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James Sullivan has been chatting to Irish based Moldovan athlete, Sergiu Ciobanu, who will be competing for his native country at the upcoming World Championships in Moscow.

Sergiu Ciobanu is a Moldovan athlete, based in Ireland, who specialises in the marathon. He has won multiple Irish national titles over the marathon and cross-country. His PB of 2:15:27, set at the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon, has qualified him to represent his native country at the World Championships in Moscow next month.

Sergiu Ciobanu after winning the 2011 Cork Marathon

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

Sergiu: I didn’t know much about athletics until I was 18 years old. I was playing soccer and started training to get fitter for it. I entered a local road race and came second. The following year I entered again and won it, so I thought I can do this.

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

Sergiu: When I went to university I started to train with a group of athletes. One of them was a marathon runner who traveled abroad to compete. We started chatting and his stories of competition inspired me. His name is Iaroslav Musinschi, the current Moldovan marathon record holder.

James: You left Moldova and emigrated to Ireland in your early 20s. What were your reasons behind the move and what challenges did you face in the early stages of your time in Ireland?

Sergiu: I had a very good friend working in Ireland at that time and he was able to help me find employment here. Before leaving I was naive and I didn’t think of the possible challenges ahead. But obviously language was a big issue for me. I hadn’t studied English prior to this and hadn’t a word beyond ‘hello’! Of course I also missed my family and friends terribly! The economic downturn was also encroaching and I faced intermittent periods without work. Eventually I was lucky to get steady employment in a meat factory working 40 hours a week. The freezing workplace and tough physical labour were a challenge to my training , but overcoming this and winning my first national marathon title and other races spurred me on.

James: How did you get involved in Irish athletics, and more specifically, with Clonliffe Harriers?

Sergiu: Soon after coming to Ireland, I passed Santry stadium on a bus. I cycled back there the following day having rehearsed a few words that would allow me to express that I was interested in running and wished to join a club. The guys at Clonliffe were kind and patient, despite my very poor language skills. It was a great support to me to go there to train during my early days in Ireland.

James: When did you realise that the marathon distance would be your future in the sport?

Sergiu: When I first started running in university I competed in 3000m and even 1500 m. However I lacked speed and I soon noticed that the further in distance I went, the better I got. So it wasn’t long before I started to concentrate on and do well over the longer distances. This eventually led me to the marathon.

Competing at the 2012 Charlesville International Half Marathon

James: What do you believe to be your greatest strength and weakness with regards to athletics?

Sergiu: My strength would be my ability over long distances while my main weakness is my speed over short distances.

James: At the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon you ran a PB of 2:15:27, narrowly missing out on the A-Standard for the London Olympics. Can you put that experience into words?

Sergiu: At that moment I realised that I had run a 4 minute PB and I was delighted. I had some hope that I may get selected to go to London on a B standard. This wasn’t to be. But I had never been to a major championship and it wasn’t the end of the world for me. I could look forward having achieved a good PB.

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

Sergiu: My National marathon titles, Ballycotton three years in a row and the National Cross Country title this year.

James: You will be competing at the upcoming World Championships in Moscow. What are your goals for this?

Sergiu: My goal is simply to run a good marathon.

James: What is your ultimate ambition in the sport?

Sergiu: I love to run and it doesn’t matter if it’s a world, national or local race! My ambition is to keep healthy and to keep enjoying my sport and to hopefully have a long, enjoyable career.

James: What would an average week of training be like, specifically in terms of key sessions and total mileage?

Sergiu: Approximately 100 miles a week incorporating a very long interval session midweek and a long run at the weekend. This is complemented with a gym session, pool, sauna, massage and physio exercises and stretches throughout the week also.

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

Sergiu: I enjoy my training and my favourite would be runs done at a very steady pace over 30km. My least favourite are those sessions that you start when the sun is shining and end with it bucketing rain!

James: Do you do any cross training and if so what type, how often and why?

Sergiu: I do gym work once a week to help with strength. I stretch and do some physio exercises most days. Very occasionally I may swim if my back feels stiff but mostly I like to chill in the pool after hard training sessions. From time to time, I play some tennis for fun.

James: What are your views on Planned Marathon Pace runs for club and recreational runners? How long should these be and how many should be undertaken in a training program? Do you do any and how do they help?

Sergiu: Planned pace does not always work out well in a race and so much depends on what is happening on a race day. My coach used to say that the real race starts after the 20 mile mark. So often runners misjudge their ability to keep up a certain pace, go out too fast, and the results are a long hell to make the finish, and the words ‘NEVER AGAIN’ are often said. I think those who plan to run a marathon in a certain time must run for this length of time in training at least 6-7 times.

James: There are some who believe that the marathon qualification standards for major championships are much softer than those for track and field events. What are your views on this?

Sergiu: It’s hard to know. Is it fair to compare the standards?  It’s a measurement of raw speed for track events versus endurance speed over the marathon. It is very time intensive to achieve the endurance speed for the marathon.

James: You will be representing Moldova in Moscow. How involved are you with athletics in your native country? Do you race there? Has the thought of competing for Ireland in the future crossed your mind?

Sergiu: I can’t say that I am very involved with athletics in Moldova; the athletics body is not so strong there. I am national 5km champion but that is the only race I have run there this year. I coach a promising young lad from my village and I enjoy encouraging him. Of course the thought of representing Ireland has crossed my mind. I would love to run for this emerald isle!

James: What are your views on doping in athletics?

Sergiu: UNACCEPTABLE!!!

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

Sergiu: I would love to see more race organisers interested in the quality of competition and not just the numbers at races. Don’t get me wrong, big races with mass participation are brilliant. But those race organisers who invite competitive athletes and provide accommodation and easy entry are doing a lot for the competitiveness for those at the elite level. I am so lucky to have a great sponsor in Runworx who provide me with training gear and shoes, but even a small bursary to more athletes to help with this would be beneficial.

James: That’s great Sergiu. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck in Moscow and beyond.

Sergiu: Thank you!

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