Imagine running for six hours non-stop around a 400 metre track, amassing over 73kms and discovering you still have power in your legs to keep going.
That’s how Jan, or ‘Jantastic’ as she is known (and for good reason), felt last August when she undertook a virtual marathon organised by the Ultra Marathon Association.
“We had to do it locally because we were in lockdown. Two club mates and I did it on a 400m track at Le Cheile. I was dizzy afterwards,” she laughs.
She covered a colossal 73.75km.
“That was the furthest I’ve ever ran, I felt really good. It was a big learning curve for me as well. I know now that I can do it. By the time the six hours was up, I could have kept running, so that was a huge confidence boost for me. Then obviously, having my club mates there was great. They jumped in and out and I got to wear my Irish kit. It wasn’t my official debut but it was still a debut.”
Working from home at St Mary’s Park in Leixlip as an anti-money laundering consultant, Jan has already qualified for the 50km in the World Championships and is aiming to cut her marathon time down to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Having just turned 41 last month, the Leixlip athlete first took up running back in 2014.
” It kind of started around when my grandfather took ill, because I needed something it to keep my mind off it. I’ve always been very sporty from a very young age and soccer was a big thing that I did, and if somebody told me I couldn’t do it, or it’s only for boys, I’d say ‘you know what you can do’ and I’d try and prove them wrong,” declared Jan.
Her grandfather, William Cogley, who hailed from Enniscorthy, subsequently passed away.
“Running was my kind of escape, my way of dealing with it, I just decided to do something. I knew I was fit but running was a different type of fitness to soccer and it took a while . I didn’t do it to win races or anything, it was just for my mental health,” she said.
Jan recalled how her sister-in-law asked her to visit her local running club soon after.
“We were living in Westmeath at the time and I went down and I loved it. I wasn’t thinking about marathons, or ultra marathons at the time, I was just happy to run with everybody and my coach at the time saw something in me, and said ‘you know you could be quite good if we structured it right and you could start winning some medals and stuff’,” she explained.
“I used to think people who ran marathons were mad, you know, why would you want to do something stupid like that, and now I’m one of those people who does that, but I love doing it. I like how I feel when I get out for a run. Even now I just love it with everything that is going on, it’s great for your mental health.”
The Leixlip runner always enjoyed watching the Olympics.
“I loved everything about it. I used to say to myself ‘why couldn’t I have just did that (running) when I was young’. Then I saw Sinead Diver (Irish born Australian runner who has excelled on international level). Somebody said to me ‘you’re the same age as her. I looked it up and I am. I said ‘she is going to the Olympics, why can’t I’.
“I said it to my coach John Reynolds, ‘do you think I could do the Olympics’ and he started laughing, he says, ‘why do you think we’re doing the training that we are doing’.”
Jan said he didn’t want to put pressure on her.
“He’d always known, but he said he didn’t want to say it to me. He said ‘I needed for you to come to me’, rather than him forcing something on me. He said he needed to me to get it into my head that I could do something like that. It makes it easier to work together. You know what your goals are.”
Jan described John as her wingman.
“He looks after me, gives out all the training plans, not just for me, he does it for the Le Cheile club, he does it for everyone, Mine is more tailored.”
Working in her training around her full time job has been tough.
“I’m not sponsored, I have to fund myself. That means I have to work. The people I work for are fantastic, they know I have to fit in training around work and they are flexible. It’s a private family business and they are hugely supportive. I don’t think I would be at the level I’m at without them,” she said.
“It is hard. you have to fit it in around work and home life. Trying to get support from local businesses and companies and gyms is very hard, nobody responds. It’s very frustrating when you go to the bother of reaching out to somebody and you don’t even get an acknowledgement back.”
She describes how it is hard seeing professional athletes in the UK and US getting so much help and support.
” Maybe that’s why we don’t have as many Irish athletes going to these events because people are struggling to try and obviously to work full time and train and stuff. It’s not going to stop me. I am going to show that you can work full time and still train, its probably going to be harder, but it can still be done in the end,” she stressed.
One question that has been hanging there for the entire interview surfaces. What is an anti-money laundering consultant? Jan explains that they make sure the money that comes into an organisation is clean, that is not from the proceeds of crime.
“If you think of it, if I walked into a bank with €20,000 and I put it into my account, but I have robbed a shop, or I am after selling drugs and I come in with that money, that should be looked into. It’s unusual patterns of how people are coming in with money. So for example, if someone was on the dole and all of a sudden they have €20,000, people should be asking questions as to where they got that money from.”
She said the investigations are carried out in the background, people wouldn’t even know that it’s going on.
“We make sure that everything is above board and businesses are doing what they say they are going to do,” explained Jan.
” If I could run full time, then I’d be happy. It pays the bills, I love the people I work for and they are so supportive so that does make it easier.”
Jan lives with her wife Louise and her dog Teddy, who is a miniature Schnauzer.
When asked if Teddy can keep her with her, Jan explained he comes out on a couple of runs, but he wouldn’t be able for any fast ones.
So what’s next on Jan’s agenda? She hopes to represent Ireland at the Anglo Celtic Plate early next year, which has already been postponed twice.
“I don’t know if it’s going ahead. We will have to wait and see,” she said.
She will also be lining out for the Irish Athletics National Championships in Donadea (50km) in February.
“That should go ahead. Its smaller numbers and they will be able to run it so it will be safe for everyone involved, unless they are told otherwise,” she added.
Jan has competed in the nationals twice and has come second on both occasions, having achieved the International A Standard, which makes her eligible for the World Championships (50km) if and when they happen.
They are due to take place next year but as of yet, there is no definitive date set for them.
“Everything is so up in the air, we just have to keep training as if the race is going to happen, because it’s better to be prepared than under prepared and then to find out it’s happening and have done nothing so that’s kind of what I have been doing.”
“The Celtic Plate was due to happen in May in Boddington in the UK so I started training in December and then it got postponed.”
Trying to stay motivated for races that you don’t know are going to happen is a huge challenge.
Jan pointed out: “I’m using it as a opportunity to tweak things and make improvements.”
She said the six hour virtual marathon at Le Cheile was of huge benefit and if the Celtic Plate race had of went ahead in May or September, when it was supposed to, she would not have had the opportunity to have the test run.
Jan regularly does 30km around St Catherine’s Park and calls it a rest day.
“St Catherine’s Park has been a godsend for me. It’s only a kilometre from my house, and I can go up and I can keep running and running, and I see all the people and the faces, and I’m sure they are thinking, what is she doing cause I just keep going around and around but I’m very lucky that it’s there during all the lockdowns.”
“It was hard when we had that 2km radius ban, but you can either let it get on top of you, or you can just make it work and that’s what I did, I just made it work.”
Setting goals for next year is a tricky task given the ever present unpredictable looming spectre of Covid 19.
” The ultimate aim is to try and get my marathon time down to the qualification time for the Paris Olympics in 2024. I don’t know if Tokyo will go ahead and I don’t want to put myself under too much pressure to try and get the time for then,” explained Jan.
“I don’t have the qualification time at the moment and with those marathons coming up anyway, it’s going to be too hard to get. I think with 2024, its allot more achievable and hopefully things will start to go back to some sort of normality and I can start chipping away at getting my time down.
“At the moment I am saying I need about a 23 minute improvement. It can definitely be done, I have shaved over an hour off my time already since 2015. My current marathon time is 2.52 so the qualification time to get into the Olympics that should have happened this year, was 2.29 so its definitely achievable. I’ve seen other athletes doing it and I’ve got the drive there to do it.
“It would be a big dream and an honour obviously to represent my country at a big stage like that. I am going to give it everything so when I don’t feel like going for a run, I say well if you want to go to the Olympics you are going to have to go. It’s as simple as that.
“Then I think of my grandad looking down on me and then that’s my motivation as well.
“My coach puts in so much time and effort into my coaching and I don’t want to let him down and then my family as well, because you have to make sacrifices, when we could do things, you did have stuff like weddings and parties and stuff like that, I’d always have to say no because I’d have a run the next day.”
Jan is has always taken a positive approach during all the postponements and lockdowns.
“I have big goals and its not going to be handed to me, I’m going to have to work for it and I’m not afraid to work for it.”
She said her clubmates are brilliant and she has roped them all in for some “crazy runs”.
“It’s important to have the right people around you and I am very lucky to have those around me as well.”
Jan’s mum passed away in May this year (not covid related). She is determined to succeed and said she takes inspiration from those who are watching down on her including her mum and grandad.
Check out Jan’s instagram @jantastic2 or search #jantasticjourney online