James Sullivan chats with American-born Irish 400m runner Jennifer Carey, who represented Ireland at the recent World Championships in Moscow.
Jennifer Carey is an Irish 400m runner from California, USA. She competed in the NCAA Championships for UC Santa Barbara and represented Ireland at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. Her PB is 52.29 which she set at this year’s Big West Championships.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. Easy question first, how did you first get involved in athletics?
Jennifer: I first joined my school’s team when I was about 10 years old. I had always played multiple sports, but my greatest advantage in all of them was my speed. Since I was quick and very competitive, I immediately loved racing because it was just about whoever got to the finish line first.
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
Jennifer: We are big Munster Rugby supporters in my house, and I especially loved watching Peter Stringer. Being pretty short myself, compared to most 400m runners, he was an inspiration to me. I admired him for being the smallest guy on the field but still having a big presence and always leaving it all out there.
James: What do you believe to be your strongest attribute with regards athletics, and what area do you feel you could improve on the most?
Jennifer: I think my raw speed and fast turnover is probably my strongest attribute. As far as what can be improved, my coach gave me a pretty long list after my race in Moscow. I think I still have a lot of work to do on my form, like increasing my stride length and fixing my arm movements. I also plan on spending more time in the gym this year to improve my strength. It’s exciting to know that there is so much room for improvement because it means I can run a lot faster!
James: Would you describe yourself as a speed based or endurance based 400m runner?
Jennifer: That’s a tough question because you obviously need a bit of both to run the 400m, but I would have to say my race is definitely more speed based. I like to start out fast and try to hang on, rather than saving anything for the end.
James: You recently changed your sporting allegiance from the USA to Ireland. What is your connection to Ireland and what were your reasons for making the switch?
Jennifer: Well I never represented the USA in competition, so it didn’t really feel like I was switching. It has been my lifelong dream to run for Ireland, ever since I first started athletics. It’s only this year that I was fast enough to make the team! My ancestry is 100% Irish, with my dad coming from Limerick and my mom’s dad coming from Louisburgh in Mayo. My parents instilled a strong sense of Irish identity in our household, and my siblings and I grew up doing Irish dance, playing Gaelic football, and taking most of our vacations in Ireland. There is a pretty big Irish community near my hometown and I think most of our family and friends would have been surprised if I chose to run for the USA.
James: How have you enjoyed your first season being involved in Irish athletics?
Jennifer: I loved it! I definitely feel like I made the right decision. The Irish athletics community is a very close-knit and enthusiastic one, and I felt welcomed into it from the first time I wore the Irish jersey at the European team championships. I am so grateful for all the kindness and support people showed me the whole time I was in Ireland, especially leading up to Moscow. I’ve made a lot of good friends this summer and am already looking forward to returning next year!
James: What are the biggest differences that you have noticed between athletics in Ireland and athletics in the USA? What aspects of the sport in the USA do you think could be implemented in Ireland?
Jennifer: Actually, I noticed a few positives about Irish athletics that I wish existed in the US. It seems that in Ireland, and in all of Europe, the club system is so much more extensive and accessible than what we have here. For me, running began when I was old enough to join my grade school’s track team, and until this year, it was inconceivable that I would continue my running career beyond college. The clubs provide great opportunities to continue competing and promote team spirit at competitions, which is a lot more fun than racing unattached.
James: You competed in the 400m at this year’s World Championships in Moscow. Can you put into words the experience of performing in your debut global championship? Were you satisfied with your performance?
Jennifer: Racing in Moscow was an absolutely unreal experience. It was more than a little overwhelming since I had never been to a global championship at any level before, and I was a bit star struck seeing athletes that I had only ever seen on TV. Before this year, I had never run faster than 57 for the 400m, so you can imagine I felt a bit out of place lining up next to the reigning world champion! It was disappointing to be so close to making it to the semifinal, but I am proud of myself for keeping the nerves in check and putting up a time that’s not too far off my personal best. I proved to myself that I can hold my own with the best, and it definitely motivated me to get stronger and faster. The next time I’m in a championship race, I won’t just be happy to be there, I’ll be trying to make the final.
James: Away from your event, how did you enjoy the experience of being part of the Irish athletics team in Moscow?
Jennifer: It was a small team and we didn’t all fly out at the same time, so it wasn’t the complete team experience that I was hoping for to be honest. They flew us back after our events so many of us didn’t get to stay to see Rob Heffernan win the gold. However, I was really lucky to have been out there with the group that I was with, and once I was done with my heat, I had a blast watching, cheering on, and getting to know some of my teammates.
James: What other moments from your career to date are you particularly proud of?
Jennifer: This entire season contains most of those moments, since a lot that I accomplished this year never before seemed possible. Winning the Big West conference championships was a moment that definitely stands out for me, and that was also the day that I set four UCSB school records and ran the standard for world championships, so everything really changed for me after that. I’m proud of myself for always running strong relay legs and definitely believe in the magic of running with a baton in your hand.
James: What are your goals for 2014?
Jennifer: I will compete in one more indoor season for my university and will try to make it to the NCAA Championships. After that, my main focus for the outdoor season is the European Championships, where I will be aiming for a spot in the final. Mostly I will just focus on getting faster and trying to hit 51. If I can stay healthy and keep improving, I don’t think those goals are out of reach.
James: What would an average week of training be like during winter, specifically in terms of key sessions?
Jennifer: A key session in the winter would be repeat 200s or 300s with limited recovery time. Then there are the dreaded hill workouts consisting of longer reps every week.
James: While the 400m is mainly an anaerobic event there are some who look at the event from a more aerobic point of view. What sort of specific aerobic work do you do throughout the year?
Jennifer: We do a lot of tough sessions in the fall in order to have a big base to build off of later on in the season, including some longer runs and a lot of interval work with limited rest.
James: With regards strength work in the gym how much emphasis do you put on this? What sort of specific exercises do you incorporate into your training?
Jennifer: I put a lot of emphasis on strength work and think that increasing the amount of time I spend in the gym has correlated with my improvement since I’ve been in college. I do a lot of Olympic movements, squats, single leg exercises, and plyometrics.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Jennifer: I don’t particularly look forward to longer speed endurance reps like 400s or 450s, but when I’m in good shape and can hit fast times, those are the sessions that really help with my confidence going into a race. My favourite sessions are when we work on block starts and I get to run my very fastest.
James: What is the worst injury you have suffered? What did you have to do to overcome it?
Jennifer: The worst injury I ever got was tendonitis in my knee when I was around 15. I was trying to do Irish dance, soccer, and track all at a competitive level, and the doctors basically told me I had to pick one. Since then, I have been extremely lucky about staying healthy with a few minor things here and there but nothing that has kept me off the track – knock on wood!
James: What are your views on drug taking in athletics? Have you ever suspected a competitor? How do you deal with the frustration that some opponents may not be playing by the rules?
Jennifer: I have never suspected anyone specifically, but unfortunately we know they’re out there. I didn’t like seeing people medal at the World Championships who had been previously caught for drugs. I couldn’t help rooting against them. I think that once someone tests positive, fans and opponents will always look at them in a different light, and I don’t like to see these athletes competing and succeeding in the sport.
James: That’s great Jennifer. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck this coming year.
Jennifer: Thank you!