Age is no barrier for Joe Gough. The 63-year-old Waterford athlete is a World and European Masters champion. And he isn’t ready to hang up his spikes anytime soon.
Q: At an age when most people run for recreation, what motivates you?
A:I get a tremendous buzz from competition. I just love being in that environment. At the World Indoor Championships, in Portland [where Gough finished second in a masters exhibition 800m, in March] there were cameras and a huge crowd and you could easily freeze in that environment, but I loved it.
You can train and train, but, suddenly, you have to go to the call room; a lot of people crack under the pressure, but I loved being in that atmosphere.
Before you go out there, you ask why you’re doing this to yourself, but as soon as it’s over, you ask when the next one is.
We put ourselves through agony, but as soon as it’s over, you don’t want it to stop. It’s a buzz. Perhaps it is a drug.
Q: What advice would you give to sportspeople who want to arrest the natural decline of aging?
A:It’s almost impossible, because it happens anyway, but, I think, if you’re someone who wants to run every year, then you should have a target.
It should be one that will challenge you and can be attained, and will take a certain length of time to achieve.
If you’re just running a race a week all year long, you’ll plateau and never come to a peak, and some people enjoy that, running socially with friends, but those who want to go beyond that, and want to run a particular race and time, you have to set a target and train for it.
It takes lots of small steps, along the way.
Q: How do you train?
A: When it comes to the summer season, I do three track sessions a week, and go to the gym for weights and circuits at least once a week.
I also do a long run and a couple of tempo runs. I don’t go out for long, slow, steady miles. I have a very low threshold for boredom.
I could do an hour or 90 minutes on a Sunday, but everything else has to have some quality. People say it’s a lot for my age, but that’s what I need, to keep the speed in my legs.
I do quality reps at race pace, keeping it short-and-sharp. It’s always a balance, because you can overdo things.
I’ll do 8 x 200m off a minute’s rest at 800m pace, so 31 to 32 seconds, and that’s a hard session.
Q: Do you take much time off running?
A: I try to take one day each week. In the autumn, I take two or three weeks off, but I find, the older I get, the less time I should take off, because I find it very hard to get back. You lose your fitness quicker and it takes longer to get it back, so I can’t afford to stay away too long.
I see any running away from the track as a break, because the track can be very hard on the mind and the body, whereas forest trail runs seems such a joy in comparison.
Q: What’s your diet like?
A: I have a normal diet.
I try to have more fish than meat, eat plenty of greens, but I’m not finicky.
I don’t shy away from food, but I also train hard.
For supplements, I might take iron, and a supplement for my joints, but, apart from that, I don’t worry about them.
Q: Your wife, Eilis, seems to travel to all the events with you. How important is it to have her support?
A:I couldn’t have done half the things I have without her backing.
She’s not an athlete, but she has a great interest in it.
I can do all the racing and training, but knowing my partner is there to back me up means so much. It can be lonely out there, on your own.
She’s very level-headed, too. If I was getting too big for my boots, she’ll put me in my place quickly.
Q: Do you feel masters’ athletics goes unappreciated?
A: A blind man could see that, but we’re breaking it down slowly. I think, if people saw the championships, even at European level, they would be amazed at the standard of athletics.
It’s fantastic what people are doing. People could moan about it, but there’s no point. Ireland does far greater for its size than any other country.
In Ancona [at the European Masters Indoor Championships], we had 10 gold medals, with Bryan Lynch [who beat Gough in the over-60, 1,500m] and Kelly Neely [who won the over-35 800m] running fantastic races.
Irish masters is going through a real golden period, and we should be promoting it, instead of knocking it.
Q: What was the best memory of your athletics career?
A: Winning the world indoors, in Budapest, two years ago, was a big thing. Breaking the world indoor record, in Athlone, was also a major moment.
My first time wearing the Irish vest — winning the Russian championships in Moscow — was another big one.
It’s taken me nearly 20 years to achieve the things I’ve done. Others can do that in 20 months.
Q: What’s left for you to achieve?
A: There are always others out there, and my rivals are all out to get me, and so be it.
You always ask yourself the question ‘are you able to win a championships?’ but then you decide, in your mind, to beat a certain time and win a certain championship, and go for it.
After that, every session you do has an aim, a target time. If you’re lucky enough to reach that target, it gives you a great sense of satisfaction. It’s all for the challenge.
Q: You’re 63 now, but do you still see yourself doing it at 73, or 83?
A: I don’t know. I finally blossomed at 60.
I’m in my fourth year over 60, and every year has brought fantastic things for me.
I could be injured any year, or decide to throw my spikes out the window and say I’m done with it, but, as of now, I’m really enjoying the journey.
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