Eye on building a kingdom of fitness
You need to be an early riser to catch up with Marcus Howlett – the race director of this weekend's Valentine's Day 10k in Tralee and the Kerry's Eye Tralee International Marathon on March 16.
The 45-year-old Dubliner is a man of perpetual motion – the leader of a fitness crusade that has found hundreds of ready-and-willing participants in the Kerry capital.
When he came to settle in Tralee in 2009, Marcus was making what many would view as a daunting career change. He had left his permanent position with the Irish Horse Racing Board and returned to education – studying for a degree in Tourism and Event Management at Tralee IT. When he reached the age of 40, Marcus decided that the life he was leading was not what he most needed and so he went back to his roots – back to the town where he spent childhood holidays – the place where his mother came from.
Marcus always loved to run and he found Tralee and the surrounding countryside to be near perfect for his long-distance excursions. He is an experienced ultra-runner and prefers the longer distances to the marathon.
It was while he was out running in Tralee that Marcus wondered why the town did not have its own marathon. It wasn't long before he stopped wondering and sprang into action – gathering around him a few like-minded and enthusiastic spirits.
The result was the spectacularly successful inaugural Kerry's Eye Tralee Marathon that took place on March 16 last year – a brilliantly organised promotion and the best start-up event I've witnessed in more than 30 years covering road events.
For Marcus, this inaugural Tralee Marathon was just a stepping stone to a much broader vision. The marathon became a community event – just like he hoped it would. The local gardaí also got involved in the project and 55 members of the force ran the marathon and half-marathon in memory of colleague Adrian Hickey, who died in tragic circumstances.
Marcus was lucky to surround himself with some trusted allies who had between them some amazing organisational skills. His running friend, Vivienne Li, signed on as assistant race director; Jim McNiece agreed to work as the volunteer steward co-ordinator; and Sean Horgan offered his services as health and safety officer. The Kerry's Eye newspaper signed up as media partner and the marathon brought a whole new sense of community to Tralee.
Now Marcus is on another mission and through his new company – Run the Kingdom – he wants to help primary and secondary school students in Tralee become the fittest in the country by following his classroom-to-5k programme.
Already the results are hugely encouraging, with seven schools in Tralee taking part in the 10-week lunchtime training programme.
It is one that is delivered by Marcus and his assistant Zena Lennon with the same passion that ignited such interest for local people to train for last year's marathon. And Marcus is already planning on bringing this pilot programme to a national audience.
He is also getting help on this ambitious project from Helen Tansley at Tralee CBS and Niamh Shanahan at Holy Family Primary School. The project will culminate with an organised 5k in Tralee on Easter Monday.
In the meantime, Marcus has a number of other big running plans for Tralee in 2014 – including a Summer Solstice Night Run in June and a special event later in the year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Irish Red Cross. This weekend, more than 700 will take part in the Valentine's Day 10-mile event.
These days, Marcus finds himself very much at home in the kingdom and he is determined to make Tralee the number one running destination in the country.