LAST year, if someone had told the Borris track and cross-country runner, Hannah Kehoe, that she would be representing her country and competing in the 2022 European cross-country champions in Italy, she would scarcely have believed it. Around that time, she was in the process of recovering from growing pains and the process was slow.
Growing pains can affect athletes because of overuse of the muscles causing pain and soreness after an activity. They usually occur at the front of the thighs, the back of the knees and the calves. While Hannah is a formidable competitor both on the track and in the cross-country discipline, this is what she was dealing.
“Up to when I was 14 and 15 I was running well. I had won two All-Irelands (track) before Covid and was nearly always placed in cross-country. I got pains which were pretty serious. I wasn’t able to do anything for two years. That was annoying but it overlapped with lockdown so I didn’t miss that many races. I may have missed one race but that was all,” said Kehoe, who runs for the Kilkenny City Harriers club.
Her achievements this year features a string of firsts at schools particularly in indoors and outdoors 1500m and 3000m national championships. She was fourth in the women’s junior cross country championships at Rosapenna Golf Club in Donegal last month which raised her hopes of being selected on the Irish under 20 team for the Europeans.
“The top three qualify automatically and then they select the next three. I was next in line for possible selection. There are two more runners on the team who are in America,” Hannah explained.
That fourth place surpassed her highest expectations as she was less than a 100% travelling to the northern venue.
“I was quite sick coming into the race. I was delighted with my fourth place and I felt that it would get me a place on the team. If I was fifth I would have been worried,” she recalled. She crossed the finishing line in a time of 14 minute 15 seconds just nine seconds behind Anika Thompson of Leevale. Anna Gardiner (East Down) and Róise Roberts (North Belfast Harriers) took the silver and bronze medals and automatic selection on the Irish team. Hannah’s fourth place gave her one foot on the plane. The selectors would decide whether she would get her second foot inside the door.
Hannah has been running since the age of 13 and got the bug when she accompanied her father who was a marathon runner.
“My Dad brought me training. He probably got me into it but it was something I was interested in anyway.”
In the past, the Loreto college student also took part in the tetrathlon event which is a challenging four phase competition requiring practical horsemanship and general athletic ability involving running, riding, swimming and shooting.
Now she concentrates on the middle distance events on and off the track. She didn’t need to compete in Leinster this year to qualify for the nationals.
“A lot of runners are in college but the standard is very high,” Hannah says.
Immediately after her fourth place in Donegal, she was quietly told she could expect an e-mail from athletics Ireland. That e-mail eventually dropped into her in-box which confirmed she would be travelling to for this weekend.
“I was probably 98% sure. I was told I could expect an e-mail but wasn’t sure until I got the mail. We were so delighted. I had not been expecting it particularly in the weeks coming up to the nationals when I hadn’t been well.
I went in to the race saying I just had to do the race and where come, I will come. I had my preparation done. The race went well for me.”
So Hannah’s perseverance and competitive instincts will be rewarded tomorrow (Friday 9 Dec) when the Borris runner will join the rest of the Irish team at the airport. They will travel to La Mandria Park on the outskirts of Turin for the 28th edition of the SPAR European Cross Country championships and she will race at 9.03am Irish time on Sunday morning. The race will be streamed live and you can watch here.
Kehoe is part of a strong looking Irish team. Anika Thompson (Leevale AC) made the long trip from Oregon to Donegal to claim the national U20 title over a fortnight ago and will lead out the Irish team for her international debut on Sunday morning.
Thompson will head an exciting women’s U20 team with Roise Roberts (North Belfast Harriers) and Jane Buckley (Leevale AC) back for another bite at the European U20 race following encouraging performances at the grade last year. Anna Gardiner (East Down AC), Fiona Hawkins (Dublin City Harriers) and Kehoe complete another young and exciting team.
Away from the Irish team, Ingeborg Østgard, who competed for Norway in the 1500m at the European Athletics Championships in Munich this summer, took the silver medal in Dublin last year and will be looking to upgrade to gold in her last appearance at the grade. Sofia Thøgersen of Denmark was 15th in last year’s race and can be expected to build on that performance on the back of her double medal haul at the European Athletics U18 Championships this year.
Other medal contenders include Finland’s Ilona Mononen, Hungary’s Greta Varga – who finished seventh in this race in 2019 aged 15 – and the highly rated Turkish middle-distance runner Ayca Fidanoglu, the silver medallist in the 1500m at the European Athletics U18 Championships.
By Kieran Murphy