NI Olympic athelete Ciara Mageen offers advice to marathon runners

Lidl Northern Ireland Sport for Good ambassador and elite athlete Ciara Mageean talks to HELEN MCGURK about running, resting and, most importantly, having fun

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 3:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th April 2022, 3:54 pm
Elite athlete Ciara Mageen from Portaferry is currently training in Switzerland
Elite athlete Ciara Mageen from Portaferry is currently training in Switzerland

Portaferry athlete Ciara Mageen is currently in the high Alpine resort town of St Moritz, where she is undergoing altitude training ahead of the winter season.

Days in the picturesque Swiss valley, all snow-capped mountains, pristine nature and sparkling dry climate, are spent honing her superlative talent, which has seen her notch up many wins, including a bronze in the 1,500m at the European Indoor Championships in 2019, then securing the Olympic standard before going on to make the World Championships final in Doha where she placed 10th in a new best of 4:00.15, become the first Irish woman to make a World final since Sonia O’Sullivan in 1997.

Given those impressive credentials, the 30-year-old is well-placed to offer advice to runners in this Sunday’s Mash Direct Belfast City Marathon, which is set to welcome more than 16,000 participants.

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“It is important to fuel well and rest well. Take your recovery as seriously as you take your training. And don’t forget to have fun, because that what sport is all about,” she said.

Ciara has taken part in many Belfast marathon relays, but has never taken on the full distance. However, every week she runs between 70-80 miles and said the basics of running preparations, for whatever distance, are essentially the same.

“The closest I get to running a marathon distance is my long run each Sunday, which is 13 miles.

“Myself and my training partners, who are marathon runners, all have a very similar routine, they just go for a bit longer.

“The principles of training are the same no matter what you are doing - you are pushing your body and you want to make sure you recover and you are fuelling well.

“I just run faster than the marathon runners would. I am on the track doing faster, shorter workouts, and they are doing longer, slower.”

Born to run, Ciara said she was always “that active kid” and “super competitive”.

“I raced two small cross-countrys in primary school and that was probably my first taste of running outside of sports day. From that I got invited to the Mary Peter’s Trust to a talent event.

“Then when I went to secondary school at Assumption Grammar in Ballynahinch my PE teacher spotted that I probably had a little too much of a competitive nature. She asked if I wanted to do cross-country, so that was my intro to athletics and I got pretty good at that.

“But I always like to remind young kids that I wasn’t the best straight away. I maybe came 40th in my first cross-country race, but eventually kept improving and then won the districts and got a talent ID from Athletics NI, who had a talent academy, Eventually I was asked if I wanted to race on the track and that’s where I found my true calling.

“I started being coached in Belfast and went from strength to strength, winning world junior medals. It all spiralled fairly quickly, but it wasn’t always a very smooth path. My junior years certainly were, and I always seemed to be on that upward trajectory, but then I got to under 23 and senior level and you get injured and you get niggles and the journey isn’t quite so smooth, but that’s the same as everything in life and I think it makes you value those good days even more.”

She added: “One thing which is great about athletics is that you can compare yourself to yourself instead of other people. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. It’s about bettering yourself each time and I think that’s a lovely approach to have to it. As long as you step out there and try your best then there’s nothing more you can ask of yourself.”

Ciara has lived in Manchester since 2017, where she is part of Team New Balance Manchester, but adds: “As soon as I finish my professional career with my team, I’ll be back home.”

When she finishes her training in Switzerland, her first race is in Belfast.

“It’s an IMC (Irish Milers Club) meet on May 14. I’m going to race an 800 there, and then the following week I am going to race the 1,500 at the Birmingham Diamond League and the week after that I am back in Belfast for the Commonwealth Games trials. And then after that is my sister’s hen do!”

And when she’s not pounding the track, Ciara loves gardening to relax.

“I just got an allotment, so I am currently trying to grow fruit and veg. I’ve got three drills of potatoes, some peas, carrots, onions. I’m trying to have nice healthy home-grown food for my dinner table. I am also trying to grow flowers, but I’m not quite as successful as that!”

Here are Ciara’s marathon prep tips for novices and running maestros alike.

PLAN AHEAD - It might sound obvious, but preparation is key. From race-day shoes, clothing and fuel, it’s important to have everything you need to assist you in a successful marathon.

FUEL UP - Preparation of your pre-race trails and hydration should be rehearsed thoroughly in training to ensure a smooth run on the big day. Meals should be carefully planned - knowing what will settle well in your stomach and when to eat is key.

WEAR IN YOUR SHOES - Never change your race-day gear or shoes close to the match. Comfort is essential across the 26.2 miles.

REST UP - Nerves are a necessary evil when it comes to marathon-running, so don’t stress if you aren’t able to sleep the night before the race. As long as you are getting adequate sleep and rest periods in the weeks leading up to the marathon, all will be okay.

STICK TO YOUR PACE - Finding your pacing group is really important. Pacers are skilled and will keep a steady pace. Find your group and stick with them.

HAVE A POSITIVE MINDSET - Although physical preparation is essential, mental preparation is vital to ensure you triumph on race day. Creating scenarios to overcome is a great way to ensure your mind is confidently over matter on the day. For example, think of a situation like, “I feel amazing and fly through the race on cloud nine” and an opposing scenario such as, “I feel heavy, sluggish and the weather is dreadful”. Then, prepare for how you will work through the less-ideal situations, it doesn’t need to be exhaustive, but it is always best to have a run-through.

BREAK IT DOWN - This can help the 26.2 miles or 42km feel less daunting. Breaking the race down into 5km blocks, or using landmarks to aim for, gives you a target which you can then reward yourself for mentally. It’s a simple perk to improve your endurance.

LUBRICATE – Many novice runners or first-time marathoners don’t consider this but it’s vital to lubricate to prevent rubbing and chafing. Believe it or not, nipple guards are a thing and can be a life saver across a long course.

BE AWARE - Always be aware of your surroundings. Potholes and speedbumps are ever-more present and even top marathoners have been known to take tumbles.

ENJOY THE RACE! – Most importantly, take in your surroundings and revel in the atmosphere. Your body got you all the way around, so make sure you refuel, with a nutritious snack post-run. On race day, Lidl Northern Ireland will be stationed throughout the course supplying fresh fruit as this year’s official ‘Fresh Fruit Supplier’ to the Mash Direct Belfast City Marathon. Refuel, recharge and revel in your achievement. Good luck to all runners, relay racers and walkers!

*For more information please visit belfastcitymarathon.com or lidl-ni.co.uk.