Sligo's Mister Marathon Man, aged 80
At 80 years of age Jack McGowan was the final finisher of the record field of 19,500 in the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon – walking it in 11:38:41.
The Sligo native, a member of Calry AC, was one of the trailblazers of Irish race walking in the 60s and represented Ireland once on international duty.
He ran the first Dublin marathon in 1980 and went on to run the next 25 in-a-row.
Q: How was your Dublin marathon experience and what was it like being out on the road for 11 hours?
A: I took it easy (laughs). I didn’t get the all clear to go from the hospital until the Thursday before the race, because I had been very sick for a while. My last Dublin marathon was 2004.
I did the first one in 1980 and went 25 in-a-row. The crowd this year was unbelievable.
They were good natured people. They came out of pubs and everything. A man came out of the pub and gave me a big bottle of Lucozade Sport.
That revived me because I was very thirsty. Another woman got out of her car around Terenure and walked two or three miles with me.
Her husband was after doing it in 3:40. She was a fierce nice woman.
Q: How did you get involved in athletics?
A: I got involved in the 1960s and joined Calry AC – they’re a great club in Sligo. There was a 25-mile walk in Lough Gill in 1965 and that’s how I got started.
This was before the days of Robert Heffernan, who I know well. I got Ray Flynn involved in the sport who has been an important member of Robert’s backroom team.
Ray was also the chairman of High Performance in Atheltics Ireland recently.
Q: What highlights did you have in your own race walking career?
A: There was a John F Kennedy club in Thurles which also had a 25 mile race walk and I came third in that in 1965. I went on to win it three times in-a-row after that.
In 1971 I went to the 100 mile walk in Surrey in England with Ray Flynn and Michael McDaniel.
There was a 24 hour cut off and I did it in 22 hours and 20 minutes.
That was a proud moment. I made one walking international in 1978 in France. The medal we got was in honour of the 60th anniversary of the World War One troops.
Q: How did you go about training in the early days?
A: I used to go out late at night on hilly courses. If you were seen out running during the day at that time they would say you’re mad in the head.
I used to get magazines from England to learn about training and also the Irish Runner magazine in later years.
Pádraig Griffin was a great man too – he was a great coach and organiser and was the president of BLE (now Athletics Ireland).
PJ and Eddie Leddy were also great runners in Leitrim in the 60s who went on to compete in the Olympic Games.
Q: What did the training entail?
A: I trained myself and I used to also walk 10-12 miles a day on the farm, before I retired. It was around Lough Gill I did most of my training.
It wouldn’t be until around 11 o clock at night and I’d run 10 or 12 miles.
I’d be up early the next morning but I’d be fresh as a daisy. Running gives you energy.
Q: And this led you on to running marathons?
A: I ran a lot of marathons. My best was 3:07 in Ballinamore. I did the first Dublin marathon in 1980.
It was a great event. There was only around 1,700 in it but I remember coming home and talking to Ray Flynn about it.
There was great excitement and it started on O’Connell Street. I knew it would grow and become even bigger.
Q: What keeps you motivated and encouraged you take part this year?
A: I was very sick for a while and I didn’t think I’d do another marathon again.
This time was very slow because I didn’t do any training for it. I could walk forever. I could have walked back to Sligo. I just couldn’t get up any speed.
Q: Why do you run and walk?
A: The time flies by. I always go out every night and do a few miles.
Q: What advice would you give to older people to continue exercising?
A: Keep going. I never drank or smoked and I think that has helped. You walk on your stomach – eat plenty.
It keeps my spirits up and I always have something to do. You’d be lonely otherwise.
Q: Will you look at doing Dublin again next year?
A: Oh I will. I’m making a New Year’s resolution. I’m going to give up all sweets and chocolate and get some more training in this time.
Two of my nephews, Enda and Adrian Kelly, did it this year in 3:26.
They met me at the end and I’m hoping more family join next year. If God spares me I’ll be back again next year.