Interview with Marie Davenport
by Gladys Ganiel

Marie Davenport on her way to winning the 2004 CVS/pharmacy Downtown 5K.
(Photo: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

For more about Marie, visit

Ireland's Marie Davenport (nee McMahon) finished 14th at the Olympic Games in the 10,000 meters (31:50) and is currently gearing up to make her marathon debut at the ING New York City Marathon 2004 on November 7. Davenport was a 10-time All-American from 1993-1998 at Providence College. She was also an NCAA champion over 5,000m indoors and led Providence to the 1995 NCAA Cross Country team title. She represented Ireland in the 5,000m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Davenport's stellar Olympic performance capped a track season in which she set PRs at every distance from 1,500m to 10,000m (4:12 for 1,500m, 8:58 for 3,000m, 15:09 for 5,000m, and 31:28 for 10,000m). It was a particularly satisfying reward for Davenport, who nearly gave up the sport in 2000 as she struggled with undiagnosed asthma.

Davenport lives in Chester, Connecticut, with her husband (and sometime training partner) Dan Davenport, who was also a member of the Providence track and cross country teams. She is still coached by Providence's Ray Treacy. We caught up with her as she recovered from a 20-mile training run. First of all, could you describe your experience in the 10,000 in Athens?
Marie Davenport:
A couple of weeks beforehand, training hadn't gone that well. My training had been going pretty okay but I traveled to Europe for a 5K at Crystal Palace and Irish Nationals, and they had not gone well [Davenport was seventh in the 1,500 in 4:28.09 at Irish Nationals on July 24 and 12th in the 5,000 in 15:58.49 at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix at the Crystal Palace in London on July 30]. So I was very nervous and scared before the 10K in Athens.

My plan going into the race was to just work my way through the field, because I knew it was going to be fairly hot temperature-wise and everything. I just wanted to get through the first 5K fairly comfortably and be in control the first half of the race, and then hopefully to try to do my best the last 5K. So I think even for the first couple of laps I was way in the back of the field. But I didn't panic being there because doing Europeans in 2002, I'd gone out way too fast and I think everyone kind of goes crazy when it's the Olympic final. So I went out fairly consistently and just tried to stay around Kathy Butler and some of the American girls and people that I'm used to racing against and just to go from there. So, yeah, it worked pretty well. Myself and Kathy did a good bit of work midway through the race. More and more people were coming back to us after the second half of the race, so I think that got the adrenaline pumping.

The whole crowd and the whole atmosphere in there were just absolutely amazing — I've never experienced anything like it before. I don't know if I ever will. I did enjoy the whole race, for the 10K distance. I didn't think I would! I think there was another event going on, the pole vault, one of the field events, and the crowd were really getting into it as well. So every so often there'd be this huge roar and that would kind of wake you up! The heat definitely wasn't a factor [for me]. I didn't pay much attention to it, but I think just being here in the U.S. and training in the humidity and that probably helped. So I don't think I found it as bad as a lot of the European runners did.

FW: You said you went over to England and to Irish Nationals and you didn't run well. Why do you think you were able to turn it around between then and Athens?
The whole year training had gone really, really well. I was excited and I thought I was ready to run a really good 5K at the Crystal Palace. But before I left for Ireland I left my asthma medication in my car on a really hot day. So I think it probably made [the medication] inactive and I didn't realize it. That was about two weeks before I left for Ireland. At Irish Nationals I didn't know what was going on, because training had gone really well. And then I went to Crystal Palace and after 200 meters I was just out the back door and I was like, 'I can't go and run a 10K if I feel like this.' So it definitely wasn't good confidence-wise. I came back here and was wheezing, and my lungs were all sore and agitated, and I had a bad cough, so I went to see my pulminologist. He did some tests and my lungs were inflamed. And I was like, 'Well, how come my medications aren't working?' And I remembered I'd left them in the car. I remembered looking at them, it was a really hot couple of days and I remember thinking I probably shouldn't have done that, but I didn't think anything of it. When I came back — that was probably around the 1st or 2nd of August — I started all new prescriptions or all new refills and it took me a couple of weeks. I still kind of struggled in workouts and so I was very scared to go to Athens. I knew I had the work done and I knew I was in great shape because I'd been working out with Amy Rudolph and Kim Smith and we'd done some great track work together, so I knew that was there. I just hoped it would all go well in Athens. The 5K in Crystal Palace — it was the longest race of my life!

FW: So it was leaving the medication in the heat that did something to it?
Yeah, the extreme heat. It's meant to be stored in below 70 degrees and I'd left it in the car. I'd picked it up that morning and gone working. I'd left it in the car all day and you know how your car can go over 100 degrees. So that's what happened. Each week after I was back on the new refills I felt progressively better and better. I'd had tests done because now when you have asthma you have to have a whole detailed medical history done. And you have to have breathing tests done and treadmill stress tests and everything. I did that in May because in the Olympics you're required to when you're on that medication. Then that showed that I had a lung capacity of like 22% when not on medication.

FW: And when did you first start taking asthma medication?
In 2001 and 2002. I'd been struggling since I'd graduated from college and I didn't know what was going on. I thought I was overtraining and then I thought I was anemic. I just never figured it was asthma. I'd always had a bad cough and wheezing and just figured I had allergies. [I was] referred to Yale in New Haven and I worked with the director of the pulminology department and he did some tests and then he figured out I probably had [a form of] exercise induced asthma. Because I can do regular runs fine but once I tried to do workouts, I wouldn't be able to go over 400 meters. Even now, I know I can't race in the cold. I was in great shape when I came back for the European Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh [in December 2003] and it got really cold and I just couldn't deal with it. I just can't race in the cold. Those are conditions that I'm always just going to have to avoid. So I like the heat!

FW: So what do you think will be the most valuable thing that you'll take away from your experience in Athens?
Going in there, I really didn't expect to finish in the top 16, and I felt really good. If anything, it's given me an appetite to continue on and train for another four years and try to qualify for the next Olympics and run faster. I think once I came back here, I was just ready to train hard and really try to get to the next level. I think for the first time I pictured myself as able to run and do well at a championship race. So it's definitely given me motivation for next year for the World Track & Field Championships in Helsinki. I definitely want to go out there and try to break 31 minutes for 10K and try and break 15 minutes for the 5K. So it will be good motivation [during] our New England winter!

FW: Could you compare it to your experience at your first Olympics in Atlanta?
It was definitely a better experience than Atlanta. Atlanta turned into a kind of a nightmare for me, so it was nice to go back to [the Olympic Games] and to race well there and not to be involved in any kind of controversy or test positive!

FW: Could you describe in a bit more detail what happened in Atlanta with the incident with the Robitussin?
I ended up taking a cough medication and there was a banned substance in it, pseudoephedrine. It's no longer banned, you're allowed to take it. Well, I don't think you can take it in competition, but you can take it out of competition. It's in a lot of cough medicines. I was still in college — I was a junior — I was 20 years of age. Drugs was the last thing on my mind. I didn't even know. I had no education whatsoever with regards to the illegal substances or anything. I got drug tested and I produced a positive sample. But they even told me that caffeine is stronger than [pseudoephedrine], it's not a performance-enhancing drug. It was just bad it happened in the Olympic Games. I was just there to race and to have an experience, and I really got an experience from every angle! From competing and from that. So it was nice to get back to Athens and to do well.

FW: As far as the 2004 track season, you set PRs at every distance. What do you think was the key to that?
I struggled for a couple of years after I graduated from college. If anything, I went downhill after I graduated from college. I don't know if that was related to the asthma or what it was, but I just lost so much fitness over time. But then in 2002, I started back. I finally got my legs back, and I got more consistent training in. And my confidence was completely shot, too, in the years after college. So I'd given up, I'd actually stopped running in 2000. I think 2002 was the first year I set any kind of PR. In the 10K I ran 31:59 and I ran 15:29 for 5K, so each year since 2002 I've got good consistent training in and each year I have set PRs. It's been a gradual progression and hopefully I can continue on with that for the next couple of years as well. I keep building off the previous year, I do slightly longer workouts or adjust parts of my training, but not too much at once. This last year it's been great, I have a great group of runners at Providence to do workouts with — Sarah Dupre and Janelle Kraus, and there's Amy Rudolph and Roisin McGettigan, as well. In the fall we go to Goddard Park and do workouts together. It's just a great buzz working out with everybody. I think it makes training enjoyable and that has definitely helped. I think the biggest thing has been the consistency with my training which has helped as far as the PRs.

FW: You said that you stopped completely in 2000. How long did you stop?
I had struggled right up to then. And then I got bronchitis in January or February and then that whole summer. I was running a couple of days, but I didn't compete at all. I think I might have jumped into one or two road races, but then I got married in October. At that stage I didn't think I was really going to make it at running anyway, so I got a job. I thought it was time to get on with my life and pursue different avenues. But then after that, Dan [was] biking a bit and did triathlons and stuff, so I just got back into training with him. Then I gradually just got fitter and fitter and it worked out. Dan is here in the background saying 'It was all the husband!'

FW: Do you still train with him?
A small bit. He does some of the track workouts with me. He's here, like 'All of them!' He does jump in for one or two runs with me, and then on some of my tempo runs he might come out with me on the bike.

FW: You mentioned a job. Are you working right now as well?
Yeah, I work. It's a family business. I've been working here since the end of 2000. I work four days a week. It works well for right now. It keeps me on a schedule. Even though running started going well, I still work. I think it's good to have a distraction during the middle of the day, rather than sitting around thinking about the next run or workout. It keeps me busy.

FW: What is it you do in the business?
I'm a showroom consultant in Connecticut for kitchen and bath products. Nothing too exciting!

FW: Do you do any weight training or cross training?
No I don't. The only cross training I ever did was last year when I was injured. In the beginning of 2003, I was injured with achilles tendonitis and I sprained my SI joint, so that was the first time I ever had cross trained. But no, when I'm running I don't do any cross training. I don't do weights, either. I do a small bit of Pilates every so often, but not too much. I really just run. I probably should look into some weight training!

FW: And since Athens, you've come back and you're getting ready for the marathon in New York. What have you been doing to train for that?
After Athens, even the next day, I felt really good. I traveled back to the states and felt really good and I did the [CVs/pharmacy] Downtown 5K [on September 12 in Providence] and won that [in a road PR of 15:19]. I was really happy and I ran a good time. I've been feeling good, so I'm just getting ready for New York now. It's really just going to be more off 10K training. The only thing that has really changed is some of the tempo runs are a small bit longer and I have longer runs now of 20 miles as well. But I'm not going to go crazy with the mileage or anything like that either, because I really didn't have a whole lot of time. The marathon is November 7, so I think it's more just getting some of the long runs in so I can go the distance and maintain freshness on the starting line of the marathon.

FW: So what made you decide to tackle the marathon at this point?
Last year I did a half marathon and I actually did kind of enjoy it [she won the B.A.A. Half-Marathon in 1:10:57 on October 12, 2003]. It's good to have a new challenge and I just want to see what I can run for the marathon after the training I've been doing for the 10K. I think it's eventually a distance that I will run in the next couple of years. I might even decide to do it at the championship level as well. New York just fit well in the schedule. It's only a two-hour drive from here and it's at a good time of year. It gave me two months at least of training since the Olympics. Ray was always on to me about the marathon and it's just gradually wore on me the last year or two.

FW: Do you have any particular goals or expectations heading into the race?
No. Hopefully to run well, and not to die in the last half. I'm going to run conservative, I think, for the first half and just see how it goes for the second half. It's just such a long distance. It's a big difference from the half-marathon to the 10K, and the half-marathon to the marathon distance, so I'll probably be more conservative. New York is a pretty tough course. It's not a fast course either, so if I break 2:30, I would be really happy. And [I'd like] to be able to walk the next day — to be in one piece!

FW: So what made somebody from Ennisytmon end up at Providence College?
Providence and Villanova had always a great name in Ireland. The likes of Sonia O'Sullivan and then Geraldine Hendricken recruited me in Ireland, myself and Susan Murnane. There was just such a good history with Irish athletes at Providence. Mark Carroll was there at the time, Vanessa Molloy and Natalie Davey. So I think it made it easier traveling such a long distance to go to college knowing that there were Irish people there and an Irish coach. It had a great name for a great distance program so as soon as I got an offer from Providence I jumped at it.

FW: What made you decide to stay on in the area and train under Ray after you graduated?
Since I came to Providence, even as a freshman, each year I knocked huge chunks off my PRs and improved more and more. And I knew I wanted to continue running afterwards and I never had any problems working with Ray. He's a great coach. I couldn't imagine working with another coach. I knew I was definitely going to stay in the New England area and then I met Dan, and he was going to be working in Connecticut. So I knew I was going to be living in Connecticut. It's an hour-and-a-half drive roughly back to Providence. I still go back to Providence once or twice a week to work out with Ray there. It works out well.

FW: Have you thought beyond the marathon, beyond being able to walk the next day?
After the marathon I'm going to take a good break, definitely. And then probably just get ready for indoors and outdoors next year. I might do World Cross. I hope to get through the marathon and hopefully be injury-free. Hopefully some of the training for the marathon will stand. I'll get strength and get a good base for next year. I'll maybe run a couple of races indoors but I think my main goal for next year will be the World Championships outdoors. I'll try to run a good fast 10K and try and get my times down in the 5K as well.

(Interview conducted September 30, 2004, and posted October 5, 2004.)

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