Mark English is an elite middle distance runner from County Donegal, Ireland, who specialises in the 800 metres. In 2010 he claimed the gold medal over 1000 metres at the European Youth Olympic Trials in Moscow. In 2011 he set Irish junior records over 800m indoors (1:48.63) and outdoors (1:47.09), the latter eclipsing the 15 year old record held by former Olympian James Nolan.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. Easy question first, how did you first get involved in athletics?
Mark: Back in the days of yore I ran the egg and spoon race in my primary school sports day and won it without gluing the spud to the spoon. I knew I had a talent for either being fluky or running fast but I suppose it was the latter! I actually hated going away racing at first because it meant sacrificing the footy matches, but I was addicted to winning so I just went with the flow!
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
Mark: No, not really ‘til I gave athletics a shot. I idolized football players like Roy Keane and Ronaldo (not the prima donna one) as a toddler, and it wasn’t until I started taking athletics seriously in secondary school that the likes of Coe, Cram and Coghlan became my heroes. But I do remember idolizing Sonia after she won silver in Sydney, probably because we got a half day off school to watch her on the box though!
James: At what moment in your life did you realise that athletics would become more than just a hobby for you?
Mark: I’d say when I finished second at the Irish Schools in the Intermediate Boys 800m race behind Brian Kelly. If I hadn’t of medalled that day I’d probably still be playing Gaelic football instead because that was my first passion.
James: What one moment in your career to date are you most proud of?
Mark: Winning the European Youth Olympic Trials in Moscow, without a doubt. It’s indescribable but I imagine the feeling equates to something like the happiest feeling you’ve ever experienced times 100.
James: What would you describe as the most disappointing moment in your athletics career so far? What positives have you taken from it?
Mark: Getting screwed over in the European Juniors in Estonia, probably. I was coming in third place with 50m to go, thinking I was safely through as an automatic qualifier, then the Slovenian passed me with 20m to go. In retrospect, relaxing on the home straight was a boyish mistake to make; I should have run through the line. But it was how the echelons of photo finish officials placed me as 2nd for half an hour before telling me that I’d been demoted to 4th place and subsequently hadn’t qualified, that I was raging with. You’d think at that level they’d be able to make a rational photo finish decision. What have I learned? To run through the line for one, but I think that’s a question those who read the photo finish need to ask themselves before unnecessarily fooling another seventeen year old into thinking he’s made a European final.
James: What are your goals for 2012?
Mark: The World Juniors in Barcelona!
James: What would an average week of training be like at this time of the year, specifically in terms of key sessions?
Mark: I’d do around two sessions a week on a Tuesday and Thursday (one if I’m racing). They’re mostly aerobic sessions in winter and I’d do the sharper interval sessions coming up to races in Summer. I’d try fit in one long (for me!) run at the weekend and two recovery runs as well. And then there’s a core session at the weekend too.
James: With regards speed work, what do you consider to be the key sessions for an 800m runner?
Mark: I find the likes of split 800m sessions great! Let’s say doing 400m, taking a 30 second rest, banging out another one (at race pace), taking a long recovery and repeating. Maybe I’m a bit biased though because I love that one!
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Mark: I hate long runs, which is why they’re not that long (50 mins tops). My favourite session is the lactic killer type ones coming up to track season. I mean sessions like all-out 200m reps.
James: How important is core strength work for an 800m runner and how much emphasis do you put on it? What specific core strength exercises do you incorporate into your training?
Mark: It’s obviously got its merits otherwise those at the top wouldn’t be doing it. I still work on specific exercises given to me by Liam Moffitt and Declan Monaghan. Everyone has their own specific exercises though, I think; there’s no one-works-for-all approach. I’d recommend getting screened to see what exercises are right for you instead of just doing generic ones.
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?
Mark: I’m not that fussy to be honest. But for some mad reason I still carbo-load like a horse, probably an ingrained habit! I’d down some porridge for breakfast, maybe take a sandwich for lunch and then feast on some carbs like pasta and a banana ¾ hours in advance if I’m racing. Although I haven’t joined the caffeine crave club yet!
James: What is the worst injury you have suffered?
Mark: Getting Osteochondritis Dissecans when I was in 6th class from what was more than likely hopping up and down high walls everyday like a yo-yo; I was in a cast for two months and it sucked! But sure while you’re young…
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?
Mark: They’ll never get a front page unless they win a major championship, and even at that they’d be lucky, but I think athletics gets fair enough coverage for the size of the sport. It’s never going to compete with traditional paddy sports like gaelic football or hurling, obviously, but most local scribblers I’ve ever spoke with were runners themselves at some stage, so they’re always interested in writing about athletics. And the two national papers give it suffice coverage as well, I think. But that’s just my own opinion.
James: What are your views on athletes with B-Standards being sent to the Olympic Games?
Mark: It’s hard to understand the rationale behind the decision when it wouldn’t cost more than about 70 bucks return to fly with Ryanair, which I’m sure any qualifiers would be willing to pay themselves anyway. Unfortunately, it’s even harder to see things changing. I just have to focus on trying to give the A-standard a shot now though, and forget about it at this stage.
James: When not competing, do you enjoy watching athletics? What current athlete do you like watching the most?
Mark: Yeah the Diamond League is usually bonkers, there’s always a shock or two that’s unscripted! I like watching Bolt – the man is bananas and an inspiration!
James: That’s great Mark. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck this coming year.
Mark: No problem