We’re back with the first Running Review athlete Q&A of 2014. James Sullivan has been chatting to Irish 400m runner Sinead Denny.
Sinead Denny is an elite athlete from Dublin, Ireland who competes mainly over 400m. Previously an 800m runner, she dropped down to the one-lap event in recent times and has had considerable success over the distance, winning silver at the 2013 Irish Championships and representing Ireland at the European Team Championships First League in Dublin last year. Her current 400m PB’s are 54.04 and 54.83 for outdoor and indoor respectively.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. Easy question first, how did you first get involved in athletics?
Sinead: From the age of 6 or 7 I constantly asked my mom to say “ready, steady, go” to see how fast I could run. After a few years of this she decided to look for a local running club to join, and I have been running ever since.
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
Sinead: When I started in athletics I competed in cross-country races mostly, so Sonia O’Sullivan was the idol I looked up to when I was growing up. At that time, she was in the peak of her athletics career and I followed her achievements closely.
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?
Sinead: Hard work and dedication I think are very important in athletics. As many people say, it is a lonely sport. I have a couple of sessions during the week that I have to train on my own and find you have to be disciplined to get yourself out and through the session, especially when the weather isn’t the greatest. In terms of improvement, after coming from a longer distance background, I especially need to spend time on my speed and my start as it is important to be able to get out fast.
James: With a background in 800m running would you describe yourself as an endurance based 400m runner or would you consider yourself more speed based? What were the reasons behind moving down in distance from 800m to 400m?
Sinead: I would consider myself more an endurance based 400m runner after moving down from cross-country and 800m. I find that towards the end of 400m races I come through stronger than some of my competitors.
I suppose I wasn’t really progressing the way I wanted to in the 800m. Our club had made the European Club Championships in Portugal last year and I was given an opportunity to run in the 400m where I ran a personal best, knocking over 2 seconds off my previous best. It was then I decided that I should concentrate on the 400m as my times were improving significantly.
James: You represented Ireland in both the 400m and the 4x400m relay at last year’s European Team Championships in Dublin. Can you put that experience into words?
Sinead: The experience of running for your country in your country is an amazing feeling that not many people get to experience. As the championships were held in Santry it meant that friends and family could come and support and I think it really made a difference to the whole team. I really enjoyed every minute of it!
James: At last year’s National Championships you claimed the silver medal in the 400m. Can you describe that moment?
Sinead: Winning that national silver medal last year over 400m was great. It was my first senior track medal. It was a great race with the girls, and getting a personal best in it was a great end to an unforgettable season.
James: What other moments from your career to date are you particularly proud of?
Sinead: When I was in 4th year of secondary school I made the Irish schools team in both cross country and track. That year was the first time I got to represent Ireland in competition and they are both very memorable experiences that I am very proud of. Looking back on last year and seeing how far I have come, running good times and making my first senior international team is another more recent moment.
James: You have begun your indoor season impressively with a sizeable PB over 400m. What are you hoping to achieve over the next month or so on the boards?
Sinead: Yes, the indoor season has started well. Over the next month I will be hoping to get my times down both over 200m and 400m as we have been concentrating on increasing my speed throughout the winter.
James: Do you need to approach a 400m race indoors differently to how you would outdoors? What attributes are needed to be a good racer indoors which perhaps would not be as crucial outdoors?
Sinead: The 400m indoors is a more tactical race than the outdoors. Indoors you have to be very quick out of the blocks so that you are not boxed in at the break. Indoor 400m running is more suited to speed based athletes so it makes me focus on improving my speed.
James: How would you describe the experience of competing on the brand new indoor track facility in Athlone?
Sinead: The indoor facility in Athlone is amazing. I think it built up a good reputation as a fast track last year as it showed some fast times at nationals and other events. I raced in the new Emirates Arena in Glasgow recently and felt that Athlone is definitely a faster track.
James: As far as the outdoor season is concerned what are your main targets for 2014?
Sinead: The main target for the outdoor season is the European Championships in Zurich in August. I aim to get my times down and I hope to stay fit and healthy with no injuries or illnesses.
James: What would an average week of training be like during winter, specifically in terms of key sessions?
Sinead: During the winter we do a lot of the tougher sessions. Hill sessions and longer intervals on the track make up the majority of my key sessions. Gym work and weight sessions are important for strength work too. I treat strength work as importantly as my running sessions. Obviously the winter is a time to get your endurance work in. However it is also important that you don’t lose that speed. As we were concentrating on speed this year, we had a couple of speed sessions worked in over the winter to keep sharp.
James: During the outdoor season what type of anaerobic top speed sessions would be commonplace in your training routine? What sort of technical work do you do?
Sinead: Some key sessions during the outdoor season are 200m and 300m time trials. They are good sessions to get you running at race pace and to see where you are at in regards to training. There is a particular session we did a couple of times last year, it was a back to back pyramid session of 40, 60, 80m that would have been quite typical of a lot of our sessions.
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? How does this differ between winter and summer? Do you do long runs in the winter?
Sinead: Aerobic fitness is important for 400m running. The type of training I would do to increase my aerobic fitness throughout the year are long intervals on the track, sessions like 600s and 500s and two runs a week, varying them between tempo runs and steady runs. These type of sessions change as we come into the summer months. The runs become slightly shorter, as do the track intervals.
James: As a 400m runner, how much value do you place on being able to run a good 800m?
Sinead: Being able to run a good 800m helps with the endurance side of the 400m. 800m races are very tactical and change in pace throughout the race quite a lot. I would be more concerned with being able to run a good 200m now because the first 200m of a 400m race is important.
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?
Sinead: I am in the gym twice a week so I put as much emphasis on gym work as I do with all my running sessions. During the winter we work a lot more on the strength work, lifting heavier weights than we would during the summer. We do a lot of Olympic lifts. All these lifts are working on the fast movements which are specific to sprinting, keeping the fast twitch muscles working.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Sinead: A lot of people think I am a little strange when I say my favourite sessions are our hill sessions. I like finishing training knowing it was a good hard session, so many of the tougher sessions are the ones I prefer. My least favourite sessions are the long interval sessions on the track. It is a hard session to hit particular times and stay focused.
James: What are your views on doping in athletics?
Sinead: I suppose they are similar to most people’s views. No one likes drugs in sport and we all hope that athletes don’t use them, but that is not the case. I don’t think there is much point in worrying about other athletes using drugs once you are doing everything right. Athletes who get caught using them should definitely get a lifetime ban. I think very differently of an athlete who has been caught and comes back and wins a medal at a major championship.
James: What one change would you most like to see happen in Irish athletics over the coming years?
Sinead: I would like to see more international competitions being held in Ireland. Often during the indoor and outdoor season many of us have to go abroad to find high quality races. I think we have the quality here and now we have a world class arena so it would be good to see top quality meets here at home more regularly.
James: That’s great Sinead. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck in 2014.
Sinead: Thanks James.