The good days, the bad days and getting back on track

David Gillick

David Gillick is one of Ireland’s greatest ever 400m runner, having distinguished himself admirably in his chosen field. He finished sixth in the world in 2009, and won the European Indoor Championships in 2005 and 2007. Along the way he beat some of the best athletes in the world and realized a lifetime ambition by competing at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

In recent times, David has appeared on Master Chef, and has authored 2 best selling cookbooks, Back on Track and David Gillick’s Kitchen, and retrained as a sports psychologist.

In this podcast we discuss David’s career highs, lows, thoughts on retirement, lessons he’s learned as well as thoughts on the future.

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  • David Gillick’s major accomplishments and milestones


“Back on Track” cookbook

  • His 4-pillar formula for well-being: mindset, movement, rest and diet
  • A holistic approach to eating


Early years

  • Strong family interest in sports
  • Going to the local Dundrum Athletic Club regularly as a child
  • Running faster than the other kids


First coaches

  • Jim Kidd and Lucy Moore
  • Eddie and Liz McDonagh
  • How coaching provided structure
  • His coaches’ generosity with their time and energy


Early competitions and motivation

  • Winning the Gold in hurdles at the All Irelands
  • Competing at the World Juniors in 2002
  • The inspiration and motivation of watching Usain Bolt win Gold in Jamaica
  • Coming home after the World Juniors and making his decision to focus on athletics


The golden era of Irish sprinting

  • Before 2005, Ireland was not known as a sprinting nation
  • David and his fellow Irish sprinters Paul Hession and Derval O’Rourke motivated each other
  • Following a winning streak, David won the European Indoor Championship in 2005 and 2007


High-performance culture

  • Lack of a high-performance culture or funding before 2005
  • At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the boxers seemed different – their high-performance training made them look relaxed and well prepared
  • David’s presentation to the heads of the High Performance unit to successfully obtain funding for his move to Loughborough


First indoor win

  • Beating David Canal, the Spanish home favourite at the 2005 European Indoor Championships
  • Despite being very nervous, he relaxed instantly when he arrived at the track, thanks to a solid routine and good mindset
  • Training without the use of an indoor track


Consequences of the 2005 win

  • Big confidence boost
  • Higher expectations and comparisons to other successful runners like Jeremy Warner
  • Being recognized in public
  • Increased pressure


The mental side of training

  • Coaches were only working on the physical
  • Nerves and poor sleep before his Spanish race in 2006
  • Comparing himself to other players with better sponsorship


Becoming a full-time athlete

  • Moving to the UK to attend Loughborough University, home of world-class athletes
  • Why he couldn’t be a successful athlete in Ireland
  • Leaving Jim and Lucy to train with Nick Dakin


Benefits of Loughborough

  • Loughborough as a centre of excellence – “I just raised the bar on everything”
  • Looking after his rest, his nutrition and his mindset
  • Becoming more confident, training with better athletes and progressing every day
  • Beating the Irish outdoor record in 2007
  • Successfully defending his European Indoor title



  • “The race unfolded the way I visualized it”
  • Visualization and meditation techniques and how they helped David be more relaxed, less nervous
  • Using music, visual clips, and breaking down the race into moments


Preparing for the pain

  • The painful last 50 metres of the race: “You know you’re going to be in a world of pain when you cross that line”
  • The training is so hard that you look forward to the race
  • How 400 metre sprints are similar to boxing matches


A disappointing Olympic year

  • Qualifying for the 2008 Olympics after setting the Irish record in 2007
  • The pressure of the Olympics: over-analyzing, overworking, being unable to relax
  • Always wanting more despite good results and being in great shape
  • Getting sick and not telling anyone
  • Running his slowest time of the year in Beijing and feeling like he let everyone down


How to start enjoying the game again

  • Creating a vision board
  • Looking back at past races
  • Getting help from all areas and making small changes in his food, sleep, and training habits
  • Focusing on daily routines


Results of his new routines

  • His Running his personal best in 2009
  • Ranking 6th in the world in Berlin
  • Getting consistent results


Moving to Florida

  • In 2010, David was disqualified from the World Indoor final
  • A change was needed: his knee-jerk decision to move to the US
  • Not dealing with past disappointments or setbacks
  • Listening to others instead of his own gut feelings


Training in America

  • Training with high-profile, superstar athletes
  • Struggling with a new environment, cultural differences, and changes in the intensity and schedule of training
  • After an injury in 2011, feeling isolated and far from home and family


Performance drugs

  • Athletes banned for steroid use: Tyson Gay, Steve Mullings, Kelly-Ann Baptiste
  • David’s shock and disappointment: “I don’t believe it”
  • Questioning the training, the sport, and his worth as a sprinter: “Maybe I was better than these guys”
  • His decision to leave the group


Training in Ireland vs abroad

  • Why it is now possible to achieve one’s goals in Ireland
  • Ireland’s improved facilities and more professional services
  • The Abbotstown facility
  • How Ireland is still behind in its culture


The beginning of the end

  • Moving back to Loughborough, then to the Australian Institute of Sport
  • After another injury, the Rio Olympics moved out of reach
  • The loss of funding, sponsors, and the clear end of his career
  • Realizing that at 30, he had achieved the goals he set out for himself


Post-retirement transition

  • “I didn’t have an exit plan”
  • David’s struggle with depression
  • His lack of a routine, purpose and goal
  • Feeling emptiness and a loss of identity
  • Being seen as a “tough” athlete and not willing to show weakness
  • Fixating on status, success and money



  • Other athletes’ struggles with depression
  • Getting help from Richie Sadlier
  • Starting counselling
  • Going public with his depression


Going back to running

  • “I got the bug back”
  • Not caring about times or being judged


Psychology in athletics

  • The importance of having a sports psychologist as part of your team, along with your coach and nutritionist


Regaining balance

  • Keeping a balance between mindset, movement, relaxation and diet
  • Small changes can reap large benefits
  • Putting a value on rest and recovery
  • Making small, sustainable, practical steps that can become part of your daily routine


Growth mindset

  • Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset
  • The importance of asking questions, seeking advice, and believing that one can always learn and get better


The “inner chimp”

  • Lessons learned from sports psychiatrist Steve Peters
  • David’s negative self-talk, or “inner chimp”, Chopper Read
  • Learning to silence your inner critic


The power of habit

  • The importance of routine
  • Fitting things for yourself into your calendar


Relaxation and mindfulness

  • Different ways to “switch off” and be present
  • Phil Knight’s portrayal of burnout in “Shoedog”
  • Music as meditation
  • Breathing as a tool against anxiety or stress


The future of Irish athletics

  • Up-and-comers: Thomas Barr, Leon Reid, Jason Smith, Phil Healy, Sarah Healy, Stephen Scullion
  • The importance of supporting and developing young talent towards the next level


David’s present and future involvement in athletics

  • Mentoring
  • Member of the High Performance committee and the Olympics Federation
  • Getting involved in coaching (if time permits)


Advice to young athletes

  • Confidence: “Don’t be afraid to dream big”
  • Join a group of people you trust who will help you become a great athlete


Next projects

  • Corporate work
  • Showcasing his own journey
  • Helping others realize their potential