BY CHRIS MCNULTY
PATSY McGonagle, the Irish athletics team manager, called it ‘the walk of his life’.
The thing about it was that it might have been better.
Brendan Boyce took 37 seconds off his personal best at the men’s 50k walk at last month’s World Championships in Moscow. It had been a significant day for Irish athletics. Cork’s Rob Heffernan took gold on an emotional day.
Heffernan is Boyce’s coach. The Milford man was taken by his mentor’s golden moment.
“I was crying on the last lap of the course and the Italian passed me. I need to learn to focus,” Boyce Facebooked later that evening.
Boyce had seen Heffernan during the good days and bad. Since joining up with him in Cork last winter, Boyce could see only an upward trend.
“I was confident before the race that he was going to win,” Boyce told the Donegal News this week.
“I could just see his consistency and the times in all of the sessions were better than last year. I just knew that no-one was going to beat him that day.”
Boyce’s own progress has been remarkable. From London last year in the Olympic Games, Boyce improved by 37 seconds in Moscow. His best time is now 3:54:24.
He’s garnered a lot of insight from spending his days with Heffernan.
He said: “He’s been through bad times as well so it’s good to have someone who can relate to that. I can’t really stick with him at training so it gets a bit depressing at times. You be thinking how you’re on the world stage and here you are getting mangled at training every day. He’s able to say where I am and make me not worry about it.”
The life of an Olympic race walker is not as glamorous as it may seem at the outset. In the last year, Brendan Boyce has had only nine days off.
“It’s pretty full on,” he said. “It’s twice a day every day. I usually take one evening off every week and one full day off every month.
“The whole day is structured for training twice. I might go out at around ten, get back in for lunch at one but you can’t do anything your day because you have training in the evening again.
“In the summer, you’d be sleeping for a couple of hours a day, too. It’s all focussed on recovery and making sure that every second counts. If you train tired, you’re only wasting your time.”
Financially, it’s a tough slog too. Since January, Boyce has been away at six training camps and, given his training schedule, he has no time to earn a wage outside athletics.
In two weeks’ time, he heads off to Denver, Colarado for high altitude training, thankful for the aid of his brother, John, whom he’ll stay with for the duration of his stay.
“If the sports council weren’t backing me, it’d be impossible,” he said.
For many athletes, getting the mind right is key, but Boyce doesn’t use psychologists. He’s come the hard road in this gruelling discipline.
“I always wanted to get the most out of myself in some event,” he said of his introduction to the sport.
“I tried everything. Walking was available for the Under 13 Community Games so I decided to give it a few more years. I kept coming second and third. I just wanted to win one. My plan was just to give up after I won an All-Ireland. It took me so long to win one. I had put so much into it.”
He was the national 20km senior champion in 2010 and, a year later, he finished 15th at the World university games 20km, held in Shenzhen, China and last year he competed at the Olympic Games.
“My international experience is quite low,” he interjected.
“In China, they did a phenomenal job of recreating the Olympic experience. Everything, bar the crowds, was like London.
“For London, Rob was able to talk me through everything. When you get to the village you get a feeling that ‘yes, you should be here’.”
In 2014, he says he’s likely to do more 20ks. His main aims are the World Cup in May in China and Europan Championships in Zurich.
He ended this season on a high in Moscow – and it’s given him a good base from which to build.
He said: “My training for the whole year wasn’t perfect but I knew in the last twelve weeks that I’d improved. I knew I had the speed and endurance to improve on last year. If I can put a whole season together, where I’m not sick or injured, I can go under 3:50. That’ll be a goal to work off anyway. It’s a decent aim.”
Long-term, Rio in 2016 is in the distance. That’s when he hopes, ultimately, to reach his peak: “If everything goes to plan I don’t see any reason why I can’t be a top eight contender, or in and around that area at the top end of the race.”