There was no happier man in Dunboyne on Sunday than Donegal native Pauric McKinney of Inishowen AC who, fast approaching his 49th birthday, still managed to finish second in the masters championship at the Woodie's DIY Juvenile Development Intermediate & Masters Cross Country Championships.
McKinney's battling performance, over a muddy course, was one of the main talking points of the championships, as fellow athletes marvelled at how the Donegal primary school teacher still manages to perform at a consistently high level.
On Sunday, McKinney finished second to Declan Reed of City of Derry AC – only 20 seconds adrift, while conceding almost nine years of an age advantage to the Derry runner.
McKinney was also a very clear winner in his age category – the over 45 division. It was an especially masterful performance when you consider he was competing against athletes in age groups starting at over-35.
On Sunday next McKinney will again lace on his spikes to represent his club in the Woodie's DIY National Inter Club Cross Country Championship, which take place at the Dundalk Racecourse in Co Louth.
It should be another day of special celebration for McKinney and his many supporters, as the Donegal man will be competing for the 25th time in the inter-club national championships – a remarkable achievement by any standards.
He has also competed in the National Inter Counties Cross Country Championships on 25 occasions.
What I see in Pauric is a man who is totally passionate about his club, county and running – a man of quiet but steely determination who still regularly trains twice a day and who always aims for the highest standard possible.
He is a man who fully embraces George Sheehan's running philosophy: 'To be the best that I can possibly be.' He has honed his talent for running into something special.
The Donegal man is a former national half- marathon and marathon champion and has a personal best time of 2:22.16 for the classic distance. He has run the Dublin Marathon 15 times in a row and, on 13 of these occasions, he has dipped under 2:30 for the distance – another example of his consistency.
Most of all though, McKinney is recognised by fellow athletes as a consummate club man – a runner who can inspire his team-mates too. Over the years, McKinney has run with Civil Service Harriers AC, when he taught in Dublin, and then Lifford AC and Letterkenny AC, before joining his present club, Inishowen AC.
McKinney is a great role model, too, for the 700 children in the Scoil Íosagáin Primary School in Buncrana, where he now teaches.
Scoil Íosagáin is a leader in sports hall athletics competition and I am sure that Pauric plays no small part in that success.
I think McKinney was always going to be a natural teacher. He has a gentleness and a calmness of spirit that makes him a natural communicator. At almost 49, he still has a youthful look and retains a lovely sense of boyish enthusiasm about his running. But make no mistake about it, when he lines up for a race, his competitive nature takes over.
You can be sure that McKinney will deliver another top-drawer performance in Dundalk on Sunday and that he will again be a model of consistency when he races in the Airtricity Dublin Marathon in October.
He is modest about his many achievements and has earned great respect and admiration from athletes all over the country. Meeting him always brightens my day and I have always found his enthusiasm and sincerity to be inspiring. It was refreshment for the spirit to see his broad smile again at the finish of the masters' race in Dunboyne. The man exudes a type of positivity that is highly infectious.