Love2Run: A Diverse Running Club's Remarkable Journey at the Wexford Festival of Running

May 17, 2024

The Wexford Festival of Running is a remarkable event that somehow goes under the radar with a lot of people. It really should be an event that sells out within hours of going online, but doesn't. The level of organisation and commitment to provide a top class event, catering to every athletes' needs, goes above and beyond. Mentally and physically you can see in every volunteer's face at the end of the weekend how much heart and soul went into it. Paddy Rowe, Chairman of Wexford Marathon Club has been head of a volunteer committee months before the first festival back in April of 2019. I'll no doubt miss names who give countless hours to help the machine function but here are a few. Alan, Lorraine, Tina, Emmet, Karl R, Breda, Anna, Paula, Anto along with family and friends are some of the many that help make Wexford Festival a seamless event with unending support for those taking part. Notwithstanding the quality of the event, WMC also uses the event as a huge charity drive for deserving local organisations. They are also very grateful to the many excellent sponsors who come on board each year. This year's event didn't disappoint.

While the level organisation wasn't quite on par or even close to WMC, we had planned this trip over 6 months in advance. The quality of the event in previous years had created a buzz amongst our club members and each year more people wanted to travel and run. Enthusiasm was high to the point a training schedule was asked for to help people prepare better. It was a lot less loose than what I'd prepared for, for marathons but nonetheless, many got on board and were eager for weekly updates.

Hotels were booked months in advance while some just decided to travel on the day. With 32 travelling, 29 running and 2 walking it was a considerable percentage of our 49 members. We probably reached the threshold in terms of taking too many people and 30 seems about the limit to make it both manageable for ourselves and the organising club. Leading up to the event people were wary of the 1.34km looped course but there had no need to be. A good few members had never ran more than 10 miles/half marathon and were entering the unknown in the 3 hour event and others were going beyond marathon distance into the murky, but exciting world of ultras.

I'm proud to say that our club has a very diverse membership. Initially our club members came from all over Dublin, the vast majority of which were solo runners who had never ran in a group, and a club would have been both alien and felt inaccessible to most who were daily joggers running for their own fitness and mental health. From north of Dublin in Swords and Ballymun, further north into the sticks of Julianstown, Co Meath, South Dublin in Stepaside, Rathfarnham, Rathcoole and Tallaght to Kilidare in Enfield, Naas and Edenderry we initially had members from many different places and backgrounds. Over time we've increased local membership while maintaining the ability to attract many from outside the area. Our club name was chosen so as to encourage anybody who hadn't run in a club to feel welcome. We travelled to Wexford with 8 different nationalities amongst our travelling band of athletes.

While some had been training for a specific goal most were going for the craic. Our members train hard to be competitive but there is also the social side to running. Weekdays are a mixture of sessions and on Sunday the whole club trains together at the same pace on our long runs. The Boston qualifiers enjoy running with those learning about running and the encouragement from the more senior members tends to have a great impact on those only starting out or just running for fun. The sh*t generally hits the fan if LSRs are run too fast! We have our very own 'Rolex' Ron Hogan who keeps the pace even at around 6:30kms which is accessible to most.

Andy Bull got the ball rolling on Saturday for the club. He couldn't take part Sunday as he had previously booked holidays and with the agreement of organisers ran early knowing that he wouldn't be able to feature in the final podium standings. Andy was happy to represent. His plan was to become an ultra runner stepping up from the marathon distance. Underprepared and undertrained Andy went out and smashed it passing 50km with about 15 minutes to spare and a total of 51kms and change. His telephone call and subsequent meal with the arriving party from Dublin spoke mountains about Andy. A 3 marathon veteran and now an ultra runner and he travelled on holidays proud to have competed his personal mission. As the evening progressed the running crew arrived and picked up their race numbers and set up their race table with supplies. Testament to the quality of both the people attending and WMC the club table was untouched overnight. I doubt there are many places you could do this nowadays. Ultra events tend to attract a different type of athlete where friendliness, helpful and encouraging people are everywhere to be seen.

Our mountain goats were next, Helena and Niamh. Normally found sky running in the Mourne Mountains, the Kerry Way or some obscure part of the Dublin Mountains, this was another first for this dynamic duo. Helena got a fantastic new sign for the club set up in front of our table while Niamh was wearing her new club singlet for the first time. Both were a little apprehensive about the 1.34km but that soon disappeared. Johnstown Castle is one of the most scenic places you could ever wish to run. 550m on a tree covered winding gravel track around a lake which opens up to a path which surrounds the castle and returns into the covered tented area where crews are waiting for their athletes. The two ladies loved it. Both easily passed the marathon distance and the smiles told the story pretty clearly.

Next up it was the 3hr crew. Our biggest group with about 20 taking part. While there are competitive athletes amongst the club we generally don't push for competitiveness between members. It is encouraged that each athlete is their own best version and to help others to improve. It's a small club and a train constantly moving forward and realistically the way we have improved mostly is by having groups of athletes run together to improve as a whole rather than individually. There is obviously an individual side to things when athletes qualify for marathons like Boston or the Comrades, and we do encourage individual entry into Track & Field competitions but with road races there's a combined team effort to reach new goals. Overall we had 2 fantastic podium paces for Sindile Jack and Karen Sheehan and everybody in the club is extremely proud of them. Both are extremely popular people in the club for their non stop encouragement of others and hard work ethic. While Sindile is relatively new to the club(August 2023) Karen has been part of the furniture since day one in June of 2018. About 4 or 5 of the crew went beyond a half marathon for the first time and Wexford was an excellent foundation and preparation for their debut marathons in Dublin in October.

Finally we had the 1 hour crew with 6 running and 2 of our injured members walking. You have to appreciate that most travelled down on the day for a one hour race just to challenge themselves and to be proud to represent the club. Most run for fitness and without these members the club wouldn't function properly. It's most likely the mixture of athletes that encourages everybody to be their best self. Either that or listen to 'Rolex' Ron which is much better than getting grief off myself.

This year the Festival had 10 completely new people who won the 24hr, 12hr, 6hr, 3hr and 1hr.

Wexford man Jessie O'Connor won the men's 24hr after a Titanic battle with Kacper Czerpak for the first 12hr. Kacper said he will be back next month to take on the Belfast 24hr!

After hitting the post for the past 3 editions of the 24hr event, finishing 5th, then 4th and 4th again, Dee Browne finally stood aloft the podium finishing 1st Woman with her running buddy, Barbara Sludds, finishing 2nd.

The men's 12hr race was a tight affair with a mere 13 metres separating Sean Lannigan and Raymond Cummins in 1st and 2nd place.

Running in her first 12hr race Maeve Hegarty of Skerries AC climbed through the field during the night to finish first home. Maeve experienced both the joys and toughness of competing for 12 hours. I'll have to find someone to unseat the unbeaten champion!!

Cork man Brendan O'Mahony won the 6 hour race as Wexford woman Ester took home the women's 12hr.

Our very own Sindile Jack won the 3hr race on a diet of Fish & Chips and Ice Cream with Maltesers the night before. No breakfast on the morning of the race either. I can't give him grief if he wins!

Sindile ran just about the whole race alongside the women's winner of the 3hr race, Beth O'Connor, who won in impressive style.

A father/son rivalry led the 1 hr charge Adam beating Alan. Sinead Morris was the 1st Woman home in the 1 hour.

Congrats to Wexford Marathon Club on another fantastic weekend!

Featured Images: Courtesy of Tony Crosbie Photography

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