Font Romeu 2006-2016

I just can’t quite believe that Ive been coming out to train in Font Romeu for the past 10 years. It seems like only yesterday that I was reading about this amazing place with its endless trails in Paula Radcliffe’s autobiography.

From that first account by Paula, I was determined that I would come out here to run on the trails myself and experience what it was like to breathe in the skinny air (or gasp for breath in my case).

Paula R

When I first came out in 2006 competing at the Olympics had not quite crossed my mind. It was something that the ‘big guns’, like Paula, did and not a little club runner like me who had effectively stopped running for 5 years while studying at university and then taken to the racing in the mountains. However, like many others I was keen to give altitude training a go and see how far my running could actually take me. Gaining international vests was the first goal, followed then by making the Commonwealths and then once I had achieved that making an Olympics was in my sight.

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Not all Running

The life of a runner isn’t always roads, trails, sweat and tears. We often get the chance to do lots of other exciting and interesting challenges. 2016 has been jammed packed so far and I’ve met some lovely new people and hopefully encouraged and inspired people along the way.

In February I had the chance to visit the staff at Phoenix Natural Gas and challenge them all to a Park Run a month from that initial meeting with them. It was great to be able to tell people my story of where I started and how I caught the “Running Bug”. A few weeks later I was delighted to meet around 70 staff at Victoria Park in Belfast for what was the first ‘Park Run’ for many of them. It wasn’t the most pleasant of days with a few showers but I was delighted with the turn out and it was great that they had also been raising money for their charity, Energy for Children’s Trust. I was really happy to see that many of the staff had also brought their families and many kids were challenging their parents to a great battle of endurance around the course. Thank you so much to the Victoria Park Run organisers for having us and I hope to see the Phoenix Natural Gas workforce out again for the next challenge.

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Indoor/Outdoor

Indoor racing is always an exciting time, especially for Irish athletes, as its time to get a break from the outdoor elements and boy did we have a tough winter of wind and rain.

Coach Rodgers and I planned a short indoor season as the main focus is getting to that start line in Rio come August, and well it’s still a long way away. Three races were planned, two 3000m and one 1500m, but if I had my way it would be 1500m all the way, I just love it. But the focus this winter had been to further develop my endurance and being a bit of a lactic animal the more 1500s I do the more my anaerobic system likes to dominate and the focus is to protect and build my aerobic capacity for that last km in the steeplechase.

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Wintered Well

2015 ended on a high, I drove back from my altitude training camp in Font Romeu and ran a strong race at the National Cross-Country champions in Santry. At one stage I was back in 16th place and was thinking ‘a top 10 today would be good as this year had one of the strongest fields in history’. My final lap was my strongest ever, the mud had sucked a lot out of some people’s legs and I could feel many coming back to me so I dug deep and was able to keep the tempo going. I was delighted to finish 4th and secure a place on the Irish team for the European Cross-Country Championships. The icing on the cake was coming home from France with the team bronze medals to top off the most successful year of my running career so far.

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From a BumpyStart to a TrueStart

So after a bumpy (travel) start (when our car broke down in Central France and was beyond economical repair) to my altitude training camp we arrived in Font Romeu and the sun was shining, the altitude air was fresh and the forests were just as I had left them in the spring. My first run was on one of my favourite trails and Lola the Whippet remembered it well and little Ella, her new sister, was in her element scamping about through the trees.

Font Romeu is a beautiful place to visit, I just love running here, there is something about waking up to that spectacular view of the Pyrenees mountains (usually capped with white snow like a dusting of icing sugar), heading out and feeling the sunshine on your back and the smell of the pine trees wafting through the fresh thin air as you zip through the extensive trails this place has to offer.

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Sending out an SOSrehydrate.com

So with three weeks of steady running under the belt it was time to head off to my Altitude Training spot in Font Romeu. Car packed, puppy passports in hand and my designated driver, coach Rodgers, we were ready to hit the road.

Puppy Passports
Puppy Passports

Earlier in the week SOSrehydrate.com had sent me a great supply of hydration sachets for the training camp. I was lucky enough to get in touch with SOS just before heading out to Beijing and they had supported my hydration out there. The SOSrehydrate was a very essential addition to my training and kept me hydrated well throughout in the intense heat and humidity in China.

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Making Club History

So two weeks off running at the end of the track season was reduced to 9 days when I found out that the Northern Ireland Road Relay Championships were to be held on 3rd October. With Newcastle AC female members growing we would have enough to put out two teams and also be in with a shout of medals!

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Starting back running after time off isn’t an easy thing. This is when injuries and niggles tend to happen as the body has gone into shut down mode, and when you start to spring runs on the legs again they tend to kick off with, “what on earth are we doing here, I’m still on my holidays!”

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Chasing, Racing, Pacing

This summer’s track season is definitely one I will remember for a long time. I began it chasing the Olympic Qualifying Time of 9:45. Once I relaxed into racing mode I achieved this and slightly better by running 9:42.6 in Letterkenny in July, which qualified me for the World Championships in Beijing and next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio.

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I am a born racer and really enjoyed getting back to some 1500m running especially at the European Team Championships in Crete, where I finished 3rd picking up good points for Ireland. Beijing was a fantastic experience and I have learned many things for my preparation on the Road to Rio. It gave me the opportunity to race against the best female chasers in the World, who only a few weeks later looked to me to pace them through to run one of the fastest times in history over the event.

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Beijing Barriers & Banter with Bolt

Race day arrived and so did the nerves. I didn’t sleep much the night before and the 5am wake-up call came early. With a 10:17 race start I had to get up to eat and make sure the body was ready to go by race time. The sun was splitting the trees and temperatures were already hitting 30 degrees by the time we were warming up.
I was in Heat 3, which I knew would be fast due to athletes racing for times to make the final ahead of girls in the previous two heats. The call room was quiet and tense. I knew it was going to be very warm out there in the Bird’s Nest when I saw Emma Coburn arrive with a cool jacket on. I hadn’t seen one before, only the type my mum puts round her bottle of vino in the summer, lol. It’s definitely something I will look at investing in for future races in these climates – the human cooling jacket that is!

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Beijing Bound

So right now I’m sitting on a plane to Beijing! I have just spent 8 days with Team Ireland in Hong Kong acclimatising to the hot and humid conditions in preparation for the World Athletics Championships in Beijing. We have a small team including my two fellow Irish Steeplechicks Michelle and Sara. It has been great being able to spend time together preparing for the same event and having company on runs and at the track.  

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The plan this season was to try and get as close to the Olympic Qualifying Time as possible, I knew I was in good shape this summer but I guess I never expected to have one of the best seasons of my life so far.

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International Athlete