Aoife Cooke is a woman on the move, literally and figuratively. One of Ireland’s best prospects for Tokyo, Aoife’s path to long-distance running has been rife with ups and downs, peaks and valleys. But the journey she has taken is leading her to one of the most prestigious sporting events on the planet: Aoife Cooke has her sights set on the 2020 Olympics!
Aoife fell into running almost accidentally after joining a local club mostly, she says, to spend time hanging out with her friends, “Sport is what I’m drawn to. I started [running] mainly for fun - I just wanted to hang out with my friends! But then I started getting a few trophies and got a scholarship to the States.”
“Sport is what I’m drawn to. I started [running] mainly for fun - I just wanted to hang out with my friends! But then I started getting a few trophies and got a scholarship to the States.”
When she hit her mid-teens, she found herself getting a bit more consistent in her training, running cross country races and bringing home “a few trophies” as she so modestly puts it. She qualified for a couple of All-Ireland events and eventually found herself in Arkansas on a full scholarship. Aoife was doing well in the running world but admits that she wasn’t putting the miles in from a nutrition perspective, and injuries were no longer negligible bothers.
She decided to return home to Ireland where she taught PE for a time, before finding herself in an office-based job, which as she explains it, just ‘didn’t sit right’ with her. Aoife made the decision to go back to studying and now works as a Personal Trainer under her own brand: Aoife Cooke Fitness.
Her first time in the big leagues of long-distance running was at the 2015 Cork Marathon - an experience she felt mixed about. Her run time was a respectable 3 hours 15 minutes, but the course took a lot out of her mentally and physically. Aoife took a break from long distances, choosing instead to stick with 5km - ½ marathon lengths for a time. In 2017, she decided to dip her toes back into marathon water, signing up in Amsterdam.
“Community is hugely important. Running can be a lonely sport but this year [I started] training with someone in Cork... The social aspect helps to feed into your focus. Especially when you’re surrounding yourself with people of a similar mindset.”
Her focus this time was much more singular and she posted a time of 2 hours 46 minutes, shaving nearly a full half-hour off her previous 2015 time. With a few more ups and downs along the way, Aoife found herself on a solid training path by December 2018. The addition of a regular running partner has cemented for her how important a close community is saying, “Community is hugely important. Running can be a lonely sport but this year [I started] training with someone in Cork... The social aspect helps to feed into your focus. Especially when you’re surrounding yourself with people of a similar mindset.”
She is now clocking around 100 miles a week in training and Aoife feels this is the first time where she’s really had her head fully in the game and with a clear goal. There’s more structure to her training schedule now and she’s on point both mentally and physically. Is it still nerve-wracking though? Absolutely, she says, “I definitely get nervous, especially with the longer distances - a marathon is a long way and anything could go wrong. But you just need to be smart and pace yourself; I’m excited.”
“I definitely get nervous, especially with the longer distances - a marathon is a long way and anything could go wrong. But you just need to be smart, pace yourself; and I’m excited.”
And as with anything, there’s a careful balance that’s required and there are days where she’d rather stay in bed. But her drive to compete generally wins out, and Aoife knows that achieving Olympic qualifying times is a tough ask, one which requires consistent dedication, even in the face of a very tempting lie-in!
The Dublin Marathon takes place this Sunday, October 27th and Aoife will be looking to complete it in around 2.5 hours. We’ll be cheering her on and look forward to catching up with her again after the event!