Colin Griffin




                               Interview by David Griffiths - Manx Open 2007


                                 Colin Griffin in the Manx Open 20K 2006 (photo Adrian Cowin)



At the age of 24,Ireland’s Colin Griffin has already travelled the world in pursuit of race walking excellence. As both a junior and a senior he has competed at European and World Championships with considerable success, and has his eyes firmly set on competing in the next three Olympic Games. Colin, who is a member of Ballinamore AC in the west of Ireland, has recently returned home after 4 weeks intensive altitude training inSouth Africa. He kindly agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to do an interview for the Manx Harriers website prior to competing in next week’s Manx Open meeting at the NSC. It is a fascinating and revealing insight into the world of a full-time international athlete.

Part One

DG - Colin, you have been a regular competitor in the Manx Open Meeting for several years now, indeed this will be your fifth appearance in the past seven years. What keeps bringing you back to this meeting, and what memories do you have of your previous visits to the Isle of Man?

CG - I always enjoy the warm welcome I receive each year. The course is good especially if the weather is good, and there is a high standard of judging. And, as it’s so early in the year, I always come away from the meeting knowing where I stand in terms of fitness and technique, and know what needs to be developed further.

I have had good and bad memories on my previous visits. Finishing 2nd in the 20km in 2001, setting a national junior record and breaking 90min for 20km for the first time would be my highlights; getting DQ’d in 2005 would obviously be a low point. However coming back last year to win and end a succession of DQ’s over 20km from the previous year, was a very positive experience and left me in a good position to challenge my targets for the season.

DG – You have entered the 30km race this year, which has been added to the programme for the 2007 meeting. Do you have any particular targets for your race?

CG - I am preparing for my first 50km race in Dudince, 2 weeks later, so I am hoping for a steady controlled effort over 30km to act as my last key session before a 2 week taper for the 50km. Also with the usual level of judging, I will be hoping for good technique feedback from the judges, so I can approach my 50km race with full confidence and reassurance. Having that 30km option this year fits in with my 50km preparations perfectly.


Action from the Men's 20km walk at the Manx Harriers open meeting 2006. Left to right: Steve Partington, Dan King (43), Don King (hidden) and Colin Griffin (42). (Murray Lambden)


DG - What are your plans for the 2007 season – and what are your longer-term ambitions in the sport?

CG - To achieve the IAAF “A” standard for both 20km and 50km for World Championships and Olympics. Also to achieve a high position in the European Cup 20km in Leamington, and to be part of a successful Irish men’s 20km team. Long-term plans to be successful at the 2012 London Olympic Games, and to leave the sport after the 2016 Olympics with a fulfilled career and no regrets!

DG - What are your current pb times for each distance?

CG - 5000m: 19.36 (2007), 10,000m: 40.56 (2004), 20km: 1.24.16 (2006), 30km: 2.17.32 (2006).

DG - When and how did you first get involved in race walking?

CG - My parents have been actively involved in athletics all their lives. My mother was an international runner, representing Ireland in World Cross-Country, Europa Cup, World Half-Marathon etc. My dad was president of Athletics Ireland from 1991-1994 and was National Coaching Director at various stages and also a race walking judge and coach. I have been going to races for as long as I can remember. I did my first race when I was 4 and did my first walking race when I was 9. My dad always encouraged the event in my club and while I tried every discipline and was successful as a middle distance runner, he encouraged me to take race walking seriously as he felt that’s where my long-term potential lay. I specialized in the event when I was 15 with immediate success.

DG - Who have been the major influences on your race walking career?

CG - My parents, who introduced me to the sport and have supported me all the way. Michael Lane, who coached me from my late junior years until 2004, whom I still have a lot of respect and high regard for. He still provides me with technique feedback from time to time. Robert Heffernan also, he is one of my closest friends and rivals! He is 4 years older than me and I always looked up to him and admired his fearless determination and competitiveness. Robert Korzeniowski and Paquillo Fernandez both of whom I have spent time training with in recent years and learned how to be a professional sportsperson.

DG - Can you describe a ‘typical’ week’s training on the build-up to a major event?

CG - It’s hard to describe a typical week as my training progresses and varies as the season progresses. I average between 160-190km per week, training twice per day, with some 4 week blocks at high altitude in the build-up to a target event. My longest sessions would be 35-40km which progress from being a steady effort to a fartlek session of 2-5km intervals, with a steady 1km recovery. Key sessions would include 8x2k/400m rec, 12x1km/400m rec. 6x3km/1km rec, 10x400m/200m rec/600m/60sec rec etc. All depends on the time of year and proximity of key races. I work off target heart rates, and take blood lactate readings after all my key sessions.

I lift weights twice per week with 2 additional sessions of core stability and proprioception per week also, with some specific exercises done on a daily basis lasting up to an hour.

I get videoed for most of my key sessions, with technique work done on an almost daily basis. Strength and conditioning has become a very important component of my training as I have experienced a lot of injuries in my early years as a senior, with some biomechanical weaknesses that needed to be corrected. Recovery is also very important to me, with regular ice-baths, massage, good quality sleep, good nutrition etc. I am using an altitude tent in the 4 weeks leading up to my 50km race.

Overall I try to keep my training well balanced and include as many relevant components as possible that yield to progression and improvement.

DG – I think for the vast majority of mere mortals, the advice on reading that training schedule would be ‘don’t try this at home’! It’s very definitely for elite athletes only! Onto a  simpler question - what do you have for breakfast on the morning of a race?

CG - A bowl of porridge with banana and honey, with some bread if a long race and an energy bar and carbo-load drink, followed by a strong coffee!

DG - With race walking being something of a minority discipline within athletics in terms of participant numbers these days, what sort of reaction do you get from people when you tell them you are a race walker?

CG - I come from a small town and am well known in my area, and get lots of support and encouragement. I am good friends with most of my regular international teammates across all disciplines and generally we are well respected in the general athletics community. Most people appreciate how physically challenging Race walking is. I always like people to treat me as an athlete first and foremost. At a recent training camp in the Canaries, some of the top sprinters on the Irish team were impressed by my weight-lifting!

Part Two

Photo courtesy of Tim Watt from Racewalking Record

DG - Would it be fair to say that the successes of Gillian O’Sullivan (World Athletics Championship silver medalist in 2003) and others in recent years have given race walking a higher media profile in Ireland that it perhaps has elsewhere?

CG - Definitely. 2003 was a great year for Irish Race walking, and as the Irish Athletics community is so small and close knit, the event was given a huge profile, unprecedented. We were all on such a high and it seemed 2004 was set for bigger things. Little did we know what was to happen.

DG – Yes, 2004 was meant to be a glorious year for Irish race walking at the Olympic Games and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Jamie Costin’s serious car accident in Athens just before the Games, Gillian O’Sullivan’s late withdrawal due to injury (which ultimately kept her out of action for more than two years – she made her comeback here at the NSC last October), illnesses and disqualifications turned the year into a nightmare. But it has seemed to me over recent years that the members of the Irish walking team are a very close group, who through good times and bad have always retained a great team spirit. Is that fair comment?

CG - Without a doubt. 2003 was such a highpoint for us, but 2004 and 2005 was a disaster collectively, and that ‘feel-good factor’ that we experienced up to 2003 was certainly missed. I started 2004 with a serious foot injury that was to keep me out of full training for 4 months and also sustained a dislocated shoulder during that time in an accident while training on a bike. Then in 2005 due to a lack of conditioning as a result of my injuries and my eagerness to make up for 2004 I developed a serious technique problem, and had to learn some harsh lessons from my experiences. Then of course there were the disappointments and setbacks experienced by the others.

Thankfully things are on an upward curve again and positive, and hopefully we will be stronger as a result. We get on very well and encourage and support each other as much as possible. We are all affected by each others disappointments and also lifted by each others successes.

DG - As well as being a top competitor, you also get involved with coaching some of the young Irish race walkers. How much do you enjoy coaching, and does having to think about other people’s walking help your own performance in any way?

CG - I have been coaching Laura Reynolds since she took up the event as a 12 year old. She is in the middle of a very challenging year with her final year school exams coming up so training and lifestyle has to be managed carefully. She is from the same area as me and started to train with my Dad’s group of race walkers in my club


Laura Reynolds of Mohill AC at the 2006 Manx Open (photo Murray Lambden). Laura has entered this year's 10K walk

My parents always encouraged me to put something back into the sport, especially in my local community. I have also been involved with juvenile coaching squad sessions. I have enjoyed some great experiences in the sport and acquired a lot of knowledge over the years, so I enjoy helping and encouraging athletes who share the same enthusiasm and work ethic as I do and are willing to apply themselves. I am self-coached myself so coaching others can be complimentary to my own training and can be a good distraction!

DG - Who are your ‘tips for the top’ amongst the current crop of young Irish walkers?

CG - I think Ann Loughnane has a great future, Laura Reynolds also. We have been weak on the men’s side for some time and that needs to be addressed and developed, but there are one or two junior men who are showing signs of potential so hopefully they are prepared to train and apply themselves to the level necessary to progress into good senior internationals.

DG - What is your ‘day job’, and how do you plan your training and races around your work?

CG - I have been a full-time athlete since 2005, when I finished my university degree. So I plan everything else around my training and competition. I train twice a day and sleep in the afternoons. However there are a lot of financial sacrifices involved, which motivates me even further to be successful.

DG – You have already described your training regime in some detail, and it is clearly exceptionally demanding both physically and mentally. How do you like to relax away from training and competition?

CG - Sleeping, reading, listening to music and catching up with my friends and family. I like to enjoy a good coffee or a glass of wine. I rarely socialize much during the pre-competition season, but I look forward to enjoying a few nights out in the off-season.

Martin Rush & Colin at last years Manx Open social night in Coasters Restaurant in Douglas (photo by Gail Griffiths, & scanned thanks to Murray Lambden)

DG - You have enjoyed a lot of successes, but on the other side of the coin, are there any disasters or embarrassing moments that you would like to admit to?!

CG - I try not to dwell on negative experiences, but getting disqualified after only 4km in the European Cup in 2005. I saw some video footage after and I was shocked at how bad my technique was. That was the peak of my technique problems. After that experience things started to gradually improve, but it took a lot of hard work, patience, resilience and humility along the way but it made my successful performances in 2006 all the more satisfactory.

DG - How do you deal with the controversial aspects of race walking, for example being disqualified from races when you felt that you had walked well? Is it just a matter of having a thick skin?

CG - It’s important to face the facts and take responsibility for yourself. It’s very unpleasant when it happens, but you have to accept that if 3 international judges working independently form the same opinion, they can’t all be wrong. It has happened to me quite regularly in 2005, where I had a biomechanical problem with my lower back which left my left hip restricted and blocked. I have learned to accept DQs as something to work on and to become a better athlete as a result. Unfortunately it gives a bad impression to the general public. I try and talk to as many judges as possible after the race and get their feedback and put it to good use. And I have found most of the judges very approachable and helpful in that regard from my experience.

DG - Who were, or are, your sporting heroes and role models (not necessarily just athletics)?

CG - Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell. I am a big fan of rugby and cycling.

DG - What advice would you give to any youngster (or even oldster!) considering taking up race walking?

CG - Learn and develop good habits at as early an age as possible. Be patient and willing to challenge yourself and be smart in your approach. And enjoy yourself, especially if you are an oldster!

DG - Finally, another Isle of Man based question. Do you know anything about our annual Parish Walk – and would you ever be interested in taking part?

CG - I am very much aware of it. It wouldn’t be possible to fit in with my current plans, but maybe when my career is finished I would like to be more adventurous and run marathons, do triathlons and maybe something like the Parish Walk, so you never know!

DG – Colin, I really appreciate you taking so much time and trouble to do such a comprehensive interview for the Manx Harriers website. On behalf of us all, I wish you an enjoyable and worthwhile weekend on the Isle of Man in March, and all the success you richly deserve in 2007 and beyond. Thank you again!

25th February 2007


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