100 Wibbly Wobbly Wonders runners set for Cork marathon

The Wibbly Wobbly Wonders running group took a break due to the pandemic - now they’re back and ready for their next challengem writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
100 Wibbly Wobbly Wonders runners set for Cork marathon

Members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders running club, at a training session in Ballyvolane in preparation for the upcoming Cork City Marathon.

A FORMER PE teacher, Aileen O’Keeffe, now aged 70, gave up cigarettes 15 years ago - and to see that she could still breathe, as she puts it, she went running.

It was the start of a wonderful hobby that has seen her, and the friends she made while exercising, travel to various cities around the world to run marathons.

Dubbed ‘the golden girls’ because of their age (they’re all over 50 and Aileen is the oldest), they are members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders running group.

 Gavin O'Sullivan, Aidan Cooney and Barry Potter, all members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders running club. Picture: David Keane
Gavin O'Sullivan, Aidan Cooney and Barry Potter, all members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders running club. Picture: David Keane

The group, with its fun name, had to take a break during Covid, but they’re now back in action, with between 80 to 100 of them preparing to run the Cork City Marathon on June 5.

The Wibbly Wobbly Wonders, founded in 2014, meet every Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm at the Dunnes Stores car park in Ballyvolane. Mentors lead the different paces. That includes walking for some. That progresses to running.

The group is open to people of all levels of fitness - and none. They often run for different charities.

Glanmire-based Aileen’s running friends are sisters, Anne O’Connor and Noreen Collins, as well as Dolores Bevan and Siobhan O’Sullivan. They are just back from Dubrovnik.

 Members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders walking club, at a training session in Ballyvolane in preparation for the upcoming Cork City Marathon.
Members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders walking club, at a training session in Ballyvolane in preparation for the upcoming Cork City Marathon.

“It was fantastic there,” says Aileen. “We were there for four days. The sky was blue and we ran around the wall of the inner city in Dubrovnik. We did a half marathon the next day.”

Aileen has been to Disneyland Paris with Anne and Noreen where they took part in a half marathon, raising money for cancer.

The ‘golden girls’ also ran in Budapest, and they were in New York, although Aileen didn’t make that trip. They are planning their next trip - it might be to Krakow or Lake Garda.

“It’s so sociable. I’d never have gone to these places if I hadn’t met Anne initially. (The pair bonded over their interest in gardening, having first met at Business House Athletics Association.) The buzz I get out of running is like the buzz I used to get out of smoking.”

 Aileen O'Keeffe, Siobhan O'Sullivan, Noreen Collins, Ann O'Connor and Dolores Bevan, all members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders.
Aileen O'Keeffe, Siobhan O'Sullivan, Noreen Collins, Ann O'Connor and Dolores Bevan, all members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders.

Aileen gave up the cigarettes, going cold turkey, in sympathy with her husband when he had to give them up after he had a stroke.

She joined the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders group just before Covid hit.

“I ran two races, one in Duhallow and one in Kinsale - and that was it. My Wibbly Wobbly Wonders vest went into the wardrobe and didn’t come out until recently.”

Aileen loves being part of the running group. “I still do my own thing outside of it. There’s a group of us that meets every Saturday morning. Some of them also go to the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders. I sometimes run on my own but I much prefer running with people.”

 Mark Hornibrook, John Healy and Don Buckley, all members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders.
Mark Hornibrook, John Healy and Don Buckley, all members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders.

Asked if running is addictive, Aileen says: “It is a bit. To me, it’s now my habit, not cigarettes any more.”

Karen Hickey, of Dublin Hill, is one of the founder members of the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders. Eight years ago, she wanted to run a leg of a marathon (about five miles).

“I didn’t know how to run,” she said.

So she posted on Facebook and a couple of people responded, saying they too would love to run but didn’t know how to do it properly.

Co-founders Brendan Dowling and John Murphy joined Karen, starting with walks “and we became more structured. We learned how to run. You do it through a ‘couch to 5k’ over eight weeks. Let’s say that in week one, you might be walking for five minutes and running for 30 seconds. As the weeks go on, you go from running for 30 seconds to one minute. The walking breaks get smaller and smaller. You have to do two to three ‘couch to 5ks’ every year.”

 Caoimhe Granleese and Marianne Meehan who are also part of the club.
Caoimhe Granleese and Marianne Meehan who are also part of the club.

More and more groups formed within the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders.

“They’d be doing a ten minute mile or an 11-minute mile. It was like a factory. We were producing runners all the time. One year, we had 150 runners in the marathon. Seventy runners went to Dublin one year to do a full marathon. That’s how the group progressed.

“But then we were struck down by Covid and the group was out of action for nearly 18 months. An awful lot of people didn’t go back running with us. Some had got used to running on their own. We started again last September and just took it very slowly.”

Some people are members of the group just for walking.

 Sandra O'Sullivan, Megan O'Neill, Anne Lawlor and Aine O'Callaghan.
Sandra O'Sullivan, Megan O'Neill, Anne Lawlor and Aine O'Callaghan.

“They walk for 4k or 5k. A lot of these would be widows or people living on their own. Or they could be people that can’t run due to injury but want to walk and have no-one to walk with,” said Karen.

“They’re a huge part of the club. It’s about fitness and fun. 

"I know for a fact that some people just came to us for the feelgood factor. Back in the day, we had hundreds of members. Now we have a core base of 50 to 60.”

David Looney, from Ballyvolane, joined the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders in 2017. Aged 55, he says that prior to that, he hadn’t done any training “for the bones of 20 years.” Life got in the way, including shift work, before David changed jobs. He used to be quite fit.

“I used to do a lot of training, playing football and doing taekwondo. Unknown to me, I was getting bigger. It was around Christmas time when I was on Facebook and saw something about the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders. I knew about them but never had the confidence to go there. I decided to make a life-changing choice. I said I’d give it a go. I didn’t know if I’d enjoy it or would be able for it.”

 Alma O'Connell, Bronwyn O'Donovan and Karen Hickey.
Alma O'Connell, Bronwyn O'Donovan and Karen Hickey.

While David didn’t know any of the members, he was made to feel welcome.

“They treated us with so much respect. I got really interested in it. 

"As time went on, I got to know people. You’d hear their stories about why they got involved. It was just to get away from everyday life and to free up some head space.

“I had put on a good few stone and I lost a fair bit of weight (after joining the Wibbly Wobbly Wonders.) If you have races coming up like the city marathon, you’re really conscious of what you’re eating and drinking, obviously.

“You get stuck in a rut when you’re doing nothing, especially during the winter when the weather is bad and you don’t want to go for a walk. You’re tired when you come home from work. All you want to do is sit down.

“You need someone to run with you. It’s very hard to run by yourself because you can give up very easily. That’s what the club is all about. It makes running fun. 

"You look forward to meeting the people you started with and are still there throughout the year. They give you a lift. It gets you away from your everyday routine. I would definitely recommend it.

“I’m in the slow group. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you are or how old or young. You won’t be left behind.”

When Jennifer Ring moved from Killeagh in east Cork to Ballyvolane, she didn’t know anybody there, even though she is from Cork city.

“I used to see the Wibbly Wobbly people walking. I started walking myself and I joined the group in September, eight years ago, the week before the Cork City Marathon.”

Jennifer’s goal was to meet others.

“It is the best thing I ever did. I made loads of friends, friends for life, I’d say. I had no fitness levels whatsoever at the start. 

"I did zero exercise. I was 41 when I joined. I found it hard at the beginning. But there was a lot of encouragement. I just looked forward to it. I started with the walking and then the ‘couch to 5k.’”

Now, Jennifer is one of the mentors at the club, adding: “I bring that encouragement to other people.”

She will be running a ‘leg of the marathon’ on June 5.

“We’ll be going out by the Straight Road and back into the city centre. You could be a runner this week and walker the next week. There’s a group for everybody, no matter what level you’re at. It’s social. It’s for a chat and to get out of the house. It’s great for your mental health as well. I have a tough job as the manager of an approved housing body. I can forget the stress when I’m out running.”

And the club is very practical.

“We did fundraising for a defibrillator for the Ballyvolane area.”

Clearly, the members are looking after their own at all kinds of levels.

Find the group on Facebook.

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