Man of records Denis McCarty keeps on running

Man of records Denis McCarty keeps on running

Denis McCarthy with his Cork County C-C winning team medals from 1985 and 1986. Picture: John Walshe

Denis McCarthy, a member of the East Cork Athletic Club, is a man of records – and not all of them are of the running variety, as we shall see.

A meticulous keeper of statistics, his running log for the year just gone by shows a total of 2,020 miles ran, an average of just over five-and-a-half miles for every single day of the year. 

This annual total has been the norm for at least the past 40 years and the Ballynoe native reckons he has now clocked up in excess of 100,000 miles.

“Since June 5, 1985, I’ve only missed eight days,” says the 60-year-old, before adding, nonchalantly, “but some of them were on crutches.” 

A running streak that began on that date in 1985 finally came to an end 28 years and four days later when a bad fall resulted in a fracture to a bone in his leg.

Even while on crutches, he still managed to complete the Shanagarry five-mile race in 71 minutes. 

“There were eight days in which I actually did nothing, but then there were days trying to train while hobbling around in a medical walking boot until a doctor said to me I’d never heal like that, so I stopped running then and went on crutches.” 

 Last October, another milestone was reached at Macroom when McCarthy competed in the Cork county senior cross-country championship for the 40th time. 

This includes on two occasions being a scorer on the winning East Cork team of which he’s been a member of since its inception in 1985.

“The first county I ran was in Castlemartyr back in 1981, when I was with the Youghal club,” he recalls. 

“After that, I just took it one step at a time. I always had a kind of unique interest in the race, going back to the 1970s when there was a great rivalry between the likes of John Hartnett and Donie Walsh. 

Denis McCarthy competing at the East Cork C-C championships last September on home ground at Ballynoe. Picture: John Walshe
Denis McCarthy competing at the East Cork C-C championships last September on home ground at Ballynoe. Picture: John Walshe

"It was a kind of a county versus city rivalry in my eyes; between them they won a total of seven titles so that gave you an idea of the stature of the race.

“In the 1980s, Tony O’Leary dominated the championship and that sort of infatuated me as well. In 1989, when I was running and training with Liam O’Brien, to see a man like Liam who had dominated Munster athletics finally come along and win the county senior, and to see what that meant to people. 

"And then I was finding myself on East Cork teams and was a scoring member when the club took the title in 1985 and 1986.” 

 During the 1990s another unique challenge was hatched and came to fruition – that of running a race in each of the 32 counties on this island, before his 32nd birthday. 

“I was after running a number of national intermediate cross-country races, it took me eight years to get out of that category and I was travelling to a lot of obscure counties, for want of a better word.

“When I did my tally, I had something like 18 or 19 counties so I then felt that the 32 was within reach.” 

In an era when races were a lot harder to come by compared to today, for someone in the far south of the country the northern counties would be the hardest to get to.

At Christmas 1993, Denis had just three counties to go. On St Stephens Day he travelled to Tyrone, where, on a snow-covered course, he finished third in the Greencastle 10km. 

A week later, he availed of an invitation to take part in the Derry cross-country championships, thus leaving just Monaghan on his agenda, and this he 'bagged' the following March when he finished fourth in a road race in Glaslough.

For most of the races in the far North, it meant leaving his home in Ballynoe (near Conna) at an unearthly hour, and not arriving back until midnight. 

One of the longest journeys he undertook was to Donegal, a round trip of about 500 miles. He left home at 5:30am, slept for a short while in his car alongside the tomb of W.B. Yeats in Drumcliffe, Sligo, before going on to Donegal Town, where he finished sixth in a 5km.

Over the years, Denis has won 179 East Cork championship medals, 94 county medals, 82 Munster medals and 19 national medals in road, track and cross-country – such statistics as those trip readily off the tongue. 

With personal bests on the track of 8:33 for 3000m and 14:58 for 5000m, he was no mean performer. He won the 5,000m county title in 1986 and of the 2,064 races he has competed in (up to December 2022), he has finished first on 198 occasions.

An employee of Glenmar Shellfish Ireland in Curraglass for many years, Denis’ other passion – apart from his running - is attending car boot sales and adding to his record collection. And there is also a tie-in here from his travels up north, as he explains: “That same week I was in Belfast I came across a CD single by Brian Adams ‘Everything I Do, I Do It for You’ which had spent 18 weeks at Number 1 in the UK charts.

“So I bought it and when a new record went to Number 1 after that I continued and then I started getting older ones at car boot sales and record fairs and tried to work backwards.

“It was the UK charts I was first chasing but then I branched out and started collecting Irish Number Ones which date back to 1962. There have been over 1,000 Irish Number Ones, and I reckon I have them all.”

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