Mike Harlick, Data Analyst and Endurance Runner

I find running so good for my mind. I have quite an active mind, so going for a long run every week is like hitting the reset button. It clears my mind and gets me ready for the challenges of the week. I tend to set myself quite long-term goals, so it’s not about running one marathon for me. I’m more motivated by running as many marathons as I can over the course of a year.

My name is Mike Harlick and I currently work for AIG in Dublin as a data analyst looking after their investment data warehouse. I moved to my job at AIG because I wanted to become more technically specialised within a big data environment. I have been involved with projects involving Blockchain, Machine Learning, Drones, and I designed a wearable device for children (these are projects both inside and outside of work). I also recently co-wrote a paper with UCD on Uses of Virtual Reality for communication in Financial Services: A Case study on comparing different Telepresence interfaces. Long title, eh …

I love tech – I studied it, work in it and spend my free time playing with it. I have been working and playing with tech for the last 30 years; in this time, there have been amazing changes. To put that into context, my first PC at work ran Windows 3.1 at 33MHz and my mobile phone was the size of a brick. When I consider my career, I’m glad I never planned it and ignored career advice. Who could have imagined where technology would take us or the job roles that would eventually exist?

Wicklow Way

Outside of my job, I am an endurance runner. In 2014, I completed 30 marathons over 12 months. This year, I am 50 and I have bigger challenges in sight. I have currently completed 60 lifetime marathons since I started 5 years ago.

For me, endurance is running regularly anything over marathon distance without support (except for what you carry and a visa card for emergencies). I chose to take up endurance running because I wanted to do something different. I was also interested in what I could achieve in terms of physical endurance. I initially wondered if it would be possible to run long distances regularly in the same way people go for a long walk on a Sunday. I believe the body is very adaptable, so I found this was an interesting idea. In addition, the nutritional and training aspects of endurance events on a regular basis was something I found interesting. That was the idea that got me started. I suppose my inspiration was not your normal “I saw the London Marathon on TV and thought wowza”, but that’s me.

I remember my first 70km run because my body went through several pain barriers. I distinctly remember hitting 50km and my body just kept telling me to stop – I didn’t, it kept telling me to stop, I didn’t, I kept going. Eventually, my body stopped resisting, and was like “Oh just get on with it then!” After that, I was good for the last 20km. That is the thing with running long distances – you become very tuned into your body. It becomes a zen-like experience. I consider it a similar activity to meditation (not that I have or could meditate; I don’t think I could sit still that long). When I run, I always find the first 5 km the worst. After that, thoughts and ideas spin around in my head until I hit 15km, and then my mind clears and the burdens of the day evaporate. (FYI – running with headphones is not something that I do. For me it’s like doing yoga while eating a burger and chips).

Preparing and recovering from endurance running is very important if you don’t want to hurt yourself. I’m not fanatical, but I keep a good balance in terms of what I eat. Fortunately, I find that my body seems to crave healthy food when I am in good shape. I have a couple of things I do before an endurance run – I always drink a litre of beetroot juice and eat a big sweet potato the day before (like I say, I’m not at all fanatical). For recovery after a long run, drinking is important and I also have a big smoothie consisting of bananas, ginger, and turmeric. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, so it helps with recovery. Talking about recovery, a good tip is to use compression bandages on your legs after exercise. This helps reduce soreness and reduces the recovery time. When I run marathon distances, I give myself plenty of time to recover. It took me a long time to figure this out, but recovery time is important in order to not get injuries.

I have a great Garman watch that helps me keep focused during a long run. It is superb for monitoring time and distance, but it also monitors my heart rate. Your heart rate is the key to endurance running. Simply put, if you exert too much effort and your heart rate is too high for too long you, won’t last. I know my target heart rate, which will ensure I can complete an endurance run without over-stressing my body.

My greatest accomplishment so far has been to run 30 marathons in 12 months. I recently completed 3 marathons in 7 days, which I was very pleased with. One of my favourite runs was in the UK when I ran a stretch of the Cleveland Way. My sister lives in Darlington, so on a visit over to see her, I took some time out to go for a run. It was an amazing experience because the landscape was so beautiful.‎

My next goal is to run 2 marathons in 2 days and then a 3 day fast treck where I will cover something like 100 miles of the Cleveland Way (fast trecking is basically where you carry all of your equipment, but it’s pretty minimal so you can travel quickly but still have enough gear to camp out and feed yourself). I have a much bigger goal for 2019 but I’m not saying what it is as I don’t want to jinx myself. As of 23rd March, I have run 8 marathons in 2019.

Cleveland Way

If you want to take up endurance running, take your time and don’t force it by trying to stick to some predetermined schedule. When I started, I used to run far too much and I got bored. I changed my training routine so that I was running less often, which worked better. It’s obviously important to eat fairly well, but it is very important to get checked out by a doctor before you start doing long-distance running. I have regular check-ups with my doctor and local pharmacy to keep an eye on my conditioning and key health indicators.

On a more practical side, here are some quick tips: find equipment that works for you. I hate warm feet so I wear lightweight running socks. A nice lightweight running top that wicks moisture is essential (please don’t wear a regular t-shirt – it will feel like sandpaper after 10km). While I’m on the subject, lashings of Vaseline are key. City routes are good for endurance running – you can always find a bathroom and somewhere to get a drink if you need extra fluids. The final recommendation is to get a watch with a heart rate monitor. Understand your heart rate zones and you will be far more successful.

Running long distances keep my mind fresh and energised. IT projects are like endurance running; they take a long time, and at times can be draining and painful. But if you keep focused and see it till the end, it is very rewarding. Tech is very important to me – for a long time, my life was:

eat sleep tech repeat.

But I was in the middle of Bali one summer, and some wise old dude told me that it’s important to keep balance in your life, so my mantra is now:

eat sleep tech run repeat.

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