One of the most fantastic things that has happened to me over the last few years has been the opportunity to write some pieces for the Irish Runner magazine on the legends of Irish distance running. Over that time I’ve talked with and have written about Irish champions and Olympians from all over the island. For anyone with a love of running this has to be considered a rare privilege.
My first opportunity to do one of these pieces came in early 2008 when TJ Beatty from Loughrea brought me along to visit former marathon and ultra marathon runner Jim McDonagh, who had been dubbed ‘Shufflin’ Mac’ by the American press because of his economical running style. I visited Jim at his home at Larchill near Loughrea with TJ and I can remember the night clearly. I was as nervous as hell as I tried to look and sound like I knew what I was doing – when nothing on Earth could actually have been further from the truth. I brought a newly purchased digital sound recorder, which I barely knew how to operate, and a list of hastily prepared questions. Jim and his wife Helen were the perfect hosts and between cups of tea Jim told me many tales of running marathons and ultramarathons all over America and Ireland. Jim had emigrated to the US in the early 1950’s and didn’t take up running in any serious way until he was 40 years old. Before he was finished he had represented the USA in the Pan American Games Marathon and had won numerous marathons and ultra marathons.
Since that time I’ve talked with many other champion runners and without exception they’ve been a pleasure and a privilege to talk with. This weekend I hope to visit Donore’s Willie Dunne who represented Ireland at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. I have no doubt that I’ll be as enthralled by his story as I have been by all of the other legends I’ve had the chance to share time with.
A rare privilege indeed.