Dundalk athlete, JIM GONNELLY, continues to compete, and plans to run his 600th race this year. But it’s as a coach that he devotes most of his time, schooling runners attached to the North East Runners.
Why do you run?
If I stayed at home, Julia, my wife, would hand me a paint brush; running is more fun, healthier and easier
You keep meticulous records of your races – how many have you competed in?
I record every race and training session; close to 75,000 miles covered. 589 races.
Over which distances?
100m to marathons. My favourite distance is 5km.
Remember you first race?
August 1980, Meadow Grove Sportsday 100m. Mark Mulholland beat me, and again the following year.
Your first major win?
Leinster Track Championships 5km, 1990, 15mins 35secs.
...and the biggest?
A 10km road race in Holland 2001 from a field of 400. My greatest achievement was in 1999. I won all three races in Santry Stadium series over 5km (15.38), 10km (32.39) and one mile (4.32) on consecutive weekends. The mile gave me most satisfaction as I wasn’t favourite over the short distance. Also, it was the first time I beat one of my running heroes and club-mate, Eamonn McMahon.
The best you competed against?
That’s the great thing about running, you can stand on the start line with World and Olympic champions. I rubbed shoulders on the start lines with Paul Tergat, Ismael Kirui, Kenenisa Bekele. But toughest competitor was Newry’s Willie MacCracken.
Your first club?
Dowdallshill AC, 1983-1985, and then Dundealgan AC, 1986 to 1998.
Your memories of ‘Mr Dundealgan’, Joe Harkins?
Joe gave so much of his time to athletics, and for so long. He never lost his enthusiasm for the sport; it was his life. So many who passed through the Dundealgan club are indebted to him.
Where are you today?
North East Runners, since October 1998. We have a 5km run/walk/jog on June 28 to honour one of our founder-members Alec Fennell, who passed away in 2005 at just 42.
Your role there?
I’ve become a sort of coach/advisor over the past 3-4 years.
Nothing formal, just experience gained over the past 33 years and running with local legends such as Eamonn McMahon, ‘Ceefax’ and Tony Hartigan.
How many under your care?
Tuesday nights are the biggest, where up to 70 attend the training sessions.
Where do you meet for training?
At the moment we use St Helena’s Park, but it’s not really suitable for group running. We run on the road when possible, but that’s not suitable for the numbers we have. The by-pass and riverbank are packed each evening, but of course in the winter there is no light. Ice House Hill is a regular place for me, lovely park but again no lights or access during winter.
You were at The Furry Glen?
A long-established running area, but that’s now out of use as the Grammar School have fenced their area. Sometimes it feels like runners are not welcome anywhere. Dundalk needs an athletics track and suitable parkland area to attract youngsters to the sport.
Who’s to blame?
Government agencies, as they should plan better where the funding is spent. Marian Park and Muirhevnamor parks are good, but would have been planned better with input from all likely to use the facilities.
Yes, I’m still logging the miles and competing in races, although at a slower pace. I will hit number event No 600 later this year.
Have you competed abroad?
I ran in the biggest race in the world in Spokane, USA - 48,000 in the Lilac Bloomsday 12km road race. While on holidays I look for races. I once ran a race in France where the winner got his weight in jars of fish soup, 64 of them.
Are schools doing enough for athletics?
No, not at all. I remember schools sportsdays. Now health and safety doesn’t allow the sack and obstacle races.
Soccer with Bay United until I was 13/14. I compete at indoor rowing using Concept2 machines - second in last year’s Irish Championships. Great alternative to running when the weather is too wet.
Ever been to the Olympics?
Closest I got was running the Athens Marathon in 1996 for the 100th anniversary of the first modern Olympics. It finished in the original Olympic stadium.
The greatest of all-time?
Paul Tergat (Kenya), five-time world cross-country champion, 10km record-holder, Silver in two Olympics. I reference his training sessions and we try to copy on Tuesdays.
Ever meet a world-class athlete?
Several, but Eamonn Coghlan, while he was in town for Dundalk 10km and Half-Marathon, is an amazing man to talk with.
Ne’er a truer word was spoken?
Hugh Conway, from The Pats tug-o’-war and rowing club is a great coach and motivator. His favourite saying is: “If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it”.
Your words of wisdom for young athletes?
Don’t do too much too soon and listen to advice. Work hard, but enjoy it.
To keep beating younger runners, go for a run on my 80th birthday, and run a marathon with my son, Séamus (he doesn’t know that yet!).
Your best read?
Eamonn Coghlan’s autobiography; bought it after I met him.
Invite four to dinner.
It would have to be a take-away. Lance Armstrong, Jennifer Lopez, Gerry O’Connell (he can talk all night about anything) and my wife of 27 years Julia (someone would need to do the washing up!).
Something about you that might amuse us
I was almost arrested in Madrid because of running. I saw a nice park so I jumped the wall and ran around. Two policemen, with guns, approached me the second time around, and escorted me out of King Juan Carlos’ palace garden.