With Dublin Marathon taking place this weekend DreamRun Dublin coach Paul Pollock introduces us to the final two DreamRun athletes

This is it. Raceday is only hours away. All that sacrifice and hard work. The late night runs, the early morning starts. This Sunday, for 22,500 runners from not only across Ireland, but throughout the world, the KBC Dublin Marathon marks the end of a journey.

For some, it will bring unparalleled joy in achieving their goal. For others, it will result in bitter disappointment. Such is the sport of marathon running. What is for sure though, is that it will be an experience for all participating, and one that will last long in the memory.

The Dublin marathon, frequently called the world’s ‘friendly marathon’, is now in its 40th edition. Each year, the race has continued to grow and it now regularly ranks among runners as one of the best marathons in Europe. This year’s race also has the additional excitement of including a battle for Olympic qualification between the best of the Irish athletes. With multiple past winners of the Irish National title running, both the men’s and women’s races promise to be close affairs.

Slightly further back the field, as regular readers of FastRunning will know, there is another group of runners with their own special goal.

The DreamRun Dublin group, composed of ten runners from Northern Ireland, have been training for the past twenty five weeks under the guidance of Irish coach and Olympic marathon runner Paul Pollock, in an attempt to break through the magical sub 3 hour barrier for the first time. Now in its third year, the project has already seen multiple personal marathon bests, as well as several sub 3 hour performances.

Over the past four weeks, each athlete in the group has been profiled on FastRunning, and now we are down to the last two – Gerard Donnelly and Cailam Quinn. Sadly the ten athletes who began the project back in May, has been reduced to eight marathon starters.

Injury during the training process has meant that Niamh Kellett and Marina Murphy will not be lining up on the startline on Sunday. Hopefully they both make a speedy recovery and are back racing again very soon.

Name: Gerard Donnelly

Age: 39

Club: City of Lisburn Athletics Club

Current marathon pb: 03:02:46

How do you feel training has been going since you joined the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

Unfortunately, it has been a bit stop start due to injury. I picked up an injury early 2019 and was making some progress getting back to full fitness when Paul contacted me about joining the group as someone withdrew. Therefore, I was late joining the project, nevertheless I thought Paul’s coaching would get me back into shape quickly.

However, after only 8 weeks the injury flared up again while doing a session on holidays. This sidelined me for most of August but the guys in the group keep one another motivated and I joined a gym during August to keep me active. The training itself has been intense and very rewarding as I have been able to tick off most of the sessions over the later part of the schedule.

The opportunity to be coached by Paul wasn’t something to pass up and his sessions are very refreshing and testing at the same time. There are a few runs that stick in mind and looking back Paul gave me the same 2 long runs on the last 2 Sundays of June, and on the 1 st attempt I wasn’t able to complete the desired miles within the set time, however only 7 days later I was able to complete the session and this progress felt very rewarding and I was extremely glad to see that under Paul’s coaching the fitness was coming back!

How has your training changed since joining the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

Massively!! Normally my average weekly mileage would be much higher, and Sunday runs with my friends would include lots of hills to build strength. The DreamRun training is sharp and fast, and very structured with a real mixture of paces with Paul reviewing each run and session, both positive and negative! With someone checking in on your progress there is no excuse for missing runs or not giving your full effort during each session.

The focus is of course on getting that sub 3-hour finish time at the Dublin Marathon 2019, do you believe you can achieve this? Have things progressed the way you’d hoped?

Despite the injury and this being a major setback I am still confident of achieving the goal or at least being close. I haven’t managed to set any pb’s this year as my training had to take priority over some of the key races, therefore maybe my pb will be Dublin 2019. You must believe in yourself and your training during the journey otherwise you’re already beat on the start line!

What has been your highlight in terms of your own personal favourite performance since joining the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

To be honest I am not sure, I did thoroughly enjoy the last group meet up and doing the last group session and having the opportunity to run a couple of miles with Paul on the tow path when he kept pushing me to push myself. There were 2 sub 6 min miles in there that I wasn’t supposed to do. Also, just regaining the confidence to race again has been mentally refreshing.

What has been your favourite training session since commencing training with Paul Pollock and the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

In my opinion my favourite training session has been the progressive tempo sessions. I found these to be brilliant sessions and really improved my fitness levels. The thought of these made me feel a bit sick during the day but just pulling the trainers on that evening and nailing them was a fantastic feeling. Closely following by 8 x 1km the day before Lisburn 10k, I almost questioned Paul about that one!?!?

The atmosphere and camaraderie at the group training days and races is very clear – are you enjoying being part of the team?

Great craic and a good mix of people all sharing a common goal. Loads of great advice and positivity from the group.

Any other comments?

Just like to say thanks to Paul for his time and giving me the opportunity to be coached by him and good luck to Paul in qualifying for Tokyo. To all the other guys in the DreamRunDublin2019 team good luck in Dublin and believe in your training and stay positive! Also, a big thanks to some of my other running friends who kept me company during some of my runs.

What the coach thinks:

Gerard began his experience of the DreamRun project a few weeks later than the rest of the group, joining as a substitute for another injured athlete. However, coming into the group with the quickest marathon personal best, his improvement in the early weeks was quite dramatic and he responded extremely well to the training set.

Unfortunately, it looked like all his early hard work would be undone when injury hit at the start of the all important longer marathon specific training phase. As the weeks passed by, there was a real concern that the injury might become too prolonged for Gerard to even make the startline in Dublin.

Thankfully, this has not been the case. It is a testament to his physical ability and natural talent, that he has, again, returned from injury so quickly. This, combined with Gerard’s other strongest attributes – his strong will and mental fortitude – should see him, at the very least, challenging to break the sub 3hour mark. If we had another few weeks, there would be no question that he would smash that barrier. As things stand, he is still very capable of achieving the 3 hour goal if he has a smart race, paced correctly and has confidence in his ability in the latter stages of the run.

Name: Cailám Quinn

Age: 31

Club: Not affiliated

Current marathon pb: First timer!

How do you feel training has been going since you joined the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

I have found there to be quite a few ups and downs in training which is to be expected during a long block of training. I found the first 16 weeks of the program very enjoyable and was able to hit the targets during almost all of my varied sessions, which was not only great physically for me, but a huge mental boost also.

Unfortunately, in the weeks since then, I have picked up a number of persistent niggles which has resulted in quite a few missed sessions and others done at a reduced pace to try and keep things ticking over. Fingers crossed the good base built at the start combined with a solid final 2 weeks will stand me in good stead come the big day.

How has your training changed since joining the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

As the marathon newbie of the group I have really had my eyes opened as to what is involved in training for a marathon. Growing up I always enjoyed running but other than playing football into my early 20’s it is not something I pursued again until joining my local triathlon club last year.

Even at that, the running element was only ever a 5K but would have ran a few 10K’s as well throughout the year. Going from training for 3 disciplines to focusing on just the running, but at a much more intense level, took a bit of
getting used to. The variation in training sessions throughout each week and then week on week definitely helped keep you on your toes and interested to see what Paul was going to send through each Monday for the week ahead.

This wasn’t just me, I even had tri club mates texting me each week to see what the game plan was for the next 7
days! Having a tailored program each week has been a huge benefit in making sure that what I am doing is right for me, and not just generic for the group as a whole.

The focus is of course on getting that sub 3 hour finish time at the Dublin Marathon 2019, do you believe you can achieve this? Have things progressed the way you’d hoped?

Had I been asked this question back in August I would have answered it much more surely than I am now. I have managed PB’s from 5K right up through to half-marathon distance since joining the #DreamRunDublin19 team and have felt strong when hitting each of those goals.

This had given me the confidence that I was on the right track and progressing well towards the sub 3 hour finish come Dublin. The injuries and time out over the later part of the program has dented this confidence somewhat but with a hopefully solid final 2 weeks and favorable conditions on the big day who knows what might happen.

What has been your highlight in terms of your own personal favourite performance since joining the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

I think it would have to be Lisburn 10K back in June. This was my first race since joining the team and I was eager to put in a good shift. I was able to stick to the race plan Paul had given me, finishing strong with a nice PB for my troubles. It was a great buzz afterwards to know that the training was now producing the right results.

What has been your favourite training session since commencing training with Paul Pollock and the #DreamRunDublin19 team?

Training has been so varied right from the beginning. I get a great sense of achievement working through the paces on the progressive runs and ticking off each mile completed at the set pace on the long runs. The most enjoyable training session though I think was the one I was probably dreading the most when Paul had sent it through – 20x400m.

Each batch of 5 was getting slightly quicker, with 60sec active recovery between each 400. It was a wet, miserable evening when I was doing it but even with that it was great feeling completing all 20, hitting the times and jogging back to the car afterwards knowing that you had just successfully finished a really tough session in really poor conditions.

The atmosphere and camaraderie at the group training days and races is very clear – are you enjoying being part of the team?

Being part of the team with people who have a shared interest and goal has been both enjoyable and beneficial. Although we are all coming at this from differing levels of running experience we are all able to share tips, advice, do’s and don’ts along with encouragement as well.

The group meet-ups and WhatsApp group chat have been great to keep everyone engaged and focused on the big day, with as much banter and craic as anything coming out of them. With the vast majority of the training done individually both these elements of the program allow us to keep in touch with everyone, see how we are all progressing and offer up encouragement and support knowing we are all going through the same highs and lows.

Any other comments?

It has been fantastic to be part of the DreamRunDublin19 team. Coming into this as a relative running novice, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take part and be coached to my first marathon by Paul. I would highly recommend anyone thinking of applying for the 2020 team to go for it!

What the coach thinks:

It is often said that there are many different ways to get to a marathon startline. And so it has been proven again, with Cailam not exactly following the conventional approach. After a strong start to the project, Cailam was on a nice projectory, running well in training and setting new personal bests in races. Unfortunately, in the past month or two, all consistency has however, gone out the window.

After picking up an injury, Cailam’s body kept breaking down anytime he attempted a batch of training or numerous days of running in a row. We therefore made the decision that the best chance of him even making the startline, was to dramatically reduce his milage and instead try to keep every run similar to marathon race pace.

When his body allows him to run painfree, there have been several glimpses of the fitness he displayed before injury hit. If he wakes up on Sunday morning feeling strong and injury free, he definitely has a chance of sneaking under that 3 hour barrier. And after all the aches and pains he has been through recently, achieving that goal would be a wonderful achievement.


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