Catherine Whoriskey: Born to run

Catherine Whoriskey from City of Derry Spartans who won the Womens race in the Waterside Half Marathon. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.09.15
Catherine Whoriskey from City of Derry Spartans who won the Womens race in the Waterside Half Marathon. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.09.15
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It took 34 years, eighty three minutes, and eight seconds.

Derry finally has its first ever local winner of the Women’s Waterside Half Marathon - as the inspirational Catherine Whoriskey took first place on Sunday.

Derry city and Strabane District Council Mayor, Councillor Elisha McCallion conratulates Catherine Whoriskey from City of Derry Spartans who won the Womens race in the Waterside Half Marathon in Derry-Londonderry with a time of 1.23.08 . Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.09.15

Derry city and Strabane District Council Mayor, Councillor Elisha McCallion conratulates Catherine Whoriskey from City of Derry Spartans who won the Womens race in the Waterside Half Marathon in Derry-Londonderry with a time of 1.23.08 . Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 06.09.15

The mum of one was in top form running only her second ever half marathon clinching first place with a time of one hour and 23 minutes, shaving an impressive seven minutes off her time from last year.

“Running through that ribbon was amazing,” said an elated Catherine. “My daughter Rionagh was there with my husband Declan and so many people I knew from my Club ‘City of Derry Spartans’.

“The atmosphere on the day was electric. The support around the route was amazing, everyone was shouting ‘Girl Power’.”

What makes Catherine’s win even more impressive is that the 29-year-old only gave birth to her baby daughter 16 months ago.

By day Catherine works as a community support officer with Leafair Community Association and at night she juggles family life with an intensive running schedule.

Catherine’s talents emerged from an early age running with Thornhill College, taking the All Ireland Gold medal and running in the Irish schools team.

But she stopped running when she was 17 and only took it up again when she was 23.

“Going back running was a shock to the system,” she said. “I remember thinking how much easier it was to do when I was 15.

“I started jogging with my husband Declan and we were both rubbish. I hated my running.”

But all that changed when Catherine joined Sparta where her father Peter Lilburn was a member.

“I remember doing the warm-up and being exhausted. I couldn’t believe it was only the warm-up. It took me a good year to get my form. I had no self-belief. It was only after I married my husband Declan that I started to believe in myself. I won the Northern Ireland Road Championship in 2013 and that really spurred me on.”

Catherine continued to stay active when she was pregnant although she says she “shuffled” more than ran.

“Three weeks after Rionagh was born I told my husband I wanted to go running. He walked behind me with the buggy while I jogged.

“I have to run. There’s a great freedom, I love it. It’s my wee time.”

Last year Catherine ran the half marathon, and had a huge hunger to better her time this year.

“My coach Dara Furey prepared me well physically and mentally. One of the things we decided early on was that we wouldn’t wear any devices, apps or watches, we would just run. I had no idea what my split times were. I just kept going.”

Going into Sunday’s race Catherine was the firm favourite, but she said she didn’t let that affect her nerves.

“It was a great day. I know people talked about the Foyle Bridge being difficult but I loved the course. I actually like uphill more than downhill. The new route was amazing.

“I ran on my own but I got caught up with some of the men in the front. It was great running with them and they were so supportive. But they kept joking that they were going to have to lose me because the crowd kept shouting ‘girl power.’ They said I was stealing their thunder.”

Catherine is hoping her win will inspire other women, especially mums to get out running.

“I didn’t realise how much my life would change when I became a mum,” she said. “I might not have the same amount of time but I use the time I have so much better.

“Being in a club is so great. The support you get from your teammates is brilliant. It’s a great thing to be part of on a social level too. A massive thanks to my coach Dara Furey who had us prepared so well.”

Still buzzing from her win, Catherine now has her eye on the winter schedule and cross country competing.