Runner Profile:  Ryan Stewart

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Ryan Stewart is a young athlete I have had the pleasure of knowing since he took his first notable steps into the sport; the Northern Ireland junior international mountain runner is a good friend, training partner and former club mate… and now our latest NiRunning ‘Runner Profile’.

This choice was not through ‘favouritism’, but more because of Ryan’s impressive performances over the last number of months, which has established him as a well respected athlete, not only at home in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, where he studies at Dundee University.  These include a podium place at the ‘Feel the Burns’ mountain race and a sub sixty minute finish at the gruelling Carnethy 5 two weeks ago, which followed an excellent run at the BUCS XC Championships earlier this month.  Last weekend, Ryan was awarded the ‘Most Improved Athlete’ award at the Larne AC annual prize-giving.

Full Name:  Ryan Stewart

Current Category:  Male Open

Associated Club:  Dundee Hawkhill Harriers and Larne AC

Personal Bests:  5k – 17:45, 10k – 36:50, 5 miles – 28:16, Half Marathon (13.1m) – 1:18:21, Marathon (26.2m) – 2:53:40

I know that personal bests are not always appropriate to mountain runners, so in addition to this, tell us your course bests for three well established mountain running events?  Carnethy 5 Hill Race – 58:25, Aonach Mor Uphill – 25:04 and the Dumyat Hill Race – 38:20

What is your favourite Northern Ireland event?  It has to be the Lurig Challenge Race. This was my first ever fell race and I had no idea what to expect but it was great craic. The support as you enter that village is unreal.

As you spend so much time in Scotland, do you have a favourite event there?  Carnethy 5 Hill Race.  I’ve raced this five times now and even before I was a Scottish resident. The mass entry and organisation that goes into this brute of a course makes for a great day out

When did you start running?  Just in the run up to my 16th birthday I decided to give it a bash and I have been hooked ever since.

Why do you run?  I initially started to satisfy an ideology of wanting to be able to call myself  “fit”.  Now running is literally the biggest part of my daily life and I’d even go as far to say that I organise the rest of my life around my running.  I’m addicted to the high that comes from finishing any run and getting up at the crack of dawn to put in the miles is something I really look forward to. The feeling of being the only person awake and hard at it gives me great satisfaction. There really is no better mood enhancer as far as I’m concerned.

Two week’s ago you broke the infamous 60mins finish time at the gruelling Carnethy 5 mountain race in Scotland; I know this race well, that’s an excellent run.  How do you feel about it?  I went into that race with the aim of beating the hour.  I’ve come horribly close in recent years (11 seconds over in 2012 was soul destroying) so it’s a relief more than anything to finally manage it. I approached the race conservatively and wanted to save myself for that last horrid climb up Carnethy itself. As it turned out I had way too much in the bag and I finished feeling fresh which annoys me a bit. I know I can cut that time more and get myself further up the field with better pacing and a mind-set of actually racing as opposed to surviving. Definitely a confidence booster and I know I have better to come!

Your training must be going well then?  What does a typical week’s training involve?  I’m actually pretty haphazard in my weekly training but at present it seems to be working in my favour. I don’t commit myself to any rigid schedule and I tend to adjust any plan I do have according to how my body feels. I try to get in at least one hard/fast interval session and one long run of approximately 10 miles weekly. In between I do a varied mix of slow/short running, gym work (core mostly) and cross training. I’ll try to do a morning and evening session each day but I find it really hard to motivate myself after staring into mouths until 5pm (he is a dental student!), so the evenings are regularly skipped during week. I really just do what I’ll actually enjoy. I’m a firm believer that it’s not worth the effort if I’m dreading a session as I’ll never put in the effort required to get full benefit.

What is your favourite training ‘session’?  Hill Reps! I hate speed sessions with a passion. The feeling of strength from the climbs and mentally being able to appreciate height gain and the effort to get it appeals to me.

What is your next race and what do you want from it?  It will be the Inverness Half Marathon (09/03/2014).  I want to improve upon my recent six minute personal best over the distance in Glasgow (October 2013). If I can get anywhere near 1:15 I’ll be one happy lad. I still have a lot of unknowns in my ability and I’m learning race on race. I want to know whether I’m stalling at a peak or whether I need to focus my training better after my recent improvement.

We have spoken about you’re next race,  but as it’s so early in 2014, do you have any particular target races/events this year?  I have quite a hectic year planned. I’ve entered the Edinburgh Marathon in May 2014 and would like to get sub 2:50 here but I’m looking to attack the hills at every opportunity and may let this goal slip regarding my keenness to fully involve myself in the fell racing calendar this year. I’m aiming to complete both the British Fell Running Championships and the Scottish Fell Running Championships by the end of 2014. I’ve also been reeled into the world of Skyrunning recently and put in an entry for the 3×3 80km Ultra in October 2013 which terrifies me. To finish this race is my main goal. Any placing or time is a bonus. All in all, I’ll be up and down many Munros this year.

You have also been performing well in recent  cross country races, and represented Dundee University at the BUCS XC Championships, adding to your mountain performances at the Carnethy and ‘Feel the Burns’ races;  I know you also race on the roads and trails, but do you have a preference over which terrain you compete on?  Tarmac running doesn’t really do it for me. I’m an off-road man and adore the mountains. The scenic locations and feeling of seclusion in unspoilt land is amazing, especially in Scotland (not to say I don’t enjoy the Mournes!!!!). Some of the locations I’ve ventured to here are simply breath taking and a post run dip in a Loch is a rite of passage not to be missed.

What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals?  Pre-race I like to keep things light. I’ll tuck into a bowl of porridge and nail a banana for good measure. Maybe a cheeky sports drink to keep me topped up in the run up.  Post-race I’ll dive straight into a milkshake. Then when I’ve settled, deli-style chicken spread over butter drenched wheaten bread is a treat for me. I’ve been well known to destroy an entire roast bird in a single sitting!

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Getting under the 3 hour mark comfortably in Berlin (2012) at my first attempt at the marathon. My pacing was very consistent and I kept all my 1km’s within twenty seconds of each other for the entire 42k. My pre-race build up was disgustingly boring/lonely at times and to get 2:53 really gave me a feeling of accomplishment.

What is your running ambition?  The mountains are where my passion lies. I’d love to get awarded a senior NI vest for mountain running in the future and I’m working all out in the hills this year to try and make this a reality.  As long as I can venture to the hills regularly and still be capable of running in these amazing locations for the foreseeable, I’m winning.

Outside running are there any other sports do you like?  I’ve dabbled in triathlon this University year and I’ve enjoyed the multi-sport challenge. Swimming can be an utter pain at times but combining it with running really does add up to a great event. If you haven’t tried multi-sport events yet, get on it immediately! Great craic!

Although I don’t play, I follow Ulster and Ireland rugby closely from the comfort of a sofa, bottle of tonic in hand. Supporting can be just as much a session, especially when the all day six nations matches come about. Speaking of which, I’m off to the Student’s Union…