Jan Corcoran is an Irish marathon and ultra runner who has a need for speed and distance. Her journey through the sport is one of pure dedication and raw talent.
One of Corcoran’s races is the 100km which she casually mentions despite it being a distance unfathomable to most. I am shocked only having done 10km myself and being proud of that! She is incredibly humble, and confident. Corcoran is very assured and has her sights set firmly on the biggest stage in the world. The Olympics.
It all started in 2013, when her beloved granddad unfortunately got sick. Corcoran comes from a small family. Her granddad was like a father figure to her. She took 6 months off work and nursed him from home – his dying wish. Corcoran reiterates how lucky she feels to have had that opportunity to spend that precious time with someone she loves.
Running became a coping mechanism. “I felt all over the place and didn’t know what to do”. The distances started small and grew and grew from there. “I started walking and then running to a lamp post. Slowly increasing the distance over time.”
Corcoran started to find that she actually quite enjoyed the sport and was actually good at it too. From there she joined the club her sister in law was in and that’s where the journey started. At first she had no intention of running to compete – it was all about her mental wellbeing.
The club was very welcoming and the coach noticed her talent from the get go. Modestly Corcoran reveals that she’s always been fit and infatuated by sport. Despite all of that, she didn’t take notice of her talent initially but after a few 5kms, things slowly began to get more competitive. 10kms quickly turned into 10 miles!
Before Corcoran had signed up to a half marathon she was out training with some of her training partners. One of them had said they thought she would be pretty good at it. She asked how long it actually was and when she found out said ‘oh it’s only 3 more miles’ than the session she was currently doing.
Corcoran soon found out how naive that statement was. Those three extra miles were hell. After that race she “learned to respect the distance” and swore she would be hanging up the runners.
Soon enough, she signed up for yet another race. Corcoran is not someone who shy’s away from competition and has always been that way by nature. She tells a story of boys in her neighbourhood not expecting her to be any good at soccer but after seeing her play, it turned out that she was the one they all wanted on the team.
In 2015 Corcoran decided to take on the marathon for the first time, working off a training plan from her coach. Corcoran noted that the whole club trained together so the sense of community was brilliant – the accountability was there because of the group setting. There was always an element of fun, as they all had teas and coffees together after. They would talk for hours while running and when they were not running they were ” talking about running”. It’s fair to say that at this point running was starting to become a massive part of Corcoran’s life.
Corcoran ran the Dublin marathon alongside her friend. The outlook Corcoran had was “whatever we did was gonna be a personal best”. She had trained to finish around the 4 hour mark. Corcoran went on to finish this marathon in 3:43 and has kept improving the time every year since. In 2019 Corcoran ran a very impressive time of 2:52. Corcoran tells a funny story about the infamous ‘Heartbreak Hill’.
Herself and her friend were forewarned about this hill and its difficulty. They were over halfway through the race and were having a conversation about the hill, wondering why they “haven’t seen it yet” a fellow runner overheard this and told them they had in fact passed that hill nearly 3km back. This will show you how, as Corcoran says “oblivious” and “buzzed” they were for their first ever marathon. Corcoran notes that now she definitely knows where that hill is as “it’s harder the faster that you go, you feel every bit of incline”.
The journey toward a sub 3 hour marathon is something that very serious marathon runners strive for. It’s not very common and is a very big ask. Corcoran kept improving her time from her first marathon every year. Knocking off time each attempt. Previous to her successful attempt Corcoran had run 3:04 and 3:01 – bitterly close. This didn’t deter her motivation to gain a spot in the sub 3 hour club. On the day that she achieved it, Corcoran says she “didn’t care what was after the 2” as long as it was there. She describes feeling funny and emotional as she approached her family at the finish. She could “see the 2 but didn’t know what was left”. There was a moment of panic that she did not have much time to spare so she bolted across the finish line. It turns out she was well inside the 3 hour mark with a time of 2:52.
The reason a sub 3 hour marathon is so important in terms of racing is because it opens up doors for other qualifications. Qualifying times are typically sub 3 for international marathons, including the Olympics. The next goal Corcoran is looking to tick off the bucket list. “If I only get one Olympics, it would be worth it” Corcoran has to shave some more time off her impressive marathon time but she has the full support of those around her, especially her coach. When asked about her Olympic hopes, a winning smile forms across Corcoran’s face.
She says that “to toe the line with the best athletes in the world” would leave her “shell shocked”. She says she ‘always watched and was always fascinated’ with the Olympics growing up and ‘always dreamed’ of making it to the biggest stage in the world. Corcoran says that she assumed that there was a cut off age for entering the Olympics and was surprised to hear that the only cut off was the qualifying time. Corcoran recalls when Sinead Diver first broke out onto the scene that people were texting her saying that “you know she’s the same age as you”. This planted the seed in Corcoran’s head that Olympic dreams could become a reality.
When she achieved 2:52 in Dublin last year she had a conversation with her coach. She said to him “do you think I could go to the Olympics?” he looked at her, smiled and said “why do you think we are doing the training that we are doing?”. Corcoran says that he is the type of coach that knows an athlete must come to this decision or idea themselves. “He needed me to be the one to say it”. The Olympic qualification time is 2:29, which Corcoran describes as a “big ask” but she is ready for the challenge and will “give it 100%”.
People have said to Corcoran to aim for Tokyo 2020 (now postponed to 2021) but Corcoran believed it was too soon. She would like to do it gradually and enjoy the process. She does not want to rush it. “Paris is next… Perfect”. The dream became a goal, with a plan around it. “I have a goal now and I’m going to do everything in my power to make that dream come true”.
Since emerging as a high-performance female athlete in Ireland,Corcoran sought to seek inspiration from others. As is the case globally, with just 6% of sports media coverage given to women’s sport, the long-distance runner found the visibility given to women in sport baffling.
Corcoran is determined to be a part of the change. She is desperate to encourage other girls and women to stick to sport and dream of representing Ireland on an international stage. While some of the very people she is trying to encourage might be “my competition” they are also “Irish women” and because of that she wants to support them and see them do well. “I would love to work in the background [of Athletics Ireland], to keep young people on the right path and make sure that they know when you work hard, this is what you can achieve”
Life as an athlete can be tough. Life as a female athlete can be even tougher. Corcoran believes that companies should do more to support Irish athletes. “I have reached out to multiple Irish brands but hear nothing back”. Admittedly, while Corcoran acknowledges she is unaware of the work that goes on behind the scenes in Irish Athletics, she has not been aided or shown a pathway to receive any sort of help or support. Due to this the long-distance runner has supported herself through her #jantasticjourney. She has had some help from ‘Goats Gruff’ in Dublin to which she is very thankful. Considering the amount of runners she goes through, Corcoran is extremely thankful of any support she has received to date.
I asked Corcoran about her work and running balance. She tells me that she used to run to and from work (pre-lockdown) to get the miles in. Life and training changed in lockdown and for Corcoran, with some advantages but some disadvantages. Her job is flexible and the company is fully supportive of her aspirations. “They think I’m mad but they fully support what I do”. Since March, Corcoran has been working from home and because she now has no commute, it’s easier for her to get her sessions in and aid her recovery. As Corcoran is not an elite athlete her sessions have to fit around her work schedule.
Corcoran works out of an office and says that it is hard to get efficient recovery. As a result her nutrition is very important. Working from home has made both easier. She stresses the importance of fueling her body correctly and says that this is something she would love more knowledge in and assistance with. Corcoran has a sensitive stomach and knows what works for her. One of her rituals pre race is that she always has a stir fry the night before. Her breakfast on race day is usually a bagel with bananas and either peanut butter or nutella, paired with a cup of tea. Corcoran is conscious that she is not an expert and questions whether she should be eating more, as well as what to include to get the best performance, and is seeking help and advice in this area. Corcoran likes to cook and follows the book ‘Eat Up Raise Your Game: 100 Easy, Nutritious Recipes to Help You Perform Better on Exercise Days and Rest Days’ by Daniel Davey. She says that the best thing is that it’s very easy to follow.
In terms of nutrition during a race Corcoran uses gels but warns that you “don’t want to take them all the time, only when you really need them’ to avoid ‘overusing them” and to make sure that you test the gel and how you react before using them in a race. Corcoran uses maurten gels and finds them the best suit for her.
Corcoran talks so passionately about what her journey has taught her. One of her highs being when she wore the emerald green jersey. Originally Corcoran was supposed to compete in the Anglo Celtic Plate, which is 100km (yes you read that right) but due to Covid this was postponed. Instead Corcoran took part in a virtual 6 hour race and got to don the Irish singlet. The task was running for 6 hours straight to see how many kilometres she could clock up. Herself and 2 others (of 10) of Team Ireland took on this challenge in her local track at Le Cheile Athletic Club in Kildare. Corcoran ran just short of 74KM in the 6 hours and says she could have kept going! An impressive effort that she was delighted with as previous to this she had only ever run 50km. Far from running light post to light post now! This Virtual Ultra Run gave her the chance to test her training and inspired Corcoran to push harder for another chance to don the green singlet.
As the interview draws to a close I have one final question for Corcoran. “what are the highlights or favourite things about your running career so far?”. She pauses and thinks about this briefly.
Firstly, running 50km for the first time is a highlight for sure. She did this at a National Championships and placed second. She claims she was so surprised that she was convinced she ran less or they got it wrong. Corcoran then mentions the sub 3 hour result in Dublin last year (grinning ear to ear), as well as her Anglo Celtic Plate selection and earning an Irish Singlet. Corcoran says this has increased her drive and wants to make her “official” debut soon. Finally Corcoran says that another highlight of her “Jantastic Journey” is inspiring others. She gets messages from people telling her that she has inspired them to get active and run, which means the world to her, while also keeping her motivated. “If I can inspire one person… that’s my job done.”
Leaving me with a final piece of advice she says ‘getting the foot out the door is the hardest part’.
You can follow her journey on social media using the hashtag #jantastic and #jantasticjourney her handle is @jantastic2″