LIKE so many other long distance runners, Raphoe’s Ed McGroarty was planning on taking part in Sunday’s Dublin City Marathon.
Instead, he was in France at the 24 Hour Ultra Running World Championships after receiving a late call to assist Sinead Kane on her international debut.
Kane, who is visually impaired, had achieved the international women’s standard time back in April and had been named on the Ireland team for the Championships in August.
But, and there’s a big but here, the International Association of Ultra Runners had said she wasn’t allowed to compete as they believed she would have an unfair advantage due to the use of guide runners.
That led to a legal battle over the course of several weeks and in the meantime, Ed had been contacted by Irish team manager, John O’Regan, to see if he would be available to help Sinead should her appeal succeed.
In the end, she won her court battle and was allowed to compete. So, at 5am on Thursday morning, having only been informed of her victory at 6.30pm the day before, Ed left his County Donegal home and travelled to Dublin airport for the flight to France and to meet Sinead for the first time!
“I didn’t hesitate at all when John called and I said ‘if I can be of any help at all, sure, I’ll do it’,” explained Ed, who was very impressed with how Sinead dealt with the stress she was under.
“It was the worse case scenario for Sinead because she was training not knowing if she was going to race. She was training with the stress of all this over her head,” added the Lifford Strabane Athletics Club member.
“I had never guided anyone before, I’d never met Sinead before, we’d never spoken before until I met her at the airport – my stress levels were high, so I can only imagine what she must have been feeling for months!”
Because Sinead’s regular guides were unavailable, Ed and Gillian Connolly – another novice in the guiding stakes – took on the vital roles. They recced the course first, identifying any potential obstructions – inclines, declines, corners and anything that could disrupt Sinead’s stride – and undertook 1.5 to 2 hour shifts, which helped alleviate Ed’s concerns a little.
“I was really nervous about it, I was anxious because when I go into a race, if I mess it up I’ve only got myself to blame, but when you have this other person’s race in your hands, that you could mess it up for them, it’s a different kind of race nerves,” explained Ed, who will tackle the torturous Helsinki 24 hour indoor event in February.
“It was about getting her through the race without adding any extra anxiety to her because she had been through enough.
“She had to cope with all that stress, she had to trust two strangers, she was making her international debut on the world stage, with the pressure of having won a court case to do so. It really doesn’t get any tougher for her.”
In the end, Sinead, helped by Ed and Gillian, was the third Irish woman home in 67th place overall after covering an amazing 185.848Km over the 24 hours in Albi as Ireland finishing in the top 10 as a team.