Maureen Harrington was pure cross-country. She ran for Ireland in seven World and seven European Cross-Country Championships between 1993 and 2002. She ran in places like Amorebieta, Alnwick, Stellenbosch, Marrakech. She ran no more than 50 miles a week.
Cross-country was her thing, not track. She never got a grant from athletics. She bought a chipper in Kenmare town with her sister and they called it Ferrari. Harrington could spend up to 14 hours a day working behind the counter, frying burgers and battered sausages before falling into bed in her apartment above the chip shop. She put the fast into fast food.
"I remember the times I'd come back from training and think, 'Feck it, I'm starving, I'll have a chicken burger'," Harrington recalled this week. "You'd wonder was there anything wrong with it after all? I don't think so."
It's 23 years since a group of Irish women made the breakthrough of a team medal at a major cross-country championship. Catherina McKiernan and Sonia O'Sullivan were headliners on the Irish team that won team bronze at the 1997 World Championships in Torino, Italy.
On their own, Catherina and Sonia were a draw. Running against each other, Catherina and Sonia were a fascination. Running together, Catherina and Sonia were a golden ticket.
Backed The first time they ran on the same Irish senior cross-country team they finished just outside the team medals in the 1992 World Cross-Country in Boston with McKiernan finishing second and O'Sullivan in seventh.
It was another five years before they were on the same team with McKiernan seventh in '97 and O'Sullivan two places behind her which helped Ireland to that historic team bronze.
Catherina and Sonia were the names in lights but they were more than backed by women who were among the most naturally talented and hard-working to ever run cross-country for Ireland.
Harrington was part of that Irish team in Torino in '97. The race didn't go to plan. She got spiked at the start and finished in 108th. What about the significance of the team bronze?
"We were delighted with the medal, but you move on very fast from it again," Harrington says. "There was always something else on the horizon with us". Like what? "Ah, a Ballycotton 10-mile or something".
When O'Sullivan won the long and short course races a year later in Marrakech, she later said that "one of my many special memories from Marrakech was, after the excitement of winning the race, getting to jog around the course after with Maureen Harrington".
Anne Keenan-Buckley was 14 when she started running underage cross-country for Ireland. She was never interested in going on scholarship to the US and instead went straight from Leaving Cert to a job with the civil service.
Keenan-Buckley had run in seven World Cross-Country Championships by '97 but she wasn't with the squad when they finally won a team medal in Torino. She was 35 at the time, and thought her chance of winning a team medal with Ireland was gone.
"I just thought, that's it now. I definitely remember shedding a tear, but obviously I was thrilled for the girls," Keenan-Buckley recalls. She changed her approach to training. "Prior to that I would have been doing mediocre training. I would never have run more than 35-40 miles a week. I upped my miles, probably to 80-90 miles (a week)."
After the team bronze in '97, the Irish women's team finished 10th in the team event in the Worlds a year later, followed by 13th in 1999 and fourth in 2000 (finishing three points behind third-placed USA). The foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 meant the Worlds were moved from Leopardstown to Oostende, Belgium. Selection controversies were never too far away.
Despite coming third at nationals, Harrington was selected to run on her own in the long-course with a team chosen to run in the short-course event. Harrington was having none of it, she wanted to be part of the team in the short-course so she pulled out.
When Rosie Ryan got injured with a stress fracture in her ankle, her place in the short-course team was offered to Harrington. But the Kerry woman wasn't for turning. "No, I decided I wouldn't go then because I felt I should have been in the team in the first place," Harrington says. Is it something she regrets? "No, I suppose I was glad that I stood up for myself, really".
By the time 2002 came round and with a home World Cross-Country Championship in Leopardstown to look forward to, Harrington says the falling-out was smoothed over. The women had a couple of training camps in the build-up.
"The tactics of cross-country are a bit different. We're not going to have a tactic that we all go out at this pace or that we're all going to bunch together," Rosie Ryan says. "(The rivalry) was competitive but not destructive, you know. As a team we always thought that if we have everyone fit, we always had the chance of a medal".
They took that chance in Leopardstown with a bronze team medal in the women's short-course, pipping Russia and Australia by a single point. O'Sullivan led the team home in seventh followed by Keenan-Buckley (10th), Ryan (19th), Maria McCambridge (62nd), Valerie Vaughan and Harrington.
Harrington made a promise to herself as she ran to the finish-line. "Well I said to myself, this is it. I'm not doing this anymore. You kind of say, 'Where am I going?' It was time to call it a halt."
Keenan-Buckley had planned on 2002 being her last major championship. But she got word in the summer of 2003 that the dream pairing of McKiernan and O'Sullivan was on for the European Cross-Country Championships in Edinburgh that December. That was enough to hook-in Keenan-Buckley.
Two weeks short of her 42nd birthday, she got to run on same team as both Catherina and Sonia. It was the golden ticket, or rather, the silver, as they won team silver. Ryan was the second Irish runner home in 13th.
"I had a terrible stitch throughout the end. I had gotten myself into eighth but we came down off that big hill and it was just cramp," Ryan remembers. "People went by me that wouldn't normally, so I was disappointed about that. And then when we finished, someone had the idea that no, we were out of the medals. I actually cried, because we had put that much into it. And then when they said silver medallist and to be on the team with Sonia and Catherina.."
When I rang the house phone at Ryan's home this week she was out on a run. Harrington continued to run locally after the Worlds in 2002 but she got her hip done three years ago.
"I was born with 'clicky hips' as a baby. And the surgeon said whoever is born with 'clicky hips' it usually comes back to them later in life. I always complained about my hamstring but sure it was the hip that was at me," Harrington says. And look what she achieved.
And Keenan-Buckley? When I asked her if she still does any running, she says not really. Before adding: "I wouldn't run more than 5k more than four days a week. And I do a bit of swimming." Ordinary women with an extraordinary approach to living.