The Challenge...32 Marathons, 32 Counties, 32 Days
Gerry and Ken's Blog...
Some photos, comments and updates from each day's marathon are up on our Facebook page! Check it out here...
Final Marathon, No. 32 - Westmeath
Our final day on the run, day 32, was an amazing day from start to finish and one that we’ll never forget. It’s difficult to know how to begin telling you about the day but any summary of it would be incomplete without me first telling you about what happened to Gerry yesterday evening.
About 20 minutes after leaving Leitrim I passed Gerry and Jacinta parked up in a ditch along the side of the road. Reversing back I could see that Gerry was bent doubled, hands on his knees, adding a bit of colour to the green undergrowth by vomiting up the contents of his stomach. This wasn’t good. Unfortunately it didn’t pass quickly either as for the next 40 minutes we watched and listened helplessly as Gerry continued to pace up and down, looking wretched and getting paler by the minute.
We got moving eventually but didn’t get far – 10 minutes down the road Gerry again took pity on a colourless part of the countryside and decided to personalise the turf with the remnants of his earlier meal. We were now all very worried about him. Having come this far, run 31 marathons in 31 days, it would be unthinkable that a stomach bug could stop him from completing his final run.
A little while later, at about 8pm, we made it to MiDoc in Mullingar. Even getting out of the car there Gerry looked ghostly pale and frail. Within minutes though he had been given an injection to stop the vomiting and was hooked up to a drip to help him replenish the fluids and salts he had lost. He promptly fell into a deep sleep and stayed snoozing for over two hours.
Everyone was worried about him, and whether he’d have the strength to run tomorrow but we wouldn’t know until the morning. We were relieved to hear that at 11:30pm he was back at the hotel with Jacinta and was going to get a good night’s sleep.
At 7:15 the next morning I was on the physio table again, with Noeleen giving my calf’s a final rub and taping up my ankles one last time. Our hotel was right beside the town park in Mullingar, the starting and finishing point for today’s marathon so even at 7:15 I could look out the window to see dozens of friends of Gerry and I busily setting up the tents, barriers, timing clock, water stations etc. Murty Hanly, our race organiser for the day (ably assisted by Brian Ivory and Gerry’s brother Tom), looked to be well in control of all the action – a huge thanks to the guys for making this day run so efficiently.
At 8am Gerry appeared from the bedroom. Thankfully he looked healthy, the colour back in his cheeks. He said he felt good but was a little weak. The doctor had advised him to stay away from food in case it would cause him to be sick again so although he was starving he couldn’t risk eating anything. Gerry was determined to run today but was going to be running on empty, having not fuelled his body since yesterday’s marathon. Gerry and I were always going to complete this last marathon together so even if it took 10 hours of walking and we were the last people to cross the line I was going to stay by his shoulder and make sure he got home.
I was a little later than normal having my bowls of porridge due to meeting so many friends along the way but even during breakfast it was hard not to get excited by the building crowds and music outside. At 9:30 Gerry and I made our way outside and were both astounded by the number of people buzzing around. Looking over at the registration tent we could see a huge number of people moving along the queue but we had a great team at the desks; the girls from Irish Autism Action, Sarah, Colette and Ashling; Freddie and Ann from Sporting and Special Events; Colin and Carly from Ava Managment (our friends in the North); and Brian Murnane, the chairman of the charity were all busy handing out race numbers and timing chips. Special thanks to Precision Timing for providing this service free on the day. All final day finishing times are available on their site.
By 10am, and after a group warm-up by the guys from Boot Camp, we were ready for a few speeches. A little behind schedule but it was important for us to publicly thank the 215 runners, joggers and walkers, along with all the supporters, who were gathered in front of us. Gerry and I were simply amazed at how many faces we recognised from the last month. New friends from all over the country had come to Mullingar to join us for our final run. Even people who had run a full marathon with us in Cavan on Saturday were back for another full marathon today!
During the past month we have been chuffed at the support given to this event by some of Ireland’s best known personalities and today was no different. Johnny Donnelly (ex Saw Doctors) was here to run his third marathon with us. Charmaine Kenny, the Rose of Tralee, was running her second half marathon with us as was Michael O’Leary from Ryanair. It was only fitting that Michael said a few words to the crowd, his words putting a smile on everyone’s face.
I have many memories from this month that will last me a lifetime. One of these is the sight of all the runners that followed Gerry and I out of the town park today. Seeing so many people running because of this event, because they believed in the cause, or because they were in some way spurred on by what Gerry and I were trying to do has been hugely humbling for us. Over the last 18 months of planning we never could have imagined that we would have been supported by so many people throughout the country. As I often mentioned before our run each day, without the support of fellow runners, those 26.2 miles would seem a lot longer. Knowing that people have trained for months to be a part of this gave Gerry and I a huge boost each morning. Even if runners weren’t by our shoulder, the thought of a fellow runner or walker being on the course at the same time added to our determination to finish each day.
One statistic that has surprised both of us recently is that roughly 70% of people who have joined us over the past few weeks have taken on the challenge of a marathon or half marathon for the first time. With over 1,100 runners there might have been more than 1,100 reasons for people running during the month. But we were to find that many were running because they had a link to autism. I remember one lady in Monaghan whose calf started cramping on the hill 200 metres from the finish line of her first marathon. After a few stretches and with her husband by her side, she crossed the line into the arms of her autistic son, saying “I did it for you, I did it for you”. There were few dry eyes around that day.
But the emotions didn’t stop there. All month we have been witness to fantastic feats of achievement by fellow runners. To see the pride in people’s faces as they crossed the line, despite the pain and tears, is a wonderful sight to behold. Runners and walkers of all ages, abilities and sizes exhibited huge determination each day in their quest to finish their first half or full marathon. Gerry and I feel privileged to have witnessed this.
Something we also found fascinating was the number of runners and walkers who signed up for a half marathon and ended up doing a full! Almost every day of the month at least one person found themselves getting caught up in the buzz of the day and kept going at the 13.1 mile point. We were also privileged to meet some great guys EVERY weekend for a marathon. Thomas and Simon – take a bow!
Getting back to today’s run, we both found that the first 13 miles went by in a flash. We both spent the two hours or so chatting to friends and swapping stories, enjoying being back on our old training routes. Just before entering the park for the last 100 metres of lap one I heard my father calling me over to the roadside. And there, sitting on a chair outside her house and surrounded by family, was my 87 year old granny. Having not seen her in a month it was a joy to see her looking well and smiling as I robbed a quick hug. Trotting into the park just after this I discovered one thing – although I consider myself a bit of a multi-tasker there is a set of activities that I can’t do at the same time; run and cry! For if I could I would have been a bumbling mess right then. Thankfully running had to take precedence...
Three hours into our run, as we were running around the grounds of Belvedere House and Gardens, we were told that the winner, Peter Mooney, crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 51 minutes. What a super time!
Although Gerry found it tough going between mile 16 and 21, he dug deep and kept the pace steady. It was impossible not to be swept along by the energy around us today. With a few miles to go Michael O’Leary passed by in his car, tooting the horn and cheering on all runners. A great guy! A little further down the road Charmaine Kenny was back out on the course after running her 13 miles; she had a bag of jellies and was handing them out to needy runners!
Coming into the town park for the final time, with 200 metres or so to go, Gerry and I came shoulder to shoulder. Without planning, 20 or so kids joined us in the run to the finish. It was hard to take in....838 miles after we started 32 days ago in Longford the finish line was finally in sight. As we came closer the noise started to grow. Rounding the last corner we were amazed at the sight before us. At least two thousand people were lined up either side of the finish straight cheering us home. With 100 metres to go I lifted up my niece Caoimhe into my arms. Adam, my nephew, was already running in front of us guiding us to the line. To hear all the applause and see the smiles on all the faces is an image we’ll never forget.
We crossed the line to huge cheers and more tears – this time in the eyes of many of our family and friends who were gathered there. I’ve tried to find the words to describe the feeling crossing that line but words fail me. We both felt hugely relieved that we had made it. We felt lucky that we had the health to take on the challenge. We were blessed that we didn’t pick up any serious injuries. We were humbled to meet so many genuinely nice people and we were amazed at the support the event received throughout the country. And we still can’t believe that the all the people taking part in this challenge raised over HALF A MILLION EUROS for the charities.
Before we sign off for the final time there are a few people who need thanking. During the course of the last 6 months we estimate that almost 90 people around the 32 counties have helped us in some way in coordinating the challenge. To you all; thank you.
To the Lakeside Wheelers, the Midland Triathlon Club, the Garda Siochana and the many local volunteers – a special thanks for all the support today. Your help made sure this was a superbly and safely run event.
To our crew...and they must be named...Jacinta O’Neill, Paddy and Celine Whitelaw, Barry Whitelaw, Niall Murphy, Kevin Whelan, Freddie Grehan, Ann Reilly, Brendan Doyle, Noeleen Bourke, Pat Whaley, Joe Whelan, Sarah McInerney-Buckley, Aisling Garry, Colette Charles, the Rundle family, Daragh Thornton, Dave Cahalin, Peter Whelan, Stuart McChesney, Tony Kinlan, Colin Telford, Carly Ferguson and Johnny Davis....this event would not have been the success it was without the help of these fantastic people. Not only was their help given without question but their positive attitude remained unbroken throughout the month. Despite what Gerry or I were thinking to ourselves, never once did anyone on the team doubt that we could complete the challenge.
The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists deserve a special thanks. It was Sinead Fennell at the Society and Noeleen Bourke, our own wonder-physio, who co-ordinated the daily support of physios all around the country. To have this support brought a real level of professionalism to the entire event. I know that Noeleen herself has been mentioned in a few of our daily blogs. I can tell you now that without her help over the last month there is little chance that my legs would’ve been able to carry me to the finish line each day. When Noeleen heard that I was having a tough day in Kerry she hopped into her car and drove to Limerick to meet me. Given that I had only finished my marathon just before 9pm, then had to be driven to Limerick, it was late by the time I crawled onto Noeleen’s plinth in the hotel. An hour or so later, at 12:45 am, when Noeleen had finished and I was ready to fall into a deep sleep she reminded me that an ice bath was waiting for me!
Having talked to the crew since then, and my family in particular, I now realise how much suffering they went through during my tough days. I know they couldn’t bear to see me in pain. They felt the pain that I felt and they walked every step with me – if not by my side, in spirit. I’m sorry for causing them anguish but I’m eternally grateful for their faith in me and their unending support.
We have received much great feedback during our travels about this website. That’s thanks to two wonderful people; Tanya O’Neill (who designed the site and our cool logo (Tanya can be got on 085 140 7301); and Barry Whitelaw, my brother. Barry has spent an endless amount of hours over the last six months updating the site, sourcing and editing various interviews and videos, posting the daily blogs and pictures and just being an all round great guy!
A common question asked of us was about our nutrition. Needless to say, getting our food intake right played a huge part in our ability to take on a marathon each day. Special thanks must go to Barry Murray (www.optimumnutrition4sport.com) for all his super advice. Barry even ran two half marathons with us along the way to make sure that we were doing as told!
Many of you might have noticed a yellow camper van in some of the pictures that have been posted to our FaceBook page. This was loaned to us for the month by a good friend, Daragh Thornton. Given that my father was driving it for the month and his name is Paddy, the van became known as ‘The Paddy Wagon’. Only once was I woken from my sleep to find that I was flying off the seat, my father having taken a turn too fast!
Something that Gerry and I are very proud of is that ALL of the money raised by you has gone to the charities. This is due to the great support of our wonderful sponsors; Expert, Marks & Spencers, JUST Mobile and Lagan Tile. We are also delighted to note that every hotel that we stayed in put our crew up free of charge.
As for Gerry Duffy – what can I say! The man is an inspiration to me, and many others I’m sure, and I’m honoured to call him a close friend. It is his vision that made this challenge possible. Gerry is a humble man but to know that families all around the country may benefit from both the funds raised and the heightened awareness of autism gives him much quiet satisfaction.
To think that this event has raised over €500,000 is mind-blowing for us. Equally important, but unquantifiable, is the increase in profile that autism will benefit from as a result of this event. The people most responsible for both the funds raised and the awareness are the 1,100 runners, joggers and walkers who have joined us over the past 32 days. Without them there would have been no event. So to all of you who have trained and sweated over the past number of months to come out and join us – we will be forever in your debt.
We can only hope that this event has made a ripple of a change in the sea of autism. If one person sticks at running because of this challenge then we are delighted. If it gives one person a little more hope then we are honoured. If it inspires just one person to follow their dreams, believe a little more in themselves and their abilities then we leave behind a legacy that we can be proud of.
Until next time,
Gerry and Ken.
P.S. I might have mentioned that if Gerry phones me with another crazy idea I’m going to be busy...but it might be too late. All going well we’ll be in touch over the coming months with the next adventure!
< Back to main Blog page >