Barry Minnock – a man on a “Marathon Mission”

It’s almost time for the annual marathon craze to break out, so we thought it topical to dig out an old interview with Barry Minnock one of the members of the Irish Marathon Mission. Barry has competed in the hills for the best part of a decade. He is a native of County Offaly but lives and works in Dublin where he represents Ireland’s most successful mountain running club Rathfarnham/WSAF with whom he won the Dublin Senior Cross-Country title in 2009, the club’s first such title. He had an injury-marred start to 2011 before he embarked on a purple patch in summer winning the Strawberry Half-Marathon,  Kinnegad 5k, and Park West 10k before finishing fourth in the National 10k and National Half-Marathons. In between, he took the time to qualify for the World Mountain Running Championship winning the trial for the Irish team convincingly.

RB: Looking at the IMRA website, you seem to have been running in the hills for a decade now? Do you remember your first hill race?

BM:  According to the website my first race my Maulin and I came home in 21st place. To be honest I’ve no strong recollection of the race. I worked with Damien Courtney at the time and he convinced me to do a 2-day orienteering event in the Wicklow Mountains. After that he told me about the IMRA group and I just showed up with Damien to give it a blast.

I have memories of being fascinated by the speed of Hugh McLindon. He looked the part. At that stage I had no ambitions in hill running or athletics and didn’t think I’d have it in me to compete at that level.

RB: Many runners appear into the hills from other backgrounds and suddenly start winning everything around them. Your statistics show a steady progression until 2007 when the victories started coming thick and fast. Did you have a master plan or did it evolve organically?

BM: There was no master plan. I have always been competitive, but Gaelic football was my sport of choice up until 2007. Initially hill running was cross training – it seemed like a fun way of building endurance & leg strength. Tuesday & Thursday were GAA training evenings, so Wednesday was open for some fun ☺

I always set targets for myself – initially it was Damien Courtney who introduced me to hill running. Then it was to beat the first female, who was typically Beth McCluskey at the time. I completed the Leinster League for the first time in 2002 and I remember top-10 finish as the target, which I just about achieved. There were several other targets along the way – important thing is to set a new target and once a target is achieved – never look back …

I view my running career as starting in 2005. I joined the Crusaders running group at the Merrion cricket club for weekly interval training. I gave up Gaelic football in mid 2006 and from then my running has transformed as it became my key competitive outlet. In 2007 I was typically hitting about 40 miles per week when training and started more serious training with RathfarnhamWSAF. In 2008 this increased to 60 and in 2009 to 80 & beyond. This year I’ve toned back to between to 60-75, which at the moment for me is a sustainable level.

RB: The steady progression to the first step of the podium gives pretenders everywhere hope, what advice would you give to aspiring hill runners?

BM: Steady increase in mileage and targeted interval training are critical if you want to improve. Focus is also mandatory. It’s critical to set realistic objectives and a plan to achieve these objectives. The great thing about athletics is that those who want it most and put in the work are in general rewarded.

Everyone is different, but for me I work off the basis of 1 endurance run finishing close to tempo pace (90 mins+), 1 lactate threshold session (e.g. 10×1km) and 1 quick session (e.g. 10×400m) per week. The rest is just easy miles for me …

RB: You’ve represented Ireland on several occasions now, what memory stands out while wearing the green?

BM: To be honest I’m disappointed with almost all of my performances while wearing green. I’ve made mistakes by going out too hard and I’ve had misfortunes in getting sick leading up to key races. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to make amends over the next few years …

RB:  You had a memorable result at the European Masters securing a bronze medal for Ireland, what do you attribute to your result?

BM: I attribute this result to a lack of competition ☺ It was fantastic to get a bronze medal and it’s my best performance in green to date. I didn’t expect it going into the race as I was only back training and well off my best. I ran very well on the day, holding off pressure to the finish line. I was relaxed going into the race and perhaps this helped my performance.

RB:  Of all the endurance challenges you have participated in, which one ranks first for you and why?

BM: Primal Quest Utah stands head & shoulders above any other endurance challenge I’ve completed. I only joined the team three months before the event and it was a race that pushed both body and mind to the limit – ten days moving on typically one hour sleep per day. It’s something I can reflect on when I think things are tough in a race – it’s all relative ☺

It was another important factor in my athletic career progression. Up until 2006 I was a runner trapped in a GAA body. During Primal Quest I lost well over a stone – primarily from my upper body. My GAA chest and shoulders disappeared and although I was weak for a couple of months afterwards I came back significantly stronger in 2007.

RB:  How would a training week look for you during a mountain running racing period?

BM: I try to get in three key sessions per week:

 

  • 6-10 by 1km reps off 90 seconds target 2:50-2:55 min/km * 6-10 by 400m reps off 60 seconds target 65-66 sec/400m
  • Long run 20-30km

On other days I’ll run typically 12-16km at an easy pace. I run by feel in general, taking it easy when I feel recovery is required. I’ll often squeeze in a non-target race into the weekly schedule and maintain the key sessions (sometimes dropping number of reps). In the week leading up to a target race I’ll only do one short session (e.g. 10 × 400m @ 72 sec average off 90 sec leading up to 10k).

RB: 2009 saw you run a great marathon and qualify for the Irish Marathon Mission. Some would say you have a knack for endurance. How do you see your own prospects for the marathon?

BM: I started athletics relatively late in life and the marathon is definitely where I have the most potential to compete at an elite level. I wasn’t specifically focused on the marathon last year, so it was great to achieve a decent time. I felt easy during the race so I believe I have the potential to go sub-2:20 if put the work in and get it right on the day. Everything has to go right to achieve a top marathon time and there is so much that can go wrong ☺

RB: You’ve competed well on road, track and cross-country as well but some would say you never look happier than after a hill race. Is mountain running just more fun or how do the running disciplines compare for you?

BM: Hill running is certainly fun – it’s generally non-pressure racing and there is a fantastic social aspect to each race. It also takes you to some fantastic places. But my current favourite discipline is track racing as it’s athletics in its purest and most honest form.

Every race is pressure as you’re not just racing against others – you’re racing against yourself and the clock. I also love the tactical element of track racing, the feeling of running on all cylinders and the way every second really counts. Anyone into athletics should go to the national track championships – I went five years ago and was very impressed with the performances. I had no idea back then that I would be capable of making it to the championships, let alone mixing it with some elite runners. The downside of track racing is it sometimes goes horribly wrong. However, when it goes right there is nothing better.

I’m looking forward to running the Dublin marathon this year as I think it will be a fantastic buzz – hopefully a new personal high. I’m hoping the spectators will give me the extra motivation need to set a PB and challenge for the national championship.

RB:  One large international race you haven’t done yet is the Snowdon International Race so I have to ask: any chance of seeing Barry Minnock contest this race in the foreseeable future?

BM: Snowdon is a race that takes time to recover from and in my opinion is not advisable if targeting an Autumn marathon. Every year I set new targets and like to take on something new. In 2011 it may well be Snowdon, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Once my track career ends I’ll go for the IMRA Irish Championships and then possibly Snowdon as a good follow-on race.

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René

Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.
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