Running Matters One:2:One with Michelle Cox

Interview by Martin Lyons []

For this edition of Running Matters, Martin Lyons has interviewd a lady steeped in horse racing royalty, with links stretching all the way back to Mullingar, through her great grandfather and champion amateur rider, Cecil Brabazon.

Cecil was a Mullingar native and would also go on to become one of the first top dual purpose trainers in the world, training three Irish grand national winners, two Galway plate and two Galway Hurdle winners, as well as a 2000 Guineas and St Leger winner in ‘Beau Sabreur’, the same horse who would also become the first Irish trained runner in Prix de I’Arc de Triomphe.

Cecil’s son Aubrey is regarded as one of top professionals of his, or indeed any era, winning numerous grade 1 races for trainers such as legendary Vincent O’Brien, (with whom he worked closely for many years), including three Cheltenham gold cups on ‘Cottage Rake’ and two Champion hurdles on ‘Hatton’s Grace’.

He also rode a couple of classic winners on the flat in the same season as his Cheltenham triumphs, a feat almost impossible!

Michelle’s late father John Cox, more affectionately known as ‘Bunny’ in racing circles, became one the best amateurs riders of the more modern era and rode his first winner aged just 13, in 1938.

He would win the amateur title an unprecedented five times, including a tie with Francis Flood in 1958 and retired from the saddle in 1972, one of all time greats.

The Legendary professional jump jockey Martin Molony described him as “the best amateur rider I ever saw”.

Cox won the national hunt chase at Cheltenham in successive years on ‘Pontage‘ in 1953 and ‘Quare Times’ in 1954.

In 1949 Bunny rode four winners on the same card at the Punchestown festival, a feat which would not be equalled until 1990, by Tommy Carmody.

Bunny also knew how to bred them, and Michelle became a tidy apprentice and later amateur rider and work rider herself.

She took up running at a young age, which was inevitable on a busy farm, but only joined the local running club in Dundalk at 17, before focusing on the horses for a good few years.

After retiring from the saddle and studying a business studies degree in Dublin, she moved to the Curragh to work, and became a member of Newbridge AC around 2010 and quickly found a niche for distance running, with a maiden marathon time of 3hrs and 24min in Dublin 2011, a time many fail to reach over their whole careers.

Like many, she found her times began to fade, around 2015, and she needed a fresh start. This is where she joined forces with top coaches Ian and Teresa Wilson and from that day on she began not only to get more efficient and faster, but to enjoy her running again.

In 2018 she ran for Ireland in the European masters championships in Alicante and won a team silver medal.

As you’re about to read, she has many more lofty goals set for the future, along with being a part-time sports masseuse and full-time mother, she hopes to keep inspiring her own family to be the best she can be and would like to have a crack at numerous PBs, including a sub 3hr marathon attempt, and no doubt with a pedigree as pristine as hers, she will give it everything she has and more.


When did you start running and what motivated you take it up?

As a child I always enjoyed running. In primary school I looked forward to sports day as I loved the challenge of beating all the boys in my class. My Dad, John (Bunny) Cox (RIP), was a racehorse trainer and farmer so I grew up on a busy farm. It was inevitable there would be little or no time for activities other than working on the farm or riding horses.

I was in my early teens when I finally got the opportunity to join a local running club, St Peter’s in Dundalk. I competed competitively for a short time. When I turned 17 I began race riding for my Dad, first as an apprentice, then later as an amateur.

After I retired from the saddle and finished college I began working in the Curragh, where I joined Newbridge Athletic Club. In 2010 I began competing in road races. I enjoyed it so much that I challenged myself to complete the Dublin City marathon. I surprised myself by completing it in a respectable time of 3:24. After the marathon was out of my system, I decided to challenge myself on the shorter distances, in order to try and quicken my times.

Year on year I was improving, until May 2015 when my times began to stagnate and I stopped enjoying it as much. Soon after, I was lucky enough to have been introduced to two good coaches, husband and wife team Ian and Teresa Wilson, who kindly agreed to coach me – and I could not recommend them highly enough. Before long I was back running faster than ever and enjoying it more than ever before.

What is your favourite and least favourite type of training and your favourite race distance?

Speed intervals such as 20x200 metres or 10x400 with short recoveries between each. I enjoy these sessions as no matter how tired I feel during each rep, I look forward to my regular recoveries. When I reach my goal pace for the session, I always feel a great sense of achievement.

Tempo runs are my least favourite. This is where you’re running as close to race pace as possible over approximately the race distance. I find it so difficult to push myself to keep going without the adrenaline of race day. Also, I usually end up doing these runs alone, which makes it even more difficult. My favourite race distances are 3k and 5k. Nice mixture of speed and stamina!

What running achievements are you most proud of and why?

The first time I ever ran a 10k, in the Dublin Women’s Mini marathon. I couldn’t believe I could run the whole thing without stopping and it was a great buzz! Another would be winning my first 5k race back, nine weeks after giving birth to twins in 2012.

Going on from that, every time I have ran a PB, every race I have won, every time I know I have tried my best, even if it was not quite good enough – as long as I learn something from my race, as that in itself is an achievement. Every one of my various Leinster and national medals.

More recently, being part of the Irish team at the European Masters Athletics Championships in Alicante, Spain, in 2018. our team won silver, my first European medal. Hopefully the first of many!

List your PBs:

1 mile: 5:20, Road Time Trial, July 2018

3k: 10:31, National League, June 2018,

5k: 17:32, Jingle Bells 5k, December 2018

10k: 36:53, Annagassan 10k, November 2017

Half marathon: 1:28.0, Laois, November 2014

Full marathon: 3:24.0, Dublin City Marathon 2011

What are your running goals for the next 12 months?

I’ve been injured this year, and I got married to the love of my life, Fergus O’Toole, in August (who I am proud to say has this year won an overall bronze medal in the National Triathlon Championships for his age category).

To be honest, I’m just trying to get myself back training consistently before I think too far into the future. I will use the cross country season to get fit and hopefully primed for the National Masters Cross Country in February, before concentrating on the indoors.

All going well, I am considering racing in the European Masters Championships, in Portugal in March and April 2020. I would like to chase up another European medal.

What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to take up running?

Join a club and get a good coach. Be consistent with your training and the results will come. Like everything in life, you only get out of it what you put into it. Decide on a goal, such as a local 5k.

One of my favourite 5ks in the country is Castlepollard. It’s a lovely race to target and the course is suitable for everyone, from beginner to elite. It always attracts a good crowd and they put on a great spread of tea, sandwiches and home baked cakes afterwards! Unfortunately, I was unable to race it this year due to injury. I hope to be back again next year.

What are your lifetime goals and PBs for the following distances (where applicable): 1 mile: 5k: 10k: 10 mile: half marathon: Full marathon?

I want to be able to look back on my life and have no regrets. I plan to be the best that I can be. I want to be a good role model, particularly for my children, one of whom at only six years old, has become passionate about athletics.

I want to better my times in every distance from 3k on the track to hopefully achieving a sub 3hr marathon in few years. I want to win as many Leinster, national and European medals as possible and work towards one day winning a world medal. dream, believe, achieve. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

What is your favourite postrace meal?

Roast Beef dinner with all the trimmings would be ideal, followed by sticky toffee pudding and ice cream!

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