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Joe Sweeney – the Virtual Interview

Our next guest is a man who dominated the road and cross country scene in Ireland for a number of years when in his prime, a period which culminated in a superb 4th place finish at the European Cross Country Championships. Tonight we hear from Joe Sweeney.

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1. When and why did you join DSD AC?

I joined Blackrock athletics club when I was 12 but only took athletics seriously when I was 14. There was no option for me to join DSD at the time as I was quite bad (famously having been lapped by Alan McCormack in the Dublin cross country championships in Cabinteely), also DSD was an un-official invitation only Club and I certainly wasn’t being invited. Training in Blackrock A.C (before I decided to take running seriously) consisted of running 3 miles on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday where we took a good long break in between each mile. After I finished in the 20s in the east leinster junior schools cross country championships I decided to take athletics seriously. Taking athletics seriously was, one day deciding to run 3 by one mile as hard as I could with a 5 minute recovery every day for 3 months. You can probably guess where the inspiration for this training plan came from but it bore some fruit. Within 3 months I won the Junior East Leinster Schools 1500m, finished fourth in the Leinsters and most importantly got the much sought after invitation to join the enemy.

2. What was your best event and what event did you like best

My running style meant that regardless of the surface I ran pretty much the same. This meant that Cross country was my best event as when I came up against track specialists I would run the same but they would be at a disadvantage as they got no bounce.

3. What is your favourite training workout?

8 mile tempo on the winter loop with my training group in UCD.

4. And your least favourite?

I never disliked any workout, however when I began to have Achilles issues I found short high intensity workouts extremely difficult to do and recover from. One workout I used to love was 75 seconds hard up Kilmashogue and 45 seconds recovery down. You would go up and down as many times as it took until you got to the top (beginning at the roundabout at St. Thomas’s). This workout was incredibly un-enjoyable when my Achilles became a problem.

5. What is your most cherished or proudest moment in your athletics career?

In my last year as a Junior I was expecting to finish in the top 12 at the European Cross Country Championships as I had finished 21st the previous year. Long story short, I ran terribly, the team won silver but it was my fault that we did not win gold. This was not a good memory for me as it was my last race as a junior. My goal that year as a 1st year senior was to achieve the European U23 5,000m qualification time of 14.15. I was planning to do this at a BMC in Solihul 2 weeks after a planned training camp in Monte Gordo. Needless to say, after my cross country performance most people didn’t think I had much of a shot. Alan McCormack (National Senior Cross Country Champion) and I had completed our punishing 2 week training camp in Monte Gordo and were trying to recover in time for the race. In my mind and at the age I was, my whole life and whether or not I had a future in athletics would be judged on how I performed in the race, (I viewed every important race in my running career this way). The Wednesday before the race, Alan and I were easing down and doing a few strides on the belfield track. We decided to run a lap at race pace (68 seconds) to get a feel for what it was going to be like on Saturday. Anyway, we could barely hit the pace for one lap and I became very worried that evening.

I ended up running 68 seconds a lap, for the 12.5 laps in the race, however, it took so much out of me both physically and mentally, that it was my only good race that season. The moment when I was lying on the grass on the infield not being able to move and being told that I had in-fact ran 14.10 is still my most cherished moment in athletics.

6. What is your most loved athletics sporting moment of all time ?

The obvious one before I was an athlete was being in school and watching Sonia O sullivan win silver in Sydney, However, as an athlete the two that had the biggest impact on me personally was watching David Gillick win his first European Indoor title and seeing an Irish singlet mixing it at the front of the European Cross Country Championships (When Alistar Cragg finished 8th in Croatia 2001 where he was at the front for the entire race).

Both of those moments were significant as; although Gillick was in another event to me, seeing a DSD guy killing it at the Europeans was huge; and the second was important to me from the perspective of the possibilities for the Euorpean Cross Country Championships.

7. What is/was your favourite race / athletics meet to take part in?

British milers club meets when you were trying to achieve a qualification time

8. What was your worst injury – and how did you get over it?

Insertional Achilles tendinopathy which came on when I was 26. I did everything I could, it progressed and ended my career

9. What do/did you eat before a race and how long before did/do you eat?

When I was younger I would eat very little before a race as I would be nervous and didn’t want a full stomach, however, I found as I got older that when I ate as I did before a hard workout (even if it meant that I felt bloated) I ran significantly better. It is important to note that it is the night before that makes all the difference regarding what and how much you eat.

10. If you could have dinner with 3 sporting personalities past or present who would you pick

Alan McCormack and Jerry Kiernan, I would leave the third chair empty as three is a crowd.

11. What is your next running / athletics goal?

To be able to get out for a run sometime this week

12. How are you motivating yourself to continue training at these difficult times?

Ensuring that I do not put on too much weight

13. What piece of advice would you give an aspiring athlete?

I was lucky that I always appreciated what I had and knew it was never going to last. I would say enjoy it while it lasts and to answer the question that some of you have or at some point will ask yourselves, “What am I missing out on?!”. The answer to this is, nothing, It is everyone else who is missing out on what you are doing.

14. Do you have any memorable or funny story from DSD that you could share?

I have many, however, they are not suitable for this audience.

One I can share;

DSD was a very different club when I joined. As mentioned above, joining the elite group was by invitation only and there was an established pecking order in place. I was well down that pecking order when I joined and for about 2 years, the older guys would pick up the pace on every single run when I tried to run with them. It didn’t matter what run it was, the pace would be wound up continuously until I couldn’t keep up anymore. When I finally would throw in the towel they would drop the pace. However, the dropped pace was always exactly 10 meters faster than I could run and this gap would be maintained for the entire run. If it was a long run this would be 12 miles of a 15 mile run and I would be barely able to cycle home afterwards. I didn’t find it that funny at the time but it is pretty funny now when I think back about it.

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