Road Running

Fagan quits the sport: “I’m happier not running right now”

Martin Fagan, who is currently Ireland’s sole qualifier for the 2016 Olympic men’s marathon, has quit competitive running.

The 31-year-old from Mullingar, who returned from a two-year doping ban last year, said that for the sake of his mental health, he will quit the sport from a competitive standpoint, saying that he is “happier not running right now.”

Fagan’s comments were published by the Westmeath Independent today, with Fagan noting that much of his decision to retire was based on the difficulty of combining full-time work with high-level training.

Time to say goodbye: Martin Fagan said he is

Time to say goodbye: Martin Fagan said he is

“With work it just took away from the enjoyment,” he said. “I ran a race in the Pat Finnerty Road League (in May) and I just didn’t enjoy it. It’s hard to explain but I just lost the love for it.”

Since returning from his doping ban, Fagan raced primarily on the Irish road racing circuit, picking up cash prizes at several races around the country before making his return to the marathon, running Olympic qualifier at the Zurich Marathon in April (2:16:09).

However, he felt it would not be right to compete at the Olympics unless he could perform at his best, something he didn’t feel was realistic while juggling training with full-time work.

“Working 50 hours a week, it just wasn’t happening,” he said. “Obviously the support that should have been there, wasn’t and I understand why it wasn’t as it just wouldn’t have been fair. If I was going to go I would like to give myself a good shot of competing, but working the way I am, I could not do that.

“I woke up and didn’t want to run and I have been like that … for my own mental health I’m happy not running.”

The Rise and Fall

Fagan has been Ireland’s best distance runner for much of the past decade. A graduate of Providence College, he set a national record of 60:57 for the half-marathon in 2009 which still stands today.

In January 2008, Fagan ran his personal best of 2:14:06 to qualify for the Beijing Olympics later that year. At the Games themselves, he dropped out of the men’s marathon due to injury.

At the end of 2011, Fagan tested positive for EPO and in an interview subsequently given to the Irish Times after news of his positive test broke, Fagan claimed he took the banned blood-boosting drug on just one occasion. Fagan also outlined how he had struggled severely with depression in the aftermath of his failure to finish the 2011 Chicago Marathon, something he said contributed to his eventual decision to take performance-enhancing drugs.

Upon his return last year, the Mullingar Harrier divided opinion among his fellow athletes, across national media outlets and among the general outlook of the sporting public.

Public Backlash

Road warrior: Martin Fagan in action at the 2010 Beach to Beacon 10K. Image: PhotoRun

Road warrior: Martin Fagan in action at the 2010 Beach to Beacon 10K. Image: PhotoRun

Last month, 800m athlete Mark English said he would feel reluctant to compete on the same Irish team as Fagan. “To be honest, I don’t think he should be picked [for the Olympics],” he said. “That’s my personal opinion. I believe if you’re tested positive, you shouldn’t be let back in — the sport just needs that.

“If I were him, I would just not compete in the sport again for the sake of it. If Martin Fagan really loves the sport, he shouldn’t compete again.”

One of Fagan’s most vocal critics in the national media was Eamonn Sweeney, who wrote in the Sunday Independent: “My problem with Martin Fagan isn’t so much to do with his resort to illegal methods but with his reaction after being caught. Because I find that Fagan’s putatively heart-rending claims about being driven into the arms of EPO by depression have left with me with less rather than more sympathy for his plight.”

In today’s article in the Westmeath Independent, Fagan admitted that the backlash he received from certain quarters upon his return affected his decision to quit the sport. “It’s never been easy because there was a backlash,” he said. “Things like that don’t phase me as much, they only phase me when they impact on my friends and family. At the time my friends did get upset. There were things said by some people who didn’t know anything about me. There are certain articles I could go into, but I’d just rather not.”

Fagan said he was extremely grateful for the support he received from the local running community after his comeback and admitted that his decision will have let down many of his biggest supporters. “It was undeserving almost,” he said. “[Retiring] is probably going to disappoint some people, but I have to look after my own mental health.”




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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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