Ian MacNicol
back in the habit

'You could live like a celebrity if you wanted': Rob Heffernan is chasing that winning feeling again

After putting on more weight than he’d have liked last year, the 50km World Champion is feeling lean and hungry again.

ROB HEFFERNAN MENTALLY scolds himself as he thinks back six months.

His wife Marian was due to give birth to their third child, but he was the only person letting himself go. At least it seemed that way in the mind of a world champion.

“You could nearly live the life of a celebrity if I’d wanted to after Moscow,” the Corkman said after a photoshoot in Dublin’s Stephen’s Green yesterday.

“I’m normally 57kgs and I was tipping 63-64 by November. You’ll never ever get back unless you’re able to put that work in and I know what I have to do to put that work in. You can’t get carried away.”

63 kilogrammes may not sound like much, but to an endurance racewalker intending to win, you may as well strap on a rucksack.

Since those depths of winter and peaks on the weighing scales, Heffernan has returned to something approaching peak fitness and Marian has given birth to Regan.

Heffernan has found himself railing against the perception that a newborn daughter would slow him down. 15 weeks after the birth of Regan, the family Heffernan have found that their routines are perfectly adaptable.

“It was that kind of, ‘No. I’m going to be focused on this block!’ And I was more focused and more regimented. I’d come home from training at lunchtime and Marian would have a few hours to herself and I’d go to sleep with the baby and then go back training in the afternoon. Everything else was cut out. It definitely settled us.”

The idea of using the “log cabin” (or garden shed to those who are not so well acquainted) as the quiet retreat to the altitude tent was shelved and instead the attic has been converted for the same purpose. Like most elite sportsmen, Heffernan is not overly eager to espouse the virtues of any one element of his preparation.

What British cycling kingmaker Dave Brailsford calls  ‘the accumulation of marginal gains’ means there is no big secret, just lots of little things that sound slightly odd in isolation. So, whatever about the red blood cells, Heffernan points out that sometimes the main benefit of altitude is simply the absence of distraction.

“Everyone went bananas on this altitude thing,” says the ambassador.

“When you go to real altitude too, like, we were in South Africa for three weeks: There’s barbed wire around the house, and you can’t leave at night. We went to and from the course. If you do that every day, don’t break down, then you’ll get some results out of it.”

unnamed (6) Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Under those conditions, distractions begin to sound very appealing. Heffernan admits finding it tough to be removed from his young family for three weeks of such a formative stage. And his mood hasn’t been helped by last weekend’s 20km race in Taicang, China, when he was burnt off at the halfway point by the specialists over the shorter distance.

In many team sports, the maxim goes that you’re only as good as your last result, but in athletics the exposure means there is a different perception. With his gold medal still not 12 months old, you might think that view would suit Heffernan, but he’s a realist and struggles to identify with a jubilant reaction from the public when he’s reeling from a 20km race that feels “like getting beat up”.

“The common man on the street doesn’t know anything about [the race in] China, and I’m depressed at the start of the week. I was so down, [but] there’s still people coming up and they’re congratulating you on Moscow.”


Later this year, Moscow will be replaced by Zurich as the city hosting the year’s major Championship. The gold medallist for last year’s Worlds will go into a European Championship as a marked man. But over this kind of grueling distance, it’s survival of the fittest and after 40km of intense racewalking most only have enough energy to keep themselves going in the final fifth rather than trying to put anybody else off their stride.

This weekend, Heffernan will take the starting gun in Naumberg, Germany for his last race before his latest tilt at a (so far) elusive European medal.

The third and final 20km walk of this training period will further help to give him speed endurance before summer brings a training camp and rest week with his family in Spain before all systems are switched to overdrive again for 25 laps in the streets of Zurich.

November feels like an awful long time ago.

“This is good time of year. It’s a clean run in from here. So if you can get to this point, with all the winter training done, then from June it’s only eight weeks – Bang, Bang, Bang – and no going back, no distractions.”

Rob Heffernan is an ambassador for, Ireland’s newest and most innovative health insurer.

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