Thursday 19 April 2018

Gary O'Hanlon proves himself a truly modern fitness guru

Gary O'Hanlon (centre) with runners Anthony Flannery (left) and Stephen O'Hanlon
Gary O'Hanlon (centre) with runners Anthony Flannery (left) and Stephen O'Hanlon

Frank Greally, editor at

GARY O'HANLON was a young athlete with big dreams when his life was shattered by a near fatal road accident while out on a training run in February 1992.

At the time, O'Hanlon was recognised as one of the top junior middle-distance talents in the country, but instead of the expected sign-up for a four-year track scholarship to Iona College in the USA, the then 17-year-old from Kilkerley, near Dundalk, was faced with years of reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation.

O'Hanlon's 20s passed in a blur, but in 2004 he took his first tentative steps back to athletics. That journey back to training and competition was tough, but reward came in 2012 when he won bronze in the National Cross Country Championships in the club colours of his long-time club, Clonliffe Harriers. More national medals were to follow and O'Hanlon now has three in his collection - two bronze from the cross-country and half-marathon and one silver from the 2013 national 10,000 metres on the track.

"At the back of my mind there was always the idea of giving running another go. I tried to make numerous comebacks over the years; in 2004 I got a couple of good months under my belt, doing sessions under coach Peter McDermott at Clonliffe Harriers. In 2007 and 2008 I ran track, setting personal bests from 800 to 5,000m. But it was only when I decided to train for the Dublin Marathon in 2011 that the real results started to happen for me and I followed up my 2:26:30 performance in Dublin (fifth Irish runner home) with another satisfying performance in the national cross-country."

Since then Gary O'Hanlon has become one of Ireland's most prolific and successful marathon runners and last year notched up wins in six marathons across Ireland, winning events in Connemara, Kildare, Newry, Limerick, Waterford and Clonakilty.

He has also been hugely successful as a full-time coach and running guru, tailoring specific running programmes for some well-recognised names in Ireland's corporate sector. His unique coaching skills have also been contracted by a couple of athletic clubs - Dunboyne AC and Star of the Sea AC.

"I just love being involved with runners and helping them to improve," O'Hanlon said. "It's great when you help runners achieve a lot more than they thought they were capable of. I start off anyone I train with a fresh canvas and tailor a training plan that I know will suit the individual. I see a lot of off-the-shelf training plans on the internet, but there is no one-size-fits-all training plan."

O'Hanlon has helped some runners achieve huge breakthroughs, including Anthony Flannery, who in nine months lowered his marathon PB from 3:50 minutes to 2:50. He also lowered his half-marathon PB from 1:50 to 1:18 in the same period.

"Anthony is a great example of what can be achieved if you have enough self-belief and follow the training pathway that is recommended," O'Hanlon said.

He has also taken his father, Stephen O'Hanlon, under his wing this year and since January of this year 69-year-old Stephen, a first-time runner, has progressed to running five miles in 43 minutes and winning his age group top prize in a recent 10-mile event.

"It is lovely to be able to give something back to the sport I love and the best way I can do that is by helping runners get the very best out of themselves," O'Hanlon said.

O'Hanlon turned 40 a week ago and he still has some running ambitions of his own to achieve before the end of the year. "I want to improve on my own marathon personal best time of 2:22:49 and my aim is to run in the region of 2:17 in Dublin in October," he said. He will be following his own training schedule for Dublin and he knows that schedule - tried and tested - can lead to further success.

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