Thursday 23 November 2017

Greally: It'll take more than a pothole to slow Mary

Céad Míle Fáilte: Mary B Jennings surrounded by her family celebrating in the RSC after finishing her 100th marathon – the Waterford Viking Marathon – last Saturday. Photo: Noel Browne
Céad Míle Fáilte: Mary B Jennings surrounded by her family celebrating in the RSC after finishing her 100th marathon – the Waterford Viking Marathon – last Saturday. Photo: Noel Browne

Frank Greally

Mary Ryan Jennings was determined nothing was going to stop her completing her 100th marathon in her home city of Waterford on Saturday, June 28 – not even the broken bone in her foot that threatened to derail her running career after she stepped in a pothole in the BHAA road race at the K Club in Straffan on April 13.

Mary had already completed 99 marathons, including a few ultras. Her cherished dream was to run her 100th race over the classic distance in the Viking Waterford Marathon in the city where she first started out as a sprinter nearly six decades earlier.

She wanted to become a member of the 100 Marathon Club in her native city and afterwards celebrate her achievement with family and friends; those who had supported her throughout a long and illustrious athletics career that included winning five national marathon titles, as well as numerous international appearances wearing the Irish singlet.

The Viking Waterford Marathon was Mary's toughest challenge, especially as she had missed nine vital weeks of training beforehand. With just a fortnight left to the race, she had been able only to run a 10-minute mile following several difficult weeks of rehab for the injury, diagnosed as a break at the base of the fifth metatarsal of her left foot.

She knew she was in trouble that day at the K Club when she finished the race and saw how swollen her foot was. Former Irish road running supremo Gerry Curtis told her that, in his opinion, there was a 90pc chance she had a broken bone. An X Ray at St Vincent's hospital, Dublin, confirmed the devastating news and, for a while, Mary's dream of completing her 100th marathon in Waterford started to slip away, as the injury was slow to heal.

It took loads of physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises to complete the healing process and, even then, Mary discovered that a calcium build-up on the broken bone had pushed some other bones in her foot out of place, making it impossible for her to wear the orthotics she was used to.

But Mary Ryan Jennings is known for her tenacity and, just six days before the Waterford race, she completed 15 miles. She was determined to complete her 100th marathon – not so much for herself as for her family, who have long been her biggest supporters.

She ran every mile of the event and came home in 3:51:40 – the slowest of her 100 marathons (her fastest is 2:51.30) but probably the most satisfying. There to greet her when she finished was her mother Mai Ryan and her sisters Anne and Elaine – and extended family members, relations and friends. This marathon was special and Mary wanted to dedicate it to her family, especially her Dad, Eddie, who was, in his day, a noted racing cyclist and, but for a recent illness, would have also been there to greet her at the finish line.

Mary grew up in a sporting family; sports enjoyed by her siblings included cycling, boxing, gymnastics, hurling, football and hockey. She is married to former Irish international middle-distance runner, Brian Jennings, and the couple's four children have all competed for Dundrum South Dublin Athletic Club. Sons Kian and Emmett have represented Ireland in mountain running. Emmett has also competed in three European Cross Country Championships, and in the World Junior Track & Field Championships. Ryan and Emily have competed for DSD in sprints and jumps and all four young athletes have played football and hurling with Balinteer St John's GAA Club. Emily, now 17, plays on the Women's Senior team.

It was a lovely experience for Mary when she ran to the finish on the state-of-the-art track at Waterford , close to where she grew up. Mary's competitive spirit is as strong as ever and her sights are now set on running in next month's Longford Marathon and then the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon in October. It will take more than a pothole or a broken bone to slow her down.

Twitter: @Irishrunnermag

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