Sport
Jan 23, 2019

A Life Spent on the Track

Since arriving in Trinity four years ago, Sorcha McAllister has taken her running to the next level.

Cathal McCabeStaff Writer
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John S O'Connor

Running has always been a part of Sorcha McAllister’s life. During her childhood, many of her neighbours in Westport had made running an important part of the world around them. Her mother, an accomplished runner in her own right, encouraged McAllister to join her local club, Westport Athletic Club. She took part in her first competition at when she was 10.

When I ask her about the early days of her track and cross-country running career, McAllister smiles. “I used to hate it, not even hate it, but I used to be really bad.” But by the time she was 15, her opinion of the sport had completely changed, which she attributes to her growing aptitude for running. Her first big achievement came when she was 16, coming third in a national running competition, but she says her life continued on, with relative normality, for the remainder of her years in school.

By the age of 14, most athletes will have decided whether they are a sprinter or a middle or long-distance runner. For her, though, the path was never in real doubt

She competed in various running events, such as steeplechase, in secondary school, but she soon realised that it was in track and cross country that she truly excelled. I wonder if she ever considered other disciplines, like the 100-metre sprint. McAllister recoils in horror. “I’m not a sprinter. I’m so slow, but I can keep up a speed over a certain distance.”

McAllister tells me that by the age of 14, most athletes will have decided whether they are a sprinter or a middle or long-distance runner. For her, though, the path was never in real doubt.

It was when she came to Trinity, though, that her running really took off. Although she always planned on joining Dublin University Harriers & Athletic Club (DUHAC), she praises the club for their friendly and welcoming nature. She won the cross-country Colours competition in first year, but she insists the rest of the year was quite normal as she established her presence in the club. In her second year, she won the 3,000-metre intervarsity outdoor competition and received a bronze medal in the 3,000-metre intervarsity indoors. She also received bronze as part of the DUHAC team. “That was the first year that every race kind of went the way I wanted to”, McAllister recalls. Now a sports scholar, McAllister believes that her College experience, especially during her second year, is when she really came into her own.

McAllister is vehement when I ask if her College work has suffered from her involvement in DUHAC. “If anything”, she insists, “it has probably added to my college experience”. She acknowledges that she is definitely busier than the average college student, with training sessions five or six times a week, but she has managed to balance her athleticism with her life as a human genetics student. She says her running often pushes her to be more efficient in tackling her workload, and she is quick to get assignments completed and out of the way so she can train for the next competition.

Acknowledging the struggle it takes to earn a scholarship in any sport in Trinity, McAllister says it’s particularly tricky to obtain one as a runner, in a sport focused by definition on individual more than team. “To even be considered for any kind of national team”, she offers, “you have to get a national medal, which is first, second or third in the entire country, as opposed to top 11 in most team sports”. It was a “nice shock”, then, to find out that she had successfully obtained a scholarship – along with all the benefits it brings – this year.

What are the highlights of a lifetime spent on the track? McAllister points, as one of the most prominent, to last year’s cross-country intervarsity championships, which were held in Trinity’s Santry sportsgrounds. Despite initially being cancelled due to the chaos wreaked by the “Beast from the East”, the rescheduled competition proved to be a successful one for DUHAC’s ladies’ team, as they medalled for the first time in five years. McAllister herself came fourth, which she was very pleased with given the calibre of her competitors. The team’s victory, though, is her favourite memory: “When you win with a team it’s kind of nicer.”

I’m not a sprinter. I’m so slow, but I can keep up a speed over a certain distance

When I speak to her, McAllister has her eyes fixed on the national competition, with the aim of being selected for a spot on European cross-country championships.

Although she understands that her road to stardom may lie in cross country, she still has great aspirations in track running, wishing to win a national senior medal in that field.

Reading through the list of McAllister’s successes, you could be forgiven for thinking that she plans to pivot to a full-time career in running once she completes her degree. McAllister, however, insists that she plans to put her degree to use: “I am here to study at the end of the day. Degree comes over athletics. I’ll probably stick with human genetics as a career.” She says that she cannot see herself pursuing a career in coaching, but she is adamant that she will continue to run throughout her life. Mentioning masters’ competitions, she declares boldly that she could keep running until she was 65 if she wanted to. Given, though, her rapid ascent since coming to Trinity, featuring what seems like an endless array of medals, it’s safe to say that McAllister still has plenty more to achieve on the track.

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