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

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

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 and face­

Pic­ture: Claire Jenk­in­son

MARATHON WOMAN: Mary Nolan-Hickey stops off at Round­stone, Co Gal­way, dur­ing her ground­break­ing 103-day run.

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