CLAIRE O’Brien never thought that she would be one of “those” runners who would be toeing the start line of The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon.
Growing up on Gilabbey Street, she had taken part in the event as a teen with her mum, and later with colleagues in Scoil an Athar Tadhg in Carraig na bhFear.
But after finishing third last year, the 34-year old who is currently based in the U.S, now has ambitions on taking the top spot in the future.
Claire took up running to help her overcome the tragic loss of her twin brother Pat in a car accident 14 years ago.
“The whole reason I started running was to help me overcome the grief of losing Pat. And I run all my important races with a pinned locket holding his picture attached under my singlet. I also know he’s with me at every race, as I spent all my childhood growing up racing and trying to beat him!” she said.
She ran her first road race in 2010, and after joining Watergrasshill AC in 2017, she started running competitively. Since then she’s had countless wins and podium positions in a variety of distances from 4k to a full marathon. But finishing third in The Echo mini marathon, she says, was extra special for two reasons.
“My sister Caroline ran it too and I loved sharing this day with her, and seeing her daughters wait for us at the finish line. We got a photo of us at the finish line and it’s one of my most favourite pictures. I just know in years to come my nieces will be running this race too and hopefully I’ll be right beside them! But it was also important as I knew it would be one of my last races in Cork before my husband John and I relocated to California. We moved last September after he was promoted with his company BioMarin,” she said.
Claire is currently teaching First Grade in San Domenico, California, and before Covid hit had completed two half marathons, placing third overall female in one.
“I also began volunteering with a running club in San Quentin Prison called The 1000 Mile Club. It has been a truly amazing opportunity, going there two days a week to run with and train the inmates. We started with a one mile event in January and were training the inmates to run a marathon in the prison at the end of the year, which unfortunately won’t be happening now.” The global pandemic has impacted their lives significantly: “Like every other corner of the world, Covid has changed everything. We were due home for a friend’s wedding in May. My husband (from Tipperary) also competes in the National Ploughing Championship every year, he hasn’t missed a competition in 16 years, and was planning to get back for that this month.” At the time the pandemic hit, Claire was also at the peak of her training for the Boston Marathon in April. She is planning on running it virtually this month, but admits not racing in over six months has been frustrating.
“I am training on a daily basis, its quite hard without a real goal. My last best race was the Togher 5k in December, 2019, and I just hope I’ll be back for that (if it goes ahead) in 2020. We must also wear masks at all times, including when running. While I agree with most precautions, I do think wearing a mask while running is very difficult, particularly when doing a hard speed session or long run.
I make huge efforts to comply with social distancing rules when running, and deliberately cross the road if/when passing others, but people can and do glare and comment. It’s disappointing as running used be my only outlet and it gave me enjoyment and freedom, but now I dread it and tend to go running before 6am to avoid being yelled at.” Claire’s teaching work, done remotely, is helping keep her busy and she’s also looking forward to doing The Echo 6k her way and getting some Californian friends involved. She added: “We’re hoping to be back at Christmas. PLEASE let us get home for Christmas!”