Kenneally feels his best is yet to come

23 Jun

Published by TheScore.ie, 23 June 2012

THE LONELINESS OF the long-distance runner isn’t a quip; it’s a reality. When a TV crew approached Mark Kenneally in the autumn of 2010 and asked if they could film his attempt to qualify for the London Olympics, he had an idea of what they might be looking for. Long solo training runs at unsociable hours multiple times a week may be cathartic but they aren’t the best way to make friends.

“They were trying to show the fact that you’re out on your own a lot of the time. It makes you think about it a little bit more,” Kenneally told TheScore.ie after the first episode of London Calling aired on RTÉ earlier this week. “It’s an interesting experience to think about what you’re doing.”

When there are no TV cameras around though, it’s clear that thinking about what he does comes as second nature to the Celbridge native. Once one of Ireland’s top middle-distance and cross-country athletes, Kenneally only made the transformation to marathon running in the very recent past. His first race over 26.2 gruelling miles was in April 2011; by October, he had already shaved more than a minute off the “A” standard qualifying time for London 2012. Now he’s threatening to go faster again.

The highs of 2009, where he set new track PBs and finished eighth at the World Cross Country Championships, were followed by a dispiriting 2010 wracked with injuries. The decision to step up in distance was a measured one rather than a knee-jerk.

“I was finding was that I was good enough to run qualifying times on the track but not really do anything more than that,” he explained. “As well as that, the intensity of the training for the track was beating me up a bit. I was getting sick and injured a lot. I’d been advised a lot by sports scientists and others to make the step up to the marathon at some point so I just decided then to give it a go.

As soon as I started doing the training, I loved it. There’s a bit more volume and a little bit less in terms of track intensity. At the end of the day, you’re still running a lot, but that little drop off in intensity allowed me to make improvements that I wasn’t making before. I was probably pushing too hard before.

Controlled

To those on the outside looking in, the speed at which Kenneally has made those improvements is remarkably impressive. In his debut marathon in Vienna he clocked 2:17:22 (and was on course to do better before he “bonked” and hit the wall with about four miles remaining).

“I should’ve ran the time the first time in Vienna,” he reflects, “but I got a couple of things wrong. I managed to pick up those few things and as soon as I put them right, I got there.”

Detached analysis of his performance and careful fine-tuning helped, and though he now looks back on his qualifying run in Amsterdam as “a very controlled effort”, it wasn’t exactly plain sailing at the time. A mix-up with his water bottles left him cramping before the line but he battled on to finish in 2:13:55, the fastest time by an Irish male in recent years. And still, Kenneally promises, there’s more to come.

The road to London continues next week with a brief detour to the European Championships in Helsinki, where he’s reverting to the 10,000m in a bid to freshen up his preparation and keep sharp. In Holland last month, he set a new PB over the distance when he ran 28:33.12 to qualify.

That suprised me a little bit because training has been very much geared towards the longer stuff. We’ve tried with the track work every Tuesday to keep a little bit of pace in the legs and it’s worked fairly well.

What I ran in Holland, I think I can I run again considerably faster next week. That’s going to be my plan. Even if it is a European Championship race, I’m going to make whatever kind of race I want to make it. I’m going to run hard and see what happens.

At 31, Kenneally is slightly older than most first-time Olympians, but that experience should be an asset rather than a liability when it comes to controlling nerves and filtering out the hype in the run-up to 12 August.

Plus, he’s quick to point out, he’s only just getting started.

“I’m in good shape and I have to treat it as if it’s the best chance I’m ever going to have but history would say that, particularly with European athletes, it’s mid- to late-30s before you see the best out of yourself at marathon distance. I’m young in terms of marathons done — this is only my third — so I’d hope I will be around in four years’ time.”

“Going over there, all I’m thinking about is performance. I haven’t done enough marathons to be able to go in thinking about what other people are doing and what type of race of race they’re going to run. My focus is purely on what I’m going to be able to do.”

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