‘Nothing compares to the mini marathon...’ so says last year's winner

EMMA CONNOLLY caught up with the three Cork teachers who were top of the class — placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd — in The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon last year. Here she talks to Sinead O'Connor, who came first
‘Nothing compares to the mini marathon...’ so says last year's winner

Leevale athlete Sinead O'Connor, who is a regular competitor in the Evening Echo Women's Mini Marathon.

LOCKDOWN really highlighted the lack of open spaces in the city for families trying to be active.

That’s the observation of Sinead O’Connor, winner of The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon last year.

“The Farm (Curraheen Park training fields) is the only green place to run in near the city and that was (and still is) closed to the public, which is a huge loss as it is safe from traffic, safe for women who are running alone and safe for social distancing,” said the primary school teacher.

Sinead and her husband Mike, also a runner, live on the Boreenmanna Road, near the marina, which is a popular running spot.

“And while it was great to see so many new people out running and enjoying the sport, the crowds around the area were like a Munster final day, which did make it difficult to run comfortably.

“We were the only ones grateful for a rainy day as we knew the area would be quieter for runs and training sessions,” she recalled.

Sinead grew up in Ballincollig, and running, she says, was always her ‘thing,’ even though it took her a while to figure out what suited her.

“I competed for Togher from about 7-11 and then Leevale from 12-14. I was a sprinter then though which still gives me a giggle as in hindsight I was always a better long-distance runner, but it never really occurred to me to try it. I stopped for a while in secondary school, while I did my exams. I kind of took it up again in college but just to keep fit.

“I remember running around a park in Limerick city every day before college. The maintenance man there had an interest in running and stopped me one day and asked me if I ran for a club and recommended joining one in Limerick. Then he said: ‘You’d never know, you could be an All-Ireland medalist in the making.’ It’s funny, it was the first time I thought about long-distance as something I might be good at.

“I was probably more preoccupied with getting a job, and finishing my degree back then so I kept running away. I didn’t pursue club running again until I moved back to Cork and joined Leevale and Donie Walsh’s group.”

It took Sinead a few years of injury and consistent training to see proper results.

“I remember a good friend of mine saying you can’t call yourself a runner until you have five years of proper training behind you, and it pretty much took that long until I started seeing my times coming down and winning races.”

Winning The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon was always on her wish list.

“I had a bucket list of road races that I wanted to win: the first was the John Buckley 5k and I was so thrilled to win that a few years ago and the second was The Echo Mini Marathon. I was the bridesmaid a few years in a row, coming 2nd and 3rd and even 4th. I thought I would never win it! Amusingly, the year I got married I finally won it.”

Breaking the tape, she said, will be a memory she’ll cherish for life.

“The mini-marathon is a huge event on the running calendar every year. It balances the mass participation and the more competitive element very well. I love that you can have people with different goals completing the same event, whether it means going out and winning or simply completing the distance.

“The top 10 women in the mini-marathon are always great runners, it’s one of the rare events that gets all the top athletes in Cork toeing the line together. There are some pretty impressive names on the winner’s trophy, so I was delighted last year to add my name to the list.

“It has such a brilliant atmosphere too, nothing compares to it.

“Due to its central location, you get so much support too! After the race, we usually do two or three miles to cool down and I love running back towards the field and seeing all the women having a ball finishing the course. Where we are very competitive and individual- focused, they are laughing, joking with friends, and really enjoying themselves. That’s fabulous to see.”

Sinead, who teaches in Ballincollig, said she could win any race in the country and no-one would take much notice but The Echo mini-marathon is the one she’s remembered for.

“I remember going back to school on the Monday after winning and all the children at school knew about it and were so excited that I won.

“Usually, they wouldn’t take much notice of hearing I won anything, but this is local and many of their moms will have run too.”

Sinead is facing into unknown territory this year — both from a teaching and running perspective.

“It is a different kind of year heading back to school this September, but I love being a teacher in the town I grew up in, so I’m just grateful.”

At this time of the year, she’d also usually be gearing up for for the mini-marathon which is the first race on the Autumn calendar, and while she’ll miss it, she’s looking forward to doing the 6K, her way, on September 20.

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