James Sullivan has been chatting with Irish middle distance runner John Travers about his experience at the recent European Indoor Championships, his training and his plans for the rest of 2013.
John Travers is an elite middle distance runner from Dublin, Ireland. He has represented Ireland at the 2010 World Junior Championships, the 2010 World Cross Country Championships and the 2013 European Indoor Championships among others.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. Easy question first, how did you first get involved in athletics?
John: I first got involved in athletics when I was in 5th year in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School and one of the teachers at the time Ms Harte asked a group of us were we interested in doing the Gaisce Award (Presidents Award). Within this you had to take up a sport for 6 months, so I wrote a few sports on a piece of paper and dropped the pen to decide. Lucky enough it landed on athletics so the next day I went down to Donore Harriers and that is where it all started.
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
John: I am not going to lie I was never fond of athletics. I was always busy doing other sports like soccer, Gaelic football, hurling, golf and swimming. I pretty much tried every sport I came across. So it would be a lie to say I had an athletic idol at the time. I never knew any athletes. I even had a chat with Eamonn Coghlan on a cold wet day in Marley park and had to turn to the chairman of my club and ask who he was!
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?
John: My strongest attribute would definitely have to be the way I can go up through the gears during a race, I always have a kick left and I can always just pick up the pace when I am in control. Definitely the one I could improve on is my mental side. I find if a lot of people go past me while I feel I am going good it makes me feel the total opposite and I go into a backwards spiral. I’m working to get stronger in those areas.
James: You represented Ireland at the 2013 European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg. Can you describe that experience? What have you learned from competing in such a high level international event?
John: The experience was the best but obviously the worst at the same time. The fact I finished up last knowing the shape I was in was a big blow to me. It brought me back to earth, I was used to having the races my way at home in Ireland. I was always in control and knew everything about everyone and when people would make breaks etc. I realised I won’t always have it my own way. Sit and kick is what I am good at so sit and kick is what I will do in the future in that scenario. There were too many lads more experienced than me and probably delighted that an immature Irish man like me was taking up the pace and giving them what they wanted. I will know for the next time and use my strengths and my head in order to get the best out of myself.
James: How would you assess your indoor season as a whole?
John: My indoor season as a whole I would have to say was very satisfying. We went into the season using it as a break up of training. It was all done off strength work and there was no speed involved. The one bit of track work before the season was a 1200m time trial that I did in Monte Gordo where I ran 2.52.6 and was feeling as strong as an ox. Previously I struggled to have good consistency within my running. This indoor season I showed that I have it now and that is thanks to all of the hills and tempos I’ve been doing. I ran 7 indoor races this session in 7 weeks and only one of those races was below average so I really can’t complain and it shows great signs for this coming outdoor season.
James: How would you describe the experience of competing on the brand new indoor track facility in Athlone?
John: The experience was unbelievable and the facilities are just incredible. It is about time we had something like this in Ireland. I think the benefits of having such facilities right on Irish doorsteps has already been clear with the number of new indoor records this year, especially in the women’s 800m. The amount of women running crazy times in that event is great to see. The new track has such a different feel to the Odyssey where the National Indoors used to be held. The spring off the track is brilliant.You feel like you’re gliding.
James: What particular moments from your career to date are you most proud of?
John: My proudest moment to date would definitely have to be running that 7.58 in the Irish Senior National Championships. The fact I had never broke 8 minutes and only a few weeks before I struggled to run 8.02 in a paced race. Yet at Nationals I went out on my own from the start, had to pass out numerous people and still broke 8 minutes. I would also have to say I am very proud of winning the Inter Clubs Cross Country Championships at junior level as my club hosted it that year so I got to do it on our home soil as such.
James: What are your goals for the rest of 2013?
John: My goals are to run in the European U23 Championships in Tampere in Finland in either the 1500m/5k. At the moment probably the 5k. My own goal is to be top 5 or better. My other aim is to break the sub 4 minute mile which I will aim to do in the Morton mile in Santry just a week after the championships.
James: What would an average week of training be like at this time of the year, specifically in terms of key sessions?
John: Key sessions would be on a Tuesday with a tempo run in the evening, this would be anywhere from 4-8 mile tempo at in or around 5 minute mile pace. Then on a Saturday I would have a hill session up Tree Rock Hill in the Dublin Mountains, this would consist of either 75 seconds on 1 minute off / 2 minutes on 1 minute off/ 3 minutes on 1 minute off. On the minute off you would have to start jogging back down the hill you just came up. You repeat this until you reach the top which can be anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on the effort you have to do.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
John: I absolutely love tempo runs I am not going to lie. You just get into a controlled rhythm that you can keep at and you feel like you are flying and not dying. I wouldn’t say I dislike any training but the hills kill you. You can’t feel your legs for a minute or two after you finish and yet you haven’t killed yourself.
James: With regards speed work what do you consider the most important sessions?
John: I do not do any speed work with my new coach Jerry. We do not need to do it. All I need is strength training as I have proved. I do not need to work on my speed as I have it already.
James: How important is core strength work for a 1500m/5000m runner and how much emphasis do you put on it? What specific core strength exercises do you incorporate into your training?
John: It is very important, I never used to think that but recently have seen it has made a big difference to my training. I do not do too much at the minute though, only about 40 minutes per week, which would be 20 minutes on Monday and 20 on Wednesday. I do all of the basics from the plank, side plank, bridging, sit ups, push ups, hip exercises, balance exercises. We do a good range.
James: Which particular event do you feel you are most suited to?
John: To be honest I really do not know. I am lucky that I have a good range, but if I had to choose I would say 5k. I think this will be my best event in the future, but I will not be ignoring the shorter distances as to improve the 5k I need to have fast 8’s and 15’s and 3k’s in the legs.
James: It seems that the challenge of competing on the world stage without funding is not always understood and appreciated by the general public. Do you feel that athletes in Ireland sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve off the Irish media when compared to comparable achievements by individuals and teams in the more popular and better funded sports such as rugby and football?
John: No matter what sportsperson you ask from any sport they will all have a different opinion on this, no one ever thinks they get what they deserve. To be honest we are lucky to get anything and I think that’s where a lot of people are unfair in their judgments. I do think Gaelic Games gets too much money funded but they are a majority sport so they have to get the money. Until athletics can raise their involvement and we can start getting more medals we will never get the support it really deserves. People outside athletics laugh saying “you run in circles” or “oh I could beat you in a race” but they do not understand the amount of work we have to put in to get where we are at. Athletics definitely does not get the credit it deserves.
James: In Ireland, could more be done to get the regular Joe Soap, regardless of age or ability, onto the track rather than having a disproportionate number of participants in our sport competing in road races, fun runs and marathons? Should track running be made more accessible to the everyday runner, and if so, how can this be done?
John: We could definitely get the regular Joe soap onto the track. Just look at the road race and marathons a few years ago compared to the participation now. If it can be raised in that why can’t it be raised on the track. I think the main problem is people associate the track with speed. They think you have to be fast, but there are graded leagues that have poor attendances that could involve these people and get them interested. It’s not about making it more accessible because it is there. It is just about trying to encourage people to use it. They should be trying to put on charity track races and things like that, or sports days for adults, this could get a lot of interest as people associate sports days with fun.
James: You are the president of the IAAF for one day. What drastic changes do you make?
John: To change the Anti-doping setup would be my main priority. They need to knuckle down like they have in the cycling. There are too many out there getting away with doping, for example recently a number of Russians were banned for doping offences. I think if you are caught you should be banned from competition for life and that’s that! It is the only way to maybe stop people from taking drugs. Another thing, and I might come under controversy for this, would be sorting out the right ages for so called “juniors” from the likes of Kenya and Ethiopia. It is so unfair. You can clearly tell there are 30 year olds competing at U20 level in World Juniors and Youths etc.
James: When not competing, do you enjoy watching athletics? What current athlete do you like watching the most?
John: I do watch now when I am not racing, but I much rather watching races in Ireland especially at junior and juvenile level as you can see the future of athletics within the country. It is always great seeing young people running well and breaking juvenile records etc.
James: That’s great John. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck with the coming summer track season.
John: No problem, any time. Thank you