James Sullivan has been talking to Jason Harvey, one of Ireland’s leading one lap hurdlers.

Jason Harvey is an Irish athlete who specialises in the 400m hurdles. He has represented Ireland at the 2012 European Championships in Helsinki and the 2013 European U23 Championships in Tampere. His PB of 50.13, recorded when coming second at the 2013 Irish Championships, ranks him third on the Irish all-time list behind Tom McGuirk (49.73) and Thomas Barr (49.78).

Competing at the 2013 European Team Championships First League in Dublin

James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. So to begin, how did you first get involved in athletics?

Jason: No problem at all. Well I have been part of athletics circles now since I was about 8 years old. I remember my first national medal was in Nenagh at the Under 10s in the 60m sprint. I probably could have run faster then over 60 than I can now though!

I have a very big influence in sport from my family in general as my mum is a PE teacher and really allowed me the opportunity to run from an early age. So I kind of fell into athletics from her side, but also my dad did high jump with Maeve Kyle in Ballymena & Antrim so I was hit on both fronts.

James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?

Jason: Well not really. I always laugh when I get asked this question but I just ran for the fun of it and never really aspired to be like someone else. I wanted to go out and beat whoever was racing me that day. I suppose later in my high jump days I really loved watching Stefan Holm, and multi-event wise I loved watching Roman Sebrle. But I did not have a specific idol. Moving into the 400m I would probably say David Gillick was someone that inspired me. To know that someone in Ireland could go away and win indoor championships and have so much pride in doing so was a big factor. (Coach McKee will probably kill me for not saying him now ha!)

James: When did you realise that the long hurdles would be your strongest event?

Jason: It was only really through a bit of luck. In the past when I did high jump and every other event under the sun, people would say to me “oh boy you should do 400m hurdles”. I used to think to myself “catch yourself on, I’m not running that far over those barriers!”. Anyway, when I moved to 400m running I started to enjoy the pain that came with it so thought maybe one day I would hurdle after all those comments. In 2011 I was having an up and down season. I had run a PB in my first race, something like 47.87, and I felt great. But things didn’t go so well after that, I hadn’t achieved the European U23 400m standard and I was going to give up on the season around July time after watching the U23s live. So Paul McKee, my coach, had a chat with me in training and said “Harvey, go give the 400m hurdles a go at nationals”. So I thought a bit about it during the session and decided I would give it a go. So two weeks of training before nationals and the rest is history really! Really a stroke of genius McKee always says to himself, but I let him think that!

James: The 400m Hurdles comprises a unique blend of speed, endurance and technique. Which of these do you believe to be your greatest strength? Which of these areas do you believe needs the most improvement?

Jason: Well I always get a bit of stick in the group that I am a woeful hurdler and probably the god’s honest truth is that I am not the greatest in the world. So to answer your second question I would say my technique over the barriers needs a bit of work.

In regards to your first question, I would say I have a good bit of speed in the old legs with the 21.57 200m run but I don’t shy away from the endurance side. I would probably be a more endurance based 400m runner anyway. So I dabble in both ends of the spectrum, which is something that I think a good 400m or 400m hurdles runner should have.

James: You have represented Ireland at both the 2012 European Championships in Helsinki and the 2013 European Under-23 Championships in Tampere. Can you put both these experiences into words? What were the biggest positives you took from each event and what lessons have you learnt moving forward?

Jason: Well, both were a massive learning curve for me. I have been lucky in that as a junior I gained selection for major championships as a relay runner. So those early years gave me a sense of hunger to gain individual selection. So in 2012 it was my first ever individual selection in my own event. Going to the competition in Helsinki I was a bit off the boil with my hurdling. It was only the first proper year I had decided to compete in the 400m hurdles event solely, so it was a bit of a shock and my body wasn’t sure what was going on. I ran rubbish in the heats and if I had run anywhere near my PB I would have been in the semi-final no bother. So it was frustrating, but I think I took a lot out of the competition as it showed that when I run to my potential I could get to semi finals or possibly finals at European level.

Competing at the 2012 European Championships in Helsinki

With regards to Tampere, it was different combination of emotions. As I came into the races with a lot of confidence in myself, with PBs over 200, 400 and 400m Hurdles in the bank, and I knew I was ranked 9th overall coming in. Then with the way the heat went it was like a snowball of confidence…. but then it happened, the good old DQ. It was probably one of the most painful things that has happened in my career to date. I can take not being selected for championships, but to DQ isn’t acceptable in my opinion. I had a mix of confusion of what had happened and also complete disappointment at the same time. Taking it all on-board was hard but Teresa McDaid and all involved with AAI at the championships helped me afterwards and gave me the time and space to understand what had gone wrong. I was also delighted at the same time for Thomas Barr who ran under 50 and made the final but I would have loved to have joined him to make the Irish a force to be reckoned with. But I suppose set backs are what makes an athlete and I came out in the nationals two weeks later to run a PB and run young Thomas Barr to the line which made the failure a little easier to take.

So, on the whole, these two major championships have given me a lot as an athlete, understanding a set back and mistake is the biggest thing for a top runner. What you can do on the track will be remembered for years to come so I want something positive in the future!

James: What moments from your career to date are you particularly proud of?

Jason: Well I would say my first international as a junior, running the Irish junior 4x400m record with Brian Gregan, Billy Ryan and Curtis Woods. I was delighted at the time and still am today thinking how on earth we managed it.

James: How would you assess your 2014 indoor season?

Jason: Well it was nothing to shout home about and I hadn’t really planned on it to be. I have been training for more speed over the flat and I wanted to break up the winter training with a few 200s. So to make the final at nationals was a bonus. My natural competitive instinct was that I wanted to medal and to be fair you could throw a blanket over 3rd to 6th really. But overall I came out confident that I know where I am from winter and where I am going.

James: What are your main targets for the upcoming outdoor season?

Jason: I have two major targets this season and those are the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and then the European Championships in Zurich. I am aiming for a semi-final or final in both and to run as fast as I possibly can in them. I would love to be known as a championship runner as that gives you a nice bit of terror to add into the opposition!

Apart from that I will go for the old cliche of PBs and staying healthy like everyone else!

James: During the outdoor season what type of anaerobic top speed sessions would be commonplace in your training routine?

Jason: Well probably 5x300s off 6 mins is a nice wee one that we have planned and have been doing already. It is a real stinker but can give you a lot of confidence if done correctly!

James: With regards to hurdling sessions, what sort of technical work do you do?

Jason: I wouldn’t do an awful lot to be honest. I should really do a lot more but I have had little niggly things going on with my body during every winter which hinders me doing much. This year, for example, I had Achilles problems that stopped me doing a lot. But I would have been in working with a decathlete friend of mine, Peter Glass, doing single leg drills over trail leg and lead leg.

James: What sort of speed endurance/ aerobic power type sessions do you incorporate into your training and how do these differ between winter and summer? Do you incorporate hurdles into longer reps?

Jason: Well for example the other day we did 2x5x200 so that was a tad interesting and we had 2 minutes between reps so it really was a killer. We would tend to hang back on those type of sessions closer to summer and go for the less is more approach as feeling fresher coming into summer is the main aim. More 400m specific I suppose would be on the summer menu. I would add in the odd hurdling session weather permitting, as I might as well. For example the 5×300 we do I would do the first 2/3 reps over hurdles as my group are running the flat beside me. It gives me a good range to work on. Then drop into the flat stuff and open a whole can up!

James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?

Jason: My favourite session would be 1 split 400 (200, 200) before competitions. This has been my favourite for a while now. It seems to really get me ready to go. Worst would be early stages of grass work probably, something like 2,3,4,4,3,2 minute runs around September time are just awful!

James: What is the worst injury you have had to deal with to date?

Jason: Well that is a tricky one. I would say my neural hamstring pain in 2012 was a nightmare as I had never really had something like that. I stretched a lot and thought what on earth is this. It lasted from about April that year until indoors of 2013 which was annoying more than anything.

James: Nutrition obviously plays an important part in the life of an elite athlete. What would be your typical dieting habits in the lead up to a big race?

Jason: Well I have been big into my diet over the last year or two as I have had a little more time on my hands to worry about these things. So probably eating 3 or 4 eggs for breakfast with a fruit smoothie would be the ideal start. Eating a decent meal for lunch like chicken breast and a mean salad topped with French dressing. Then another meat, possibly a stinking fish, as I know it is best but I hate them totally, with greens and sweet potato wedges. That would be an ideal day but we don’t always get that. I roll with the punches and if I am away somewhere I try to eat sensibly but it isn’t always the case in random countries like Poland and Serbia were the food is horrific. So if someone asked me again I would say sensible portions and don’t eat something you aren’t used to!

James: The depth of quality coming through in Ireland in the 400m Hurdles is particularly strong. How significant has the formation of the Irish Hurdlers Series been in raising the overall standard in the event?

Jason: It is brilliant. Jeremy is doing a great job. It really helps bring a sense of competition to proceedings, especially with the Royal Rumble. The last couple of years I have kept up to date with things and have seen a nice steady rise in the rankings of athletes. So all is well on that front but naturally I would like my event to become the cornerstone of Irish athletics, something they can rely on in major competitions for final spots. That is what Thomas and I have always chatted about. When we race we want both of us to get as far as possible to show that Ireland isn’t a small nation of nobodies. Fingers crossed we keep moving on as a group of hurdlers and also my event gets up to where it should belong!

Jason Harvey with Thomas Barr, after the 2013 Irish National Championship 400m hurdles final

James: There’s no denying that, in Ireland, athletics struggles in the popularity stakes when compared to field sports. What needs to be done to attract the average person on the street to Athlone or Santry to spectate?

Jason: I was talking about this to a group of guys up north. I think we need to get the bums on seats so to speak by Americanising the heck out of it! OK, some people may argue that it is making us look weak and stupid but I think we need some energy about the place. Provide music, cheerleaders, live bands, entertainment during proceedings, and food tents post event for athletes to mingle with fans. Make it like mini Diamond Leagues! Press conferences post races to get the hype up, especially at nationals and larger races on the shore. I feel there is a gap in the market for us and we need to step into it now or else we will be further and further behind the big sports of Rugby, GAA etc.

At the moment we don’t show off our athletes enough as well. Look at the Brits. They have them in the media constantly. Pre-Olympics they had them involved in a funny Polaroid type thing that got the media stirring. It is the small things that work, and there isn’t enough of that with us. I would happily spend my time doing some media event or video that made a few hundred thousand views in YouTube to get our names out there. Marketing is key and I think that we need to do more of it to get people noticing the talent we have in Ireland.

James: What other changes would you most like to see happen in Irish athletics over the coming years?

Jason: I think things are moving in the right direction, we have managed to get live streaming of competitions and from an athletes perspective I think the management staff and all who travel with the teams are doing a brilliant job. I have no problems with the way things are run but I would love to see us really hit the big time as a nation. So to answer the question, it is that Irish Athletics gets up to the big time! Moving on from what I said above, when people run fast they get attention, so what we need to do is run even faster and get the media coverage we deserve.

James: What are your views on doping in athletics? Have you ever suspected a competitor? How do you deal with the frustration that some people are not playing by the rules?

Jason: I am completely against doping in all forms. I hate anyone protecting a person who has been caught and I want lifetime bans. Plain and simple.

I’ve never really suspected a competitor. I have never really thought “oh so and so has been taking something” but then again who does? I suppose the thing nowadays it is that whoever runs fast is apparently “on the sauce” so to speak. I hate the fact that these people are bumping up the standards for all the clean athletes to achieve. If, say for example, all the 9 second runners in the 100m got caught, the standards to gain selection would be a lot easier to get. So that annoys me greatly.

James: When not competing, do you enjoy watching athletics? What current athlete do you like watching the most?

Jason: Yeah I would always be watching athletics if it was on. I love it, even the events that I have never done I love watching. I will give you a double answer here with a male and female athlete. On the male side I would tend to watch Aries Merritt over the 110m hurdles as he is just a classy athlete. On the female side it would naturally be Darya Klishina. I don’t think I need to give a reason for that one!

James: That’s great Jason. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck for the outdoor season.

Jason: No worries, anytime!

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