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Rising to the occasion

In 2018, Lizzie Lee and Mick Clohisey scooped the national titles in the 2018 SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. For Raheny Shamrock, Clohisey, it was his first time competing in his home-town marathon, and finishing in a time of 2:15.58, Clohisey was the sixth man home and the first Irish man over the finishing line. Leevale’s Lee was determined to secure her first national win and it was mission possible in a time of 2:53.03. Bernie Commins and Oonagh O’Mahony tapped into the champs’ thoughts about the event and how they rose to the occasion

Getting on the podium was a dream. Dublin Marathon day was a very good day for Lizzie Lee. Strong, focused, determined, ready, the Leevale Athletics Club star could see her name on the podium and she nailed it spectacularly. With a time of 2:53:03, she was first Irish woman across the finish line, third overall but, more importantly, the very best she could have been that day.
“I think this it is one of the biggest highs I’ve ever gotten from running. It was a huge bucket list for me and I nailed it. I got the absolute best out of myself in Dublin. There was nothing else I could have done or nothing else I could have thrown at it,” she says. 
Unlike her European Championships performance in Berlin in August, in Dublin, all the ducks were in a row and with almost-perfect conditions, Lee was relishing the experience.
“I just felt brilliant. Sometimes, early on in a marathon, you know if you’re not having a good day. I didn’t have a good day in Berlin last August. I think maybe the heat, more than anything, affected me because I hadn’t had the opportunity to acclimatise as I had done in Rio for the Olympics. 
“For Dublin, I loved that it was cold, I loved that I could wear arm warmers and gloves. I said to Donie [Donie Walshe, Lee’s coach] the night before, ‘this might be a repeat of the gold medal win in -6 degrees in Budapest!’.” Berlin was a distant memory.
With a clear strategy in her head and a planned six-minute pace, Lee stuck to her guns, and at mile 10 or 11, found herself with the pack leaders.
“I told myself to just plough ahead and stick to the plan because there was no way I was going to pass these girls – Donie would have killed me!” she says, of her beloved coach.

Lizzie's tips for post pregnancy fitness

Personal trainer

Don’t underestimate the impact on your body. If you can, get a professional personal trainer who knows about post-partum return to exercise to help strengthen your body and ensure that everything is functioning correctly.

Jogging buggy

If you are finding it difficult to get out, these will enable you to go for a walk or jog. But you need to make sure the baby has passed its ‘neck test’ and that the GP has given you the all-clear to put the baby a jogging buggy.

Eat properly

Especially if you are breast feeding. If you are running, you need to fuel yourself properly otherwise you could find that you are losing weight rapidly and that’s not good!

One day at a time

Don’t plan too much, take it day by day. I say the same thing to people who are training during pregnancy. You can’t plan because some days you’ll be floored with no energy while on another day, you will go out and do five miles and feel great.

Sticking to the plan
Strategic planning but, more importantly, sticking to it was key on race day, she explains. That meant allowing the leading group to do the work rather than her. 
“On paper, these girls are faster than me, so why would I lead? It wouldn’t make sense. The plan was to run a six-minute pace, to get through the first half safely and see what was left in the legs.” Plenty, as it turned out.
“Donie told me to go through the first half in 1:18 and I went through in just over 1:17. I felt great and I knew he wasn’t going to kill me over that,” she laughs.
But when you are in the midst of one of the biggest races of your career, keeping the mind focused and the mind games at bay can sometimes be tricky. 
“There was a point when I did panic for two or three minutes,” says Lee.
“At about mile 20 or 21, Natasha Cockram had come out of nowhere, and suddenly there were five of us [Ethiopians, Motu Gedefa and Mesera Dubiso (who went on to win), Caroline Jepchirchir from Kenya and Cockram from Wales].
“I thought that I was going to go from challenging for a podium spot to come in fifth place and the second Irish woman [Lee had mistaken the Welsh colours of Cockram’s singlet to an Irish club colours]. I thought, I have come too far and I’m too old and I want this title so much and I’m not giving it up. 
“The Ethiopians picked it up on Foster’s Avenue and we were averaging 5:57 at this stage; I let them go and Natasha and Caroline went with them. I had to let them go. I thought, if I do 5:15 now, they’ll catch me eventually. When I rounded the corner on Foster’s Avenue, Caroline and Natasha were just in front of me and they were breathing heavily. I knew the last hill was up ahead – they might not have known that that, but I did! So, I just hammered it up the slip way at UCD and over the bridge. When I got to the corner of Nutley Lane, a man just shouted at me that I had 800m to go and I said right, I’m going to run through a wall here. I don’t care. I was going to be on a podium with a national title. I think my last three miles were my fastest of the day.”
With such a strong race run and with such power in the legs over the last three miles, could she have won it outright? Lee is clear in her answer: “I think people might wonder if I could have won the whole thing, but I couldn’t have. Dubiso and Gedefa were going to do 5:15 home and I wasn’t capable of that. The winner put a minute and a half to me in the last mile, that’s 30 seconds per mile, and I was going faster than I have ever closed in a marathon before. I’m proud that I got on the podium. The national title was the primary goal, anything else was secondary.”

Mental and physical endurance
Running a marathon requires buy-in from the mind and the body in equal measure, says Lee. You can’t succeed with one and not the other and that was proven in Dublin.
“I think a marathon is 50 per cent mental and 50 per cent legs. There’s very little talent in a marathon, it’s very much about consistent slog and your head on the day. In Berlin, I let my head go and I was disappointed with myself when I got to the finish line. I just didn’t get the best out of myself and I was really annoyed. For Dublin, I focused a lot on staying positive.” Scooping the national title was the obvious reason for this focus, but there were others too, she says.
“One big reason for Dublin was for race director, Jim Aughney, who has been so supportive of me since way back in 2009, and Dick Hooper too.
“When I was coming down through Ballsbridge, I knew Donie and Jim were going to be at the finish line – I couldn’t wait to see the look on Jim’s face when I got on that podium. As I was passing them, he put his hand up for a high five and I wanted to stop and hug him. I was so happy he was there and sharing this with me. I felt very emotional.” For Donie, too, winning in Dublin was a massive reward, a true cherry on top of the partnership they have had since 2009. “At my wedding, my dad stood up and said to my husband, Paul: ‘Paul there’s only one man in the world that Lizzie listens to, it’s not me and it’s not you either’. Because that’s the way it is with Donie,” she laughs.

At 38 years and with two young children, Lee’s running achievements are immense. And while it certainly wasn’t a case of ‘last chance saloon’, there is no denying the physical demand required to race at this level, and win, particularly when trying to out-run athletes in their early 20s and 30s. She is unfazed and unapologetic about highlighting the post-pregnancy feats of female sportspeople.
“I have seen some negative things online about me mentioning the kids but when you are talking about returning to elite sports, post-pregnancy, it is 150 per cent relevant. It is not a cruciate surgery that you have been through. It’s not like you have injured something and you have a bit of rehab to do. Absolutely not, you are back to minus-10, back to rebuilding your body. You cannot stand on one leg, you will fall over! So, for me, to get back to that, twice, in a short period of time, I’m immensely proud of that. I had a lot of help from strength and conditioning coach, Joe O’Connor, who works with the Limerick hurling team.” And she is quick to praise the support she receives from her family and friends too. 

Duty of care
Lee considers highlighting this particular aspect of female sports to be very important and is something she says she will continue to be vocal about: “So other mothers can see that they can do it too. During the pregnancy, all anyone sees is a pregnant woman and the pregnancy is all you are concerned about. Your mind switches straight away and you are protective of the baby; it’s all you think about. Every waking moment is this baby, so to come out the other side and find life after the baby and do the things that you’re passionate about, to find ‘you’ again, without being ‘just’ a mom is important – to talk about it and celebrate it and show other women that it can be done. And I’m not just talking about running. I’m talking about whatever your passion is. You obviously need support from your partner and good communication with your partner is essential but if they love you they’ll want to support you. It is a two-way thing.”
Lee feels that she has a duty of care to the sport she loves so much, to encourage its growth and to be a role model – although it is hard to comprehend that running is a ‘hobby’ for her. “It is my hobby, I don’t know how else to describe it? It’s not my job, I work full-time in Apple and my kids will always come first,” she explains.
“But if there is anything we can do to encourage participation among females in sport, we need to do it because the drop-off rate between primary school and secondary school is so high. When I visit a Cork school, I tell them, ‘guys push yourselves. I went to school two miles from here and I went to the Olympics, anything is possible. Keep it up, play all sports, try everything’. If I can encourage one little girl to do that, then fabulous. If me taking an hour out of my day to visit a school, resonates with even two or three girls in that hall then my work is done.”

First time

When Clohisey set out from Fitzwilliam Square, the national title was firmly in his sights. “The main target was to win the national, it’s got a massive history and my coach Dick Hooper has won it numerous times. My club in Raheny has several titles and I wanted to add this one. So, that was a massive incentive.”
Clohisey is no stranger to the Dublin Marathon having supported his dad as a child, as well as clubmates over the years. However, his own road to Dublin was not so straightforward. A successful cross-country runner, Clohisey competed on national teams as a younger runner and, in his mid-to-late 20s, he stepped back from running to focus on other interests. It wasn’t until 2015 that he moved up to marathon running. With the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships all taking place in August 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively, Clohisey says the gap between these events and the Dublin Marathon was too tight to make it possible in years gone by. “This year, I said, if my recovery goes well, I’ll do it. It was a quick turnaround, but I got a good few weeks’ recovery and training in and with it being at home and the buzz of Dublin I knew I would get stuck in and do it.”


Laying the groundwork
Following what he describes as a ‘tough’ run in Berlin in August, Clohisey took two weeks off to recover. “In the second week, I started some easy, short jogging. I wasn’t under any pressure because I wasn’t following a particular structure, I was just getting out for a run, taking it easy for a few miles.” Clohisey was conscious of not pushing himself too hard within those two weeks. He says it is better to take it slowly and feel your body recovering and finding its rhythm again. Pushing too hard too soon is a common mistake, he explains, saying the adrenaline of the big runs can leave people feeling better than they are and, in the long run, this can be detrimental to recovery and training.
Towards the end of his recovery, Clohisey took part in a 10km road race in Galway and then got back to training hard. With eight marathons under his belt, Clohisey says he doesn’t need as long a lead-in time as some others training for the big event.

Front focus
The national title was the target for Clohisey at the Dublin Marathon, and he was confident of his ability to win it. Therefore, he set off on marathon day with the aim of sticking with the front of the race. And that’s what he did, although somewhat unintentionally. “Looking back on it, I went out and I was at the front for the first few miles; that wasn’t planned. I had opened up a gap on the main group, but I knew they would catch up to me. It wasn’t windy, and I wasn’t using much more energy than I usually would, but I was keeping an eye on the pack. People thought I had a strategy to run fast but the pace was quite slow.” While the main group was pushing on, so too was the front of the race but Clohisey says he wasn’t too worried. “The pace had picked up, but people will fall off as it goes on and I knew I would reel in a few again. It’s important not to panic early. I didn’t feel under pressure.”
Early in the race, around mile seven, Clohisey says he lost some momentum due to stomach issues. Again, he says, staying calm and focused were important. “On race day, nothing is 100 per cent, and you have to be able to deal with any scenario.”
In Terenure, the halfway point, Clohisey says he felt he was coming back. “I started picking people off and that gives you momentum, you keep focusing and see people ahead of you. It went from 14 people in front to six in the last few miles.”

Strong finish
With two miles to go, at Nutley Lane, cramp began to set in, but Clohisey says he had to push negative thoughts aside and stay focused on the positives. “You never relax until you cross the finish line. The last mile was one of my best finishes. I finished strong. In other races, I would have gone out quite hard and slowed at the end and this time my pacing was a lot more even.”
“In a marathon you have so much time to think and your thoughts can go from positive to negative. When I left the Phoenix Park going into Chapelizod I wasn’t feeling great. Then you have all these thoughts like ‘what if I stop’. You can go through a rough patch in that kind of situation.”
By contrast, Clohisey says focusing on the people in front, reeling them in and passing them out is a great feeling. He says the main thing is to stay positive.

Back to basics
In 2016, Clohisey took up coaching and set up his own business working with individuals, running classes and offering corporate training. He says his focus in training is to bring running back to basics.
“My philosophy for overall training would be to keep things simple. I find there are so many gadgets and people can spend too much time looking at their watch. I want people to get back to understanding how their body feels, rather than looking at technology. There has to be a balance, you should know when to run hard and when to run easy. Running easy is as important as running hard. People think they have to push hard every time they go running, but recovery and conditioning are easy runs and are good for cardiovascular. When we do simplify it and get back to the joy of running without complicating things, people start enjoying it more.”
For new runners, Clohisey says it is easy to set a marathon as a goal, but he advises people to take it slower, clock up the miles with smaller runs before building up to the main event. “Respect the distance, learn to handle the shorter runs and give it time, let your body get used to the distance and you’ll be better able for it on the day.”

For the most part, Clohisey trains alone, under the guidance of coach Dick Hooper. However, Hooper also coaches Sean Hehir and Clohisey has paired with him for some training sessions. On other occasions, his father will accompany him on his bike or he will run with his wife, Cróna. He says their support is important for his overall training, as well as the support he gets from his sponsors Insomnia.
Clohisey also praises the work of the Dublin Marathon organisers, led by Jim Aughney. “Over the last few years they have really raised the standard.”

Clohisey’s next big goal is a European marathon is spring, most likely in London. With Olympic qualification in the offing, he says he will be pushing himself to put in a fast time. Beyond that are the World Championships in Doha in October. “I would like to compete for Ireland and that’ll probably be a goal for the year, but you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”

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