Our latest ‘Runner Profile’ is a young man who has burst onto the running scene and made a huge impression throughout 2016. Newcastle AC’s Zak Hanna has achieved in one year what many of us would aim to achieve in a full running career – his selection for both Ireland and Northern Ireland has shown the level of interest his performances have received.
Despite an incredible breakthrough year, there is still a lot more to come from the former cyclist… and he certainly has the talent and ambition to perform at the highest level.
Full Name: Zak Hanna
Current Category: Male Open / Under 23
Associated Club: Newcastle AC
Personal Bests (for the distances you’ve raced): 5k – 16:12, 10k – 34:04, 5 miles – 26:46
Given that a large percentage of your racing is in the mountains, where personal bests are not really the focus, tell us what you would consider to be your top three performances in the mountains? That’s a hard one – I would have to say my best three performances would have to be winning the Irish trial race for the World Mountain Running Championships, coming third and finishing under the Hour in the Slieve Donard race and finishing 4th in the Under 23 category at the Trofeo Vanoni mountain relay race.
What is your favourite race in Northern Ireland? Slieve Donard race is definitely my favourite. It was my first time racing it this year and it was class going up and down the mountain and finishing in Newcastle town centre. My body took a real hiding that day with a few spills on the descent but I loved every minute of it, even the Black Stairs! Because this is part of the Hill and Dale series it’s class to see the crowds gathering in Newcastle during the race, and it makes for a great story telling non-runners that you can run up and down the biggest mountain in Northern Ireland in under an hour!
How did you first get into running? I originally came from a cycling background and I lost interest in it during December 2015, I had read a lot about the Hill and Dales in the local paper and with the persuasion of different people to take up running I made the decision to hang up my wheels and start running on Christmas Day 2015; haven’t looked back since!
This year (2016), you made your international running debut, representing both Northern Ireland and Ireland. How did this make you feel? Very surprised, when I started I was looking to get a year over me to learn the ropes but when I got my first call up for Northern Ireland for the British Inter-Counties in Wales I really got into it and ended up racing at Snowdon for NI and gaining selection to run for Ireland at the World Mountain Running Championships and at the Trofeo Vanoni. I enjoy travelling to different countries so fingers crossed next year I’ll have a few more trips away. Beats work any day of the week!
Where you happy with your performances on the international stage? For my first season running yes, when I finished 14th at Snowdon from near 550 runners I was delighted at getting that result against a quality field, and finishing first NI runner home was nice as well. Earning selection for the Worlds was a shock when I won the trial race, and but it has made me hungry for more and I want to do more on the international stage in the future. 4th Under 23 at the Trofeo Vanoni finished off the mountain season nicely, it was my first International placing and I’m hoping it won’t be my last.
You seem to run well over every type of terrain, do you have a preference on what sort of terrain you like to compete on? I love the mountains by a mile. Nothing beats racing up and down mountains, whether it be the Mournes or somewhere in Europe. I love the freedom they give you and the views they can give you at the top. I enjoy trail races as well, but when it comes to road I’m not a fan but I do them to help get some speed in the legs!
What is your next race and what do you want from it? My next race is the Irish Cross Country Championships in Abbotstown next Sunday, which is also a trial race for the Irish team for the European Cross Country Championships. Hopefully I can take something from it and have a good race against the best cross country runners in Ireland.
What is your favourite training ‘session’? It’s hard to beat a good hills session. I live in a hilly area, and I’m a big fan of training on Slieve Croob in County Down which is the mountain I live beside. It’s roughly a 9-10 climb for me and during my training for the Worlds I was doing 4-5 reps of the service road to the top, which have me near 12 miles and near 1000m of climbing from my house. Newcastle AC’s Tuesday night sessions are brilliant as it’s good to get a speed session in with a group which helps push you that bit harder as there’s a competitive element to it, plus it’s a good laugh.
What is your favourite pre-race and post-race meals? For a pre-race meal the night before a race it’s a tie between pasta, chicken and bacon or a Ribeye steak with sweet potato fries. Breakfast is a tie between porridge or Nutella and toast washed down by a few espressos. Post race meal depends on how I’m feeling, it’s a normally a see-food diet, I see food, I eat it!
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running? With this season being my first ever in running I like to say that all my achievements are special; but my top ones would have to be:
– Representing Ireland at the World Mountain Running Championships in Bulgaria
– 14th in the Snowdon International race
– 3rd in the Slieve Donard classic race
– Winning my first ever race at the Castlewellan 10k
Your still young, so looking more long-term, what do you hope to achieve in your running career? I want to be as successful as I can in this great sport; there are so many opportunities out there and I hope to make the most of them whilst I’m still young. I’ve a list of things I want to achieve in running; but I’m generally just wanting to be the best I can be and hope that brings with it different accolades. I’d love a big result in a World Championship race but these type of results don’t come easy, so it’s the hard work I do behind the scenes that will help me!
Do you like any other sports aside from cycling and running?
When I’m not running I’m enjoy getting out for a spin on my horse. I enjoy showjumping and cross country, I’ve grew up with horses all my life and it’s good to get out to keep the mind fresh from all the training and racing. I’m a member of Mossvale Riding Club and have jumped in NI Championship events for them in the past. I like football as well and like to play during the week when I’m free (which isn’t very often) with a few ones from Dromara which is good craic too.