Interview: Sonia O'Sullivan

Sonia O'Sullivan at the 2002 Carlsbad 5,000 with Nick Bideau and their daughters Ciara (left) and Sophie. Click to enlarge.
Photo: Victah@Photo Run

Sonia O'Sullivan Links:
The official web site
O'Sullivan bio from the New York Mini web site

On June 8, 2002, Sonia O'Sullivan will join a stellar field at the 30th anniversary edition of the New York Mini 10k in New York City's Central Park. O'Sullivan spoke to reporters in a May 22 teleconference to announce her participation in the race. O'Sullivan gave birth to her second child, Sophie, on December 23, 2001. Just three months later, she finished seventh in the 4k at the World Cross Country Championships, helping the Irish team to a bronze medal. One week later, she won the Tesco Italiano Five-Mile Road Race in Balmoral, running 25:16 and defeating Romania's Gabriela Szabo and Australia's Benita Johnson. O'Sullivan then headed to California to compete in the Carlsbad 5,000 April 7th. Suffering from what seemed to be food poisoning, she finished seventh in 15:38. After a stint of training at altitude in California, O'Sullivan traveled to the World Half Marathon Championships in Brussels, Belgium, where she finished 14th in 1:10:04. O'Sullivan will next compete at the Prefontaine Classic on Sunday, May 26 in the 3,000-meter race before heading to New York City for the New York Mini.

On her current training location:
Sonia O'Sullivan: I'm in a place called Laguna Mountain which is about an hour from San Diego (California), and it's at 6,000 feet... We were here for three weeks after World Cross Country, then we went back to Europe for a couple of weeks. Now I've been here just a week and I'm going to stay until next week, before I go to New York.

On her quick post-pregnancy comeback:
I think it was easy to get back into training and get really fit again because I stayed really fit while I was pregnant. I trained every day right up until Sophie was born, not running all the time, because halfway through I got injured and I had to change my training regime. I just kept the same amount of time I would normally run and went to the gym and went on the exercise bike and did some spinning classes, which I think kept me really fit. I also continued with my normal weight training sessions. I just kept the same routine, so then it was quite easy for me to continue training and to start back into proper running training once Sophie was born.

On her preparedness for the upcoming Prefontaine Classic 3,000 meters:
I feel pretty good, I had a pretty good track session last night down in San Diego with some local guys. I feel that this 3,000 meters will really help me to run really well in New York because I ran really well in Balmoral after running in the World Cross Country. So I think once I get one quick run in my legs, I'll be ready to run really well in New York, and I'm really looking forward to it.

How the New York Mini fits in with her overall plan for the year:
The women's Mini Marathon is something that I've always wanted to do, it's something that I've read about and heard about over the years. In '93, '94 and '95 when I was really intensely into running all of the Grand Prix track races, it wasn't really appropriate. But now I feel like I've won a lot of races on the Grand Prix circuit and I want to do different things. I still want to run really well at the European Championships this summer, which is in August, so I feel I can pick and choose my races and I don't have to stick to the norm of all the Grand Prix races. I've been there and done that before, and I want to do different things. You know, as you get older you need different things to motivate you, I think Irish people in New York City will be great.

On how the Mini Marathon 10k in New York will compare to the women's-only race in Dublin:
I'm sure it will be great, I don't think there will be as many people running in New York. I think in Dublin, it's more of a mass-fun-run type race. New York, I think will be a much more competitive race. Also, there will be a lot of the other fun-runners out there who probably run around Central Park every day.

On the competition (Milena Glusac, Deena Drossin) at the New York Mini:
I don't really know a lot about Milena but I know that Deena Drossin has been running really well this year. I met up with her at Carlsbad and she ran fantastic there, then she went and ran the American Record in the 10,000 on the track. She's definitely really fit, she's shown us how fit she is and I feel like I'm getting there. I think I'm improving all the time, so every time I go out and run a race, it's kind of unknown how good I'll run. I definitely expect to run better than I have been.

Whether her whole family will travel with her to New York:
Definitely. They're all out here with me on the mountain. [We'll travel to New York] I think the Monday beforehand. They'll definitely be there.

On balancing family and training responsibilities:
I think the main thing is you have to be really organized. You have to plan your day the night before. You have to know exactly what you're going to do. Before I go to bed, I talk to Nick: Okay, this is what time I'm going to run in the morning, I've got to be back and take a telephone call, how we're going to travel, things like lying out my clothes the night before or the girls' clothes. Everything has a place and it makes things easier for me. The thing is with training, you can't run all day long. It takes an hour, hour and a half in the morning and then another hour or so in the afternoon. The rest of the time you spend relaxing as much as you can and hopefully find something for Ciara and Sophie to do.

On the remoteness of her location in California:
It's the type of place where, on the weekends, it can be quite busy and I think this weekend, being Memorial weekend, there's going to be a lot of people up here. But during the week, there aren't many people around. We stay in these cabins that belong to the Laguna Mountain Lodge Resort. There's a shop and a post office, and right kind of parallel to where we are there's a trail called the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. You see people walking past and they stop off and pick things up in the post office, that's the kind of people you talk to and meet during the day. At the moment it's just myself, Nick, Ciara and Sophie here. We've been here a week, but today three athletes from Australia are coming to join us, and then the following week we have another girl coming from Australia to run as well.

Her plans for this summer's European Championships and whether she'll defend her titles in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters:
I would like to think that I can do both of those. The 10,000 meters is on the first day and it's just one race. The thing at the moment is that I don't have a qualifying time for either. I've been selected to run in both as long as I run the qualifying times, so I'll more than likely have to run a 10,000 meters on the track beforehand.

On the appeal of women-only road races:
I've run all-women road races in Dublin and London, and I've run one in the Netherlands and in Milan... I think it's just a different feeling when it's an all-women's race. There's kind of camaraderie amongst the women and everybody's out there trying to be as fit as they can and there's a lot of good stories behind the women who will be running in the race. A lot of them will have families out there, the big thing is that the dads come along with the children and everybody has a good day.

On what motivates her, particularly in coming back from pregnancy:
The number one thing is that I really do like running and I enjoy it, I'd hate to have to give it up. I think when you're away from the competition for nine or ten months, and I still feel young and fit and healthy, there's this competitive thing inside me that really wants to get involved again. I feel there is something that I haven't done yet and there are plenty of races around the world that I haven't run in. Of course I'd like to run in the Olympics again and maybe improve on the silver medal.

On her marathoning plans:
I'd definitely like to run one. I have run one, in Dublin in 2000 (she won in 2:35:42), but I just ran for fun, I didn't train for it or anything. That's something I would definitely like to do, train to run a marathon properly and run as fast as I can.

On switching back and forth between the track and the roads:
It's all pretty much the same training because basically, you run a lot of miles. I run a long run on Sunday and the only thing that might change a little is maybe the track sessions during the week. This week, because I'm running [the Prefontaine Classic 3,000 meters] on Sunday, I've got two shorter-type track sessions lined up. The main part of that is to put on some spikes and try them out because I haven't worn spikes for, I don't know, a year and a half. Then next week maybe I'll do a few longer reps before the road 10k, but overall the training is pretty much the same.

On her experience with the U.S. collegiate system (she graduated from Villanova in 1991):
I think it was really good for me. The first few years I was at Villanova I was injured and didn't run so well, then the third and fourth year I had to make up for that, and I did by winning the NCAA Championships a few times. I think maybe if I had come in as a freshman and won NCAA championships and won all the races then maybe it might not have been so good because you'd feel like you were stagnant and doing the same thing over and over again. But because it took me those four years to kind of improve and develop, you know I was still growing and everything, I got injured and learned a lot from that. I think it was definitely a good growing-up period for me, because I think there is that gap that needs to be filled between being a junior athlete and being a senior athlete. A lot of the time athletes try and take a shortcut and they think they can go from being a 17- or 18-year-old really good junior to being the best in the world and it doesn't always work out. I think the college system is great because it gives you that kind of bridge in there to compete at the right level for you, and then you can move on from there.

On the suggestion that women's road records need to be set in women's-only races:
I think that's a good idea. The track races are all run separately so why should the road races not be? When you run in the World Championships or the Olympics, the marathon, the men and women don't run together. I think it should be all-women's races. It's good to have races where men and women run together, but then they should have other races, which are more special, where they're separate.

About the fact that this would eliminate many road races from record consideration:
Well the thing is that road records anyway are basically course records, because every road race is different. You can't really compare the New York City Marathon to the London Marathon or the Dublin Marathon time-wise... I think the only true records are on the track.

Whether she's in favor of the IAAF starting to keep road records:
It doesn't bother me either way. The only difference I suppose is when you go to road races if they're going to have big bonuses for world records and if it's a mixed race or a women's-only race. It's just going to come down to a financial thing really, I think, for people. I think the feeling of going out there and running fast, whether you're in a mixed race or in a women's race, a lot of the time when you're in a mixed race you end up running by yourself anyway.

On Paula Radcliffe's New York Mini 10k record set last year (30:47), which is close to the World Road Record (30:43) and whether she plans to chase it:
I don't think I'm going to go into the race thinking I want to run any particular time. I think the main aim for me will be to try and win the race. I think the field is very competitive, Deena Drossin has already broken the world record for 5,000 on the roads this year, so it's possible to win the race you'll have to break the World Record. I don't know, I think I'd rather be involved in a competitive race than a solo time trial. That's what I would expect this race to be, quite a competitive race as long as everybody's running as fast as they can on the day.

On the suggestion that Deena Drossin may be the favorite:
Well I don't really know who else is running, maybe there are some good African runners like from Kenya or Ethiopia, maybe the Russians... I really don't know who else is in the race that would be able to keep up. There may be some good Japanese runners as well, like the girl who beat Deena [at the Cardinal Invitational 10k]. I suppose when we see the final list and get an idea of what the other girls are thinking then we'll have a better idea who to key off of. But Deena will definitely be up there in the mix, so it would be worth following her and see what happens at the end.

On which surface (roads, track or cross country) she prefers:
I think I still prefer the track, when I'm really, really fit and really ready I think the track is... I don't know, there's something about it. And it's got to be in the right place as well. All championship races, when you're really fit and really ready, there's just a different feeling that takes over your whole body and a different energy system. You start to feel like you can do anything. I don't know, it's not always easy to get yourself to that level, but when you do, it's the greatest feeling. I think with road races, maybe it's different when you pick out a marathon and you train really hard for it and you focus on that one event, you probably get the same feelings, but I don't know that yet. And cross country, the World Cross Country, in some ways that's where I began running so emotionally it would be one of my favorites. It's a break from the track and it's the surface that I train on practically every day.

On drug use in the sport:
I don't like to focus on thinking about people who are cheating or who might be cheating because I think then I'm distracted from what I'm trying to do. The one thing I know is that when I line up on the start line, if there's somebody else on the start line who's cheating, or who's taken drugs, I know that I have one less thing to worry about than they do. I don't like to get involved in it too much. I think it's good that the IAAF is improving their drug testing around the world and I think they have to try and stay ahead of people who are cheating because, you know, they're really only cheating themselves. You've got to go around with some kind of conscience in your head and I'd hate to have to think about anything like that every day out running. I know I have nothing to worry about and I go out there and enjoy my running every day and, you know, drink tea and coffee and eat normal food like everybody else in the world

On talk that she may run the London Marathon in 2003:
Actually, I never said that I was going to run in London. I was asked the question if I was thinking about running a marathon and I said, "Yes, I'd love to run a marathon, I don't know exactly when or where." But because people were talking then about Paula and London, they assumed that I said I wanted to run the London Marathon. Of course that would be the most convenient one for me because I could take the train to the start. I definitely would want to run a marathon but I haven't seriously discussed it with Alan (Storey), my coach, yet. At the moment our main goal is to get back from having a baby in December and get back to being the best that I can be at the events that I know and the events that we both know that I'm good at and that I can be the best at. Once I've gotten back to that level, we can start talking about the marathon.

Whether she'd consider running the 2004 Olympic Marathon versus sticking to the track:
Oh no, definitely it will be on the track. I used to think the 3,000 was my best event, and in some ways it probably still is, but it doesn't exist for the Olympics anymore. Now I feel like the 5,000 is the event that I have to concentrate on, I think that's the best place for me to try and win a gold medal.

On whether her oldest child, Ciara, understands what her mom is doing and if she ever joins in:
She does [understand] now, yes. I was running up a hill the other day and Nick, Ciara and Sophie were waiting in the car for me. She kind of came down a bit and started to run ahead of me, she went ahead way before I could get her so it was impossible for me to catch her. She was laughing that I couldn't get her. She also has her moments, in the morning she'll say, "Mommy is not going running. Mommy is not putting on running shoes." So she knows when I'm going out the door and sometimes she's not too happy about it and I just have to go and leave her. But as soon as I'm gone, two minutes later she's off doing something else.

On coming back from pregnancy this time versus the last:
In some ways it was easier to come back this time because I knew that I could do it. After Ciara, I think I tried to rush things a little bit and it was nearly a competition for me to see how quickly I could get back and how quickly I could be fast and back running normal. In the process, I got injured. This time around I was much more conscious of taking my time getting back into training and gradually getting back up to the top level. The main aim this time around was not to get injured. Luckily so far I've managed that and hopefully we can keep going along those lines. And also, training [while pregnant with] Sophie, I was a lot more confident in what I could do. I think with Ciara I was going into the unknown because I hadn't been there before. This time around I just knew, I knew what heart rates I could train at and I just knew how I felt and what was right.

Final comments:
I'm really looking forward to running in New York. It's one of those places where I think there will be a lot of energy and it will bring out good performances in all the athletes. Hopefully I'll feel fantastic on the day.

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