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Frank on Friday – Running Full Circle

Frank on Friday

Frank on Friday – April 26th 2024

I can still see him after all these years, running by my home in Devlis, Ballyhaunis in the early morning on his way to work – a pint bottle of milk sticking out of one pocket of his heavy work coat and his wrapped lunch poking out of the other pocket.

He had read that the Olympic distance running legend Emil Zatopek trained in heavy boots, and so the boots he wore on those morning runs were sturdy enough to help absorb the impact of his six-foot frame on the tarmac.

His name was Pat Cribbin and in those innocent days of the late 1960s he was a mould-breaker and sports fanatic and the closest friend I have ever had.

I think of him often these evenings as I struggle to find renewed running flow, recalling our friendship and mutual passion for running.

It was Pat Cribbin who first introduced me to running. He’d call to our house on his way home from work in the local joinery and hold forth for a few hours on his favourite sports: running and boxing.

We were both 17 and football on a Sunday was about my only outlet; until one winter evening Pat invited me to join him on a two-mile road lap that skirted his village, Lecarrow, near the town of Ballyhaunis.

That first night I managed about half a mile of running, after which Pat – the original Meet and Train Fit4Life motivator – coaxed and cajoled me the rest of the way with stretches of walking and running.

Little did I suspect, when I staggered to the finish that night, that for years to come, running in one form or another would be central to my life.

For weeks after that maiden voyage on the circuit that Pat simply christened “around the road” I joined my pal on the nightly odyssey. And then one night I managed to run the complete two-mile distance without stopping. For me it was a big breakthrough; to my friend it was small apples; he ran at least three circuits every night.

We must have looked an odd couple back then, both decked out in heavy sweaters and army boots, myself – all seven stone- trying to match strides with the giant.

Of course, the locals thought we were touched; a neighbour warned my mother I would strain my heart. By now I was hooked, and waiting at six o’clock most weekday mornings for the low whistle from Pat that signalled it was time for us to hit the road,.

In recent weeks I have joined a few running groups for a training session; one out in Malahide where on Monday evenings Catherina McKiernan puts a group of thirty-plus runners through their paces with warm-ups and running intervals of one, two and three minutes, with short recovery.

It was something like coming full circle for me when one evening last month I ran with a running group which meets up on weekday evenings at the site of the Old Coombe Hospital in the heart of Dublin’s Liberties.

As I jogged along Francis Street to meet this training group I was reminded that the church I was passing was the place where I was baptised after my mother gave birth to me prematurely in the Old Coombe Hospital. My late brother Tom was born in the same hospital and my mother suffered the loss of two other children – a girl and a boy – who were born at home in our house in Ballyhaunis, both of them passing within a few days of their birth.

I was a delicate and fragile handful back then and there were fears that I would not make the journey back to Mayo with my mother, and so a rushed baptism in the St Nicholas of Myra church was recommended.

It was lovely to see the runners in Malahide stride out with joy and confidence and I remembered how the former Dublin Marathon winner Christine Kennedy once described her first ventures into running in Galway in the early 1980s.

Christine felt then, and her intuition was probably spot-on, that she would be looked on as more than a little odd if she were seen running around the streets of her native city. And so her early forays were done under the cover of darkness with an overcoat as camouflage.

I’m sure many of today’s new wave of runners would find that story incredible to believe but it goes to show how much more enlightened, at least in this context, we have become as a nation.

The women and men of today have few inhibitions about being seen jogging, running or power-walking in whatever attire and whatever time and whatever place is convenient – and this is how it should be.

When I visit running groups or watch runners out training, it always reminds me of how much running can contribute to the physical and mental health of the individual. There’s a great and important social dimension to running groups that should never be underrated.

I’m finding my own return to running a slow but a joyful experience. I expect that it will be a walk- run experience for me when I take part in the Biofreeze Irish Runner 5K in the Phoenix Park on May 18th. Running has been good to me for all of my lifetime. So far this year, my running has been steady rather than spectacular – a mixture of walking and running.

But there are some days when the running sections of my training session have started to flow for me and it’s then I think of how running all began for me ‘Around The Road’ all those years ago and how by sticking with the training back then, the results soon began to show. It’s no different now – the journey back to running takes the same kind of time and patience and the joy of running is still there for me in many different ways along what I call my Gratitude Road.

Please keep in touch with me at: frankgreally@gmail.com and if you like the Frank on Friday Column, please Like & Share.

To Register for The Biofreeze Irish Runner 5k click on the link below ⤵️

Until next week – Enjoy Your Running and Find Your Own Pace!

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