There will be hills by Conor Cusack Dec 3rd 2016

January 30, 2017

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon VII


Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon.. Weekend of a lifetime

When writing of the weekend that was Clonakilty WaterfrontMarathon VII, it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe early summer 2016 is a good place.

My good friend Bob Hilliard, Race Director extraordinaire in Clon, had just returned from running the Boston Marathon, and was buzzing. He spoke of inspirational figures he had met while there, and he promised that he was bringing them to West Cork in December. The names he mentioned were Boston Marathon Champions Bobbi Gibb and Amby Burfoot, as well as Boston Bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet. We are talking Massachusetts Royalty here.

The main man Mr. Hilliard


I never doubted for a second that he could pull it off, this is the man who had brought the iconic Team Hoyt to Courtmacsherry in July 2015. This is Bob we’re talking about here. If you could bottle 50% of his energy you’d keep a small city going for a year. His enthusiasm for what he does is infectious and inspirational.

Fast forward 7 months to Wednesday November 30th.  A good friend from our Born to Run club, Jim McNeice had made his minibus available to collect the arrivals from Boston. A road trip to Shannon to meet the incoming flight at 6am, with Bobbi, Amby and Adrianne on board ensued. We met Bob and his wife Ia, as well as Ia’s sister Milla and MCI legend and a treasured friend Valerie Fogarty in the arrivals area. Excitement was building.

Meeting the legends at Shannon Airport 6.30am November 30th


As they arrived out, these Boston legends were greeted with hugs as old friends. I will readily admit to being extremely star struck at first but as we chatted en route to Clonakilty and over breakfast in Mallow, it was actually an incredibly relaxing and rewarding experience. I got to learn of Adrianne’s story over that cup of coffee. This woman’s courage and resilience to not be labelled as a victim is incredible to experience. And she is such a wonderful down to earth person.

Having dropped our passengers in Clonakilty, I said my goodbyes until Friday. On that Friday morning I collected 2 other travellers from Boston, my friend Anna Sotar, who is Director of International Sales for Hoyt Running Chairs and her friend and running buddy Maura Power. They were bringing a very precious cargo in the shape of a Team Hoyt Running Chair.

Anna and Maura with the Blade

This year, Team Hoyt Running Chairs, great friends of Clonakilty, donated a “Blade” Running Chair and the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon also sponsored a chair for the use of deserving families. Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon has always been so welcoming and inclusive, and this is just another wonderful testament to the generosity of the Clon Crew.

Having landed back in Clonakilty on that Friday morning, I bumped into Amby and Bobbi in the reception area of the Quality Hotel and was greeted with warm hugs. After a quick detour to Richy’s for breakfast (highly recommended) I waited at the finish line for one of my best friends Meadbh O’Leary to complete her maiden 26.2 on the Director’s run.


Meadbh gets it done, as I knew she would!!!!

Meadbh, a physical therapist,  is the wonderful person who puts us back together when our bodies get a battering on race day… She has been a fantastic friend for over 2 years now. I won’t lie, it was pretty emotional to see her cross the finish line with her mum waiting. A very special moment indeed for one very determined lady.

That evening a Q&A session with the Boston crew as well as Irish running legends Frank Greally, Neil Cusack and Gary O’Hanlon held everyone captivated. Compere Ray O’Connor of MCI did an impeccable job. To learn the full backstory of how running had changed their lives certainly resonated very strongly with me and struck a chord with so many in the room. Running has been such an enriching experience for me. Meeting lots of my friends that I have gotten to know in the last 2 years topped off the evening nicely.

L-R Ia, Frank, Adrianne, Ray, Neil, Amby, Bobbi and Bob


Race Day

I always have a broken night’s sleep before a race, this was no different. I picked up Anna and Maura at their hotel and we went to Val’s for breakfast. The Boston ladies were excited and apprehensive in equal measure at the prospect of tackling the marathon distance for the first time.

We made our way to the start line to learn that the newly arrived chair from Boston would be used by Andrzwj Chomicz and Dariusz, a fantastic surprise… What a debut for the chair

We also met with the French TGV54 team, who were so thrilled to be taking part. Inclusion wins every time. Following the obligatory hugs and good wishes, we started off with the running chairs a few minutes ahead of the main field.

Inclusion wins every time!!!!


I’d been nursing a tight hamstring for the previous few weeks so I’d be taking this cautiously. I ran the first few miles with our French visitors, and eventually got into a nice handy rhythm running with Maura. Off out the road to Inchydoney with its stunning views and testing hill. Lovely meeting so many familiar faces who were on the return leg of the Inchydoney loop, plenty of shouts of encouragement kept the legs moving. Maura was flying it and enjoying her run.

Back in the causeway, lots more encouragement from Jonny and on to half way near Rathbarry, a beautiful picturesque village. Memories flooded back of sheltering in Breda’s shop and Post Office there last February following a soaking shower. Bumped into my Born to Run buddies Niamh, Kirstie and John and also met with a group of ladies from Maurice Looby Fitness. What great craic they were. We played tag with them over the second half of the race, we’d catch up, they’d catch up and the banter was mighty. “Jaysus Conor, is it yourself again?!” There was even a Mannequin Challenge going uphill at Long Strand, a particular highlight!!!!

Maura in full flow!!

Maura was at that point passing the point of her previous longest training run, 15 miles. Though she was tiring (and so was I) we encouraged each other along and kept a good pace going… “Break it down into little runs” I said; it seems to work!  Until the climb up to Ardfield…. It really is the hill that just keeps on giving.

We walked most of it, but the payoff was when we were greeted by Mark Hilliard and the King of Ardfield at the summit. All downhill to Mile 22 we were assured, not quite, I’d call it undulating but fun times nonetheless. The world’s greatest RD, Bob Hilliard came to give us support, so typical of one of life’s gentlemen, his shouts of encouragement gave us a renewed energy and boost. More hugs from Jenny at Mile 24…

And so to the finish, Maura and I ran hand in hand up the finish straight to be greeted by Anna, who had just completed her first marathon also, and of course Bob. Emotional scenes, I remember crossing my first marathon finish line. You’ll never replicate that feeling. For those yet to experience it, enjoy every moment, you’ll never get that back.
The day only got better, as later my dear friend Valerie Fogarty presented me with my 50th Marathon medal, and she was later presented with her 100th by her husband John. Over 20 MCI members received awards that evening.

Val and Rita knock it out of the ballpark for Val’s 100th…

It’s hard to adequately put into words what an amazing friend that Val is… We’ve been through some amazing miles and smiles over the last 2 years.. Here’s to many more. And by the way, welcome to our Born to Run family Val! It’s a genuine thrill to have you as an honourary member.

And of course all of the achievements must be celebrated. I met Meadbh, her cousin Áine (who also ran) and her friends from Clon for well-deserved celebratory drinks and a little dance that night. Sunday night was pretty special too meeting Bobbi and Adrianne again as we joined Bob and Ia and family for dinner in Inchydoney. Just to be in the company of these people is such a joy. I’m really looking forward to catching up with them in April again.

Adrianne and Cristina, legends both 🙂

Since I’ve returned from Clonakilty, friends have asked me what the highlight of the weekend was. To be honest it would be impossible to choose from so many… Seeing the emotions of Meadbh, Anna and Maura getting their first 26.2 done, receiving my 50th and seeing Val receive her 100th  marathon award, Mazza receiving her 25th, the Q&A session on Friday night, Olivia Walsh completing her comeback 10K (great to see you back Liv!!), Adrianne and Cristina completing the 10K…. I have so many treasured memories which will never fade.

With Bobbi and Adrianne at dinner in Inchydoney
Liv and Killian after crossing the line, so thrilled to see her back!
Receiving my 50th from Val…

The one common link though is the King of Clonakilty, Bob Hilliard. He is the glue that holds everything together, the driving force the passion. And what is a King without his Queen? With his wonderful Ia by his side, they make a formidable team. I am so grateful to be counted among their friends, an honourary member of the Clon Crew, West Cork truly is my second home…. It’s been a difficult transition back to the humdrum of normal life following such a stellar weekend. But when the hard, windswept, and hailstone laden training miles are required through the winter, the warm glow from the memories of Clon VII will keep me going… To quote Bob: “Focus Conor baby, Focus”. Sound advice.

I’m pretty sure we’ll have return visitors to Clon VIII

Thanks a million to Richard of The Galway Cow and Tomás Greally for the fantastic photos!!


9th December 2017 can’t come quick enough for Clon VIII. What surprises and special guests lie in store? I for one cannot wait to find out 😊





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