In the spring of 2013, most people stopping in the Starbucks on Ryan Street in Lake Charles, LA would see a young man sitting in the corner enjoying his vanilla latte. They would not think anything special of him. He looks fairly average and quite skinny, and in the South where football is king, there is no time to care about anything else. However, what people did not realize is that they were walking past arguably the most accomplished athlete on the McNeese State University campus.
That young man's name is David Rooney, and only a few months ago he was busy finishing 7th at arguably the most competitive race in college running, the DI NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Rooney has run many competitive races in his career, and even competed in the NCAA Championships multiple times, but by far 2012 was the year he showed he had something special. Coming off a stellar track season in the spring of 2012 where he saw multiple PB's (Personal Bests) and a spot in the final of the NCAA 5k, you knew something special was about to happen. If you asked anyone who David Rooney was before that, the only people who could answer would be competitors made miserable trying to keep up with his rapid pace. Rooney hailed from the Southland Conference, a relatively small conference that does not get much credit, but has its fair share of talented athletes.
After finishing as the first American-native in the 2012 Cross Championships, he instantly became someone that would be mentioned in the running community, locally and nationally. He was slated to be a force in indoor and outdoor track that coming spring – however, a nagging achilles that has always plagued him showed its ugly face. For most people, this would have them call off any running and racing to get well, but Rooney decided to "put the head down". Competing in both the 5k and 3k at the 2013 Southland Conference Indoor Championships, Rooney managed to grab the top spot in both, although judging by his time it was evident he was not 100%. After an outdoor season in which the most action Rooney saw was sitting at the Starbucks on Ryan Street, he decided to make a last ditch effort. He lined up for his final collegiate races wearing the McNeese jersey at the 2013 Southland Conference Outdoor Championships - what would be his last race on his home track.
Rooney managed to grab the top spot in both the 10k and 5k despite lack of training and massive amounts of coffee. It would come at a price though, as his achilles only got worse. After McNeese, Rooney headed to Myrtle Beach, SC where he did a few months of soul searching. After some time off, Rooney hooked up with Coach Ben Rosario in Flagstaff, Arizona, a popular training destination for many of the world’s elite endurance athletes. Rosario liked what he saw and signed Rooney to his team of stellar athletes known as the Northern Arizona Elite, or NAZ, for short. Fast-forward 6 months, and he is days away from competing in one of the most competitive road races in the South, New Orleans’ Shamrockin' Run 8k.
This year’s race is no exception when it comes to competition. The best locals will line up Sunday morning on March 16 for a point-to-point race beginning at the National WWII Museum and finishing in Audubon Park. While the locals cherish the PBs they just claimed with some post-race green beer, Rooney, along with 25 pro-runners hailing all the way from Africa, will battle for a huge prize purse totaling more than $70,000 director Bill Burke has put out there. The race is bound to be something special to watch as prize money is being offered to the top 8 finishers starting at $6,000. If that was not enough, a $1,000 bonus is up for grabs for the leader of each mile.
This is bound to make for an interesting race full of pace changes and many different tactics being played out at once. Being Rooney's first all professional race, Where Y'at decided to catch up with him and see how he is feeling about this weekend.
Where Yat: You have run in very big races before on the collegiate level, but this is your professional field debut. What are your feelings heading into this weekend?
David Rooney: I am feeling very excited about this weekend. I have been training week after week in flagstaff for nearly six months up at 7000 feet altitude. This race in New Orleans will be my first real test before I hit the track. I enjoyed racing at the collegiate level and gained a lot of experience, but professional level is a big change and another step up.
Where Yat: There is a big prize purse up for grabs this weekend, one being a $1,000 bonus for the leader of each mile. How do you feel that will affect the pacing and tactics of the race?
David Rooney: I think this will affect the race tactics and pace a lot. A lot of African runners are going to run hard the first mile or two to try and win some money, and then finish slow in the race. However I will run my own race and make sure I finish strong the last mile with a good time and placing.
WYAT: You have recently made a big move in your running career, moving to Flagstaff, Arizona where many of the world's elite train. What differences have you seen in your training and running since joining NAZ Elite and Coach Ben Rosario?
Rooney: The big difference is volume in training. I am doing a lot more mileage and more longer/more intense workouts. Although once I’m in peak season in racing my mileage will decrease. The environment here in flagstaff is ideal for training with endless trails. Many athletes in different sports come here especially for the altitude.
WYAT: You have experienced New Orleans running before, competing in the Crescent City Classic as a Freshman and a Senior. What are your thoughts on the city and do you enjoy running here?
Rooney: New Orleans is the best city in America by miles. It has character and diversity. I enjoy the city, as there are many festivals here that celebrate different cultures. I am looking forward to experiencing the St Patrick’s Day festival this weekend. I am excited to seeing some of my old college teammates at McNeese that may be running in the race or spectating. I love running here. It’s a beautiful city.
WYAT: How does it feel being the only Irish athlete in a St. Patrick’s Day race? Do you feel any added pressure to perform?
Rooney: The only pressure that comes with a race is from me. I will go out and run with confidence, regardless of the athletes I am competing against nationality. I do feel great though being the only Irish professional in the race. It should be a bit of banter.
WYAT: Finally, what are your goals for this weekend as a whole?
Rooney: My goals are to run fast in the race and be confident with the training I have done the last six months.
Want to know what it takes to train like a professional? Check out a sample of Rooney’s weekly training log below:
Monday – 8mi (am), 4 mi (pm)
Tuesday – 10 mi (am) [20x1min on,1min off fartlek], 4 mi (pm)
Wednesday -8 mi (am)
Thursday - 8mi (am), 4mi (pm)
Friday - 12 mi [8x1 mile, 1 min rest] (4:44,4:49,4:55,5:00,5:00,5:01,5:00,5:02)
Saturday - 8 mi (am)
Total: 84 Miles
February 26th-2nd March
Monday - 9mi (am), 5mi (pm)
Tuesday – 9mi (am) ,5.5mi (pm)
Wednesday -7mi (am) [20 min progression run], 4mi (pm)
Thursday – 10mi (am), 5mi (pm)
Friday -10mi (am), 5mi (pm)
Sunday -10mi (am), 4.5mi (pm)
Total: 100 Miles