Lap of the Irish map
Margaret Jennings talks to Mary Nolan-Hickey who is about to complete an epic charity run around the entire coast, becoming the first woman to do so
SHE will be collecting her first state pension payment in June, but 65year-old Mary Nolan-Hickey, who on New Year’s Day embarked on a 1,500-mile charity run around the whole coast of Ireland, decided to do so on a whim, rather than tick an overdue item on her bucket list.
“No, it just came into my head the year before last. I decided because I was going to become a pensioner I wanted to do something big and this popped into my head, that I’d run one ‘lap of the map’, though it sounds crazy!” she tells Feelgood.
Crazy or not — and as we all know, having endured unseasonably crazy weather conditions — the runner is due to land back where she started tomorrow, in her native Arklow, 103 days after she began, having successfully completed the gruelling challenge.
“I will be glad to see if my house is still standing and my business still running,” jokes the owner of the Lake Coffee Shop, in the town.
Having raised over €28,000 for the RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea, Mary was also celebrating another marker: Half a century of running. She started out as a competitive athlete at age 15.
Aside from being the only woman to have ever run around the Irish coast, Mary is also the only female to have completed all the 38 Dublin City Marathons, since she first participated at the age of 27.
Running has served Mary well not just in keeping her so physically fit through the decades, but also emotionally. “I always say it’s really good for your mental health as well to get out and go for a run. I started as an athlete without thinking about the emotional side of it, but it has definitely helped through difficult times, rather than turn to say drugs or whatever. It definitely helps to just go for a run with your friends or by yourself; you can get a lot of things sorted out on a long run,” she says.
Her own running group in Arklow is “more like a therapy group” where they all share their “losses and break-ups and suicides and the whole lot” as they run their troubles off. Mary herself has found solace within the running community as well as from her lifelong friends, when times have been tough, including the tragic loss of her 20-year-old son Stewart over two decades ago.
“You either go up or you go down and I’ve known other women in my area who’ve lost their children and they all end up being strong women because I think your decision at the time is ‘that’s it... I will never smile or laugh or joke again’, but you do, you get on with it. You never get over it, but you learn to live with it.
“It is tough but you decide to get up and go on or throw the towel in and I’m too curious about life — I love life, so I chose to go on and enjoy life as much as possible.”
Mary likes the odd drink, has a very sweet tooth, has never had “a healthy clean diet”, and says she’s not obsessed about staying fit. “I don’t have to train seven days a week. Probably I only run two or three days a week, but I crosstrain, do a bit of swimming, and other stuff; it’s just part of my lifestyle now.”
She has been separated 30 years from husband Tony, though they remain “in a decent relationship, friends-wise”, and she has no intention of marrying again. “That doesn’t mean if some nice chap comes along I won’t take him up on that, but no, I won’t be getting married again,” she says. “I’m so independent though it would be very hard to live with me now. I like doing my own things and my own way of life and no one would put up with me, let’s put it that way!”
Her sons, Calvin, 29, and Tony, in his early 40s, have been following their hardy mum’s progress over the 14 weeks, along with her entourage of supporters back home who organised her accommodation and food stops along the route. Most of the way she has had some company, people in the area joining her for a spell. “It’s been an amazing adventure. I’ve met the most wonderful people. The coastal communities are so friendly and as far as I’m concerned community is still very strong in good ol’ Ireland. It’s very uplifting to experience.
“The run was very hard to do — I had horrific weather conditions. But every time I came into an area — it’s like giving birth; I forgot it all... I got such a welcome and a cup or tea and cake!”
It will be hard to settle back, admits Mary. But tomorrow her own community will be welcoming her home with open arms.
You can check out Mary’s details and donate to the RNLI at rnlilapofthemap.com/ and facebook.com/rnlilapofthemap2018/
MARATHON WOMAN: Mary Nolan-Hickey stops off at Roundstone, Co Galway, during her groundbreaking 103-day run.