NiRunning catch up with Northern Ireland team in Switzerland:

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Northern Ireland athletes speak to NiRunning:

Last weekend, the 8th and 9th September 2012 three Northern Ireland runners; Don Travers, Justin Maxwell, and Mark Kendall proudly represented their country at the World Mountain Running Championships.

The long distance challenge was held in conjunction with, and as part of the infamous Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland, with the highest point of the 26.2 mile course at 7,234ft and sections of the race at over 2,000 metres of altitude the Jungfrau Marathon is now recognised as one of the world’s toughest marathons.  It is described by many as a ‘must do’ event and regularly sells out long before the closing date.  Here’s a little run down on the lads……

Don Travers (Newry City Runners) is 37 years old and has represented Northern Ireland in the past, at the now defunct Knockdhu International Mountain Race, and more recently at the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Running Championships in North Wales (2011).  In the past, Don has also represented Ireland at the European and World Mountain Biking Championships.  He has finished in a podium place in his last three races (Bessbroke Duathlon, Mourne Way Ultra, Newry Marathon) and has a road marathon personal best of 2:37:00.

Justin Maxwell (Larne Athletic Club) is 32 years old and a previous Northern Ireland team mate of Don’s, he too took part in the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Running Championships in North Wales (2011).  Both he and Don completed the gruelling 55km trail race.  Justin has been training well in the run up to Jungfrau, but racing sparingly.  He has a road marathon personal best of 2:38:11 but prefers trail running these days.

Mark Kendall (Newcastle Athletic Club) is 37 years old and is representing Northern Ireland for the first time.  His running backround is mainly in the mountains, but he has recently set some impressive personal bests on the road, his current road marathon personal best is 2:43:51 and with a 5km best of 16:05, he has proven speed.  Mark enjoys training on the trails, mainly around Tullymore, Castlewellan and Murlough.

All three have been training hard for this event and are excited by the prospect of taking part in such a challenging, high profile event.  Thankfully, NiRunning’s ‘insider’ was on hand to speak with Don, Justin and Mark before and after the race, putting some questions to the nervous, but happy athletes.

Here goes….

What does this International selection mean to you?  Mark: “It means a lot.  Personally, the selection for Northern Ireland is the cherry on the cake for 2012.  It tops off a great twelve to eighteen months for me where I have trained hard and got the results (four PBs at different distances) to reward the hard work I put in.  I also owe a lot of gratitude to Newcastle AC members, some of which have lost money as a result of my success!”

What are your expectations for the race?  Don: “I want to go and enjoy the experience of racing in Switzerland, but give a good account of myself.  I hope to complete the race safe and well”.  Justin: “Previously I have gone into races like this and worked on limiting my losses against stronger international opposition!  Rather than be negative, I want to go out and attempt to work above my limits, test myself against the best and see what comes of it.”

How was the journey to Switzerland, are you ready to race!?  Justin: “Long!  I started my journey at midday and we arrived at our team accommodation, just outside Interlaken, Switzerland shortly after midnight.  Due to the travelling my pre-race ‘fuelling’ hasn’t been perfect, but these things happen!”

On the subject of pre-race eating, what are your pre-race routines?   Don: “On the night before a race I like a good meal, followed by a walk, a good cup of tea and a nice big chocolate bar!”  Justin:  “Usually, I like to have a small bowl of corn flakes, toasted bagel with jam and a cup of coffee.  Then I like to get out for a short walk before leaving for the start line.”

What about ‘in race’ fuelling, what are your plans?  Mark: “I learnt a valuable lesson two years ago during the London Marathon (when it was very warm) to get fluid into my body at an early stage, within the first 3 miles.  I didn’t start drinking early enough and suffered badly from around sixteen miles onwards with dehydration.  I also intend to take gels probably at approximately 30 minute intervals, and perhaps more frequently during and immediately after the steep sections of the race.”At this, the guys made their way off to their room for an early night, eagerly anticipating what race day would bring.

Race Day:  Sunday 9th September:  On race day, after an early start and some breakfast the Northern Ireland team, including team manager Ian Taylor made the short trip to the starting area, located in the picturesque tourist town of Interlaken. With thousands of supporters in attendance the race got under way, traversing the roads and trails through the stunning mountainous terrain almost entirely in the shadows of the ‘Eiger’.

Justin led the trio into the long steady climbs and was the first of the group to cross the finish line in an excellent 3:39:32 (67th place).  Don was next home, in 3:48:50 (107th place) with Mark completing the team’s participation in 3:56:19 (155th place).  Northern Ireland finished in 11th place in the team standings, an excellent achievement!  For a full report on the actual race, please visit our ‘news’ section.

After allowing them some time to recover and enjoy their well-deserved dinner,  we again harassed Don, Justin and Mark in an attempt to bring you their views on the race, their own performances and what they intend to do next.

How did your race go?  Mark: “I knew the course was going to be a major challenge due to the profile and distance and it definitely didn’t disappoint!!  I was happy with the first half.  It was a warm day and I decided to run with a bottle to keep hydrated.  I had a race plan to be at half way at around 1:32. My heart rate was slightly higher than I wanted during the first half, but I managed to hold the pace and hit half way in just over 1:31.  We were aware that the race really started at 26.1km, as this is when the steep climbing began, up the zigzags to Wengen.  I started the climb as steady and controlled as possible but knew after 2-3km, I was trying far harder than I should have been, even to keep a semi-comfortable pace and my legs were starting to get heavy earlier than I anticipated.  At this stage I was very aware I still had 10-12km with a big 5km climb to go, so I tried to control my effort accordingly.

The second half was a personal disappointment as I had been climbing well in training but on the day, frustratingly I just didn’t climb well enough.  I was still running but on the more runnable sections of the second half I couldn’t turn my legs over to get my speed up after the climbs.  I quickly reassessed my plan so that I could just make sure I made it to the finish!  I broke it down literally km by km to get me through, I also tried to stay positive.  I was focusing on people ahead of me, trying to stay with them, or even better, catch them just to give me a target and to keep my concentration.  It’s always very easy to be over critical, but I will take the experience forward and learn for the future.”

Justin and Don were slightly less descriptive but just as interesting.  Justin: “I was very happy with my race, the tactics going into it were very different to any road marathons I have ran, so I was a bit nervous but I do think my plan worked well.  I tried my best!  During the first half I was feeling very relaxed and enjoying the run, the scenery and the fantastic atmosphere.  On the uphill sections I was thinking about keeping a good steady pace and trying to pick off runners who I thought were suffering a bit more than I was.

Don: “I’m very pleased!  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I think we all performed well and finished in the top 5% of runners.  The course was unbelievable, in one of the most beautiful areas of the world, running over fantastic trails and mountain roads.”

Was the event well organised? What was the atmosphere like?  Mark: “The event in true Swiss style, ran like clock-work (excuse the poor pun) the attention to detail, the friendliness and positivity of everyone associated with the organisation was infectious. The atmosphere was superb, particularly the music.  There were drummers, cow bells, a piper who played it’s a long way to Tipperary at mile 25, and brass bands.  The spectators were fantastic, the noise in the towns was deafening and unrelenting throughout the route. The scenery was stunning, it really is an outstanding part of the world.  It’s a marathon I would wholly recommend to anyone who wants something more challenging than a road marathon.”  Don: “Yes, the attitude of the Swiss people towards the participants was amazing, something that will stick in my memory.  The views from the top of the course were also fantastic, as was the atmosphere along the entire length of the course.”

Did you enjoy your first International experience Mark?  “Yes, absolutely fantastic.  Justin and Don were superb team mates and we got on really well.  Ian did a great job as Team Manager, with his detailed description of the course, after walking down most of the second half of it on Saturday.  He organised the kit and travel arrangements to and from Switzerland.  The guys all have lots of International experience and I am grateful for all guidance and help they gave me.  It was a great benefit to meet and mix with athletes from the other home nations and particularly, Brian McMahon from Ireland who finished 6th.  It was nice to speak with him after the race and to get an insight into what training he does to compete seriously at the top end of the field.”

What’s next for you all?  Mark: “For me, it’s Amsterdam Marathon in October and London Marathon in April 2013.”  Don: “I have an entry for Dublin Marathon but for the next few weeks I will probably use the bike, just to work my legs and recover from this before starting any hard training.”

Justin:  “Rest!  I have a break planned, so I intend to enjoy that before setting any new targets.”

With this, the team headed off to the event closing party for well-deserved refreshments.  NiRunning would like to congratulate Don, Justin, Mark as well as Team Manager Ian Taylor on their notable achievement and thank them for their input into this feature!

Please follow this link for an Interview with Mark Kendall, conducted by Joe Mc Cann (Newcastle AC):  Mark Kendall Interview