Pat Tiernan, Always Looking for a good competition, by Cathal Dennehy


Pat Tiernan is one of the finest runners from the land down under, Australia. There must be something in the air, where a group of fine distance runners develop, looking for a good battle on the track. It is what the sport is about, and why we enjoy many of the Australian distance runners of this generation and years past.

Cathal Dennehy, our fearless Irish athletic journalist, who, on many occasions, writes for @RunBlogRun, wrote this piece on Pat Tiernan. Pat recently won the NCAA cross country tirle, and then, the iconic Zatopek 10k, aka the Australian 10k Champs. Tiernan is a coming force on the global running scene.

This piece on Pat Tiernan gives the reader a good feel for this fine Australian runner, and we should remind ourselves that we should be seeing Mr. Tiernan on a few podiums in the not too distant future.

It is one of the curious things about the world cross country, an event so dominated by East African nations that in addition to crowning a champion, we often anoint a second, strange title - that of the first non-African-born finisher.

In Kampala, Uganda, earlier this year, Patrick Tiernan filled that role, by finishing 13th in the senior men's race, but for the 22-year-old Australian, talking about such a thing only solidifies a belief that he can't compete with the best, and he's not having that.

"When the results sheet comes out, it's not going to have who was first in each category," he says. "It's not a fun run, so it's about realising you're going to have to race the best in all the big races so you may as well get used to mixing it with them."

It was some run, all the same, Tiernan slicing his way through the field over the second half of the race, passing streams of athletes who had misjudged their effort.

"It was unreal," he says. "Those guys go so quick at the start and you just gotta find your own way in the middle. It was really tough, but I learned a lot of lessons there so I'm glad I went."

A race like that leaves its mark on everyone, and Tiernan was no exception. In the weeks after he returned to his training base in Philadelphia nursing an inflamed achilles tendon, which confined him mostly to the pool in the fortnight that followed.

But Tiernan bounced back, taking to the line at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford on May 5th on a cold breezy evening, where he smashed his 10,000m best by 30 seconds to win in 27:29.81.

It was just five seconds slower than Ben St. Lawrence's Australian 10,000m record, but Tiernan admitted afterwards that was never in his mind.

"At the end of the day I was here to race and try to beat some top competition," he said. "Being able to run that this early is a really good indicator and very encouraging."

What was perhaps most impressive was his final lap, a noteworthy 57.81 seconds, as Tiernan kicked away from Mohammed Ahmed, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Hassan Mead to take the win, and for that he has a clear explanation.

"The focus has been on strength and conditioning recently," he says. "We've come a long way in that in the last 18 months and to be able to close today sub-60, something I've never been able to do, I'm really happy with how I'm going."

For a world-class distance runner, Tiernan's training is certainly on the conservative side, and for that he has Marcus O'Sullivan to thank, the coach who guided him through his four years at Villanova and continues to coach him today as a professional.

Tiernan logs between 70 and 80 miles each week, with the emphasis on consistency and adapting to how his body is feeling on any given week.

"Marcus is great," says Tiernan. "Laid back is the wrong term, but he has a very calm approach. He's very hands off when it comes to racing and coaching-wise, he's always trying to see how you're feeling. The key for me is to be completely honest with him with how I'm feeling because he'll really listen to you, and that's something that is really important in a coach."

After taking victory in the NCAA cross country last November, Tiernan signed a professional contract with Nike Australia, but he has chosen to remain based by the Villanova campus near Philadelphia, where the majority of his training is done on his own.

"It's great because I can go straight to where I'm at and not be pushed or waiting for someone," he says. "I can flow with what I'm feeling and it's obviously working pretty well at the moment."

In his spare time he'll drop into the Villanova offices to help out, but most of the time between runs it's all about rest, recovery, and preparing for what comes next.

In terms of racing, that will be Eugene Diamond League next week, where he plans to race the 5000m and secure qualification for the World Championships in London. After that he will decamp to Europe, joining up with his teammates from the Melbourne Track Club at their base in Teddington, southwest London.

From there, it's only 20 miles to the stadium which will be the centre of the sports world in August, where Tiernan hopes to utilise his strength and speed to make a mark against distance running royalty over 5000m and 10,000m.

"I want to get amongst it," he says, "and see if I can mix it with the best."

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