Olympic runner Ciara Mageean aiming for a happy, injury-free summer

Ciara Mageean gets behind Lidl Northern Ireland's fresh fruit campaign for Sunday's Belfast City Marathon where they will be providing over two tonnes of fruit to competitors
Ciara Mageean gets behind Lidl Northern Ireland's fresh fruit campaign for Sunday's Belfast City Marathon where they will be providing over two tonnes of fruit to competitors

EVEN though she’s a light traveller Ciara Mageean hates packing.

“I’m thinking: what am I going to forget?” she says.

“Luckily in my sport there’s not a lot of things you do need: your trainers, change of clothes and that’s pretty much it.”

Just before taking this phone call in Manchester, her adopted home since 2018, the Portaferry Olympic middle-distance runner had just dusted off her spikes for a month-long altitude training camp in Saint Moritz in Switzerland.

She’s looking forward to the “crisp mountain air” and taking every health and performance benefit from the lower concentration of oxygen in the air before running the 800m in the Belfast Irish Milers Meet at the Mary Peters Track on May 14.

“Then it’s all eyes on the summer,” she says. “There are three major championships: the world champs, Commonwealth Games and European champs.

“I’m going to choose two out of the three – I haven’t made up my mind about which two, but the Commonwealth Games in August is certainly going to be a big focus and will be one of them, and hopefully I can come away with some good results.”

Celebrating her 30th birthday last month, Mageean just wants what all elite athletes want: an injury-free season.

Up to now, she’s had enough injuries on the doorstep of major championships to last her a life-time.

At the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics last August, she faded badly in her heat and didn’t qualify for the 1,500m semi-finals. It was later revealed she’d suffered a calf tear a few days out.

This year, her indoor season hit the hard shoulder before it even began. A calf injury again. Kiss goodbye to the World Indoors held in Belgrade last month.

“As an athlete you tread a tight rope between being in peak physical fitness and doing too much and falling off.

“I was in flying shape and looking forward to the indoor season. I ran a PB in a 3k race indoors in Manchester and just happened to tear my calf in the middle of the race.

“I obviously believed I could've gone out to those championships and put myself in the final.

“But that’s sport. It comes with the territory... I’ve had my fair share of injuries and I’m hoping I’ve put them all behind me because I’ve had enough bad luck.”

Injuries: the bane of every sportsperson’s existence.

So how does Ciara Mageean, the seemingly happy-go-lucky runner from the Ards peninsula, cope with missing out on career-defining championships?

Like how every competitor copes - with huge emotional difficulty.

“It’s something I constantly work on, trying to stay resilient... To be honest, a lot of it is conversation. It’s accepting that it’s okay to be disappointed in that moment.

"I kind of view it as a bereavement cycle – mourning the loss of something. Now, that obviously sounds dramatic. It’s obviously not the same as losing someone.

"But in that moment I’m mourning the loss of an opportunity to go and race, something that I spend lots of time preparing for and you kind of have to allow yourself to go through those emotions.

"You don’t beat yourself up. But you should recognise the emotion you are feeling. If you recognise that you’re staying there for too long, then maybe that’s the time you reach out for help. I’m lucky I have a great sports psychologist and I chat to her. When it comes to a physical injury I’m just super frustrated.

“When you get to the physio, you get a scan, you get a diagnosis, you get an intervention, if it’s needed, and you rehab. But when you get to the end of that and you’re at the return-to-play part and you have to start building yourself back up from scratch, that’s often the time I’m like: ‘I’m finding this tough’.

“I get really frustrated and tired; those are the moments when I chat to somebody a bit more.”

Some athletes swear by meditation. For Mageean, though, meditation is a non-starter. Her mind, she says, is too active.

Gardening is what works for her. In the same week of suffering the calf injury that ruined her indoor season, she got an allotment.

It’s a mile from her house in Manchester - a place where her mobile phone is no longer an extension of her hand.

She grows potatoes, onions, peas, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower.

“I put my first earlies [potatoes] in around St Patrick’s Day. They go in green and come out orange in July – so that’s easy to remember from where I’m from!” she laughs.

A Lidl Northern Ireland Sport for Good ambassador, Mageean is currently promoting the food chain’s link up with Sunday’s Belfast City Marathon.

Lidl will provide more than two tonnes of fruit to the 3,000 marathon runners during and after the race.

“Whenever people approach you about partnerships, you have to weigh up: does this coincide with my beliefs and interests in life and I couldn’t think of anything better.

“I love that this campaign is for the Belfast City Marathon. I love the fact that the marathon takes up all four corners of Belfast. I love Belfast, it’s such a lovely city.

“It’s about trying to get people out and active and it coincides with the healthy eating side of things as well, so this campaign is important to me.

“The fact that Lidl are preparing and handing out over two tonnes of fresh fruit for the marathon is fantastic to see.”

In media interview terms, Ciara Mageean is an open book. She happily discusses the possibility of moving up to 5,000m in the future and what life will be like after she hangs her spikes up, but not before competing in the Paris Olympics in two years’ time, which would be her third Games.

“I put all of my focus in life into my athletics. My boyfriend moved to Manchester to be with me because he knew I wasn’t going to go back to Ireland. It’s a very selfish life that I live but I look forward to that next stage of life when I don’t necessarily have to be that selfish.

“Being selfish doesn’t come easily to me; I like to do things for other people. In saying that, there’s an awful lot I’m going to miss, the structure that I have in my life I’m certainly going to miss."

She adds: “I remember winning my first senior medal for Ireland at the European Championships in Amsterdam and David Gillick was in our support staff. He wished me good luck before the race and the next day I was chatting to him and he said: ‘I saw you in the morning of your race and you looked like you wanted the earth to open up because you were pushing your breakfast around the plate.’

“I said: ‘David, if somebody had told me, 'I’m just going to click my fingers here, you'll fall asleep and you’ll get the result of your race', I probably would have taken it.’ That was my emotion.

"But David said to me: ‘Ciara, don’t wish it away because for the rest of your life you’ll be trying to find something that will give you that adrenaline rush that running gives you. Nothing will ever replace that. You will never have this moment back so make the most of it.’

“Of course, there will be moments in the future that will be beautiful, like when you have your first child… I’m certainly aware that my time in sport is limited and I want to make the most of what I have.”