Marginal Gains?

26 April 2019

Since Koroibos won the stadion race of approximately 600 feet long at the first ancient Olympic Games in the year 776 BC, athletes and coaches have been looking for something to give them a competitive edge over their rivals.

An ergogenic aid is a performance enhancer, anything that gives you a mental or physical edge while exercising or competing. This can range from caffeine and sports drinks to illegal substances. There are a variety of both safe and harmful ergogenic aids. 

These days all athletes are constantly monitored for the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) but this was not always the case. But back in 1904, during the Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Thomas Hicks of the United States took the gold medal in the marathon race through a cocktail drink that included strychnine and brandy.

The US champion was at the point of collapse at the 16 mile point but was given a mixture of water from a car radiator, strychnine and brandy that saw him to the finish albeit at death’s door. As soon as he crossed the line, he was rushed to the hospital, where he spent 24 hours on the danger list.  Thankfully, he recovered and lived to a ripe old age.

The hunt for the perfect ergogenic aid has continued since then with Belfast man Edward O’Gorman being the latest to come up with his own product. With a PhD from ETH Zurich on Creatine’s use in medicine, he left academia to work in the patent profession in Belfast and Kilkenny for the last 10 years.

He came up with the idea for the Creatine Energy Gel while training for the 2010 Dublin Marathon, and started R&D at that time, while self-employed.

“I was a typical inventor who thought his invention was the only one worth looking at by anyone and it was of course worth millions!,” explains O’Gorman. “Over the last six years, I have been testing different formulations, working with industrial partners, charlatans and time-wasters. I have done two full distance Ironman events near Barcelona, during which I have used different versions of my products.”

O’Gorman, assisted by Belfast entrepreneur Paul Carlin, has now put the finished product on the market and is keen to see the reaction from endurance athletes both local and further afield. His principal concern is Brexit as the energy gel, although developed in Ireland, is made in Europe. That would entail manufacture being split and some probably done in England, meaning that it would be a little more expensive to buy the product in Northern Ireland.

ASPIRE ATHLETES FOR BELFAST MEETING

19 APRIL 2019

Meeting director Eamonn Christie could not have not been happier this week if he had won the lottery than when he heard that seven athletes from the Aspire Academy in Qatar were coming to his promotion the Mary Peters Track on June 22.  All are Juniors (U20) with three of the athletes from Qatar, two from Sudan and one each from Algeria and Tunisia.

Cork man Steve Macklin is endurance coach at the Doha sports college and he chose the Belfast IMC Meeting as the ideal location for his athletes to kick off their tour of the UK and Ireland. Aspire was founded in 2004 and boasts current world high jump champion Mutaz Essa Barshim as one of its Academy graduates.

“I’m delighted that Steve has decided to bring his athletes here when you think of all the places he could have gone to start their season,” enthused Christie. “I’ve done my research and looked at their best times.  They’re not exactly world class but they’re at a standard that will make them ideal competition for our home-based runners.”

Christie has been forced to take the men’s mile off the programme due to the demand for a 1500m. European Junior 800m bronze medallist John Fitzsimons is looking for qualifying times for the European U23 championships at the metric distance.

Teenage sensation Cian McPhillips and the more established Shane Fitzsimons are also a confirmed starters as well as three representatives from the British Milers’ Club who will be travelling over at their own expense.

Meanwhile entries continue to roll in for the 5000m races with the distinct possibility that Gideon Kimosop may be back in the country to pace the “A” race. The Kenyan has won the Belfast Half Marathon in each of the last two years but is looking to take in some track races on what will be his sixth visit to Northern Ireland.

The meeting is co-hosted by Beechmount Harriers, West Belfast Coolers and the Irish Milers’ Club.  The mile sponsors E & I Engineering Ltd have kindly agreed to switch their sponsorship to the 1500m and instead of offering a bonus for breaking 4:00 minutes will instead off it to the winner of the 1500m if he can better 3:42.

Aside from the 1500m and 5000m, other events at the meet will be 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m for both male and female athletes. And as in previous years there will be a 1000m race for U15 boys and girls. On-line entries are open at www.irishmilersclub.org  

Good Times for Irish in Rotterdam

Fast times were the order of the day for Irish runners as Marius Kipserem claimed the top spot at yesterday’s 39th Rotterdam Marathon in a course record of 2:04:11.

The Kenyan slashed 16 seconds from the previous record set in 2009 by Duncan Kibet. He finished ahead of Turkey’s Kaan Kigen, who clocked 2:05:26, while another Kenyan Emmanuel Saina sealed the podium three in 2:05:42.

In the women’s category, Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekere won the race in 2:22:55 ahead of Kenya’s Stella Barsosio, who clocked 2:23:34 as the USA’s Alphine Tuliamuk came home third in 2:26:48.

Sergiu Ciobanu

Clonliffe Harrier Sergiu Ciobanu was first Irish man across the finish line in 2:19:53, followed shortly by Clonmel garda Dave Mansfield in 2:22:06. Cillian O’Leary (2:25:03) and Colin Griffin (2:26:48) also comfortably broke the 2:30 mark.

Maghera’s Tommy Hughes was just 15 seconds outside two and half hours (chip time) but the 59-year-old was delighted to take over seven minutes off the Irish over 55 record. The Barcelona Olympian has little to learn about pacing at this stage of his career and went through halfway in 74 minutes, meaning he lost little time in the second half of the race.

There were two outstanding performances from Ulster-based women. Rio Olympian Breege Connolly was 13th female finisher overall and second W40 with a 2:37:50 timing.  Strabane’s Ann-Marie McGlynn was two places further back, and first W35 competitor, in 2:39:22 on her debut at the distance.

Gary O’Hanlon

Earlier National 50K record holder Gary O’Hanlon cruised to an impressive victory in the Omagh Half Marathon with a 67:41 clocking. The Louth man was exactly a minute clear of runner-up Mark McKinstry who took two minutes off his previous best, stopping the clock at 68:41.

Acorns AC’s Eoin Hughes continued a rich vein of recent form by filling the final place on the podium in 70:47. Sperrin Harrier Pierce McCullagh had one of his best ever runs for fourth in 71:59, ahead of former winner Stephen Duncan (72:52) and Neill Weir (73:24).

Laura Graham scored her second win in the women’s race after an earlier victory in 2016.  The Mourne Runners’ athlete was a class apart from the opposition on this occasion, winning by five minutes from Karen Alexander (81:30) with another former winner Catherine Whoriskey (83:26) in the bronze medal spot.

Gemma McDonald (84:43), Helen McCready (85:29) and Eiméar Nicholl (85:45) rounded off the top half dozen women. Almost 2300 runners completed the undulating half marathon course in cool conditions.

Local man Marty Cox was the winner of the ancillary 5K for the second successive year recording 15 minutes and 49 seconds. Tristan Kelly (17:25) and Oisín McGuigan (17:42) were second and third across line respectively. In many ways former London Marathon champion Catherina McKiernan was the star of the weekend giving talks on Friday night about marathon preparation before leading the women home in the 5K with an excellent 17:53 timing. The Cavan athlete then stayed on to present the various prize winners with their awards. Sorcha Mullan (19:07) and Cassie Lagan (19:18) claimed the minor women’s places behind McKiernan in the women’s 5K listings.

The University of Ulster’s athletes excelled at the Irish Universities Track & Field Championships in Athlone.  UU’s women were second, an improvement of four places on 2018, while the men also moved up nine places to sixth. Their combined score placed the northern students a commendable fifth overall after being 15th last year.

Mine’s Bigger than Yours

Size seems to matter in running circles these days ….. particularly when it comes to medals. The bigger the medal, the greater the attraction seems to be the guiding rule for race organisers. No one goes home a loser – everybody is a winner.

Does Size Matter?

The days of the polyester tee-shirt seem to be numbered. Too many drawers stuffed with synthetic mementoes from Ballyjamesduff to Ballygobackwards, not to mention stinky oxters and raw nipples if you foolishly decide to wear them on a long training run.

The Belfast City Marathon have just revealed a new larger design medal for all finishers this year. The bespoke medal is reflective of the new start line at the iconic Stormont Estate and will be a fantastic memento as the event makes history this year, taking place on a Sunday for the first time ever.

In addition to the marathon, there are medals for all the events on May 5 including the team relay, 9 mile walk and for the first time the 2.5 mile Fun Run.  But the marathon medal is significantly larger than the others.

As few ever win or finish in the top-3 of a race, it is understandable if finisher medals are given out for completing a longer distance endurance event; half marathon, marathon, half Ironman, Ironman or an ultra-marathon. But often medals are dispensed for completing races as short as 5K. This might mean something if it is at the end of a couch to 5K but otherwise 3.1 miles is a like a sprint to most runners.

Are finisher’s medals just a grown up’s version of our kid’s participation trophies? And if so, is that a good or bad thing?  The question is do you expect the finisher medal? Do you value it? Would you prefer to get maybe a goody bag containing some useful stuff?

Meantime it is not too late to sign up for the 38th Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon  via the MyTicket app at www.belfastcitymarathon.com.  The organisers point out: “You could make history this year and receive a fantastic new bigger design medal to reward your 26.2 mile journey.”  The final deadline for entries is midnight on Friday, April 12.

New Kid in Town

Vincent McKenna winning in Larne

There’s is talk on the street. It sounds so familiar – great expectations, everybody’s watching.  And all eyes were straining outside Larne leisure centre a fortnight ago when a tall runner in a light blue singlet came into sight.

Because he was not recognisable to most of the sizeable crowd, the initial reaction was that it was someone out on a training run. But as he came closer, it became clear that Vincent McKenna was closing in on his first major road race victory at the AES Larne Half Marathon.

The Acorns AC runner crossed the line in a personal best 69 minutes and 40 seconds, turning in a strong second half of the race in which he overhauled and wrested victory from the experienced Foyle Valley man Gary Slevin who had made the pace up to that point.

The QUB graduate, whose previous best of 71:08 came at last year’s Belfast Half Marathon, was in second spot at the halfway point, which he reached in 34:51, as Slevin cut out the pace up front. McKenna quickly closed the gap on the way home and even had 18 seconds to spare over the Derry City man at the finish line.

However, despite being the nephew of Olympic marathon runner Tommy Hughes, the 26-year-old PhD student is an accidental recruit to the sport as he admits himself.

“When I was working in England, all the people in the office used to do the parkrun,” he explains. “I was cycling to work but I got exasperated with the number of punctures I was getting so I started running to and from work which accounts for my endurance background.”

Returning home to Magherafelt, he quickly improved and ran his first marathon in Dublin last year when he recorded a very creditable 2:31:39 timing.  He is now signed up for Belfast in a few weeks’ time but has no ambition to venture abroad in pursuit of a time in the near future.

“I have nothing further afield in mind at the moment. I don’t think my potential justifies it just now. I won’t run another marathon this year but will concentrate on improving my speed with maybe a half-marathon in the autumn.”

The Magherafelt man is also contemplating moving to Vienna later in the year. His girlfriend lives there and he hopes to get a job in engineering while he experiences life in another culture. Meantime he is concentrating on completing his thesis at Queen’s on, in simple terms, aircraft assembly.

That does not mean he is neglecting his training which includes early morning runs around Ormeau Park with friend and rival Conán McCaughey. If McKenna can bring his Larne form to Belfast on May 5, he will be sure to make an impact with the cheque for first NI finisher probably in his sights. Certainly no one can dispute there is a new kid in town.