Monday, July 30, 2012

Liz Kavanagh does 12 marathons in 12 months for 2012

Marathon Liz Kavanagh Kilkenny Rome Belfast running

Liz Kavanagh might never win a marathon but the 56-year-old with 27 marathons on three continents behind her says getting over the line is the goal. And this year she is hitting that tape 12 times, seven down and five to go. 

She trains in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, one lap is five km, then press repeat. Kavanagh jogs here and mixes jogging with walking for the races.

Watching her stride through the grounds quickly disabuses you of the thought walking is somehow easier. Colourful trainers hit the ground quickly, arms swing and she’s full steam ahead.

“It’s 26 miles whether you are walking or running. I’d be jogging for about the first half, then walking and jogging. This is my passion, I’m competing against myself so I’m not against anyone,” Kavanagh says.

She jokes she has no ambition to beat Paula Radcliffe and mentions how grateful she is not to have arthritis quite a few times as she talks.

“I have had problems at the end of a race. My feet get very sore. I don’t know if it is arthritis or what, I don’t really want to know what it’s about,” she says. “I don’t want to be told to finish running.”

New York

And while she no longer trains with a club, Kavanagh has enough regular marathons on her list to have made a kind of running family. She first went to New York for the 1999 race and has been back nine times fundraising for the Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.

She says “it’s a great buzz” getting advice from the likes of Eamon Coughlan when the fund-raising  compete.

“And one year when I was about six miles in, I heard that Paula Radcliffe has just won the women’s race, it’s brilliant knowing you are on the same route as someone like that,” Kavanagh says, dismissing any suggestion she herself might be an inspiration to anyone.

Dublin is another favourite route with six clocked up already, and one more planned as part of her 12 marathons in 12 months for 2012 campaign.

Choosing the races for this year was difficult. Kavanagh says she didn’t want to spend a lot of money on long flights – joking she doesn’t have it anyhow – and also wanted to run close to home for her family and friends.

Sitting inside for coffee, she perches lightly on the edge of the sofa and talks excitedly about the possibilities, the events she could have picked.

12 in 12 in 12

Finding a marathon to run in January and February was difficult Kavanagh says, as her budget meant running mostly in Europe.

So like many Irish people in January, she headed for the Canary Islands. But unlike most people, she ran two laps of Las Palmas with 472 other marathoners.

She says with a grin she hadn’t gone there to win, but finishing with a police escort for the final lap hadn’t been on the plan either.

“I finished it and I was last. I got more cheering than the winners, and I wasn’t even mortified,” she says.

Marathon Liz Kavanagh Kilkenny Rome Belfast running

In February she sensibly stayed indoors, and convinced her local leisure centre at the Kilkenny Hotel to set up two treadmills. One for her, and one for anyone who wanted to join in.

Kavanagh’s 82-year-old father was one. She did leave a toe-nail behind after over five hours on the treadmill, just like “a real athlete” she says.


The March marathon in Rome started off well, when she joined with the five and half hour pacer and setting off in a chatty group of runners. Maybe too chatty, she says ruefully, showing off a raised bump on her upper lip.

Turns out multi-tasking – running, talking and sight-seeing – doesn’t always work. She took a tumble at the Circo Massimo and finished the race with blood and tissue all over her face. But she did finish, leaving 131 runners trailing behind her … out of 12,679.

April was London and a jog with a 101 year-old-man, Fauja Singh, who has been described as the oldest marathon runner ever.

“He started running when he was 85, and he’s only a small man too. It’s clearly better than sitting on the couch and getting obese,” she says.

She managed to overtake him.

Finishing in just under six hours, her Facebook page lists runners who passed her including rhinos, a Big Ben and a jar of marmite.


May’s marathon in Belfast doesn’t get quite the same glowing review.

“That was horrible, it didn’t stop raining the whole marathon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit,” she says, shuddering just a little. And that is all she has to say about six hours of misery.

A month later Kavanagh packed her bra and headed for The Moonwalk in Edinburgh – walking marathon distance under starter’s orders at midnight with everyone wearing pink Breast-Cancer-awareness bras. Boys too.

“They give you a bra and T-shirt but then the heavens opened up. So everyone got a cape too, I had the cape and a hat. People were just going hell-for-leather through the streets with people coming out from the pubs to cheer us on,” she says.

She subconsciously rubs her arms as she remembers hitting 4am and being tired, really tired and cold with only clouds for company.
Marathon Liz Kavanagh Kilkenny Rome Belfast running

UltraMarathon South Africa

Perhaps knowing she had done something much harder kept her going. In 2006 Kavanagh and a few friends ran The Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. That’s a small matter of 56 kms (35 miles) around Haut Bay and a few hills in Capetown.

“It was beautiful, and I was able to look around, I was going that slowly. It was really good. I enjoyed that one, no rain there,” she says.

“I was last into the stadium, it was a great buzz. The others were waiting on the track, holding the Irish flag for me. I crossed the line wrapped in the flag. That was the month I turned 50,” she says.

She tells the story like it’s no big deal, like anyone could do it except, of course, they don’t.

Finishing her coffee, she talks again about the buzz of planning marathons. You might think doing 12 this year would dampen her enthusiasm.

But as she lights up talking about the North Pole race, you know she’ll be wearing a groove in the castle gardens for some time yet. 

This piece originally appeared in the Irish Independent's FitMag.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

History of women at the Olympics

"Women haven’t always been welcome at the Olympics, for reasons of decorum, menstruation and the real fear of them turning into men – but times have changed .... "

That is the start of a story I have out today in The Irish Times, follow the link below to the piece. Worth reading to see how far we have come but how much more we still have to do. And they have included some great shots of sportswomen struggling away in full corset, long skirts and boaters.

"Football is quite unsuitable for females" and other adventures ... 

(and yes in spite of my cynicism, I LOVED the opening ceremony, watched it with my housemates, four nationalities between a gang of us and all so emotional to see 'our' teams. brilliantly played Danny Boyle.)


Friday, July 20, 2012

Making space for women in Australian Rugby

The Australian Rugby Union now has a woman on board. In an exciting move Ann Sherry moved yesterday from the Australian Sports Commission to the rugby board.

One small step. The SMH quoted chairman Michael Hawker saying: ""The first female director of the Australian Rugby Union (has been appointed) and it shows we're trying to move the governance of the organisation."

And The Australian quoted Sherry pointing out how overdue this decision is. "It's always a very strong signal of change in organisations that have not had women involved before," she said. "It just flags that rugby is fit for the 21st century. I'm really pleased to have the chance to be the person who cracks that change.

"It's a great signal to the women who love and follow rugby as well that it's not closed to them."

This clip is from a Canadian rugby match (would you believe I couldn't find an interesting clip from Australia? Hmm, long way to go ...)


Monday, July 16, 2012

Katie Taylor's final Olympic preparations

The Olympic countdown continues with just 11 days to go before the Oopening Ceremony in London.

We're not expecting too many medals in Ireland, but boxer Katie Taylor is packing a lot of hope into her suitcases. She's battening down the hatches and getting rid of annoyances like pesky journos, click on the poster below to go Newstalk's website for her final pre-Olympics interview.

Best quote: "The wildcards, they gave them out the right girls I think. I'm delighted for those girls because I want to be boxing the best in the competition."

When you get there - Katie Taylor's last interview before the Olympic Games - turn the volume RIGHT UP as Taylor is very softy-spoken.


Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Pure Magic kiting over the waves

Every now and then I get to mix work with sport. I have a piece in this week's FIT magazine about kite-surfing, and spoke to Catherine Etienne, one of the few female riders in Ireland. That's Etienne in the pic below, with her part of the article underneath that again. 

And this is what I learned from her: 

On Dollymount Strand in Dublin, Frenchwoman Catherine Etienne explains the kite has to be at 12’clock on that semi-circle shape when you start. The kite hangs there – parked as Roche says – and only picks up power when you drop it down. Into the ‘power zone’, obviously.

The next lesson is just called ‘body-dragging’. Etienne says the key to having fun here is keeping warm.

“There are different thickness of wetsuit but generally people wear the 5mm all year round and in the winter add a neoprene vest underneath. In the summer the water can be quite warm so when it’s eight degrees like now, you don’t feel the cold as much as you think in the water,” she says.

Eight degrees – yes, welcome to an Irish summer. But she says the wind always blows and that’s what counts.

Etienne came to Ireland on Erasmus six years ago but fell in love with the winds on Dollymount and never left.

“It’s probably not the image of the Caribbean but it’s actually the perfect spot. Flat water, shallow water, good wind all year round and a very good community,’ she says, in the Pure Magic shop which doubles up as a meeting-place for Dublin’s riders and wanna-be riders.

One of the sports unwritten commandments is talking to other riders to find out about wind currents or water hazards. This gives a real communal feel to the sport says Etienne.

The third lesson is when you get introduced to the board. And this is where it gets fun.

Yes, lots of fun but lots of hard work too. Holding the kite upright requires solid core-strength, instructors tell you to relax your shoulders so the power comes from your core.

Your legs are working as hard as on a surf-board to stay balanced while your arms are at full-stretch against the wind. But don’t rush to the gym to load up on weights as Mother Nature expects high levels of flexibility.

And like most sports, the more you do the more you will build up the physical skills you need. Swimming is pretty important for beginners as you do spend a lot of time rescuing the kite and starting over … and over and over. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Coming round the mountain on her bike

When Agata Tamulewicz first took up mountain biking she thought paying a thousand euros for a bike was crazy. That was then …

The Polish woman has lived in Ireland for nearly five years and first got into mountain biking (or MTB as they say in the crew) in her search for a hobby in her new country.

“To be honest I couldn’t really get what people saw in cycling in circles. For me a bike was something that could carry me from point A to B faster than my legs, and that was all. After the first year in Ireland however, I felt that it was the time to do something more. I probably saw somebody on a mountain bike and it appealed to my imagination,” she says.

Not that she was exactly sedentary with a history of hiking, rock-climbing and survival camps behind her. That sporty background meant she went all in with the MTB, buying her first bike - a light-blue Ladies Giant Yukon €450 – before she ever hit the trails.

Tamulewicz says: “I convinced my flatmate to buy a bike as well and a week later we went for our first biking adventure to Ballinastoe in Wicklow. There we met MAD (Mountaibiking Association of Dublin), a bunch of friendly people who took care of us and invited us to join the club.”

Four years later she’s still in love with it.

Maybe one of the reasons it’s so easy to love is there is so much variety, it’s not really just one sport.

Tamulewicz has tried quite a few from the standard 90 minute cross-country race to 12-hour races done in pairs. Don’t worry you don’t race for twelve hours, just six taking an hour on and off with your partner, no sweat.

That’s what she was up to this weekend at the Bontrager 24/12 in Plymouth.When she explains, Tamulewicz makes it sound so normal but … well, see what you think:

“The atmosphere is completely different to the standard XC events. You have hundreds of people camping in a big field, with music and barbecues. Hundreds people just like you, doing not entirely sane thing – riding for hours, in daylight and through the night, getting crazily tired but still riding…That insanity is quite bonding.

“You all push to your limits, until you think you can't go any further, but then your friends cheer you up, shout encouragement or sometimes give you a kick in your bum and you find strength somewhere inside you which you didn't know existed. All your problems become tiny, the only thing that matters is to keep pedaling, to climb that next hill, to just finish another lap.

“It's an amazing feeling, incomparable to anything else, some sort of sweaty catharsis.”

She says you can do this race or even a 24-hour event all on your own, but jokes that the ratio of suffering to fun would be too unbalanced for her. Her boyfriend Sean is her plus-one so not too many nights in front of the TV for this couple then.

I had a great chat with Tamulewicz about this mad sport, so you’ll be hearing from her again on keeping your nerve coming down the mountains and tips for finding the perfect bike.
Tamulewicz blogs at: Agata on a Bike  Photos credit: Marcin Koscielny and Keith Wallace

Monday, July 9, 2012

Siobhan Eviston defends 800m title

Eviston just after the race
Siobhan Eviston gave her critics something to think about this weekend - defending her 800m title in great style at the National Track and Field Championships yesterday. 

It was a pretty miserable day - as you can see in the picture there anyone not racing was well wrapped up! But Eviston stuck to her plan, ran a great tactical race and burned everyone off in the final straight. Her time of 2:06:52 was outside her personal best for this distance but  well clear of the rest of the rest of the field. 

And in the end, that is all that counts. Really happy for her as so many people thought last year's victory was a fluke, brilliant to show exactly how hard she works. (and yes, I do know her outside of athletics *diclaimer*) 

Of course lots of other races over the two-day meet, with so many athletes looking for that last-gasp Olympic moment.

Joanne Cuddihy - already heading to London for the 400m and the 4 x 400m relay - won the 400m in 51:89. And drama for her sister Caitriona who had been named on the relay team but a successful appeal by Joanna Mills meant a change-over there. Very upsetting for both women, really Athletics Ireland need to get their house in order.

But hurdler Deval O'Rourke had to pull out of her race after an old injury acted-up during the warm-up. She blogged it last night, seems like she will be ok, read her post here if, like me, you're hoping she will have a great Olympics.

Irish readers can catch up with the races and interviews here. 

Were you at any sports events this weekend?


Friday, July 6, 2012

Top Spin - table tennis to the Olympics

And the final Olympic post of the week is courtesy of Kristy Zhen and the team behind the documentary "Top Spin".

Zhen says: "The film chronicles the inspirational journey of three young table tennis champions as they compete around the world for a place in the London Olympics. We've almost finished filming with just one more shoot left, London. We'll be following two of our stars, Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang, who qualified for their first Olympics at just 16-years-old!

"Our goal is to release the film in early 2013, but we can only do this with your help. We have just launched a Kickstarter campaign. We have until July 19 to raise $75K for post-production."

Enjoy - and if you have a few cents (of any currency) pop over to KickStarter and give them a hand.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Watching "London Calling"

And keeping with the London 2012 theme from yesterday, an Irish TV station is showing a great series at the moment called "London Calling". They've been following a group of athletes from different sports for almost two years as they creep closer and closer to qualification.

Marian Heffernan, 400m runner features in a few episodes with her walker husband Rob  - yes, that's two people in the same household gunning for the Olympics. Plus they have two young children. Heffernan is on the 4 x 400m relay team - blogged about here - with Joanna Cuddihy  - interview here - who just qualified this week for London.
Paralymic cyclist Catherine Walsh was up last week, interview with her here and a great post from her biking partner Fran Meehan here.

Tonight's episode stars triathlete Aileen Morrison.

And in the next few weeks they talk to Orla Barry preparing for the Paralympic Discus and equestrian Camilla Speirs. 

Doco maker Darragh Bambrick got in touch and said: "We tried to do a 50:50 split gender-wise but in the end more men said Yes than women." 

But considering there are more men than women going overall, it's a great balance really. Unfortunately this can only be seen on RTE (so far?)  but if you reading this from here, it's well worth a watch. 

You can get in touch with Bambrick on

Have you seen any other good Olympic documentaries? 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Women of the Irish Paralympics Team

Fifty-eight days to go to the London Paralympics and all round the world teams are filling up. The Irish team has been fully announced with a couple of the women we've had on here grabbing their place.

This is the full list of the women heading to the Paralympics for Ireland:

Orla Barry

Ladysbridge, Cork
F57 Discus

Ailish Dunne*

Mountmellick, Laois
F11 Discus F11 Shot Put

Heather Jameson*

Garristown, Dublin
T37 100m, T37 200m,
F37 Long Jump

Nadine Lattimore*

Baldoyle, Dublin
F11 Discus, F11 Shot Put

Roberta Connolly

BC2 Mixed Individual,
BC1/2 Mixed Team

Katie-George Dunlevy*

Crawley, UK
Track – WB 1km Time Trial,
WB 3km Individual Pursuit Road,
WB Time Trial, WB Road Race

Sandra Fitzgerald*

Cobh, Cork
Track – WB 1km Time Trial,
WB 3km Individual Pursuit Road,
WB Time Trial, WB Road Race

Fran Meehan*

Kilurin, Offaly
Track – WB 1km Time Trial,
WB 3km Individual Pursuit Road,
WB Time Trial, WB Road Race

Catherine Walsh

Swords, Dublin
Track – WB 1km Time Trial,
WB 3km Individual Pursuit Road,
WB Time Trial, WB Road Race

Eilish Byrne

Drogheda, Louth
Grade II Team Test
Grade II Championship

Geraldine Savage*

Dublin (living in York, UK)
Grade Ia Team Test
Grade Ia Championship

Helen Kearney*

Dunlaven, Wicklow
Grade Ia Team Test
Grade Ia Championship

Sarah Caffrey*

Clonlara, Clare
Mixed Cox Four

Anne Marie McDaid*

Ramelton, Donegal
Mixed Cox Four

Helen Arbuthnot*

Christchurch, UK
Mixed Cox Four

Bethany Firth*

Seaford, Down
S14 200m Freestyle, S14 100m Backstroke,
SB14 100m Breastroke

Ellen Keane

Clontarf, Dublin
SM9 200m Individual Medley,
SB8 100m Breastroke,
S9 100m Butterfly

Eimear Breathnach

Ballinteer Dublin
TT1 Singles,
TT1-3 Team

Rena McCarron-Rooney

Buncrana, Donegal
TT2 Singles,
TT1-3 Team

And even though we all know that it's a huge honour to step up and represent at this event, winning is always nice too. Paralympics Ireland put out this release with the full list:

"Five reigning world champions will line up for Team Ireland – athletics’ Michael McKillop and Catherine O’Neill, plus cyclists Mark Rohan, Catherine Walsh and Colin Lynch. McKillop and fellow track star Jason Smyth will also defend the Paralympic titles they won at Beijing 2008. In addition, Ireland will compete for the first time ever in the sports of shooting and rowing at the Games."

The men and women together are listed here on Paralympics Ireland.