Sunday 25 March 2018

Grandad, why don't you run any more?

Some 45 years after breaking an Irish record, Frank Greally reveals how his grandchildren inspired him to dust down his runners and train towards a celebration on the track where he created history

Frank Greally out for a run with his grandchildren Hayleigh and Thomas. Photo: Tomás Greally.
Frank Greally out for a run with his grandchildren Hayleigh and Thomas. Photo: Tomás Greally.

I have my granddaughter Hayleigh Bone and my grandson Thomas Branigan Greally to thank for giving me the prompt to return to regular running and rediscover the lovely sense of play and innocence involved.

As a result, my running career came full circle last Tuesday, when I went back to the track in the Morton Stadium in Santry and along with seven Olympians, family and friends, I was able to run for 30 minutes and 17 seconds - the exact time I set for what is a still-standing Irish Junior 10,000m record in the same stadium 45 years ago. Four and a half decades later I completed 4,950m in the same time, on what was a night of very special celebration and gratitude.

Hayleigh is six and loves nothing better than to race like the wind around a special spot in Rialto she calls the 'Circle Field'. It's about two years since I started to bring Hayleigh to this little green oasis hard by the Grand Canal, but back then I was content to just watch my first grandchild joyfully stride out.

Then, one day, she posed a searching question: "My mam (Catherine) said you used to be a runner - why do you not run now?"

That was when the light went on for me and I resolved not to be a spectator anymore - it was time to get back in harness.

I had another prompter. David Carrie, the charismatic leader of Team Carrie in Dunleer, has for five years trained groups of 150 locals, of all ages and abilities, to complete the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Two years ago I had brave intentions of joining up with Team Carrie and made a few forays to their sessions but, sadly, allowed work and other distractions to curtail the effort.

Not long after young Hayleigh asked me the big question, Carrie came calling with a question of his own: "What are you going to do, Frank, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the national junior 10,000m record?"

Without waiting for my answer, David came back with a suggestion: "I think it's time you knuckled down and committed to a training plan that can get you back running. I want to suggest you go back to the Morton Stadium in August and celebrate with a sustained run for 30 minutes and 17 seconds." He was referring to the time I posted when setting the record.

"I know you tried to get back running last year, but I noticed that you tried to do too much, too soon, and how that early overload dampened your enthusiasm," he added. I told David I would give him an answer in a few days, and when I went back to the Circle Field, this time with my two grandchildren, Hayleigh and Thomas, I went there dressed to run. It was the beginning of a 10-month odyssey that has given me a whole new lease of life at age 64.

Since the end of last year I followed a training plan devised by David Carrie and Catherina McKiernan and for once I followed advice, starting with a walk-jog-run programme (walk for three minutes, jog for a minute) and gradually progressing over several weeks until I could run continuously for over 40 minutes.

I called the event in Santry my Gratitude Run - gratitude for the freedom and opportunities and every bit of sweetness I've known during a life to which running has always been central, from my time as an athlete to the past several decades as editor of Irish Runner magazine. I was honoured that the great Ronnie Delany acted as official starter and that another of my boyhood heroes, Ron Hill - who has run every day without fail for 50 years - was a special guest.

Other running legends such as John Treacy, Neil Cusack, Catherina McKiernan and Fionnuala Britton committed to running a few laps with me on a night that will long linger in my memory. To make the night especially sweet, I was joined on one of my laps by Hayleigh and it gladdened my heart to see her racing ahead of me. My two grandsons, Thomas and Luke, were also full of running on the night and it was great to see lots of other young children enjoying the activities in Santry. The Paced Miles - open to runners of all abilities, were also hugely popular and my daughter, Claire, completed her first ever pace mile on the track-finishing in a little over nine minutes. Then, to complete a rare and wonderful evening, my sons, Thomas and Conor, joined me for the last lap and my daughters Catherine and Laura gave me massive vocal support.

My former East Tennessee State University team-mate, Neil Cusack, the only Irishman to win the Boston Marathon, was there too as well as another member of our collegiate squad, Ray McBride.

Ray was the life and soul of the Irish Brigade. Then over a decade ago, cancer came calling for Ray in cruel way that affected his speech and balance. And yet I have never heard my great friend complain. That is why I dedicated my Gratitude Run to Ray - the evening raised some funds for specialist IT equipment and training to allow him reconnect on the internet with his many friends at home and abroad and I have a few other fundraising ideas in the pipeline. There was a particularly poignant moment for Neil and myself when, at his request, we ran a lap of the track - pushing Ray in his wheelchair. I thought of all of the great days we three had shared running in the hills of Tennessee and I thought too of how our real wealth is our health.

If I have a message, it is simply that it is never too late to return to running. When I started back training, I felt like a rusty machine that had been left out too long in the rain, but I listened to the wise counsel of David and Catherina as they coaxed me to incremental improvements. I would say to anyone of my age who has grandchildren - get fit and be able to run with them and rediscover the magic of playful running.

It reminds me of my late, great friend Dr George Sheehan, the original Running Guru, who encouraged runners to recapture that sense of play we all experienced in the schoolyard. "Play is an expression of the true self," he said. "The person the Creator had in mind the day we were born."

George also liked to quote the English social scientist Walter Bagehot: "Man made the school; God made the schoolyard." A powerful message for all educators. You can read more about Gratitude Run on

Frank's tips to get back on track

Avoid the trap

The first tip for anyone thinking of getting back to or starting running is to 'hasten slowly'. I made many attempts to get back to running and every time I fell into the same trap - too much, too soon.

Have a plan

When I started back running last November, I agreed to follow a training plan tailored by my friends Catherina McKiernan, David Carrie and Feidhlim Kelly. The plan was to start slowly; walk for three minutes and jog for a minute and gradually build up - three days a week to start.

Be patient

Patience is needed to follow a training schedule, especially if you used to be a runner and still have those competitive instincts. I trusted the plan laid out for me and it worked a dream.

Stick to it

Once you start to get fit, it is important not to get carried away and think that you are fitter than you really are. Do not deviate from the written schedule.

Slowly but surely

Sometimes it feels like slow progress, but if we expect results too quickly, we can become frustrated and feel like giving up altogether. That happened to me on many occasions until I started to listen and follow the rigid training plan.

Go walking

Never underestimate the value of walking - a mixture of walking, jogging and running is the best formula for getting back to full running. It is good to do some brisk walking on the days when you are not running; it's all about forward movement and consistency.

Rest and recovery

The real value of the training session comes during the rest days when the body has time to adjust and recover. The discipline to take adequate rest is also hugely important.

The first mile

If you have just taken up running, the mile is a good start. A mixture of walking and running will get you fit to run your first mile - the start of greater things to come. Enjoy your achievements, as well as your plans. Stick to the schedule and BELIEVE!

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