Life Fitness

Friday 24 February 2017

'We'll finish the race holding hands'- Amazing Irish couple in their eighties to run the Cork Marathon after 57 years of marriage

Octogenarian couple Kay and Joe O'Regan will run the Cork City Marathon side by side next month, writes Kate Gunn, and after 57 years of marriage, the inspirational duo have already proved they can go the distance

Marathon runners and husband and wife duo Joe and Kay O' Regan. Picture: Patrick Browne.
Marathon runners and husband and wife duo Joe and Kay O' Regan. Picture: Patrick Browne.

Have you ever considered running a marathon but can't quite rustle up the determination needed to complete such a feat? Well, get ready to feel a whole lot worse about yourself, because octogenarian couple Joe and Kay O'Regan are marking their milestone birthday by running the Cork City Marathon together on 6 June.

Their plan is to cross the finish line holding hands - just like they did when they completed their first ever marathon 30 years ago for their 50th birthdays.

The husband and wife duo are based in Enniscorthy and they are in full training mode for Cork in June.

Kay, a mother of two and grandmother of five, does not intend to stroll the course either. As a septuagenarian, her average time for the distance was under 4.5 hours.

Unbelievably, this year's marathon will be Kay's 112nd marathon. She has won numerous titles and is the current Irish Women's Marathon record holder for the 60, 65, 70 and 75 age categories. It's impressive stuff.

So, will Joe have trouble keeping up with her on the course? Kay laughs: "We plan to start together and finish together. It can be difficult running long distances with another person because often when one is feeling good, the other is feeling bad and vice versa - but we have put in plenty of training together."

Joe is by no means a novice runner of course, with an impressive 27 marathons under his belt.

If he was married to anyone else, this achievement would have been considered remarkable - so did Kay steal his thunder? "Not at all! Kay was the catalyst for us starting running and the distance runs suit her. If she plans to run 14 miles, she'll run 14 miles. If she plans on 16, that's what she'll do".

Although Cork is supposed to be their last marathon together, Kay has made similar promises before.

She says: "I decided in 2013 to run my last marathon before the marathons packed me up, but famous last words I suppose, because when Joe and I were running together one morning last year, I said to him, 'Maybe, just maybe, if of course we're both still alive and well next year (2016), when we both will be 80 (Joe on February 24 and myself March 18) - we should run just one last marathon, and run and stay together like we did in our very first marathon in London 1986, and finish together hand in hand.'"

She says she hadn't expected a positive response from Joe as he had given up marathons in favour of shorter runs a good number of years earlier. But "… he surprised me when he said yes, we could do that!"

It seems the whole family are keen to get behind Kay when she needs them, as she goes on to say: "Joe did run the Dublin Marathon when I ran my 100th in Dublin in 2010, and also, our son Fintan ran his one and only marathon."

It was, in fact, Fintan that began the whole adventure. As a teenager, he refused to go training one night because of the rain. Kay chastised him for letting a bit of rain stop him, and he then challenged her to come with him the next night. "And that's how it all started," Kay says.

It would seem that Fintan has paid his dues now.

Kay and Joe have been married for 57 years and have been running together for 30 years. "The family that prays together stays together, and the family that runs together do the same," says Joe, adding, "I think Kay even prays while she runs."

Kay says that she and Joe sometimes chat to each other as they run, but it depends on their mood. When asked what the most romantic thing Joe has ever done for her, Kay responds: "After 57 years of marriage, to us, supporting each other is now more important than romance."

Like any challenge, running marathons, especially in your 70s, has its high and low points.

Asked to name their best and worst moments they say: "Our best moment was completing our first marathon in London 1986… and the worst marathon was running Dublin 1988 when both of us were suffering from flu and, as we were running for a cancer charity and had a lot of sponsorship promised, we felt we had to run and complete the race - which we did."

Joe adds that so much of running is all in the mind: "Just the other day, I was out on a 15k run which takes in two loops - one of 9k and one of 6k. When I started coming to the end of the 9k and I knew there was a shortcut ahead, my legs started to give way. But as soon as I passed it, I was off again".

So do they have a finishing time in mind for Cork?

Kay says: "It just depends on the day. For some marathons, I have felt fantastic on the start line and then ended up taking over five hours, but when I had a stomach bug the day before another one, I ended up running a personal best of three hours and 35 minutes. That was in Melbourne in 1994".

She goes on to say: "Anyway, every runner that crosses the line is a winner."

Joe agrees: "A 14-minute mile is as long as a six-minute one".

So what do their family and friends think of their grand plan?

"Family and close friends are very supportive, as are all our running friends. Indeed, many of them will be there supporting us in Cork on the day by running the marathon, the half-marathon or the relay marathon".

And why Cork? Kay says: "I have run Cork every year since 2007, the marathon up to 2013 and then the half-marathon for the past two years. Joe has been involved marshalling at the finish each year since 2008, so this will be his first year to run in the Cork City Marathon.

"We both just love Cork and the Cork City Marathon has the full marathon, half and relays - which is ideal for a lot of our relations who are coming from USA and UK to support us this year.

"A lot of 100 marathon clubs, both here in Ireland and some from UK, will also support us in Cork, and people can choose between the categories. Also, of course, it's usually better weather in June for marathons, so Cork is ideal really to do the last one."

Joe is also a big fan adding: "Cork is number one. You won't find a friendlier place in Ireland."

How do they intend to celebrate the immense achievement of crossing the finish line, hand in hand? "There will be lots of friends and family staying at the local hotel so there will definitely be a celebration for everyone involved".

So, will they be hanging up their running shoes after this one? Could there possibly be another marathon in the future?

Joe responds with a twinkle: "At my age, I don't like planning too far into the future. In fact, I don't even buy green bananas anymore".

Clearly age hasn't had an impact on their fitness or their sense of humour.

■ Cork City Marathon takes place June 6. See corkcitymarathon.ie

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