Wednesday 18 September 2019

Travers on track to rekindle Mile magic at Morton Games

John Travers, here winning the 1500m final at the National Championships, is looking forward to Wednesday’s Morton Games at Santry. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
John Travers, here winning the 1500m final at the National Championships, is looking forward to Wednesday’s Morton Games at Santry. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

It was a race, in many ways, that didn't make sense - one John Travers thinks back on with a sense of nostalgic pride. It was July 2014 and midway through the Morton Mile in Santry, the 23-year-old Dubliner decided to go for broke.

He was still a student at the time, studying at Athlone IT, and his form that summer was, to say the least, nothing to write home about. "I wasn't in the shape to do it," he admits. "I'd been arsing around for the year."

During that spring season, his coach Jerry Kiernan had seen flickers of brilliance, and he had implored Travers to "get his act together" and focus for the summer. When the 2014 Morton Games rolled around, Travers figured he might manage a 4:02 mile - at best.

On a warm evening in Santry, he felt the familiar vice grip of fatigue take hold of his limbs with 600 metres left and by then, Travers figured his race was run. "So I said, 'I'm just going to put the foot down and see what happens.'"

Madness

He swept to the front and covered his third lap in a blazing 54 seconds. "It was only going to end badly," he says. "It was madness."

He hit 1500m in 3:37.27, a lifetime best by five seconds, and as he turned for home Travers was on the shoulder of US star Will Leer, who went on to clock a Morton Mile record of 3:51.82. Travers tied up in a big way down the home straight but still came home sixth in 3:55.44, shattering the four-minute barrier for the first time and taking six seconds off his PB.

That race encapsulated him as an athlete: gifted yet unpredictable, with the capacity to sway between brutal and brilliant on any given day.

In the years since, that's pretty much how things have been. There have been championship flops - Travers finding his ability going walkabout on the international stage - but he's also shown he can mix it with just about anyone on his day.

In 2015 he finished a superb seventh in the European indoor 1500m final and he has racked up eight national titles, but Travers has yet to take his talent where many believe it belongs: the World Championships or Olympic Games. But he's working on that.

Things are different these days. At 28, he's a little older now and a whole lot wiser. Travers has a baby son, Stephen, who caused him and his girlfriend Eimear all kinds of sleepless nights over the past year. Not the easiest when 100-mile weeks were already being juggled with his job as a special needs assistant in Sligo.

"It was rough at the start, Stephen was a cluster feeder so we'd be up every 20 minutes," says Travers. "It took six months before he'd sleep for a five-hour block."

But it turns out it's true what they say about parenthood and perspective, something that shows itself on the bad days in sport. "I'd always give myself a day to be annoyed or a bit down but if you've had a terrible run it doesn't matter," says Travers. "You go back over to Stephen and he just wants to play. It makes you forget quite easily."

Travers laughs as he recounts how four people - at least - told him his high-level running career was over when he became a father. "It's probably the best consistency I've ever had," he says. "I train before work and train after work so I can look after him and it got me into a good, balanced lifestyle. It's mentality. If you want it to get the better of you, you'll let it get the better of you."

A typical day sees Travers jog five miles in the morning, another 10 in the evening, with his key workouts being a long tempo run every Tuesday and a hill session every Saturday. Sunday is usually a two-hour run.

It takes years of that work to build the aerobic engine needed to hit world-class times, and this summer Travers proved it's paying off. His plan had been to target the 1500m but in June, he took 15 seconds off his 5000m PB when clocking 13:28.86 in Belgium - the kind of time that could well get him to Tokyo if he can consistently run it next year.

But for now, a different challenge: a four-lap, one-mile test against a strong international field on Wednesday night. The Morton Games holds great memories for Travers, and flashbacks will surely emerge to that magical night in 2014 when he defied all expectation, all reasonable logic.

In his home city, he'd love to pull out the perfect race. "One of the boxes I want to tick is to win at the Morton Games," he says. "It hasn't quite clicked yet but hopefully it'll come true when it matters."

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