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The European Championships in Zurich is the big focus for all European athletes this summer. James Sullivan has been chatting to one of Ireland’s hopefuls, 800m national record holder, Rose-Anne Galligan.

Rose-Anne Galligan is a middle-distance runner from County Kildare, Ireland, who specialises in the 800m. She has represented Ireland at numerous major championships including the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Russia and the 2014 World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland. At the 2013 London Diamond League Anniversary Games meeting, she broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s long standing Irish 800m record with a clocking of 2:00.58.

Rose-Anne Galligan in action at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow

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

Rose-Anne: The reason I run is 100% down to my dad. He used to run in school in Cavan but stopped when he started working. I think he regretted not being able to fulfill his potential so was keen for me to get into the sport from a young age. He took me down to our local club, Donore Harriers, when I was five or six but they told him to bring me back when I was eight, so he did! My dad organised sports days for all the local primary schools in Clondalkin and was involved in Community Games. He drove me everywhere in Ireland for races and we always joke that we would never have been to half the places we’ve been to if it wasn’t for my running! He nurtured me and made sure I enjoyed the sport and wasn’t over training as a young athlete, something which I think stands to me now. When I was sixteen he saw I needed something extra and got me in touch with my current coach David Farrow in the UK. David started coaching me long distance and dad used to take me over to Cheltenham when I was on school holidays so I could train with David and the group. I owe a lot to my Dad. I’m very grateful to him.

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

Rose-Anne: Yes, I loved Catherina McKiernan, and still do. She is a big idol of mine. I remember one day when I was probably about 12, being at a cross country race and she was racing too. I was in awe that she was there and I ran over to get her autograph! I loved how she was from Cavan and I used to go around proud that I was “half Cavan”, thinking it would make me just as good as her! It is all in the Cavan blood after all! She is the most down to earth person ever and it’s so nice to have contact with her now. She was one of the first people to congratulate me on my national record last summer, which meant a lot to me.

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?

Rose-Anne: My strongest attributes would probably be my mental strength and work ethic. My speed is something I know that can still be improved upon.

James: Would you describe yourself as a speed based or endurance based 800m runner?

Rose-Anne: I’d class myself as a more endurance based runner but like to think I have tuned into the 800m quite well now.

James: Last year, at the Diamond League meeting in London, you broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s long standing Irish 800m record. Can you describe this experience?

Rose-Anne: I had just got back from an altitude training trip the night before and got the call when travelling that I was in the race, so it was very last minute! It was a very surreal moment. I walked out onto the track and the noise was insane. It was one of those races where I was just so excited to be there, my first ever Diamond League meet, the Olympic stadium, electric atmosphere. I had no expectations, I just wanted to enjoy the moment and take the opportunity. I had the perfect race. It’s not very often that every single thing clicks but when it does you need to appreciate and enjoy it. I crossed the line and saw the clock change from 2:00 to 2:01 so I knew I had ran a PB. It took me a few seconds to realise “oh wow that could be close to the national record”, so I started running back up to the warm-up area to find my boyfriend to see what my time was! 2:00.58. I was pretty ecstatic! It didn’t really sink in for a few days what I had done. I was in Santry the next day for Irish Nationals and then finally traveled back home, so it was a hectic few days!

Competing at the 2013 European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg

James: Did Sonia contact you afterwards with any particular words of inspiration or advice?

Rose-Anne: No, nothing personally.

James: You competed in your first major global outdoor championship last year in Moscow. How would you describe the experience? What were the main positives you took from the event and what lessons have you learnt moving forward?

Rose-Anne: Moscow was a rewarding experience. It was a continuation of goals achieved. I suffered a minor calf problem at Nationals after the London Diamond League which took the edge off my training a bit in the lead up to Moscow, but I did everything I could on the day. I made no human errors and I emptied the tank, which is all any athlete can do. I had no problem with the big occasion and was proud of my preparation. I wasn’t phased by the time change and early morning race, which some athletes said contributed to below par performances.

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

Rose-Anne: One experience I will never forget is winning the DMR at Penn Relays in 2007 when I was a Freshman at college in Tennessee. I’m proud of my run at the European Championships in Barcelona in 2010. I ran 2:01.78 under a lot of pressure and it was a big breakthrough in the 800m for me. Winning my heat and progressing to the semi finals at the European Indoors last year in Gothenburg gave me a lot of confidence. And this year, I went to Boston in January to pace a world junior record attempt in the indoor mile and I ran a 3:15.9 1200m split which I was very proud of!

James: How would you assess your 2014 indoor season, particularly your performance at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot?

Rose-Anne: My indoor season started great with an encouraging opener in Iceland in January with a 2:03.69. I then went to Boston a few days later to pace-make the Nike Oregon Project girls in a mile race where Mary Cain was attempting the world junior record. I was asked to go to at least 1k which was good over distance work for me. I felt great on the night and did 1200m in 3:15.9, they needed 3:16 so it was perfect. I remember thinking afterwards, “I only need to add 300m to that and I have a very fast 1500m!”. I know it’s the hard 300m but I got a lot of confidence from that run. Unfortunately I picked up a cold the week of Irish Nationals so had to miss them which was a shame. I then had a race in Prague to get back into things before World Indoors. I got shoulder barged off the track onto the infield on the last bend in that race which wasn’t picked up on the video, but it actually turned out to be good practice for what happened at Worlds. In Sopot, Laura Muir tripped and impeded me and there was a lot of focus on how that affected her race. It could have affected me more than her but after what happened in Prague I was pretty quick moving on my feet and despite having to stop, check and change my stride, I still ran a seasons best of 2:03.30 which I am sure would have been a high 2:02 and near my personal best indoors if it wasn’t for the incident. But that is the nature of indoor running! On the whole I was pleased with my short season and always use indoors as a launching pad for outdoors.

James: What are your goals for the 2014 outdoor season?

Rose-Anne: I’m excited about the European Championships in Zurich in August as I feel they are a good opportunity for me.

James: What would an average week of training be like at this time of the year, specifically in terms of key sessions?

Rose-Anne: My coach is really good with me and my training is constantly varying in response to how I am responding to training already done, so typically is difficult, but an example of one key session at this time of year would be 2x600m followed by 4x150m.

James: With regards speed work, what do you consider to be the key sessions for an 800m runner?

Rose-Anne: I think short hill sprints and 400m pace work on the track are important for 800m runners.

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

A: I love fast flashy 300m reps. I hate boring long steady runs!

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?

Rose-Anne: It’s very important in the early years, but once a good level of core strength is attained I don’t think it is something that needs to be obsessed over. I find more directly running related work is achieved when in a standing position rather than floor work.

Representing Ireland at the 2013 European Team Championships First League in Dublin

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?

Rose-Anne: Yes definitely, but it is a difficult ask to improve such participation. There needs to be a level of education, engagement and fun. I have been lucky enough to compete at some really cool meets all over the world and the ones I remember the most and class as “fun” are the ones that were jazzy, had music playing or jazz bands performing and had an electric atmosphere from the crowd. If spectators are having a good time, the athletes are going to have a good time. If a meet gets talked about, more people are going to want to be involved in it. There are lots of graded meets in Ireland, let’s jazz them up and get more people on the track! We have a road series, why not have a track series? Or, everyone can relate to a mile so why not create something on the track that can attract the regular fun running Joe Soap to try a mile, then come back later in the year to see their improvement. It just needs some thought and effort to improve the participation.

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?

Rose-Anne: As would be expected I am totally anti-drug taking. While things do seem to be improving, I have undoubtedly competed against people who have been suspected but not caught, people who have been caught subsequently and people who are returning offenders. It’s very frustrating and I wish the media were bolder in raising suspicions or questioning certain athletes. Clearly there is a fine line with slandering people, but sometimes it is a bit like watching professional wrestling!

James: If you were president of the IAAF for a day, what drastic changes would you make?

Rose-Anne: The first thing I’d do would be to dish out lifetime bans to every single athlete who has ever touched a drug. I would seize all of their assets and probably throw them in jail for fraud! I would also issue harsher penalties on federations if their athletes are caught. I would have a complete zero tolerance policy. I think the IAAF should hire me!

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

Rose-Anne: Yes, I love watching athletics. I like watching Brenda Martinez, her range in events is incredible. I was watching the World Relays in the Bahamas recently and I think they are a really ace idea. I have a couple of friends who competed there and they both said it was one of the best championships they’ve ever been to. Relays are a fun thing! That is such a great example of how to jazz up our sport!

James: That’s great Rose-Anne. Thank you for your time and the very best for the coming outdoor season.

Rose-Anne: Thanks James

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