By Ciaran O’Donnell
Knowing exactly what it takes to get to the top of the mountain serves its best purpose, perhaps, when one summits the slope a second time.
So when Darren McBrearty got his bearings about him again and set out goals that were as optimistic as they were realistic, he knew best how it would play out, if he could stay injury-free, of course.
On the last Sunday in July, the tall, slim speedster showed the world that he’s still got that killer kick when landing a silver medal after a pulsating finish to the final of the national senior 1,500 metres at Santry Stadium. Had he not ran out of track – he was oh so close to catching the winner – it could have been even better. But the racer back in from the cold isn’t complaining. He’s in a good place and is convinced there are bigger days to come.
For seven months, the Letterkenny AC man was happy to stay under the radar and beaver away on the quiet. He put in a right heavy load from December and slogged away by himself.
“When it came to mid-April I began to think about the Europeans. I felt if I still had the zip when it came to the really fast stuff, I’d have a good chance of making it. But then I got hit with an injury, and that left me out for a month,” he says. Medical experts didn’t know for sure what the cause of the pain around his hip and glut muscle area was, but a two-week period of complete rest cured the problem.
“When I came back I ran a race organised by Le Chéile AC in Leixlip and ran pretty poor to be honest, compared to what I thought I could do. Then I had two reasonably good races in London and Dublin.”
Racing was something Darren had to get used to again, having walked away from the track and the challenges it poses for those with the fast-twitch muscles back in 2014.
Now aged 27, he’s a wiser individual, with bucket-loads of the same ability he had when rising to the top as a teenager.
Looking back, he puts his decision to jack down to a culmination of things.
“I changed coach in 2012. I had been with Teresa McDaid, and spent two years with national endurance coach with Athletics Ireland, Chris Jones. It was going well at the time with him, but I was in my third year in college and I had to work a 9 to 5 job. With his training load, I think it all came on top of me at once.
“I ran a pretty good summer. I ran 1:48 for 800 and 3:42 for 1,500. But when I got to the European under-23s that summer, I just had a stinker.”
His energy had gone and he didn’t feel good. He reckons he was not prepared for it, mentally and physically.
He made a pledge to himself to put in a big shift over the winter months and be in a better place the following season. He finished an impressive tenth place overall in the Gerry Farnham senior cross country race over 8k. He followed up with a fine run in Belgium before the national senior cross country where things didn’t pan out so well.
“At that point I was in my final year in college and had to make a decision because my studies were also a big commitment. I think if I had tried to do both, I would have failed.”
So running ended up taking the back seat, with his entire focus switches to the books. 13 and 14 hours per day studying then became the norm for a time.
He spent the next year at home after finishing his degree and struggled to get back into it.
Getting the first five months of training under the belt was the hardest thing for Darren. Over the last year, he’s noticed a massive improvement.
“I feel like the same runner I was when I was younger,” he says.
“When you take a break sometimes, it takes a year or two to make you realise that you really want to do it again. I was half way through the year and living in Spain when I really wanted to go back and compete.
“A kind of fire just burns inside. I was living with Dan (King) at the time and Dan was training away. I could really feel that I wanted to get back to where I was when I had success,” he adds.
Having punched in his fastest times in 2011 – his PB for 800 metres indoors in 1:47:8 and for outdoor it’s 1:47:7 – he was willing to do whatever was required to get back in that shape again.
Winning medals at national seniors is not new territory – he previously won silver and bronze in the 800 metres and bronze in the 1,500 metres before taking silver twelve days ago. Looking at the 800 metres field, where his former Letterkenny AC club mate, Mark English, was rightly regarded as the unbeatable favourite, Darren reckoned his best chance of taking gold was in the next distance up.
“There was nobody in the 1,500 metres that scared me that much. I know that no one really gave me a chance of winning. Deep down I had a feeling that I could, which was probably a wee bit deluded. But I was still very much confident in my own ability to beat most of the people. John Travers, who won the final, has ran 3:55 for the mile, 3:57 this year and 13:40 for 5k which is outstanding. I thought if it was a slow race and there was 300 metres to go, I wouldn’t be that far away. I thought if I could win the 1,500 it would be a smash and grab.”
Looking back, he says if he had have gone for home slightly earlier, he might have won gold – such was power of his top gear unleashed over the closing stages.
Sitting off to come through was the tactic beforehand.
“When I saw it went through in a 59 second first lap, I thought this is good because this means everybody is going with it and are all are going to be tired. I am going to be able to pick them off. After the first 100 metres I went straight to the back. Low and behold it was John Travers who was right beside me and he was the only person I was worried about. There was a point with a lap to go when I was trying to go up the inside of somebody, but the gap just wasn’t right. So I was probably 150 metres too late in covering the move on the two boys that went away,” he comments.
“The boys on the television weren’t mentioning me at all, but I was always giving myself a medal.”
Looking ahead, Darren feels he has plenty more to give in both the 800 metres and 1,500 metres. He’s working out regularly with Letterkenny AC and is being assisted by his father, Sean, and Teresa McDaid.
“This is the most excited I’ve been since I was 19 and I have a lot of things going on at the minute. I’ve just secured a job with First Derivatives in Newry. I’m excited about that and excited about having structure. Knowing I’m going to be working 9 to 5 every week means I can work well with my training schedule. I’m better when I’m organising my running around my work.”
Darren is planning to revert to longer stuff over the winter months. Next up is the Rathfarnham 5k on September 30th, followed by the Donegal senior cross county, the Autumn international at the national sports campus and a 5k somewhere in December.
He is currently averaging 65 miles a week. That will increase to 75 plus come the winter months.
“The 2019 European indoors are taking place in March in Glasgow and that is a massive target for me. At 27, I know I have a good lot of time left. In relation to other aims, I have to break the four minute mile. I know I can. Everyone’s goal is to run for their country, and that’s my ultimate aim, too. Anything along those lines will be brilliant.”
As Sunday week showed, the athlete that is Darren McBrearty is still very much at home inside the arena on the big day.
He hasn’t gone away, you know.
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