Hunger to improve keeps veteran Herrera running

Hunger to improve keeps veteran Herrera running

Mark Herrera clears a hurdle during a 3,000m steeplechase race at the Marsa Athletics Stadium.

Mark Herrera clears a hurdle during a 3,000m steeplechase race at the Marsa Athletics Stadium.

There are few better ways to set a season alight than by clocking a new record.

That is exactly what Mark Herrera did recently when attaining a new national mark in the 3,000 metres steeplechase.

“Following the ups and downs I had coming into the first steeplechase of the season, I was determined to run comfortably and jump as neatly as possible,” he said.

“The fact that I managed to maintain my style allowed me to keep a steady pace. Then, seeing that lap after lap the timing was within record pace, you get more determined to push yourself further.”

This record must have been all the more pleasing for him because the seasoned middle and long distance runner has only lately started focusing on this event.

“The advantage of starting to race in steeplechase is that even if you don’t have hurdles technique, you can give it a go. Obviously, the better the technique the more you can perform and maintain momentum when jumping,” he explained.

“Personally, I consider myself an average jumper and accept the fact that I still have a lot to improve in this event. Unfortunately, age doesn’t help but hopefully with training I will get there.”

“The decision to add steeplechase to my repertoire was twofold,” he added.

“First, I saw the potential to perform in this event and also perform better at international level and, secondly, it is a demanding race in that, apart from running, you have to challenge yourself to 35 jumps.

“What else can keep you more motivated than an approaching barrier you need to jump?”

Motivation is a big thing for Herrera.

A veteran of the athletics scene – he first started 22 years ago – it must not be easy to keep on pushing yourself through the sacrifices needed to excel.

“It is all about setting achievable milestones that keep you going,” he replies when asked about how he keeps motivated adding that the support of sponsors like Nyoo Destination Wellness, Medcomms Ltd, Urban Jungle and Jan Farrugia Sports Massage helps a lot.

“One has to plan the season upfront and decide what to achieve within specific timeframes. By doing this, you can keep yourself motivated and work harder.”

Age, and experience, has brought with it additional responsibilities.

“Very few athletes are still in the national team or even running from when I first made it to the squad and yes, we can say that I’m a ‘veteran’ now,” he reckons.

I’m working really hard to earn a spot on the GSSE team and represent my country in the 3,000m steeplechase

“I do feel responsible to share my experience with young athletes to achieve more than I did but it all depends on themselves.

“Unfortunately, we find a lot of interference in sports from different parties and this is always a limiting factor.

“Add to this, most young athletes think that the path to success is quick and easy but we all know this is not real.”

A good number of the athletes Herrera trains with formed part of the group led by the late John Walsh and, even though more than three years have passed since his passing, it remains an emotional topic.

“It came as a great shock,” Herrera admits.

“That same morning I was getting ready to meet for our usual morning session.

“It was difficult for all of the team.

“Fortunately for some of us, we remained close and given the good relationship and trust we had, some of the old John Walsh team allowed me to try and help them keep training.”

GSSE target

Despite these added duties, Herrera’s focus remains strongly on his own targets, particularly winning his first medal in the GSSE.

“I’m working really hard to earn a spot on the GSSE team and represent my country in the 3,000m steeplechase,” he said.

“Before, there were occasions where I could have got a medal but luck and other factors were against me.

“Looking forward, hopefully this will be the year to get into medal zone.”

Not that this is his only ambition.

“I will be competing in the European Games in Baku later in June,” he added.

“Probably my biggest target would be to compete at the Olympics or European Championships for seniors.

“Apart from this, my main target is to run 9.15 for the 3,000m steeplechase and I want to keep improving my endurance races, such as the half marathon and Mdina2Spinola.”

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