Just Two Will Do



Six Miles into Dublin and Ray Moves Ahead
                                        Six Miles into Dublin and Ray Moves Ahead                                      Photo Credit: Paddy Parrott

The last few weeks have been eventful but quite fulfilling on the running front.

In contrast to the early months of the year I got into quite a happy running groove and ran two enjoyable marathons quite close together in October – the Galway Bay Marathon on the 3rd and the Dublin City Marathon just three weeks later.

As you might guess, running two races so close together wasn’t ideal in terms of running the fastest time in either of them, but that’s the way I decided it had to be. The Galway race is organised by my old friend Ray O’Connor and I knew he’d put on a great race. If anything, I was prioritising Galway over Dublin as it was literally the road-less-travelled. The Dublin Marathon has been very kind to me in the past but the temptation of running a really good marathon so close to home was impossible to resist.

So, Galway had the upper hand this year.

Race day in the Claddagh could have been specifically designed for running, as it dawned cool, calm and dry. If someone had announced that the IAAF had made roller-skates legal for this one event, my prospects would only have improved marginally. Although the course was over four loops, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, it was flat and trouble-free. I got into a conservative groove early in the race and waited to see how the race might unfold in front of me. After a few miles three super-speedies had disappeared down the road and a following group of six followed them at a discrete distance. I was clinging onto the back of that group for the early miles, although I eventually had to let them go as the pace was just a little to hot for my taste.

I passed the halfway mark in 1:26:57 feeling strong but running on my own. The five other runners I had been tailing had moved gradually away and merged with the half-marathoners and 10km runners with whom we by now shared road space. It was good to have those other racers around. There was loads of room to pass or be passed and we encouraged each other along. As usually happens when I’m in decent shape, I could feel my pace improving over the later miles of the trace without consciously increasing my effort. Mile splits dropped from 6:40’s to 6:20’s and sometimes lower. Between miles 17 and 25 I caught and passed each of the gang-of-five, some of whom were slowing and some of whom I passed because I was picking up the pace.

I got to the finish in 5th place in a time of 2:50:57. My split for the second half of 1:24:00 is my fastest half marathon of the year by quite a bit. As some of my American friends say, ‘Go Figure!’.
Three weeks later I was standing at the starting line in Dublin. Once again, I felt fresh and ready to rock, although conditions were distinctly less favourable. I had managed to get straight back on the road after Galway without missing any training and saw no reason why I shouldn’t run a similar time – all going well.

After just a few miles, I could feel that optimism start to fade. I felt too warm and knew I was running too fast to maintain that pace all the way to the finish. More than once I deliberately tried to slow my pace, only to see another sub 6:30 mile split pop up on my watch as I went past the markers. After the 10km point I managed to steady the ship a little and so went through the half-way mark in 1:25:36, quite a bit faster than Galway and not going nearly so well.

The second half turned into a slog-fest. I slowed, not dramatically, but it became harder and harder to keep a respectable pace. It was grimace and bear it stuff – just about tolerable but not much fun. The last few miles were a tad easier as we ran gradually down-hill to the finish and also benefitted from a following wind.

I ground-it-out and there was 2:52:57 on the clock at the end. In fairness I was happy enough. I certainly didn’t have a faster race in me on the day.

After Dublin, I’ve once more managed to get back onto the road almost straight away with little or no soreness to contend with. I’m hoping to round out my running year with the  Clonakilty Marathon in December where I have some unfinished business from a few years ago, when I actually managed to miss the race start and had to run through the entire marathon and half-marathon field.

Enough moaning, it’s really great to be back in a happy place.

Ghost-busting in Longford

Mick, Valerie and Aidan - Longford Warriors
Mick, Valerie and Aidan – Longford Warriors

Redemption in Longford

Longford Marathon 2015 – Race Report

On the way to this race, a pal asked me what time I thought I’d run. I said that, all going well, with a fair wind (or none) and a pinch of good luck, the best I could hope for was around 2:52 – but that over 3:00 was entirely possible.

In short, I really hadn’t a freaking clue.

In light of how things worked out on the day, I won’t really complain.

Continue reading “Ghost-busting in Longford”

Return to Longford

Finishing the inaugural Longford Marathon in 2002

Thirteen years ago I had the pleasure of lining up for the first ever Longford Marathon and tomorrow I’m hoping to repeat the process.

Since 2002 I’ve grown tremendously fond of this race. This is an event organised with the interests of the participants foremost in mind. It’s not a fund-raiser, a private-profit-maker or a tourism gimmick; it’s a marathon race. From the outset, the Longford organisers have had a single straightforward objective, that being, to put on the best race possible. Of course, no race is perfect and there have doubtless been some mistakes over the years but it’s always been clear that the Longford race organisers will go to great lengths to cater for the athletes who show up year after year.

Keeping a race like this going year after year is of course no small achievement in itself. There was even a time when the race came under direct threat from some less well-motivated individuals. Through it all they kept their heads, even when some of our athletic leaders who should have known better were losing theirs. For this achievement alone they deserve great credit.

The sport of road racing has changed so much in the intervening years that it’s difficult to imagine how exciting it was back in 2002 to have a new marathon on the calendar.  Marathon races were rare and exotic animals at that stage and many marathon runners had to travel abroad if they wanted to to race regularly.

The Longford marathon organisers blazed a trail that others were soon to follow. Nowadays it seems that almost every medium-sized town in the country hosts a marathon annually. In breaking up the Dublin/Belfast marathon monopoly that had been in place up to that point, Longford did all Irish marathon runners a great service – and continues to do so – setting organisational standards that other races often fail to match.

In terms of my own targets for tomorrow, I’m hoping for a decent run. It’d be nice to get around the course a little faster than I did in 2002 (3:10) and even nicer to better my 2:57 from Portumna in June.

I’m hoping to run by feel rather than by the the watch. I’ll set out at what feels right and see how long my luck holds.

Just standing at the start line will feel good, fourteen years on, and many miles, later.

Wish me luck!


My Friend in Loughrea


My friend in Loughrea wasn’t happy. Something was pissing him off and it looked like I was about to be ‘confided in’.

“The little fecker”, he said, spitting the last word out like he really meant it.

I kept my head down and waited for the full story to emerge. I guessed – correctly as it turned out – that my role in this conversation would be to shut-the-fuck-up and pay attention. We all need someone to listen to our grievances on occasion. This guy has been around the running block more often than most and, in fairness to him, only suffers fools occasionally. I certainly wouldn’t describe this man as a fully-fledged drama-queen, but he does sometimes enjoy a really good moan. Don’t we all?

The source of his frustration on this occasion was the close attention he was getting from a much younger local runner. This new-kid-on-the-block – was full of that unbounded, almost child-like enthusiasm for racing that we all enjoy in the early years. He absolutely couldn’t get enough. More specifically he couldn’t get enough of chasing my pal’s skinny arse around every road race in Galway. In the eyes on this newbie, anyone running ahead of him was a ‘legitimate target’. He was an equal opportunities zealot, making no distinction on the basis of age, gender or affiliation. That said, he seemed especially intent on getting past my friend from Loughrea.

As the difference between their race times shrank, his confidence grew. ‘Victory’ would soon be his.

Of course, what the whippersnapper was failing to take into account was the almost thirty-year age gap in his favour. If not a case of, ‘would you not pick on someone your own size’, it felt to my friend that this interloper should ‘pick on someone his own age’. As the pair walked away from the finish line of one local road race or another, the youngster and oldster exchanged polite acknowledgement of the closing gap: the youngster seemingly oblivious that he was barking up an inappropriate tree.

“Why wouldn’t he just feck off and annoy someone else for a change”, the man from Loughrea wondered.

I think I was expected to nod sympathetically and then agree that youngsters were indeed a pain in the arse. Instead, of course, I chuckled quietly – an admittedly risky option. I know this man a long time and was reasonably confident he’d give me a pass, but I wasn’t absolutely sure. In fairness to him, the fact that he was still finishing, even marginally, ahead of a runner half of his age, spoke volumes in itself.

It has to be said, he was going well for an auld fella.

From what I can work out, there are just two options here for us crumbly runners. We can either settle into a comfort zone of competing against our peers and abandoning all hope of embarrassing the youngsters, or, we can fight like a bastard to make their life difficult. For the moment, I’m going with the second option. I know in my heart that I can’t run the times I used to and that the trend is only heading in one direction, but I genuinely relish the moments when I find myself duking it out with someone half my age towards the end of a race.

If I can occasionally come home ahead of some 19 year-old in a football jersey, wearing obscenely expensive shoes and a watch that could boil an egg, so much the better.

Caring Less


One of the very few privileges associated with getting older and slower is that we tend to care less about what other runners might think about us.

The symptoms are all around us if you can bear to look.

You’ll spot older runners in outfits that Coco the clown has plainly rejected because they’re simply too colourful. You might even see elderly athletes applying generous amounts of lubrication to intimate body parts in a manner that would gladden the heart of any Ann Summers fan. On one highly-memorable occasion, I personally observed a runner dressed in heavy overcoat and brogues and matching them with the briefest and most revealing of short shorts exposing acres of hairy white quivering flesh while queuing up in a fast-food restaurant in Tuam.

If the police weren’t called that day, I have no idea why not.

This freedom to behave just as we like is exercised mostly, but not exclusively, as a male privilege. More than once I’ve had to execute a hasty volte-face upon unexpectedly discovering a pasty white female arse – not quite hidden by the undergrowth – whose owner was seemingly intent on avoiding last-minute queues for the portaloos.

I’m not entirely sure where all this comes from. Whether it’s the case that we genuinely tend to care less what others think about us, or that we just don’t notice how eccentric we’ve become, I’m not certain. Another possibility, I suppose, is that we have shed some of the self-obsession and the desperate need to ‘fit in’ that plague us all when we’re young. I’d like to believe that it’s mainly the first of these options – that we de-stress a little as we learn a little about how the world works – and that it dawns on us that all of this is temporary anyway.

For my own part, I’ve got a little bit of room for improvement yet. There are still some things that bother me which I shouldn’t even notice.

My plan is to quietly freak-out as many people as possible over the next while. This process feeds on itself after all. If I can manage to upset a few ‘apple-tarts’ without getting arrested, infected or illegally married, then I’m probably on the right track.

I’ll leave the last word to Jenny Joseph below. I think we’re on the same track, but she says it so much better than I do.


When I Am Old – Jenny Joseph
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals,
and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats
and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple!

Ifs, Buts and Maybes…



My mind is unsettled and the quality of my running ebbs and flows. Racing ambitions float around my head changing in size and shape as they bounce around. Alternating between delusional optimism and black pessimism, it gets hard to tell up from down. There are days when I believe I can see clearly what I’d like to do and then there are others when I know for sure that it’s all a ball of smoke.

This has been going on for a couple of years without any real sign of me getting a grip. The occasional good race and quite a lot of limping provide very little blogging material.

Despite the changing psychological weather, I’ve made it out the door to run more often than I’ve stayed on the couch and have been thankful for that fact. I’m certainly counting this as a good thing. Even though the conditions change from day to day, longer term trends can become apparent. Of late, I’ve been training well and moaning less. My friends are counting this as a good thing.

As a result of less limping and more running, ambition is gaining the upper hand and I’ve been telling anyone careless enough to ask that I’ll run another ultra in the summer.

Of course the one that fascinates me the most is the Connemara 100. Having been around that track four times I’m drawn to the event like a moth to a flame.

If I don’t hit another injury, if I can keep building mileage, if my wife doesn’t leave me, if I can find more gym time, if…..

I’d love to be there in August.

Good Job

Many Feet


Without the encouragement we are offered by others, very few of us would continue to run.

Encouragement comes to me in many ways. When my wife volunteers to take on extra work at home so that I can go for a run, she encourages me. When my friends run well, they encourage me to try harder. Most of all, when someone offers kind words they give my heart a lift.

We’re all suckers for a well- aimed compliment.

Over the years, I’ve heard ‘Bon Courage!’ as I staggered along French roads, ‘Bravo!’ in Italy and ‘Fair Play!’ in Ireland. This year, I heard the words ‘Good Job!’ repeated over and again as I ran through the beautiful streets of Boston. Boston is a running town to it’s core, but they do things differently there than we do in the West of Ireland. When I ran the famous Boston Marathon back in 2002, I remember seeing a huge poster that proclaimed, ‘If there is such a thing as hallowed ground in running – This is it!’ You could feel the memories of marathons past beneath your feet.

This year I was back in Beantown, mostly for work, but also to run the ‘Run to Remember’ Half Marathon. I had trained as well as my hairy little legs would allow me and I went to the start, hoping against hope to be back before an hour and twenty minutes had ticked by. On this occasion, I had been encouraged by my friend Toby to be there and we both lined up at 7.00am beside several thousand others for an early morning dash through Boston’s beautiful streets.

The racing side of it went well and I finished in 1:19 and change. Job done! Even though my result seemed important on the day, I doubt that I’ll remember the digits for long

What stood out to me on the day, and what I believe I will remember for many more years, is the encouragement that was offered to me along the way – mostly by other runners. A blizzard of ‘Good Job!’ mantras followed me along the route – each one heartfelt, each one welcome.

With each expression of empathy and support I felt a little more at home. I was amongst my own. By the time I arrived back at the finishing line I was a local.

They do the running thing differently in Boston, but they do a good job.

Hallowed ground is made with many compassionate feet.

Are We Still Kings?

Ballycotton Lighthouse

Ballycotton 10 2014 Race Report

I travelled to the ‘Ballycotton 10’ this year as one might revisit the scene of some half-forgotten teenage adventure. When I first turned-up at this famous race in 2002 I was fairly new to the scene and ended up being completely absorbed by the whole affair. When I walked the streets of this beautiful seaside town I believed that I was amongst like-minded people. I remember having an overwhelming sense of belonging; of having come home; a feeling that was only ever replicated for me at the Dublin City Marathon. Over these early years I travelled to both of these races in what can only be described as ‘pilgrim-mode’.

I was a running innocent abroad around that time, and happy enough with that to be fair. Quite quickly, the ‘Ballycotton 10’ came to mean an awful lot to me and – although I’m slightly less wound-up about particular races these days – I was certainly looking-forward to running these famous roads again.  Reading back through my old training logs, I can see that I’ve run this race on eight previous occasions but haven’t made it to the starting line since 2010.

In short, I suppose, I wanted to go back to five years ago and see what it felt like. I wanted to know if I could still kick it like I used to.

If indeed we were once ‘Kings’, I wanted to know if any of that magic might remain.

Over my early ‘Ballycotton Years’ I’d been lucky enough to get to know the track’s famous Race Director John Walsh a little. As the race grew in popularity, he struggled to deal with the craziness that went along with that. He’d gently shake his head and quietly ask us all to remember that there were other good races around the place, and that some of them might even be just as good as his one. He was right of course, but we didn’t want to see that at the time. We were hooked.Maeve Limbers Up

In 2002 I fell in love with Ballycotton. From the moment I arrived there I knew that I had met my people. Ballycotton understood me. Over seven subsequent years, the love affair had evolved. Then, that initial infatuation evolved to a point where I was, perhaps, in danger of taking it all for granted. I took it as my right to return each year, to smile as I shook the same hands and to run the beautiful country roads around the town.

There wasn’t a point at which I consciously decided that I wouldn’t run the race anymore.  A combination of family and running-related circumstances conspired to create what would eventually become a five year gap. I had always planned to get back on the horse, and this was the year when it happened.

On this occasion, a friend of mine, Ray, had been kind enough to offer me a lift. His generosity meant that I could relax and gather my thoughts as we slipped away from home and through the early morning fog. We moved quietly away from Athenry, through the rest of Galway, on to Limerick and then, eventually, into Cork. As we drove, the rest of Ireland woke to their usual Sunday routine, but, for a lucky few it was Ballycotton Sunday.

Ballycotton Sign

Quite a few injuries have passed under the bridge over the last five years and so it was in the spirit of a recovering Marty McFly that I found myself emerging from the back of Ray’s car in a field just outside of Ballycotton Village roughly two hours before race time. The first time I’d been here all the world had seemed new and each race was a fresh adventure. It was good to be back.

My first impressions were that nothing much had changed in the last five years. Everything looked just about as perfect or imperfect as it had been before. I was home again. I believe that Ballycotton offers what every runner really wants; which is, an opportunity to test themselves against a fair course without distraction. Anyone who finds fault with the race organisation here needs their bumps felt and a new pair of glasses. If you’re capable of running a fast time, you can do it – and many do. If you want to run semi tourist-style – you have that freedom. If you’d like to walk-jog your way to freedom – that is your prerogative. All possible styles of pedestrianism are accommodated and most are encouraged.

My personal weapons of choice this year were to be closely-paced miles of the six minutes and ten second variety. Training had been on a shaky but decidedly upward curve, and I reckoned I could bash these out for a while. What exactly a ‘while’ constituted I would soon find out. When the balloon went up, we all charged down the hill like one big lycra-clad lunatic wave, towards our individual destinies. The start at Ballycotton is always manic; even more so than other crazy races. The first mile is survival city.  Staying vertical and continuing to make forward progress are the orders of the day. If you don’t bust the bank before you leave town and you’re probably doing ok. There’s no room for subtlety in the first mile.

Choking Ray

My strides evened out after about ten minutes. I knew that I was a hair’s breadth ahead of the clock and so I concentrated on keeping the same tempo. At this point in the race it’s generally wise to elevate your gaze from the heels of those in front. Any immediate danger of death by trampling has surely passed and it’d be a shame to pass by all of these rosebuds without gathering even a few.

Familiar landmarks came and went. Gradually the early miles ticked by. The halfway mark was passed in 30:37 and the 10km point was sighted in 38:07. In all honesty, the second half wasn’t that enjoyable. I know, of course, that the later stages of a hard run are not really meant to be a pleasant experience. I felt like I was slowing down a lot. The needle was way up in the red. Even as I struggled, I was still managing to pass one or two other unfortunate souls who must have having an even tougher time that I was. As always, the price for early exuberance is high, but shared adversity is a wonderful thing. We all ran along and suffered together.



Photo Credit Gearóid Ó Laoi

I was still somehow hitting miles in the low six-minute range. Somewhere near the end there was a 6:24, which was a bit of a shocker at the time and I had to make one last big effort to get back on track. I was hugely entertained in the final miles as I ran alongside a woman who seemed to be fuelled almost entirely by a combination of spite, aggression and badness. She was hilarious. If you can imagine a pissed-off, running, Tasmanian Devil in pink leggings you pretty much have the picture. Having her alongside in final miles helped me forget my own troubles and I got over the finishing line without further incident. Of course, I made sure to run past her in the last little bit. Who said Chivalry was dead?

I was more than pleased with my finishing time of 1:01:44 (105th). I hadn’t threatened the leaders on this occasion, but of course there’s always next year. It had been genuinely nice to be back; to be a part of the Ballycotton scene once more. Hopefully it won’t be my last lap around the famous course, but if it happens to be, I have some more happy memories to add to those from earlier years.

As I walked back to the car I met more familiar faces. One of my heroes, Irish Runner Editor Frank Greally, was by the roadside, smiling, encouraging and, knowing Frank, probably gossiping – a man after my own heart. I saw uber-blogger Thomas Bubendorfer making his way home as well. We shook hands and swapped some ‘war’ stories. Thomas is the only Irishman I’ve ever met who was born a German and inherited the best of both.

And so, I was done. We went home the way we had come and we all enjoyed that exhausted feeling that comes from an honest day’s work.

As John Walsh has reminded us before, there are other races.

Of course there are, but there’s only one Ballycotton.

Year Date Time Position
Ballycotton 2002 10-Mar-02 1:09:12 410
Ballycotton 2003 09-Mar-03 1:02:26 146
Ballycotton 2004 08-Mar-04 0:58:53 93
Ballycotton 2005 06-Mar-05 0:58:53 67
Ballycotton 2006 05-Mar-06 0:58:28 49
Ballycotton 2007 04-Mar-07 0:59:50 63
Ballycotton 2008 09-Mar-08 0:59:29 62
Ballycotton 2010 21-Mar-10 0:58:39 40
Ballycotton 2014 09-Mar-10 1:01:44 105

Same View, Different Window

Coldwood Four Miler - Jan 2014
Coldwood Four Miler – Jan 2014


I’ve been running a bumpy, but interesting, road since the New Year.

In mileage terms, each good week has typically been followed by a less-good one.

The good ones are often fuelled by dreams of races to come in the spring and summer; dreams of long evenings in good company on quiet roads; dreams of recaptured youth. Almost inevitably and shortly thereafter, a weary and fragile body prevents me from getting out the door and I feel diminished. The pendulum swings from positive to negative; from hope to dejection. Thankfully, the general trend seems positive and, as time moves ahead, there are more good runs than bad and fewer periods of sulking. My wife is thankful for this.

As the year unfolds, I’ve been taking my own advice and resting when I should; even when that has meant taking three, four or five days off in a row. Thankfully that has meant that, although my mileage has been reduced, I haven’t been forced off the road altogether. It’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, but obviously not impossible. As an antidote to melancholy, I’ve been re-reading some classic running books. Ron Hill’s two-volume autobiography got me started. As an example of unrestrained compulsion, they’re hard to rival. The man is a head-case.

Next up was my favourite – the best running book that I’ve ever come across – Jim Shapiro’s ‘Meditations from the Breakdown Lane: Running Across America’. Every time I open the covers of this book I learn something new about myself. One observation that drew my eye this time was about how runners view ‘big’ races; the ones we focus on from afar and obsess about for months. He notes that, for the runners he has known, there is no race as important as the next one and none as unimportant as the one just completed. We rarely stay in the moment long enough to appreciate what we’re doing. The lesson I am choosing to take from this is that there should be no run more important that today’s.

That worrying today about what I might be able to do in the summer, will just subtract from my enjoyment of the run today.

If I can take Jim’s advice I have a chance to stop sulking and start really running.

A Time to Make No Plans

Life Advice Goa Style
Life Advice Goa Style


I read a newspaper article last Saturday that gave me pause for thought.

The journalist, who’s in her early sixties as far as I know, spoke about how slow she was to make plans for the year ahead, because she felt she couldn’t be really confident that she’d be alive long enough to see them all through. It didn’t seem wise, she said.

At first I thought that she was being unnecessarily morbid, melodramatic even. After all, she was relatively young and in good health – as far as I knew – and at least outwardly successful. So, why should she ‘accentuate the negative’, I asked myself?  I was mildly surprised at the tone of the piece, because I’ve read this person’s stuff for quite a while and have enjoyed almost everything she’s written. ‘She’s usually a bit more chipper than that’, I said to myself.

When I sat back and thought about it a little longer, I wondered if there might be another way of looking at what she’d said. I’ve eventually decided that there is. Simplistically put, if we don’t make plans or set goals for ourselves to reach, we’re set for success. It’s a slam-dunk! After all, we cannot miss targets that we don’t aim for and we cannot fail, if we do not try. Perhaps, as runners, we try too hard some of the time.

I really don’t mean that to sound glib, because I know that ambition, dreams of success and sheer bloody-mindedness have driven many runners to incredible achievements.  Where would we be without our plans, our training logs and our highly-detailed twelve-week core-strengthening schedules?

Without wanting to diminish any of that pure-hearted drive and dedication to improvement, I want to believe that it doesn’t have to be that way all of the time. Unrealised ambition can be a burden to some and realising our dreams can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating process.  Perhaps there’s a time and a place for drifting; a place for wandering along without a plan.

When I was a boy, my father would often raise himself from his comfortable chair on a summer’s evening and declare that he was going for a stroll. He wasn’t going for a walk, or to stride purposefully for a set distance, he was going to stroll; to take the air.

For some of this year I shall follow suit.