Stronger together: Get ready for the Cork City Marathon

Stronger together: Get ready for the Cork City Marathon

Not up to a full marathon? There’s still time to sign up and to train for the Cork City event as part of a relay team, says Sharon Ní Chonchúir. 

Thousands of athletes will be warming up on the start line for the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon Sunday, June 3.

But you don’t have to run the demanding 26.6-mile course to enter. If you sign up for the relay you and your friends could be right there beside them, sharing the excitement of participating in this major sporting occasion.

“We are proud to host a race that’s recognised for its inclusivity and a big part of this is thanks to our relay,” says race director Jim O’Donovan.

“The relay opens the doors for first-time, fun or recreational runners, joggers or walkers for whom the full or half marathon is just too much of a stretch for their fitness level.”

Laura Dorgan, personal trainer: ‘The relay is more for fun than competition.’
Laura Dorgan, personal trainer: ‘The relay is more for fun than competition.’

Over the next six weeks, Laura Dorgan, a top personal trainer, will tell you how to prepare. Her training programme will outline everything from getting started to staying motivated while you and your friends get in shape for this year’s marathon.

“It doesn’t matter if your fitness level is low,” she says.

If you find the right group of people to train with and if you prepare in advance, you’ll be able to take part in Cork City Marathon. The relay is a great way for you to be part of the atmosphere of the day.

Relay teams can consist of anything from two to five members. If you share the challenge with four others, all you have to cover is a stretch of approximately five miles.

“You don’t even need to run it,” says Dorgan. “Run if you can. Slow down when you need to. Walk or stop for a while. The relay is more for fun than competition.”

It is also a great way of bringing more physical activity into your daily life, says Dr Úna May, Sport Ireland director of participation and ethics.

“It helps people to get out and get active. Partaking in an event as part of a team is an ideal way to motivate yourself, with the training helping you to get in at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity five days a week as recommended in the National Physical Activity Guidelines.

"Regular physical activity is the key to getting and staying healthy and events such as the Cork City Marathon are a great way of improving your health in a fun and accessible environment.”

Olympic medalist and Dancing with the Stars favourite Rob Heffernan.
Olympic medalist and Dancing with the Stars favourite Rob Heffernan.

The Olympic medalist and Dancing with the Stars favourite Rob Heffernan urges everyone to consider signing up for the relay.

“Running the marathon is a great goal for a relay team,” he says. “It’s 100% feasible to start training now. Six weeks is a good amount of time to get ready.”

Sport and exercise psychologist Keith Begley believes it’s a perfect challenge.

“The thing with challenges is that they have to be achievable within a certain time frame,” he says.

There’s no point in starting from a low level and saying you’re going to run a marathon. You’ll give up on yourself before you achieve it.

“Being able to run five miles is a stretch but with the right approach, it’s definitely not beyond most people.”

Taking this challenge on with friends makes you more likely to achieve it. According to a study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications last year, friends have a major influence on our exercise routines.

Authors Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides studied the daily exercise patterns of more than a million people over a five year period.

The study found that you are more likely to go running if you know that a friend has done likewise. If that friend is training right beside you, you are likely to push yourself harder and for longer in order to keep up with or even overtake them.

Begley corroborates this. “Tudor Locke and Chan published a study in 2006 which found that 50% of people have dropped out of their exercise programme after six months,” he says. “However, they also identified the factors that played a role in the other 50% sticking to their programmes.

“One of these was social support. Another was enjoyment. I’ve seen it myself. If exercise represents a positive social outlet for you, you’ll look forward to it. There will also be peer pressure from a positive perspective in that you won’t want to let the others down by deciding to skip a training session one evening.”

Dr Olivia Hurley, assistant professor of psychology and sport psychology says: “The physical and psychological benefits of fun-based, outdoor group exercise on participants’ health and wellbeing has been well researched.

“Some of the benefits reported include the sense of achievement that often results from completing a challenging but realistic goal; the feelings of control that often arise from overcoming the fears of participating in an event that may seem outside of a person’s comfort zone; and the experience of joy often reported by participants who have completed such physical activities in the company of family, friends and/or colleagues.”

Heffernan knows that for many people, getting off the sofa, into exercise gear and out the door can be the hardest part of exercising. That’s why he recommends setting a goal like the relay and then tying down a training routine with like-minded friends.

“The relay could be the gentle introduction you need to health and fitness and the camaraderie of your teammates will get you out the door,” he says. “If you all agree to train together three, four or five days a week, you’re more likely to follow it through.”

That same sense of camaraderie will help when your energy levels are low too. “Your teammates will get you through the bad days.

When you’re tired, they will support you. And on the days when they feel tired, you can support them in return. That’s the value of a team.

Heffernan finds this applies even to his own training. “When I make a commitment to meet people to train with them, it takes the thinking out of it for me,” he says. “I have to do it and even if I’m having a bad day, once I get stuck into the group dynamic, it gets me through.”

Hurley points out that training as part of a group makes people push themselves harder than they would if they were training by themselves.

“The study credited with being the first formally completed sport psychology study examined this very concept,” she says.

“In an 1898 study by Triplett, cyclists travelled from point A to point B quicker when they performed in a group, compared with when they cycled the distance alone. It is thought that participants compare themselves to other individuals and often appear to wish to ‘out-perform’ them. Therefore they work harder and appear to put in more effort in group situations.”

Peer pressure comes into its own when training with a group, says Begley.

“Pounding away on a treadmill soon becomes boring if you’re by yourself but if you’re with someone else, time goes faster,” he says.

You’re not as lonely and because you’re distracted, it’s not as much effort to exercise. Usually, you’ll end up exercising for longer. Positive peer pressure is also likely to mean that you don’t want to be the first to stop so you’ll push through until everyone else is ready to finish.

Wondering just how you should start training for this year’s Cork City Marathon? The first thing you need to do is to find teammates, ones who have similar fitness goals to you.

“You’ll have some teams such as those from running clubs who are in it to win it,” says Dorgan.

“But if you’re the average Joe or Mary, you are likely to see the event as a chance to be involved in the marathon in a fun way, to have a day out with your family and friends. Choose people you are comfortable with as your teammates.”

Your next step is to set up a training schedule. “Start by training every second day,” says Dorgan. “Otherwise you’ll put your body under too much pressure and end up in pain. Then go up to training four or five days a week.

“But remember to keep some rest days. They are just as important for your body.”

Don’t expect to run before you can walk. “Start off by walking for a minute, jogging for a minute and running for a minute,” says Dorgan.

“Do that for 30 minutes to an hour and build up from there.”

If you follow a consistent training plan, you and your friends will be relay ready on June 3. And it will be worth it.

“You’ll enjoy being part of the atmosphere on the day,” says Dorgan.

You’ll get such a buzz from the crowds. Many people who take part in the relays go on to train for half marathons afterwards. Running in an event like this is like a drug — it’s very addictive.

So, if you have always dreamt of being able to say that you’ve run a marathon but have despaired because you don’t think you’ll ever be able to run the full 26.6miles, why not consider the marathon relay? It costs €110 per team and you’ll find all the information you need at

“Last year, we had almost 4,000 individuals taking part in the relay and entries are already up this year,” says O’Donovan.

“I encourage everyone to take the leap, lace up your trainers, gather a group of friends or family and create a special marathon memory that will be with you forever.”

    When you're part of a team

    Why it pays to exercise with your buddies:

  • You’ll enjoy it. When exercise involves spending time with friends, it becomes something you look forward to instead of dreading.
  • You will do your best never to skip a session. Not only will you not want to miss out on the fun, you also won’t want to break the promise you made to train with your friends.
  • Even the tough parts will be easier with your friends supporting you through them. In turn, you can support them when they are struggling.
  • You will benefit from the friendly rivalry. Studies have shown that when we see friends succeeding, it spurs us on to increase our own efforts too. That rivalry will also drive you to exercise for longer. You won’t want to be the first of your friends to throw in the towel.
  • It’s much less demanding than exercising alone.
  • You’ll be distracted by the banter you’re having with your mates and, as a result, you won’t be focussing on the effort you’re making.
  • You’ll rarely be bored. If you feel your energy and interest dipping, all you have to do is ask your friends to fill you in on the latest gossip and you’ll soon be actively engaged once more.

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