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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Comeback After Setback
'Plenty of sports people deal with these things' - Mageean looking forward after injury setback
A torn calf has forced Ciara Mageean to prematurely end her indoor season.

CIARA MAGEEAN COULD feel her right calf starting to bark as she launched into a sprint in the final laps of a 3,000m race at Manchester last month.

RRP10465 copy Sporstfile Ciara Mageean. Sporstfile

The athletics indoor season was just getting underway, and the Irish two-time Olympian was haring after Albanian runner Luiza Gega who had broken away from the pack.

She had fellow Olympian Sarah Healy alongside her for company as she put on the burst. There was about 600m of track left to cover.

Two laps became one lap and Gega was starting to gas at the front. Healy pulled up on the final lap, seemingly too exhausted to carry on. However, Mageean explains that she had just miscounted the laps.

“With 15 laps on the indoor track,” says Mageean of Healy’s misfortune, “you can just lose track and you tell yourself in your head that this is the last lap.”

And so it was up to Mageean to finish the job. She measured her effort perfectly, surging into first place on the home stretch to cross the finish line in a time of 8:47.23. It was a personal best for the 29-year-old, falling just short of the Irish record of 8:43.74 which was set by Mary Cullen in 2009.

It was the ideal start to the indoor season, but Mageean could immediately sense a tightness in her leg that needed attention.

“My coach came over to me very happy because obviously I’d finished really strong, and ran a personal best,” says Mageean, who was speaking to The42 following the announcement that Lidl Ireland has become the official fresh food partner of parkrun.

“But I was like, ‘I think I need to go and see a physio pretty soon.’ I tore the calf and tore a little muscle called the plantaris muscle. 

“It was a strange one, it’s always interesting whenever these things happen and how you perceive them in the moment. I knew I had done something whenever I finished the race. I went to go do my cooldown jog afterwards and I couldn’t really walk without it being painful.

“As a physio, it’s always interesting having the knowledge of what a calf tear is and then me actually figuring out what it is in my own body when it happens. It’s a whole other thing.”

This isn’t Mageean’s first brush with calf trouble. Last year, just before the Olympics in Tokyo, she tore her left calf during a training session at Team Ireland’s holding camp in Fukuroi.

With too short a recovery window to work with, the injury ultimately derailed her second Olympic campaign as she failed to progress from the heats of the 1,500m.

That was a devastating blow, of course, but one upside to be gained from it all was that it was Mageean’s other calf that bothered her last month in Manchester.

“That was the first question the physio asked me when I talked to him straight after the race. He was like, ‘Is it the calf that you tore at the Olympics?’ He said it actually would have been a pretty poor prognosis if I had re-torn the previous injury.

“As annoying as it is that I tore the other calf, he said that it means that the left calf is strong enough and that the rehab has worked. I just don’t know why the right one decided to go and tear itself right in the middle of a race.

“Now I have a nice tear of the left and right calf.”

The doctor advised Mageean that her injury would take two to four weeks to heal. 

And after a discussion with her coach, Steve Vernon, they decided that she should end her indoor campaign to focus on her rehab, “be smart and forge the outdoor season.”

As we speak, Mageean sounds sprightly down the phone having just completed her first session since making that call.

There were a few nerves beforehand, wondering how her calf would handle the load after the time off. And while her calf still has a bit to go before there’s a full recovery, she’s happy with where her progress is at.

ciara-mageean-on-her-way-to-finishishing-10th James Crombie / INPHO Mageean running at the Tokyo Olympics. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I was devastated for this injury to ultimately rule me out of the indoor season, but I was like, ‘It’s ok, I’ve processed that. The logical thing for me to do is rehab it and come back slowly and strong, and get ready for a big outdoor season.’

“Whenever something like that happens so close to a major race like the Olympic Games, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. You only have a couple of go’s at the Olympic Games.

“But you have to build yourself up. You have to roll with the punches. It is what it is and there’s plenty of sports people out there that deal with these type of things. You look at what’s happening in the world right now and how it puts sport into perspective.

“The older I get, the more I get a bit of perspective on life. Sometimes I’m more aware of how few championships I have left. My number of years left in the sport is now becoming a lot more obvious to me than when I was in my early 20s.

“You have to process these things and I’m feeling positive, probably because I had a great session this morning and I’m feeling very good about it. So, I’m hoping this is a new chapter and I’ll put calf injuries behind me.”

Along with that growing sense of perspective, Mageean has also developed a keen interest in checking in on the progress of emerging athletes in Ireland. Having a scout and keeping an eye out for the next wave of stars.

She attended the National Indoor Championships over the weekend as an interested spectator, and looked on in amazement at the performances on show.

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Nurturing talented athletes that are on the rise is the key objective of the the newly established Jerry Kiernan Foundation.

The Foundation, which was created as a tribute to the Irish athletics legend who passed away last year, aims to support young athletes by raising money via donations and sponsorships and issuing grants to promising young athletes.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” says Mageean in memory of her former coach.

“I’m so excited to see a bunch of Jerry’s friends get together to really honour Jerry’s memory, and do something that I think Jerry would be absolutely thrilled to have in place and help fund the athletes towards doing what their life goal is.

“That’s what Jerry really did for all of the athletes that he supported. He wouldn’t let us put our hands in our pocket to buy him a coffee, never mind paying him to coach us. He was always so caring and gave so much of his time to us. I have to take my hat off to the whole committee that have set up the Jerry Kiernan Foundation, they’ve done a fantastic job.

“I’m very excited to see them announce the athletes that they’re going to support going forward. It’s a fantastic initiative and hopefully something that will really help athletes that are often on the cusp. I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to be a full-time athlete and I’m able to support myself in many ways.

“There’s many athletes who aren’t in that position, that don’t get to go on camps with the team that they’re with or are barely affording to pay rent. Just being a contracted athlete with New Balance, I don’t have to buy my trainers.

She added:

“I think the plan is to really expand this [Foundation] and pursue more areas of what Jerry was interested in. He was a huge advocate for trying to get young children out and being active. He used to have his school class out running a mile every day and I know that’s something they’re envisioning for the future.”

“And Lidl partnering up with Parkrun Ireland is also something that’s really good because Jerry was a man for pushing all the healthy fruit and veg on me. He used to deliver liver to my door to help get my iron levels up, which I always found hilarious.

“The fact they’re giving exclusive Lidl plus coupons every week for Parkrun runners. I wish I was living in Ireland so I could get them.”

Lidl Ireland has partnered with parkrun to become their Official Fresh Food Partner. parkrun is a free-of-charge, family friendly, community event held in parks and open spaces around the world every weekend.

Olympian and Lidl ambassador, Ciara Mageean joined Lidl to announce the three-year agreement with parkrun, in partnership with Vhi.

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