This week we have an inspiring story from Ireland about one woman who was persistently pushing her comfort zone. At 42 she took up running, then parkrunning, and then organised her own parkruns!
Like a lot of runners I started later in life, with my 42nd birthday looming in 2008 I decided I needed to get fitter and healthier. I was very lucky to have my weekday mornings free while my boys were at school and living in Dun Laoghaire I was spoilt for views to distract me in those first few months where running was new to me.
Before long I was signing up for races and was totally hooked on the buzz of running with lots of other likeminded people. Soon after that I first became aware of parkrun, at that stage it hadn’t yet come to Ireland and I remember thinking it would be so wonderful if somebody introduced it here. Of course I should have been thinking “how I could bring it to Ireland?” but my three sons were all still very young at that time and like a lot of young mums I was busy ferrying them to and from sporting activities every Saturday morning.
Luckily for me (and indeed all of us parkrunners in Ireland!) Matt Shields decided to bring it to Northern Ireland and it wasn’t long before the first run then took place in Malahide in November 2012. By that stage I was completely hooked on running and had been lucky enough to have moved up to marathon distance and even the occasional ultra.
I was hopeful I would make it over to Malahide soon after it started but my three boys were still very much into their sports and I was happy to support them every Saturday. In 2013 parkrun seemed to be getting closer and closer to me and in early March it launched in Marlay Park, I was over the moon when I made it to my first ever parkrun at Marlay’s fourth run and I was instantly captivated!
At that stage I had started to get to know some runners from road racing and I met even more friendly new people at Marlay and I knew I would be back. On Friday nights when I occasionally got a text telling me that my sons’ training/matches were called off the following day I’d be secretly delighted because I could do parkrun.
I received a warm welcome when I first volunteered and was very quickly put at ease even though I was sure I would do something wrong! I loved getting my run in and was delighted to see that there were plenty of roles where I could volunteer and run and of course I always enjoyed a coffee with the team afterwards. My youngest son joined me in Marlay in August of that year and we enjoyed many happy parkruns together that summer. One of my happiest parkrun memories is finishing a parkrun just behind him and he turned round to me in the funnel and gave me a huge big hug and said he loved doing parkrun with me. On one occasion he had had breakfast too soon before we got there and he finished with a stitch and was a bit upset. I was consoling him when one of the regular parkrunners came up and chatted to us and explained that everyone got stitches every now and again and I was so struck by their concern and empathy, another example of the warm welcome at parkrun!
The more I ran, the more I enjoyed it and I was lucky enough to see my times improving. Anyone training for a marathon knows that the long run every week can often be a challenge. Whenever possible I would do my long runs with a parkrun in the middle and the miles would fly by. With parkruns popping up all over Dublin at this stage I was spoilt for choice. My husband Joe had also started running and we both really loved joining all the happy pakrunners on the rare Saturday mornings where other sporting pursuits weren’t taking over. St Anne’s parkrun in Raheny and Marlay parkrun were the perfect distance away for me to run to and from and the miles seemed to fly by with a parkrun in the middle of them.
I finally made it over to Malahide at the beginning of April this year as part of my long run and I was reminded how lucky we are to have such beautiful parks to run in all over the country. More importantly we have wonderful volunteers who go to the trouble of setting up the parkruns and giving up their Saturday mornings so we can run.
On 22nd of February 2014 our youngest son and I ran and volunteered in Marlay, another great weekend where we capitalised on the fact that the GAA pitches were flooded. parkrun was a nice distraction as Joe and I were counting down to the Barcelona Marathon in March. The following Tuesday our lives were turned upside down in a way we could never have imagined…… My husband Joe was running with our running club in Sean Moore park and he collapsed, despite being the fittest and healthiest he ever had been he had suffered cardiac arrest. Joe survived thanks to the amazing efforts of our Crusaders AC club mates and Clanna Gael GAA club; they had immediately phoned an ambulance, performed CPR and used the onsite defibrillator. They had followed the chain of survival, giving him the best possible chance of recovering. We were told that his fitness had had a huge impact on his recovery. Throughout those very difficult weeks our friends and family were amazing, our extended friends and family from the running world were also incredibly supportive, I was receiving messages every day wishing Joe back to full health. The staff at St Vincent’s A&E and the cardiac care ward were truly amazing and after just over two weeks in hospital Joe was home with us again and back on the road to recovery.
Over the summer Joe gradually went from walking then jogging to running and the first organised run we did together was St Anne’s parkrun in August, less than 6 months after his cardiac arrest. As always we received a wonderful warm welcome and finishing together on that warm summer’s day we were once again reminded how lucky we are to be part of the parkrun family. Life gradually got back to normal for the Dunne family and in the summer of 2014 Joe and I had the opportunity to give back to our community, Dalkey First Responders was launched and we were delighted to qualify and join the team. First Responder groups work in much the same way as parkrun, being set up entirely by volunteers and relying on the support of the local community.
In early 2015 I became aware of the opportunity of setting up Cabinteely parkrun and I jumped at the chance of adding another parkrun to South County Dublin. Matt Shields explained what would be involved and I knew I would get lots of support from the other parkruns around Dublin. I had often been to Cabinteely Park playground with my sons when they were young but when my husband and I went up to map out a route I really discovered just how beautiful the park is. Cabinteely was a shining example of all the local parkuns coming together to help me get set up; Michael came out from Malahide and measured the course with me. Aisling from Tymon invited me and our core team to volunteer at their lovely parkrun. Darragh and lots of the truly wonderful core team from Marlay gave their time to come and help train us up on all the equipment and before we knew it we were all set to go for our first ever event.
On 28 March 2015, 93 parkrunners joined the team of 20 volunteers on a beautiful spring morning and although I was nervous welcoming them all I really enjoyed it. Among those parkrunners were many people I had never met before and they would go on to become firm friends and part of our volunteer team. Last July I joined a new age category and my birthday fell on a Saturday, starting the day as Run Director was so special and I was blown away by the cake, balloons and hugs I got from everyone that morning, the perfect start to a wonderful day.
Just over two years on from that first day I am delighted to say that Cabinteely parkrun has grown in to a wonderful community with lots of new faces joining us running and volunteering week after week. Like all parkruns we like to think ours is the absolute best! We currently have a total of six run directors; Ben, Niall, Annemarie, Martina and I and we have lots of core volunteers without whom we couldn’t function. We are very rarely stuck for volunteers and our roster is usually all set to go early in the week, if we put a call out we always get plenty of offers guaranteeing a warm welcome to all our parkrunners.
Cabinteely is well worth the trip if you haven’t yet visited us. Our challenging parkun consists of three laps, one small then two larger and this gives our runners the opportunity to enjoy the bumpy route three times before finishing adjacent to beautiful Cabinteely House. Running past the start/finish area three times allows us volunteers plenty of opportunity to cheer on all the walkers, runners and joggers. We’ve got regulars who run with dogs (always on a short lead), buggies and young children within arms reach of an adult. Occasionally we have pacers for 25 or 30 minutes and the hilly route always seems easier in a group.
Like most parkruns we head to the coffee shop to process results and catch up with each other, after those hills our parkrunners have earned a treat! A few weeks ago I was chatting with one of our regulars, John, who sets up the course for us most weeks, we were discussing the fact that the hills keep our average attendance numbers at approx. 150, he very cleverly described our event as The Goldilocks parkrun, “Not too big….. Not too small…… just right” Why not come join us and see for yourself some Saturday morning? You’re sure to get a warm welcome and lots of encouragement up those hills.
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