Today we hear from Brendan O’Neill, one of the clubs more recent stars, Brendan was a leading member of the Irish team that won the European XC Championships in 2010.
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1. When and why did you join DSD AC?
I joined DSD just in time for the National Juvenile Cross-Country in Donoughmore, Co. Cork in 2002. Before joining, I had started running as a first year in St. Michael’s College and I think it was halfway through second year that I decided to sign up after having some success in the East Leinster Schools XC races.
2. What was your best event and what event did you like it
I probably had more success in terms of winning/placing well in cross-country races in Ireland, but during my time in Florida it was almost certainly the 10,000m on the track. That said I think cross-country would have to be my choice for which was my favourite of the two. It’s hard to beat the passion of cross-country, the roaring spectators on the sidelines (sometimes with cowbells) and the pure smell of nature. I particularly liked a course that was firm underfoot….like Marlay Park in the summer (when it’s dry!!). Part of the fun is the pure uncertainty of the conditions and the variety of courses though. I’m thinking in particular of National Intercounties in 2010 in Derry (which was more like the North Pole than the North of Ireland!), and also for some reason the same race in Kilbeggan in 2009 stands out as something that was quite challenging
3. What is your favourite training workout?
I always loved 2x2mile (with a 1mile break) on the hills in Marlay. Referring back to my last answer, particularly in the summer with good underfoot conditions and the sun beating down. I used to enjoy the fact that you could run the first 2 mile as hard as you could, knowing that you’d have a full 1 mile jog to get ready for the second half. The hilly loop in Marlay is great for a number of reasons. The hills help build incredible power in your stride while not being so steep that you can’t get into some rhythm, on the downhill parts you can get some leg turnover going, apart from really terrible weather you can generally run all of it on grass, and if you have a coach overlooking the session they can watch pretty much the whole way around. Following not far behind that is a 19-mile double mountain run, where you start in Marlay and do a few miles there, then depart for the top of Three Rock, then come down and run across to do the Hellfire loop before coming back to finish at Marlay. That’s another sure way to build incredible power and strength in your stride.
4. And your least favourite?
I’ve always found the higher intensity work to be much harder than any longer, more sustained training. So any sessions on the track, particularly shorter stuff, is probably what I enjoyed the least. If it’s in Ireland and we have glorious sunny weather, I think there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than running outside and so the type of sessions doesn’t bother me too much when that’s taken into account. Contrast that with Deer Park in the depths of winter, grinding out 8x1k (basically in the dark apart from the orange glow that spills over from the street alongside the loop), I think I would take the track session in the sun
5.What is your most cherished or proudest moment in your athletics career?
It would probably have to be winning the European U23 XC team title, it would be hard beat that really. One thing I realised from that experience also is how valuable it is to be able to share such a success with team mates and that element certainly made it all the more enjoyable and memorable. Aside from that one other great day I will remember are running a PB in Oordegem (2010, 7:57 3000m in a sprint finish with Joe Sweeney!) and also the Payton Jordan meet in Stanford (2012, 13:41 5000m).
6. What is your most loved athletics sporting moment of all time?
I’ll play a slightly different angle on this question, and highlight a few achievements of some of Irish distance runners a bit older than me (I don’t think these achievements get the full credit they deserve):
1. Joe Sweeney coming 4th at the 2011 Euro XC
2. Andrew Ledwith coming 3rd at NCAA XC in 2008
3. Mark Christie running 13:27 for 5000m in 2011 while working full time
7. What is/was your favourite race / athletics meet to take part in?
For my favorite race I have done, I’d have to choose the NCAA 10k final in Hayward Field, Oregon where I finished 9th. I don’t think you’d find anywhere else in America where a stadium that size would sell out for a college meet. I even remember waiting for a lunch table the next day, and an old man waiting beside me recounted my entire race in fine detail, down to what my last lap split was. When he then told me he was not a coach or relative of any athlete, but just a local resident of Eugene, it really hit home why the place is known as ‘Tracktown USA’. But going back to one of my earlier answers, there’s always something special about the Irish Interclubs in November each year….it’s a race that many people desperately want to win (example: Liam Brady’s epic quote about the ambulance from this year), and that kind of raw competitiveness is nearly always sure to make it interesting.
8. What was your worst injury – and how did you get over it?
True to being a high-mileage distance runner, I picked up a number of stress fractures between the age of 18 and 22. At the time it seemed like the end of the world, that it was only happening to me and my luck was terrible and all of that. Unfortunately the only way to get over a stress fracture is to rest for a long time, so I generally used this time to catch up with my friends from outside running, go on holidays I wouldn’t normally go on if I was training, and things like that. I liked to use the time to get any future potential distractions out of my system so that when I went back training, it would be 100% focus until the next break (or unplanned interruption!).
9. What do/did you eat before a race and how long before did/do you eat?
I tried not to eat too much on the day of a race, my ideal feeling was an empty stomach but without having to starve for too long. Usually it would involve a massive feed the night before and then just a banana or something if the race was early…..if the race was later, say in the afternoon, I’d go for a bit of porridge…..if the race was in the evening I’d have a big porridge + fruit for breakfast and then snacking on small bits throughout the day.
10. If you could have dinner with 3 sporting personalities past or present who would you pick
Steve Prefontaine (Legend of USA Distance Running), Michael Cusack (founder of the GAA), Pierre De Coubertin (founder of the IOC)
11. What is your next running / athletics goal?
I’ve been out of hard training for the last couple of years since starting full time working, but at the moment I’m slowly clawing my way back and starting with conquering the hilly terrain around the new locality of Greystones and Delgany.
12. How are you motivating yourself to continue training at these difficult times?
I’m actually really enjoying the opportunity to get out and train at the moment. Apart from the racing calendar being turned upside down, it’s an amazing opportunity to put in some good work and get great recovery also. If I was training full on right now I would be working on building up my mileage and doing plenty of strength work, with some time trials around the local loops thrown in for fun.
13. What piece of advice would you give an aspiring athlete?
If you’re aspiring to reach the top of distance running (ie. 5k and up) I think the number one thing to remember is that it’s a game of longevity. It takes years of consistently slogging it out to make big breakthroughs. 3 weeks of 110 miles a week is no good if it’s going to get you injured or overtrained or not wanting to run much after that. You want to do a quantity and intensity of training that you can sustain over a number of years, consistently. So when you have done a whole 4 year cycle of training and look back on what you’ve done in that time frame, that’s the mileage count that really matters.
14. Do you have any memorable or funny story from DSD that you could share?
I remember my first ever run with the club in UCD as a 14 year old. I did not know what to expect, all I knew was to be dropped off at Marlay Park at a certain time and I had a vague idea of where the meeting point was. Once I arrived, we were split into our groups and Eddie said to the group of us ‘all of you are here now, off you go’. I was probably in the middle of tying my lace, I did not know any names of the people I was with but the group took off like scalded cats. There was probably 5 of us and I remember thinking as we were about 400m into starting that the pace felt harder than one of my East Leinster races in the previous weeks. We were hammering it! I can’t remember if I was loving this new novelty or hating it due to the extreme pain, but I knew I was at a place with some pretty good runners so I think that knowledge kept me chugging through. After looping through many fields and areas in UCD and thinking with each one ‘just focus on getting to the end of this field’, we finally barelled out into the clearing near the Foster’s Road entrance and I could see we were heading back towards our bags. Thank you God!! We got back to the bags, in my head I congratulated myself on a great day’s work and packed up my bags to head home. That was until I heard the announcement to the group….. ‘Great warmup guys, let’s get moving so we can start the session!!’
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