Ageing With Attitude: Couple plan to finish the Cork City Marathon hand in hand for 80th birthdays

All in their stride: Kay and Joe O'Regan, 79-year-old marathon runners from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, who are planning to run their final marathon in Cork next year.

A couple plan to celebrate their 80th birthdays by crossing the finishing line of next year’s Cork City Marathon hand in hand in their last such event, says Margaret Jennings.

THE winner of the Cork City Marathon next year may well be overshadowed by the goal set by runners Kay and Joe O’Regan for the 26.2 mile route. Because the couple aim to cross the finishing line, hand in hand, to celebrate their 80th birthdays.

It will not be their first full marathon, but their last. And if ever there was a motto that said “the couple who run together, stay together”, then Kay and Joe would deserve that T-shirt.

By holding hands, the Enniscorthy-based dynamic duo will be paying homage to their first ever outing — the London City Marathon — which they ran together for their 50th birthday, as total newbies to the gruelling challenge.

READ MORE: Rob’s Cork City Marathon blog: Week 6 - The essential items you need on race day .

“We were living in Middlesex at the time and because we didn’t belong to a club, we had no idea how to run, so we ran the first half too fast, in about 1.48 and then more or less died in the second half,” says Kay.

“When we crossed that line hand-in-hand, I said: ‘I never want to do this again!’”

That wasn’t to be the case of course, as she now has 112 full marathons under her belt.

But Kay’s initial reaction to that race was to be expected. Having slipped a note with her application into the ‘lottery’ that gained entry into one of the biggest marathons in the world, she’s convinced they got their much-coveted places because she explained it was something different they wanted to do for their 50th birthday, which they celebrated within a month of each other in February and March.

That was almost 30 years ago, when marathon runners were more elite than nowadays and when being age 50, was less of a non-runner, so to speak. But as Kay explains, the couple had got the bug some months earlier when their 18-year-old son Fintan was feeling lazy about doing his rugby training in wet weather.

“I said to him ‘you can’t let a bit of rain stop you,’ and he said, ‘right, tomorrow night you join me for a run’ — and I did! And that’s how it all started. It nearly killed me mind, but I dragged my husband out as well.”

Now the mother of two and grandmother of five has won numerous titles and is the current Irish Women’s Marathon record holder for the 60, 65, 70 and 75 age categories, something she takes in her stride.

While Joe had decided after running 27 marathons that he preferred the shorter distances, he will be joining his wife for that memorable occasion at the 2016 Cork City Marathon which will also be the year of their 57th wedding anniversary.

And while Fintan celebrated his 50th birthday running with Kay in her 100th marathon five years ago, her daughter Sarah, who lives in Australia, is keeping the side up through her own son Alex, who has done a degree in sports science in Brisbane.

But whatever about sport being a family trait, it takes dedication and stamina to compete at marathon level as a young person, not to mention on the cusp of becoming an octogenarian.

So how do Kay and Joe keep so fit?

“All you need is a pair of runners and just put them on,” she says effortlessly.

“On average I do 30-40 miles a week, all year around, and in all weathers. You have to make yourself do stuff sometimes. There are days when I say to myself ‘why am I doing this, at this age?’ but that’s just if I’m having a bad day, or a bad run. But when you finish it you feel great, you feel good.”

They eat well — fresh fruit and veggies — and neither she nor her husband have ever been on medication. Joe smoked once, gave them up and doesn’t drink alcohol. Kay never smoked and only take a glass of wine “if out in company”.

In addition, Kay swears by Pharma Nord supplements omega 7 and co-enzyme Q10, which she says she has been taking for decades, to keep her energy levels up, as well as garlic and vitamin D in the winter months.

She admits some people worry about her: “They say to me am I not afraid that I might get a heart attack when I am out running? And my answer is: ‘No, I’m not, because when my time comes, that’s how I want to go — when I’m out for a run!’”

In the meantime she has other races to run and then there’s next year’s goal: “We are going to run it together and stay together and finish together — that’s the plan. We love Cork and we are looking forward to it and we hope it will all work out.”

READ MORE: Rob’s Cork City Marathon blog: Week 6 - The essential items you need on race day .

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