Six years in the US at Providence College did no damage to Hugh Armstrong's Mayo accent. It held strong like a coast protected by a sea wall. The time also did no harm to his athletic ability.
Two years ago in Seville, Armstrong ran 2:12.26 for the marathon, putting him in the top 10 fastest Irishmen ever over 26.2 miles. It was also just a minute off the qualifying time for the Olympics.
"I was training hard at the end of 2020 into 2021," says Armstrong, speaking as an ambassador for the Irish Life Dublin Marathon and Race Series.
"It was that sort of thing where there was no race on the calendar, and you were extending the block. Because I was close to the time in an Olympic year, I was pushing it a bit. Then I busted myself.
"I had two sacrum stress fractures. I'd done the right one in January initially. I was coming back from that around July, and then I did the left sacrum coming back from it. That was tough, especially the second one.
"I took it more patiently the second time, did a lot of rehab, and got myself back, thankfully. Probably 12 - 14 weeks [out].
"The first was a particularly bad one. It was a big fracture. At one stage, they were talking about putting a screw in it. Thankfully, it healed up without that.
"I'd never really had much injuries before last year. I was lucky enough to have a good record. I was saving up for a good one when it came about!"
Armstrong grew up in Mayo, played football with Knockmore up to minor level, and ran with Ballina AC. The 27-year-old says he "wasn’t that good as a junior". Though, he was good enough to get a scholarship offer in the US.
"I went to Providence and if you go anywhere there’s people who do well or not so well whether they stay or they go," he says.
"If you look at the current athletes out there, the likes of Brian Fay, Peter Lynch, Cormac Dalton, they’re doing really well.
"You’re exposed to a much higher standard of competition and a very good training group to train with as well. When you’re a good junior at home in Ireland you can start to think you’re good.
"When I went out there first you realise quickly, 'Jeez I’m not that good. I need to get an awful lot better to compete out here' and that was the case with me. I remember my first race and year or two, it was tough.
"To measure it in time, it was massive improvement in all my PBs. Ray Treacy is a world-class coach, he trained me for eight years and I’m lucky to have worked with very good coaches like that.
"It was definitely well worth going. Some of my PBs improved by two minutes if you’re looking at 10K."
Armstrong, who now works as a trainee accountant with An Post and is based in Dublin, returned to Ireland in 2019. While still being trained by Ray Treacy, he ran that year's Dublin Marathon, his first run over the distance.
'I lived at home in Mayo, took my time getting life in order'
"That race went well," he says.
"It was after Dublin then that I started the job that I'm in now with An Post. Ray was still training me in 2020 when I ran the 2:12 in Seville. At the start of 2022, I joined in with Feidhlim Kelly's group, the Dublin Track Club.
"It's nice to have a group to train with. It makes it enjoyable going out each day. Feidhlim is very passionate about the sport. It has worked out well so far.
"It is a difficult enough transition for a lot of people. I was lucky enough that when I came home first, I settled a bit, and didn't start a job straight away. I lived at home in Mayo, and took my time getting life in order.
"I'm lucky enough that An Post are a good employer, and allow me a bit of flexibility for training. My boss is very interested in sport.
"I manage it okay [working full time and training], maybe at some stage I’ll have a go at going full-time [with running] but I’m training good and hard now and I think it’s good to have something to switch your focus from time to time."
Congratulations to PC legend Hugh Armstrong, who is still coached by Ray, on his marathon debut, running 2:14.22 at the Dublin Marathon!
— Providence XC | Track (@FriarsXCTrack) October 27, 2019
In late April, his return from injury going well, Armstrong ran the Wrexham Elite Marathon in Wales, and won, finishing in 2:14:04. The time was inside the qualifying mark for the European Championships in Munich later this summer.
"It was a little bit of a stretch to fit in a marathon but training had been going fairly well, so we said we'd go for it," says Armstrong.
"The race itself, there were pacers in it supposed to be going around that 67 mark but they were gone by 11 miles so I had to do a lot of the work on my own for the last 15 miles or so. That was tough enough.
"I was fairly pleased for a number of reasons: That I was able to hold the pace on my own for the last 15 miles, that I'd come back from the injury successfully, that I won the race, got the European time, and the Welsh all-comers record. It was a good day out."
That year out also helped Armstrong reaffirm his love of the sport.
"When you’re injured you realise how much you’re addicted to running and how much you miss it when you can’t do it," he says.
"It was almost good in a way because when I go out for a run this year, I’m like, 'This is great, just going for a run, as well as being able to compete'.
The Runners' Support Squad initiative will provide expert advice to runners to help them to harness the power of support to achieve their goals. Entry is open for the Irish Life Dublin Race Series; 5 Mile, Fingal 10km, Frank Duffy 10-Mile and Half Marathon at IrishLifeDublinMarathon.ie. The Irish Life Dublin Marathon on Sunday 30th October is sold out.