Sky Scholar and 800m runner Mark English on redesigning himself

Sky Scholar and 800m runner Mark English on redesigning himself
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Irish athlete Mark English is working on the fine art of two-lap running

“I used to hate running. Now I love it. When I was younger, it was always a chore. The alternative was playing football and athletics was the evil necessity to have good conditioning for football.”

The words of Mark English, who could have been forgiven for dumping his spikes in the nearest bin at University College Dublin last March when he broke a foot in training five months before the Olympics.

It seems, though, this medical student and Sky Academy Sports Scholar is slowly chipping away towards 800m greatness, regardless of what obstacles come his way……

I love playing football but when I went to university, I found running was the best release after a day of studies. I really enjoy the art of running. It’s the feeling of lacing up, clocking up mileage every week.

That all becomes a very motivating factor. I love how it makes me feel and act and it’s good for my mind as well.

It’s all about the process of being better than I was yesterday, taking myself to where I know I can be. I love finding where improvements can be made and I’ve been getting help from my coach Steve Magness.

After I broke my foot in March, I realigned my goals just to make Rio. Making it was just a bonus. We discussed this after the Olympics and we realised what I had done was good given the circumstances.

I was so annoyed at the time because it was a week before the World Indoor Championships in Portland and I knew it would affect my Olympics preparation. You trick your mind that everything will be fine because that’s the best state of mind but it affected my energy system and that takes months to build.

I can’t afford that at the highest level, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt. Using the analogy of poker, it was like being given twos and hoping to beat kings and aces. It’s just part of the sport though and looking back I was the luckiest of an unlucky bunch.

At not one point did I feel it was a waste of time. It was a metatarsal fracture, which isn’t the worst bone. I knew I’d make Rio, but I was just annoyed, or rather fearful, I might not get back to the fitness I would have had.

Mark just missed out on making the 800m final at the Rio Games

My winter training had gone so well and I was in great shape. It would have been interesting to see how well I would have done if I didn’t get injured.

My mentor Darren Campbell helped. He told me the only time he learned was when you experience adversity. When he ran well he never questioned anything – why change?

When it doesn’t go to plan, you have to sit back, analyse and say things went wrong and ensure things won’t happen again or see how you can deal with failure if it happens again.

You always have to face these challenges, whether it’s a bad race or an injury. Dealing with adversity is very important. It is an evil necessity to perform well. Improving mentality will also happen through adversity and I’ve had a lot of these experiences already!

This is a sport, no matter how well I’m doing, that I will have to always look at how to improve and I will never rest on my laurels. I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m capable of. I never tell anyone because that puts pressure on me – adversity has taught me that.

Steve Magness has been coaching Mark for a year (Instagram @stevemagness)

My coach Steve is based in the US and although it would be nice to have him trackside, there are lots of ways around it in the modern world. We find ways to make it work. I had read a lot of his work and I felt he would understand how I viewed 800m training and approaching it from the 400m side of it.

I rang him and we talked and it turned out he viewed it like I did. We started work and he’d send me schedules and I would report back after those training sessions using video footage and over the phone. He looked at my technique and we just went from there.

He thinks about things very carefully and he’s a great guy – he doesn’t let his ego get in the way of my development.

He’s quite calm and not hot-headed which is great. I get on better with them  when I’m in a  highly emotional state. He’s good at dealing with my emotions and he’s always able to put everything into perspective.

Mentor Darren Campbell has passed on his advice about adversity

If I’ve underperformed, he’ll say: ‘Look you’ve been injured and not had the best preparation and you’re tired.” After I got injured he put it all into perspective and said ‘that’s a bummer but we’ll get it sorted and focus on recovery – you’re a guy who can bounce back’.

We’ll work together for another year and I’m hopeful I’ve got the best guy to work on my weaknesses – I’m in a good place.

After Rio, we analysed our season and performances and we tried to understand how I could improve. We know my speed is there. We came up with a few areas we could work on – my arm swing, aerobic fitness and becoming stronger.

That’s the fun thing in athletics – it’s how I can get better each day, week, month… I have a goal like the World Championships in London next summer and on some days when I’m more tired that does motivate me to get out of the door.

University College Dublin is Mark’s part-time home

But if that was just the end goal, motivating me would be much harder as opposed to getting up every day knowing I want to get faster. It’s that continual improvement and I love it.

My college term has just started again, I’m back for lectures and my different life has begun again! It’s a nice change and takes my mind off the training. It’s all about academia for now.

But I’m excited about next year and about what I can do. I would love to get to Tokyo in four years but my focus is entirely on the World Championships and the World Indoors [Birmingham 2018].


OCT 20-24: Jack Bateson, Tammer tournament, Finland

OCT 23-30: Elise Christie, GB speed skating training camp, Calgary

OCT 30: Quillan Isidore, BMX Winter Nationals, Manchester

OCT 31 – NOV 6: Elise Christie, World Cup, Calgary 

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