fast enough time last year and did the 3k in 2014 instead but since then I have got under the required 17 minutes entry level for the 5k at the QUB race round the river last year.  Although I would love to enter the 5k race, I'm not sure I will be fit in time following this recent injury - I don't fancy trailing round last by more than a minute, which might still be the case in that race, injured or not. If I do decide to run my goals will be: don't be last and don't get lapped.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I don't think I have really cracked pre-race nutrition. I would have cereal and malt loaf about 3 hours before a race. If I'm in work and it's an evening race I have a John West light lunch french style tuna salad. Post-race mainly consists of crisps and chocolate.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  My best performance was probably your NiRunning Mile at Mary Peter's track: 4 mins 48 secs in the rain, no spikes! I beat a few people I wouldn't normally get close to in longer races.  Winning the Portaferry 'Mixed Relay' with my sister-in-law Maeve for Dub Runners also stands out.

What is your running ambition?   don't really set long term goals, I just aim to break personal bests and look to finish as high up as I can. I want to break 35 mins in 10k this season and have a go at a few more track events at 800m/1500m.

Are you interested in any other sports away from running?  I play softball (yes, that is a bit like rounders) for Belfast Sliders and although I am not much of a cyclist I have had a go at a couple of duathlons recently. They have been on closed motor-racing circuits with transition in the pit-lane. I will watch pretty much any sport on TV! Anything from snooker to athletics, but rugby and road cycling are probably my favourites to watch at the minute.

Runner Profile:  Iain Whiteside

After growing up in Northern Ireland, Iain Whiteside moved to Scotland to complete his studies.  Nearly 10 years later, the Northern Ireland international mountain runner is well settled in Edinburgh, so much so that his mum claims that he has lost his Northern Irish accent, something that Iain enjoys trying to 'bring back' when meeting up with his NI team mates.

He (Iain), who works as a Researcher for Newcastle University, tries to get into the hills as much as possible, with famous Arthur's Seat and Pentland Hills being two of his regular haunts; he is often accompanied by his favourite running buddy, Jess, the dog.  Iain misses some of the finer things from Northern Ireland, like soda bread and Tayto crisps; oh, and chips (come on Iain, you're an athlete!).

Full Name:  Iain Whiteside

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  Carnethy Hill Running Club (Based in Edinburgh, Scotland)

Personal Bests:  Half Marathon - 1:14:39, 10k - 35:00

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I’m a big fan of mountain marathons and my first ever hill race was the Mourne Mountain Marathon, so I’ll have to go with that. I managed to rope an old school friend into running the 'C class' with me in 2010 (the year the weather was terrible), and managed to navigate us almost out of the Mournes and almost to the Bryansford Road when looking for what I’d now (after 10 years in Scotland) call a lochan on Butter Mountain.  He’s never forgiven me for making him trudge back up that hill.  I keep trying to get back and take on the 'Elite course', but it hasn’t happened yet. Next year, hopefully!

As you are based in Scotland, do you have a favourite race there?  I love big mountains and Arrochar Alps (15 miles, 2,500m) has 4 of them: huge climbs, rough terrain, no paths, and very informal, often with only a couple dozen runners. Great fun! I have a habit/reputation for trying to find new shortcuts in races (basically I’m lazy), and managed to get myself stuck in a river gorge at Arrochar this year, and had to climb down a waterfall to get out! Needless to say, it added several minutes to my time!

When did you start running?  A friend and I talked each other into running the Edinburgh Marathon way back in 2009 as a way to deal with final year exam stress. I made it to about 15 miles, then had to walk most of the rest! That put me off for another year or so, but I started running a bit more seriously a few years into my PhD and quickly got hooked. 

Why do you run?  Haha, the classic question.  I love it: it’s my favourite thing to do. There really is no better feeling than being alone in the hills (or with just my dog!) in howling gale and horizontal rain, battling the elements; or, equally, a beautiful still, sunny day. Perfection.

You have been in good form this year… You must be happy with this!? Can you put your finger on any particular reason for this good form?  Yes, I’ve managed to fluke a few good results and feel stronger than previous years. I think it is a combination of consistency of training without injuries and avoiding over-racing by having some key goals for the season. That said, I’m just back from three weeks hiking in the Alps and feel like I’ve forgotten how to run! 

What does a typical week’s training involve?  Lots of running.  I’m fairly traditional, though not very scientific (or sensible!) in my training. It’s probably close to a 'hillified' version of marathon training and I tend to have a simple structure that I repeat every week.  I run twice a day (morning runs for active recovery), then afternoon for a longer run:

Monday:  Fartlek, fairly fluid, no set times for efforts. Depending on how hilly I feel my weekend has been, I’ll either do it flat, undulating, or in the hills. 

Tuesday:  Flat intervals: I generally to do more endurance reps, but stick in some sprints every few weeks.

Wednesday:  I’ll usually head to the hills for 90mins at a fairly easy pace.

Thursday:  Hill reps: also endurance based, but with the odd horrifically painful sprints session.

Friday:  Usually an easier day, with a quick hill climb.

Saturday:  Depending on Sunday, it’ll be hills or roads; sometimes a session or race.

Sunday:  Either a long road run (2hrs) or long hilly run (3hrs).

What is your favourite training ‘session’?  I’d say my least hated session is 10x1mins hill reps, which I often do if my motivation is very low. I’m not sure why, since it is one of the most painful, but at least it’s over fairly quickly!

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  It’s getting to fell relay season here, and I am organising and running in the Carnethy HRC teams for the British Fell Running Championships, which we hope to field a strong team for. I’m also in California for a month’s work in December and rashly signed up for a 50miler. Eek!

Do you feel living away from home adds to the experience of running for NI?  Yes, definitely.  I absolutely love coming back home and wish I took up running earlier as the hilly roads out the back of Larne are a great training ground for any runner.  Normal training tends to be put on hold when I’m home and I just do long runs! The Mournes are magic: I loved them as a hill walker, and it’s even better when you can run round most of them in a day! I’ve also made good friends within the NI squad, and it’s nice to get across to race against them or train with them.  A few of us a trying to organise some training camps for next season, so hopefully I can make it across more often!

You are pretty speedy away from the mountains as well, in particular, your 1:14:39 at the Conwy Half Marathon at the back end of 2013 was pretty impressive.  Any plans to go back onto the road soon?  Ah, yes: my two week road running career… There’s a bit of a story behind this: my partner, Megan Crawford, was aiming for a Commonwealth Games marathon qualifying time at London, and her coach thought it would be a good idea for me to pace her round it. I was happy with this: she had a better marathon PB than me, so I secretly planned to outsprint her in the last few hundred yards. 

To get into London, I needed to run sub 75mins at 2 weeks notice! There were only two half marathons not sold-out before the application deadline, and we signed up for them both. The first, Fraserburgh Half in the North East of Scotland, was flat as a pancake, and Conwy, down in North Wales, (very much the backup plan) went over a whopping great hill! Of course, with my luck a marshal hadn’t marked a turning in Fraserburgh and I ran an extra half mile and missed the time. At the top of the hill in mile 8 in Conwy, my watch was telling me I was on target for 1:19, and I had to leg it downhill and scraped through by the skin of my teeth. My quads were sorer the next day than they ever have been after a hill race. And London… well, I somehow strained my groin putting on my shoes 20 minutes before the race and had to drop out in agony after 13 miles. So, I will go back to run another marathon, if only to wipe the memory of my DNF! 

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race, I tend to stick to stereotype and have a very potato-based meal! Sounds posh, but Potato Dauphinoise is my favourite and is just creamy cheesy potatoes! Though, recently Megan’s been feeding me a butternut squash risotto, which is also very good. Post-race, I usually go for pizza every time (and a pint of milk straight after!).

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Carnethy HRC, the club I run for in Scotland, recently became the British Fell Running Champions: the first non-English club to ever do so (in the Senior male category anyway), and I was very proud to be counting in each of the races (and play a big role with my 2nd place at Slieve Donard!).  I’m also very proud to have represented NI on several occasions and, though I’ve never had a good race in an international vest, I hope to have another opportunity next year!

What is your running ambition?  I’d love to get into the top three in the British Championships in a few years time. I was close to the top 10 this year, so it’s a big step up. I’d also love to win the Mourne Mountain Marathon and maybe a few of the classic races in the UK!

Are you interested in any other sports away from running? I guess fairly typically for a hill runner, I do a fair bit of climbing, cycling, skiing when I get the chance. I used to play a lot of football until the classic knee cartilage injury!

Runner Profile:  Maeve-Francoise Lavery

Sometimes you don't have to be into running for that long to make a good impression, that is most definitely the case with our new 'Runner Profile', Lisburn based Maeve-Francoise Lavery.  She has been a consistent athlete in 2014 and produced an excellent performance to win the final race of the East Antrim Harriers Forest Trail Series earlier this Summer.

Maeve, who is looking forward to her wedding in three weeks, is a regular at the Queens parkrun and is always in or around the podium places at local events.  She secured a third place finish at the recent Greyabbey 10k (July 2014), the very same race where she made her competitive debut twelve months earlier.  

Full Name:  Maeve-Francoise Lavery

Current Category:  Female Open

Associated Club:  Dub Runners (Belfast)

Personal Bests:  5k – 19:44, 10k – 39:43, Half Marathon (13.1m) – 1:32:25

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I haven't raced very much, my first 10k was in 2013 but I have to say Greyabbey 10k it was my first win ever, my time over the hilly course (I might add!) was 41:17 but I was so happy and everyone from my club was cheering; I felt I had really done something. Everyone at the event was so friendly so I have happy memories of that event even though it destroyed me!

When did you start running?  I started running properly about two and half years ago.  I did a half hour run twice a week, then three times a week, before I set myself the goal of running for an hour solid! I did that and on it went from there! I tried the parkruns and discovered that I could run a decent enough time whereas before I just did it for activities sake and then I decided to try racing. These days, I want to race well and feel confident because a lot of me still thinks I'm learning how to put one foot in front of the other, everything happened so fast!

Why do you run?  It's great to have achieved something, I don't think I'll ever be a 'top' runner but to get a new personal best is amazing! Also, when I was younger I had anorexia nervosa and then found out that I had a thyroid problem which could affect my weight.  When I decided to start running it was to improve my fitness, then when I realised I could actually run I didn't care about weight at all, it was so nice to find something I really love to do then improve and be proud of having the resolve to train.  Also, before running I was only able to go as far as my bike could take me as I didn't have a car.  Now I have seen more of Northern Ireland than ever because of races and even though I'm dying a death on some races (like the Ards Half Marathon), I still managed to think I was lucky to be looking at such a great view when I could have just been sitting at home! I am also really lucky to have a great running role model in James Trainor, my Dub Runners team mate and brother-in-law (to be).  He is effortless and will just get better, he keeps my chugging away as well, maybe in an effort to beat him! :o)

You are a parkrun regular; what do you think of the introduction of parkrun events to Northern Ireland over the last few years?  I haven't been as diligent a parkrunner as before, with wedding preparation and work, but I love parkrun.  The people I met there I can call friends and think it is a great way to race in a non-intimidating way.  I think it is the best way to get a training benchmark and compare yourself directly to others.  I have learnt more from talking to people at parkrun and watching what the best people there do than I ever did 'googling' things. 

What does a typical week's training involve for you?  I try and do something different each week and put in at least one interval session with my club and by myself.  Dub Runners are great because they always do varied interval sessions in different places so you don't get tired of the same old track sessions.  I also mix it up with a few experimental things because I'm just finding my feet in running, like cross-training in a pool and on the bike, as I don't want to be injured. Mainly I believe you should just run and get the miles in at a comfortable pace then you can improve your technique and find what feels right. I learnt the hard way that hammering out runs is a good way to get yourself injured.  The key for me is race on race day, not in training.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I still love a good long run, I run on Sunday's with some amazing runners I met at parkrun, we put in a good chunk of miles at a steady pace, chatting along the way.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  The next race for me is the Laganside 10k, a really fast race, I just want to improve on last year (2013). As a runner, I always want to improve and if I can do it I'll be delighted!

As an athlete who races and performs well over a variety of terrain, do you have a preference?  A lot of me likes the challenge of trails and hills, although I have mostly done road racing.  I don't have the skills of great trail runners, but I love the challenge and the variety as well as the scenery. I ran a lot in the French Alpes as my family is from there and I would run up famous cycle climbs like Sarenne and l'alpe D'Huez, there is something in getting up a mountain on your own steam that makes me happy. 

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race, I load up on carbohydrates and then snack on natural but sweet foods, maybe bananas/dried fruit nuts etc closer to the time. Post-race, I would eat protein for repair muscles.  I experiment with protein powder but basically think you eat to fuel pre-race and eat to recover post-race. Lying down with a stiff drink would fall into that category also!

What is your running ambition?  I don't know really, I think I am an old hand at this then realise I am just starting, so I have no idea what the pipe dream is and what is possible. I think that's the fun of it.  As a rule, it would be amazing to run in a big race with my name on my back, I'll chase that dream as long as I can run, but basically I always want to be able to run and not be injured.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like?  I love cycling, maybe because I saw the Tour de France so many times in France.  Watching all the colours of the riders in their teams race across the mountains is amazing.  Also, my soon to be husband used to be is a cyclist, so seeing the dedication they put in is pretty inspiring. I learnt about intervals from him and his friends first and applied that to running.  Their use of training data is amazing, maybe I should look into my watts per kilo and invest in a calculator!

Runner Profile:  Jennifer Black

Our latest ‘Runner Profile’ is a lady who has come to our attention over the last couple of months after producing several notable performances, the most recent being a win at the Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast Hills race. 

On speaking to East Belfast based athlete Jennifer Black, it was interesting to find out that she was returning to competition and structured training after giving birth to her second son – Prior to this she had enjoyed longer distance running and had completed several well-established events.  However, would she go in the same direction now, or would she choose a different running ‘path’?  Read on to find out more…

Full Name:  Jennifer Black

Current Category:  Female Vet35

Associated Club:  Orangegrove AC (also a training member of BARF)

Personal Bests:  5k - 19:11, 10k - 39:34, Half Marathon (13.1m) - 1:39:51, Marathon (26.2m) - 3.58:59

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event? Does Victoria parkrun count? If it does then it would be that definitely!  It's timed, it's free, it's every week, it's friendly, it's run by a fabulous club and they serve amazing buns!  What could be better?  Seriously though it is very hard for me to say because I have raced at very few events (in road racing I have only did three 10k’s, one 5k, two half-marathons and two marathons).  Aside from that I have completed a dozen or so fell races, a few trail races, the Seven Seven’s once and the Mourne Mountain Marathon three times. Up until recently I have been a bit shy about racing (and very inconsistent about training) but hopefully that has all changed and I will be sampling many events in the future.

When did you start running? I started running about 8 years ago.  Up until then I was a bit of a gym bunny and as I was turning 30 year old I wanted to do something challenging. I noticed someone in my spin class was wearing a mountain running t-shirt (it turns out it was Barbara Brown of Mourne Runners) and decided I would give it a shot.  I turned up at Tollymore Mountain Centre to have a go at one of the Hill & Dale races and happily made it to the end without any embarrassment.  At that race I met Mark Pruzina who convinced me to join BARF and that was that.

Why do you run? Running keeps me sane! I run for lots of reasons - the feeling of being fit when so many ladies my age have given up on it, also it de-stresses me (I sometimes think I run better when I've had a particularly hard day), also the buzz and feeling of confidence you get after a hard training session or successful race, not to forget being able to eat filled sodas in work on a Friday (or any day of the week for that matter!) and not having to worry about calories. 

Two week’s ago (Saturday 24th May 2014) you had a great run at the Belfast Hills race organised by North Belfast Harriers; how did you feel about that? I was very surprised but absolutely thrilled. I hadn't planned doing the race until the day before and hadn't done any hill work for many weeks (since BARF winter training ended), so I thought I might use it simply as a training run. Then when the race started I just went for it!  I was delighted at being 1st lady but also at being 11th overall.

Given your recent form, your training must be going well then?  What does a typical week's training involve? My training is very simple - I aim to do a longer run (about 5-6 miles as fast as I can go!) on a Monday night but if that doesn't work out I might do 'extreme parkrun' with Orangegrove AC which is a 5k run with circuits thrown in; then Wednesday night is my speed session with Orangegrove AC (this is the important one, not to be missed); Saturday morning is parkrun, which I love and always push myself at (I will run parkrun in the morning even with a race in the afternoon, obviously just taking it easy, to see what my legs are at!). During the winter I also train with BARF which is usually a hill reps session on a Thursday night. So all in all I run 3-4 days per week.

What is your favourite training 'session'? This is hard to say but I definitely think the speed session is the big one for me. I am relatively new to structured training sessions as I only joined Orangegrove AC earlier this year but last week we did 400m repeats which I really enjoyed so I think it might become a favourite. I also enjoy good old hill reps because it's something very few people outside the sport of running would ever do, so it gives you a great sense of achievement at the end.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I haven't planned my next race.  So far most races I have done have been 'day before' decisions but I think that will have to change if I want to get better!  I would definitely like to do another 10k over the next month or so, maybe a nice flat one.

I know that you used to compete, but took some time off to start a family, tell me a little about your previous achievements within the sport of running? Going back 7 or 8 years ago I was more into the hill running and am proud to have completed the gruelling Seven Seven’s albeit in a very slow time (I remember being on my hands and knees crawling up Lamagan at one point).  I think it was a big thing for me just to complete this without having done any proper training.  The hill running was an adventure for me and I have met some amazing people through it but I never trained hard enough to be good at it and I don't think I will ever master running over rough terrain (I'm far too cautious). Likewise I am proud to have completed two road marathons but I am not proud of the times - again I always fell short with the training and I know that I haven't done myself justice at that distance.

When I had my first son in 2009 I noticed an improvement in my running performance and I was proud to run a personal best at the Larne Half Marathon only eight months after having Lemmy and despite having a chest infection! However it's only since having my second son, Ruan, last year that I have discovered that my speed is much better than my endurance, which is why I am now focused on shorter distances.  I hadn't realised I was fast until people started telling me!

Are there any of these achievements that stand out for you, a favourite?  To be honest it's my more recent achievements that are standing out for me.  I never thought I could 'podium' at a race (on my own that is - Joanne Curran and I got 3rd female team at the last Castlewellan Cracker) never mind actually win a race until March 2014 when I won the ladies race at the Addiction 10k (Seeley Cup course). That has to be a special one because it was only my scond 10k race and I managed a reasonably comfortable sub-40. I think the Belfast Hills race will also be a favourite (when my calves start to heal that is!)

Since your return to competition, you have been racing over a variety of terrain, do you have a preference? I am happy running on road or 'good' trails - as long as I can go fast and can clearly see the path ahead of me!  I loved the last section of the Belfast Hills race as it was downhill all the way on a good wide trail with a few twists and turns to make it interesting. I felt like I was flying downhill but at the same time I felt safe!

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals? I tend to have something simple like toast and marmalade a couple of hours before a race and maybe a banana too. Then some coffee about 30 minutes before and I sometimes sink one of my little boy's innocent smoothies for a final sugar boost.  Post-race, it really depends what time of day it is and how well I have done!  If it's the evening and I have ran well then it's a celebratory Chinese (salted chilli chicken with rice and a few chips stolen from my hubby) and lashings of white wine!

What is your running ambition? I am still working out what it is I really want to do but in the short-term I want to go sub 19 minutes for 5k and then from that keep pushing to see how close I can get to Gladys Ganiel's Victoria parkrun course record of 18:03. I would like to get my 10k time down too - perhaps try for sub 39 minutes this year.  Also, if possible I would like to compete in the next cross country season. I was going to give it a go last season but hadn't realised the season finishes at the end of the winter so I only did one race but I was happy to get a top ten position (I had never done cross country before).  I'm not getting any younger so I really need to set goals and work hard towards them now if I want to make sure I have no running regrets in the future.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like? With having two young sons I don't have much time to watch other sports never mind take part in them but I have always liked the idea of triathlon and would definitely like to do one in the future. Perhaps they will do one with me one day!

Runner Profile:  Ryan Stewart

Ryan Stewart is a young athlete I have had the pleasure of knowing since he took his first notable steps into the sport; the Northern Ireland junior international mountain runner is a good friend, training partner and former club mate… and now our latest NiRunning ‘Runner Profile’.

This choice was not through ‘favouritism’, but more because of Ryan’s impressive performances over the last number of months, which has established him as a well respected athlete, not only at home in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, where he studies at Dundee University.  These include a podium place at the 'Feel the Burns' mountain race and a sub sixty minute finish at the gruelling Carnethy 5 two weeks ago, which followed an excellent run at the BUCS XC Championships earlier this month.  Last weekend, Ryan was awarded the ‘Most Improved Athlete’ award at the Larne AC annual prize-giving.

Full Name:  Ryan Stewart

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  Dundee Hawkhill Harriers and Larne AC

Personal Bests:  5k – 17:45, 10k – 36:50, 5 miles – 28:16, Half Marathon (13.1m) – 1:18:21, Marathon (26.2m) - 2:53:40

I know that personal bests are not always appropriate to mountain runners, so in addition to this, tell us your course bests for three well established mountain running events?  Carnethy 5 Hill Race - 58:25, Aonach Mor Uphill - 25:04 and the Dumyat Hill Race - 38:20

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  It has to be the Lurig Challenge Race. This was my first ever fell race and I had no idea what to expect but it was great craic. The support as you enter that village is unreal.

As you spend so much time in Scotland, do you have a favourite event there?  Carnethy 5 Hill Race.  I’ve raced this five times now and even before I was a Scottish resident. The mass entry and organisation that goes into this brute of a course makes for a great day out

When did you start running?  Just in the run up to my 16th birthday I decided to give it a bash and I have been hooked ever since.

Why do you run?  I initially started to satisfy an ideology of wanting to be able to call myself  “fit”.  Now running is literally the biggest part of my daily life and I’d even go as far to say that I organise the rest of my life around my running.  I’m addicted to the high that comes from finishing any run and getting up at the crack of dawn to put in the miles is something I really look forward to. The feeling of being the only person awake and hard at it gives me great satisfaction. There really is no better mood enhancer as far as I’m concerned.

Two week's ago you broke the infamous 60mins finish time at the gruelling Carnethy 5 mountain race in Scotland; I know this race well, that's an excellent run.  How do you feel about it?  I went into that race with the aim of beating the hour.  I’ve come horribly close in recent years (11 seconds over in 2012 was soul destroying) so it’s a relief more than anything to finally manage it. I approached the race conservatively and wanted to save myself for that last horrid climb up Carnethy itself. As it turned out I had way too much in the bag and I finished feeling fresh which annoys me a bit. I know I can cut that time more and get myself further up the field with better pacing and a mind-set of actually racing as opposed to surviving. Definitely a confidence booster and I know I have better to come!

Your training must be going well then?  What does a typical week's training involve?  I’m actually pretty haphazard in my weekly training but at present it seems to be working in my favour. I don’t commit myself to any rigid schedule and I tend to adjust any plan I do have according to how my body feels. I try to get in at least one hard/fast interval session and one long run of approximately 10 miles weekly. In between I do a varied mix of slow/short running, gym work (core mostly) and cross training. I’ll try to do a morning and evening session each day but I find it really hard to motivate myself after staring into mouths until 5pm (he is a dental student!), so the evenings are regularly skipped during week. I really just do what I’ll actually enjoy. I’m a firm believer that it’s not worth the effort if I’m dreading a session as I’ll never put in the effort required to get full benefit.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  Hill Reps! I hate speed sessions with a passion. The feeling of strength from the climbs and mentally being able to appreciate height gain and the effort to get it appeals to me.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  It will be the Inverness Half Marathon (09/03/2014).  I want to improve upon my recent six minute personal best over the distance in Glasgow (October 2013). If I can get anywhere near 1:15 I’ll be one happy lad. I still have a lot of unknowns in my ability and I’m learning race on race. I want to know whether I’m stalling at a peak or whether I need to focus my training better after my recent improvement.

We have spoken about you're next race,  but as it's so early in 2014, do you have any particular target races/events this year?  I have quite a hectic year planned. I’ve entered the Edinburgh Marathon in May 2014 and would like to get sub 2:50 here but I’m looking to attack the hills at every opportunity and may let this goal slip regarding my keenness to fully involve myself in the fell racing calendar this year. I’m aiming to complete both the British Fell Running Championships and the Scottish Fell Running Championships by the end of 2014. I’ve also been reeled into the world of Skyrunning recently and put in an entry for the 3x3 80km Ultra in October 2013 which terrifies me. To finish this race is my main goal. Any placing or time is a bonus. All in all, I’ll be up and down many Munros this year.

You have also been performing well in recent  cross country races, and represented Dundee University at the BUCS XC Championships, adding to your mountain performances at the Carnethy and 'Feel the Burns' races;  I know you also race on the roads and trails, but do you have a preference over which terrain you compete on?  Tarmac running doesn’t really do it for me. I’m an off-road man and adore the mountains. The scenic locations and feeling of seclusion in unspoilt land is amazing, especially in Scotland (not to say I don’t enjoy the Mournes!!!!). Some of the locations I’ve ventured to here are simply breath taking and a post run dip in a Loch is a rite of passage not to be missed.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race I like to keep things light. I’ll tuck into a bowl of porridge and nail a banana for good measure. Maybe a cheeky sports drink to keep me topped up in the run up.  Post-race I’ll dive straight into a milkshake. Then when I’ve settled, deli-style chicken spread over butter drenched wheaten bread is a treat for me. I’ve been well known to destroy an entire roast bird in a single sitting!

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Getting under the 3 hour mark comfortably in Berlin (2012) at my first attempt at the marathon. My pacing was very consistent and I kept all my 1km's within twenty seconds of each other for the entire 42k. My pre-race build up was disgustingly boring/lonely at times and to get 2:53 really gave me a feeling of accomplishment.

What is your running ambition?  The mountains are where my passion lies. I’d love to get awarded a senior NI vest for mountain running in the future and I’m working all out in the hills this year to try and make this a reality.  As long as I can venture to the hills regularly and still be capable of running in these amazing locations for the foreseeable, I’m winning.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like?  I’ve dabbled in triathlon this University year and I’ve enjoyed the multi-sport challenge. Swimming can be an utter pain at times but combining it with running really does add up to a great event. If you haven’t tried multi-sport events yet, get on it immediately! Great craic!

Although I don’t play, I follow Ulster and Ireland rugby closely from the comfort of a sofa, bottle of tonic in hand. Supporting can be just as much a session, especially when the all day six nations matches come about. Speaking of which, I’m off to the Student’s Union...

Runner Profile:  Gemma Turley

Our new 'Runner Profile' is a lady who I have spent a large part of the last twelve months writing about, Gemma Turley. Since returning to running after having her son, Gemma has been a consistent prize-winner, finding herself on the podium at least seventeen times throughout 2013, winning ten races.  She (Gemma) also collected a silver medal at the Athletics NI 5k (Road) Championships.

Over and above these achievements, the Springwell Running Club athlete has impressed throughout the early part of the Athletics NI Cross Country League, which has given her a new enthusiasm for Cross Country running.  You can find out why by reading on.... Enjoy!

Full Name:  Gemma Turley

Current Category:  Female Open

Associated Club:  Springwell Running Club

Personal Bests:  5k – 18:06, 5 miles – 30:42, 10k – 38:32

What is your favourite Northern Ireland (running) event?  I enjoy the Furey 5k Series and love the 26extreme Causeway Coast 10k; you can’t beat its location!

When did you start running?  I took up athletics at the age of 11 – I enjoyed competing at school and then joined the local athletics club (Ballymena & Antrim AC).  I competed in the high jump and the sprint hurdles, then moved up to the 400m hurdles.  I went to Loughborough University in 2001 to further pursue my running but ironically gave running up for about 6 years due to a mix of injuries and enjoying university life too much!

Why do you run?  I run to keep fit and healthy, to be able to eat and drink what I like; I get a real buzz from competing and always feel so much better after a good training session.

In 2013, you won no less than 10 races, how does that make you feel?  Are there any that you took particular pride from winning?  I was really happy winning the Decathlon 10k in April 2013 as it was my first 10k after having my baby and I managed to take a good chunk off my personal best (I had been trying to break my pb of 40:01 which I got in 2008/09), running 38.36.  I was also pleased with winning the overall Furey 5k Series.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I would like to try the NiRunning 5 mile trail race in Ballyboley Forest in February 2014.  The only trail race I have done is Roe Valley trail race and enjoyed this, so would like to take part in more trail races.  I’m also looking forward to running for Springwell RC in the final part of the Athletics NI XC league at Stormont Estate.

We have spoken about you’re next race, but going into the New Year, do you have any particular target races/events?  I don’t have any specific races that I am targeting; my main aim is to get personal best’s for 5k, 5miles and 10k.

You have been performing well in recent Cross Country races, adding to the brilliant road and trail performances throughout 2013; you have also raced on the track (including Steeplechase) in the past.  Do you have a preference over which terrain you compete on?  My preference, without a doubt is road racing.  I used to dislike XC and only did it for training purposes but I’ve really enjoyed this XC season, mainly as Springwell RC has put together a good women’s team, with great team spirit.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I usually do interval training on a Monday night with the club and a track session with the club on a Thursday.  My favourite specific session is 10x400m.  I enjoy these sessions as I’m not running on my own and have other people around to push me.

What are your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I tend to stick to the same pre-race meal (normally porridge or muesli and toast with peanut butter or banana) and drink lots of coffee so I’m buzzing at the start line!  Post race I normally have a banana and milkshake and occasionally sandwiches and buns, brought to the race by our team captain, Karen McLaughlin.  I usually enjoy heading out after a race for a meal and drinks with my partner as a wee treat.  I have a good appetite!!

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Coming back after having my son Odhran, who is now 18 months old.  I had my best season post-pregnancy, getting Pb’s at each of my racing distances.

What is your running ambition?  I hope I can stay injury free as I would hate not to be able to run or compete.  My main ambition is to get my personal times down and of course it would be a bonus to one day run in a Northern Ireland vest for XC.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like?  I used to enjoy playing badminton but since having my son I’m lucky if I get my run fitted into the day!  I also enjoy playing golf on the wii, if that’s counted as a sport!

Runner Profile:  Matthew Nicholson

Our latest 'Runner Profile' is a man I met several years ago whenever I took part in the Run Armagh 10k, Matthew Nicholson is the man behind the popular event.  Despite being Race Director, the experienced marathon runner always finds time to complete the course himself.  

This year, Matthew has completed several marathons, including three in the space of fifteen days.  In his interview, Matthew tells us about his own running and also a bit about the Run Armagh event and what the future holds for it.

Full Name:  Matthew Nicholson

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  I run under the name of my event, Run Armagh

Personal Bests:  5k - 19:03 (Horns 5K, USA, 2010), 10k - 40:04 (Run Armagh 10k 2010), Half Marathon - 1:29:39 (Great North Run 2007), Marathon - 3:24:35 (Dublin Marathon 2008)


What is your favourite race in Northern Ireland?   I have not ran them all (yet!), but the stand out local races for me have been the new parkrun events, Larne Half Marathon, Craigavon Lakes 10k and the Mourne Way events - Superb!


When did you start running?  I started running in the Spring of 2006 and haven’t looked back since.


Why do you run?  Originally, I got into my first distance event as a bet! I was always into sport at school and was a keen rugby player - However in 96, 97 and 98 I broke my right ankle ('96), left leg ('97) and right shoulder ('98) all playing rugby.  Neither leg injury have caused any recurring issues, however my shoulder would need pinned if I wanted to play again and back then that operation left a large scar, so I decided to hang up my boots so to speak! 

I started working in London and my lifestyle was very much work hard, play harder.  As a result I ‘let myself go a bit’.  In spring 2006 a friend and colleague said him and some of his mates were going to run the Adidas Silverstone Half Marathon (March '06) and after a few beers, and a bit of stick - I said I would sign up!  Once I got into running, I knew it was something I wanted to keep up once I finished the Silverstone Half Marathon. I was shooting for a sub 2 hour finish, and managed to come in at 1:49:09.  I was well pleased to say the least! A few days after this, I went and signed up for a bunch of races in and around London, cumulating with the Dublin Marathon in October of that year (2006).  All in all, I ran 18 road races that year - I was hooked!


What is your next race and what do you want from it?   The next race I have ‘signed up for’ is my own, Run Armagh 10k in April 2014.  This will be a build up to London Marathon, Belfast Marathon (maybe Newry Marathon) and Walled City Marathons in Spring 2014!  I will probably do a few Half Marathons along the way, like Larne.   I recently completed my 24th, 25th and 26th marathons in Amsterdam, Dublin and New York.  This was three marathons in fifteen days! My body is still recovering, but all in all I have come out the other end of those three pretty much injury free!

What is your favourite training 'session'?   It might sound bizarre, but I do enjoy those final long runs in preparation for a marathon - they fill me with confidence for race day (if they go well that is). 


What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  For pre-race meals I am quite traditional; I like carb loading the day before and breakfast will depend when the race starts, ie if it is a 9am start for example, then a cup of tea and toast, and an energy gel before the start.  For post-race, nothing beats a nice cold beer and some chocolate based junk food to replenish the sugar levels.  I try and take on board water and eat little and often post-race, otherwise I can feel a little unwell. 

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  I think it is fair to say that I am never going to win a race, that ambition is long gone.  However, I have finished first in a few of the ‘Sport Relief Mile’ events, and I did finish third when I ran my 5k personal best in the Horns 5K in Orlando, Florida (holiday races, love them!).  The obvious achievement is being the race director of the annual Run Armagh 10k, which raises a lot of money for a charity which is very close to my heart, Cardiac Risk in the Young.  Next year’s event will be the 6th annual Run Armagh 10k, and it is genuinely a pleasure to direct and take part in it! 

What is your running ambition?  I do not really have one - I like having a marathon or other event to look forward to, this keeps me motivated to keep my fitness level high enough to take part.


You are the man behind the Run Armagh 10k race; how long has the event been running for now and why did you start it?  In April 2014 we will be hosting the 6th annual Run Armagh 10k.  It’s hard to believe, as the time has flown by.  When I started running back in 2006, my family and I did a lot of fund-raising, but over time you find yourself hitting the same people for sponsorship.  So, I decided to organise an event, from which the profit raised is our fundraising effort for that year and to make it better, my employer matches the funds raised, which is excellent.

As a runner who has taken part in a wide variety of races, do you find that you are in a better position to know what athletes want from your event?  To an extent, yes.  When it comes to the Run Armagh 10k, I found it essential to have a dedicated website which runners can find via google and register for the event online at no additional expense to the runner.  I developed our online entry system myself and it costs a lot less than the prices offered by some management companies.  Chip timing and an accurately measured course are essential too, so I worked with John Glover and Glenn Grant to arrange these.  Making sure we have timing mats at the start, half way and end gives our runners a 100% accurate breakdown of how they performed!  Goody bag is also important and a medal is essential for some, so we always include one and a cotton t-shirt with a new design each year!  It does give me a level of pride and satisfaction when I see runners and gym goers in Armagh with their Run Armagh 10k finishers t-shirt. Keeping the runners informed, and having the event well organised is very important, so signage, PA system are all necessary for the successful smooth running of any event.  We also have a social gathering for our local runners in a local bar, where we have music, BBQ, charity raffle, a few drinks and a chance to exchange race day stories.  We also display the official photographs on the large televisions as a slideshow, which is also a good topic for discussion, and at times good humour! 

What does the future hold for your event?  Rumour has it that you were considering either adding a Half Marathon option?  Is this something you are considering?   Yes, I sure am.  I am working with the PSNI at looking at a potential route for the first Run Armagh Half Marathon - utilising the majority of the existing 10k route will make organisation easier.  Having all 3 events (5k, 10k and Half Marathon) on the same day would make for a superb event for the City of Armagh.  Armagh is the only ‘original’ City in Northern Ireland without a marathon event now that we have the established events in Belfast and Newry and the 2nd annual Walled City Marathon in Derry/Londonderry next year.  Why shouldn't Armagh get involved too?  An option could be a two loop event, but that would not be ideal - but again, something I am thinking about.

In conclusion; as all race directors will admit, any running event they organise would and could not be possible without the generous support from volunteers and sponsors, from wearing a high visibility vest directing the runners, to the generosity of local businesses providing us with water, bananas and other items for the good bags! 

Runner Profile:  James Brown

James Brown (City of Derry AC) is a man who has continually impressed me over the last 3-4 years; in truth, I first recognised James’ name as I have a good friend who is also called James Brown, incidentally, he is also a runner (with East Coast AC).  Since then, ex-boxer James has improved at a considerable rate.  The unassuming Spartan has represented Northern Ireland at Masters level and this year, he confirmed his status as one of the provinces top athletes when he claimed the NI & Ulster Masters 5,000m title at the Mary Peters Track (August 2013).

James has produced several other top quality performances in 2013; he has also achieved new personal bests over 3,000m (9:14.15) and 10,000m (33:57.75) on the track, with the former seeing him finish just outside the podium places at the Woodies DIY AAI Masters Indoor Championships.  He (James) also recorded 1:13:29 at the Waterside Half Marathon in September (2013).

Full Name: James Brown

Current Category: Male Vet40

Associated Club: City of Derry Spartans AC

Personal Bests: 3,000m (Indoor Track) - 9:14:15, 5k - 15:48, 5 miles - 26:43, 10k (Road) - 33:25, 10,000m (Track) - 33:57.75, 15k - 51:54, 10 miles - 55:11, Half Marathon (13.1m) - 1:13:18, Marathon (26.2m) - 2:46:59

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event? The Waterside Half Marathon, there was a real buzz about the place and so many familiar faces.  I enjoyed the Northern Ireland Senior XC, that was another event, especially with the internationals present.

When did you start running? In 2008 my sister set up a cancer charity following her own diagnosis of breast cancer in 2002, so I decided to run the Dublin City Marathon for her charity. I had only had about 8 weeks training for it.  I knew very little about running at the time and had no race plan. I just ran the same pace almost every day.  I had heard that you were to do a long run once a week so I did 12 miles one week and 20 miles the next.  I have no idea what pace I ran during the marathon but I had nothing left at 20 miles so I walked and jogged the last 6, to be honest I really can’t remember much about them, it was definitely the toughest place I have ever been, but I finished it in 3:07.  After I had recovered from this I decided to join a club and take running a bit more serious.

Why do you run? I run mainly because I really enjoy it, getting out in the fresh air and for how good it makes me feel both physically and mentally.  I enjoy getting up early on a Sunday morning for a long run, empty roads, peace and quiet, for me there is no better feeling.  When I finished boxing I felt there was a void in my life and when I found running I couldn’t believe that you could still compete and improve with no age limits.  It just gave me a new lease of life and hopefully through my running I can set a good example for my children Brandon and Emily.

You race regularly on the roads, track (indoor & outdoor) and cross country; do you have preference out of the terrains? I enjoy them all but I would probably say that road racing suits me better because I do the biggest majority of my training on the roads.

What is your next race and what do you want from it? I’m not sure, I’m just taking a bit of break at the minute, I’ll maybe come back and focus on the Northern Ireland & Ulster Masters Cross Country Championships.  Hopefully we can get a team together and make a challenge for the title.

What is your favourite training session? Kilometres or mile repeats would be my favourite session but I also enjoy doing tempo runs.  I do the majority of my training alone but really enjoy meeting the Spartans on a Saturday morning for a catch up and a quality session.

What are your favourite pre-race and post-race meals? If I am doing a morning race I would have two Weetabix and a cup of tea or if I am doing an evening race I would have a chicken sandwich and a sports drink.  Post-race I reward myself with chocolate. Chocolate and biscuits would be my downfall!

What would you consider to be your biggest achievement in running? I have a few, getting the Athlete of the Year Award in my first competitive season with my former club, Inishowen AC and last year picking up a silver team medal representing Northern Ireland in the British & Irish International Cross Country Championships was also a proud moment for me.

What is your running ambition? My running ambition is to get my times down as far as I can, hopefully pick up more medals and possibly in the next couple of years to compete in the European Masters Championships.  I am also going to do another marathon next year and hopefully post a decent time.

You won the NI & Ulster Masters 10,000m Championship this Summer (2013); how did this feel? I really enjoyed it, I was in great shape around that time.  The laps just went by so quickly my main focus was to run a sub 34.  I was absolutely delighted especially since I had not done any training on the track all year.

This year has been a busy one for you, with some top performances. Personally, I thought your results at the AAI National Half Marathon Championships, where you ran 1:13:18 and your 12th place finish at the NI & Ulster Junior XC Championships were your best. Have you been happy with this 2013? What have been your highlights? I’ve had an excellent 2013.  I enjoyed running the indoors for the first time, getting the silver M40 medal in the National 10K was great too.  The NI & Ulster Junior XC was definitely the biggest because we were the underdogs, nobody gave us a chance and to make it worse we had lost our best runner at the time, Noel Logan, on the morning of the race.  Our club coaches Noel McMonagle and Dara Furey’s inspirational team talks on the bus before the race really fired us up; they instilled belief in us and made us feel proud to be wearing the Spartan vest.  It gave us a great sense of team spirit.  When we won you would have thought we had just won the World Cup.  It was a brilliant day.

You were recently selected for the Northern Ireland Masters XC team, but have since decided to withdraw. What was the reason for this? I’ve had a long successful season and lately I feel my form has dipped and because of this I have lost a bit of confidence.  My body is calling out for a rest.  I wouldn’t want to go to Cardiff and underperform and not do the team justice and possibly affect their chance of medalling.  I am disappointed as we only get one chance a year but if I can’t give a race 100% then I won’t do it. I wish the team the best of luck.

Outside running are there any other sports you like? I love most sports.  As a former boxer for Raphoe A.B.C I always keep an eye on what’s happening in the boxing world.  I follow Manchester United and I like to do a bit of cycling from time to time.  I also enjoy watching sport on TV, my favourite thing to watch has always been Sports Personality of the Year in December; for me it’s a great nights viewing.

Runner Profile:  Francis Marsh

Our latest ‘Runner Profile’ is an athlete that I personally have a lot of respect for, Francis Marsh; since I got into running, the North Down AC man has always been there or there abouts at the front of the field, be it on the roads, cross country or on the track.  

Aside from his own running, Francis puts a lot of his time into coaching many of the North Down AC athletes, who have also achieved great success.  Reading through his profile, it’s easy to see where Francis got his inspiration and motivation to run and coach from.  Please take a few moments to have a read…

Full Name:  Francis Marsh

Current Category:  Male Vet45

Associated Club:  North Down AC (Athletics NI & Athletics Ireland) and Herne Hill Harriers (UKA 1st claim)

Personal Bests:  800m - 1:58, 1500m - 3:58, 3000m - 8:46, 5000m - 15:26, 2k Steeplechase - 6:12, 3k Steeplechase - 9:53, 10k - 31:59, Half Marathon – 1:12:58, Marathon - 2:41:00

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  It has to be a dead heat between Seeley 10k and Armagh International road races.  Seeley because it's the premier 10k, usually a good field and fast; Armagh for bringing in top quality athletes from far afield, something for the younger age groups, and after race refreshments and chat at Crozier Hall.

When did you start running?  I enjoyed running at primary school but started training at 11 years old at school, joined Herne Hill Harriers at the age of 12. Our school had a strong cross country and athletics heritage with a PE teacher being heavily involved in the British Milers Club (Mike Dunphy, who is still coaching).  I trained at Crystal Palace to begin with and watched all the big meets in the 1979-1983 era; so seeing Walker, Coe, Ovett, Rono, Cram, Elliott etc was inspiring to keep training and racing track middle distance.

Why do you run?  Olympics on TV sparked my interest in primary school and I wanted to have a go a track running once I got to secondary school.  Now I run to stay healthy, keep up with the training group and satisfy that competitive streak still remaining.

You are an athlete who competes on the roads, over cross country and on the track, and always seem to be able to perform well on all three; what do you put this down too?  I wouldn't agree totally as I struggle in deep mud and rough terrain!....... but for the most part some consistency is there because I've always raced fairly regularly on all surfaces and distances - adjusting training to suit the demands of the race season. 

Do you have a preference out of the three terrains (road, cross country and track)?  I like all three, but don't like really boggy cross-country - e.g. the 'farmers field' at the Antrim XC.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My races tend to be linked up with meets that the athletes I coach are at so next ones are:  Sunday 20th October 2013 - Gerry Farnham XC:  I will try to enjoy this race which I've never done before.  Treat as a XC opener, but don't want too many M45’s beating me! and Saturday 26th October 2013 - Bobby Rea XC:  This will be an enjoyable but hard run race and I will be aiming to help the North Down team out.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  Fartlek on mixed terrain, 2 pyramid sets of 20’s to 75’s to 20’s efforts with same recovery during spring - gets the lungs bursting!

Speaking of training, you coach many of the North Down AC athletes we know and I know that you enjoy the coaching side of running.  Can you explain why this is so important to you?  When I've taken so much from a sport that relies on volunteers then I ought give something back - so coaching is it for me and I enjoy it!

As a coach, is there any hints or tips you could offer to our followers in relation to progressing and achieving personal bests?  Build up any change in training gradually (be it volume, intensity, speed, strength work, running surface or gradient).  Have a structured training plan, e.g. a Frank Horwill 5 - pace philosophy whereby a 10 - 14 day training cycle for a 10k specialist might include sessions at: 2 paces below race pace, race pace and 2 paces above race pace, such as 3k, 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon paces (plus enough pure speed if you want to out-kick Mo!).  Be flexible to drop or reduce training from planned when tired/sore/ill and don't stick blindly to a schedule (feedback how things are going and adjust).  Include rest, strength & conditioning, drills to improve form and co-ordination, stretching, good nutrition, flexibility and general maintenance (e.g. massage) in the plan - all those factors will influence your personal best...... running alone will not get you there.  Look up the many articles written by the late Frank Horwill. 

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race: Homemade smoothie, fresh pancake or porridge with nuts and raisins, plus a latte.  Post-race: banana, apple and flapjacks straight after, once home: chilli chicken and rice!  

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Fairly mediocre, eventually winning the NI & Ulster Junior XC in 2004 after several attempts. Also, 6:12 for 2k Steeplechase at 18 years old in UK U20 championships.

What is your running ambition?  My ambitions are generally on the coaching front but going to give sub 2:40 marathon another shot in London next April (2014).  Warming up with the Bath Half Marathon on 2nd March 2014.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like?  Big fan of professional cycling and ride a road bike occasionally to work, for cross-training and instead of running when I'm carrying too many niggles (which is often at my age!).  I'm looking forward to the Giro coming to Belfast.

Runner Profile:  Judith Lonnen (nee Lowry)

In the past 3-4 years the name Judith Lowry (now Lonnen - congratulations Judith and Dave!) has always featured prominently in running results, yet the talented lady is not so much associated with running, but more Duathlon and Triathlon.  Despite gearing her training towards Duathlon and Triathlon, Judith always manages to impress on the roads.

Not long after I started the NiRunning website (August 2012), the City of Lisburn AC athlete just missed a podium place at the Laganside 10k, finishing in 5th place, in what was one of the best female fields I have seen during my time in running. Not long after that, Judith produced an outstanding performance at the Northern Ireland road relays in Victoria Park, leading the field into the first changeover; the very next day she (Judith) won the Runher 5k at Stormont.

Since then, Judith has continually impressed and has established herself as one of the provinces top female runners, an excellent achievement considering she doesn’t taper for running races.  The improvement in Judith’s running and the associated personal bests have also enhanced her ability as a triathlete; just last week (Wednesday 17th July 2013) Judith won the ladies race at the prestigious Dalriada Glenarm Triathlon by just under four minutes, having run the fourth quickest run split of the entire 124 person (male and female) field!

Full Name:  Judith Lonnen (nee Lowry)

Current Category:  Female Vet35

Associated Club:  City of Lisburn AC (and Invictus Triathlon Squad)

Personal Bests:  1500m 4:54.32, 3000m - 10:31:92, 5k - 17:57, 5 miles - 29:40, 10k - 36:50, Half Marathon (13.1m) - 1:28:02

What is your favourite Northern Ireland (running) event?  It is really difficult to pick a favourite. I love flat fast courses and hope that Belfast Solstice Run becomes an annual event. I really enjoy the Queens 5k, Lisburn 10k, the road relay championships and it’s hard to beat the atmosphere when competing in a Belfast Marathon relay team.

When did you start running?  I ran a little in school and started again about 5 years ago when I met my husband, who is a running coach and who introduced me to City of Lisburn AC.

Why do you run?  No matter how tired or stressed out I feel, a run always seems to bring me out of it. I also love racing when I feel competitive - it makes all the tough training sessions worthwhile.

You are a successful Duathlete/Triathlete; do you find it hard training for all the disciplines?  How do you structure your training to make sure you benefit from it?  I do find it really difficult to fit everything in and often have to do more than one session per day. Sometimes it feels like an endless cycle of training. Fortunately, I have an amazing cycling coach, Stephen Gallagher (DigDeep Coaching), and running coach, my husband Dave Lonnen (, who work together and structure all my training for me. Every session is very specific to my race goals; there is no room for junk mileage.

How much of your training would involve running? and, would running be your favourite of the three disciplines (running, swimming, cycling)? Running would be about 30% of my training, cycling 50% and the rest would be swimming and strength & conditioning. Running would probably be my favourite but cycling would definitely be coming in as a very close second.

Do you train specifically for running races, or are they part of an overall plan for upcoming Duathlons/Triathlons?  My 'A' races each year are always Duathlons or Triathlons, so I would never taper for a running race; I use them as hard training sessions.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I am currently training for Lanzarote Half Ironman in October 2013, so I have entered a few triathlons in the upcoming weeks. As far as running races are concerned, I am hoping to race Belfast Half Marathon as I will be running that distance off the bike in October. It’s been a while since I have raced a Half Marathon so I am hoping it will help me know how to pace myself in Lanzarote.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I love a 10k training set like 5 x 1 mile with a good warm up and cool down. It is really satisfying to get through such a tough set.


What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I eat a paleo gluten free diet, which seems to really work for me. Pre–race I focus on high protein and low GI carbs so usually have eggs or full fat yogurt with berries and nuts. After a race I try to get a banana and protein shake into me within about 5 minutes of my cool down and after that a big fry up and as much chocolate as I can find. There is often a glass or two of wine involved as well.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  I’m pretty happy with how things have been going as I still feel like a relative new comer to running. Breaking 40mins for 10k was a pretty big benchmark and my times have continued to come down ever since. I am quite proud that I am normally able to achieve the fastest female run split in domestic Triathlons/Duathlons.

What is your running ambition?  I have big plans for next year and want to compete in the European and World Duathlon Championships – if I could continue to bring my 10k times down it would really help my chances of coming home with a medal.

Outside running, cycling and swimming; are there any other sports do you like?  I love all sports that don’t require any hand eye co-ordination. I used to sail and do a lot of water sports when I was younger. I then competed in a few fitness competitions and loved doing weights. These days it is really hard to fit in anything more that the triathlon training but we do head away for a couple of weeks Skiing and snowboarding every Christmas.

Runner Profile:  Aislinn Crossey

This year, Aislinn Crossey has picked up Ulster School’s 400m and 800m titles and more recently the AAI National 800m title, amongst other accolades.  The up and coming star, coached by Francis ‘Kookie’ O’Hagan has impressed on a regular basis and has been rewarded for her commitment and hard work with a place on the Ireland team for the upcoming European Junior Championships in Italy, after she (Aislinn) ran 2:06.43 for 800m (which fell within the required qualification standard) at the MPT International two weeks ago (Tuesday 25th June 2013).

Aislinn has an incredibly bright future ahead of her, let’s see what the 17 year old lady has to say about her training, racing and future in our latest ‘Runner Profile’.

Full Name:  Aislinn Crossey

Current Category:  Female U-20

Associated Club:  Newry AC

Personal Bests:  400m – 56.07secs, 600m – 1:31.29, 800m – 2:05.50, 1500m (Indoor) – 4:38.81

When did you start running?  I started running at the age of 12, I competed in a schools cross country and it was there that my coach, Francis O'Hagan spotted me.  He asked would I be interested in joining a running club.  It just has progressed from there and we found that the speed on the track suited me much more than cross country.

Why do you run?  I run for the enjoyment of it and the self-achievement that you feel, not only racing but being able to push yourself physically and mentally towards a goal.  Training can provide challenges and requires a lot of hard work and dedication but when you really enjoy doing something it never seems just so bad.  Running also provides friendships and relationships with people who share a common love for the sport. 

In the past few months you have impressed a lot of people especially with your European Junior Championship qualifying time at the MPT International; then your gold medal at the AAI National Junior Championships.  What would you put this success down too?  The season so far has been going really well, I have started working with SINI this year and they have provided me with great support and guidance moving forward.  Brendan Murphy also works with me in the gym and does my strength and conditioning programmes, this has increased my overall strength and power which plays a big part in my running.  I have also had solid blocks of training and this is all thanks to my coach Francis.  He dedicates so much time into my training and provides training programmes that may cause a bit of suffering on the track but lead to us getting the results we need. 

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  Im not 100% sure what my next race will be, we had another race route planned out before I got selected for the European Junior Championships.  I think I have a 400m race and then get some good training sessions in before heading to Italy. 

That brings me onto my next question, the European Junior Championships in Italy this month (July 2013); are you looking forward to it?  Yes, I am delighted to have been selected to go, this is my first international event so I'm really excited and looking forward to it.

What are your hopes and expectations for the event?  My hopes are really to soak up the experience and learn from it.  Travelling along with a team of athletes and coaches will be new to me but I’m looking forward to meeting and getting to know new people.  As for competing, I want to go out and run the best that I can.  My coach always says 'It's only a bad day on the track if you don’t learn something'.  The experience should help me to learn and grow as an athlete. 

Is the 800m your favourite event? Can you see yourself racing over other distances in the future?  Yes, the 800m just seems to suit me, I love the speed, it makes the race interesting and requires me to dig really deep over the last 200m. It’s also a very tactical event, the amount of thought and race planning for something that only lasts for a short period of time is crazy.  I have also run a few 400m races this year and I think they have really helped to develop my 8's, so I will probably race a few more 4's in the future. 

What is your favourite training 'session'?  My favourite training session is probably when I get to run fast, at either race pace or faster.  Although these sessions are usually the hardest, when they go well they help me to feel confident in my running. 

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?   My favourite pre-race meal is mostly my breakfast in the morning which is usually a bowl of porridge and a yogurt, and before the race I have two jaffa cakes.  Post-race I never really want to eat so I take a recovery shake and then after a while have a full dinner, that might be rice or pasta. 

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  I would say it is probably getting the opportunity to go to the European Juniors, but also any Ulster title that I have won, the Irish medals also mean a lot to me.  It makes all the hard work worth it and PBs are always nice :o)

What is your running ambition?  The aim is to keep getting stronger and working on different areas of training that I can improve on and hopefully continue to gradually lower my 800m time.  Then I will see where it goes from there. 

What other sports do you like?  I was an Irish Dancer from the age of 4 so it has always been an interest of mine and I think that it really helped with my running technique.  With other sports that I watch on TV, I always end up paying more attention to how they run than the game or event itself.

Runner Profile:  Julie Balmer

Julie Balmer would currently be considered as one of Northern Ireland’s leading female distance runners, but the success that the Newtownards based lady has enjoyed this year (2013) has surprised even her!  In the last six weeks Julie has won the Belfast Marathon, Newry Half Marathon, Larne Half Marathon and finished as runner up to Breege Connolly at Runher Coastal Challenge (10k).

Immediately after winning the Larne Half Marathon, Julie took some time to answer a few questions for us. Please have a read at Julie’s ‘Runner Profile’:

Full Name:  Julie Anne Hilary Balmer

Current Category:  Female Vet35

Associated Club:  North Down AC

Personal Bests:  5k – 19:05, 5 miles – 29:57, 10k 37:55, 7 miles – 44:22, 10 miles – 1:04:35, Half Marathon (13.1m) – 1:23:21, Marathon (26.2m) – 2:57:50

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  Ards Half Marathon – Of course!  It’s my home town, my home gym marshals.  I run past my primary school, my parents’ road and the church I grew up in.  So it sparks so many memories and has amazing support.  Probably because I know the whole town and the course is my training ground.

When did you start running?  2008 - I walked/jogged Belfast marathon, I then won my first ever race, the 5km Race for Life.  I joined North Down AC in 2009 after winning my first ever 10k race, which was the Runher event.

Why do you run?  I love being outside, it’s time out from work, people and quality thinking time.   In the summer it’s a great way to get a tan! But even in snow, rain and hail I always feel better and have more energy after any runs.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I’m delighted to say I am writing this after just winning Larne half for the first time and I’m gradually ticking off the Half Marathon’s on my holiday countdown!  So now my next race is Lisburn Half Marathon and then Ards Half Marathon, when school’s out for the summer.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  Definitely the long run – it can never be too long.  I got carried away this Easter in sunny Spain and ran 26.5 miles.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I’m a creature of habit and stick to what I’ve done from the start.  As a coealic I work through food pretty quickly especially in races and long runs pre-marathon.  So pre-race is always Spaghetti Bolognese with pasta and pitta bread, followed by a large bag of butterkist popcorn, a few chocolate caramels and Haribo sweets. Sometimes I would have a protein shake just before bed.

Post-race is always meal with at least 6 people, friends, family or both.  Always either dinner in a restaurant, our house, a friends house or my parents.  If I’m out I’ll have fish, friends/family/us usually do chicken/ beef or lamb.  It usually depends on time of year whether it’s Sunday roast or a BBQ.  Usually this is accompanied by rice or potatoes as unless I’m at home I can’t get gluten free pasta or bread.  Definitely a glass or wine (or two).  Sometimes Cava or a cocktail especially if my dad’s paying! It doesn’t matter if I win or not I just celebrate being blessed to be able to run each race. 

What is your running ambition?  I would love to run with Paula Radcliffe, or even meet her.  I watched the Olympic Marathon in London last year, which had a broad range of finishing times.  Some of which I’ve achieved but the difference is the girls qualifying times or Nationality.  I’m not anywhere near the league of strong marathon girls we have in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  Running in the elite of the Great North Run was a brilliant experience.  Racing with only 30 others at the start, having “Balmer” on my number, wearing an “elite athlete” wristband and having the whole motorway closed for us girlies.  It was great meeting amazing athletes like Mo Farrah, Wilson Kipsang,  Jo Pavey and Freya Murray.

You have enjoyed a lot of success recently; winning the Decathlon Half Marathon, the Belfast City Marathon, then you were second in the Runher Coastal Challenge less than 48 hours before winning the Newry Half Marathon.  Are you happy with how things are going at the moment?  I’m in shock!  Normally I have 2 days rest before I race, not half a day.  I never take winning for granted.  I’ve known pain of injury and 6 months without running; when I watched the London Marathon 3 years ago on crutches, rather than running it.  Every race is a joy to take part in, but usually I know my place before I start, sometimes, especially recently, I’ve been so amazingly surprised.  It was funny today (Saturday 9th June 2013), because when I first ran Larne Half Marathon 4 years ago I was 4th in a time of 1:24. Each year since I’ve been 3rd, 2nd then 1st today but all in 1:24! I’m not getting any quicker, but I’m getting older so at least I’m consistent.   Some races I give everything and I know others I have more left when I finish, buts it’s too late – I’m still learning, every days a school day.

In May 2013, you were they first ever recipient of the Moira O'Neill trophy, for your win in the Belfast Marathon.  How did this make you feel? It was such a surprise and a privilege; it was an emotional occasion.  I don’t feel a worthy recipient as I’m too slow and Belfast this year was my slowest marathon in the five that I have done.  The trophy is fabulous and is currently sitting pride of place on our mantelpiece.  It will be wonderful to look back at it when I’m 75, it will mean even more.

What other sports do you like?  I do Pilates and Yoga, as I’m a firm believer in core strength and stretching to maintain the muscles and try to keep injury free.  I do swimming (more Jacuzzi) and cycle very slowly - no joke I run the same pace as I cycle! I also do body pump (weights to music) twice a week on Doctor’s orders as I’ve osteoporosis, so it strengthen the bones. 

Runner Profile:  Karen Alexander

Northern Ireland international runner, Karen Alexander has been a fixture at the top of end of race results since I started running.  I have watched Karen race, and compete well over all sorts of terrain in different parts of the world and earlier this month I saw her demolish the field at the Lost Worlds 25k on the Causeway Coast, where she was the first competitor to finish (including the men).

Recently Karen has enjoyed wins at the well respected Cooley Legends Half Marathon (Carlingford) and just last weekend, the Moy River Half Marathon in Ballina, County Mayo (Ireland), where she beat the previous course record by almost three minutes.

Full Name:  Karen Alexander

Current Category:  Female Vet35

Associated Club:  Sperrin Harriers

Personal Bests: 5 miles - 30:01, 10k - 36:54, Half Marathon - 1:23:05, Marathon - 2:55:58

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I cannot pick out one in particular but I do love the off road half marathons, especially the Causeway Coast and Cooley Legends (in Carlingford).  The Causeway Coast is one of my favourite training grounds as well! What could be better than running off road along one of the Wonders of the World?

You recently won the Lost Worlds Causeway Crossing 25k, during which you were the first runner (including the men) to finish. Were you happy at this, how did it make you feel?  I loved it! As I said, this is one of my favourite training grounds.  We had perfect conditions for the race; the wind was with us the whole way.  I felt a bit disorientated running in the opposite direction as I practiced the route one day in March when the wind chill must have been -3 oC.  It was awful and it took me 2 hours 16 minutes that day, so it made the race feel like a breeze in comparison.  I don’t really purposely set out to beat the men.  I’m happy enough as long as I’m first female!

Over the years, you have competed on the road, in the mountains and on trails. What is your favourite terrain and why?  It has taken me a while to settle on my perfect terrain but it is definitely Trail.  I cannot navigate; I can get lost on a roundabout.  This rules me out of navigational mountain running.  I am hopeless descending fells as well.  I prefer trail marathons to road marathons because the time barrier is less of an issue and I haven’t managed a sub 3 hour road marathon since Belfast 2008. 

You have also raced over a wide variety of distances in the time that I have known you, would you say you are more of a long distance runner? or do you prefer the shorter races (5m/10k etc)?  I do not have to hesitate with this answer.  I hate to race anything shorter than 5 miles as it takes me about 3 miles to settle into the race, I even find 10k fast.  I would love cross country if only it was at least 2 miles longer!  My ideal distance seems to be 10 miles or half marathon.  I have a built in dislike of speed work which stems from my school days.  Although, I’ve been told often enough that if I did speed work in training, I would see results during shorter races.

When did you start running?  I started running relatively late.  It was only about ten years ago when I took on what was at the time a daunting task of running a leg in the Belfast Marathon relay for my church team.  After that Trevor Dallas (a church friend and Sperrin Harriers member) encouraged me to join the club.

Why do you run?  A great way to de-stress after a day in the classroom! I run because it makes me feel good mentally and physically.  God has given me a talent which I have been able to use to glorify His name.  It is so good to have the health and strength to run, especially when I think back to my early 20’s when I was enduring severe, prolonged illness.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I have entered the Achill Island Half Marathon on 6th July 2013, which is a holiday.  This is my next planned race but I tend to take each week at a time and see what the weather is like with regards to local races. 

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I don’t have one! I do not have a structured schedule with speed work, reps etc.  I just go out and run.  How much time I have, how my legs feel and what the weather is like, determines the outcome of each training session.  I love a good session on the hilly mountain bike trails in Davagh Forest.  I recommend it! 

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Before a race, especially a morning race, I would have breakfast cereals and a soda farl (I love my starchy carbs).  After a race, my favourite treat is a chicken fillet burger and chips and a bottle of ketchup!

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Without a doubt the silver medal in the World Mountain Running Long Distance Challenge in Slovenia, 2011. I will never forget that achievement which was way beyond my expectations.  Second to that is my third place in the Belfast Marathon 2008, when I was running for Christian Aid in memory of my Grandad.

What is your running ambition?  To be honest, I’ve achieved it.  How can I better that world silver medal?  Nevertheless each time I race my ambition is that I’m ‘in it to win it!’ As long as I continue to enjoy running I will continue to get a thrill from it!

What other sports do you like?  I enjoy Gymnastics.  Since about nine years of age I was passionate about gymnastics.  However, I did not have the opportunities to develop my skills.  I wasn’t the most graceful though and became too gangly! I can still do the splits and walk on my hands though! I wonder if there is a world record for completing a half marathon on your hands!

Runner Profile:  Mark Walker

Like many other runners, Bangor man Mark Walker dabbled with running at school but gave it up to pursue other interests. Then in 2009, Mark started running again and has since flourished in a sport he now loves (alongside Mixed Martial Arts and Football, especially Chelsea FC).

Mark's personal bests tumbled as he improved, but after his marathon times began to stagnate, the IT Systems Engineer changed a few things and quickly began to reap the rewards.   Mark’s ‘runner profile’ is an interesting and at times inspiring story of how we should never stop adjusting our goals/ambitions in respect to our progress and achievements.

Full Name:  Mark Walker
Current Category:  Male Vet40
Associated Club:  Unattached
Personal Bests:  5k - 18:19, 10k - 36:44, Half Marathon - 1:23:00, Marathon - 2:56:41

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I really enjoyed the Rathlin Run (Half Marathon) in 2012.  Going across to the island by ferry makes it feel like a real adventure.  The course itself is pretty challenging, with plenty of steep hills and a few cattle grids to negotiate.  I wore a chest camera during the race and uploaded a video to YouTube here -

When did you start running?  I did a little bit of cross country running at school then ran for about a year in my mid 20’s.  However, I didn’t run at all for about twelve years until 2009, then I started again and would now run on a regular basis.

Why do you run?  I became vegetarian in 2009 and the change in diet seemed to provide me with a lot of extra energy.  I felt I had to find a way of burning the energy and running seemed ideal because I had enjoyed it in the past.  This is what got me out the door to begin with and since then I haven’t looked back.  I enjoy the mental and physical feeling of wellbeing that running provides.  I love the ‘runners high’ I get after a hard run or race and believe running has made me a happier person.  I also enjoy the challenge of always trying to improve my personal bests.  In running you do compete against others but first and foremost you compete against yourself.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My next race will be the Newry Half Marathon and I’m hoping to run close to my Pb of 1:23:00. However, this race will be twenty days after the Belfast City Marathon and five weeks after the London Marathon so my legs might have different ideas! This will be the first of six races I plan on running in Pure Running Half Marathon Series.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  The run I always look forward to the most is a weekend long run.  I generally do this on a Saturday morning and when training for a marathon would run usually run between 20 to 24 miles.  As I get closer to the marathon I add more quality into the run.  Three weeks before the London Marathon this year I ran a 22 mile run with the last 10 miles at my planned marathon pace, which was a great workout.  I timed it so that I joined the back of the 100th running of the Belfast Victoria ‘parkrun’ after about 18 miles which made the run even more enjoyable.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I like to keep it simple with porridge, a banana and rice milk about three hours before a longer race. Maybe some white bread and jam if it’s a marathon I’m racing.  I do most of my quality training sessions early in the morning on an empty stomach, so I don’t eat anything before a morning race which is 10k or less.

I always try to drink a high GI carbohydrate drink straight after a race.  If the race is long, I would then eat a pack lunch while travelling home.  This usually includes almond butter sandwiches, a banana, dried fruit and nuts.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  I’m certainly not a great runner and having only started in 2009 at the age of 39 my achievements are rather ordinary.  I’ve never won a race but did finish second in the Rathlin Half Marathon in 2012.  I also finished third overall in the Vet40 age group in the 2012 Up and Running Half Marathon Series.  You have to run six races all around Northern Ireland to qualify so it takes a bit of dedication to complete.  I like to think my biggest achievement is still to come!

You recently achieved your goal of a sub three hour marathon in the London Marathon, how do you feel about that?  Yes, ever since running a 3:28 marathon in Belfast 2010, I set my long term goal of running a sub 3 hour marathon.  I made sub 3:15, then sub 3:10 as shorter term goals along the way.  Over the next few years I improved a bit then seemed to stagnate with marathon finishes of 3:26, 3:13, 3:18, 3:09 and 3:13.

I decided a new approach was needed so took a season off marathon training and worked on my speed over shorter distances.  Then training for London this year I also really ramped up the mileage compared to other campaigns.  Instead of running about 55 miles a week I averaged about 75 and peaked at 100 miles four weeks out from the race.  The higher mileage really paid off as I managed a 36:44 10k, which was a personal best by almost a minute two weeks before London.  This gave me a lot of confidence and I targeted running 6:45 minute miles in London.  I expected to slow down a bit over the last few miles but held it together and finished in 2:56:41.

I think only fellow runners can appreciate how ecstatic I was to finally achieve this goal.  Every run I had done for the previous three years had in some way been working towards this.  All the early morning runs in the snow, ice, wind or rain were now all worth while.  I’m not talented enough to run at a high level but this felt like my Olympic gold medal!  A few weeks on from London and I’m still on cloud nine.  However, it hasn’t taken long for me to set new goals.  Sub 2:50:00 sounds nice. 

What is your running ambition?  I love setting goals and working towards them. So my next target will be to run sub 18 minute 5k as I feel my current Pb of 18:19 is weak considering my recent improvements.  I would also like to break 1:20:00 for a Half Marathon and then target a sub 2:50:00 marathon.  If I achieve these goals I’ll quickly set new ones!

I get so much enjoyment from running, so I hope I’ll continue for many years to come.  I turn 44 years old this year but hope to keep improving for a while. Ultimately, I’d love to represent Northern Ireland in a veteran event but that might take twenty or thirty years yet! Now, how about that for a long term goal!?

Runner Profile:  Shileen O'Kane

One of the first people I was introduced to whenever I decided to try Mountain Running was Shileen O’Kane, a lady I consider to be one of the country’s top mountain runners.  Shileen is a very talented, unassuming and down to earth lady, who actually does not realise how good she is.  The Lagan Valley AC athlete has represented Northern Ireland many times and can be found racing over mountains, trails, cross country and roads; John Glover has even got her to train on the track! Shileen is really an all-terrain lady and thus, a perfect ‘Runner Profile’.

Full Name:   Shileen O'Kane
Current Category:  Female Vet40
Associated Club:  Lagan Valley AC
Personal Bests:   5k - 19:33, 5 miles – 31:34 10k – 39:16, Half Marathon – 1:33:50

You spend a lot of time in the mountains, so we understand PBs aren't always applicable.  Tell us your PB’s or your best times for your three favourite mountain/trail races?  My three favourite mountain races include some of Northern Ireland’s classic fell races, they are:

Slieve Donard (5.5 miles - 840m ascending - PB 1:08:15):
This race starts/finishes in the centre of Newcastle (County Down) and your allowed to choose your route to the summit and back, as long as you pass the check-point at the top. I enjoy it as it is Northern Ireland's highest mountain and it is where I do most of my training.  In the race, the route I choose is the almost vertical climb/descent of the 'Black Stairs' which suits me more than the runnable Glenn River route.  The finish is at the end of the towns promenade, where the runners get great support from the local spectators.

Seven Sevens (19 miles - 8,700ft ascending - PB 5:03:16 – Ladies Course Record):
This race covers the seven highest peaks (700m+ of ascending) in the Mourne Mountains - Donard, Commedagh, Bearnagh, Meelbeg, Meelmore, Lamagan, Binnian. It is a very challenging event where both endurance and navigation (my weakness) are important.  Last year, with the help of Justin Maxwell and Phelim McAllister whom I followed in the mist, I managed to break the ladies record.  I am still hoping, in better conditions to go under 5 hours.  I enjoy the very steep climbs and descents although it is a relief to reach that final descent along the Glenn River.  This race is ultra-distance for me!

Flagstaff  to Carlingford (11miles – 3,000ft climb - PB 1:56:33 –Ladies Course Record):
This is a spectacular race which starts in the North and finishes in the South, following the ridge of the Cooley Mountains before descending into the pretty village of Carlingford.  Like all long mountain races, weather conditions and route choice are everything and greatly affect times.  Last year, in perfect conditions and with good route choice (this time with the help of Pete Grant) I managed to break the ladies record.  The race is superbly organised by Armagh AC and Brian Vallely who has in the past provided post-race musical entertainment.

When did you start running?  I started to run/jog during my teacher training, probably to de-stress! When doing my teaching practice in B.R.A I met Ann Terek (former N Ireland XC runner) and she asked me to be part of the school relay team in the Belfast Marathon.  I loved the atmosphere at the event.  Ann then brought me along to a XC race in Lurgan Park where, despite being at the very back of the field, I enjoyed the experience of competing (fortunately I have improved since then).  Then in 1999 I turned up at a fell race, discovered the mountains and the rest is history!

Why do you run?  I love running, particularly the endorphin high that it gives.  For me, the mountains are escapism where I can experience that feeling of freedom and solitude.  In competition I get a buzz from pushing myself to the limit on steep climbs followed by the adrenalin fuelled fast descents.  I have met some amazing people, some of my best friends through running.  I joined Lagan Valley AC a couple of years ago and train with a great group of people.  As a working mum of three young children, running provides me with my 'me' time.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I am currently doing the Hill and Dale mountain races every Thursday evening.  This is a unique eleven race series in various parts of the Mourne Mountains, organised by Newcastle AC.  This is my 13th year of total addiction! I have won the series a few times but it has become more and more competitive with an increasing number of ladies participating.  This year, like every year, I just want to run my best, enjoy it and hopefully finish with no broken limbs! I am on the Northern Ireland ladies team going to Keswick on 25th May 2013, for the Home Countries International Fell Race (Uphill, 9.3km - 990m ascending).  We won a bronze medal last year, so it would be nice to come home with a medal again this year.

You race over various terrains (road, mountain, trail).  What would you consider to be your favourite event and why?  It has to be mountain, trail and road - in that order.   It is difficult to choose a favourite mountain race - I enjoy them all!  In addition to the ones that I have already mentioned, I love to go to Cushendall in August to do the Lurig Mountain Race which is part of the town's annual festival.  There is a great atmosphere and crowds gather in the town centre to support the runners.  I would definitely recommend this race, even for the non-fell runners.  Another favourite is Ballymena AC's Glenariff Mountain Race.  I don't compete that often on the roads but I try to get along to the Seeley 10k as it is local and attracts a large quality field.

What is your favourite training session?  As I consider myself to be a mountain runner, it has to be a hard session over Slieve Donard and Commedagh. I've been doing this session for many years, even during the winter when deep snow reduces it to a hike! I run from Donard Forest to the summits close to race pace and recovery is the descents where I can enjoy the scenery and chat to my training partners - Anne Sandford and Hazel McLaughlin.  Every Monday evening I do a track session with Lagan Valley AC, led by our coach John Glover.  These are tough sessions but they have helped me to improve my speed on the flat.

What is your favourite pre and post-race food?  The night before a race I will always have pasta and start hydrating.  Pre-race breakfast is weetabix and sultanas.  If it is an evening race I will have toast/banana 3 hours beforehand.  I am often seen with a bar of Dairy Milk half an hour or so before the start – it’s just one of 'my things'.  Post-race, I am happy to eat whatever is available.  It has become traditional that during the Hill and Dale Series, a chilled bottle of bubbly is packed into my bag as a post-race refreshment (to share of course!).

What are your greatest achievements?  My greatest achievements have been in mountain running. I am lucky that I have had the opportunity to compete for Northern Ireland in some stunning mountainous regions:

- World Mountain Running Championships:  Malaysia 1999, Germany 2000, Italy 2001, Austria 2002, Turkey 2006
- European Mountain Running Championships:  Madeira 2002
- Commonwealth Fell Running Championships:  England 2009, Wales 2011
- Home Countries International:  Scotland 2010 (we won a team bronze medal), England 2012 (we won a team bronze medal)

I have been the Northern Ireland Mountain Running ladies Champion in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012.

What is your running ambition?  I just want to continue to enjoy running and remain injury free.  I am realistic that there may not be many more PB’s but I can still be competitive at Masters events and in August 2013, I will travel to the Czech Republic to run in the World Masters Mountain Running Championships.  As a runner I hope that I will inspire my own children to enjoy sport and possibly one day run with Lagan Valley AC!

What other sports do you like?   I enjoy watching most sports.  I used to cycle a bit but unfortunately I can't find the time to fit it in anymore, unless I have a running injury!

Runner Profile:  Eddie McGinley

Eddie McGinley is one of Northern Ireland’s most talented runners; the football fanatic from Belfast has represented Northern Ireland at Junior, U-23 and Senior levels, with the most recent being at the Burgos Cross Country in Spain last year (2012).  He is the proud owner of two International bronze medals, both from Celtic Cross Country events.

Having represented Northern Ireland on the football pitch at U-18 level and played in the Irish League, Eddie has shown that he is a man of many talents.  Despite having briefly retired from running a few years ago, he is now back and looking fit and strong.  Recently he enjoyed a good win at Jimmy’s 10k, I would imagine this will be the first of many victories in 2013.

Full Name:  Eddie McGinley
Current Category:  Male Open
Associated Club:  Annadale Striders/Liverpool Harriers
Personal Bests:  1500m - 3:56, 3,000m – 8:13, 5,000m – 14:13, 10,000m – 29:47

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  It would probably be the Armagh International 5k.  I’m good friends with Dermot Kerr and he always delivers a special night of racing.  It has a unique atmosphere and it’s great to be a part of it.  

When did you start running?  I suppose I’ve always done a wee bit of running but my running career is not your typical story.  Football was, and is, my first love so running was always to compliment the football.  In my primary school we used to have four cross-country races in P7.  I won all four and then went on to win a Belfast Schools Cross-Country race.  In first year at school I won the districts without doing any training so I suppose I knew I had a bit of ability.  The problem is I hated it and my PE teacher Stephanie McCann, who was a Commonwealth athlete, used to force me to do it.  In 1997 I somehow managed to make the Irish Schools Cross-Country team despite doing no specific training.

The race was in Wales, and it was my first time on a plane, my first time away from home and a race race that was won by no other than Mo Farah.  I remember wearing really long football shorts, football boots and a vest that would still drown me.  I had a blinder, and finished 13th and second Irish man.  It should have been the start of running for me, but I swore then I’d never race again, the nerves were too much.  I felt I didn’t belong and hearing all these lads talking about splits, reps, tempos etc, I hadn’t a clue.  So it was back to the football and playing two matches every Saturday.  I was doing well, and I reached the last twenty five of the schoolboy international squad, was part of the Manchester United School of Excellence and had my pick of Irish League teams to sign for.

I ended up at Distillery thinking that I could force my way into the first team quicker but I hated it.  Being so small and light meant I wasn’t playing in the middle of the park where I wanted to be.  I became disillusioned with it and after playing against England at Gillingham I decided that that was it, despite a lot of people trying to talk me out of it.  Rory Friel, a great man who I owe a lot to, got me down to the Mary Peters Track and I started training with him at 18 in 2001.  It was great craic and I quickly improved.  Eventually I joined Annadale Striders and was progressing nicely.  In typical McGinley style I overcooked it and under doctors’ orders had to take six months of complete rest.  I came back but never felt like the same athlete so after running 14:59 at the Armagh 5k in 2005, totally disgusted, I called an end to my brief running career.  Or so I thought.  I went back and enjoyed a great season with UUJ playing football in the Amateur League, but work commitments meant I couldn’t commit the following season.  Quickly I was doing nothing but boozing and piling the weight on.  After a couple of years I saw a photo of myself and I was shocked.  I had ballooned to well above what I would consider to be my usual weight.  So in 2008 I decided to lose weight and after six months of training I got the bug again and haven’t looked back.

Why do you run?  I run for a lot of reasons but mainly to see how fast I can be.  I do love that feeling of being fit and it’s hard to beat.  I will always run for fitness.  However, if I don’t feel like I’m improving, I’ll walk away from competing.  I’m 30 and enjoy it but the enjoyment centres on running fast and please God more PBs.  If they are elusive I’ll go back and play football with my mates for enjoyment and jog to keep fit.  It’s easier and more fun.  I won’t be racing as a vet, that is for sure.  I’ve no interest in training as hard, hurting as much but running slower.  I respect all those guys who do it but it’s not for me.  I don’t know how they do it.  Their passion for the sport is amazing.

What is your next race and what would you like to achieve from it?  This sounds very unprofessional but I started a new job five weeks ago and I’m really just finding my feet in it.  Running doesn’t pay my mortgage so it’s taking a back seat at the minute so I’ve no real concrete plans.

You had planned to step up to the Half Marathon distance recently in Larne, but the event was postponed.  Have you any other Half Marathon's in mind for your debut?  Not really.  Larne fell at a good time.  I hadn’t been doing any specific half marathon stuff so it just fell at a good weekend for me in the calendar.  I’m not sure when I’ll step up.  Some of the really talented young lads in our group are forcing me to think about it more seriously though.  These wee legs are getting a bit too old for the short stuff.

You won Jimmy's 10k last month having just returned from injury; what was the injury and have you fully recovered from it? Were you happy with the performance?  I had a niggle with my Achilles ten days before the Greenmount International (in January 2013) but kept plugging away and banging out the miles.  The Monday morning after the race I had to stop five minutes into my run, the pain was just too much.  I got it diagnosed and took a few weeks of rest.  I was sensible, patient and didn’t rush back and so far it has responded well.  Jimmy’s 10K was an enjoyable day out.  I felt nice and relaxed.  I don’t wear a watch when I race and never get caught up on splits.  I’ve ran all my Pb’s that way.  I think too many guys are obsessed with Garmins etc and don’t run enough by feel.  I don’t need a computer to tell me if I’m running too hard or cheating myself.  So during the race I hadn’t a clue if it was fast or slow.  I didn’t care either.  I just wanted a decent work out.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  Anything on the track really that is longer than 6k of work.  So probably something like 5x2000m or miles reps.  Again, I think too many people are obsessed with sessions and don’t realise it’s what you do the whole week.  It’s funny, in 2011 when I ran a load of Pbs people naively were asking had I changed my sessions.  It had nothing to do with the sessions, more like three years of consistent mileage!

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I have a lot of stomach and stitch issues when I race so I’m still continually playing about with pre-race meals.  I still don’t think I’ve mastered it yet.  Post race, well anything with sugar.  I’ve a seriously sweet tooth so bags of Haribo is the norm.  I don’t get obsessed with diet.  I’m not an Olympic athlete so I’m not going to deny myself what I like when I’m busting a gut all week, all year.  So I’ll have a chippie, take away, a few pints, or chocolate whenever I feel like it.  Some runners need to get out a bit more and stop taking the sport so seriously.

What is your running ambition?  Like most athletes I’ve had lofty ambitions but I’ve started a new job and it’s my priority at the minute.  I don’t feel there is any point chatting the chat about what times I’ll run or teams I’ll make.  It’s all pie in the sky stuff.  Some athletes like to spout off about what they’ll do, but it’s bullsh*t.  Run the times and let them speak for themselves.  I’ll fit what training I can around my work.  Recovery is what makes the difference to reach the next level and unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of a rich patron, or being able to sit on my backside in between runs or away to training camps.  So I’ll take the ups and downs as they come.  As long as I’m enjoying it for the next few months I’ll be happy.

What would you consider to be your biggest achievement to date?  I suppose I should say winning the Irish Cross-Country title last year (2012).  It meant a lot to me and my family, but personally my biggest achievement was just getting back into the sport and being able to compete at a decent level.  When I started jogging after putting all the weight on, a lot of people said I would never get back into the sport.  It was a hard slog.  Losing the weight was one thing but getting my ass kicked day in daily by vets and 38 minute 10k runners was a real eye opener.

Many times I thought, what’s the point?  I had to leave the ego to one side, deal with constant injuries and constant pain, but I wouldn’t change it.  I appreciate the sport more now and learnt so much about it and myself.  I respect everyone who competes because I realised that everyone hurts the same from a 29 minute 10K guy to a 50 minute one.  So I enjoy the sport and feel privileged to be at the level I’m at – that for me is my biggest achievement.

Over the years you have competed on the track and on the roads, do you have a preference?  The track is where I feel most at home.  I’m a rhythm runner and the track suits me perfectly.  I would rather do 25 laps than 10k on the road.  It’s where I’ve recorded all my Pb’s.  Plus you know when you have ran 10k on the track you have ran 10k.  That’s certainly not the case on the road despite what some of the rose tinted spectacled wearing, back in my day brigade will tell you who boast 5000m track bests slower than the halfway split of their road 10k times.  Traditionally Striders’ athletes have always trained regularly on the track so I guess this is where I get my love for it.

What other sports do you like?  Football is my number one sport.  I don’t support any specific teams, rather I like to watch certain players.  I won’t miss Barcelona though and watch them every week.  I also try and get over to the Nou Camp for games when I can.  I had the privilege of seeing Lionel Messi score in the flesh last month so I can die a happy man.

Runner Profile:  Keith Shiels

I first met Keith Shiels on the 13th October 2012, not long after I had set up the NiRunning website.  It was at the Northern Ireland Masters Cross Country trials at QUB Playing Fields in Belfast and he had just produced an excellent performance, winning the Vet35 category (which ultimately led to selection!). 

As I didn’t recognise him, I approached Keith and asked him for his name, to which he politely replied "Keith Shiels" (I then noted ‘Keith Shields’).  I compiled my report and uploaded it, only to see my error when the official results came out.  I never made the same mistake again; not because I was criticised for the error, nor was I told to change it, but quite simply because since that day, I have found myself writing Keith SHIELS nearly every weekend since. 

This has allowed me to watch Keith consistently improve through 2012 and into 2013, gradually establishing himself as one of the most talented runners in the country.  The best part of it is that I still honestly believe he will continue to improve!  Enough of my waffling, please enjoy Keith’s profile.

Full Name:  Keith Shiels
Current Category:  Male Vet35
Associated Club:  Foyle Valley A C
Personal Bests:  3k - 8:59, 5k - 15:11, 5 miles - 25:09, 10k - 32:29, 10 miles - 55:19, Half Marathon -1:23:06

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  The tougher ones all spring to mind, like Greencastle 5, Altamuskin 5 and the Masters XC in Belfast.  However, the main one for me would be the Armagh International Road Races.  I have missed it two years in a row, as I was sick both times it was on.  So hopefully I'll get to compete in it next year.  I love the build up to all the big races.

When did you start running?  I started running in secondary school, doing cross country and then I stopped until about three or four years ago.  I started running again to lose weight initially, so I could still enjoy my food without putting on weight.  I still eat pretty much anything I like; I just run it off now.

Why do you run?  I love the freedom of the open road.  I run alone all the time and have plenty of time to think about things.  Its funny how life seems so much simpler after a run.  I also love the competition side of running now and pushing myself to the limit in training every week.

What is your next race and what would you like to achieve from it?  The Queen’s ‘Race around the River’ (Wednesday 27th March 2013) was a big target for me as I missed Armagh, so I was happy to have run a personal best at it.  I am now heading to London on Sunday 7th April 2013 to compete in the Masters Indoor Championships.  I have never ran indoors or on a track and have never ran a 3k race before, so I'm looking forward to that but I prefer the road.  After that, I will pick a race with a big field and aim everything towards that.

Since the Summer of 2012, you have really progressed as a runner, is there anything in particular you would put that down too?  I am very competitive and love to test myself constantly in every session, trying to better myself each time.  My coach Gabriel Bell constantly changes my sessions so we're not doing the same thing each week.  He is good at finding new places and sessions to make me suffer!  I often train alone, so it helps having a coach who is flexible with me.  I think I focus more when I train alone, as I joke about too much when in I'm in a group.  Around September 2012, Gabriel got me to start doing some core work, to be honest I'm not a fan of it but it has really helped.

You have had a few brilliant runs recently, second place in Carmen 10k, second place in Altamuskin 5 and then a new personal best at Queen's 5km; Are you happy with how things are going?  I always take the positives out of all my races.  I look back at results quite a lot and see how much closer I am getting to certain people, this improves my confidence when I see the gaps coming down and always makes me look forward to meeting the top runners at future races.

Pb's are great fun, I had ten in a row last year and I'm still improving, so I am looking forward to see how far I can improve with each race.  I find that if I train really hard the week leading up to a race, I run better, but when I taper down towards a race I seem to struggle.

What is your favourite training 'session'?   Hill repeats on ‘South Way’, that's a hill close to where I live.  I think hills test you when you are out on an ordinary run but sprinting up them makes me feel as if I have got the best out of myself.  In a weird way I love the burning feeling I get in my thighs when I do them.  Then I have to run up the hill to get home, during which I always ask myself if I am wise putting myself through this!

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  I love my food and biscuits!  A few hours before a race I would probably have some pasta, tuna or chicken, then a banana about two hours before the race itself.  If its morning race, I would have porridge and a slice of wheaten bread toasted.  I really enjoy post-race refreshments and a chat after the race itself.  They really put out great spreads up around Omagh and Donegal, the people are so friendly and welcoming.  I enjoy a night out after the really big races as a reward.

What is your running ambition?  I just love competing and testing myself to see where I can get to.  I enjoy the big race nerves and the build up to them.  My targets for this year is to run a sub 15 minute 5k, a sub 32 minute 10k and towards the end of the year I would like to try and break 70 minutes for a Half Marathon, as I have not ran a Half Marathon in over two years.

What would you consider to be your biggest achievement to date?  To date, I think my biggest achievement is how much I have improved.  I ran 19:45 for my first 5k two years ago at the Bay Road 5km race (a race in Derry/Londonderry).  I constantly think back to the days when I was heavier and I am really proud of all I have done since.  I love representing my club and putting on my purple vest.  I have been lucky enough to have been selected to run as part of the Northern Ireland Masters team which was another great achievement.

What other sports do you like?  I am good snooker player and have won my fair share of tournaments.  I have hit a tournament century break before, but snooker and running don't mix so I dropped Snooker in September to concentrate on running.  They both require a lot of hours.

Runner Profile:  Nigel McKibbin

Nigel McKibbin is a familiar face in the Northern Ireland running scene, if he’s not racing, he can regularly be found spectating and encouraging others.  He has enjoyed a ‘love affair’ with running since his Primary School days and is still a competitive athlete.

After a relatively quiet 2012, Nigel is back in training and looking forward to a successful 2013.  We are quite certain that this will bring some quality performances and category wins, despite his Vet40 category being one of the most competitive of all.

Full Name:  Nigel McKibbin
Age:  43
Current Category:  Male Vet40
Associated Club:  Dromore AC
Personal Bests:  1500m – 4:36.25, 3000m - 9:29.12, 5k - 16:23, 10k - 33:51   

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  Just like a lot of other runners I really enjoy the Armagh International Road Races, around ‘The Mall’ in Armagh.  Having first taken part in 2010 I was amazed at the organisation and the atmosphere, not to mention the ‘Supper’ in the hall after the races finish.  I got a real buzz from the event, in which I have ran the 3km, finishing 3rd in my category 2010, 1st in 2011 and 2nd in 2013 (I didn’t compete much in 2012).

When did you start running?  I have enjoyed running (racing) as far back as I can remember, even in Primary School I couldn’t wait for Sports Day. When I went to Secondary School, I got involved in Cross Country and have fond memories of the Inter-School Cross Country events on a Wednesday afternoon, and also the District Championships at Dundonald High School and the Ulster Championships at Mallusk.

After school I stopped running and played football for a few years, but as I thought it was lacking the buzz of running/racing I found myself getting involved in Sidecar Motocross, and yes…  I was the mad one that stands and hangs off the side!  However, in 1996 a colleague in work threw the gauntlet down to me to run a 10km, with a side bet that I wouldn’t break 40 minutes.   To complete my first 10km after not having raced for or eleven years and finish in 39:55 brought a great smile to my face.

The rest is history, as I soon joined Albertville Harriers and ran with them for four or five years.  Injuries and starting a family kept me busy for the next few years until my eldest son decided he fancied a go at athletics, so I took him down to our now local club, Dromore AC in 2009 and I again got bit by the bug.

Why do you run?  As mentioned above, the bug of training and the buzz of racing is what I really enjoy.  I do most of my training early in the morning with my two springer spaniel dogs, they help me get out on the cold, wet and dark mornings, but when I get back to the house I’m ready for what the day will throw at me.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  The Queens ‘round the river’ 5k is my next race and I hope to get close to 16:37, which is the time I last completed it in.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I prefer the speed sessions when the distance reduces and the speed increases throughout the session, telling the mind that it’s not as far, so “go quicker”. This seems to work ok for me.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  My pre-race meal is two Weetabix with homemade muesli, honey and soya milk, followed by tea and toast.  I try to have this about five to six hours ahead of the race, and a mandarin orange one hour before the start.  Post-race isn’t the same ritual, more a case of what I can get my hands on, usually junk!

What is your running ambition?  To be able to keep running for as long as my body allows me, it is a good healthy habit and one I feel those who don’t do it are missing out on.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  In 2010 I made the Northern Ireland Masters Cross Country Team and competed in Dublin at the British and Irish International XC.  I was selected again in 2011 and took part at the same event in Glasgow, although the course that day was something else!

What other sports do you like?  I enjoy watching most sports; Rugby, Football, Formula 1 and Moto-GP.
Runner Profile:  Conor Bradley

This year’s indoor track season has brought a fantastic new talent to the fore, namely 25 year old Accounting Graduate Conor Bradley.   In his younger years, Conor won Irish and Northern Irish medals at juvenile level and also competed for Northern Ireland.  Sadly, an injury in November 2005, just after he turned 18 years old led to a five year break from competition until August 2010

After a welcome return to racing, the City of Derry AC athlete has hit the headlines and is the current Northern Ireland 1500m champion, recently he also won a silver medal at the Woodies DIY (Athletics Ireland) National Indoor Championships (3000m) and clocked 4:02.67 for the mile.

Full Name:  Conor Bradley
Age:  25
Current Category:  Male Open
Associated Club:  City Of Derry AC
Personal Bests:  800m - 1:50.44, 1500m - 3:44.07, 3000m - 8:04.52, 5k (Road) - 14:39

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  My favourite Northern Ireland event is a race that I have never actually ran before, the Armagh International 5k Road Race.  I watched it two years ago and everything about it is fantastic; great course, great crowds and great athletes.  It has just been a pity that the race has clashed with the Irish Indoor Championships the last two years, but it is a race that I would really like to participate in and try to win.

When did you start running?  I was always active when I was young and tried my hand at every sport imaginable but it was when I won my P7 sports day 'marathon' that I had found the sport for me.  The next year in secondary school I joined the cross country team and that’s where the journey started.  

Why do you run?  I honestly just love to run.  As a sport I enjoy the individualism of it and the accountability that you can't blame anyone else for not running well.  Even though running is individual in terms of racing, the training and club dynamic is very much group orientated.  The most enjoyable day for training for me is the Sunday long run because a big group of us meet and the craic and banter is great.

Your performances in recent months have impressed many people, are you happy with how your winter running has gone?  Yes, I am very happy with how my winter training has gone.  I have not had any serious injuries, just the usual niggles that all runners get and they have taken just days to sort out, so I have had a very consistent period of training from September 2012.  I got that consistency because I never killed myself on any workouts, always finishing with the mindset that I could do another rep or two if I had to.  I will leave the very tough sessions for the spring and summer!

You were close to the European Championships 1500m qualifying standard, were you disappointed at missing out?  What have you taken from that experience?  Yes, I was disappointed that I did not hit the European qualifying standard in the 1500m or 3k because I think both the standards were achievable and that I was in the shape to hit them.  The positives that I can take are that my running is definitely going in the right direction and that I am good enough to be targeting major events like the European Indoor Championships

After running 4:02:67 for the mile, do you think you will break the infamous 4 minute mile this year?  Well, there are not that many mile races out there but hopefully I can get one or two opportunities over a mile this summer and I will certainly do my best to go sub 4.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I have no races lined up at the minute but I will more than likely be doing a few 5k road races in March and April 2013. I would like to get my 5k personal best down because it isn't great!

What is your favourite training 'session'?  My favourite sessions have to be 1500m type sessions like 4 x 600m with 4/5mins recovery, the ones where you can feel the lactic building and there is absolutely nothing you can do but try to keep going.  It is so satisfying when you are able to push through the pain and hit the splits that you want.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race, I would usually eat 3-4 hours before.  If it was a morning race, I would have cereal and toast.  If I’m doing an evening race, I would have some pasta or a sandwich.  I can't say I have a favourite post-race meal, a lot of runners may be shocked but I do like a good take-away after a race!

What is your running ambition?  I suppose my main ambition would be to compete at major championships like the Commonwealth Games or a European Championships and I would also like to become a National Champion both Indoors and Outdoors.  I would like to get all my times down as far as possible as well, and at the end of my running career, I would like to be able to say that I was able to get the most out of myself.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  I think my greatest achievement in running so far has to be getting bronze in the National Indoor Championships over 1500m with only one shoe on!  About 100m into the race someone stepped on my shoe and my foot was half out of the shoe but I tried to keep calm and not panic even though it was becoming very awkward to run on banked bends.  I tried to kick with 300m to go and the shoe went about 30ft in the air which was quite amusing to see on the RTE highlights the next day.

What other sports do you like? I like almost every sport going!  I am a huge Manchester United fan and like to get over to Old Trafford for a match whenever I can.

NiRunning says:  Conor may not have to wait too long for his next opportunity to race over a mile, we will be releasing details of our next 'mile' event next week.

Runner Profile:  Jessica Craig

At 22 years old, Jessica Craig, an accountancy student and regular charity volunteer from Bangor is recognised as one of the provinces best female runners.

The County Down woman, who has recently been nominated for a ‘Millennium Volunteering Award’, had the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch through Newcastle (County Down) last summer.  In the last year she has produced some excellent performances on the track, on the road and over cross country terrain.  

Throughout the winter, Jessica has been a regular podium finisher and was selected to represent Northern Ireland at the IAAF Antrim International Cross Country in January 2013.  If her current form continues, it looks as if 2013 will be another highly successful year.  

Full Name:  Jessica Craig

Current Category:  U-23/Female Open

Associated Club:  North Down AC

Personal Bests:  800m – 2:19, 1500m - 4:46, 3000m – 10:35, 5k – 18:07, 5 miles – 31:03, 10k – 38:07

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I love the ‘Runher’ events held, usually twice a year.  Michael Jenkins, a member of our club does all the organising for the event so I like to support him as much as possible.  I love them because they are fun, although on a competitive level I think the Laganside 10k road race held in September each year is a great race.  It’s close to home and it’s a fast flat course, great for Pb’s, and usually brings a great standard of competition!

When did you start running?  I have been a member of North Down AC since 2002, and was selected for U-15 and U-17 Northern Ireland teams when I was younger.  However, in the last three years I have been running more competitively and setting myself more goals.

Why do you run?  I love running! I really enjoy the cross country.  I actually look forward to it every year; in fact, I wish the season lasted slightly longer.  It’s more interesting than running on the road, and requires more strength and a different running style which I feel is more suited to me.  The great thing with cross-country is that no one race is ever the same, so it’s never boring! 

Obviously training and races are really hard but I also love running with my friends and it’s good to get a good old natter with them on a long run while building the miles up. It’s also great to have friends around you that are able to motivate you and are so positive about your running.  I have a great coach as well; Francis Marsh, who knows how to train you hard and is able to pick out my weaknesses as well as strengths to ultimately help me improve and reach my goals.  I guess I love it when you reach that goal which you have set for yourself, that's when you can really say ''that's why I love running!''

Your performances throughout the XC season have impressed many people, are you happy with how your winter running has gone?  Yes, I trained hard prior to the cross country season to make sure I was in good shape from the start, I was really looking forward to going into each race better prepared both physically and mentally, and feel that I have achieved this.   I just got stuck into the cross country season right from the start and now I am trying to get fit for the road races

I will have one more blast at the cross country for my university on 9th March 2013 at University of Ulster, Jordanstown playing fields.  As the event is happening after all the other cross country races have finished, it allows me to build up more speed endurance.  This will be my last year competing for the university so I want to feature well in the race, especially when it is on home turf this year!

You have raced over Road, Track and Cross Country; do you have a favourite terrain?  Definitely, as I mentioned before, I love cross country!  When I was younger, I used to love road running but in the last couple of years I have enjoyed the cross country much more, I think I am more suited to the multi-terrain!  Track would not be my favourite event, but it’s good to do some races each year to keep my speed up.  I would like to improve on my 1500m and 3k times this track season.  Although, I will be focusing more on my 1500m, and aim to get a Pb this season.  I am looking forward to the slighter warmer conditions.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I am focusing on the Queen’s University 5k Road Race at the end of March 2013. I feel that I will be in better shape than last year when I ran 18:07, so I aim to break 18 minutes this year.  I look forward to a fast race and racing some amazing runners!  As I have been racing cross country until now, it has been hard to get a fast firm course because of the horrendous weather conditions this winter, usually I am too busy trying to get my feet out of mud than trying to pick up the speed!  So, I will get some good quality training sessions in before hand.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I love a session were you go away thinking “that really hurt”, but in a good way.  Something that you leave knowing you have benefitted from the session, such as a hard track session e.g. 1600m Tempo 3 x (1200m, 800m, 600m, 400m) with three minutes recovery between the sets and ninety seconds between the reps.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Before a race, I always have a big bowl of porridge, with chopped banana, raisins and honey; this is usually three to four hours prior to the event.  Then, two hours before I would have an oaty cereal bar and a pancake, to drink I would have a little bit of Lucozade.  Depending on the length of race (for example a 10k road race), I would have an energy gel about thirty minutes before the start.  After the race I always get something to eat, maybe some nuts as soon as possible after.  Then I try to eat some chicken or fish with vegetables when I get home.

What is your running ambition?  I aim to get my 5k time below 18 minutes, which I hope to do at the QUB 5k, and my 10k time below 38 minutes, hopefully at the Titanic 10k in April 2013. I have always wanted to do the Half Marathon series; I think they would be good training for me and a good way to get an extra few miles in.  So I may give a couple of them a go this year, but with the track season coming up soon my main focus will be on the 1500m to get my Pb.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  Probably the most recent would be being selected to be a part of the Senior Northern Ireland team at the Antrim IAAF Cross Country in January 2013.  I placed third in the Northern Ireland Championship which I was pleased about.

What other sports do you like?  I love rock climbing, tennis and swimming.  I used to do rock climbing two years ago and represented my university, but being in my final year now, running keeps me busy enough.  If I feel like training and I am too tired from my running training, I go to the pool to do a swimming session, it’s good to vary your training.

Runner Profile:  Hazel McLaughlin

Last year, Hazel McLaughlin accepted a challenge from friend and fellow runner Denise Mathers (Newry City Runners) to run every day in 2012.  Three hundred and sixty six days later (it was a leap year!) she successfully completed the challenge.

However, Hazel wasn’t always so into her running.  Like a lot of people she only realised her love for the sport after taking it up in her late 20’s.  Since then, with the help of her coach, John Glover (Lagan Valley AC) she has improved year after year and established herself as a well respected competitor over nearly every terrain.  Hazel’s hard training and fantastic racing paid off when she was selected for the Northern Ireland team to compete at the Commonwealth Mountain Running Championships in 2011 and Snowdon in 2012.

Full Name:  Hazel McLaughlin
Current Category:  Female Vet35
Associated Club:  Lagan Valley AC
Personal Bests:  5k - 20:33, 10K - 42:33, 10 miles – 1:12:44, Half Marathon - 1:34:04, Marathon -3:29:30, Ultra Marathon:  51k (Off-Road) – 5:34:28, Ultra Marathon:  53 miles (Off-Road) 11:34:56.

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?   It’s really hard to pick a favourite, especially as I race over so many different distances and terrain.  On the road, I would say Larne Half Marathon as it’s so scenic. It goes out the Coast Road and the old course went past my mum and dad’s house in Cairncastle, so I get lots of support on the way round.  On the trail, I ran a new 12k race last year in Tollymore Forest that I really enjoyed and managed to finish as 3rd lady.  In the mountains, the Hill & Dale series is great, particularly ‘Binnian to the Top’, it’s an uphill only race so those who normally fly past me in the descent don’t get a chance to.

When did you start running?   I didn’t get involved in running until my late 20’s though I enjoyed a variety of sports at school, I was into kickboxing and even coached gymnastics for a few years.  I was watching my now husband, Eamonn, running the Belfast Marathon Relay in 2001, went home and applied for the New York Marathon, even though I didn’t actually run at the time. Needless to say it wasn’t my best time for a marathon!  I returned to running in 2004 and joined Lagan Valley AC where John Glover, my coach, really encouraged me and I have never looked back.

Why do you run?   It’s really just part of my life now.  I love feeling fit, pushing myself, the buzz of racing and sense of achievement when I do well. The flexibility of running really suits my lifestyle, wherever I am I can just throw on a pair or trainers and head out.  It’s a great de-stress from work and I also enjoy the social side after the races.

You race over a variety of terrains (Road, Mountain, Trail etc), do you have a favourite?  if so, why?  My favourite is definitely the off-road races.  I’m probably better suited to trail running and longer distances but I love being up in the mountains.  I like the climbing side, and there is nothing better than reaching the top of a really tough climb knowing that you have a long grassy decent back down.  The views are great and I love being outdoors, whatever the weather.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My next race is Carnethy 5, it’s approximately 6 miles with 2500ft of climbing, over five tops in the Pentland hills near Edinburgh.  I’m heading over with two of my Lagan Valley team mates, Shileen O’Kane and Ann Sanford, so it would be great if we could get a team prize, though it will be a very tough field.  After that I will be training hard for the British Championship race in Silent Valley, which will also help get me in shape for the Mountain running season.

What is your favourite training 'session'?   I don’t like to miss my Monday night track session with Lagan Valley AC, but my favourite has got to be hill reps, 8 x 2-3 mins, with a jog recovery, as it really gets your heart rate going and of course, nothing beats a couple of hours in the Mourne Mountains for a long easy run.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  On the morning of a race I will have porridge and some fruit, and depending on the time of the race a bagel / toast with peanut butter.  I won’t eat 3 hours before a race, and an hour before I have an energy drink.  Post-race; I tend to have fruit, nuts and flavoured milk as I am not overly hungry, then a nice meal in the evening like fillet steak and salad.

What is your running ambition?   I feel I’ve still got the potential to get faster, so I would like to finish higher up the rankings.  Last year I ran every day of the year as a challenge and also raced a lot so this year I want train hard but not race quite as much, so I will concentrate on the NIMRA series and some Hill & Dale races.  In the future I’d like to be picked for the Ireland Mountain running team again, and also do well at the World Masters Uphill Mountain Race in the Czech Republic in September 2013.  I also feel I have a good marathon time in me but that will have to wait a year or two.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  That would have to be getting selected for the Northern Ireland team for the Commonwealth Mountain Running Championships.  It was a great experience and really motivated me to train harder in the mountains.  However, I would like to hope that my greatest achievement is still ahead of me.

What other sports do you like?  I do Pilates every week which helps my running, the core strength is great for off-road, but I tend to stick to running and find the variety of terrain keeps me interested.  I am determined to try Kayaking this year though!

Runner Profile:  Scott Rankin

In 2012, Scott Rankin decided to take his running a little more serious.  What a good decision that turned out to be!  He went on to set new personal bests at several distances as well as make a name for himself after an outstanding performance at the high profile Seeley Cup 10k, incorporating the Northern Ireland 10k Championships in Belfast (November 2012).

Now, armed with confidence and renewed focus he aims to improve even further in 2013.  We have absolutely no doubt that he will continue his rise towards the top tier of the Northern Ireland runners.

Full Name:  Scott Rankin
Current Category:  Male Open
Associated Club:  Foyle Valley AC
Personal Bests: 3k - 8:48, 5k - 15:04, 5 miles - 25:37, 10k – 31:38, 10 miles – 55:21, Half Marathon – 1:13:33

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I really enjoy the ‘Jude Gallagher Round the Bridges’ 10 mile race, organised by Springwell Running Club.  Limavady is where I grew up and to run on such a familiar and scenic course is always a great experience.  I made my racing debut at this race back in 2008 and ran 1:02:30, so it also holds special memories for that reason.

When did you start running?  I started running when I was 14 years old, really just for enjoyment and fitness reasons.  At my school (Lisneal College), athletics wasn’t a sport that the school participated in so it would be several years before I actually got the opportunity to race.

Why do you run?  I still run mainly for the same reasons, I enjoy it and it’s a healthy lifestyle to have.  The sense of freedom you get when you are out on the open road alone is great and something that would be difficult to recreate.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  The next race that I’m doing will likely be the NI Junior/Intermediate Cross Country at the end of January.  Being honest; Cross Country is the only aspect of running that I don’t enjoy but I find doing it gives me great strength and endurance for the coming road/track season, so that’s about as much as I expect from it.  My next targeted road race will hopefully be the Armagh International 5k Road Race in February 2013, when I hope to finally dip under the 15 minute mark.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  My favourite session would be doing a 5 mile or 10 km tempo run on the treadmill.  I prefer to do this on the treadmill rather than on the road because I find treadmills ideal for pacing.  If I feel like starting to slack off in the middle of the run, the treadmill will keep me honest.  Surprisingly I dislike treadmills for slower paced runs but they certainly serve an enjoyable purpose for me regarding even paced tempo efforts.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  For a morning race, I would have a bowl of cornflakes and a smoothie about three hours before racing.  For an evening race, I would have something simple like a bowl of soup or light pasta dish three to four hours before racing.  Post-race for me is all about food with high protein content.  My favourite post-race meal would be a steak meal with all the trimmings.

What is your running ambition?  I like to set myself realistic goals and see where I go from there. Short term I hope to go under 15 minutes and 31 minutes for 5k and 10k respectively.  Over the next couple of years I would like to do a lot more track races to see how I get on with middle distance stuff.  I will stick mainly to distances of 10k and under until I have felt I have fulfilled my full potential and got the best out of myself before I may consider doing a marathon one day.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  My greatest achievement so far in running would have to be my 3rd place at the Seeley Cup.  Although my time of 31:38 was a little slower than I was expecting, the 3rd place finish more than made up for it.  I made my Seeley Cup debut in 2009 where I broke 35 minutes for the first time for 42nd place and with this in mind I was delighted to get a place on the podium only three years later.

You have really stepped things up recently, with particularly impressive performances at the Seeley 10k and the North West XC. What would you put this down too?  During 2012 I have took my running a lot more serious, with consistent weeks of higher mileage (ranging from 60-80 miles).  Before 2012 I was always doing my sessions each week but what was letting me down was not doing long runs and all the miles that I now do in the days between sessions.  Consistency is now a big thing in my running and I hope this will lead to an even more successful season in 2013.

What other sports do you like?  I have an interest in most sports but would tend to follow football and cricket closely.  I love sport at a local level and would try and get to a couple of Limavady United football matches a month.  I would also try to take in a few Bondsglen (my local cricket team) matches during the summer.  I like to play a bit of golf and do the odd spot of fishing also.

Runner Profile:  David O'Brien

Davy O’Brien is certainly a face that many will recognise from the local running scene.  The enthusiastic 52 year old has been involved in Athletics for nearly 45 years, and has an impressive array of personal bests to show for his years of hard training and dedication.  

In July 2012, Davy broke his femur and has been unable to run since.  However, things appear to be improving and he hopes to get back running very soon.  Rumour has it that he might even make the start line of this year ‘Walled City Marathon’ in Derry/Londonderry in June!  Good Luck Davy!

Full Name:  John David O'Brien
Current Category:  Male Vet50
Associated Club:  Unattached
Personal Bests:  1500m – 4:06, 3k – 8:40, 5k (track) – 14:53, 5k (road) – 14:48, 10k (track) -  30:43, 10k (road) – 29:50, 5 miles - 24:40 , 10 miles - 50:38, Half Marathon – 1:08:26, Marathon – 2:28:00

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I really look forward to the Omagh Half Marathon, as I think it is a great race and I have always ran a good time there.  There are a few others that spring to mind as well, such as the Greencastle 5 on Boxing Day and the Seeley Cup in Belfast.  In my opinion the best Cross Country course is Sixmilewater Park in Ballyclare.

When did you start running?  I started running in 1967, after going to watch my older brother Junior competing in the school sports.   I can remember my first ever prize, it was at a Cross Country race just outside Dundalk in 1968, it was for finishing last in the Under 10 race!  I ran barefoot in the snow, it was the only time I finished last in a race.
If it had not been for the late, great Larry McGuill I don't think I would have lasted a year, let alone over forty years in the sport!  He was a great mentor to me and to lot of other great athletes.   I enjoy passing on my experience to the athletes I help.

Why do you run?  Possibly because I'm mad and I love the buzz!  More seriously, I like the atmosphere and craic after every race.  Just getting up in the morning and being able to go out and run makes me feel lucky to be alive.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  My Favourite session would have to be; one mile repeats with a one minute recovery.  I also like to leave my house early in the morning and head out for a two hour run on my own, starting at nine minute mile pace and working up to race pace after a few miles, before dropping back down to nine minute mile pace for the last twenty minutes.  On easier days, I go to Davagh Forest with my three dogs and run until they are so tired that they can’t run anymore!  I find this relaxing.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?   I would only take a couple slices of toast and a cup of coffee before a race, probably about two hours prior to starting.  After a race, I love to go for a nice steak with all the trimmings.  I’m not really obsessed by the whole salad thing, so I enjoy things like pizza or a baked potato with plenty of cheese and onion.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?  There have been a lot of achievements during my forty five years in Athletics!  A few I will I always remember are; representing Ireland at the 1986 CSIT Cross Country Championships in Paris as we won a bronze medal.  I ran barefoot and the temperature dropped to -12, my feet were sore for a while after that race.  

Winning the Leinster Intermediate Cross Country race in Swords in 1985, as I led it from start to finish!  I have also won club medals at County and All Ireland level from the age of ten onwards and have eight Northern Ireland Championship medals at veteran level.
You have been out injured for a while, how are thing?  Have you any time-frame in mind for a return?  Yes, I broke my femur in July.  I am starting to recover well now and have started to do a lot walking in Davagh Forest.  I will not make it to the London Marathon in 2013, so I am aiming to run the Walled City Marathon in Derry.

Unfortunately, I do have a lot of hard work in front me but I am Determined to get back to fitness as quickly as I can.  The biggest problem at the moment is trying to get rid of the two and a half stone I have put on since the injury.

What other sports do you like?  I am a huge football fan, and lifelong supporter of Leeds United.  I used to play some Gaelic Football with my local club in Dunleer, but I gave it up after a bad wrist break when I was eighteen.  I also like Pool and Darts.

Runner Profile:  Patricia O'Hagan

Our latest ‘Runner Profile’ is Patricia O’Hagan, a young lady who first caught my attention when she won the ladies race in Drumragh earlier this year.  I then watched her hold her own in a lead group containing quality athletes such as Jessica Craig and Karen Alexander at a Cross Country event in Belfast.

Patricia’s talent was obvious, but I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed her before Drumragh.  I automatically assumed that she must have some kind of backround in running, possibly over shorter distances.  Since then, we have seen Patricia progressively improve.  Last Saturday (8th December 2012) she won the Dromore Cross Country, the week before that she won the ladies race at the Malcolm Cup in Ballyclare (1st December 2012).

Full Name:  Patricia O'Hagan

Current Category:  Female Open

Associated Club:  St Peters AC, Lurgan

Personal Bests:  800m – 2:16, 1500m -  4:49, 3000m – 10:28, 3k (road) – 10:19, 5k (road) – 18:07, 10k (road) - 39:04 
What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  This year I really enjoyed racing the Enniskillen ‘Spooktacular’ 5km Road Race.  Enniskillen is where I grew up and to race and win at home was just great!  My brothers were all home for one of my brothers’ birthday so it was just fantastic to have all the family out cheering for me.  To win and get a PB was an added bonus! 

When did you start running?   I started running in my first year in Grammar School in Mount Lourdes, Enniskillen.  I featured well at Ulster schools level, medalling at cross country, 800m, 1500m and Relays.  I lost the love of competing during my late teens and early twenties and mainly ran just to keep fit.  Then, I met my now husband in my last year in university, we travelled for fifteen months and when we came home I was introduced to St Peters AC were, very conveniently, my husbands' dad was a coach! I have never looked back since and found my love of running and racing again.

Why do you run?  I have always ran and it’s just part of me.  I love it! I enjoy keeping fit and running is an easy way to do it.  You just put one foot in front of the other! I love the freedom of running.  I love how it clears my head but at the same time helps me focus.  

I am a competitive person so it meets that need too! I really enjoy training with St Peters AC.  We have a great group and it’s a great club to be part of.  We have really grown as a club over the last few years and that's all down to the hard work and dedication of Brian O'Hagan and Packy Mallon. Sadly Packy passed away this year but I am so glad to have met him and he had such a positive influence on my running. 

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  There are lots of Cross Country races coming up in December and into the New Year so I am looking forward to them.  My next race will more than likely be the North West Cross Country, and then I’ll look forward to the NI Cross Country 

Championships and Moira Cross Country in January 2013.  I want strong competitive races so that I can (hopefully) see the benefits of good solid training. 

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I love a good hard training session, the kind you dread but at the end you feel great because you got through it.  6 x 800/1k with 2 mins recovery.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?   I don't really change my diet coming up to race.  I try to eat a balanced diet all the time and 'eat to train'.  Bagels and jam are a staple food for me! I would sometimes use sports drinks pre and post race/training.  Post-race I don't usually feel like eating so it’s usually a case of forcing something down because I know how important it is for recovery.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be?   Last year I was selected for the Northern Ireland Senior Ladies Cross-Country team and collected my first Senior vest at the Home Countries Cross Country in Scotland.  I really was so proud of myself for getting back up to that level as a Senior.  I won the Northern Ireland Senior Ladies 800m title in 2009, again this was a fantastic moment for me. 

You have really stepped things up this year and featured well in quite a few 5k and Cross Country races.  What would you put this down too?  I have said it before but I am so lucky to have a great club in St Peters AC and a great training group and without a doubt the solid training under Brian has helped build a really strong base.  

As a physiotherapist I have to practice what I preach to all my clients and I do spend time in the gym at Edenmore. I enjoy practicing yoga weekly. I find great benefits from yoga in flexibility and core strength. I do Pilates exercises regularly targeting specific areas of weakness and i have started to do more functional based training. 

What other sports do you like?
  I really enjoy all sports and would watch most sports.... apart from cricket! Since travelling in Australia, my husband and I got hooked on surfing.  We have continued to enjoy it at home in Ireland too but the weather and sea temperature makes it a little less attractive.  We try to get out over the winter months as the waves are best then.  A Boxing Day surf is usually on the menu!

Runner Profile:  Thomas Leitch

Our new ‘Runner Profile’ is a man I recognised at many races before I actually got to know him when we completed our UKA Assistant Coach course together.  Thomas Leitch, a fully qualified physiotherapist from Belfast participated in over forty races last year, which would explain why I continually bumped into him!  Thomas is a talented runner and extremely enthusiastic about the sport, this comes across almost infectiously when chatting to him.

Name:  Thomas Leitch

Current Category:  M40

Associated Club:  Orangegrove AC

Personal Bests:  5k – 18:07, 5 mile – 29:20 10k – 37:12, 10 miles – 1:01:05, Half Marathon – 1:21:54, Marathon – 2:57:49, Marathon (Off Road) – 4:01:31, 39.3 mile Ultra Marathon (Off Road) – 6:17:00

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I really enjoy longer distances, especially off road.  So, it’s close between the Rathlin Challenge Run, Mourne Way Marathon and Glenariff Mountain Race.

When did you start running?   I have been interested in fitness for many years, especially running and cycling.  Two years ago, I joined Orangegrove AC, this has added fuel to my passion for running and I have made many friends and training partners through the club.

Why do you run?  I use it as a form of escapism; it gives me time to think and the opportunity to visit parts of Ireland that I’d never been to before.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  The Connemara Ultra in April 2013.  I would like to finish it without injury and enjoy the experience.  I cycled part of the route last year when my wife was running and the scenery is fantastic.

What is your favourite training session?   My favourite session would be a trail run of approximately one and a half to two hours.  I also enjoy recovery sessions on the bike and using strength and conditioning sessions which include Pilates.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race snack?  I usually have an early breakfast of porridge, fruit and coffee usually three to four hours before a race.  Post-race, I try to hydrate immediately then eat whatever I feel I can cope with and I am a fan of (my wife) Elizabeth’s double chocolate brownies!

What is your running ambition?  I’d like to remain injury free and enjoy running for the next 40 years!!

What would you consider your greatest running achievement to be?  This year I completed 40 races which included all eight half marathons in the ChampionChip Half Marathon Series, The Great North Run, Athlone ¾ Marathon and two marathons!  For 2012, my goal was to race as often as I felt able, for 2013, I want to focus more on quality rather than quantity, a maximum of twelve races.

What other sports do you like?  I am a keen road cyclist and have competed at the World Duathlon Championships. As a physiotherapist and athletics coach, I enjoy teaching Pilates and advising athletes on how to reduce injuries and achieve their goals.  I am currently working towards my coaching award and I have recently been helping out with the juniors at Orangegrove.  My coaching experience is something I hope to develop over the coming months, with aim of gaining success with our junior athletes.

Runner Profile:  David Gamble

Next up in our 'Runner Profile' is Carrickfergus man David Gamble, an outdoor enthusiast and a talented long distance runner who prefers secluded mountain and trail routes over road running.  Nearly two years ago, 31 year old David had life-saving brain surgery.  After one month in hospital he returned home and with the help and support of his family and friends he made a full recovery, not only that.... but he went on to run the Mourne Way Marathon less than five months later. 

Full Name: David Gamble
Current Category: Male Open
Associated Club: Seapark AC
Personal Bests:
52 mile Ultra Marathon (Trail) - 10:30:18, Marathon (Road) - 2:59:17, Marathon (Trail) - 4:11:24, Half Marathon (Road) - 1:22:37, Half Marathon (Trail) - 1:36:43, 10k (Road) -  36:47, 5 miles (Road) - 30:02, 5k (Road) - 18:34.


What is your favorite Northern Ireland event?  I much prefer trail and mountain racing over road racing. The NIMRA series is great and 26extreme put on some great events.  Within the NIMRA series the Mourne Seven Sevens is hard to beat, it's a great test of mental and physical toughness.  I have raced it six or seven times now with a personal best of 4hrs 51mins. Within the 26extreme series the Causeway Coast is spectacular.

When did you start running?  I guess I have been running my whole life, I was never one for staying inside and playing computer games.  I loved running cross country in primary school but never took running seriously until I left secondary school.  I mountain biked a lot from the age of 15.  It was/is a great way to get about and explore.  I raced mountain bikes as a junior and senior in the NI Cross Country Championships.  This gave me a taste for competitive racing, and I loved it.  I have always been drawn to the mountains and trails, the path less worn has always appealed to me.  

This interest was helped through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.  I completed my Bronze Award at the age of 14 and went through to complete the Gold Award at the age of 17.  I competed in a couple of triathlons in and around the age of 19 and then started to focus on my running.  I stumbled across mountain running by accident (about 10 or 11 years ago).  I loved to hike and explore in the mountains, but walking was very time consuming.  I started to pack lighter and wear trainers in the mountains and soon realised I was not alone in this quest for freedom.

One of my first races was the Mourne Seven Sevens, thinking I had entered the race I set off completing it in just over 6 hours to discover at the end that I had just entered the challenge walk.  This was the start of real running for me.

Why do you run?  I guess we all have our own reasons for running, for me it's an opportunity to escape and relax; no computer, no mobile phone, no deadlines, just fresh air and the open road or trail.  My reasons for running have changed somewhat within recent years.  A large percentage of my long slow training runs are spent in prayer and reflexion, thinking about family and friends.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I just completed the Dublin Marathon, so I am currently enjoying a short break.  I have not rested much over the past twelve months, so racing is by no means a focus at present.  I may run a few of the 26extreme short winter races over the next couple of months.  I also like to run the Turkey Trot in the Mournes on Boxing Day.  There is talk of competing in the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker with Seapark club runner and friend David Turtle.  Come the New Year I enjoy taking part in the Race Over The Glens.  My plan is to simply enjoy these races, it's a great way to keep in shape over the winter and enjoy a bit of festive banter.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  Living in Carrickfergus, I am very fortunate to have Woodburn Forest and the Knockagh Hill nearby, from my house I am able to run up old stone lanes and short sections of road towards the Knockagh Monument.  The perfect mix of track, road and single track forest trail.  I am able to run 30 to 35 miles with only doubling back on myself on a handful of miles.  I have a pile of classic circuits in the Mourne Mountains, some of my favourites take in the high peaks with the Brandy Pad thrown in for good measure.  

I also enjoy running in Donegal, its wildness is hard to match locally.  With regards to road marathon training, Seapark member Gary Connolly has some cracker mystery 20 mile plus runs in and around Carrickfergus.  A couple of months back Seapark member Gillian Cordner, Gary and I ran from Carrickfergus to Ballynure, Ballynure to Ballyboley Forest, Ballyboley Forest across the Antrim Hills to Glenarm.  A total distance of approximately 31 miles and a day to remember.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Thankfully I love savoury food and tend not to bother with much sweet stuff, 3 to 4 days leading up to a marathon I will eat lots of wholegrain bread, potatoes, vegetables, fruit and some meat.  I will graze on nuts and dried berries and keep myself well hydrated with water.  I am not a big fan of pasta.  

My pre-race breakfast (6am) before the Dublin marathon consisted of 2 bowls of porridge, 2 bananas, 1 pint of water, 1 pint of SIS energy drink and 1 cup of filter coffee.  I had a 3rd banana 1hr before the marathon start and sipped on water up to 20mins before marathon start.  I would by no means call this a favourite meal, I just know that I have to load myself up to avoid hitting the wall.

Immediately after finishing a race I will hydrate well and graze on fruit and cereal bars, and a glass of milk always goes down well.  A favourite post-race marathon meal is Indian food with family and friends.  It is definitely not good for you, but it is often what the body craves.  After four months of concentrated training I guess you deserve a treat.

What is your running ambition?  My running ambition is to continue to enjoy running.  I tell people that once the smile goes, there is no point to running.  This applies to a lot of things in life.  We all have our goals and I have surely had my fair share of goals, but the enjoyment is in the journey, it's never the goal itself.  It's in the relationships built, stories and laughs shared and perhaps the odd tear along the way.  I am pleased to say that I broke 3 hours in the marathon in Dublin last week.  It was four years in the making with a couple of bumps in the road along the way.  

I now want to focus on a bit more trail and mountain running.  I would like to run sub 4 hours on the 26extreme Mourne Way Marathon and sub 10 hours on the 26extreme Mourne Way Ultra Marathon.  I have ran both these events twice.  I would also like to concentrate my efforts on the NIMRA series.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in running to be? Running the 26extreme Mourne Way Marathon in 4hrs 11mins less than five months after brain surgery.  On 16th December 2010 I required emergency life-saving surgery.  Three operations in total and four weeks later I was able to return home.  I weighed 8.5 stone and could hardly climb the stairs.  Thanks to the power of prayer and the grace of God I was made well.  My family and friends and my wife Janet along with all the medical staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital were just amazing.

What other sports do you like?  As mentioned earlier, I enjoy mountain biking; it's a great form of cross training.  I also enjoy a spot of swimming.  I rock climb from time to time during the summer months and I still enjoy hiking, along with scrambling and camping.

Runner Profile:  Kerry Harty

At NiRunning, we continually promote our ‘Road, Mountain, Track and Trail… We endeavour to cover it all” ethos!  For that reason, we thought that Kerry Harty would be a perfect choice for our ‘Runner Profile’ section. 

Hailing from Newcastle, Co. Down, Kerry has represented Ireland on the track, over the mountains and through muddy fields (aka Cross Country).  She has also competed exceptionally well on the roads.  After injury ruled out a serious attempt at the qualifying standard set for London 2012, talented Kerry has bounced back stronger than ever, with her sights now firmly set on representing her country at the upcoming European Cross Country Championships in Budapest (December 2012).

Full Name: Kerry Harty

Current Category: Senior Women

Associated Club: Newcastle AC (Northern Ireland) and Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow (GB)

Personal Bests: 800m – 2:09.22 (Grangemouth, England 2009), 1500m - 4:14.17 (Solihull, England 2009), 1 mile – 4:45 (Sunderland Elite Mile, England 2011), 3000m - 9:09.50 (Banska Bystrica, Slovakia 2009), 5000m - 15:58.67 (Manchester, England 2011), 3000m S/C - 9:56.73 (Mt SAC, Walnut, LA, USA 2012), 5 miles – 29:00 (Altamuskin, N. Ireland 2011), 10k – 34:19 (Seeley 10k, N. Ireland 2008), 10 miles – 59:57 (Armagh 10, N. Ireland 2008).

What is your favourite Northern Ireland Event?  I love road racing and get a real buzz from it, so my favourite event has to be a road race and the one that stands out is the ‘Armagh International Road Races’.  The atmosphere is fantastic and the support around the Mall is the best you could ever find at any event.  Dermot Kerr and Armagh AC do a great job getting athletes from as far away as the US to compete and the race really is all about the athletes, we are really well looked after.  I have won this event twice in the past and I would go as far to say that not many races around the world could top this event for me, it's a big favourite of mine.

When did you start running?  I started running when I entered a road race at the age of 13, in my local town of Newcastle (N. Ireland).  It was an annual summer event and a good race.  I ended up finishing ahead of the boys who were my age and was spotted by Marty McVeigh of the local club, he signed me up.  I moved on to cross-country at school and also competed in the mountains as a junior. I also progressed onto the track through the Ulster Schools competitions.

I took around a five-year break from competitive athletics whilst studying at University but came back into the sport at the age of 23, competing in the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy in 2004 and New Zealand 2005.  After that I went back to my first love of the track and road racing.

Why do you run?  Firstly, I guess I found I had a talent for running and of course I really enjoy it too. I get to train and race in wonderful parts of the world and it keeps me fit and healthy.

The training can be tough and it's hard to get motivated in the cold and wet winter months but the sense of achievement you get from winning races and setting personal bests makes it all worthwhile.  There are times that you question why you put yourself through it all, especially when injuries arise, and I have had enough of those on which to write a whole novel, but it's all worth it for even that one moment of glory on the track.

What is your next race and what would you like to achieve from it?  At present I am out for my winter training block at high altitude (2,000metres) in the French Pyrenees at Font Romeu.  I will be based here for nearly two months and will then travel down to Spain to compete in the IAAF Permit Cross-Country Race at Burgos (a couple of hours north of Madrid), in which I raced for the first time last year.  It was ranked as the number one cross-country race in the world last year because of the depth of field from all over the world.  I hope to have a strong race there after the altitude training block, to set myself up for the Irish trials for the European Cross-Country Championships in Budapest in December.  It would be great to make the Irish team again having raced in the Championships in three of the past four years.  The winter plan also includes a strong indoor season of over 3000m to set me up for the summer track season steeplechase races.

What is your favourite training session?  At the moment my favourite training session would have to be one of my Tempo or Fartlek runs where the aim is to run just below threshold pace for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, typically split up into sets.  The objective of this work is to improve my running economy - that is the best pace I can sustain without ‘going into the red zone’ and the body starting to produce rapidly increasing levels of lactic acid.  This is the background that is really needed for a faster steeplechase next season.

What are your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  It all depends on what time of day the race is on. I always need at least four hours between eating my pre-race meal and competing or I would get terrible stitches and feel quite sick.  Pre-race meals are usually breakfast time and I would have a bowl of cereal such as Special K, a bagel or some toast and then try to squeeze in a yoghurt and energy drink too.  I struggle to eat sometimes and don't feel hungry especially if a race is on in the evening and I need to eat both breakfast and lunch - breakfast goes down easily but lunch tends to be a struggle!  Post-race meals are never a bother, I can eat for Ireland then and quite enjoy a good fillet steak but my favourite would probably have to be a roast lamb dinner.

What is your running ambition?  I would like to make the steeplechase at the Rio Olympics in 2016.  Missing out on a serious attempt on making London due to an achilles injury after running a PB at last season’s opener in the US was devastating.  I also lost my Papa (grandfather) to cancer whilst I was out in the States chasing the Olympic ‘A’ Standard, so 2012 has not been great so far and I want to make him proud.  Before that there are lots of other opportunities like the World Championships in Moscow next year and also the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014.

What other sports do you like?  I used to be big into my football (soccer) and have my UEFA B Coaching Licence and previously worked as the IFA's first female Development Officer.  I also played a little bit in the Northern Ireland Women’s League.  If I was to do it all over again and had a choice I would be a Biathlete, I just love cross-country skiing and enjoy following World & Olympic Champion France’s Martin Fourcade’s progress (who comes from the Font Romeu region) during the winter season.

International Honours?  World Mountain Running Championships Italy 2004 & New Zealand 2005; European Mountain Running Championships in Poland 2004 & Austria 2005.  Three times Irish European Cross-Country team; Brussels 2008, Portugal 2010 & Slovenia 2011.  Two times Irish European Team Track & Field Championship; Slovakia 2009 & Budapest 2010.

What would you consider as your biggest achievement to date?  On the international stage, probably finishing 2nd running for Ireland at the European Team Championships in Slovakia in 2009, where I set my 3000m PB of 9:09 – a time that indicates that I have the potential to achieve World & Olympic ‘A’ Standards at the Steeplechase.

Over the years you have competed on the track, on the roads and in the mountains!  Do you have preference?  It has to be the track – world class venues with world class athletes.  Although, I also love the buzz on the roads – the Women’s 3k around the Mall in Armagh on a cold and dark February evening with the intimate atmosphere and a world class field is also hard to beat

Will you ever run a road marathon?  I don’t think there is any chance of that!  Tests on the treadmill over the years confirmed what I already believed myself.  Lactic threshold is around 4mmol/l/kg and great long distance runners can run marathons with the blood lactic levels being sustained in a 3.5 to 5 range.  In middle distance on the track towards the end of a 1500m race the lactic levels rise exponentially (the feeling of ‘treading water’).

On tests I have reached 20mmol/l/kg before exhaustion indicating that the potential is more at middle distance (natural long distance runners would struggle to tolerate 10).  The 3000m seems to be a sweet spot for me, with the steeplechase combining the middle distance power and the endurance of a 5000m runner – so that’s where my focus is going to be.

Runner Profile:  Glenn Donnelly

Every few weeks we try to provide a ‘Runner Profile’ that makes for good reading, something interesting and informative about runners that you will see out racing regularly or assisting their club with the organisation of events and races.  This time around we have chosen 31 year old Glenn Donnelly, a man that I was introduced to 3-4 years ago by a mutual friend (Stephen Kennedy – Larne AC).  Aside from being a true gentleman, Glenn is also an extremely talented runner and his determination to come back from illness and injury to run and race again is nothing less than inspirational.  I am sure you will agree!

Full Name:  Glenn Donnelly

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  Sperrin Harriers

Personal Bests:  5k – 16:49, 5 miles – 26:50, 10k – 34:29, 10 miles – 59:25, Half Marathon – 1:18:54, Marathon – 3:18:55

Favourite Northern Ireland event?  It’s difficult to pick just one as Northern Ireland has so many beautiful places to run and race whether it’s on the road, trail or mountain. My advice is, get out there and sample as much of it as you can as it really is stunning.  Just a pity about the weather sometimes!

Favourite race distance and why?  I am Open to most distances, particularly the shorter ones, such as, 5km, 5 mile and 10km because I get more of a buzz from running as fast as possible over the shorter distance, rather than slogging it out for 2 – 3 hours over the marathon distance.

When did you start running?  I began running at primary school, doing cross country but the main sport was football and that took priority.  This continued at secondary school with football being the main focus, although we did some cross country and road running as part of our Physical Education class.  Again, this was nothing serious or structured.  When I left school I began working in Cookstown Leisure Centre which involved shift work, this came into conflict with football training every second week.

The old football mantra ‘if you don’t attend training, you won’t get to play’ began to raise its head.  I found myself being dropped to the bench and becoming more and more disillusioned with football in general.  Ill health then put me out of all sport for 2 years.  I was presented to my doctor with headaches and dizzy spells, and following an ECG scan I was diagnosed with an irregular heart-beat which could have led to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.  

This has been in the news recently with footballers such as Fabrice Muamba in England, Piermario Morosini in Italy & Cormac McAnallen here in Northen Ireland sadly being affected.  I spent two weeks in intensive care in the RVH linked up to a heart monitor which was quite frightening at 18 years old.  At this time, sport was my life and I thought, here I am at 18, on a heart tablet, I’m finished.  As part of the treatment I was sent for tests and the one thing consultants noticed was that during treadmill stress tests my heart rate went from an irregular beat to a normal beat which they found strange.  After two years of sitting about and putting on weight I decided to begin some light training again.

As I worked in a leisure centre, that began with swimming which then lead onto a triathlon.  I didn’t say anything to my consultants as I felt ok with no symptoms and to be honest it was great to be back doing something again.  Unlike many who take part in triathlons and find the swim leg to be their weak discipline, I was fairly decent.  I was also pretty ok on the bike but didn’t really enjoy it and seemed to struggle at the running.  So I decided to join Sperrin Harriers (then known as Cookstown Harriers) to help improve my running.

I have since given up on triathlon, with the final nail in my brief triathlon career being an event on Benone Beach.  Due to bad weather, the sea swim was cancelled so the event turned into a duathlon. I held my own with the lead pack in the first run along the beach and got on the bike and struggled like never before.  Everyone seemed to be passing me and with every turn of my pedals, their lead was growing ever larger.  It was a nightmare in every sense – I never really enjoyed biking anyway but was absolutely hated every moment of this.  The pendulum began to swing in my favour during the second run as I was able to catch the majority of the field again and as I crossed the finish line it was as if a light bulb switched on in my head – ‘concentrate on running’.

I haven’t looked back since, I don’t miss triathlon and because running is so flexible I can train around work and/or personal commitments.   My irregular heart beat has settled down with little or no ‘extra’ beats as the consultants like to call them, I put this down to running regularly and keeping fit.  I’m tested often so any future problems can be identified should they present themselves.

Why do you run?  For the sheer enjoyment running brings, nothing beats getting out into the fresh air and leaving whatever stresses have built up through the day behind, running clears my head and it’s a great way to keep fit.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  I haven’t decided what’s next on the cards for me as I can’t really plan too far in advance with work.  I regularly check the race fixtures and decide week by week what races to attend so you never know where I will pop up next.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I really enjoy mile repeats or hill repeats, something that really brings on the burn and at the end you know you’ve worked hard and can take satisfaction from that.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre & Post race - something simple, easy digested, not heavy and works for me every time – scrambled eggs & toast.  It has got a fairly good balance of carbohydrate and protein.  I will also have a protein drink/shake after a race.

What is your running ambition?  Obviously to become a better, faster runner – I ran my PB for 5 mile in 2010 at the Sperrin Harriers 5 mile road race and thought that I could have really pushed on from that into the low 26’s or high 25’s.  I ran my PB for 10km at the Joe Seeley the same year, again hoping to run low 34’s high 33’s, but I have struggled with injuries ever since.  I am now working on building a good base over the winter and hope 2013 will be a better year for me.

What other sports do you like?  I like and watch most other sports and have recently started mountain biking which I enjoy more than road cycling and with the new mountain bike trail development at Davagh Forest Park just outside Cookstown, I hope to do more as a form of cross training.  Although disillusioned with playing football I still enjoy watching it and follow Dungannon Swifts, I try to get to as many games as possible.

We know you're still on the comeback from injury, what was wrong and how is the return to racing going?  I think that 2010 was my best year, setting PB’s for 5 mile and 10km.  I was in training for the Barcelona Half Marathon in February 2011 and set myself a goal of trying to break 75 minutes.

During the really bad winter here in Northern Ireland I was completing a long run and with two miles to go I slipped on ice and pulled a muscle in my calf.  That was the beginning of two years of calf and Achilles tendon trouble, which has proved very troublesome to treat.  I’m now back running, taking part in a few races and training is going well so far, fingers crossed that continues.

You've dabbled with Mountain Running in the past, will we see you back there again?  I was introduced to mountain running a few years back by a training partner Stephen Kennedy.  My first session in the mountains was sheer torture but an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and became hooked immediately on the rawness and unpredictability of it.  I train a lot in the mountains now especially over the winter and plan to take part in more races in future.

A few years ago I travelled to the Carnethy 5 mountain race in Edinbrugh, Scotland with a group of from Larne AC and I hope to return again to better my time, so yes, I most definitely will be back in the mountains competing again at some stage.

Runner Profile:  Connor Magill

Next up in our ‘Runner Profile’ series is a man that we have watched progress considerably over the last few years.  A man that like us, lives and breathes running.  He is 29 year old, Connor Magill from Lurgan.  My first ever encounter with Connor was at the Cookstown Half Marathon in 2009, he passed me with 2-3 miles to go.  That night, I checked the results and didn’t recognise his name!  Things have changed quite a bit since then!

Connor is coached by Matt Shields (North Belfast Harriers) and is well known for his dedication to training and love of running, he is often the first man onto the track and the perfect example of hard work paying off.

Full Name: Connor Magill

Current Category: Male Open

Associated Club: North Belfast Harriers

Personal Bests: 800m – 2:04, 3k - 8.50, 5k – 14:58, 5 miles – 26:24, 10k – 31:44, 10 miles – 55:03, Half Marathon – 1:10:07, Marathon – 2:47:01


Favorite Northern Ireland event?  My favourite event would have to be both the Junior and Senior Cross-Country Championships.

When do you start running?  I started running in the summer of 2008.

Why do you run?  There are a million reasons why I run but I’ll only list a few, I love the freedom on the open road, it's the only time I get totally to myself, with a big family and a full time job.  I also love my food and with the training I get to eat what I like when I like but the main reason is I love racing against other runners and the feel good factor after a hard race.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  Hopefully the Seeley Cup and I'm hoping to get under 31 minutes, which has been a goal of mine for a long time.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I love the speed sessions, my favourite over all would be 20 x 400m!  Some people may think I'm mad but I always found the short, fast sessions suit me better!!!

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  For me, it has to be porridge and an apple for before a race as it’s light and full of carbs, post-race would have to be nuts and mackerel as both are full of protein, which aids my recovery.

What is your running ambition?  My aim as a runner is always to try my best, keep improving and hopefully someday run a sub 30 minute 10k, I’d also love to run for my country but my main ambition is to run sub 2:25 marathon some-day.

What other sports do you like?  I like football, tennis and darts.  I love a nice Sunday with sport on all day, it’s great for taking my mind off running for a few hours!

Runner Profile:  David O'Flaherty

As I have mentioned on many occasions, something we try to do here at NiRunning is to bring all styles of running onto one website.  So, when choosing our runners for this feature we take that into consideration, with that in mind I think there is no better man to show the ethos of our project than 28 year old David O'Flaherty of Newcastle AC.  With a backround in racing on the track, trails, roads and mountains throughout Northern Ireland he could very well act as our mascot!

David dabbled with running in secondary school but started taking his training seriously in 2007, that proved a wise decision as he has since become a highly respected competitor over all terrains.

Full Name:  David O'Flaherty

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  Newcastle AC

Personal Bests: 800m - 2:08, 1500m – 4:23, 1 mile – 4:27, 3k – 9:24, 5k – 16:02, 10k- 34:09

As you spend a lot of time in the mountains and on the trails, we understand that Pb's aren't always applicable/important. So tell us about your three favourite mountain/trail races? The main race from the Hill and Dale series that sticks in my head is Donard Forest, which starts and finishes in Donard Park.  The race climbs gradually to the quarry and descends back through the forest trails.  It's a course that suits me and one I always look forward too.  In 2009 I was sitting in fifth or sixth place on the climb to the far side of the quarry and having a relatively poor race as first and second where out of sight.  

After having a good run through the quarry I picked up a few places and before long I could see Eddie Hannah in second place and passed him through the forest trails.  I eventually moved into first place passing Alan McKibbin as the race reached the lower paths of Donard Forest and stretched my lead to ten seconds from there to the finish line.  This is probably my best Hill and Dale race as I managed to claw back over a minute on the race leader on my descent to the finish and record a time just outside of the course record.

Moughanmore, again another Hill and Dale race that I enjoy and look forward too.  Maybe the reason for liking this is because it was the first ever Hill and Dale/Mountain race that I competed in. It's also a race I seem to run well in.  It was  also the first Hill and Dale race I ever won, that night in 2009 I don't think anyone will forget as the weather was awful.  As we climbed the first mountain we were met with an awful hail storm.  Myself and Stevie Cunningham set off from the first descent and went head to head for 1st place. Stevie led over the second and third climbs but I passed him with approximately one hundred metres to go to claim my first Hill and Dale victory.

The Catlewellan Christmas Cracker race.  Having only done this race three times, and to be honest struggling for fitness while doing it I still always look forward to it.  The reason for this is because it's somewhat unique in that you run with a partner from start to finish and you are only as strong as the 'weaker' runner on the day.  The race is more a trail race and is approximately 10 miles with a bit of road thrown in for good measure.  The course changes from year to year with various routes tried and tested by Newcastle AC HQ!  My best run in this race was probably in 2011 when I teamed up with David McNeily from Newcastle AC.  We had a strong steady run and finished 6th in a very strong field, passing many teams over the final 3-4 miles.

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  I always look forward and enjoy the Seeley Cup 10k Road Race.  Our club send a large number of people and it's always a good race and a good club day out.

Why do you run?  When I started to run in 2007, it was actually to lose weight as I was touching fifteen stone. Once I started I couldn't stop and the buzz I got from competing against others gave me a bigger drive to improve and try to reach the next level.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  At the minute the next race I have planned is the NI Relay Championships on the 6th of October 2012 but sometimes I decide to race if I see something that I fancy doing, so I may race before the relays.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  I really enjoy doing 4x1 mile or 5x1 mile, with 2 minute recovery.  I like doing this with the club on a Tuesday, around the roads of Newcastle during the dark winter evenings.  I think the company helps and gives me an extra drive to push that bit harder.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race I will always eat white bagels with strawberry jam about three hours before competing, as well as a banana and a can of Red Bull.  Then an S.I.S sports drink an hour before the race.  Post-race normally starts with an S.I.S recovery drink and just really whatever I can stomach after that, if it's an evening race then I may just have a bowl of cereal when I get home but I'm never that hungry after the recovery drink.

What is your running ambition?  After telling you my PB's I think my ambition should be to start taking some time off them.  I know I've been in better 10k shape but never got to race while at that fitness, if you know what I mean? There are obviously various races and series’ I would love to win but for now I will have to improve my training and fitness.  So to get a few PBs in the near future would be a good start.

What other sports do you like?  I don't compete in other sports now but I used to play football and I am a keen follower of the sport. I'm also a Liverpool FC supporter so I don't really have much to cheer about at the moment, fingers crossed though!

Runner Profile:  Ben McKeown

Next up in our 'Runner Profile' is Ben Mc Keown, a young man who has enormous potential!  Presently enjoying his off season but looking forward to getting the spikes back on.  Ben is 17 years old and has been running since November 2009,  after being encouraged to try athletics by his Year 10 Education teacher.  Good choice!

Full Name: Ben McKeown

Current Category: Under 17

Associated Club: Ballymena & Antrim Athletic Club

Personal Bests: 100m - 11.66secs, 200m - 23.40secs, 400m - 54.98secs, 800m - 2:13.66, 5k - 18:58 


Favourite Northern Ireland event? My favourite Northern Ireland event is the Northern Ireland and Ulster Juvenile Championships as it has a friendly atmosphere and gives athletes the chance to meet each other and get to know others who compete. Also it offers a unique opportunity to qualify for the Woodie's DIY AAI Juvenile Championships which, if you qualify, is a great achievement in itself.

Why do you run?  I run mostly because I really enjoy it and it basically makes me feel great. After a run or a tough training session when you know you've left it all on the track you get a great feeling of reward and satisfaction. Also it keeps you fit and healthy.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  My next race is the Indoors, Woodie's DIY Irish Championships in February 2013. I plan on running the 200m and the 60m so I will incorporate my winter training in a way that I will be race fit and ready to go come race day. I plan to gain confidence from this race for the season ahead and a debut 60m personal best time.

What is your favourite training 'session'?  My favourite training session would have to be a pyramid session were we will, for example run 30m then 60m then 90m the 120m and come back down. It’s my favourite because after the first 120m run, the more tired you get the shorter the distance!

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals? As a pre-race meal I would ideally start the night before and do some carbohydrate loading by eating breads or pasta. Then that morning I would have Weetabix and a Berocca vitamin drink, with wholemeal toast. With an hour to the race I would have a banana or a jam sandwich. After a race, I would usually have a roast dinner with meat, potatoes and vegetables.

What is your running ambition?  My overall running ambition is to represent my country at International level and of course I would love to compete at the Olympics one day or perhaps a World Championship.

What other sports do you like?  I enjoy going to the gym and the pool with my friends, in-between my training sessions. Also I like to watch mountain biking, boxing and skateboarding on TV.

Runner Profile: Ryan Maxwell

As we are celebrating the launch of our new website we have decided to give our first ever monthly runner profile to the "boss" here at Northern Ireland Running (NiRunning), Ryan Maxwell.

Ryan is 32 years old and has been running for 5-6 years. He prefers road running and especially longer distance races, with the marathon distance being his favourite!  He is a Sheffield Wednesday fan and has ambitions to complete an 'Ironman' at some point in the future.


Full Name: Ryan Maxwell

Current Category: Male Open

Associated Club: Larne Athletic Club

Personal Bests: 1 mile - 4:35, 5k - 16:22, 5 miles - 27:12, 10k - 34:24, 10 miles - 56:14, Half Marathon - 1:16:23, Marathon 2:40:50

Favorite Northern Ireland event? There are so many great events within Northern Ireland, it's very VERY hard to select just one.... I am going to push my luck and choose one road event and one off-road event if thats ok! Road = Larne Half Marathon, not just because its my local event but how many races do you get to run along one of the worlds most notorious coastlines! Off-Road = 26extreme Causeway Coast events, again this is an event that showcases our countrys finest features. This event really is a must do!! :o)

Why do you run? I started running to improve my fitness, I played Saturday morning football and wanted to be better! After a while I really started to enjoy my running. Before long I made the decision to give up football and consentrate on running, I have never looked back! I'll never be the best runner in the world but I am now doing something I really love, I have met so many interesting and nice people through the sport... I enjoy going to races and running as hard as I can, then having a laugh and post race disection with friends!

What is your next race and what do you want from it? Unfortunately I am injured at the moment, I hurt my back at the start of May and I am still recovering from it. I'd like to aim to return to running towards the end of 2012!

What is your running "goal"? Being a longer distance runner, I would absolutely love to run a marathon as close to 2:30 as possible!  I would also like to complete my UKA Level 2 Coaching qualification so that I can take a step into Coaching, thats something I really think I would enjoy doing.

What other sports do you like? I am a huge football fan! I support Sheffield Wednesday. I also like tennis and have recently started taking swimming (improver) lessons. Someday I would like to do an Ironman event! I have also jumped onto the cycling bandwagon, after watching Wiggins in the Tour de France and London 2012.

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