John Donohue, running with Paul Byrne during the 10 mile race in Dalystown Mullingar, in July 2018.

Running Matters - One:2:One with Paul Byrne

By Martin Lyons

This week I’m interviewing a local man who started running a few years ago to get himself fit and more importantly at that time, healthy. Paul Byrne decided to tackle the JFK 50-mile challenge after reading about it in this paper and quickly found himself immersed in the fitness buzz.

Since then he has gone from strength to strength and faced many challenges successfully, including the Dublin marathon, a dream he thought up during a course in college.

Paul also has many good nuggets of wisdom for those starting running. His personal bests and achievements to date are certainly impressive, especially considering where he has come from and there is no doubt his running and fitness journey is not over yet, in many ways it’s only beginning.

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

The motivation came at Christmas 2016 when my better half presented me with a voucher for Weight Watchers as a Christmas present. I was over 19st (13.7 now) at the time and the doctor had advised me I was pre-diabetic, among other issues. I was unhappy and did not intend to use the voucher!

I remember reading an article where local man John McManus from Fore had run the Moylough JFK 50 mile, and I thought if John ran it, I could walk it.

I got the lycra on and started to train, walking 10 miles and up as far as 20 miles on weekends and nights.

I started to get fitter and ran my first mile at Easter 2017, aged 49, and that started my passion for running. I was 11th man home having run most of the 50-mile that June. I went on that year to run the Athlone Flatline and Longford half marathons.

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

I am the type of person who enjoys training. I do not need any motivation. I respond well to structure and planned training, from hill reps to 400s on the track, I really enjoy them all.

Least enjoyable would probably be the 20-miler on Sunday afternoons when training for full marathons, Dublin Marathon usually.

My favourite race distance is the half marathon – it keeps you on your toes and it also leaves you on a nice training load, with good quality miles in the legs.

What running achievements are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of having run a marathon. I recall my father training to run the Dublin Marathon when I was a young man and often dreamed I would one day run one (bucket list stuff).

Then, in January 2017 while doing a course in AIT we were asked to write down a goal. Mine was to run a marathon. Some found this amusing given the weight I was carrying, and I’m an ex-smoker, but in 2018 I ran Belfast and Dublin in 4 hours and 3 hours 50 minutes respectively. That was a satisfying accomplishment.

List your current PBs for the following distances.

5k, I have run 5k in under 21 minutes, usually during a longer race or in training, but I generally do not run under 10k in training or races.

10k, in April 2018, I did my 10k PB during the ‘Run With Catherina’ (McKiernan). My time was 45mins 18secs. It was an enjoyable event, celebrating 20 years since her London marathon win.

10 miles, Naas, March 1, 2020, 1hr 14mins 49sec.

Half marathon, Mullingar, 1hr 38mins, March 2018.

Full marathon, Dublin, October 2019, 3hr 45mins.

How have the Covid-19 restrictions affected your training or racing plans?

Covid-19 has been a challenging time for everyone, and for all athletes, at all levels. I use challenging times like this to focus on weaker areas.

For instance, I picked up an Achilles injury in 2018, so during that time I challenged myself to learn how to swim and also to use strength and conditioning, to be as fit as I could when I recovered.

Then when Covid-19 arrived I chose to cross-train with the bike, to swim and to run. I wound it all back by about 35% on effort to avoid injury, especially since there are no races on the horizon.

Also, as a front-line worker with Home Instead Senior Care, I have found running to be a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day and it really helps in taking your mind off the worries of the modern world and Covid-19 in general.

What advice or training tips would you give to anyone who is now looking to take up running?

Firstly to get a high quality, good-fit running shoe. Secondly join a local running group or get a regular running buddy, and last but not least, be patient with pacing as the body needs time to get accustomed to the demands of running.

I usually try to run 70 percent of my weekly runs easy and 30 percent hard, to include reps. Enjoy the journey and all the great people you will meet on the way.

What are your lifetime goals and/or PBs?

My lifetime goals are I think, achievable. A sub 20min 5k, a 43min 10k, a 1hr 30min half marathon and a sub 3hr 30min marathon.

In 2019 I completed a sprint triathlon, as well as the half Iron Man distance and I hope within the next two years, depending on Covid-19, to complete a full Ironman.

What is your favourite post race meal?

My favourite post-race meal is a burrito from Freshii, with my friends, usually on the way back from the Dublin marathon, in the Applegreen on the N4!