A fifth mini marathon for Cork woman Kathleen, aged 85

As Kathleen Kelleher completed her fifth mini marathon, aged 85, ELAINE DUGGAN caught up with her to talk about her involvement in the annual event
A fifth mini marathon for Cork woman Kathleen, aged 85
85-year-old Kathleen Kelleher from Aghabullogue, who took part in The Echo Women's Mini Marathon.Picture: David Keane.

“I’LL do it again next year if I am still in the land of the living!”

Kathleen Kelleher, 85, says the words with an infectious giggle.

She was among the 7,000 strong crowd who took part in The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon on Sunday.

This was the fifth year the Aghabullogue woman had signed up to the event — having first participated when she turned 80. And she’s getting quicker at it!

“You know what was great, we did it in a faster time this year than last year!” she said excitedly.

Kathleen is originally from Dromtarriffe and worked in the Department of Justice in Dublin, translating for Charles Haughey in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Then she worked in the Circuit Court Office in Cork before marrying Andrew Kelleher. They had three daughters, Mary, Claire and Irene, who sadly passed away in 2004.

It was her daughter Mary, a secondary school teacher at St Mary’s in Macroom, who planted the seed of the idea to take part in the mini marathon.

Kathleen explained: “Mary is big into marathons. She did the Boston Marathon last Easter. She said, why don’t you do it (The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon)? So she comes with me. We walk it. It’s four miles and it is not competitive, it is great. I wouldn’t be doing it only for Mary. I enjoy it so much.”

Her other daughter, Claire, also a teacher, at St Patrick’s Girls Secondary School on Gardiners Hill, meanwhile also takes part every year, with a group of Transition Year pupils, led by June McCarthy.

Kathleen, who was diagnosed with brittle bones disease in her mid-40s, believes in the importance of walking for good health.

She said: “Forty years ago, I hurt my foot and was diagnosed with brittle bones, I was put on tablets… But I learned the best thing to do is walk and take the salt off the table. So I started walking in my mid-40s.”

There are lovely walks where she lives, she says, including the greenway near Coachford. “We are 16 miles to Cork. There is a lovely walk through Fitzgearld’s Park, out to the Kingsley and the Lee Fields. We are so lucky to live this side of the city.”

Walking is part of her daily life.

“I try and get out every day. I unconsciously get in a lot of walking, It is very scenic area where we live.”

85-year-old Kathleen Kelleher from Aghabullogue and her daughter Mary, at The Echo Women's Mini Marathon.Picture: David Keane.
85-year-old Kathleen Kelleher from Aghabullogue and her daughter Mary, at The Echo Women's Mini Marathon.Picture: David Keane.

She also keeps active by pottering around her garden.

Kathleen really enjoys her annual outing to the mini marathon, especially the beautiful scenic route along the Marina.

“There is great fun at it too. Young people are so nice. One year two young teenagers passed me and turned around and gave me a bar of chocolate. It brings out the best in people.

“Every year I have done it there has been sunshine, so I have my sunhat with me.”

This year, Kathleen wore her late daughter Irene’s beautiful sun hat — so in a way part of Irene was also with her along the route. Irene, a junior doctor at the South Infirmary, passed away suddenly and there’s a bench in her memory at the hospital.

Kathleen is impressed by the huge charitable side of the mini marathon.

“I am always very impressed by all the people taking part, nearly everyone has a bib on, raising money for charity. People are very good to come out.”

Kathleen doesn’t see age as a barrier to taking part either.

“One year I took my stick to the marathon, but Mary ended up carrying the stick.”

Another year she very politely declined a ride with St John’s Ambulance, along some of the route.

“Is it they would be out of a job if they didn’t get me in the back?” she said.

So she politely declined and kept on walking...

Last year she said she also saw a picture of a 90 year old man doing the Dublin City Marathon — 26 miles — she recognised him as a former colleague Brendan Earl, who she used to work with in the Department of Justice — another example that you are never too old to achieve your goals. “ Older people should push themselves to walk,” Kathleen adds.

She also loves the atmosphere at the marathon: “It is great to have the music at the start and to see Bishop Buckley.”

I asked her what her husband thought about her taking up the mini marathon aged 80?

“He says I am a bit cracked.”

But Kathleen continues in her stride.

“It is wonderful. It is like a day out.”

This year, Kathleen ended her marathon with a much-earned nice cup of tea and scone in The Kingsley hotel.

And she already has set her sights on next year’s event, and is encouraging others to do it to...

“Anyone can do it if they just put their mind to it”

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