Ultra-marathon runner Conor O’Keeffe is more than halfway through Project 32, a 32-day marathon across all 32 counties to raise money for Pieta House.
“I thought it would just be a great adventure and a bit of craic,” the 30-year-old mental health advocate said.
“I’m into ultra-endurance marathons, so I get my kicks doing this. The other half of this is the fundraiser I’m doing for Pieta House.”
The organisation helped one of his friends with mental health difficulties, an issue he also experienced.
Mr O’Keeffe, from Cork, began the challenge in Dublin with 32 pounds in a weighted vest and is removing one pound a day to symbolise losing the of negative thoughts.
“I had my own difficulties with mental health through my teenage years and my 20s,” he said.
“I’m on the other side of it now. It felt like there was a real weight on me at all times – it was something I couldn’t shake. That’s where the idea of having the weights came from.
“At the time, I did feel like it was a weight for me not being able to get up in the morning, not wanting to go to work or talk to people. The weight is a physical representation of shedding that.”
Mr O’Keeffe is currently on day 22 of his challenge.
He begins his marathons between 5.30am and 6am and runs 42.2km a day – the official distance of a marathon. It takes him between five and six hours to complete his runs.
“One particularly challenging county was Monaghan,” he said.
“We had plans to run the Monaghan Town Greenway, but all of it was closed except for a 1.3km section. So I had to run 1.3km up and down that section just to get the marathon done.
“It was mind-numbingly boring, going past the same things over and over again.
“That was a tough day to get done because I still had quite a lot of weight in the vest at that point.”
At the end of each run, he travels to the next county and stays overnight.
“I planned out the routes before we started, an awful lot of logistic work,” he said. “There has been a handful of counties where locals have said, ‘That’s probably not a good place to run, this is a better place’.”
His post-run ritual involves drinking chocolate milk.
“I drink a can of it when I finish because it has everything I need. But more important, I really like it. It tastes good and it puts you in good form, even if the marathon has been tough. I also get into an ice bath for 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
Mr O’Keeffe’s father, Greg (59), cycles alongside him every day.
“My dad is my one-man army, he looks after me and everything. What I eat, how I recover, all of it,” he said.