Athlete Joanne plans to run 12 marathons for Christmas

Picture: Jim Coughlan

It’s just as well that athlete Joanne Fearon isn’t superstitious. The ultra runner and triathlete is used to challenges, so beginning one on Friday the 13th is no different to any other — and she takes them all in her stride.

“My challenge is a variation of the 12 pubs of Christmas where I plan to run a marathon each day for the 12 days leading up to Christmas,” explains Joanne, in between sharp intakes of breath as she picks up the pace on the treadmill in Maher sports shop on Oliver Plunkett St in Cork.

Joanne is running the 12 marathons (42.2km each day) to raise funds for the neonatal ward of Cork University Maternity Hospital — added to the further challenge of feeding her newborn daughter.

Unlike the popular 12 pubs, the 12 marathons of Christmas will not make her legless and, in fact, could see her set a new world record and be named in the Guinness Book of Records.

Almost from the moment she started the challenge, Joanne attracted a large audience, part of the passing parade of shoppers and onlookers on the street, many of them exhausted just by looking at her.

“I’m used to running outside, so this is a bit different. I am watching everyone walking past and you can see a bit of confusion on the faces of some.”

There is no confusion, though, about the reason behind the challenge. “The staff at the neonatal unit at CUMH do such important work and it’s a privilege to lend support to them,” says Joanne, whose daughter Liáda was born at the hospital four months ago. For the next 12 days, she will only stop her marathon to feed Liáda. She also has a two-year-old boy, Darragh.

“I’ve had the pleasure of using the CUMH twice in the last two years and while I had lovely straightforward births, I’ve heard such inspirational stories from less fortunate parents who have ended up in the neonatal ward with their little babies.

“The work the staff do there with limited resources is amazing, looking after very small and very sick babies.”

Joanne, who has completed 59 marathons to date, is hoping the people of Cork will donate to the cause at She also wants supporters to visit her in the Maher store and sign a witness book which is a requirement for the world record attempt.

A visit to the website has not just attracted donations but a variety of comments. “You are amazing — and mad in equal parts!!” says one donor.

Joanne laughs it off.

“I get that a lot, but, in fact, my husband is far crazier than I am.”

That’s a fair point as Joanne’s husband, Niall Ó Crualaoich, holds the record for running the fastest marathon in a fireman’s uniform, a feat he completed in 4hr 45 min 16 sec at the Cork City Marathon in 2010. He has also completed 22 marathons, five ultramarathons, one Ironman triathlon, and has swum the English Channel.

But has he run 12 marathons in a shop window while chatting with the Irish Examiner?


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