Month: May 2017

I didn’t sign up to guide oversized Hippos

I didn’t sign up to guide oversized Hippos

So you are going to run Newry 10k dressed as Henry the Hippo…this I’ve got to see.

It’s not like Michael to have a random idea involving dressing up and let’s face it I married him in the hope he would balance out my crazy. Always the sensible one in the marriage even the suggestion of this to raise money for Cash 4 Kids caught me off guard.
As always I’m such a supportive wife and collected the suit and took the pictures however it was 24hrs before the event that the bombshell was landed on me.

“I can’t see out it”

So there was me on Saturday, getting my head around the fact I’d to guide run with him dressed as a hippo. When I completed my guide running training in the view of raising awareness of inclusion and getting visually impaired runners out there, I didn’t think inclusion would extend to oversized hippos, especially my husband dressed up as one. We don’t run well together…ever. My first 10k I told him at 7k to bog off and leave me alone as his form of encouragement enraged me. At Running Blind I nearly killed him more than once you can read about it here: Running Blind – An Eye Opener. So my confidence wasn’t high that the marriage would make it through this latest challange.

So here we are before hand. Happily ignorant to the 6.2 mile ahead of us. I donned the tutu as if he was going to look an eejit, I might as well join him.

I had so many worries. Primarily the fact he could easily over heat in that outfit was at the forefront of my mind. Usually a 50min 10ker he knew he had a big drop in pace required and when it comes to slow and steady, I’m your woman. I told him it would be more near 1.15 factoring in some breaks to let him breathe and drink.

As we set off the kids in the street loved it. Who doesn’t want to high five a huge Hippo. The adults too just loved seeing the familiar face of a childhood icon again. On the lap of the town we had our first and ONLY mishap where I told him to wave right and he turned right instead and went straight into a cone but didn’t fall.  As we entered into the second mile, we were going strong and hit the Tow Path where we knew the only people we would see where the other runners.

Even the Psni where going to lock him up for his random idea.

It was warm, although the sun was firmly behind the clouds, I was feeling the heat. Yet I was tied to Michael in the Hippo suit, tied together by the strap of the child’s Trunki skilfully looped so he could be guided safely. I kept checking was he ok and reminding him to slow down. The leaders in the 10k race passed, with local NAC member David O’Flaherty in 1st and the main man himself Dermot Mathers in second. We got the look of “what the hell are you two at” from him as he cruised down the familiar tow path that he runs a few times a week. I don’t think anything I do now, surprises him.

With the leaders coming our way it wasn’t long until the rest of the 10k runners came past. Shouts of support, high fives, laughs and giggles from the runners made what could have been a lonely part of the race more fun. Michael did offer them at times to swap but there was no takers. At 3.5 mile we had the well needed water stop. I knew I was making good time in general and when Michael took the head off for a drink, the sweat was running off him, he had to take his glasses off as it was steaming up inside and the buff he was using as a sweat band was wringing.

The next 2.5 mile was going to be hot but we were homeward bound. By now we had a steady stream of half marathoners passing us. Many familiar faces and continued support. On the return leg we met Peter for a selfie, wouldn’t be a race for me if I didn’t get the craic with him!

As we came off the towpath with under a mile to go, Michael took a breather as we walked for a minute. After all the rest of the race was going to be amongst the eyes of the public so we had to at least let on we were loving life!  The fact of the matter was, I was feeling great as he melted to death in the hippo suit. We came into the final half mile with Michael waving and giving thumbs up to everyone about. Turning onto Hill Street, the announcer had spotted us and the cheers where mighty. Not only from the spectators but the fellow runners who had finished and had passed us on the way.

We clocked 1.11.24 – lets face it, not to shabby for me and a hippo.

With Gillian Fitzpatrick Chair of the Council, Fiona Valentine from Newry Branch Ulster Bank and my side kick always willing to support the Grant madness without question…Caitriona. 

After a quick breather and meeting up with Caitriona and Fiona who had been shaking buckets for change and showing flawless support of Michaels endeavour, the head was put back on and Michael kindly posed for photos with runners and children. I have to admit I was taken back by the way he interacted with the crowd, I knew he couldn’t see who he was shaking hands with or who was in front of him, high fiving little babies, talking to the toddlers and letting wee kids kick him. Though what stood out for me was the fact there was a family with a child with special needs and he didn’t think twice when the girl asked for a hug. He then had to hug the whole family including the dad. Admirable and made that families day.  I guess that there are a lot of things that the money he has raised will go to help and support within the Cash for Kids charity however sometimes its just the simple things like a hug or taking time to listen a child that is priceless and something money can’t buy.

On the marriage front; we are still together, it was actually a really enjoyable outing as I couldn’t hear what he was saying so we didn’t fall out. It was great practice for guiding Tony next week at Derry marathon and hey it was a comfortable 10k for me and gives me hope that the past 6 months of big miles hasn’t totally ruined the smaller run, so after Derry I might give the shorter races a bash again before jumping back into marathon training.

As always everyone, make sure you have voted this week for Rock’n’Run idol. Brining a whole new level of inclusion into my journey and Michael being inspirational (and absolutely crazy) this week, it would be lovely to represent Ireland in Las Vegas.



Proud Coach/Teacher Moment

Proud Coach/Teacher Moment

Today has been such an unreal day.

A few weeks back I was asked by the school principal to take the Cross Country Team for an event. Of course having completed my LIRF this year, I was happy to undertake the challenge. My first question naturally was “who is in the team?” And the answer I didn’t want to hear was given to me, “there isn’t a team, there’s never been one!”

Ok so taking on the Cross Country team meant I would have to run trials and break the news to some kids that they didn’t make the cut. Devastating for some I was sure it would be.

So marking out a course around the school grounds, I set about timing and selecting the team. With the task to choose 4 girls and 4 boys from each year group meant that with the small classes, it was a matter of losing just 1 or 2 from each class. It was heart breaking. However there was potential, natural runners who performed well over longer distances, not just sprinters.

We set about everyday after school learning the basics. With only 3 weeks until the event, I knew time had to be used wisely and effectively. From simple warm ups and understanding the theory to why we do it, running technique and good form, to breathing tricks and negotiating hills. There was so much information being thrown at them, I’m surprised they could keep up. Working on building the distance in the legs the poor critters ran multiple 100m laps round the schools green area. This could have been anything between 4 and 10 laps depending on the time limit on each run. We even managed a few interval sessions.

I thought taking the time on their feet approach to running instead of the distance would help serve them better on the day. Trying to explain pacing was tough but as time went on, many where going for longer and had that little bit extra at the end to push on so some of it was sinking in.

I did worry, who wouldn’t, it was 32 children hanging onto my every word. They were enjoying this new challenge of running and even when county footballer Mr Johnson came to cover for a day, they busted themselves to show him what they could do, even getting to run alongside him. The whole school had been swept up in the cross country excitement.

I didn’t sleep the night before. It was like results day. Running marathons didn’t compare to the nerves I had over the Cross Country. It was like they were all your own children and the hope that I had done enough to reassure them that they could and would complete it. . Being a back runner myself, I know that it takes that bit more determination, ignorance and support to finish a race and at the other end of the scale, the front runner had pressure, serious adrenalin and every eye of expectation on them. My mind boggled.

I had spoken at length about doing their best, finish lines not finish times and enjoying the atmosphere. I wish I had convinced myself as good as I had convinced them that everything was going to be alright.

Arriving at Kilbroney we were greeted by a sea of children. Different colours, hundreds of school kits and parents, passers by and officials. The sun shone brightly as clear skies engulfed Carlingford Lough, it was a day that the weather gods had kindly prepared for us.

We got numbers pinned on, hands marked with the school number and kids got their final race instructions. I was going to be all over the place but thanks to a great support from other staff members I knew the kids where in safe hands as I sorted out the race paperwork and ran round the race from place to place, cheering the kids on.

With all teams entered in Race 1 of 2 across the whole event, it was the P4s to go first. The girls set off and did a great job. There is so much potential in those wee legs and as a first event and 3 of the girls coming in the top 30, it was admirable and definitely experience will help their confidence for next year.

The P4 boys race was always going to be one to watch for me. I had watched Christopher square up shoulder to shoulder with the P6 boys in the school in training and keep the pace strong. I had hoped he would place in the top 10 but I didn’t expect what happened over the next  two and a half minutes. As I watched him confidently tussle with the boy beside him to have his body in front, he took off and was mid pack by the first corner. I could see the yellow jersey steadily pick up places as we came towards the half way point.  Sitting in 7th place at half way my heart pounded as I went from point to point to cheer him on. At just short of 200m I caught his attention as he sat in 4th place and just screamed (as you do to a pile of 8 year olds) “Christopher- empty the tank- good man” and there he cruised past the remaining few runners and was a good stride in front of the race leader crossing the line. A first place finish, in the schools first year in the competition. I couldn’t believe it.

That wasn’t even the last of it, the other three P4 boys powered home fearlessly and between them the boys bagged a team place.  An unbelievable team effort from them and the tears rolled down my face with pride. It wouldn’t be like me to be emotionally unhinged.
The P5 races should definitely not go unmentioned. With a top 10 finish in both races, Leah came 10th in the girls race and Darragh took 9th in the boys race. I know the two of them had been working hard at home practicing and I cant wait to see how they perform next year with a little bit more coaching and training. Definitely ones to look out for in future.

The P6 and P7 races where tough races. Spotting children I have seen myself at organised events highlighted how competitive these races where going to be with junior club runners involved. Yet the children didn’t know who they were up against and as the distance increased for both races, it wasn’t as plain sailing as you would hope. But there they were, working their way through the field and pushing themselves on to the finish line.

For me though, I know what made the day for me. It was the sheer grit and determination or some might say stubbornness, of those runners who weren’t as fast as the front runners, continuing on to the death. The way they fought the demons in their heads as they gasped for breath and their bodies hurt. They kept moving. I was so blessed to be able to come onto the course and support them through the final 100 metres. A special moment for me, every single one of them finished the race whether first or last. They ran when they could and walked when they had to, moving forward towards the goal in their own time. Running their own races to the best of their ability and this made me realise I have done more than coach them how to run, I have taught them also to have faith in themselves and not to give up. There is nothing more a teacher hopes to leave as a legacy with their students.


I did have to laugh as we got back onto the bus.

“Miss since we did so well does that mean you get to go to Vegas then?”

IF only it was measured on that alone, I’d be taking off to the moon right now.

But while you are here you might as well vote for me again.


Back where I belong 

After a few weeks of playing with new routes it was clear there was only one place where we should be doing our 20 miler.

The Lake.

2.4 mile of trail in the shadow in Slievenaslat, bordering a fresh water lake in Castlewellan. Literally on my door step.

As you all know, I grew up disliking the lake and being dragged around it. In all honesty I am still not too keen on it. Actually I hate it. So why am I always drawn to it when I do big miles?

  • It’s 2.4 mile, makes the maths easy
  • Has a car park on the route, handy for fuelling/water stops 
  • Elevation isn’t overly extortionate in comparison to other routes round here
  • Secluded, no one sees you 
  • Not on the open road, not as dangerous
  • As mentioned right on the door step so near to home
  • Finally laps means symmetrical elevation chart

However like doing laps of anything it is tedious and considering I never turn to go the opposite direction opting for the long gradual hill over the short sharp hill it is monotonous. Kieran Young would rather run up and down Binnian 4 times than run the lake… using marathon chaffing as the closest analogy he could find to how he feels about the lake. Which trust me is a horrendous side effect of long distance running. And speaking of Binnian. Climbing 750m mountains 2 days before a long run is not advisable. My quads where on fire.

Primarily for me 8 laps of the lake is a mental battle. If I can survive that I can survive anything. It served me well in DCM training when I did it on my own and I hope it will serve me well this time round in Derry.

So what happens on 8 laps of the lake? It’s pretty basic. It’s 8 times of looking at the same things. But each lap is different and defined in it’s own way.

Lap 1 … tough getting started. The head is riddled with wtf I’ve to do this 8 times. Both of us wondering why we even signed up to a marathon in the first place never mind 2! 

Lap 2 … wow there’s loads out runners this early in the morning  oh wait crossfitters…7am is a lie in for them. There’s loads of them.

Lap 3 … Jesus where’d that lap go. It was like oohhh we’ve started and bam we are finished. I’ll take that.

Lap 4 …the lap of the red squirrel. After last week’s thoughts of being attacked by a flying squirrel we were greeted by the rare sighting of a red squirrel which thankfully didn’t have wings.

Lap 5 …geography lesson on wind. Why is it is the wind picking up Siobhan? Cue me launching into the an in-depth explanation of isobars (not isogels) and  weather patterns. Caitriona wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped 

Lap 6 … was there not always a bin there? We’ll keep going to the bin. Caitriona swore there was a bin there. Nope no bin just a tree trunk. Then she totally missed the tree we pointed at every lap. Running amnesia in full flow.

Lap 7 … the death lap. Started slow finished strong. End is near but not quite. I did pick up pace this lap. Feeling exceptionally comfortable and embracing the fact the miles where flying in and I knew 26 was very possible. Must have been the pickle onion mega meanies last night .

Lap 8…victory lap. We offered up the final mile to the MAC members who have left us for yellow and red pastures this year.

Last 0.75 mile … I’m gonna sprint finish the last 0.2 mile like it was race day. Which I did at 8.50min/mile pace. Empty the tank!

So all done and dusted by lunch time and fit for bugger all else the rest of the day. The Lake didn’t beat me, dare I say I even enjoyed it. It was a new mileage milestone for Caitriona and belief that her first marathon is now possible.  

So bring on the taper I guess. 17, 13 and 7 milers in the next few weeks and no more going up mountains on Thursday at Hill and Dale anymore the poor quads have seen better days…must phone Grainne for a rub out.