This might sound a bit obvious, but I think the best place to start with this new column is at the very beginning.
Portlaoise athlete Dan Mulhare joins the Leinster Express with his new weekly column
I started running with Portlaoise AC when I was nine years old, and I still compete for Portlaoise to this day. When I first started running for Portlaoise, just making the club team was a tough task for me. There were so many other guys on the team that were better than me that I could have easily given up, but I persevered, and continued to enjoy running. By the time I was 13, most of the other guys I was used to running with had already given up or I was now just as good as them.
I won my first Laois title as an U-14 in the County Cross Country Championships. A year later, I gained my first Irish Vest as an U-14, representing the Irish Schools Cross Country team. Although I was never the best in Ireland as a juvenile, I still loved to compete as an individual first, and then the team aspect of cross country running was always fun yoo. I won my first National title when I was an U-18 over 800m, and since then I have added an Indoor Senior Title over 3000m, and some adult Cross Country titles along with gold in the Irish University Cross Country finals too.
I have represented Ireland over 25 times, on four different surfaces. I have competed at World Fell Running Champinships, World University Cross Country Championships, European Cross Country Championships and European Indoor Championships.
What has eluded me until this point in my career is a major outdoor Track Championships. This year, both the European Championships and the Olympic Championships are being held. With the Europeans being held in Helsinki in June and the Olympics a month later, it’s a great opportunity to try and gain the qualifying time for both. The times for the European are hard but very much achievable, where as the qualifying times needed to gain selection for the Olympics are very difficult.
Having said this, there is only one way to prepare for the year ahead - as professionally as possible. The world’s best long distance runners come from east Africa. To give myself the best possible chance of qualifying for the Championships, this year I’ve moved to Kenya to live and train with the best long distance runners in the world.
So for the next 13 weeks I will be living at 7500 feet above sea level. The advantages of living at such an altitude are extremely important for a long distance runner. The higher altitude means there is a reduction in the amount of Oxygen in the air, thus making it harder to breath. While I’m living here my heart, lungs, respiratory system and muscles will have to work much harder due to the lack of Oxygen. My body will automatically create more red blood cells as a result of this, and the more red blood cells your body has the faster it can transport oxygen around the body.
The effects of living at altitude can be seen when an athlete returns to sea level. Their body will retain a high quantity of red blood cells for up to 90 days after they return. With more red blood cells than ever and more oxygen in the air at sea level, the transportation of oxygen around the body is easier than ever, thus allowing you to run faster for longer.
For the next 13 weeks I will be benefiting from living at altitude regardless of how much or how little I train. The trick is to maximise the time here so that when I return to sea level, I’m race fit and ready to get the qualifying time for the Europeans within the first few weeks after returning.
Living with the Kenyans, and living like the Kenyans, means I have no real luxuries. My landlady is Linet Masai, who is one of the worlds’ best long distance runners, a World Champion and Olympic medallist and one of the wealthiest people in this region of Kenya, and yet she lives in the most basic of accommodation. There is a drought in Kenya right now, it hasn’t rained for over three month, so the ground is hard and dusty. There are power cuts almost every evening, and the cockroaches and mosquitoes can keep you awake all night.
It might sound like I’m making a sacrifice to come and live here, but I don’t see it like that at all. This is what I want to do. I love running, some people love playing football or hurling and get a great thrill out of that. When your team wins it’s always a good feeling in the dressing room after the game, and at training for the next few nights. When you achieve a goal in running, whether it’s running your first 5km or getting a faster time than you did in a previous race, it’s just a great feeling. There is no team, it’s just you.
I’m a firm believer that the harder you train the more you get out of it. This is true in a lot of sports, but in an individual sport like running, it’s almost a fact. No one can let you down on race day, because they haven’t trained as hard as you have. It’s all down to you and how you perform. You can’t hide among your team mates and hope they carry you to victory.
Training with the guys here in Kenya is a totally different experience to anything I have ever done before. These guys are desperate to succeed. It’s not a hobby for them, because it’s as simple as this - if they don’t run fast then they don’t eat, and that’s the honest truth of it.
I’m living like one of them and training with these guys with the hope of becoming an Olympian.
Got a question for Dan?
If so, then e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether you are a seasoned runner or are just starting out, Dan can offer advice on a whole range of topics.
See next week’s Leinster Express for the next edition of Running Man