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Ó Lionáird’s blog: the fall is history, time to rise again

With the calendar now turned to a new year, and a surprisingly healthy appetite emerging out of my request for blog ideas on Twitter, it’s time to get the finger out and kick off what I hope will be a satisfactory, if not mildly insightful, peek into my journey towards Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016.  On top of that, I hope to answer some, if not all, of the questions posed in your much-appreciated responses.

California Nightmare: The Rose Bowl Game I attended in Pasadena on New Year's Day; it was grim watching Florida State take a 59-20 beating from Oregon.

California Nightmare: The Rose Bowl Game I attended in Pasadena last week; it was grim watching my former college Florida State take a 59-20 beating from Oregon.

Topics in the coming weeks will vary from the micro in my daily routine to the macro in the glaring issues that continue to impact our sport on anational, regional and global level. For today, though, I’m going to focus on where I am right now as an athlete and what’s been happening since the Fifth Avenue mile in September, my last race of a comeback year that promised much, delivered some, and left the remainder scattered somewhere between the Letzigrund track in Zurich and The Rose Bowl Stadium in California.

Into Thin Air

I’m writing this entry from my condo in Flagstaff, Arizona where I’m training at 7,200ft elevation with my Nike and Oregon TC training partner, Ben Blankenship. Ben and I have known each other since 2011, when we spent the summer in Leuven, Belgium, chasing dreams and eating frites. That year I set my current PB of 3:34.46, as did he. His 3:37 to win in Heusden in a gale was probably the most impressive thing I saw that summer between Tallahassee and Daegu, and I’m fortunate to have someone as talented and work-oriented as he on the team with me. We arrived December 15th and will be here six and a half weeks in total. We made a resolution to start the camp that neither of us would hammer the other; we’d run to what the person feeling worst was feeling that day, in a bid to stay on the right side of the red line. So far it’s worked out great.

Myself and Ben Blankenship, who I've been doing much of my training with in recent months

Myself and Ben Blankenship, who I’ve been doing much of my training with in recent months

In October 2014, after Fifth Avenue, I had the chance, along with some of my closest friends and advisers, to take a look at 2014. At the halfway point between London and Rio, with surgery behind me and my Achilles finally rehabbed to the point of being able to handle full volume, it was time to identify a two-year plan based on the good points and failures of my career on the international level thus far. Last year brought with it some struggles. Most were remnants of 6-7 months’ missed time in 2013 with surgery. I could hit good sessions but took double the time to recover. I was dealing with a healthy, but weak, tendon, which meant I picked up compensation injuries on a monthly basis.  I made a European final but as someone who made a world final first time out, walking off the track in Zurich resigned to a DNF next to my name brought little, if any, satisfaction.

Moving Forward

Having considered the highs and lows of the year and indeed the previous few, we began to create some new strategies and a plan for me moving forward. I am very fortunate as an athlete that I have great sponsors and teams supporting me, but often you need to take the resources you are given and make them work for you in the very best way possible. I knew that much of my success and happiness in 2011 came from running alongside studying for my master’s at FSU. I felt that if I could find a productive outlet outside of running in the autumn to take the edge off and force me to be smart and controlled on the training front, as well as develop skills for later in life, I could harness some of that joie de vivre 2011 brought. I was very fortunate to have to opportunity to do just that in Portland, Oregon, a city that inspires me greatly to not only train well but also explore other interests of mine. It has many independent theatres, great restaurants and is generally a very vibrant cultural centre.

Whilst living in Portland, I made strength and conditioning my focus having realised the glaring imbalances that emerged in the aftermath of my surgery. Running took a back seat relatively and through a carefully-designed plan, orchestrated and facilitated by my friends, employers and supporters at Nike Sports Marketing, I was able to get to my December training camp deadline in a position to finally run efficiently and without many of the biomechanical faults present just months before.

Striking a Balance

Core of the problem: I've been working on strength and conditioning a lot since last summer to help myself stay healthy in 2015

Core of the problem: I’ve been working on strength and conditioning a lot to correct issues that occurred in the aftermath of surgery. Hopefully it’ll keep me healthy in 2015

Mentally, I also felt hungry to get back to training full-time and so this camp has arrived at an ideal time. For some, a 24/7/365 focus works great. For me, I know that level of intensity can be sustained for only a period. Training in January and not feeling burned mentally is a new experience, and I love it. College provided me with the outlets and balance necessary to sustain a year’s rigorous training. Now halfway through my first full Olympic cycle, I feel I’ve managed to procure the confidence necessary to identify my needs not just as an athlete, but as a person and based on those, construct not just a training plan, but a life plan that has the goal of a great performance in Rio at the top of the agenda.

With each entry in this series I’m going to try and deliver a piece of advice to any athletes reading. For this first post, I’m going to simply say that every athlete needs to create his or her specific programme. You, alone, are accountable for your results. You know yourself. If you find people you believe in, take their advice along with your own self-awareness to help build your programme, you will be in a great place. I’m very fortunate to have a ton of great friends, a coach, advisers, teammates and in Nike, Vitargo and RunGum, the best sponsors an athlete could ask for.

I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to learn more every day. If you ask American athletes what was the main catalyst for the nation’s re-emergence on the world distance-running stage, they will tell you that the internet brought about freedom of training knowledge and a more competitive awareness between athletes. I think JumpingTheGun has the potential to do the very same in Ireland. It’s an exciting time to be an athlete wearing green.

Ciaran pictured with members of the Solian Athletics Camp, Rift Valley Kenya
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Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy

Cathal Dennehy is a freelance journalist, a once-serious, now-retired athlete who writes for a number of international publications in the running industry. He has won two sports-writing awards, the Peter Ball Memorial Award in Ireland and the Wills Writing Award in the UK. Nationally, he previously worked for the Sunday Tribune, Irish Runner magazine and has written for the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, the Guardian and The Independent in Britain. He is a regular contributor to Running Times, Runner's World, RunBlogRun and the IAAF website.
His banter levels are often poor, occasionally exceptional.

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