Marna with her family and medal after the 2016 Dublin Marathon; husband Bernard, and their daughters, Bianca and Nicola.

Running Matters One:2:One with Marna Groenewald

By Martin Lyons –

Name: Marna Groenewald

DOB: September 28, 1969

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

I think the following – ‘head space’, ‘skinny jeans’, ‘camaraderie’ and having a bit of fun – have all been my motivation for running with the Mullingar Harriers since 2011.

Bernard, Bianca and Nicola, then only six months old, and I moved to Mullingar in November 2002, nearly 20 years ago. I soon realised that emotional eating to deal with the cold, dark, lonely winters is not helpful at all.

Growing up in South Africa, I loved being outdoors and always enjoyed taking part in sports, athletics, netball, squash, tennis, swimming and action cricket.

After getting over the shock of mostly indoor living, colder weather and long dark winter months in Ireland, and through motivation from Bernard and my friend Karen Malherbe, I got myself to ‘put on my runners’ and ‘went out the front door’. I competed in my first 5km race in April 2011, ‘Run with Ray’, which finished in Mullingar Town Park.

My family joined Mullingar Harriers in 2011 and with support and companionship from my close and dear friends, Dearbhail Gibney, Olive McWade, Ger Langtry, Joanna McDonnell and Michelle Kavanagh, (just to name a few), I went on to do two Dublin Marathons, on October 28, 2013 and October 30, 2016, and a couple of half marathons also.

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

I thoroughly enjoy the Sunday morning Mullingar Harriers long runs, ranging from eight to 22 miles, depending on the upcoming race and professional training programme, provided by Colm Walsh, our coach.

This Good Weather Athlete, (originally from sunny South Africa) realised with a shock that rain, hail, snow, sleet or fog are no excuse not to run. They just adds to the ‘craic’ and the banter, and as I learned from my running friends ‘You just get on with it’!

Although tough at times, the sense of achievement, the meaningful chats with friends (substitute family) and the bonus coffee at Belvedere House and Gardens after the long runs, is the best way to end a busy stressful week. I highly recommended it.

My least favourite type of training is the hill training on the cross country field at Belvedere, but as with most things in life, you have to take the sour with the sweet, so thankfully the beautiful scenery from the top of the hill and the coffee with friends after make up for the tough parts!

My favourite race distance is 13.1 miles, the half marathon.

Dingle Half Marathon 2018, reward time! Michelle Kavanagh, Marna Groenewald, Dearbhail Gibney, Ger Langtry, Joanna McDonnell and Aine O’Reilly, Mullingar Harriers, enjoying post race refreshments outside The Snug.

What running achievements are you most proud of and why?

For me, it is all about the race experience. Driving down with friends, sharing the jitters before the start, knowing there will be a friendly face next to you, in front of you and at the finish line, with no judgement.

Finishing the race, and not necessarily the time it took me to finish the race, is really what matters to me.

Although there are extremely talented and driven athletes in Mullingar Harriers, they are always supportive of non-competitive athletes like me.

I am living proof that Mullingar Harriers is open to all athletes, of all abilities and not just top performers.

What I lack in ability, I make up for with diligence and sense of adventure.

I am extremely proud of finishing two Dublin Marathons.

I completed my first half-marathon in Galway 2012 and really enjoyed the Galway atmosphere.

The Connemara Half Marathons, in 2013 and 2014, were both unique and challenging experiences.

I remember thinking at mile 11, how I am going to get up this mountain (we surely don’t have mountains in the midlands), and then Gerry Duffy, doing the ultramarathon, ran past me and shouted encouragement.

After that, I had no choice but to get up that mountain.

The Connemara scenery is surreal, mind blowing, and it provides food for my soul. Connemara also reminds me, strangely enough, of the vegetation on Table Mountain at Cape Town.

The highlight of my running experiences was the Dingle Half Marathon in 2018.

Dingle was buzzing with athletes from all over. The running route had breathtaking sea and mountain views and traditional music performances along the route, all which complemented the hugely enjoyable experience.

Having a well deserved pint at the finish line and the ‘craic’ with the Mullingar Harriers gang at 11.30am was so much fun.

Tasty fresh fish and chips as a recovery meal on the pavement back in Dingle kept us going for the grand finale; dinner and a night out in Dingle, to complete the unique memorable experience with friends.

Mullingar Harriers athletes after the Dingle half marathon, September 2018; (back) David McDonnell, Marna Groenewald, Gerr Langtry, Joanna McDonnell, and Aine and Eamon O’Reilly; (front) Dearbhail Gibney and Michelle Kavanagh.

List your current PBs.

5k: 24.59, ‘Pat Finnerty Memorial’ Mullingar Road League, Belvedere, 2017.

10 Mile: 01:32:38. Mullingar 10 Mile, July 28, 2018, Dalystown.

Half marathon: 1:55:37, AON Mullingar Half Marathon, March 17, 2017.

Full Marathon: 04:23:14, Airtricity Dublin Marathon, October 12, 2013.

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

Training is more difficult because I am doing it on my own and I miss the social interaction with my friends.

I am just so thankful that we can still go for a run, even if it is within a 5km radius.

Being active during the lockdowns grounds me and helps me to cope.

Lockdown has also made me take up cycling again and it reminded me that I actually enjoy running, even though it is tough at times.

Running events will be back in the future and Covid-19 has just made me more appreciative of all the amazing running events we have available in scenic Ireland.

Covid-19 has definitely motivated me to do more running events in the future.

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

Go for it! You have nothing to lose. (Except for maybe a few stubborn pies, like me!). I’ll repeat the valuable advice given to me, ‘put on your runners and open the front door’.

Join a running group. I can highly recommend Mullingar Harriers, because you will meet remarkable people and make lifelong friends.

Running in a group makes it that bit easier and following Colm’s structured training programme will take you along on your individual ‘running - life journey’.

Running, cycling, lake swimming (in the summer only) and hiking are my coping mechanism in life, and they ahve helped me through some rough patches along the way.

What are your lifetime goals and/or PBs?

I don’t really have PB goals set. I would just like to improve my overall running pace, stay injury-free and keep on doing what I enjoy and create memorable experiences along the way.

A long-term goal is to do a half marathon in every county of Ireland.

I would also like to complete a few triathlons, for example, Lough Key Triathlon, and hopefully continue to do a Half-Iron Man/Lady.

Cycling the Ring of Kerry is also a lifetime goal for me, since we received our Irish Citizenship in a ceremony in Killarney – cycling the Ring of Kerry would will bring it all Full Circle for me.

What is your favourite post race meal?

Toasted Irish Brown Soda bread, with avocado and poached eggs and a well deserved americano.

My most memorable post race drink was a glass of Guinness, after my first Dublin Marathon in 2013. Honestly, it saved my life!