Ciara Mageean got a message from her agent in mid-January inquiring if there was something she had not disclosed. It had just been reported that Mageean would be part of the Portaferry hurling team's backroom staff for the coming season. Her agent must have wondered if she was ditching athletics to help her hometown club regain the Down title.
"The new manager got in touch with me, and asked would I be willing to chat with the guys whenever I'm home," Mageean tells Balls with a laugh about the attention her involvement received.
"I'd say the boys are glad that I'm not doing their fitness training. They might not want to do what I would prescribe. I'm going to have a wee chat with the guys.
"When that came out, my cousin messaged me and said, 'Are you going to be pitchside, and taking us for running training?' I was like, 'You're lucky, I'm not!'"
Mageean had a bit more time on her hands this spring. During her first race of the indoor season, a 3000m in Manchester on January 23rd which saw her set a new personal best, she suffered a grade two tear to her calf. It means she will miss the upcoming World Indoor Championships in Belgrade. There was a mitigating piece of fortune: it was not the same muscle which she injured just a week before last year's Olympics.
"Straight after the race, I phoned my physio," she explains.
"He asked that question, 'Is it the same calf as the Olympics?' It was the other side. He thought it was a better prognosis, that it wouldn't have been good if it had been the same calf. It would have indicated a weakness in that area."
Three weeks after suffering the injury, Mageaan announced her indoor season was over before it got past the opening credits.
The 29-year-old returned to the track for her first serious session last Tuesday. She felt nervous going into it, but the session went well.
Mageean isn't sure when her next race will be. She's going to Saint Moritz in April for an altitude camp with Team New Balance Manchester, and might run a road race prior to travelling, but it's in pencil on the calendar rather than permanent marker.
"The week that myself and Steve (Vernon, her coach) decided the calf wasn't progressing fast enough for me to be able to race the indoor season, I felt a huge weight of disappointment because up until that point, I was still ambitious about being able to do the Irish indoors and the worlds. I had the standard, and knew I'd been in really good shape," she says.
"In moments like that, your motivation for cross-training, and being on the bike, definitely wanes. It's like, 'What's the point of me going to the gym and doing the bike when I'm not getting to race?'
"That's normal, and it's important for people to allow themselves feel those emotions; the frustrations, the disappointments, it's all part of a little grieving cycle. You have to allow yourself to be there, process it and come out.
"Our sport has so many disappointments, and you realise that you'll have more disappointing days than you have amazing days. You have to find the joy and the glory in all the little battles that you have, all the little processes. And try to have fun doing it.
"My Mum always used to be, 'Just go out and have fun!' and I was like, 'There's nothing fun about running yourself into the ground, and throwing up at the end'. It's not what people would typically say is fun. I've really tried to think about how I go about it. Whenever you lay yourself bare, give it all that you can, you have to walk away happy."
This summer will be a hectic one for Mageean. She's got the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and European Championships in the space of five weeks. They will come nearly three years on from the best performance of her career at the World Championships in Doha. Mageean finished 10th in a rapid 1500m final, breaking her personal best by more than a second as Sifan Hassan ran the field into the ground and to a multitude of personal bests and national records.
"It was probably among the fastest races there have ever been," Mageean says.
"For somebody to run 3:54 or 3:55, and not win a medal, it was just insane. At the time I was like, 'Flipping hell, what do I have to do win a medal? These performances are just insane'.
"Then I take a step back, and I'm so proud of myself, I went into that race, and stayed so calm in the process of a race that was literally just running into oblivion. I raced the race that I had to, to finish 10th in the world. You take a step back and think, 'If you're 10th in the world in anything, you'd be super proud'.
"It's quite hard in my sport. Athletics is a truly global sport. To win a medal in any event in athletics is extremely tough. It can sometimes feel a little frustrating because I know what that performance equates to and how good it is.
"There's always that little frustration for us in athletics, quite often Sports Council funding comes down to medals. [In] many sports, it's easier to win a world medal than it is in athletics. Yet, we still get classified a lot of the time under the same classification - that we have to medal. It's very tough.
"It's not that my dreams aren't to get up there and medal - they are. But then you realise that there are just somethings... I don't think that I'll run 3:51 for 1500m.
"It'd be a realistic goal in my mind for me to say I really want to run under four minutes, and try to get an Irish record in the 1500m. That's something I think is well within my grasp. It's achievable for me if I get myself to the best that I can possibly be.
"3:51, and winning a gold medal at that World Championships, that isn't attainable for me. That's really hard for me to come to terms with."
The notion that she must find the fun her running is one Mageean is constantly working on.
"I tell myself whenever I get to a major championships, and I'm so nervous standing at the start line of a World Championships, that 'You've worked your whole life to get to this day'," she says.
"I remind myself that I want to be here, and I've worked so hard to be here. I'm excited to see what I can do."
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