In conversation with Mark English

 

IT’S ALL about time in the life of Mark English.

He spends much of the week working on chasing times. Yet, he never has the appearance of a man chasing time.

A doctor at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, one of the busiest hospitals in the country, English punches in long, sometimes arduous hours, working now in the hepatobiliary team on the last full rotation of his intern year.

Somehow, English manages to combine that lifestyle with that of a full-time athlete. 

This weekend, English competes at the European Indoor Championships in Toruń, Poland, the Finn Valley AC man having set a new Irish indoor 800m record just two weeks ago.

The year 2020 ought to have been seismic in terms of English’s athletics career.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the postponement of the Olympic Games - which English still has full gaze upon ahead of their re-run this summer - might have served as a gut punch to many.

English, as both of his professions require, took it in his stride.

English qualified from the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science and took up his intern posting once it dawned that 2020’s competitive plans were destined for the dustbin.

“It’s tough working in a city hospital or any acute hospital like the Mater Hospital during Covid,” English observes. 

“The night shifts aren’t complimentary towards improving in athletics. 

“It’s all part of the challenge. You just have to accept it for what it is and get on with it. 

“I’m doing my intern year and I’m just trying to combine all of that with my training. That can be a bit challenging, combining both, but I have a great primary team at the Mater and they’re enabling me to go to these European Championships.  

“With their support, I’m still able to continue my running.

“I realise how lucky I am to be competing. Some people aren’t even able to work at the moment. (‘m lucky to be able to do the two things that I love.”

The support of the likes of surgeon Mr Gerry McEntee - a two-time All-Ireland winner with Meath in the 1980s - has been vital in allowing English to find some sense in it all, even in allowing for a competition this weekend that will necessitate a 14-day isolation period upon his return.

His early days in the Mater focussed on infectious disease. His other rotations have included transplant medicine and medicine for the elderly.

Last spring, English linked up with Donegal club Finn Valley AC and at the back end of 2020 found a new coach in Feidhlim Kelly at the Dublin Track Club.

English said: “Feidhlim is facilitating me around training times and my training partners are very accommodating. It makes things easier that I can switch around my training times. 

“Feidhlim was my training partner in 2015. I’ve always kept in touch over the years. I reached out towards the end of last year because I was doing a lot of training on my own in Dublin. 

“I felt that I was getting a bit lonely. I felt I needed a coach based in Ireland who could comment on different aspects of my training, my mechanics and also get a training partner.

“Feidhlim has great passion for athletics. There aren’t many people in the country who actually have a great passion for the sport. Patsy McGonagle is obviously someone who has that and the late Hugo Duggan had it, too.”

English won a bronze medal at the last staging of the European Indoors in Glasgow two years ago. Bumped unfairly in a semi-final, English - who finished fifth after the impede - was reinstated for the final. 

In spite of having to share lane three with Andreas Bube of Denmark, English stormed in to take bronze - his third European medal.

As he heads for Poland, English feels a sense of déjà vu, eyeing up his competitors.

There’s Adam Kszczot from Poland, who was the gold medalist when English won a European outdoor bronze in 2014 and Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, the Frenchman who was also in that final at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich.

He said: “You have the young guns coming through, too, so it’ll be one of the most competitive Championships I’ll have ever been at, indoor or outdoor.  

“I think it shows that with me running a PB by seven tenths of a second and I’m still ranked lower than I had been for the 2019 Championships, when I was ranked fifth. There is a lot of depth this year.

“Jamie Webb is ranked at number one and he’s ran 1:44 so all the pressure is on him. I’m ranked eighth so I’m in a good place. I’m just looking forward to going out and racing.

“I’ve ran a PB by seven tenths of a second so that definitely bodes well for the year ahead. It’s a great place to be in for an Olympic year. I’m excited, but I know in this sport you can’t get too excited for too long. I remember Derval O’Rourke saying how she was ‘quietly confident’ going into a Championships; that’s the sort of thought process that I like to have too.”

Two weeks ago at the Irish Life Health Elite Micro Meet in Dublin, English set a new Irish Indoor 800m record, nodding over in 1:46.10 to better his own previous best of 1:46.82 and squeeze ahead of rising star Cian McPhillips, who joins him in Poland this weekend.

English said: “Rob Heffernan said before that there were certain races that he ranks above others that maybe the public might perceive to be better. 

“That race a couple of weeks ago was up there with the New York Diamond League in 2014 and the European medal in 2014 - just because of the trials and tribulations I’ve overcome to get to that point. It was a great achievement from that point of view. 

“It’s been tough not having an exact date for a race. The upside is that it has allowed me to just knuckle down and get on with my training. I’ve always been someone who wants to improve myself. 

“This year it’s been great and I came out in the micro meet and ran a PB at 27, almost 28. To come back and actually improve was a great satisfaction.

“I do like to beat whoever is out there. Having Cian so close drove me on and I think anyone watching the race would have picked up on that. It certainly helped me to run quicker.”

In August, English broke Finn Valley AC’s outdoor 800m record when running 1:48.41 in a European Permit meeting at the Stadio G. Teghil in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy.

As well as English’s Irish indoor mark, the six fastest indoor 800m times in history by Irish women were all been set in a period of just over three weeks.

The three-time European medalist said: “Athletes are eager to get out and race. The addition of the new spikes have helped too. It’s a combination. 

“People haven’t had the usual distractions of normal times. There aren’t the same outlets for socialising these days. I know for myself I’ve had a lot less distractions and more time to focus on training and to rest and recover.” 

This year will be all about the Olympics and English - who competed at the 2016 Games in Rio - is preparing now with Tokyo firmly to the forefront.

He said: “When this year is all said and done, it will be the Olympics that will be remembered and talked about. It won’t be the European Indoors. The European Indoors are a great opportunity for me to qualify for Tokyo. 

“If I can go and get a medal, obviously I’ll be delighted, but my aim is to just improve day-to-day.

“I want to get the best time in my body to help me qualify for Tokyo.”

He needs to go 1:45.20 to seal automatic qualification for the Olympics.

The Letterkenny man said: “I would like to run that outdoor and my indoor time, I think, will translate to that, but I still need to go and do it.

“I’ll have a period to go away training when I finish my intern year. 

“I’m talking to Feidhlim about the opportunities. Some of his athletes are going to France so that might be an option. I originally thought about going to Switzerland, too, but to be honest, if I could just get away anywhere at this point, that’s all I really want.”

English’s outdoor best is 1:44.84, set in July 2013 in London, just two one hundredths of a second outside the Irish record of David Matthews,  which has stood for 25 years.

It is a time that English has had the eyes on for some time now.

“That’s always been an aim of mine,” he said. 

“I know that I’m in the shape to break it. I just need to get into the right race in the next two or three months. 

“I’ve sent on a list of races that I want to take part in to Ray Flynn, my agent. If I can get into the right race, I think I can break it.”

 

 



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