Maher goes back to basics to farm a rich vein of form
Kilkenny man combines top class running with full-time farming
MOST athletes pass the days prior to an important race resting up and fretting about hydration and nutrition. Not so Brian Maher.
He spent the day before this month's National Track & Field Championships wielding a pick and shovel to dig a 20-foot trench for a water pipe on the family farm in Conahy, Co Kilkenny. Less than 24 hours later, he donned the Kilkenny City Harriers singlet and ran a personal best to finish second in the National 10,000m final at Santry Stadium.
Maher's training and racing regime goes against the grain of conventional athletics coaching wisdom, but there's method in his maverick approach. Earlier this year he put the heart rate monitor and hi-tech racing watch to one side along with the rigorous training programme that had seen him, in his own words, "burn the candle at both ends and apply a blowtorch in the middle." He had been dogged by illness and experienced fluctuating form for more than 18 months and decided to go back to running basics in an attempt to balance the demands of top-class athletics and full-time farming.
"I'm going on instinct now and listening to my body and it's working out," says Maher, who ran for the Irish senior men's team at the 2008 World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh.
"My running had become very technical because some of my coaching was heart-rate based so I decided to go it alone and I went back to real basics, running around the fields at home. For example, I would use one of my runs to see what sort of grass was on the farm to do up a grass wedge for the dairy discussion group I am involved in. I would open all the gates when I was spreading fertiliser so instead of walking around wasting an hour I could be working, I was able to do the grass wedge on the run."
Those springtime runs around the farm also helped him to shake off the physical and psychological ill-effects of a debilitating stomach condition -- post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome -- that had lingered in his system since he contacted a particularly nasty strain of food poisoning in August 2008.
"It can take up to two years to go out of the system and it more or less did in my case. It's only in the last four months that it has cleared and it takes about another four months to get back to where you want to be, to get the legs back. In the last two years I hadn't put three months back to back without a breakdown of some sort or loss of energy. Even though I won the Dublin Half Marathon last September, I broke down in training shortly afterwards and I had more or less written myself off as a runner at a serious level.
"That's why I felt I needed to do it my own way. When I was on those runs around the farm, pace didn't bother me. If I felt good I would go hard, if I felt poor I would run handy enough and allow myself come around. Runners can get very obsessive about running and I just dropped all that and it's worked for me. I hadn't intended doing a track season this year, but after doing a few road races I found I was in shape without trying to be in shape."