'I'm used to the isolation': Brendan Boyce controlling the controllable as Olympic preparations continue

"In Spain, we would have been clocking up to 180kms a week. I’ll just do that mileage here in Cork now."

'I'm used to the isolation': Brendan Boyce controlling the controllable as Olympic preparations continue

Control the controllable, Rob Heffernan tweeted last Friday afternoon.

The same tweet carried a video of Irish racewalkers Brendan Boyce and David Kenny, along with South African Wayne Snyman, pounding a rain-sodden track at Cork Institute of Technology.

Kenny and Snyman, both of whom compete over 20km, have put a fair bit of distance between themselves and 50km specialist Boyce during this particular session, prompting a witty reply on social media from Canadian walker Evan Dunfee who commended Boyce for practicing social distancing.

The latter term, of course, has its roots in the coronavirus pandemic. And while the continued spread of Covid-19 has led to mass cancellation of sporting events across the globe and thrown into uncertainty the Tokyo Olympics, there is nothing Boyce nor his coach, Heffernan, can do but control the controllable.

Until such time as a decision on the staging of the Games is made, Boyce will continue to drive on in preparation for the men’s 50km on Friday, August 7.

The sixth-place finisher at last year’s World championships knows how fortunate he is that his daily schedule has not been adversely affected by the Government clampdown which runs until March 30.

Indeed, he is all too familiar with the isolation which society at large has been coming to terms with in recent days and weeks.

“On a normal day of training, I might not meet anyone. I am used to the isolation, keeping to myself, and having a routine where I am at home most of the day. It can be quite lonely, and I suppose everyone is getting a taste at the moment of what it is to be a professional athlete with regard to the isolation at home. Hopefully, we will all come out the far side of this,” remarks the 33-year old Donegal native who moved to Cork after the 2012 Olympics.

The weather was far more kind to Boyce, Kenny, and Snyman when putting down 30km in and around a deserted Little Island on Sunday morning last. The trio were trailed by a car, driven by Boyce’s wife Sarah, for the entirety of the session. Offering encouragement out through the passenger window was Heffernan.

At one point, with Boyce tucked in behind Kenny and Snyman, Heffernan jokes that 30km “is child’s play to the 50km boss”.

In a momentary departure from his focused gaze, a smile breaks across Boyce’s face.

“When the work is so hard, it is good to be able to have a little bit of craic like that.

I suppose we just have to stay going until someone comes along and says the Olympics are postponed. We just have to assume it is going ahead. There is no other way to approach it but to prepare as normal, or as normal as possible in current circumstances.

“The World racewalking team championships, scheduled for early May in Minsk, have been postponed so that kinda upsets the short-term motivation.”

Boyce has already secured Tokyo qualification and so the event in Belarus was more a final opportunity to test himself against the world’s best before a third Olympic outing.

Not that he’s in anyway complaining at it being postponed, mind you. He’s fully in tune with how largely irrelevant sport has become at a time when the health of so many is under threat.

“For athletes, the Olympics is obviously the pinnacle. It is basically four years of your life leading up to this one event. But when you think of the broad implications of it going ahead at the minute, it doesn’t seem that important, really.

“Even as an athlete, sport really is just entertainment. At a basic level, sport is what people do in their spare time when things are good. But things aren’t good at the minute so sport is now definitely one of the lower priorities in people’s lives.

“We are just training away and, obviously, people still need to exercise and be going outside for fresh air, and minding themselves that way. It still has some role to play in people’s normal lives. It's just about finding a balance at the minute.”

Boyce and Kerry native Kenny were due to fly out to Spain this Friday for a month-long training camp spent at altitude in Sierra Nevada. But with that trip a non-runner, he will now spend up to 12 hours a day in an altitude tent in his bedroom.

In Spain, we would have been clocking up to 180kms a week. I’ll just do that mileage here in Cork now.

“With the tent at home, I can simulate the altitude I would have experienced in Spain, and try and mimic the intended block of training without going overseas.

“The tent is just like a normal tent, you put your mattress into it. I spend up to 10 hours a night in the tent and another couple of hours during the day. I try to get 12 hours in the tent in any 24-hour period.

“I’d normally use the tent at home for three or four weeks before going out to altitude. That way, when I go to altitude, I am actually ready to train there, whereas sometimes when you go away to altitude, you need maybe a week or 10 days to adjust.

“Instead of doing two weeks in the tent at home before Spain and then four weeks away, I’ll now do six weeks in the tent at home. It is not as ideal. You can feel a bit claustrophobic, spending 12 hours a day sitting in a bubble.”

Unfortunately, there are many nowadays who can relate to such a feeling.

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