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Treacy: Track speed the key

'If you can't do a fast 10k you won't be able to run a fast marathon time'


CEO of Sport Ireland John Treacy is still the Irish record holder for the marathon. Pic: ©INPHO/James Crombie

CEO of Sport Ireland John Treacy is still the Irish record holder for the marathon. Pic: ©INPHO/James Crombie

CEO of Sport Ireland John Treacy is still the Irish record holder for the marathon. Pic: ©INPHO/James Crombie

If you can't run a fast 10km, you're not going to able to run a fast marathon. 

That's the view of John Treacy who remains the only Irish athlete ever to have broken two hours 10 minutes for the marathon.

In 1984, John Treacy, running his first ever marathon, took a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics with a time of 2:09.56.

He would run ten marathons in total and his time of 2:09.15 from Boston in 1988 remains the Irish record. Fittingly, he ended his career with victory in the 1993 Dublin Marathon.

Almost thirty years on from his run in Boston, only Mark Carroll, who clocked 2:10.54 at the New York Marathon in 2002, has come close to Treacy's standard.

In 2011, Mark Kenneally of Clonliffe Harriers ran 2:13.55 in Amsterdam, which is the fastest time this decade.

"If you want to run under two hours 10 minutes for the marathon, you have to have run sub-28 minutes for 10,000m," he says.

"I don't know how you can expect to run a fast marathon if you aren't already running fast over 5000m and 10,000m" 


In his earlier career, as well as winning two World Cross-Country titles, Treacy set Irish records of 13:16.81 for 5000m and 27:48.7 for 10,000m.

"I always knew that if I was running well over 5000m, I would go well in the marathon." 

Any aspiring distance runner must start by targeting the shorter distances - and the quality must come early in an athlete's career.

"If you haven't run fast by the age of 25 or 26, it's not going to happen."

He's impressed by the hard work put in by so many current Irish marathon runners, but stresses that exceptional performances are rare. 

"In my time, I was called a freak of nature and I think you need a freak of nature to see a jump in standards."

Much can still be done to improve standards.

"I have three points to make: first - and most important - athletes should train with a group. I trained with good people all my life - in Waterford, Providence, Rhode Island, Albuquerque.

"When you're in a collective environment, you're training with people who are working hard and trying to be successful, You feed off each other."

His second point is that athletes should train smart. "That's knowing when to train hard and when to take it easy. You need to know when to back off and you must learn to listen to your body."

Never be afraid to race is his third point. "You need to put yourself on the line and test yourself. When I raced I was running at a whole different level. I never ran as hard in training."

Treacy has valuable general advice for runners of all standards. Although he insists that running in a group for most of the year is crucial, he also recommends taking an annual break from routine.

"Every year I took a big chunk of time off - maybe eight to ten weeks - to train on my own. How I trained in that period was the catalyst for what followed."

Running multiple marathon in a year he regards with scepticism.

"It could ruin you. You can only push through the pain barrier when you are really fit, but you still can't do it too often. I do think that you can only do it a few times in your career. Your body will remember what it went through before and won't want to do it again.

"Every time you race a marathon, you're causing damage to your body and it needs time to repair."

After a marathon, Treacy would stick to light jogging for a month and do "nothing hard" for two months.

Women, he believes. are more robust that men when it comes to the longer races, although this may no longer be true as the standards in the women's races have improved.

"Women can recover quicker than men, although in my day, the women's marathon was not as competitive, with maybe only two or three in contention, so they didn't have to push themselves as hard. In the men's race there would be a pack of 20."

So where will the next Irish sub-2:10 marathon man come from?

In Treacy's view, we have to look to the track.

"Ask yourself this: why don't we have any fast 10km runners? That's where it starts."