Amongst the parkrun family there are numerous international athletes, Olympians and experienced coaches. Each week we invite one of them to share their top tips and advice on training and improving your running, whether you’re looking to complete the course without stopping, break 45 minutes, go sub-20 for the first time, or just bag that new PB.
This week it’s the turn of Stephen Scullion!
Stephen represented Ireland from the 2006 World Junior Cross Country Championships up until the 2013 European Indoors Championships. He then admits some poor lifestyle choices, alcohol and emotional decisions affected his commitment and he took a break for 18 months and learnt his trade as a website developer.
His passion for running was reignited by the desire to qualify for the Rio Olympics, but injury shortly before the qualification race ruined his chances. He started his second comeback in January 2017. Astonishingly, just 13 weeks later Stephen ran 2:17:58 at the 2017 London Marathon.
Since then he hasn’t looked back, running four personal bests in 2018, including a 12th place finish at the London Marathon this year (2:15:58), 13:50 for 5000m and a 63:17 half marathon in Houston, Texas. Stephen has just competed in the European Championships in Berlin, where he ran the 10000m for Ireland.
Hi Stephen! First up, where’s your home parkrun?
My home parkrun would be at Ormeau Park, Belfast. My fastest ever parkrun came in Australia in 2016, when I ran 14:32 at Balyang parkrun.
What is your top tip to new parkrunners on how to improve their running?
If I’ve learnt anything over the past 12-16 months it doesn’t matter what times or splits you’re hitting in training. If you don’t believe you can run a race at those intensities or efforts then you wont. I like the quote “Those who believe they can, and those who believe they can’t are both usually right”.
Training needs to feel smooth, relaxed and “I’m not going to suggest effortless” but it shouldn’t always be super hard work, that’s a common issue, including for me. We push too hard, and then wonder why in a race they can’t put that effort in for 10k or half marathon. My advice would be slow that pace or effort down a little in training, and feel comfortable. This will then lead to your confidence growing at certain speeds, and as a result you might just be able to sustain faster speeds for your next races.
My second piece of advice would be maximise the time you have, and do some research, try to figure out what things you can do to improve, whether that be going to the gym, stretching more, warming up more effectively, changing your diet, to name just a few. There’s plenty of training modalities that can be added without taking up too much time / effort.
Oh one final piece of advice; just because you add in 10-15 minutes of core or rehab or strength exercises, don’t worry in your next parkrun or race 3-4 weeks later if you don’t run a super fast time. New additions to your training will take time to pay off, and what you might find is you get injured less, or you can train a little harder because of these new additions. Trust the process, and have patience with your body and results.
What would be your advice to parkrunners who are thinking about going beyond parkrun and training for 10ks and half marathons?
My advice would be to enjoy what you’re doing, that really helps the process of finding a suitable race for your future. For example, my initial comeback evolved around London marathon, it’s a spectacular occasion, and so the motivation knowing that it’s such a great event really helped to motivate me to stick with the training and be patient while my body went through changes in the process.
I’ve said it already, but do some research about the event you’re training for, there’s nothing worse than racing a 10k, or half marathon and figuring out halfway through the race you either weren’t ready, or you ran too fast too soon etc..
For a general rule of thumb, if you’re going to increase race distance, you need to be able to increase your training runs in duration, and slow the pace down a little. The body is pretty wonderful at being able to run longer at a slightly slower pace, and it sustain that slightly slower intensity for much longer.
Test this out in training, and only increase your race distance, if you’re able to increase training. The last thing you want to do is get hurt. Be patient with your body both in training and in the race, just be reasonable, and let your body adapt to the new stimulus.
Many parkrunners find that after weeks and months of PBs and improvements, their running can start plateau. What would you suggest to mix things up?
Think about making Spaghetti – “Spaghetti you say, no way!” – but stick with me. If you don’t change the ingredients, how can you expect the outcome to change? Of course you could cook it slower, chop the ingredients different, or change the order of cooking the ingredients, but it won’t change significantly and eventually you will cover all of the above and so the result won’t change.
Now, if you add a new ingredient, or less or more of the current ingredients of course the outcome will change and has capacity to change drastically “for the better, or sometimes for the worst”. Do some research, or ask a coach what new training could be added to your current training to improve results.
The internet is crazy nowadays, you can find all sorts of information online. From gym work (for strengthening or for activating your muscles to work correctly), more mileage, tempo runs, intervals, technique drills, flexibility, recovery methods (ice baths, massage and physio), stretching, and the list goes on.
The internet is an endless supply of resources for all of the above, so use it to your advantage and become a student to the sport you love so much, and understand what it might take to get better.
For those people who want an insight into the training of an elite athlete, what’s your favourite training session and why?
It may not necessarily be my favourite session, but it’s the most useful in my armoury of sessions, and I try to complete this sessions once every 7-10 days. It’s become my new go-to session during race week, and also a session I would carry out after a race when I’m trying to recover, whilst also trying to gain a little something.
I run 6-10 miles at 10-15 seconds slower than my half marathon pace. I think it’s important to be relaxed during this session, and so always choose a flat loop to control the effort if you can.
Most people wouldn’t be happy with that session, or would be convinced they’re not ready to run their race pace, but I always remember on race day I will get an extra boost from tapering and running with others, so being able to run 6-10 miles at that pace in training is a good sign.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I cannot stress this next sentence enough: Find joy in what you’re doing, enjoy the hard work, enjoy the fact it’s even harder to race and appreciate yourself and your body for being able to do it.
One of the saddest things about running, and my own running, was when I lost some kind of love and enjoyment. It’s a tough sport, but we’re tough, humans are super tough, learn to enjoy what you’re doing, and most of all, be proud of yourself for enduring what is a very very tough sport. Remember it’s only running!
You can follow Stephen on Twitter.
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