#DreamRunDublin17 – Just over 7 weeks to race day! We catch up with Stephen Smartt as part of a special feature…

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Special Feature:  #DreamRunDublin17 countdown to race day!

There are just over 7 weeks until one of the biggest races on the European race calendar, an epic race in terms of Northern Ireland participation – that is of course the SSE Dublin City Marathon, which incorporates the AAI National Marathon Championships.

You’ll hopefully have been keeping up to date with the #DreamRunDublin17 project which we are involved in within Rio Olympian Paul Pollock? Paul is taking his first steps into coaching and has chosen a group of 10 athletes who he will help towards a sub 3-hour finish at the Dublin Marathon.

We decided – 10 weeks to go, 10 athletes in the group… so we’ll feature one athlete each week and ask them questions about the project, their training and their hopes and expectations going forward.

Up first was Barry Reid from Belfast, then we had fellow Belfast man Paul Curley – next up we have Stephen Smartt from Holywood!  Let’s see how Stephen is getting on!

How do you feel training has been going since you joined the #DreamRunDublin17 team?

Training sessions have been great. The time since we started in May has flown and I’ve enjoyed it all.  The difference in the sessions and the progression week to week has kept it fresh and I haven’t felt jaded at any stage.  But it’s very simple. I listen, Coach tells me what to do, I do it.  No thinking what miles I need to do, no worrying about if I’m doing the right pace or distance.

How has your training changed since joining the #DreamRunDublin17 team?

Two big differences, and I think it’s been the same for everyone.  One is the intensity of the sessions rather than very high mileage. The sessions are hard, there is no such thing as a long slow Sunday run. Long yes, but paced right.

And then the fact that when Paul gives you the session, you have to report back and tell him the pace. Real motivation not to fail to hit the times set. You don’t want to go back to Olympic athlete and say you were tired, didn’t fancy it, and gave up. So, I certainly have trained harder than before.

Paul’s sessions change every week to suit the progression. The personally tailored programme is something very different to what I’ve ever done. And as I’m in PB shape for all distances, got to doing something right!

The focus is of course on getting that sub 3 hour finish time at the Dublin Marathon 2017, do you believe you can achieve this? Have things progressed the way you’d hoped?

It’s definitely achievable.  I’m pretty close to the pace in training, and still 4 hard weeks to go. My PB was 3:17, way off the sub 3hr time and when starting this I had the usual doubts if I could do it. I’m surprised now how quickly we got up to running at 7min mile pace on the Sunday runs. And that pace is comfortable now.  Just 26 miles at 6:52, that’s all.

What has been your highlight in terms of your own personal favourite performance since joining the #DreamRunDublin17 team?

I really enjoyed the Fingal 10k, not just my own race but the whole day. PB for me at 38:25, but 6 out of 9 of us did PBs and the feel good factor after that gave everybody a boost. It made us all realise the programme was working for us, gave us some confidence that everybody was progressing.

What has been your favourite training session since commencing training with the Paul Pollock and the #DreamRunDublin17 team?

Getting two 20 milers done at around 7min/mile pace. Running with the team is the difference, I would struggle to do that alone but there’s a big boost running in a group at the same pace.

Have you got any races coming up?  What are your expectations for these?

Belfast Half Marathon is the next and the goal is sub 1:25. I’m in best shape I’ve ever been for running, no doubt. So, I will give it a shot. Looks like the next four Sundays are this race, a double session, a 15 mile on the marathon pace and then a big one. And then the main event.

The atmosphere and camaraderie at the group training days is very clear – are you enjoying being part of the team?

I’ve really enjoyed this part, and meeting some new running buddies. Training has to be enjoyable, and it has been, even just hearing what others are doing is a motivation to get out and do the sessions right.  Would be good to see the three from the wild west more, but has been a great team. I can’t manage to meet up during the week with anyone, but look forward to the weekend long runs, and having a chat on the way. Paul C. and Neil C. have some good theories, but their maths need some polishing. I can help with that, while we run.

To finish, I’d like to say a big thanks to Paul and Ryan for putting this project together. It’s been a great experience and opportunity so far, I’ve enjoyed it all even the tough sessions. Forming the group is a nice concept and certainly works in terms of motivation and huge benefits in fitness.

What does the coach say!? … enter Paul Pollock:

At the age of 48, Stephen has the unenviable title of being the oldest member of the group. As a professor of astrophysics at Queen’s University Belfast, he holds a marathon personal best of 3.17. His introduction to the DreamRun project began with a somewhat shaky start, after he picked up an injury in the initial session of the programme. As a result, his first four weeks of training were mostly spent in the gym cross-training.

Once he recovered however, it quickly became apparent that his 3.17 best, is nowhere near a reflection of his true potential. Since his initial injury, apart from the occasional niggle, he has strung together a large chunk of consistent, high quality training. Provided this consistency continues, he is on target for taking a considerable amount of time off from his previous marathon best. I am yet to experience a long run with ‘the Prof’ first hand, but rumour has it, you need only ask him a question about space or the stars in the first mile of the run, and you will not need to speak again for the next ten miles, such is his passion and knowledge. A sub three hour marathon is well within his current capability, and hopefully he proves that age is not necessarily a barrier to achieving your goals.

Stephen and several other members of the group will be competing in the Belfast Half Marathon next weekend, as their final tune up race before the marathon. Why not get out along the course to cheer them on, or even better, race at their side and join them in their journey towards the Dublin Marathon.