No.30: 60 Seconds with Harrier Snezana Bechtina

Next up, a great club athlete, who in the league at times past was almost a one woman team, and has blossomed into one of Ireland’s best Master athletes, multi national and European medals and a World Champion. Although you will be spending a little more than 60 seconds with Snezana she is indeed great company.

Bio: Snezana Bechtina Masters Athlete W35 Indoors European 400m and World 200m Champion. Holder of 4 W35 Irish records indoors 60, 200,400, 4x200m and outdoors 200m. Born in Vilnius, in Lithuanian SSR in 1981. Ireland and Clonliffe became home from Sept 2005.

What age did you take up the sport of athletics and why? I started athletics few times: At 13 in Lithuania I trained up to Achilles injury, one year before I finished the school. At 20 for 3 years I used to run for universities. At 24 I started athletics in Ireland up to pregnancy at almost 26. From 28 (in 2009) after surgery and antibiotics I started easy trainings. I was a dedicated athlete Since 2010, who wanted to quit athletics every season for 6 years (I had different injuries every year: Sadness after loss of father, knee injury, broken finger, back pain, 2 years of Masters study, overtraining), but I continued up to quarantine in 2020 for 5 years more, without thoughts to quit, last three years up to World gold medal injury free, because I learned some simple secrets which I will going to share. Passion to physical activity and a hint from the inside brought me to Athletics. When I was passing by stadium as a child I had special feeling. I didn’t know what people doing inside the indoor arena, but I felt I want to be there and I had strong believe that one day I will be going there. I didn’t have this feeling for anything else. But I didn’t came there myself…I came only when I was invited after school competition few years later. It is hard work so I needed at least one other person who would want me to do it. I did many different things before I came to athletics: swimming, dancing, judo, drawing… I did it, but I felt I am in wrong place. I felt relieve after deciding that I will quit activity by activity until I found athletics. From when I started back at 28 in 2009 I came back slowly and took a part in first competition to see where I am in May 2010 I run 200m in 27,5. I trained from then on hard, sometimes too hard. Only during quarantine I understood that I was in recovering process from sickness, injuries or surgeries…I understood it when I got plenty of rest and got my energy level on high mark. I made mistakes in my first years of training by training every day at my 100%. I was training with the best athletes in John Shields champions factory…they did their training at 60%, however for me it was my 100%. At the end of December or middle of the January I was over trained. I wasn’t able to train at all. I was obliged to take one or two weeks off just before Nationals and compete just like that after break. It was a mistake. English is not my native Language, John always was saying something to me, but guess I only started to understand him just from 2015. When my English improved I spoke to Pole vault multiple champion David Donegan about my worries and that I was going to quit, he told me to slow down, to work on my own pace, this is what John Shields had been saying to me. I got huge mental support from former coach Paddy Fay. I chat with Irina Krakoviak former International athlete and coach now, who told me her story that our former coach in Lithuania Juozas Garaliavicius started to prepare her for international athletics after 5 years of fundamental trainings. Her best results show up in two years then. I thought I never trained 7 years in a row, I need to try. And it was my 5th year since I came back at 28. I was 33 then I got great motivation to train: to prepare for World Masters Championship in 2017 in Daegu. I trained at my pace. I took plenty of time to recover. I got more energy. I started to train 6 days a week at Morton Stadium (3 days on track, 1 day flexibility, 2 days gym, and last year before my World Gold I did 3-5 days a week 30 minutes additional trainings in a park on very slow pace 10 min run to recover and stretches. U23 triple jump champion Russian speaking Andrii Mahin joined our group in 2014/2015 season. He helped me a lot in improving my technique.This was my best season, I was flying. 2014 in November I picked up an injury but this time I stopped training immediately and gave two weeks to heal, and then for the next week trained easy. My 400m was 58.8 that season after 5 months not proper and only 1 month proper training.

Snezana with coach John Shields at the Factory

Tell us more about your early life in athletics in Lithuania? Having won a schools 60 m competition Coach Juozas Garaliavicius invited me to start training I agreed. I won 400m as well… My mother and father both was very good in school athletics. We can assume I had perfect genes. But in fact to that I was running all my childhood, playing chasing, boll games. Every morning I was running to bus stop which was approx. 300m from the house, I was accelerating when I saw the bus coming. It was 5 days a week. If there was too many people, I run to school approximately 2km, 4x split 500, in order to be on time. This is how I became 400m runner .I was leading Athlete, with promising athletic future, but I thought I am not good enough. My coach pointed to middle distance International athletes saying “continue to train and you will be like them”. I didn’t know what exactly he was trying to say me. I didn’t know difference between sprinters and distance runners, I just thought I am lazy, seriously, I did only 3×300 per session, or even 3×100 and 6x40m, when they, long distance runners, non-stop were running and running. Even thoughts to run as long as their running scared me. It is no way I wanted to be like them. I stopped athletic one year before finished school at 17 because of an injury. I didn’t return to the sport for 3 more years until I was almost 21 after recovering from Bulimia-eating disorder.

If that something you don’t mind sharing please tell us as this is important for young athletes? At age 18 when my weight was 61kg. After the reading the book about toxins I decided to clean my body with fasting, which turned to bulimia. I have lost a weight up to 48kg in 4 months. I was depressed. I was looking in to the mirror with a thoughts: “My legs are so fat” when my mother came and with sadness and disappointment told: “You are too slim”. Something change in my mind: If I think I am fat and mother at the same time think I am too slim it means- I AM NORMAL! This thoughts saved me. From then me start to eat, but made little mistake… I didn’t eat all day and at 10pm eat a lot. Many nights my food was full white bread with 200g sour cream. In three week I was 68kg and I found out I feel much better. I was so happy. As I was happy good idea came out. I decided to eat in normal way: breakfast, snack, Lunch, Snack, and Dinner. I started to drink a lot of water. Soon I came back to normal weight 61. Since then my weight vary from 61-65kg.

And then your return to athletics? In my heart I was a champion, but I barely could run. But I started from slow one 200m lap a day at close to the house school stadium (In Vilnius each 60 schools then had 200m track stadiums, hard cover). In two weeks I was able to push myself to run 3 laps only. In two months I was able to run 10 laps and I didn’t push myself anymore, energy made me fly. In three months I was unstoppable and run around a fields with no counting distance. I started to do drills and was ready to come back to stadium. Shortly I run 800m at a time 2:18. I became Baltic University’s 100m and 200m champion. In 2004 I took a part in XX SELL World Students Games in Finland. At all ages the hardest thing was to come and change clothes. Once I was in changing room ready for training the rest was easy. Once I am in trainers – I am healthy and full of energy. By the way: passionate action-creates energy. When I am lazy I come one hour earlier than training starts, I do lazy training…stretches, some exercises…It feels like I am not athlete at all. But in about an hour I feel I want to do exercises in more energetic way, it is great time to start warm up with a group. Then you have power to do proper session prepared by coach. At the end when I am doing warm down I can’t believe I did what I did. We do warm up to prevent our body from injury and to increase energy level.

When and why did you join Clonliffe Harriers? I joined Clonliffe Harriers in 2005 immediately after I arrived to Live to Dublin. My landlord then Sarah called to Athletics Ireland, she found number in golden pages, they recommended best club. My first Coach was Paddy Fay. When I came back after giving birth in 2009 I found out Paddy retired. But he continue to support me and helped a lot. Clonliffe Harriers club recommend me Best Coach John Shields, who is my coach since May 2010 when I run 200m 27.5. His program, my dedication and his believe in me helped me to achieve my personal record 25.4 and 400m 56sec in 2016 I used to live in Portmarnok I took 2 buses to get to Morton Stadium it took about 1 hour one way. But my passion to athletics gave me power to find sense in discomfort. Since 2009 I moved to live 15 min drive to stadium.

What is your favourite training workout? 6×200. I like to run 200m. When we run 8 th in slow pace 35sec at the beginning of the season, then we run less, but faster. The last session before competition could be just 2 but 26sec. My fastest time during training was 25.9sec. It was time trial before World Championship in South Korea in 2017 where I won two silvers on 200m and 400m. I like flexibility sessions with walking through hurdles and circuit and workout with med ball and gym session with group. Basically I liked everything that John tells me to do.

And your least favourite? Any session which have 600m and 500m my least favourite. But this is essential part in trainings for 400m as special gym sessions. The year I missed it I run slower my 400m I fight for silver in World masters Championship in 2019, I had no power to fight for the first place. Maybe it was my mental barrier as I knew that in front three more runs of 200m where I won gold. I run 28sec first lap in 400m when in two days I run 25.62 200m on its own. It is celebration to run 200m after one day rest after 400m. When I was fully motivated and John Shields explained me why I am doing particular sessions, session 2×600 4×300 was as easy as the rest. That year I run 400m 56.02

What’s your favourite race / athletics meet? Morton Games is one of my favourite meets. It is organised at high standard. I like thousands of spectaculars, and little kids who asking for autograph after race. Thank you for special feeling.

What is your most cherished or proudest moment in athletics? (as athlete and/or coach) Definitely I liked World Masters Athletics Championship in Torun. It was organised on extremely high level. My family was with me-this is what me makes to feel proud. I like it not just because I won a Gold medal here, but because it was presented in nice manner. It was live stream not just of competitions, but medal ceremony as well. For me it was important. I’ve got great support from friends and family from different parts of the world.

What was your worst injury – and how did you get over it? I believe Injury is psychosomatic thing. You will never get injured if you have regime, slept well, eat well, drink plenty of water, do warm up, train gradually taking in to account body ability, plenty of rest, giving time for recovery, do warm down stretches and, important, you do exactly, with not lying to yourself, exactly what you want. Once you start “crying”: I don’t want to train, but continuing…you will get injured. Be honest to yourself. I had injuries every year when I wanted to quit, but once I change my attitude, since 2017 I was injuries and any sick free. I felt sick, I had pain just in every part of my body at the beginning of 2017 it was just two month before World championship. I thought: “if I will feel good I will go”. If my condition will not change I will not go. But I changed my thoughts to: “I will go!” and I started to feel good immediately and my body healed and let me to prepare very well. John Shields made me Gold Athlete. I did few mistakes and brought two Silvers from World Championship in South Korea. One of mistake was sightseeing, long walk around Daegu at rest day before final. I did massage my wooden stiff legs for all night, didn’t had good sleep and didn’t organised breakfast. Second mistake I took wrong decision during the 400m run. I follow 200m runner all the way from the start knowing she run too fast and will not be able to hold it up to the end. My plan was to overtake her on home straight. I didn’t took in account other athletes who had same plan by following us and start take over on the last bend. I wasn’t brave enough to start take over on the last bend when I felt other athlete overtaking me, I thought I will take over them both on straight. Athlete in front lost her speed when I was blocked, I was obliged to slow down and at straight it was no chance to get back that speed which flew me before. I came second

You have given fantastic advise already to young athletes is there anything further you would say? If you started at 13 and now you are 33 it doesn’t count that you are training for 20 years. You need to take in account breaks. And after your last break you are beginner. You need to forget your ambitions and start train gradually. A few years foundation training first and only after you can train more and harder. Do not judge yourself at first training-saying you are not born for sport. First training is hard for everyone. After break you have to start as if you never trained. Do not compare yourself with others. Be happy and you will get what you truly want. If it not happened up to now just check if you are honest to yourself. You need to be happy not just from words, or from thoughts, but from heart. You need to feel happiness from inside, without any reason. Ask yourself if you happy, and listen what is inside. If your soul is happy it is great, but if you feel heavy stone, I think what you need to do to change it. Do things that makes a difference to make you happy.

Do you have any memorable or funny story from Clonliffe Harriers that you could share? (the censorship board may review!) Clonliffe Women won silver medals at the Premier league final and was waiting for ceremony. One 20 years old lady who took a part in competition made her way home. I asked: “will you not be waiting for a medal?”” I am not 15 to be waiting for a medal”- she said. “That’s ok”- I thought, “I am just double 15- I will wait”

2019 Clonliffe Women’s Track & Field athlete of the Year

What’s your favourite meal? A. For competition ideal: Any Meat with Noodles and Vegetables at 3pm, chocolate at 5pm Warm up at 7pm B. Outside competition: any Bento Box and miso soup C. I never take any supplements. All what is need I am getting from food. The most important thing: portion needs to be as big that you would never even think about having desert on top. If you want desert increase portion add more salad. I eat a lot of seeds, nuts, salad, lemon, fruits, and dried fruits and for main course meat and rice or pasta.

Who is your sporting ‘hero’? (Athletics or other) A. Irish: Sonia o’Sullivan B. International: Aneta Liemish.

What’s your favourite…? A. Film: “Devil wears Prada” and similar. B. Song or Album: “Eye of the tiger” or any from “Morton Games” for run. Classic for driving. Relaxing for sleeping. I have my own music in my mind, but before the race is great to hear something as you going in to the war. C. Book: John Kehoe “Mind Power into the 21st Century”

What’s your favourite holiday destination? Gran Canary, Cannes, London, Budapest.

What’s your favourite hobby / activity outside athletics? Only modelling was over my dream. I was afraid even to dream about it. When I grow up and realised nothing is impossible, all you need to do follow the rules be patient and make of yourself whatever is required. I became a professional model at 34, but this is a separate story.

How would your non-athlete friends describe you? (in 3 words) I asked this question in Facebook I got many pleasant answers: down-to-earth; smart, charming, kind; very happy, joyful; calm, fast, genuine; not camera shy; passionate, competitive, beautiful …

What is your next running / athletics goal? (whenever normality returns!) I can’t wait for next competition to try my shot put.

How are you motivating yourself to continue training at these difficult times? I am lucky- my body knows what it needs, I do exercises through the day. After 10 years dedicated training I am using this moment to relax. But energy makes me train. All the world on the quarantine now, when we will comeback in normal life we all will be at the same unfit level. But you can be fit if you will train now. It is your chance to be a champion. My inner happiness is my map where to go. With a straight back it is easier to be happy. Actually I just got an idea why do I train? To keep my muscles strong to have my back straight. Make your back straight ant try to fall in to depression…It is impossible!