Two of Ulster’s top athletes have shared their top training tips to help us mere mortals cope with the challenges and stresses of trying our hand at a bit of sport.

Both Paddy Jackson and Leah McCourt are Mencap’s sporting ambassadors and their tips should come in particularly handy for participants taking part in the 2016 Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon, coming up this Monday May 2.

Get your headspace right

For rugby star Paddy Jackson, one of Mencap’s newest Celebrity Ambassadors, it’s all about getting in the right headspace before a match.

Rugby Star Paddy Jackson

Ulster Rugby star Paddy Jackson

“I just tell myself to ‘live in the moment’ as it helps me to stay focused and concentrate on the job at hand,” Paddy said. “I also like to listen to music to stay relaxed.”

Plan your meals

Equally important, Paddy said, is your diet in the 24 hours before the main event. “I love a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise for the night before a big match to give me the energy I need for the next day,” he says. “For the morning of, I usually have an omelette.”

Remember why you’re doing it

For those running the marathon, the relay or the Fun Run, Paddy said when the race gets tough, runners should remember why they signed up.

“Running the race will be difficult and you will certainly have to push yourself to the limit,” he said. “You must keep reminding yourself that you are running for a great cause and that your fundraising is going towards those who need your help.”

Get enough rest

Another top athlete that lends her support to Mencap is Leah McCourt, the European Lightweight Mixed Martial Arts Champion. Leah, a fundraising coordinator for Mencap, splits her time between work and training. With her hectic schedule, getting enough rest is crucial.

European Lightweight Mixed Martial Arts Champion Leah McCourt

European Lightweight Mixed Martial Arts Champion Leah McCourt

“Before a fight, I always try to get plenty of sleep, which can sometimes be hard because of nerves,” Leah said. “But it’s important for me to have confidence in my training and try to relax before competition time.”

Never give up

Leah’s advice to those running in the marathon this Monday is to not give up, even when your feet are hurting.

“When I am exhausted in a fight, I always keep in mind how much I trained for this moment and how hard I worked for it,” Leah said. That encourages me to never stop or give up.

“I love this quote from Muhammad Ali: ‘Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

Mencap is the official charity of the 2016 Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon. To learn how you can support Mencap, email, call 028 9069 1351 or visit

For those taking part in the 2016 Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon and its associated events Monday May 2, Mencap is hosting a warm up between 7.45am and 8.15am near the starting line with trainers from David Lloyd. At the finish line in Ormeau Park, the charity will be offering refreshments, face-painting and more at the Mencap Marquee.

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