Cork Senior Cross Country Champion, Mark Hanrahan

Interview by Ciarán Ó’Lionáird (as published in the ‘Evening Echo’)


For Leevale’s Mark Hanrahan these last two years have been a transition. The move from the junior to senior ranks is an arduous one in the world of athletics but, truth be told, the talented Douglas man looks more confident now than ever, illustrated this past Sunday with a runaway victory in the Cork Senior XC Championships held on a trying course in Riverstick. In a race steeped in history, Mark took control early on and shrugged off a mid-race challenge from Jamie McCarthy to record a comfortablewin. The list of past winners of this race reads like a who’s who of Cork running legends with the likes of Liam O’Brien, John Buckley and Tony O’Leary all winning this prestigious race during their illustrious careers.

As a teenager, Hanrahan showed he had the pedigree to be a great success, with high placings at National Championships on the track and country, the highlight being a marvelous win in the Celtic Cross Country Championships in January 2003. However, Hanrahan appeared the model of inconsistency during his secondary school years, and alongside his stellar performances were littered races void of tactics and mental awareness.  However, the confidence amassed from those good days coupled with the harsh lessons learnt from the bad have helped mould Hanrahan into a steely competitor today, typified by a serious of impressive no-nonsense performances this fall.

However, the benefits of those seeds sown during his teenage years only became apparent to Mark last year, when a switch to full-time training heralded almost immediate results over the country, and excellent 2004 season culminating in a gutsy 3rd in the National Inter-Counties junior race. That particular performance earned him a place on the Irish team for the European XC Championships in Heringsdorf. Despite a disappointing individual run, Mark collected an historic team silver for his efforts. His first international medal gave him the motivation to strive for further success individually, as he explains; “Well, it was great to win those team medals, and while I could have ran better on the day, I felt that having such an achievement to my name gave me tremendous confidence approaching races this year. It has brought me to the next level, so to speak, and seeing the guys up front gives me an indication of what I need to do to compete at the highest level.”

Hanrahan is coached by former National Senior XC champion Martin McCarthy of Leevale, who forms an integral part of a support system that has helped propel Mark to a new level this year. Martin himself won the County Senior XC title, making it no surprise that Mark came into this race in fantastic shape and with a winning mentality. Training schedules are planned out months in advance of important races. An added bonus is that Mark can also avail of Martin’s physical therapy skills, which keep him injury free and in shape when the time comes to race. “The support that Martin gives is vital for my success; his training gives me confidence and the backup medically means that I can train as I like virtually year round. Of course, my family too play a big part. Their sacrifices allow me to train at the highest level and live like a pro athlete. Without them I don’t know where I’d
be, to be honest”

The 2005 track season brought further success. As he explains, the local victories Mark secured early on in the season provided the platform for success later in the summer. “Winning in local races like the Leevale Sports 1500 not only gives you confidence, but allows you to try out new tactics and learn to race. It is quite easy to be dragged from A to B in a time-trial situation, but learning to race
during these early years is essential to being a success as a senior, particularly on the track.” Mark followed these with an impressive solo 1500 in Dublin, recording a PR 3:52 and suggesting that a fast time was on the cards in Manchester at the British Milers Club Grand Prix 3000m. Those suggestions were accurate as Hanrahan stormed to a sizzling 8:14 clocking, remarkably running even splits in a
perfectly paced race. “It was comfortable. Martin told me to be cautious, so I stayed back for the first half and only really began to move with three laps to go. My time was great, but there was more in the tank that day.”

Instead of extending the season in search of quick times, Hanrahan displayed a sensible attitude that belies his youth in choosing to take a break and begin preparation for Cross-Country early, running lonely high mileage weeks while many of his rivals continued to race right up until the end of August. “Martin and I knew that the senior race at Inter-Counties was going to be a big step-up. I mean, 10k is a long race over the country. It was a tough decision, but one I’m glad I made.” It took real confidence to make that choice; many would instead have been delighted to chase times all summer, neglecting the important base phase.

The hard work put in by Mark over the past four months has paid dividends thus far, with impressive showings on the road and over the country showing that his mid-summer decision was a wise one. This hard work entailed blocks of 80-90 mile weeks, with hard workouts the norm in a schedule that demanded dedication and commitment from both coach and athlete, for example 8×3:30 minutes over hills with short recovery, 10k tempo runs and hard 600metre repeats on the track. These workouts coupled with the weekly 17 mile long run have put Mark in a position to challenge the top seniors in the country. He fears none, and this self-belief is what may well carry him across the line ahead of many established names on November 27th in Sligo. “I fear nobody. The work has been done and the mileage has been put in the bank. I’m looking to make a huge withdrawal in Sligo. I can’t wait; it’s going to be very exciting.”

Neither can we. The Inter-Counties Championships in Sligo may well prove to be the most competitive in years. One thing for sure, Mark Hanrahan is out to cause some serious damage to a lot of reputations. With his attitude, talent and determination, he may well do just that.