Pro Runner Stephen Scullion Talks Transformation and Comebacks

Kevin Gray
by Kevin Gray
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Pro Runner Stephen Scullion Talks Transformation and Comebacks

Stephen Scullion knows plenty about comebacks — coming to the brink of quitting and then powering through to success. The accomplished Irish runner specializes in the marathon and 10,000 meters and competed for his home country at the 2018 European Championships. But it hasn’t been easy for Scullion, who’s contemplated giving up running for good.

Below, he shares his story, from overcoming obstacles and training for the Tokyo Olympics, to what he looks for in a training shoe.

Q: More than once, you’ve walked away from running. What keeps bringing you back?
Scullion: Yeah, in the last two or three years, I’ve retired two or three times. Running is really tough, and there’s not always a massive reward from it. I’ve struggled with self-doubt and not being confident in myself, but I think I lost a part of myself when I stopped running. I lost that part that gained confidence every day from training and overcoming difficulties. If a training session gets tough, and you have to fight to get through it, you’re really proud of yourself. Now that I’m back, I just really believe in myself and feel this responsibility to push myself and see how good I can be.

Q: Think about where you were a couple years ago and where you are now. What’s that journey been like for you?
Scullion: If I rewind the clock to 18 months ago, I was 40 pounds heavier than I am now. I was playing rugby and drinking a lot and in a really bad place. I remember walking home from a nightclub at 3:00 a.m. and just thinking: “Stephen, less than a year ago you were trying to make the Olympic Games, and here you are walking home with a kabob at 3 in the morning. You’re not happy with yourself.”

So, I made this choice back then to get back into running. There was no goal at that point. I just wanted to feel better about myself, and I knew I was a better and happier person being a runner. So, I got back into it. I started losing weight, and I decided to race in the London Marathon. In a space of 18 months, I went from an 85-kilogram binge drinker to the best runner in Ireland from the 10K to a marathon. That’s quite a big feat, but I didn’t do it by myself. I did it with the team, and I did it with people who support me and believe in me. That’s really cool.

Q: You narrowly missed the Olympics in 2016. Do you feel a sense of unfinished business?
Scullion: Yeah. I tried — and I mean I really tried — and like a week before the big trial, I tore my quad. That was really sad. I cried my eyes out. But it was nice to be able to take a step back and think about what I did and know that I really gave it my all. Everyone knows when they go to sleep at night that they’ve either really tried or just went half-heartedly. Now, I’ve come back to try again for Tokyo 2020 because there’s not 50 superstars in Ireland who run track or distance or marathons, so I feel this responsibility to see how good I can be and really apply myself. Maybe that will paint a path for others to do something similar.

Q: When you’re running, is there a voice in your head that tells you to quit?
Scullion: Yes, all the time. I have an interesting relationship with that voice. I think back to the London Marathon, and I see people struggling around me, and I’m starting to struggle. I just have to tell that voice to bugger off. Instead, I listen to facts, like my mile pace, and I know my body can keep going. You’ve got to know the voice isn’t real, and that you can push through it. And the more you do push through it, the more you learn to almost expect it.

Q: Does that voice pop up in your life off the track, too?
Scullion: Yeah, it’s not just in sports that I deal with this idea of quitting or giving up. I’ve given up on things a lot. I quit school. I quit university. I had this idea that, because I was more into running, I should just focus on that and really dedicate myself to it. So, school got pushed back, and I really regret that. I think if you’re going to start something, you should finish it. Not every day is going to feel good, and not every day is going to be easy. You just have to get through those rough days or weeks or months, but I promise you that when you get through it, you’ll be very, very happy with yourself.

Q: Running can be a very individual sport, but one that fosters community. How do you view running in terms of individual versus group?
Scullion: Honestly, until about two years ago, I was very individual in this sport and didn’t see it as a team sport at all. But then I moved to Flagstaff semi-permanently. I started working with a much bigger group of people, and that was really nice. Running is still an individual sport when you’re out there racing by yourself, but in training it’s not just you on the road. You have a team of coaches and other athletes behind you who also train and race and share the feelings you share. I’m lucky to have a sponsor behind me, so Under Armour is another team. You actually have no idea how many people are involved with you. And that’s not just for elites, but for everyone. It could be your wife or your son or daughter or your friend or your training partner. We’re not out there alone — we have people with us.

Q: As a distance runner, what do you look for in a training shoe?
Scullion: I log maybe 95–120 miles a week, so for me, a training shoe has to feel like it protects my body a little bit. Injuries are quite common in endurance runners, so I like to have a balance between support and cushion, so I don’t get bad knees or hips. But when you’re running that many miles, it’s also nice to have a little bit of responsiveness in a shoe. When I go out the door, I don’t want to feel heavy on the grind. I don’t want to feel like I’m just sort of trucking along.

Q: What are the benefits of having a connected shoe like the HOVR™ Infinite?
Scullion: When I’m training, I’m putting in a lot of miles. A connected shoe can give me feedback like cadence and steps per minutes. If I start to notice patterns, like cadence dropping or improving, then I know how I’m managing the training load, which is really important.

You could run a ton of miles a week, but if your body’s not absorbing it and recovering well enough, then you’re not going to become a better athlete. So, if I notice that, four days in a row my cadence is low, then maybe I’m hitting a bit of tiredness, and I can put more easy days in there. Similarly, if I add things to my training like core stability or strength training, and I notice that my cadence improves, then it’s really good feedback of what might translate into better results on race day.

Q: How does MapMyRun help your training?
Scullion: I use MapMyRun when I go to new cities. If I don’t know where to run, I’ll get on there and check to see if other people have runs that start close to where I’m staying. Other times, I’ll use it if I have a race coming up. I’ll get the course map and route it out and save it, and then I can see the elevation profile. That helps me to be better prepared, for example, to know that 7K–9K is uphill. I love that.

UA HOVR™ Infinite running shoes connect to MapMyRun to provide tracking and personalized coaching to help make you better.

About the Author

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray

Kevin is a Dallas-based writer who spends the majority of his weekends on a bike. His less healthy pursuits can be found at Bevvy and Cocktail Enthusiast.

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