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Paul Kimmage meets Catherina McKiernan - 'The greatest of all gifts is peace of mind'

Twenty years on from her London Marathon win, Catherina McKiernan is in a good place again

Catherina McKiernan with her children Deirbhile and Patrick. Photo: David Conachy
Catherina McKiernan with her children Deirbhile and Patrick. Photo: David Conachy
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

In December 1997, four months before Catherina McKiernan won the London Marathon, one of my favourite all-time movies opened in Hollywood. As Good As it Gets was the story of Melvin Udall, a cranky, compulsive-obsessive and gifted writer of romantic fiction whose life is turned upside down when he is smitten by a local waitress.

I thought I was well used to seeing big hotels but the Thistle Tower, where they set up the headquarters for the London marathon, was particularly impressive. I sat through various radio and TV interviews before the main press conference. I know I'm every journalist's worst nightmare but that's just the way I am. I don't like being in the spotlight and worse still the centre of attention at a press conference.

I tried to give the English journalists some decent stories about playing camogie in school, and Pat Spillane being my hero, but no one seemed to get that. Paul Kimmage was one of the Irish journalists present, and he came up to me afterwards asking for another interview. I didn't know him at the time, but I thought we'd had the press conference over with, the questions went around to everyone, and he sat at the back and didn't open his mouth.

It irritated me that he did not ask a single question during the main press conference. He could even have asked something that might have interested the other journalists and helped them get more information out of me. Anyway, I just said, well, you had your chance. I wasn't trying to be smart. I didn't know who he was. But I'm sure I sounded a bit cheeky. So he went off and did a piece with Joe (Doonan, her coach) later that week instead.

Catherina McKiernan 'Running for my life'

 

Catherina McKiernan raises her arms in triumph as she crosses the finish line to win the London Marathon in 1998. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Catherina McKiernan raises her arms in triumph as she crosses the finish line to win the London Marathon in 1998. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In one of the great scenes, he visits his publisher and is accosted by the receptionist who just happens to be his number one fan: "You've no idea what your work means to me," she gushes, rushing from her desk.

"What does it mean?" he replies, cussedly.

"When somebody out there knows what it's like . . . (she places one hand on her forehead and the other over her heart) . . . to be in here."

"Oh God! This is a nightmare," he howls, looking for the exit.

"Oh come on! Just a couple of questions. How hard is that?" she insists. "How do you write women so well?"

He smiles and fixes her with an acid gaze: "I think of a man," he says, "and I take away reason and accountability."

Confession: I don't write women well. Actually no, that's not true, I rarely write about women at all. There was an enjoyable dinner once with Anna Kournikova, and a memorable breakfast with Maria Sharapova, and some great times on the road with the legendary Fanny Sunesson but generally, given the option, I prefer to interview men.

Blame Catherina.

Catherina McKiernan with Sonia O’Sullivan after competing in the Great Pink Run 2013. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Catherina McKiernan with Sonia O’Sullivan after competing in the Great Pink Run 2013. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

In April of '97, at a time when it was almost as cheap to travel to New York, I convinced my editor, Adhamhnan O'Sullivan, to send me to London to interview her before the marathon. The argument was compelling. Six months previously, McKiernan had captured the Berlin marathon in 2:23.44 - the fastest debut in women's marathon history. The girl from Cornafean had spent a decade playing second-fiddle to the legend of Sonia O'Sullivan but was now, indisputably, front-page news. And that was my pitch to Adhamhnan.

"This is a great f***ing story!" I enthused.

"She's nailed on to win next week!"

"She could break the world record!"

"I know she'll give me some time."

He never forgave me.

Five days later, McKiernan did what she had been promising to do all her life and then followed it in November with another brilliant win in Amsterdam. She was now the gold-medal favourite for the Sydney Olympics but was forced to withdraw with injury and travelled to the Games as an analyst with RTÉ.

On her return from Sydney, she married her sweetheart, Damien O'Reilly, and was happy to embrace a new chapter in life as the competitive fires dimmed. Her last major race was the Great North Run in September 2004. She had won three world class marathons, a European cross-country championship, four world cross-country silver medals and cemented her place as one of the greatest Irish athletes of all time.

The 20th anniversary of her London marathon triumph seemed a fitting opportunity to reach out to her again, but there was a lingering trepidation when we pulled up two chairs.

"Now listen," I announce. "You're not going to run off if I switch this (recorder) on, are you?"

"Not this time," she laughs. "Do you remember what happened in London?"

"Oh I do," I reply. "I've still got the scar."

1.

When it ends and the journalists abandon their seats, the expressions say it all. If you didn't know better you would swear they had just witnessed an horrific traffic accident. The man from The Guardian looks like he is about to weep. The man from The Times seems green around the gills and about to be sick.

It is Tuesday afternoon at the Tower Hill Hotel in central London and this gathering of top English sportswriters have just discovered what their Irish colleagues have known for years. Mainly, that there is nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing that compares with a Catherina McKiernan press conference.

For 20 minutes they have pummelled her with questions about her preparation and ambition for the London marathon, and for 20 minutes she has smiled and answered politely but given nothing away. She is the Bermuda Triangle of our profession, our ultimate nightmare, our Friday the 13th.

Stories abound of those who have travelled north, filled with hope in search of the real Catherina, and then reported in sick for the week. But don't, as she would say herself, be quoting me on that. Try carving some interesting anecdote out of these:

"Catherina, can I ask you about your decision to return to Dublin immediately after this press conference?"

"Youse and the likes of youse," she replies.

"Catherina, is it true that you are tested before all of your big races?"

"Come again now, what's that?"

"Is it true that you are physiologically tested before you race?"

"To see how many pints of Guinness I've had do you mean? Ahh no. No, that's right. I had one a week ago. Things went well. Things are going good."

"Catherina, whose achievements do you most aspire to follow in the marathon?"

"No one in particular. Any of them."

"Catherina, are you more at home in the marathon than in any other event?"

"Ahh, I don't know. People have said that more than I've said it. I've just run one and it's gone well for me."

Catherina, there's been a lot of talk about the possibility that you might break the world record?"

"I haven't thought about the world record at all. I just hope to get to the finishing line in London. It's a long way. A lot of things can happen."

"Catherina, you're being pretty circumspect about your chances."

"Well, you don't say things before a race that you shouldn't say. If I was to say here that I'm going to win, regardless of what happens - which I'm not so don't (write that) - I'd end up twisting and turning for the rest of the week. You do your best. That's all you can do."

When the press conference ends, the journalists stumble out of the room like they've been smacked with a wet sponge. One, who is quite clearly working to a deadline, flips open his laptop and gazes vacantly into the screen for a full 20 minutes before typing a word. Then immediately deletes. Noting his distress, the race administrator Tim Hutchings approaches to sympathise. "Incredibly reticent, isn't she," he observes. But don't take it personal. She is genuinely like that."

Is she? Those close to her present a different picture. Her coach Joe Doonan describes her as the 'best craic in Ireland'. Noel Berkeley, who competes today in the men's race and who accompanied her recently on a training camp to the US, also acknowledges her brilliant sense of fun. And it's true that not all of her interviews have been bland and uninteresting. Asked last October by Lindie Naughton in the Irish Independent what impressed her most in the week just gone, she replied: "My sister giving birth to a child in a time faster than I've run the marathon."

Is it possible she has been badly portrayed all these years? Will the real Catherina McKiernan please step forward?

Sunday Independent

April 26, 1998

2.

Tell me about your upbringing.

"What would you like to know?"

Start with your parents.

"My mother is 85 next month; my father passed away four years ago - he was 85 when he died. My mother was from Longford originally, and moved to Cavan when she was 13."

How did they meet?

"I don't know should I say this, but I think it could have been a match."

A matchmaker?

"Yeah, in those times that's the way it was done."

What were they like?

"My mother was very quiet, very spiritual, hard-working. She baked all her own bread, we had hens for the eggs, turkeys at Christmas, chickens all the time. We had our own milk, our own beef, our own vegetables. It was a fantastic upbringing. I got a fantastic start."

And your Dad?

"Very hard working, very hard on himself, but very straight. If he brought calves or cattle to the mart and he felt he wasn't getting the right price, a fair price, he would bring them home again. There was no messing with him - absolutely no messing."

Who did you take after?

"A bit of both. I was quiet like my mother, but in terms of the hard work and the harshness, I took no shit like my father (laughs). My mother would give people the benefit of the doubt, but my father wouldn't be like that at all."

You've six siblings?

"Yeah."

You're the youngest?

"Yeah, the shakings of the bag I was told."

What are they doing now?

"A lot of them are farming: Thomas is farming, Seán is farming, Peadar is working in food science; Dympna worked in the bank but retired a couple of years ago; Eileen is in accountancy and Rose worked in the bank but has four children. And they're all still living around Cavan."

Your primary school was Coronea National School?

"Yeah, it was small, there were only 32 of us there."

And only four in your class?

"Yeah."

Secondary was Loreto in Cavan?

"Yeah."

What about sport?

"I played camogie with another primary school because we didn't have enough on our team. I was very active . . . hit the sliotar against the wall . . . kicked the football to the brothers . . . played tennis . . . badminton . . . I was handy at the camogie, I loved the camogie. I played in midfield with my sister Eileen - she would mark the two midfield players, and I would run up and down."

You say you loved it?

"Yeah."

But you gravitate towards running?

"Yeah, I've often asked that question: Why did I run?"

Have you found the answer yet?

"One of the reasons was the confidence it gave me, and the feeling of well-being - from a very young age I would have gone out the back and just run around the fields. I had no interest in racing until the last year of secondary school and that's when I took off. When I ran I felt . . . alive! I felt more confident in myself."

Were your brothers or sisters as shy or reserved?

"I would have been the shyest."

Which is odd given you were the youngest?

"Yeah. I was very different to them. They all lived 'normal' and went out on Saturday nights. I had no interest in any of that. I remember them dragging me a couple of times to the disco in Cavan and spending most of the time in the toilet. It's the same today. I'm comfortable in certain situations but would hate going to a pub to stand there talking - I wouldn't be able to handle that."

Despite what you've achieved?

"Yeah, I loved the running; I loved pushing myself; I loved racing but that was it. I didn't like the stuff that went with it . . . the interviews . . . the publicity . . . because a big write-up brought expectation and that was pressure. The phone would ring and I'd say to my mother: 'I'm not here! I'm not here.' And I don't want to blame Joe (Doonan) but that was his way as well: 'Tell them nothing,' he'd say. It's a country thing."

A country thing?

"Yeah, you keep your cards close to your chest. I grew up in that environment and was comfortable in that environment. One of my uncles was a creamery manager and he wore a suit, and for some reason I had a terrible fear of him because I wasn't used to that. He would come and visit us (dressed) in a suit and I wasn't used to that. I was much more comfortable at mass talking to the neighbouring farmer. That was my upbringing. It was very rural, very remote. And look, there were no secrets. There was nothing to tell. I was just running up and down the hills in Cavan and eating normal food."

But we weren't looking for secrets. We just wanted a sense of who you were?

"Yeah, well, there were two people in me - this competitive person, and this plain, simple, easy-going person."

When did you first become aware of getting a name?

"I won the Ulster Novice Cross Country and there was a big dirty photograph in the 'Celt' (the Anglo-Celt newspaper)."

A dirty photograph?

"I was covered in muck."

Then you won the All Ireland Schools and were interviewed by Brendan O'Reilly?

"Yeah."

You've said you were embarrassed looking at it? That you didn't crave success, you just loved to run.

"That's it."

Interesting.

"I'm sure there are a lot of other sportspeople like that."

Yeah, but I'm just trying to think if I've met any.

"People have often said to me - actually, it was said to me only two days ago - that I (raced) was in the shadow of Sonia. But I'm glad Sonia was around, because otherwise I would have been in the spotlight all the time."

I'm going to show you something. This is the piece I wrote on the day you won the London marathon in '98. Read the headline for me.

(laughs) "Emerging from Sonia's shadow."

3.

At their recent training camp in Albuquerque, Noel Berkeley remembers the phone ringing early one morning. Catherina answered. It was Damien, her boyfriend, phoning from Dublin with news of home and a long conversation ensued. When it was over, Catherina put down the phone and brought him the news. Sonia O'Sullivan had just won the World Cross Country Championships. Twice in the same weekend!

"I could see she was disappointed," Berkeley said. "I got up and put on the Jumbo oats for the porridge and we sat down and had a chat. She says: 'I would have liked to have won the World Cross.' But what do you want to do most?' I asked. 'Win the World Cross or win the London marathon? ' But it was understandable that she was disappointed . . . an Irish athlete winning after she had tried so hard for so long."

Sunday Independent

April 26, 1998

4.

I've always been fascinated about your relationship with Sonia. You were born two days apart?

"Yeah."

You competed together as kids?

"Yeah."

You travelled to two Olympics together - Barcelona and Atlanta?

"Yeah."

And you're working for RTÉ in Sydney when she wins a silver medal?

"Yeah."

This is how you recall that moment in your book: 'Some people might think that must have been hard for me watching Sonia win her silver medal. I was absolutely thrilled. I don't know what kind of person you'd have to be not to. And I believe she would have felt the same had the situations been reversed.'

"Yeah."

I'm not buying that. It would not have been natural not to have felt some degree of envy?

"Well, of course, but I wasn't going to lose any sleep over it. I would like to have been out there competing myself but that wasn't a reflection on Sonia."

Let's go back to that press conference in London. There was a significant moment, about ten minutes in, when you were asked how you felt about her winning the World Cross Country in Morocco. You brushed it off and said there would be another one the following year for "real cross country runners." And that was the giveaway, the emphasis you put on real.

"Yeah, well, look, if there was a real cross-country course I would beat Sonia. I had beaten Sonia in real cross country - she couldn't manage those conditions in the way that I could. I was the Cross-Country Queen; Sonia was the Track Queen and, yeah, she did pull it from under me."

And that hurt?

"Oh, God, not hurt, Paul."

You were gutted.

"No."

You were gutted.

"No."

Tell the truth.

"I know what gutted means now. I know how hurt feels, and I surely wasn't either of those."

Yes, but that's hindsight. At the time, when those words meant something else, you were gutted.

"No."

You were in Albuquerque when you heard the news?

"Yeah, it was near the end of the (training camp) and we had our last threshold run to do. Noel was making the Jumbo oats and the news came in by phone or whatever - but I wasn't . . . gutted is a strong word. I don't know what I said."

Let me remind you.

"Fuck! probably."

(I laugh) Here's how you remember it in your autobiography: 'I had run the World Cross Country nine times and finished second four times in succession. The first year I decide not to run it, Sonia wins. I was gutted.'

"Yeah, okay, but sure it's only a word, Paul."

It's a strong word.

"Yeah, but it was short-lived, because we had that session to do and it went well and (the rest) was forgotten. I had the London Marathon to look forward to."

See, I don't accept that you two can come along at the same time and do what you were doing and there not to be an edge between you?

"We were two competitive people."

You've been denying it up until now.

"No! I'm very competitive. There's a difference between a competitive edge and two competitive people - a big difference!"

Why can't you just acknowledge that you were rivals? What is that so hard for you to do?

"Rivals? We ran in some races together."

Why can't you accept that you were rivals? It doesn't make you a bad person.

"I don't accept the way it's expressed. Of course, when we were lining up against each other, Sonia wanted to beat me and I wanted to beat her. That was the competitiveness, it wasn't a rivalry."

Can I keep going?

"Fire ahead?"

There's a line about you in Sonia's book that I find interesting. It's about a race you ran together at the Grand Prix Final in Paris in September of 1994: 'Catherina McKiernan caught me that night in the 5,000 meters but I hung on through sheer bloody mindedness and won. You can do that when you're obsessed.'

"Yeah."

You caught her with three laps to go. She was gone, out of it. You move onto her shoulder and look like you're about to blow her away but you don't do it?

"Well, obviously I wasn't able to."

No, something stopped you.

"Maybe I respected her too much."

Ahhhhh.

"That's no harm."

No, but it's interesting. Your brother asked you about it after the race: 'Why didn't you go by her?' He couldn't understand it.

"It must have been something psychological."

Killer instinct?

"Hmmmm."

You couldn't do her?

"Well, I had seen her kick so often in races. It was almost as if I was programmed not to."

You couldn't go by her?

"No, I believe that now. I understand that now."

Would you go by her now?

She laughs: "Yeah, I would."

Good.

"No, look, I am competitive. And when you get two girls of the same age from the same country there is always going to be an edge to see who is the best."

You could have acknowledged that 20 minutes ago?

"You could have asked me straight up."

So it's my fault?

"No, what I'm trying to say is . . . Sonia is shy in certain ways; I'm shy in a lot of ways, and when we did meet we were awkward around each other. She would have liked to have run the way I ran marathons; I would have liked to have run the way she ran on the track. But we both knew how hard we had to work and respected each other."

5.

Meryl Streep: 'The Post'

Margot Robbie: 'I, Tonya'

Saoirse Ronan: 'Lady Bird'

Sally Hawkins: 'The Shape of Water'

Frances McDormand: 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

6.

"What's this?"

The nominations for Best Actress at the Oscars.

"Yeah? And?"

How many of those performances have you seen?

"None."

None!

"No."

Not one?

"No. I can't go to the cinema, I need to get that sussed. I might need glasses or something because I get a sickly feeling with the closeness of the screen and the flashing lights."

Really?

"And I don't have the time. Some evenings I do running classes and the other evenings the children have activities. I still hold a lot of the traits I did as an athlete. I still love going to bed early and getting up early."

What time is early?

"Well, during the winter I'd be in bed by ten o'clock. And I'd get up about seven to get the children out."

What other traits have you retained?

"Eating properly. I don't drink tea; I don't drink coffee."

At all?

"No."

What about alcohol?

"No."

Not even a glass of wine?

"No."

Jesus!

"I don't have much opportunity."

Don't give me that!

"No, I like a simple life, a peaceful life, and probably more so now than before. I'm not like any of my brothers or sisters - they are much more outgoing. I'm very simple, very plain. What's my favourite meal? Potatoes. I remember Joe Doonan telling me I'd have to start eating spaghetti and thinking 'That's not food!' So I'd eat the spaghetti and have potatoes as well. Look, it was just the way I was brought up - very simple, and very naïve as well."

What's naïve?

"Well, I see my daughter now, she has just gone 16 and she's completely the opposite. She's constantly with her friends and knows stuff that I certainly didn't know when I was 16. I was hidden away from that real world out there."

How do you feel about her world?

"I've just got to go with it to be honest; I'd like a little bit more of a balance though. She's going to discos, going to balls, there's fake tan, makeup, eyelashes, short skirts . . . all that sort of thing. But all her friends are doing it. She's happy and has good manners and treats people with respect, and from a parenting point of view that's the most important."

Does she run?

"She does a little bit of running, and she's talented but not . . . she doesn't have the hunger that I had. She doesn't like racing."

How do you feel about that?

"I don't mind to be honest. Being a parent, you want them to be happy and healthy. I'd like them to be fit and do some kind of sport, but it doesn't bother me that they're not (competitive). Patrick is 12 and plays hurling and soccer and is very much his own man: 'Just because you ran, doesn't mean I have to run'."

Let's go back to '98: you had won in Berlin and set the fastest time ever for a debutant in a marathon. Seven months later you win in London and are acknowledged as the best marathon runner in the world. It's the first time in your career this has happened to you: a four-time silver medallist at the World Cross Country Championships you're now a world number one.

"Yeah, life was good at that stage, and things had changed. I had met Damien and moved to Dublin. I had more friends, a different life, and that gives you energy. I was winning every race from 3,000m to cross country to half-marathon to marathon. It was a winning streak."

You're now a professional?

"Yeah."

So things change?

"Absolutely. Being a full-time athlete is not an easy game. It was too much. Too much pressure. Too much running. I ran myself into the ground, basically. I'm not a car. The body can only take so much. I just got tired and broke down. Looking back, I can see exactly what happened but you see nothing when you're in the middle of it. I was spun-out and lost the hunger to compete and train hard."

And it all comes to a head in the build-up to Sydney: 'I'm not going to the bloody Olympics!'

"Yeah, I'd enough of it at that stage. I was being sent there to win - it had been mentioned a couple of times in interviews - and that brings pressure. You're running for your family and your relations and your neighbours; you're running for the people in Cavan who are flying to the races. You lose the real love of it - you're not doing it for yourself. And at that stage I wanted to settle down and have children and just move on with things."

Your last major race is the Great North Run in September 2004. A year later your autobiography is published which, given your nature, seemed an odd thing to do?

"It wasn't my choice."

Of course it's your choice.

"No, I didn't really want to."

Then why do it?

"Damien had a lot of stuff written on the computer and encouraged me to do it. I was pregnant with Patrick in the middle of it and it wasn't my priority, that's for sure. I wasn't excited about it or anything."

It's well written, and not uninteresting, but I still had no real sense of who you are when I put it down. Did you know?

"Did I know?"

Did you know who you were when that was published in '05?

"No. I think you only really find yourself when you go through some hardship in life."

7.

I am a strong person physically but when it comes to emotional stuff I struggle somewhat. Over the past three years, I have had some very dark days. I have just gone through a separation which knocked my confidence and self-esteem. Without the support of a fantastic family and great friends, I wouldn't have got through it.

Irish Examiner

September 2, 2016

8.

What happened?

"Damien met somebody else. It had been going on for a while and I found out. I never thought he would do that. We had been married 13 years. It was tough. I remember my brother saying to me: 'This will be your longest marathon ever.' He wasn't wrong. I'm strong when it comes to running; I'd go through a brick wall to get to training, but emotionally I'm soft."

How did it feel?

"You go through all of the different stages . . . anger, and I'm not an angry person, but I couldn't speak to Damien, I couldn't look at Damien, and I didn't like that because I'm not that sort of a person. I felt rejected - no self-worth - and sorry for the children. Memories of running great races meant nothing. I would have given all of them away just to have peace of mind but that's only come in the last six months. We had to sell the house and go through all that hassle. It was a tough few years."

What about that period from the moment you retired to the moment you found out?

"It was nice. It was lovely."

You were happy?

"I was happy."

There was no hankering to be 'the great runner' again?

"No. I ran every day, well, most days, but they were little runs."

For the pleasure?

"Yeah, just half an hour or so. What I loved most was bringing the children for walks or to the zoo or . . . I just loved rearing the children. That was my focus. What I had done was what I had done in running terms, but my focus now was the children and the joy they were bringing me."

Where did you keep all the medals?

"They were in a cabinet at home. My mother had put them into a nice frame."

So they obviously meant something?

"Yeah, of course."

Until this happens?

"Yeah, then they meant nothing. They say the greatest of all gifts is peace of mind and there is no surer saying - it is 100 times better than being a world champion. I had a horrible lump in my stomach for about four years. I was grasping (at straws): 'How am I going to gain my confidence again? How am I going to make myself feel good?' I started running races again to seek approval, and to make me feel good about myself."

Because that had always worked?

"Yeah."

And?

"I found comfort in punishing myself. I could push myself harder than during my competitive years and would always finish in the top three. You feel a high for a couple of hours but . . . "

It doesn't work?

"No."

It's only a patch? It can't heal?

"No, not at all. It probably prolongs it. And I was just draining myself."

Are your brothers and sisters still married?

"Yeah."

So it was a first for the family?

"Yeah, and I'm the youngest. I said, 'I gave you a lot of joy, but I gave you a lot of hardship as well', because they took it very badly. We're real country people. They felt bad for me. They wanted to protect me - particularly my oldest brother - but look, you grow and you learn from it and you appreciate life more."

What did you learn?

"I feel I'm a better person."

What does it teach you?

"To be nice to people."

You were always nice to people.

"I was, but you want to do more; simple things like helping people with their bags in the supermarket, or letting that car pull out in front of you."

You become more aware?

"Yeah. I know how sad I was, and I would do anything to make people happy because I survived. I came out the other end. And there were days when I didn't think I would."

How do you survive?

"Well, it's a personal thing. I went to counselling but that didn't help; the only thing that helped me was getting a bit more spiritual. I started praying. That's what worked for me."

Prayer?

"Yeah. You do stupid things when you are not in a good place, and I wasn't in a good place. I wasn't thinking right. But I started praying and I started to feel peace of mind knowing that God was helping and directing me in the right way."

You were asked a couple of years ago about what kept you awake at night: 'Thinking too much. Sometimes the mind races when you're lying down and you start thinking the worst. Your mind can rule you to a certain extent. You really have to be careful and not allow that to happen. As the saying goes, we are here for a good time, but not a long time. All we can do is our best.'

"Yeah, the mind can play havoc. The mind is everything. Again - and I have learned this - but you don't put bad thoughts in there because what you put in is what you get out. There's a saying: 'My mind is a garden, my thoughts are seeds, I can grow flowers or I can grow weeds'."

Nice.

"Yeah, like you can get all of the help in the world but at the end of the day it's up to you.

Time is a healer and I feel I'm a different person now. There are people who will hold a grudge for the rest of their lives but that's not healthy. It took me four years to speak to Damien again but we get on well now and that's a good thing. It's good for me and it's good for the children and it's good for Damien."

9.

The Meath Spring Half Marathon and 10k was a huge success for host club Bohermeen AC. The long-established club with a high reputation certainly knows how to put a road race together. Runners from all over the country attended the event due to its high profile and potential for fast times. The 10k was won by the Bohermeen AC member, Darragh Rennicks. The ladies winner was the popular Catherina McKiernan.

myrunresults.com March, 2018

10.

So, still running?

"Yeah, I ran well. I ran nicely."

And still competing?

"It's the natural instinct - if there was a woman in front of me I would have been annoyed. But it was nice. I was comfortable. It was very enjoyable. I met a friend I hadn't seen since secondary school - one of the Gunner Bradys. Do you remember them?"

Yeah.

"It was funny. I could feel my accent getting stronger: 'Jesus Ann Marie! Would you look at the state of you!' Because she had shorts on and was always a bit of a messer. But it was great. We were easy with each other."

It will be 20 years next month since you won in London?

"Yeah."

What does it mean to you now?

"It didn't mean anything six months ago when my mind wasn't good but I've a nice picture in the kitchen at home that was presented to me by Cavan County Council: 'Queen of the Mall.'

Are you going back?

"To London?"

Yeah.

"No. We have a race - a celebration of it - in Cavan on the evening before. The children don't show much interest but I'm sure they will in time."

Is there a video?

"There is, but they'd be only satisfying their mammy by watching it (laughs). But it does mean a lot."

Here's a blank sheet of paper. What would you change?

"It's a good question. I didn't like that feeling I had in the last few years. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

What about your career?

"No, I'm thankful for what I achieved but the most important thing is peace of mind."

Okay, great, we're done.

"Was that hard work?"

I laugh: No, that wasn't even hard work.

She smiles: "Good."

Sunday Indo Sport

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