English has got the mechanics right again

Faster, fitter, and a whole lot healthier, Mark English has every reason to believe once again. Ten days out from the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, the Donegal athlete has returned to the kind of form that saw him win a silver medal at the 2015 edition — and he believes a repeat showing could be on the cards.

English has got the mechanics right again

Faster, fitter, and a whole lot healthier, Mark English has every reason to believe once again. Ten days out from the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, the Donegal athlete has returned to the kind of form that saw him win a silver medal at the 2015 edition — and he believes a repeat showing could be on the cards.

English was announced yesterday as one of the headline acts on an Irish team of 16, and given the way he dispatched his rivals to win the national title on Sunday, and at an international race in Athlone last week, strong signs are emerging he could be set to win his third European medal.

Not that it’s a currency that consumes his thoughts any more. “Medals aren’t the be all and end all for me,” he says. “My sister had a baby boy recently so I’m an uncle now — there’s things in life that take over and put the whole athletics thing into perspective.”

Time has instilled such sense. Much water has passed under the bridge since English’s last international medal in 2015, the ebb and flow of a top-class athletic talent which has endured no shortage of turbulence. Injuries and illnesses, changes in coaches, managers, all of it pockmarked by an underlying feeling — usually expressed behind his back but loud enough for English to hear — that his best days were behind him.

“I don’t know if I have to prove anything because the only people who say things are a small minority,” he says. “The vast majority have supported me through hard times and good times. I don’t think [criticism] spurred me on. I was motivated regardless.”

English’s injury problems began in 2016 when a stress fracture hampered his Olympic preparations, and though he made it to Rio his performance — fifth in the 800m semi-final in 1:45.93 — was far from a true reflection of his ability.

The following year’s World Championships saw him take a step backwards, English bowing out in the heats after a difficult preparation which saw him struggle with chronic nerve pain in his left leg all summer. But perhaps the low point came in Berlin last year, English eliminated in the first round at the European Championships, an event at which he won a bronze medal in 2014.

In the aftermath, he refused to seek refuge in excuses, even if he knew deep down he’d been operating with faulty machinery all year. In the autumn he set off to find a fix, travelling to Manchester for a biomechanical analysis.

“I went to see what adjustments I had to make to my form and I’ve worked a lot on that over the winter in the gym,” he says. “I lost a lot of power in my left rear-chain which fed into the whole nerve issue and I had plantar flexion issues in my ankle.”

The key, he said, was to improve the extension of his thoracic spine, and he had no such issues re-emerge this winter. “The injury has stayed away thankfully and it does show in terms of efficiency at top speed.”

English, a speed-oriented 800m runner, has also focused on plugging the missing link in his athletic composition: endurance. Every weekend he completes a 10-to-12-mile long run at just over six minutes a mile — the kind of training he once avoided at all costs — and the effect has been noticeable in his races.

Last week he coasted to the lead on the last lap at the Athlone International, changing gears with notable efficiency to win in 1:46.92, which ranks him fifth in Europe ahead of next week’s event. “My fitness is definitely as good as it has been, if not better,” he says.

Still coached remotely by Steve Magness who is based at University of Houston, English admits he has little idea what lies ahead when his medical studies finish in April, but sport will be his primary focus.

“Athletics has always been a part of my life,” he says. “And it’ll be part of my life no matter where I go.”

Fionnuala McCormack makes her marathon comeback in Boston in April, the 34-year-old returning to the distance for the first time since the Olympics in 2016. McCormack took time out from her career to start a family in 2018, giving birth last September, and made her competitive return last month in Belfast at the NI International Cross Country.

Faster, fitter, and a whole lot healthier, Mark English has every reason to believe once again. Ten days out from the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, the Donegal athlete has returned to the kind of form that saw him win a silver medal at the 2015 edition — and he believes a repeat showing could be on the cards.

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