I met a unique group of runners at Le Chéile AC in Leixlip, Co Kildare, on New Year's Eve -- the designated finish of an event that carries the title 'Lock Up the Year Marathon'.
About 30 runners -- many of them members of the 100 Marathon Club -- showed up for the special event that starts close to Furey's bar in Moyvalley and follows a westward course for the first 5k, before heading back along the banks of the Royal Canal to finish at the excellent facilities at Le Chéile AC.
It was very special day for Brian Ankers who brought the curtain down on his running year by completing his 84th marathon within a 12-month period that began with a 3:34.00 effort in Portumna on January 12, 2013, and finished with a 3:52.00 effort in Leixlip.
By any standards, it is a remarkable achievement by the Edenderry, Co Offaly native -- a member of the Air Corps in Baldonnel. Anker's marathon tally topped the previous Irish annual marathon completion record of 46 held by Kildare native Dave Brady, who at age 63, notched up an amazing 82 marathons in 2013. Brady started his year with a 4:07.32 marathon in Portumna and finished with 4:42.30 in Leixlip.
It was an incredibly close year-long contest between Ankers and Brady to determine who would claim the record. The pair also had to keep a close eye on Monaghan runner Shane McCarville who completed 70 marathons.
Ankers is a relative newcomer to running. He ran his first Dublin Marathon in 2009 and he only took up running at the end of a successful soccer career with Edenderry Town. He found that running gave him new goals to set for himself and, as he approaches his 34th birthday next month, he is delighted that he has been able to extend his sporting career. A high proportion of Ankers marathons in 2013 were completed well under four hours and he posted a 3:07.19 marathon time in Athlone last summer. He also managed to squeeze in the famed Comrades Marathon in South Africa -- a 90k event.
Ankers has great family support, too, and in Leixlip he was accompanied by his wife, Jenny, and two of his four children, Lucy (3) and Sophie (2).
It is hard to fathom what motivates runners like Ankers and Brady to go to such extremes. They are two men who simply love to run and greatly enjoy that rare camaraderie and social dimension that running has to offer.
You won't hear either runner talk about injuries or any difficulty they might have in recovering from strenuous marathon efforts. They both took part in the 10 back-to-back marathons promotion in Sixmilebridge in Clare last August -- an event that Brady had to abandon on day seven and eight after developing stomach problems brought on by drinking water that had been too long exposed to the sun.
Having to miss out on completing two of the 10 marathons in Clare put Brady on the back-foot of staying ahead in the race to complete the most marathons. However, the teak tough Kildare man was the first congratulate his close rival. These are two runners who live in the moment and enjoy every race.
Brady did not take up running until age 36 and to date he has notched up a huge total of 352 marathons. He is recognised as Ireland's most prolific road racer and last year took part in 215 events at home and abroad.
It was Brady's running exploits that prompted Ankers to make 2013 the year that he would try to beat the Kildare man's record. He did so while working two jobs -- his regular job in the Air Corps as well as part-time evening work with Boot Camp Ireland.
You feel refreshed and optimistic when you spend a little time in the company of Ankers and Brady -- two ordinary runners who are achieving things extraordinary through their running feats.
Brady tells a story of meeting up with a first-time marathon runner during the Clonakilty event in December.
The runner told Dave that he was expecting to experience hitting the dreaded wall at 20 miles, but Brady's advice to him was to remember that after 20 miles the distance to the finish would be in single digits. It is that type of optimism and friendly approach that makes Brady and Ankers such great company for their fellow runners.