Sprinter and DCU Multimedia graduate, Mark Smyth, is the reigning Irish 200m champion and will compete with the Irish 4 x 100 m men’s relay team at the European Championships in Munich this summer. In this piece, he discusses how DCU Sports and Wellbeing has enabled him to combine high performance sport with academic success.
How did you first discover your passion for running?
I was relatively late in starting to take my running seriously. Until the age of 16, my first sport was Gaelic games. I did some running with my school, but I was mostly put into cross country races, which I wasn’t great at. One day, at a North Leinster schools competition, my coach decided to try something different and put me into a 200m race. I ended up winning it and after that, I began to take running more seriously. My school coach was affiliated with Raheny Shamrocks, so I started to go to their training sessions regularly and eventually my coach convinced me to give up Gaelic football and to concentrate on athletics. To be honest, I found the running more enjoyable and rewarding and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
What drew you to DCU as a student athlete?
For me, DCU offered both the only course I wanted to do and a strong reputation in athletics. I’ve always been interested in the creative side of media, and so Multimedia at DCU was the ideal course for me. I spoke with DCU’s Head of Athletics when I was doing my Leaving Certificate and I was aware of the supports available for athletes too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the points I needed first time around to do Multimedia, but I found another way in after doing a two-year further education course in Film Production.
What are the main challenges for a student athlete trying to combine high performance sport with university life?
The biggest challenge for me is simply that I don’t have enough hours in a day. In my course, particularly in final year, there was a lot of group work and assignments, which took a lot of time. On top of that, I train five days a week at Morton Stadium or in the gym. Each session takes about three hours from my day, with up to two hours spent on the track and then time spent getting there and back. What I have learned over the last few years is that I need to be very efficient with my time, but also that I need to be a bit flexible too. There will be times when I might have to accept I will be late to training because I have a group project to complete, and likewise, there will be times when I have to leave a group meeting to attend training.
How did DCU Sports and Wellbeing help you with these challenges?
I have always felt like the Sports and Wellbeing team have the same goals that I do, that I will perform well on the track but also academically. I don’t just want to get by in my course, I want to get high grades as well. Their support has also enabled me to go to the next level as an athlete. Although there is a sprints group and coach at DCU, I decided to stick with my own coach, Kay Bannon from Raheny Shamrocks, as I didn’t want to change an arrangement that was working for me. However, my training with Kay has been enhanced through access to other supports at DCU, such as talks with a nutritionist, who told me that I eat like a builder when we first met! Through DCU, I also get access to strength and conditioning training with an instructor from the Sports Institute, which has helped me to improve both performance and injury prevention.
The financial support has also been crucial in enabling me to do warm weather training and to travel to compete in higher standard international competitions where I can run faster times to hopefully qualify for international competitions.
You have just completed your degree in Multimedia, what is next for your career and sporting ambitions?
This summer, I will be competing with the Irish men’s 4 x 100m relay team at the European Championships in Munich. When I return, I will be coming back to DCU to do a Masters in Emerging Media. Thanks to the Sports and Wellbeing team, I have been given some academic flexibility to complete the masters over two years, which will help me to also focus on achieving my running goals. I’m very proud to be a national champion, but my focus moving forward is really on competing on an international stage. I have qualified for European U23 championships in the past, but the next step for me now will be to qualify to compete in senior international athletics competitions in my individual discipline as well as with the relay team.