This is the time in an athlete’s career when many Olympic dreams go up in smoke – the post-college void, devoid of structure, backing and support for any clear system.
Jack O’Leary knows it, acknowledges it, but actively opposes it. The 24-year-old distance runner has been back at Westmeath since November, his five years in the NCAA ending last fall. O’Leary loved his time at Iona University, just outside of New York, but success in distance running is a slow burner, with the peak years coming much later than in other events. The journey there takes time, patience, and extensive commitment.
O’Leary is already one of the best in Ireland, having run 28:29.39 over 10,000m last summer, but he wants to be better – much better. “I would love to break the Irish records for the 5,000m and 10,000m,” he said, referring to Alistair Cragg’s 13:03.53 and 27:39.55.
Not this year, of course, but in a year soon. O’Leary feels he is now in an environment where he can progress towards that.
“I always bring up the O’Donovan brothers because rowing and racing are quite similar. To row you need water and a boat, and to run you just need good tracks and a pair of shoes. With the caliber of athletes in Ireland now, something really special is happening, and I would love to (succeed) from home.
Whether by nature or by nurture, success has been in her family for a long time. His uncle is Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair. His father is Eddie O’Leary, race director for Gigginstown House Stud. Since returning home, Jack considers himself ‘very lucky’ to have gotten a part-time job from his parents, doing office work at the family stud farm Lynn Lodge in Killucan.
“In my youth I used to clean stables, I rode horses, but now with training your body is absolutely dead half the time,” he says. “Office work is great; you sit at the desk three or four hours a day and my parents are very flexible with my training. I hope that I will soon be running fast enough to be able to give my all to the race.
Last week, O’Leary was announced as one of 22 athletes who will receive a grant from the Jerry Kiernan Foundation, which is giving away more than €30,000 this year, honoring the late coach’s legacy by offering a helping hand. Irish athletes.
“There’s this gray area where you’re either a world-class rider or you’re not, and to get to that world-class stage, you have to be very lucky,” says O’Leary. “The foundation gives people a chance to give a good swing, to put their all into this sport.” That mentality is what drove him to the United States for the first time in 2016. “The NCAA taught me to run, to be tough. At every race, there are world-class athletes by your side.
The only thing holding him back in his time there were injuries. One of the worst was a stress fracture to the sacrum last September, which O’Leary attributes to his unwillingness to take proper rest after track season. He returned to running in December and has slowly, reasonably increased his volume since, running 80 miles a week and supplementing with cross-training. Since returning to Ireland he has joined his former coach at Mullingar Harriers, Joe Ryan, and later this week O’Leary will leave for a month-long training camp at Font Romeu, a mecca for distance runners. in the French Pyrenees. . He will open his season with a 5,000m in Belfast in May and he hopes to earn a selection for the European 10,000m Cup in France, where his aim is to run the qualifying standard of 28:15 for the European Championships. August Europe in Munich.
“I haven’t had a chance to show my (potential) yet, but hopefully I can have a good run and strut my stuff,” he said.
And now that he’s adjusted to post-college life, the key is to stay healthy. Over the past few months, O’Leary has put together a consistent training block, with his only issue being a minor calf problem. Not that it’s a major cause for concern, just a symptom of how hard he works.
“As a runner, if you’re 100% in your body,” he laughs, “you obviously aren’t training hard enough.”