My ultra marathon on a 10km by 3km County Cork island

CHRIS DUNNE catches up with a woman who now calls Bere Island home, about taking up running and competing in ultra marathons
My ultra marathon on a 10km by 3km County Cork island

Joanna Riddell after completing the London marathon, at the standing stone in Bere Island, (in the centre of the island).

TALKING with friends on Zoom recently, the boast among us was that we’d upped our walking routine from 3km to 5km — however, that seems to pale into insignificance compared to another woman’s achievement.

Cork-based Joanna Riddell has completed 13 marathons since 2016 — and she hasn’t let the pandemic stop her in her tracks either.

Due to lockdown and in a bid to continue her endurance training, she has undertaken a number of virtual marathons.

Joanna was the first to run a marathon on Bere Island, where she lives. The island measures just 10km by 3km! That was the virtual London marathon — which earned a Guinness World Record title.

After London, Joanna did the Dublin, Snowdonia and Edinburgh marathons — clocking up four in 82 days.

An acupuncturist, Family Wellness Practitioner, and a member of Eagle FC since July, 2020, she completed her first marathon, the Dublin City event, in 2016.

 Joanna Riddell who lives in Bere Island completed her first marathon in 2016.
 Joanna Riddell who lives in Bere Island completed her first marathon in 2016.

Despite having undergone surgery on her knee, she is still enjoying the sport.

“I’ve completed my second ultra-marathon now and this February I completed the first ultra-marathon ever run on this island,” she says.

She must have been on an all-time high?

“It was a fabulous experience,” says Joanna.

“My sister Helen and our mother were there at the finish to cheer me home.

“My mother and I came to live here from London in 2007. Helen is here since 2002. We love life here.”

“The concept of this most recent ultra-marathon, that I completed on Valentine’s Day this year, is to complete it in under five hours, which I did, 4 hours 56.3 minutes.”

Joanna who is almost 50, is super-fit. Even after knee surgery in 2015 and an osteo-arthritis condition that developed afterwards, she loves the sport.

“The reason I chose the Donadea 50km was to mark my 50th year, which is in July this year,” says Helen.

“So I’m very happy to have done this on Bere Island.”

Joanna after doing the 64K Ultra Marathon, Connemara
Joanna after doing the 64K Ultra Marathon, Connemara

Joanna says being healthy isn’t just about the physical aspects, such as eating better or getting exercise.

“It’s about all aspects of your health,” she says.

“Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.”

Health experts tell us exercise is the best medicine for good all-round health.

Joanna, overcoming the pain barrier, ventured out of her comfort zone and went beyond the wall, pushing beyond her limits on a wave of euphoria.

“After my first marathon, San Francisco was next,” she says. “Running over the San Francisco Bridge was amazing.”

Nearer home, the challenging terrain of Connemara beckoned.

“The Connemara ultra-marathon in 2018 was 64km, 39.3 miles,” says Joanna.

An ultra-marathon is a term for any foot race longer than the 26.2 of a standard marathon. Joanna runs ultra-marathons varying in distance from 50km to 100km.

There was no stopping the Cork woman.

“I’ve 13 marathons completed since 2016. After London, Snowdonia and Edinburgh, when four marathons were completed in 82 days.”

Joanna is a woman for all seasons.

“Edinburgh was completed on Christmas Day morning!”

She is very familiar with her terrain though.

“All the marathons were completed on Bere Island.”

Joanna received good news after completing the London marathon.

“I found out I was a Guinness World Records title holder!”

How did that come about?

“It was because I took part in the virtual London Marathon, the 40th race. More than 37,000 people from all corners of the world completed the London marathon in October, 2020. The final finisher total of 37,966 means the event has been awarded the official Guinness World Records Title for the most users to run a remote marathon in 24 hours.”

Some going?

“Yes that was pretty cool all right!” says Joanne.

How did her marathon journey begin?

“It started just as a hobby to get fit,” says Joanna, who was born in London and who relocated to her mother’s place of birth, setting up her business operating from Castletownbere.

“Bere Island is a really vibrant place,” says Joanna.

“The community spirit is alive and well and I really appreciate all the support I get from the islanders. There are about 180 inhabitants here and we are ticking away nicely.

“During normal times, the ferry brings over a lot of visitors who enjoy the beautiful surroundings. From Easter on, we enjoy welcoming visitors here.”

 Joanna Riddell after doing the San Francisco Marathon 2017.
 Joanna Riddell after doing the San Francisco Marathon 2017.

Joanne has a running partner and a running trainer.

“I met Frank, who is a Dub, 20 years ago through running,” she says. “He lives on a neighbouring island. My training coach is Kieran McKeown of Watergrasshill and my running club is Eagle AC that I joined last summer. That was the best thing I ever did. The support and encouragement has been immense alongside my Watergrasshill friends as well. We are in constant communication via Whatsapp and emails.”

Joanna is an all-rounder.

“I also do strength and conditioning training with Bernard Brady, ION Health and Fitness Centre in Castletownbere.”

Does she practice what she preaches, all round physical and mental health?

“I’m recovering at the moment!” says Joanna who, although superwoman, is only human.

“When I’m training I have a very clean diet, avoiding all hidden salts and sugars,” says Joanne.

“Lots of water and healthy foods are on the menu.”

Any treats for the woman that goes the full distance?

“Alcohol is out too!”

Surely the 50th birthday in July will justify a treat or two?

“I don’t think there’ll be any big party for my 50th. But I’ll still enjoy it.”

She’s already got the best birthday present ever.

“Doing the 50km on Bere Island was a great way to mark my 50th year.”

Joanna gets her natural highs from running, embracing the great outdoors and from reaching her full potential.

“I get huge enjoyment and a real sense of achievement out of long distance running,” says Joanna.

How can us ordinary mortals get on the trail of challenging mind and body to go that extra mile?

“Get a good pair of runners that are suited to your gait!” she advises.

“Gait analysis can be done at any sports shop.”

She wants us to enjoy the journey like she has.

“Enjoy the journey. Eat healthy and join an AC club.”

“Give it a go and just do it!”

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