Stuart Weir is the senior writer for Europe for RunBlogRun. Last year, Stuart wrote 110 stories (111,000 words) in 2023. His relationship with many of Europe’s finest athletes gives you, the reader, a more intimate view of the elite athletes, their challenges and how they deal with being at the top of the food chain in the most competitive sport in the world, global athletics. 

 

Ciara Mageean assesses her progress in 2023

On the face of it, 2023 was a pretty good year for Ciara Mageean, setting Irish records at 800m, 1500m, and mile, as well as finishing fourth in Budapest, 0.61 of a second behind Sifan Hassan, who took the World Championship bronze. But actually, Budapest was a bittersweet moment, leaving her “disappointed to be so the closest I’ve ever been to a global medal,” but on reflection, she realized that she had executed her race as well as she could and had run a national record of 3:56.61. She was also pleased to peak in the biggest race of the year “because that’s the reason I do athletics.” She also gives credit to her coach, Helen Clitheroe, for managing her season to have her on top form on the day that mattered.

Ciara’s nationality is complicated – isn’t everything in Irish politics? Born in Northern Ireland, she represents Ireland as a regional and global champion (i.e., winning European Championship medals in 2016 and 2022) but ran for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games (silver medal in 2022).

Ben Pattison, photo by European Athletics

We talked about Ben Pattison, who went into the GB trials in the 800 meters, hardly a favorite to finish in the first two places for automatic qualification and without the Budapest standard. Pattison finished second two weeks later, ran a PR for the qualifying time, and took a bronze medal in Budapest. Ciara took inspiration from his performance: “It takes an immense amount of hard work and an immense amount of talent that is out of our control in many ways, but on the day, you can have an amazing day, and somebody else who was one of the favorites could have a bit of an off day and like that’s life and that’s sport. And I think that’s the beauty of it as well. I quite like that about the middle-distance events, too. And you can have tactics that come into play much more than, say, some of the sprint events – well, at least in my ignorance of sprint events, I would say so. But like that true competitiveness of the race and how it might pan out and like you just look at you look at Ben and I think he surprised a lot of people. But he didn’t surprise himself – that belief that he had inside, and that says a lot”.

I mentioned that Ciara had set a national record in Budapest, but it did not last long; 17 days later, at the Brussels Diamond League, she ran 3:55.87. Her assessment of 2023 is a mixture of pride, satisfaction, and striving for more. She told me: “All in all, I’m pretty proud of that season. I came away with a 3:55 PB. A 3:56 was the time that I kind of always believed that I would be able to run, and I was like, ‘I just out-achieved my own expectations of myself – I ran 3:55,’ and nobody can ever take that away from me. So I’m extremely proud, and I think we did a great job throughout the whole season. That’s another thing that is so important – planning the season, having a good approach to training”.

Ciara was coached by Steve Vernon, who left abruptly to take up a position at UK Athletics. Helen Clitheroe and Ciara decided to work together and see how that relationship went over the 2022 season – as Ciara took medals at the Commonwealth and Europeans, they decided the partnership was working and made it permanent.

Ciara Mageean takes the 1,500m at Van Damme Memorial in new Irish record, and PB of 3:56.63, photo by Diamond League AG

An example of her mature attitude was last summer when she came 10th in the mile in Oslo but feels that she now has the maturity to deal with disappointing races: “There were some races that were highs and then I had lows like Oslo where I had a poor race, and I felt really dejected,” but as she processed it with coach Helen she recognized that it was a third race on the trot, after a hard training week. She was then able to accept the performance and move on, thinking: “That’s fine. Doesn’t matter. You know you’re in good shape. One performance doesn’t measure the whole season.” And she certainly ran some more pretty good races as the season progressed.

She develops her positive assessment of 2023: “I’m pretty proud of that season to be able to have one of the most successful seasons I’ve ever had, to consistently race at Diamond League level, up there among the best in the world on a weekly basis.

Laura Muir, Ciara Mageean battle over 1,500m, photo by Dan Vernon Photography

“I’m a bit older than some of the other athletes that I’m racing against. I feel like I’ve served my time, and now I’m ready because I look at some of the youngsters coming out, and they’re winning medals. I sometimes think, ‘I didn’t have that easy path in the sport, having had an awful lot of low days and injuries. And so I’m like, ‘I think I’ve earned these victorious days and these seasons where I’m really proud of what I’ve done”. Then, with that characteristic desire for more, she adds: “I’m pretty happy with last season and the previous one but now I have a third one to go and try to raise the bar again.”

The season ended with a disappointment, 4:03 for 11th in the Diamond League final in Eugene, but again, she gives an honest and realistic assessment: “I think I went into that final not fully realizing a few things. Eugene is quite far away, and coming off the high of having a fantastic world champ and then obviously running my 3:55 in Brussels was fantastic. And then I feel like I maybe told myself, ‘It’s OK, you’re good, you’re in good shape’. I believe that I was. I wasn’t too tired. I think the race may be different and that maybe it was just one race too many. The travel probably took a little bit more out of me than I expected.

A jubilant Ciara Mageean, who won the Memorial Van Damme 1,500m in 3;56.63 PB/NR on 2 September 2022, photo by Diamond League AG

“I like to think that I’m a championship runner. I aim to peak at the major champs. That’s, as I said, the whole reason I do it, and therefore, I invest an awful lot of my energy in that. So I come out of it quite often, maybe a little tired. I don’t like that my last race kind of put a wee bit of a damper on my season because that’s often the one – as they say, you’re only as good as your last race. .And it kind of left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth. But look, I’m an older, mature athlete now and I was like, ‘no, that’s not going to take away from the fantastic season I had’. I just had to look at it and see it for what it was. I was tired. The travel was long, and I was probably ready for my break”.

To end the article on a positive note. In 2022, Ciara won two championship medals. In 2023, she was 4th in the world and ran two PRs, culminating in 3:55.87. As she enters the Olympic year, she knows she is in a better position than she has ever been in.

 

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