Treacy 'to give it a lash' after long road back to World stage
"Oh God, yeah," says Sara Treacy, without skipping a beat, when asked if she thought about walking away in recent years, marooned by a sea of injury. "There were quite a few of those moments."
Because for all that becoming an Olympian in 2016 signalled an arrival, it also set off a chain reaction that caused her departure.
Treacy twisted her ankle in the 3,000m steeplechase semi-final in Rio after falling over another athlete and was advanced to the final on appeal, where she finished 17th. But that issue lingered through the autumn, followed by shoulder and knee problems that left her career wobbling with the helplessness of a drunk walking a tightrope.
In 2017, she didn't set foot on a start line. In 2018, she did, but Treacy couldn't get within 30 seconds of her fastest steeplechase time. In a seven-and-a-half-lap race, she was literally half the track behind her best. "I was a ghost of my former self," she says.
Decisions, decisions. Treacy turned 29 last summer, and having taken much time out from her medical career over the previous year to rekindle her athletic spark, it began to look a lost cause.
She returned to full-time work as a core medical trainee at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, juggling training around a workload that varies from 10 to 60 hours a week, and that's leaving aside all the assessment work required of a junior doctor.
But last December brought a sliver of light, a welcome winter solstice for the Meath woman.
Treacy scraped on to the team for the European Cross-Country with a fifth-place finish at nationals, then led the Irish team home two weeks later in Tilburg. By finishing 26th, she secured selection for tomorrow's World Cross-Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, her first in 11 years. She'll never forget her debut - 2006 in Fukuoka, Japan. Treacy was a wide-eyed 16-year-old, chewed up and spat out the back of the junior 6,000m. She finished 69th, four minutes behind the leaders.
After the race, she got chatting to an Ethiopian coach at the team hotel who told her just how hard those leaders were training. "I was blown away - I realised I was only playing at this sport," she says. "I'd never talked to anyone who'd done that much training. It opened my eyes."
Two years later - stronger, fitter - she returned, finishing a fine 32nd in the junior race in Edinburgh, the springboard to launch a senior career that took her to all the biggest stages in her sport. And 11 years on, she's now back at the World Cross-Country, ready to toe the line alongside Fionnuala McCormack in the senior women's race. They call it the toughest race in the world - and with good reason. The steeplechase world record holder (Beatrice Chepkoech) is here, so too the best 5,000m runner in the world (Hellen Obiri) and many other global stars.
"It's a massive step up," admits Treacy. "But that's one of the draws of going. I want to see how I can do and what sort of performance I can pull out when the pressure is on. I'll give it a lash."