The shape I’m in: Mark English, athlete

TOP Irish athlete Mark English has few illusions about his sport of choice.

“There is no magic formula. It’s about putting in consistent training sessions from one week to the next over the course of years. That’s what brings you on, bit by bit,”he says.

In what is regarded as one of the most unforgiving races, in March he won the 800m silver medal at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Prague.

From Letterkenny, Co Donegal, he was a keen Gaelic football player at school but then came the taste of success when he came second in the 800m All-Ireland Schools Championships during transition year when he was 16.

“I had a lot more time to train in athletics. I knew that I was much more talented at athletics than I was at Gaelic and it would be a bit of a waste if I didn’t give it a good shot. 

"So I sidelined the Gaelic for a while. I actually enjoyed the running a bit more as there was no responsibility to anyone else but to yourself. You are accountable for your own performances.”

Aged 22, he is studying medicine in UCD and is soon to start his fourth year. Divide and conquer is his approach to managing his timetable. “It comes down to segregating my day. 

I try do most of my college work between the hours of eight to five. Then I come home and get food and go training. I usually train between two and two and a half hours every day.”

Athletics comes with a high wear and tear factor. “The body is a fragile thing. If you don’t look after it, things will break down. If I could look after my body I could compete right up to my 30s. I want to keep going as long as my body allows me to. I love this sport.”

He readily acknowledges the importance of team effort, saying no athlete can win an Olympic medal without a group of people working with him or her. 

“It’s good to see people who have faith in you, invested in your potential, witness their work come to fruition as well.”

What are his chances of competing in Rio 2016? 

“They look good as long as I stay injury free and just keep the illnesses away as well.”

The youngest in his family with two sisters, his mother is a secondary school teacher and father a lecturer in the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. And there is a girlfriend, international show jumper Emma O’Dwyer. 

“We both understand the commitment you have to make to sport to succeed. So that helps a lot.”

* Mark will feature at this year’s GloHealth Senior Track and Field Championships, tomorrow and Sunday in Morton Stadium in Santry, Dublin, alongside almost 500 Irish athletes who will compete to claim National titles across a variety of sports.

What shape are you in?

Better than yesterday. And getting more fit every day. 

An injury — a trapped nerve in my lower back — slowed my progress this year but that’s more or less gone and I’ll be able to compete in this week’s GloHealth Senior Track and Field Championships and there’s still time to achieve my goals at the World Championships in Beijing.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

Just making sure I get the right foods into my body and keeping meals as organic as possible during race season. But I like to enjoy my food also, and so I allow myself treats. The odd chocolate brownie is never turned down.

Your guiltiest pleasures?

I started watching True Detective last week and finished it in two days.

What would keep you awake at night?

Like a lot of athletes, I find it difficult to sleep after a race.

How do you relax?

Beach, movies and coffee.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Bill Gates. I’d love to hear what he thinks the world will be like 50 years from now and the impact that artificial intelligence will have.

Favourite smell?

Probably the smell of the sea air on a summer’s day.

What would you change about your appearance?

I’d like longer legs. Longer leavers equal greater stride lengths. And a greater stride is the wish of most athletes!

When did you last cry?

I can’t really remember. But I distinctly remember crying when Ireland lost to Spain in the 2002 world cup.

What traits do you least like in others?

Dishonesty, disloyalty and pretentiousness.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

Sometimes I can be over-analytical, which is often unnecessary.

What would cheer up your day?

Hearing that Chelsea beat Man Utd.



Breaking Stories

Pins and needles are usually harmless, but it’s best not to ignore them

Learning points: The truth is now being twisted in full view

’Tis the season to be sweet: What makes a good chocolate bar?

Gavin Bryars going with the flow

More From The Irish Examiner