Tuesday 23 October 2018

Granny with a goal

Patricia Murphy meets Collette O'Hagan, the grandmother with a love for the classic distance

Colette O'Hagan. Navvy Bank, Dundalk, Co. Louth. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Colette O'Hagan. Navvy Bank, Dundalk, Co. Louth. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Patricia Casey

Running just one marathon is the holy grail for thousands of aspiring runners every year.

Their goal is simply to finish. The 'try it and see' attitude is as much a measure of fitness and endurance as it is of commitment and unwavering focus for the six months leading up to the race. Very few go on to make it their life's mission and clock up 50, 100, 200 or a staggering 258, like Dundalk grandmother Collette O'Hagan.

"It was only because of my husband, Larry, that I started in the first place," says 64-year-old Collette, who took up running when she was 40. "I was recovering from illness, so he thought running with me a mile up and down the road would do me good."

Fast-forward 23 years and she has run all over the world, including the prestigious races in London 12 times, Boston 11 times and New York six times.

"Dublin was my first marathon in 1990 and I have done it every year since. It is still my favourite one along with the 100th anniversary race in Boston which I did in 1996. They have just crept up on me over the years, so I guess my next landmark has to be to reach 300," says Collette, who achieved a personal best of 3:45 in Dublin back in the 1990s and has been averaging a race per month since.

"There were very few women running then and certainly no marathon training groups. Nowadays, there are over 40 marathons a year in Ireland and the women nearly outnumber the men."

Collette O'Hagan with Dave Brady receiving lifetime membership to the Marathon Club of Ireland (Paul Mohan/Pat O'Keeffe)
Collette O'Hagan with Dave Brady receiving lifetime membership to the Marathon Club of Ireland (Paul Mohan/Pat O'Keeffe)

Her 100th and 200th milestones were both successfully completed in Dublin in 2003 and 2010. With 200 marathons already to her credit, she joined the newly formed Marathon Club of Ireland in 2011 and continued to train three nights a week with the North East Runners Club in Dundalk.

"Collette is always smiling and laughing, and no matter how many races she has done, she is always delighted with her medal," says Pat O'Keeffe, chairperson with the Marathon Club of Ireland. "We have over 260 members now and Collette has been a pure inspiration to so many of them."

A busy family life as mum to five children and foster mum to more than 70 children through the years has meant that she has to be super organised to fit in the 50-plus miles per week she runs to stay on form.

"It's not just me who fosters, the whole family fosters. I think it has made us all better people, less selfish. If I am going for a run, I just plan my food around that. I'm vegetarian but don't have to follow any special programme. I can eat pretty much what I want because I run," she says.

Collette's love of the marathon is all about the craic before and after the race and helping each other out along the route. "I represent the back of the class and I don't go out to push my body to the limits or to race. I just want to do well for me in a reasonable time but not strain or pick up an injury.

"Obviously you are going to have bad days but I think they help you appreciate the good ones."

A modest attitude hides behind her brightly coloured running gear, rarely telling anyone the level of her marathon experience. "Even if I pull up alongside someone to help them through a tough part of their race, I just focus on them. It would be a bit intimidating for them, I think, to go telling them how many marathons I have done," she explains.

Such is her secrecy that a milestone 250th marathon at Howth in August nearly flew under the radar but for a running buddy of hers who brought it to the attention of the organiser.

"I would say to anyone to try one and see how it is. Some people thrive on that distance but it's not for everyone," she says.

"Put in the training and keep it up, even when you feel you are not getting anywhere with it."

Preparation for this year's Dublin Marathon is no different than any other except that she will be doing her last month of training visiting her son and his family in New Zealand.

Irish Independent

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