A new year comes with new opportunities, goals, and achievements.
We have asked the Saysky athletes, and running buddies, James Heneghan & William Bryan about their learnings from last year, and what goals to pursue in 2022.
“Throughout the year I have constantly learned how to balance training, studying and working. My coach said that training after a long day is “like training at altitude” in that you must be careful to not push too hard, but also accept that it is going to be tough. My main improvement has come with consistency. It is very cliché, but consistency is key!”
“Every setback is an opportunity to learn and to take positives from, I know from experience it’s so easy to only see the negatives. This year, there will be so much to learn and I will be really testing my limits on what I can do mentally as well as physically. But I am so excited to start training for it and test myself.”
If you are curious to know more about their learnings and motivation for 2022, please keep reading below.
Could you start by introducing yourself and your athletic background?
James: Shwmae, I’m James, a middle-distance athlete and medical student at Cardiff. I am a sub-4-minute miler (a description that I have always wanted to be able to say and now overuse) who has run a sub 1:50 800m and sub-30-minute 10km. Although this means I do spend a lot of time on an oval, I love exploring the stunning Welsh scenery when it fits in.
I have always enjoyed a lot of sports but have focused on athletics for the last 7 years. I have run a personal best over 1500m 12 years in a row, becoming track focused despite starting as an average cross-country runner. I drink a lot of coffee, talk too much and I am a member of the Cardiff based Team Thie training group which has had 7 sub 4 milers (including the coach, James Thie).
William: I am a 24 year old long distance runner currently based in the South of Wales. My sporting career began at the age of 8 when I took up field hockey. I did progress quite far in hockey having played county and regional standard as a junior. I was never really a runner though, doing the odd parkrun just for fitness and was always overweight so never quick. Towards the end of first year of university I realised I was unhappy with my body and had stagnated in my sport. I decided to make a change; over the summer I took my nutrition more seriously and really focused on getting fit. By the end of the summer I had cut my 5K time down from 20 mins to a mid 16… I never picked up a hockey stick again. I was fortunate enough to be picked up by 2 fantastic coaches who are creating a formidable group in Southampton. These guys are the people who got me hooked on running and made me want to find my limits.
How did you guys meet?
James: Out of the two of us, Will is the old bloke (one whole year older) and had to put up with me joining his hockey team if they were short of players. Basically, if I was playing with him, it was a bad sign because I was pretty terrible at all parts of hockey except running. Over the years Will has seen the light and has also chosen running over hockey and has even followed me across the Welsh border. We group up only about 5 miles apart and so whether we are in Hampshire or Cardiff, Will can’t escape me waffling continuously on a long run.
William: I met Heneghan way back in early secondary school, back in the days where I was the taller one. Now I’m about a half a foot shorter. We met when James took up hockey at school. He’d admit he wasn’t technically the most gifted player but boy he could run. I was the year above James so had different social groups so never knew each other too well. After secondary school our paths didn’t cross until I took up running properly and now we know each other a lot better.
How do you help each other perform better?
James: Will can run all day, every day and then the next day. Aerobically he is stronger than me and so on longer reps he often leads and on shorter ones I push the tempo. I would love to get him to join me for some fast 200m reps… but I don’t think Will is that keen to join.
There is also added motivation for Will now, since despite his phenomenal half marathon personal best (64 minutes) he still has not broken the 30-minute 10km barrier, something that I achieved this October. I am sure that he will break this barrier very soon, partly so that I can’t keep pointing it out.
The beauty of our training group is that we have guys with a huge range of ability and speciality and so there is always someone bringing some good vibes. We are all very competitive, which obviously helps push you on, particularly when you feel tired after a long day of work and it’s pouring down with rain. On the flip side our group is pretty good at keeping reps controlled when we need to, with only the occasional last rep sprint!
William: We both have different strengths and weaknesses. James has a top end speed that I can only dream of meaning he can really push the pace for the short intervals in training. This is great for me as it means I have a target to try and chase which keeps me honest. My strengths lie in the longer aerobic work. I am better at sustaining a pace for a long period meaning I can let James tuck in whilst I do more of the work. It is great just being in the same training group as James always brings good vibes to the sessions. In Cardiff the winters are miserable, it makes it a lot easier when you’re a group you want to be with.
Can you please sum up your performances in 2021 - what are your proudest moments?
James: 2021 didn’t exactly start as planned with only certain athletes being allowed to compete. I would say that this meant I had more time to study, but honestly, I made the most of being able to train and sleep more. When the season did start this all paid off. I started with a 2:21 1000m at the Cardiff track and went on to run 3:41 for the 1500, that all important 3:59 mile, 1:49 for the 800 and ending the season by winning the Welsh championship 1500.
This year has been a huge learning curve for me, racing at a far higher level and I have loved it. This Winter Saysky sent me some fantastic kit for Newport 10km and I was able to run 29:54 for second (including some shameless second place celebrating over the finish line). I have just rounded off the year with an indoor 3000m at my home track, running 8:04 for a 23 second PB. Overall, not a bad year.
William: My 2021 had more ups and downs than the letter W. I cracked open the year with a 5K PB on the road followed by a relatively average track season, but backed it up with some strong road performances later in the year. I think my proudest moments have to be my Great North and Great South results. They were the first races I had put months of back to back specific training in just to target these races. I really had to mentally turn myself around after a few disappointments in the oval office. I had to believe in myself and the team around me!
Great North was the first time I got to toe the line alongside huge names like Galen Rupp, Bashir Abdi and Jake Smith just to name a few, so I really had to focus not crack on the occasion. I snuck under 65 mins which I am super happy with for a debut half marathon. Great South was also a highlight. It is a local race to me so the support I received from people I knew on race day was insane. I got more shouts than Chris Thompson, the Tokyo Olympic runner, alongside me. Being able to perform at a high level in front of friends and family is a moment I will cherish forever.
What are some challenges you faced last year and what have you learned from these?
James: Throughout the year I have constantly learned how to balance training, studying and working. My coach James Thie said that training after a long day is “like training at altitude” in that you must be careful to not push too hard, but also accept that it is going to be tough. This has really stuck with me and again was key to my 10km build up.
The lack of early season racing seemed like a challenge at the time, but in truth I think it showed that racing too often can be detrimental. I was able to train more consistently, and this is something that I have focused on this winter by purposefully racing less.
William: Injuries were one of the big reasons my track season wasn’t what I had hoped for. I was trying to overload my body and trying to do more than my body could handle. It was difficult to motivate yourself to persist with rehab work when over a month I had 2 separate injury issues. I learned a lot about what my body could take though and now know that during speed centric work I need to reduce my running mileage but can offset this with more bike work. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and to take positives from, I know from experience it’s so easy to only see the negatives.
What are your focus and goals for 2022?
James: I have been added to Wales’ Commonwealth games long list, so the focus is to run under 3:39 before 8th May, to qualify for Birmingham 2022. Obviously, the rest of the season depends entirely on this, so a mix of 800/1500 races will be the mini targets on the way.
It’s probably also important to mention that I have my final practical exam this year in May, so passing that is the academic goal that I have for the year… It should be pretty fun trying to balance the two!
William: I am hoping that 2022 will be the year that I debut in the marathon. There will be so much to learn and I will be really testing my limits on what I can do mentally as well as physically. But I am so excited to start training for it and test myself. If I run well and surprise myself like I did with the half marathon that will be incredible, but at the same time if it all goes wrong then I can learn from it. You bet if that happens I will be hungry for another opportunity to prove to myself that I can run the sub 2:20 or 2:19 I know I am fully capable of.
Some best practices on how to successfully achieve goals?
James: My main improvement has come with consistency. It is very cliché, but consistency is key! I found that tracking my total exercise time and using a heart rate monitor has helped me to avoid illness which has contributed to my improvement.
I also believe that topping up aerobic training with speedwork is crucial regardless of your event. Our group saw a crazy 2:11 debut marathon from Jake Smith, which followed on shortly after a 1500m PB! I really believe that top end speed work is a key part of the training recipe.
William: Firstly, this might sound cliche but set high standards for yourself. This doesn’t just have to be for what you want to achieve, that’s a given. Making sure you get the other things right like your nutrition and sleep will help you progress. All the training in the world won’t help without doing the other bits too.
Having a good reason why helps as well. Mine is to try and see what I am capable of, I NEED to know how fast I can go. This will help you go and get it done on those days you don’t want to, yes we all have them. Finally, having a supportive group around you makes a world of difference. I am lucky and have a supportive coach and family. Someone that will listen to my moaning and encourage me to keep pushing forwards helps me. I love my sport, but everyone needs a kick up the bum sometimes!
Name: James Heneghan
Country: United Kingdom
Follow here: Instagram
Name: William Bryan
Country: United Kingdom
Follow here: Instagram