The running renaissance gathers pace - runners reveal how it has changed their lives
We've become a running nation with growing numbers participating this year, enjoying mental and physical benefits
There's been an incredible increase in the number of Irish people running, jogging and fitness walking in the last year - boosted by new initiatives including more than 100 Parkruns taking place every Saturday morning around the country and the Fit 4 Life community programmes.
Irish running legend Catherina McKiernan, who won the London Marathon 20 years ago, says the remarkable rise in the number of women running is due to a "snowball effect" around the country.
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"All it takes is one woman to start a 0-5k programme. She tells her friends about the great fun it actually is and you soon have five or six getting together. I think the rise in women running has a lot to do with greater female confidence. When I started running around Cornafean in Co Cavan there were very few girls out doing the same thing," she said.
Catherina is heartened that the KBC Dublin City Marathon has already sold out its 20,000 places for 2019 - nearly 8,000 of those running next October will be women.
"But it's not just about marathons. The Parkruns have been a brilliant success - we now know the benefits in overall health and well-being that running or jogging brings."
From a standing start last spring, The Daily Mile has become one of the outstanding success stories improving the health of the nation's children.
Hundreds of primary schools have taken up the challenge, with tens of thousands of children now doing 15 minutes of exercise during the school day.
The Daily Mile's aim is to improve the physical, social, emotional, mental health and well-being of our children - regardless of age, ability or personal circumstances.
Former editor of Irish Runner Frank Greally now works as part of the Athletics Ireland team driving the concept.
"Athletics Ireland only started promoting The Daily Mile in April and already 415 primary schools around the country now make it part of their school day. Anthony White is the leader of the team, along with Nicky Skelly and myself, and we have been bowled over by the reaction. We are well ahead of the targets we set in terms of participation and there is huge encouragement from parents."
Greally believes running, walking and jogging is undergoing a renaissance in Ireland. "It seems to me that the running scene is bubbling along at a good pace, with lots of new people of all ages taking it up as a recreational pastime," he says.
"The weekly Saturday morning Parkruns are also attracting an ever-increasing flow of new runners and the Junior Parkruns are also very popular."
Athletics Ireland is also promoting the Fit 4 Life Programme through a network of athletic clubs. "It's not just about running as a sport but running as a means towards health and fitness and mental well-being," Greally added.
'Everyone has different reasons for running - everyone has a different story'
Katharine Teeling embarked on a personal journey of redemption before she became a running coach and founder of Dublin's Coast Road Runners.
"I can say that running changed my life. Some years ago I decided to change the path I was on. First I quit smoking and then I started running, very slowly and very short distances at first but it was the start of a journey," she recalls.
Katharine believes there comes a stage in many people's lives when they are faced with stepping out of their comfort zone. "This was my time. Of course, like everyone else, I had doubts before I took those first steps. I had that fear of failure which stops all of us making changes," she says.
A few years later she decided to turn what had become her passion into a business. "To be honest I started Coast Road Runners because I wanted other people to feel the way I felt when I got my life back on track. I set up the group to teach people to run from 0-5km and beyond through group running courses.
"Everyone has different reasons for doing my running courses. All have a different story. All have the same concerns about stepping into the unknown as I had at the beginning. All have the same goal - to lead a healthy life, to reclaim their lives."
Katharine's running courses aim to train people to get fit and run from 0-5km, or from 5-10km in a supportive, structured and friendly group environment.
"It's a simple idea. For people learning to run from 0-5km for the first time our primary aim is not just to help them to run for 5km for the first time, but, more importantly, to give them the tools to run as a form of exercise after the course is finished so that running becomes part of their lifestyle. I always tell people that they can take running to wherever you want it to go. Whether you never run a metre beyond 5km, or not, is entirely a personal choice," she said.
Katharine now also runs 5-10k courses. "Most people that did it came from the 0-5km courses. Seeing people who had taken their first running step with me within the past year, run for 10km, which is about 1,300 steps, has been a wonderful experience."
'Jenny faced a huge physical challenge but changing her mindset was the bigger task'
Jenny Ring had a kidney removed as a baby so had kidney-related issues for most of her life.
She never had much energy so always felt unable to engage in sports. Much of her childhood was spent in and out of hospital getting check-ups, but for the most part she led a normal life.
In her late 20s however, Jenny became very unwell. At times she found walking up the stairs a huge challenge. Aged 29, after spending a few months on dialysis, she had her first kidney transplant through a cadaver donor.
Aged 33, after another year on dialysis, she had her second transplant. Her younger brother - in a nearby operating theatre in the same hospital - donated his kidney to her.
When she opened her eyes after this second transplant, she felt the burst of energy that she had been seeking her whole life. (Both she and her brother recovered fully.)
Having spent over 30 years managing her illness or trying to stay well, finally she felt that she was well enough to get properly fit. And with two young children, now more than ever she wanted to be healthy.
She began running with Coast Road Runners in January 2017. She was 40 when she started the 0-5km running course.
Coach Katharine Teeling recalls that Jenny was initially sceptical about being able to run because she had spent her entire life believing that she couldn't exercise.
"Jenny faced a huge physical challenge but changing her mindset was the bigger mountain to climb.
"She kept saying that she was mad thinking that she would be able to run. I told her to run at whatever pace she felt comfortable with as there is no set pace for the group.
"Each session Jenny would turn up saying that she didn't think that she could do it. Each session she invariably did - and she reached the 5km running goal. We were all so proud of her."
'I wanted it to be part of my life - to keep me strong and healthy'
Aisling O'Malley had been fit and healthy her whole life but in May 2017, aged 38, she began to feel unwell.
Her energy levels were low and she felt tired and rundown. She put it down to having a cold virus that she just couldn't kick.
A month later she visited her GP and got her bloods tested. One week on she was sitting in a hospital bed in Beaumont Hospital being told that she had Endocarditis, a rare and potentially fatal heart infection.
Her doctor told her that she would need open heart surgery to repair a valve.
Three weeks later in July 2017, she successfully underwent heart surgery in the Mater Hospital. With two young children and a part-time job, Aisling gradually returned to normal life.
At first she was worried about exercising - that she would "just keel over" if she walked too fast. In November 2017 she enrolled on a 10-week Cardio Rehabilitation Programme in Beaumont Hospital which was fully monitored by hospital staff.
This gave her the confidence that she needed to feel able to return to exercise.
Her children are regular Junior Parkrunners and her husband is a seasoned runner.
Having run on and off for years herself, she decided she needed more structure. She wanted it to be part of her life. So, aged 40, she joined the 0-5km running course in September 2018.
She says the structure of doing two group sessions every week is exactly what she needed to get her into the habit of running regularly.Last November, just two weeks after the course ended, she ran the Clontarf 5 Mile.
Aisling says she now uses running to keep her strong enough to battle any other potential health issues that she may face down the road.