I took part in the first ever Women's Mini Marathon in Cork when I was just 13

As The Echo launches the 2021 Mini Marathon, ELAINE DUGGAN talks to some of the stalwarts of the popular annual event down the years, and asks what makes it so special
I took part in the first ever Women's Mini Marathon in Cork when I was just 13

AHEAD OF THE FIELD: The leading five in the Echo Ladies mini marathon in 1987, from left, Valerie Collins, Mary Sweeney , Eileen Prunty , Carmel Lyons , and Rose Crockett .

FROM tiny acorns, great oaks grow — it’s a well known phrase, but one that sums up perfectly this momentous year for The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon.

Cork Athletics hosted the first mini marathon back in 1982, with around 300 participants taking part in the inaugural event, growing to more than 7,000 people in recent years.

Athletic Association of Ireland (AAI) spokesman John Quigley said the mini marathon quickly caught the imagination of the women of Cork, who continue to get behind the event, year after year.

JOY: Deirdre Gould, of Boyne Crescent, and Dearbhla Murphy, of Old Youghal Road, both 11, proudly showing their medallions after the 1983 Echo Ladies Mini Marathon.
JOY: Deirdre Gould, of Boyne Crescent, and Dearbhla Murphy, of Old Youghal Road, both 11, proudly showing their medallions after the 1983 Echo Ladies Mini Marathon.

To mark the historic anniversary, we caught up with women who took part in some of the very early races in the 1980s.

We also reveal details of this year’s race on page 10 — which will go ahead virtually this year, due to Covid-19.

The AAI are also considering a live event, depending on Covid regulations.

I RAN THE FIRST MINI MARATHON, AGED 13

Growing up in a family of athletes, it should come as no surprise that Josephine Finn took part in the first Women’s Mini Marathon in Cork back in 1982 — aged just 13.

Now aged 53, she is gearing up to take part in the event again this year, 40 years on.

Josephine is the daughter of Paddy and Pamela Buckley, both runners, and her uncle is John Buckley, founder of John Buckley Sports — so athletics has been in the family for years.

Josephine Finn who took part in the first marathon with her mother Pamala Buckley who ran in the second. Picture Dan Linehan
Josephine Finn who took part in the first marathon with her mother Pamala Buckley who ran in the second. Picture Dan Linehan

Growing up, she said all eight Buckley siblings were bussed off every weekend by their parents to different athletic events, from the age of nine or ten.

She herself was named Athlete of the Year in Bishopstown Community School five years in a row, and over the years went on to win cross country Munster and County Medals, with her club St Finbarr’s.

Josephine took part in the inaugural mini marathon as a young teen — and in most subsequent years too as a “wiry young one”.

She’s walked the race in recent years after getting two new hips — and says that is the beauty of the marathon, you can walk or run it, whatever your health and fitness levels.

Josephine said the fund-raising element of it is great too — she herself has fundraised for many worthy causes, including cancer research and Pieta House.

Asked if the next generation is following in her footsteps, like other family members, she said she hopes her two daughters, who are living in Brisbane and New Zealand, will take part in the virtual marathon with her this year.

FIRST PLACE: Lucy O’Donoghue winning the 1985 Echo Ladies Mini Marathon, on 29/9/85.
FIRST PLACE: Lucy O’Donoghue winning the 1985 Echo Ladies Mini Marathon, on 29/9/85.

RUNNING INTO HER 70s

If you can’t beat them — join them! That was the thinking of Pamela Buckley, now aged 83, who started running when she was 40 years old and has won Munster medals, county medals and National medals.

Her husband Paddy, who has done 29 marathons, and the couple’s eight children were all involved in athletics — so Pamela decided she’d get involved too.

She only started running when she was 40 but kept at it until she was 70 — now aged 83, she puts her good health down to her involvement in athletics.

The children started running back in 1982 — including daughter Josephine, who took part in the very first Women’s Mini Marathon in Cork (as reported above).

Pamela said she took part in the second mini marathon and many more over the years. After taking up running, she did cross country, road running, the mini marathon — and two marathons.

Josephine Finn who took part in the first marathon with her mother Pamala Buckley who ran in the second. Picture Dan Linehan
Josephine Finn who took part in the first marathon with her mother Pamala Buckley who ran in the second. Picture Dan Linehan

Originally from Ovens, now living in Bishopstown, Pamela said all the kids were into sport.

“Some played hurling, boxing, they were all involved in sport,” she said.

“I decided, if you can’t beat them, join them. I started running when I was 40. I was running up to 70.”

Even now, Pamela still goes for her walks — up to a mile, and pushes herself to do it in a certain time.

“Everyone should do running, it is good for your health,” she says. “When I go for a walk, I do a quality walk. I do a mile and do it in a certain amount of time. I brace myself for that. You don’t have to go out and do miles and miles. You have to train if you want to do mileage.”

She tells me she has done two full marathons over the years - in Dublin, while her husband Paddy has an impressive 29 marathons done, in different places.

Pamela said: “People thought I was mad when I started running — but it is absolutely brilliant.”

She has run for charities over the years too, including CUH and the Mercy, and to this day she is still a member of St Finbarr’s and the Athletics Association of Ireland.

She has very fond memories of the mini marathon.

AHEAD OF THE FIELD: The leading five in the Echo Ladies mini marathon in 1987, from left, Valerie Collins, Mary Sweeney , Eileen Prunty , Carmel Lyons , and Rose Crockett .
AHEAD OF THE FIELD: The leading five in the Echo Ladies mini marathon in 1987, from left, Valerie Collins, Mary Sweeney , Eileen Prunty , Carmel Lyons , and Rose Crockett .

I ONLY MISSED ONE MINI MARATHON

Involved in athletics for more than 50 years, Marion Lyons is another mini marathon stalwart.

Marion, from Fairhill, who has lived in Blarney for 53 years, says she has probably only missed one mini marathon over the decades. Now that’s some going!

Not only does Marion run the race, with the elite athletes, she is often seen arriving in the city early in the day to help with the set up — and when the race is over, you’ll find her cheering on other people coming through the finish line, and helping the organisers give out goody bags, with water and medals.

The mum of two is a personal trainer, having qualified with Solas in recent years, and loves to train up and coming athletes now too, at her club St Finbarr’s Athletics.

“We love helping people to get involved in athletics too. We got so much out of it ourselves over the years.”

Marion feels very passionate about running for women — to help their health and also the social perks.

“When I was training, they would all laugh at me — I told them all, ‘ye will all be joining me in a few years’... and it is happening.”

Marion got involved in athletics when she worked in Sunbeam and has been with the same club since. She joined St Finbarr’s Athletics with her sister and they were hooked! There are 16 in her family — nine brothers and seven sisters — and she said that eight of them were in athletics at one time.

Speaking of her first night training, she says: “We got the bug straight away. We did like being outdoors, being involved in outdoor activities.

“The first night then, we had blisters, but we went back for more punishment.”

Marion loved setting herself goals — her goal was to get on the Irish team, which she succeeded in doing, and she represented Ireland in cross country in senior championships.

Josephine Finn who took part in the first marathon with her mother Pamala Buckley who ran in the second and on the left, Marion Lyons who also ran in the first marathon. Picture Dan Linehan
Josephine Finn who took part in the first marathon with her mother Pamala Buckley who ran in the second and on the left, Marion Lyons who also ran in the first marathon. Picture Dan Linehan

She loved track and cross country.

“You always had a goal you’d love to run for Ireland — it happened — but it was hard work, the training over the years, with coaching, getting your technique right.”

She went to different races over the years, but she said their passion lay with cross country and track.

Marion added: “There were a few of us, the first women in Ireland to run the Cork to Cobh. (over 30 years ago).”

They were trailblazers and went into the history books for that feat. She said there are lots of perks to running — as well as the physical health benefits, it is great for anyone with mental health issues, and there is the social aspect, as you make friendships too.

She is passionate about working with people with addiction and also those with disabilities — encouraging everyone to get involved in sport.

Marion likes to put into the sport, what she has gotten back all these years.

“I am so passionate about it. It is all about movement, movement, movement. It doesn’t matter if you are slow. We all need to move every day. It doesn’t matter what age you are.”

She still runs competitively now, but is missing the racing due to Covid.

“We miss races now at the moment. The race is the race, but you have the banter, the tea, the sandwiches, and the chat after — that is what we love. We go through everything then. We all go home delighted with ourselves.”

She is very passionate in promoting the mini marathon too — getting everyone out and about running, walking and raising funds for charity. She has raised funds over the years for worthy causes including cancer research and Marymount.

What Marion loves about the mini marathon is the great camaraderie there: “The atmosphere is great, the buzz, the music. We all love it.”

To take part in this year's mini marathon see https://www.echolive.ie/minimarathon/

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