I make no excuses for publishing this article in full.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
No challenge is too great if one puts their mind to it. Michael Gallagher talks to a man who changed his life when he picked up a book in the local supermarket.
HE was a thirtysomething couch potato, enjoying comfortable evenings lounging in front of the telly with a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits. He had just quit smoking, but the replacement of the nicotine with sweets, bars and other tasty treats was another problem which had to be addressed.
As the 1970s prepared to give way to the electrifying eighties, Cathal Cryan was a Coolock-based detective sergeant heading down the avenue towards middle-age in a happy, but unfit state. Then, by chance, the Ballina native found a book in a bargain basket in a super-market and as many lazy journalists say – the rest is history.
“I had just given up smoking and was putting on weight. Then one day I was out shopping with my wife Breege (nee Forde, from Lacken) and I had my ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion.
“There was a basket of books near the checkout and I picked up one titled, Running for Your Life, by Bill Emerton. It cost me about 25p at the time and I can safely say it changed my life. That was my inspiration to go out running and there was a training manual in it, which really got me into the swing of things.”
A few weeks ago, the reformed couch potato completed his 60th marathon when he crossed the finish line in the Dublin Marathon. The amazing transformation has been a lifechanging one and Cryan has no intention of stopping just yet.
“When I started running I decided I’d do one marathon and quit. It was to be a one-off – an experience – but that’s not the way it turned out. Then when I hit 50 I said I’d quit, but that didn’t happen either.
“Now I’m sixty-five and retired, but I have no immediate plans to stop running. I’m enjoying it too much,” the Lord Edward Street native explained.
If enjoyment means getting up at 7.30 four mornings a week to churn out the training miles then Cryan is onto a winner. Since he caught the running bug as a 35-year-old he has run tens of thousands of miles in training and competition. In 1982 he kept a diary and when he added up the numbers at the end of the year he had covered 4,700 miles in training, finished five marathons, two 20-mile races and three half-marathons.
“That was a busy year and I actually won one of the 20-milers in Fermanagh, but if you’re going to run good times you have to put in the miles and work harder. I would never have been considered an elite athlete, but I’ve always been consistent. Challenges drive me on and whenever anyone would say that something ‘couldn’t be done’ that’d be the spur for me to prove them wrong.”
In 1996 Cathal decided that he’d cycle to all Mayo’s matches in that year’s senior football championship. The opening round of the campaign saw the newly-installed John Maughan take his team to Ruislip for a meeting with London, so Cryan had to get the boat and pedal from Holyhead to the British capital.
“The whole thing started as a kind of a joke at work. I told people I would do it and I wanted to prove that I had cycled every mile, so I came up with a plan. I made up a card – a type of a passport – and got it signed at Holyhead and then in every town that I cycled through I went into the post-office and got them to stamp the card so that I could prove I had been there.
“I made good progress and the journey only took me a day and a half. I cycled for about 14 hours the first day and five on the second and when I reached Ruislip, John Maughan and the team were waiting there for me and John put the final signature on the card.”
Mayo’s progress through the championship that year meant that Cathal was on his bike until late September, but the Ballina native is a well travelled man when it comes to sporting endeavour. He has run marathons on three continents and is a regular competitor in London, New York and now Dubai. He has the distinction of appearing in the inaugural marathons in Dublin, London, Limerick, Belfast, Cork and the one and only Castlebar 26-miler, The Mayo Post Marathon, in 1982.
He has completed the famous distance in less than three hours on no-less than 27 occasions and has fond memories of many people and performances along the way, but his run in the 1986 New York event remains one of his favourite recollections.
“I was a guest of the NYPD that year and even though there would be great friendships between the two forces, there was also a huge competitive streak. They entertained me lavishly at the post race party, but there was little love lost in the race itself.
“I didn’t have a disctinctive Garda vest on me and when I sat in behind one of the NYPD runners with three or four miles to go he didn’t know who I was. I stayed with him all the way and with about 150 yards left, I kicked and beat him to the line. Little did I realise that he had been the leading NYPD runner and they weren’t a bit happy to be beaten by the Irish fella, but I was delighted,” he recalls.
That performance was a far cry from the early training runs when Cathal began his runnng career. He was still feeling his way into the sport when it was announced that Dublin would host its first marathon in the autumn of 1980.
“I had decided to run my one and only marathon in Birmingham that year, but then I heard about Dublin and switched my attention to that one. I was certain that I’d run just one marathon in my lifetime so I set myself a high standard. The famous athlete, Noel Carroll, had a training programme in the RTE Guide and I followed that, but only loosely. I was determined to beat Noel’s time so I worked a bit harder than his training programme suggested and it worked. Noel finished in a time of 3 hours and eleven minutes and I had finished two minutes earlier.”
That dedication to training is still evident in Cryan’s running. These days he trains with competitors much younger than himself, just to stay sharp. A training partner went to school with one of his daughters and that gives the Mayo man great enjoyment.
“I really enjoy training with lads who are still in their 30s and 40s. I get a great kick out of that. They keep me sharp and that’s why I can still run in the 3.50s for the marathon,” the proud grandfather explained as he turned his attention to the next challenge – the next conquest. That’s the way life has always been for the man from Lord Edward Street