Anita Lynch will never forget 2020. Twin sons Rían and Ruairí were born in late February and eldest boy Killian turned three in November.
Suddenly, she and husband Derrick were raising a trio of children under three years of age. The twins were born shortly before the first Covid lockdown.
That alone, in a year of isolation brought about by the global pandemic, offered new and unique challenges.
But 2020 was also the year Anita (32), took on another challenge and became a runner, something she had never imagined.
The family live in Quilty, Co Clare, smack bang in the Banner County's Gaelic football heartland. They can see Kilmurry Ibrickane’s pitch from their house. Anita played for the club up to minor level and loved it.
But when she moved to Dublin and her first teaching job, getting back to west Clare for training proved difficult. “I would never have considered myself a runner, I always loved walking, but now I can cover the same distances in half the time,” said Anita.
A confluence of events in 2020 changed her lifestyle. The arrival of the couple’s twins coincided with a year’s leave of absence from her teaching job in Kilmihil.
Anita joined the local ‘Gaelic4MothersandOthers’ group for social contact, and family friend Pat Sexton of the Clare Sports Partnership produced a ‘Couch to 3K’ podcast series.
Pat designed and narrated the podcasts himself, but she believed the programme would not work for her. “Because we were cocooning, the podcast series was a great focus for us to get our heads back on track and get some physical exercise in.
“Half-way through the eight weeks of Couch to 3K I honestly thought ‘this is mad, I’ll never be able to run for 30 minutes non-stop. “You start with jogging for 30 seconds, then walking for two minutes and repeating that for seven sets. I couldn't imagine going from those short 30-second bursts to running for half an hour straight. It felt like it would never happen for me.”
Husband Derrick, her sister and sister-in-law were among locals who had also signed up and sharing feedback and fun challenges on their Whatsapp group helped.
Anita wasn’t prescriptive about what time of day she ran, snatching opportunities whenever they came as she and Derrick tag-teamed family duties in their exceptionally busy household. What surprised her most were the unexpected benefits.
“Getting out running and taking a half-hour for myself gave me energy. It cleared my head so that anything else which cropped up during the day wasn’t a big issue. That really helped me".
“I started in April, six weeks after the twins were born. Those early weeks with the babies were very tiring, but people kept saying to me ‘you have so much energy! How do you do it?’
“Getting out running and taking a half-hour for myself gave me energy. It cleared my head so that anything else which cropped up during the day wasn’t a big issue. That really helped me.
“When I was tired, I would not feel sorry for myself because every day I got to run made the day feel better. The weather was great at the time, which definitely helped and our location is beautiful. I run on the road here, on a circular loop and, after 2.5K I’m looking right onto the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s not as easy when it is cold and dark, but when I was in the thick of it I went out in the pouring rain, ran through puddles and didn’t care. I had to get my run in, to complete it. I still really enjoy it, there is sense of accomplishment and I honestly never imagined I could do this.”
Once Anita reached 3K she did not stop. Pat produced a new four-week programme – with the same format, running three times a-week – to push people further, and she surprised herself again.
“I first ran 5K last July, the same day as my mother’s 70th birthday. I did the challenge in the morning and was already in a celebratory mood.”
As Winter rolled in Anita marvels at how she can still complete 5K whenever she does.
Her New Year resolution? “Improving my 5K time with no excuses. We’ll see where that takes me. It challenges me physically, but, compared to walking, it takes less time. I feel I’m using more energy."
“It’s something I’m very proud of. To keep it up, to run 5K now without stopping, that still feels great. This time last year I definitely could not and would not have done it.
“Taking a gradual approach, day-by-day, podcast by podcast, was very achievable. Full credit to Pat for organising such a well thought-out programme.”