A late withdrawal from the National Indoor Championships, Ciarán Ó Lionaird reflects instead on the dunes of Owenahincha — and Tallahassee in Florida.
Q: You came home to pull on the Leevale vest again?
A: It means a lot, especially being away from Ireland for as long as I have, I relish any opportunity to come back and wear the Leevale singlet.
The club gave me my springboard in the sport. I learned a ton from Der O’Donovan and Tony Shine especially. Two really influential, inspirational people for me in the early part of my career.
Q. Were Leevale heroes like Marcus O’Sullivan and Mark Carroll a big influence on you becoming a runner?
A: Definitely. When they got to America and were successful, that was a big inspiration for me to take the scholarship route. It was a big part of my learning, early on in Leevale.
It was all about strengthening me, to make that move to America – it was instilled in me from a young age that was going to happen, that I was going to go to the US.
Q. What about those infamous sand dunes at Owenahincha?
A: I must have been 15 the first time. I remember the first day we did it. Der said we’re doing 10 reps. And it was about 100 metres up the dune. And I was like; ‘That doesn’t sound too bad.’ By lap number three, I was like; ‘Oh my God’.
You just sink into the dunes and every part of you is aching and they wouldn’t let you stop. And after every repeat, after every sand dune rep, Der would run across the dune and use a stick to wipe out all of our foot markings so that we would have no traction on the next rep again.
I remember getting to rep 10, I was on my hands and knees and Der said “OK, that’s one, jog around for five minutes.” And we ended up doing three sets. I was just absolutely bollixed. A new level of pain and definitely it was a great strengthening session, but it was also a great bonding experience.
Q. Middle distance must get lonely. Your great run in the Distance Medley last month; good to be part of a team?
A: It is much more of an American type of thing and always very exciting to get the Irish guys together and have the craic. And it was in New York and there was just a good buzz around the place.
It is always good to run for something more than yourself. I think that is the future of the sport, honestly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more relays like the distance medley being introduced at the Olympics.
Q. What does it say about Irish middle distance running, to beat Kenya in an event like that and break the old world record — are we getting back towards the glory days?
A: Yeah, I think we are, I think we are. I think we have got depth across events now, more depth than we have had in a long time. But, before I can put myself alongside guys like Marcus and Eamonn Coghlan and Ray Flynn and these guys, I still have a lot of work to do.
Q. Where is your favourite place to run now?
A: Tallahassee in Florida. I went to school there in FSU. It was always a place close to my heart. I went back there for a week and running around the clay roads there and the plantation roads of the deep south. It is just a very tranquil and quiet place to just go and have a good think and just get away from everything.
Q. Do you enjoy the day-to-day running or does it ever become a grind?
A: It is just a job I think more than anything now. A lot of the time you are just running the pace you need to run that day for work. You are never really going out and just having a run.
I don’t think I would be running if I wasn’t competing. I would probably be playing five-a-side soccer or something. I would do something else to compete; I am more of a competitor I would say, than a runner.
Q. Every interview mentions that infamous interview at the London Olympics. Does it bug you? Do you regret it?
A: I am not going to just going to sit here and pretend it didn’t happen. There was a lot of frustration built up that day. I don’t regret it in the sense that, if I was back in the same position at the age I was, I’d say it all again.
But if it was me now talking, I definitely would have lent myself a little more perspective and said: ‘Hey, there are disappointments but that is part and parcel of the game and you have to take them and deal with them’. Thankfully that interview was the start of that process.
Q. The life of a runner is almost like running a small business. Marketing yourself. You’re good at that. Do you enjoy it?
A: Not necessarily enjoy but I think it is part of life today, with social media culture and how the sport has evolved.
That is kind of part and parcel of what you have to do, we are a business in a way. I like to be someone who gives exposure to the brands and people that support me, show that it is a viable investment in something that is worthwhile. I have a responsibility to do the very best I can to project that. And that goes all the way to representing my club well, including myself, my family and my sponsors.
Q. What would represent a good 2015?
A: I would like to get back into a world final, outdoors. That is the priority and you do all the training towards it. As a stepping stone towards that, if I had just won the medal in the Europeans, that would be a great step along the way. But with the injury problems I’ve had, I just want to stay healthy too.
Q. Who other than yourself would it mean most to, you performing well in a major championship again?
A: Probably my mum, I think she is one of my biggest supporters – she has been there through all the disappointments and stuff. She was one of the people who really picked me back up after being injured – and was there with me all the way.
Q. What do you enjoy about the few days back home?
A: Just sitting at home by the fire and just having a cup of tea and relaxing really, just a slower pace of life in Macroom and it just allows me to relax and get away from everything and just kind of be – just kind of spend good quality time with people that are close to you and that is really the thing I miss the most.
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