Louise Shanahan is in recalibration mode. Not that she’s complaining, mind. Better to have achieved your stated target for the year in your first race of the outdoor season than not to achieve it at all.
Fresh from her 800m Irish record-breaking exploits in Belfast last weekend, Shanahan will this Saturday tick off a bucket list dream of running in the Diamond League.
A late call up, the 25-year-old Cork athlete will compete at the Birmingham meet alongside Olympic silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson and fellow Olympic finalists Alex Bell and Natoya Goule.
It will be another pinch-me moment to add to last Saturday’s.
At the beginning of the year, Shanahan wrote on the first page of her training diary her outstanding goal for 2021 - to break 2:01. And given her personal best from last season stood at 2:01.44, it seemed a most achievable target.
But following a good spell of training in March, Shanahan returned to the first page of her diary, put a line through the 2:01 written on the page, and scribbled in a fresh target of two minutes flat - the benchmark for world-class 800m running.
“Going into last Saturday’s race, I wasn't confident at all. I ran 55.8 for 400m the weekend previous, a time I was disappointed with and one that had me thinking to myself, I am not in that good shape.
“The day after, I rang my coach (Phil O’Dell) to tell him I don't think I should race in Belfast as I don't think I am ready. He didn't answer, though. On Tuesday, he rang me back to tell me I was just being silly and that he'd see me at training that evening.” Silly is the word as Shanahan outkicked previous Irish 800m record holder Ciara Mageean to cross the line in 1:59.42, a full two-second improvement on her previous best.
“To be honest, when I crossed the line on Saturday, I thought there must be something wrong with the clock as I didn't think I could run that fast.” The time has opened up a summer of possibilities, meeting as it does the qualifying standards for the World Championships in Oregon in July and the following month’s European Championships in Munich.
Moreover, it is a time that spares Shanahan a month of traversing the continent in search of ranking points at various races, as was the plan for June.
And finally, it is a time that means a fresh target will have to be written into the diary.
“I need to reframe my season now,” the 25-year-old remarks from her Cambridge University base.
“The obvious thing to say now is, let's run faster and let's run 1:58. But I think it is about looking at how I can become a better racer and working out how I can become stronger to make it through the rounds at a championship.
“At the Europeans this summer, for instance, you could be running three days in a row or across four days, that is not something I have had to deal with before.” After Saturday’s Diamond League debut, Shanahan will put the head down for a block of training that will take her right up to the national championships in late June, all the while working away on her PhD in quantum physics, teaching undergrads, and correcting labs.
“Last Sunday after I got back from Belfast, I spent five or six hours correcting undergraduate labs and was teaching then on Monday afternoon. While I may have run a fast time, I am not sure my PhD realises it.
“I am a full-time PhD student, that is what is paying the bills. Athletics is the hobby that fits around it, even if I take it a little more seriously than a hobby!
“I really like Cambridge. There is a great group of athletes and students here. I am incredibly lucky that I have so many people to train with. During the winter, we have an incredibly strong cross-country team, and I am probably only the fourth or fifth strongest on that team, so I spend the entire winter getting dropped by the girls.
“On the track then, we have a great group of lads who are 1:48, 1:49 800m runners, so I have brilliant training partners during the summer. All of these people are some of my best friends and so it is not a chore in any way.”