Sinéad Bracken after completing her virtual Dublin marathon in Kilbeggan last year.

'I'm grateful for every run I get to do'

Martin Lyons talks to keen local marathoner Sinéad Bracken, who is an advocate of the many benefits, mental and physical, of running.

Sinéad’s inspiration to run was a focus on making herself as healthy as she could. It’s fair to say the Kilbeggan woman has succeeded, and she now successfully juggles a busy working life with her passion for long distance running. Sinéad plans more running adventures (maybe even an ultra marathon in the future) and, in many ways, her running story is only just beginning.

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

A: I work as a lecturer in psychology at Athlone Institute of Technology, mostly to general and psychiatric nursing students, but in 2012 I was asked to lecture to second year students in the BSc in Sports Science. Around the same time my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (which we later discovered was a devastating neurological disorder called Lewy Body Disease). I became aware of how important fitness was for health and wellbeing and started out by doing couch to 5k by myself in 2012, with a goal to complete a half marathon in 2013! That’s when I caught the running bug.

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

A: I like a little bit of speedwork in training sessions, but in general shorter distances are not my favourite. I find 5km races hard and less rewarding than longer distances.

Without a doubt, my favourite distance is the marathon. The sense of accomplishment is enormous and it has made me a much stronger person to push through the tiredness and pain and come out the other side smiling!

Q: What running achievements are you most proud of and why?

A: For six years I had run the Dublin Marathon, but in 2020 it became a virtual event. Less than two weeks before I was due to run it with a small group of friends on the Athlone-Mullingar greenway, the second lockdown was announced, including the 5km restriction. I ended up having to run a full marathon on my own in my 5km radius! I live between Kilbeggan and Tyrrellspass so I mapped out a route that took me as far as I could in each direction. Compared to the crowds and atmosphere in Dublin, it wasn’t the same buzz finishing up at the church car park in Kilbeggan, but it is one I will always be proud of! When I look at my medals hanging up at home, I always feel I can tackle anything.

Q: List your current PBs for the following distances...

A: 5 mile - 41.32, Charlie Curran Memorial, Carlow (January 27, 2019).

10 mile - 1.23.48, Trim AC 10-mile (February 2, 2020).

Half marathon - 1.50.10, Lough Boora Half Marathon (April 7, 2019).

Full marathon - 4.11.16, Dublin Marathon (October 30, 2016).

Ultra marathon - None yet, but never say never!

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

A: I have found the current lockdown the toughest of all. I miss my running friends so much. We don’t just meet to run – we chat, we laugh and we share good and bad times. I am not a member of an athletics club, but because I work in Athlone, I used to train there a lot with Moate Athlone Running Group (MARG). We would meet on Mondays and Wednesdays in the evenings and every Sunday morning we did a long run. We have a WhatsApp group where we motivate each other and that’s a big help.

I miss meeting friends from all over the county and all over the country at race events nationwide. I used to always have a calendar of events that I signed up to every year and now all that is gone. Running has helped me cope with lockdown in many ways. I never realised my local area had so much to offer and I am grateful to live in such a safe and beautiful place. We are lucky to have such a great road for running from Kilbeggan to Tyrrellspass – and an endless maze of back roads and by-roads, as well as the fantastic new Harbour track in Kilbeggan.

Whatever freedom was taken to comply with restrictions, there was always a way to run. My daughter is a keen golfer and that has been gone completely since December too.

Q: What advice would you give someone thinking of taking up running?

A: If you are waiting for the right time, you’ll be waiting forever. Now is the right time. A couch to 5k app is a great way to start (especially when the current restrictions are in place). From there I really recommend a running group or a club. The support and camaraderie and shared knowledge are fantastic. Try to get out most days for a run – when you least feel like it, that’s when you need it most.

Q: What are your lifetime goals and/or PBs?

A: I would really like to do a 4-hour marathon at some stage. For me, however, running isn’t so much about chasing times, but about getting to run, getting to be healthy and meeting great people. I have done a few runs overseas, including the Madrid marathon and the Liverpool half marathon and I would definitely like to combine travelling and running more.

In 2020, I was due to go to Lanzarote in December with my running pal Sinéad Hegarty from Athlone to celebrate her milestone birthday, but unfortunately everything was cancelled. I’ll be 50 in 2023 – so Lanzarote might be back on the agenda by then!

I’d like to be one of those people who is still running in my 80s – that’s more important to me than any PB. My mam died in 2019 and she had completely lost her ability to swallow, to stand or to move. It made me so grateful for every run I get to do.

I am always encouraging my students to keep active, especially as so many of them are frontline workers. I am passionate about the psychological and mental health benefits of running also. I started a PhD in health psychology in NUI Galway in 2016, but it has taken a back seat with Covid-19. I look forward to completing that too and getting to learn more about the evidence for the benefits of running.

Q: What is your favourite post race meal?

A: Our running group used to meet for breakfast after our Sunday morning run and scrambled eggs on brown toast and a skinny cappuccino was my staple. My favourite post-race meal is probably steak and chips!