Wednesday 18 October 2017

Veteran runner Tom can still set the pace

Mullingar man Tom McCormack (1486) sets the pace for younger runners in a road race in the USA.
Mullingar man Tom McCormack (1486) sets the pace for younger runners in a road race in the USA.

Frank Greally

Whenever I need a little bit of inspiration to keep my running program on track, I only have to look at one of several action photographs my former training buddy Tom Cormack has emailed to me over the last several months from his home in the USA.

It's over 40 years now since I completed lung bursting training runs in the Tennessee hills with Tom and other members of our group, known as The Irish Brigade – six Irish runners who were at the time attending East Tennessee State University on athletic scholarships.

Now, McCormack, from Robinstown, Mullingar is the only one of that Irish Brigade who continues to run at a high level; he won the USA Track & Field 10,000 metres championship in Dedham, MA, on April 27, in the over 60 group.

McCormack, who turned 60 last September, won the gold medal in this age division, finishing in 36:02. He reckons his latest performance is an Irish masters record and he is eager to have his name added to the national masters ranking list.

Since his retirement last year from Johnson City Fire Department, he has made a big comeback to running and racing and has quickly become the fastest in his Over 60 age group in America.

He had won numerous local road races during his final few years with the fire department, training just three days a week. Following his retirement, he upped his workouts to six times a week, mostly short fast runs: "I focus on quality, not quantity and I like to train at a fast pace."

Last October, he won the 60-65 age group title in the USA Masters Cross Country Championships in New Jersey, covering the 5km course in 17:17, his first cross-country race since his college days.

A month later, he won his age division in the inaugural USA 12k Road Championships in Virginia, posting a national record time in this age division of 43:04.

McCormack's blossoming athletic career at East Tennessee State University was almost from the start blighted by injury. Now he feels his college disappointment may well have been a blessing in disguise. He still weighs in at about 120 pounds and feels like he can now blaze a new trail as a Master runner. He has been signed up by the famous Atlanta Track Club, whose colours he will wear in future competition across the USA. He would like to return home too for a few races against Irish world beaters – Over 60 athletes like Brian Lynch and Joe Gough.

The year he arrived at ESTU, McCormack had finished an excellent 20th in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in Ghent. He was one of a number of runners such as Eddie Leddy, Ray Flynn and Louis Kenny, who set down permanent roots in the area.

McCormack and his wife Teresa now live close to the ETSU Campus where he graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice in the mid-1970s. They have two sons, Brian and Neil.

It is a long time since a young Tom McCormack began his fledging athletics career with the then Castletown Geoghan Athletic Club. He later joined Tullamore Harriers where Christie Creagh was his coach. "I lived three miles from my school back then, so I ran to school and ran back home in the evening," he recalls. "That running to and from school probably laid the fitness foundation that I can still draw from."

"It feels great to be still able to stride out and enjoy the sweetness of a fast training run and also enjoy the engagement of competition in my age category. It's like I have been given another chance to fulfil my true running potential and I feel truly blessed to have this wonderful opportunity.



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