Christy set to erase memories of display in 1981 Foyle Festival event

Christy McMonagle pictured during his training at Templemore Sports complex for the walled city marathon. (3005SL03)
Christy McMonagle pictured during his training at Templemore Sports complex for the walled city marathon. (3005SL03)

CHRISTY McMonagle remains haunted by his bitterly disappointing run in the Foyle Festival Marathon back in 1981.

Running the 26.2 miles event on home soil was a first for McMonagle back then, but the situation really did get to him.

Indeed, he foolishly attempted to replicate the success of a 10 miles race victory which he had dominated four weeks before the Foyle Festival event.

Naive tactics had entered the scenario, his break from the main group so early in the race led to ultimate disaster at 19 miles, the Derry man having been reduced to a walk-jog-walk finish which was eventually timed at a hugely disappointing three and a half hours!

He was 37-years-old back then and having posted a superb time of 2 hours, 27 minutes in his first marathon effort in Portlaoise back in 1974 when he was 19, Christy was devastated.

“I ran a great race from Buncrana to the Templemore Sports Complex. I really dominated that. I felt really good and pushed the boat out. But I didn’t realise the effort I had put into it.

“That had been my preparation for the Foyle Festival Marathon in my home town a few weeks later, but I was naive when putting so much effort into those 10 miles.

“A few days after the 10 miles event, I went out for another run and broke down. I felt pain across my back and up and down my hamstrings. I had over-done it,” he admitted.

Of course, in those days there had been very little attention to the dangers of dehydration or, indeed, proper preparation with a carefully pre-planned training schedule before an event - simply get out there and run to the best of your ability had been the norm!

But, looking back at what has been an interesting career, Christy has always wondered what he could have achieved in his youth had he taken his favourite sport more seriously.

Devastated after the Foyle Festival event, he actually gave up the sport for two years.

Indeed, he also led his wife Kathleen and his young family to Australia having sold up his butcher’s shop only to return home two years later.

And the return home fashioned a return to road running and after taking a year to 18 months to get back to his best, these days McMonagle boasts the National Half Marathon record in his “Masters” age group, an event he has dominated over the past five years.

He harbours hopes of breaking his own Half Marathon record (1hr 25mins) when running in the Phoenix Park in Dublin this August when competing in the 2013 event.

Christy will then look forward to celebrating his 70th birthday in January next and that milestone pushes him into yet another age category in masters athletics - he will then compete against runners aged 70 to 75 and he’s looking forward to that.

“I’m enjoying running now much more than I did when I took it up all those years ago,” declared Christy when I met him in his delightful Oak Grove home this week.

“Yes, I’m still competitive - I think you have to be to enjoy it - but I try to take things in my stride.

“I feel I’m in good shape and I intend to continue enjoying road running for quite some time yet.”

However, running marathons has never been a priority during his lengthy career even if he did clock that impressive time of 2 hours 27 minutes in his first effort in Portlaoise but the fact that the Walled City event takes place in his home town, then he couldn’t resist the challenge after his experience of 32 years ago!

“I still feel sore at my effort back then and while I’ve no intention of ‘racing it’ on Sunday, I’d like to record a comfortable 3 hours 30 or 35 minutes, I’d be very happy with that.”

And that time is just over one hour slower than he ran in his first effort in Co. Laois back in 1974.

There’s been a few changes for this event, he believes he had trained and prepared well for Sunday.

“This time I’ve prepared really well,” he smiled. “My training has gone to plan, I’m focused and I’m ready to enjoy it.

“I will be running in Dublin in August and Sunday’s marathon will form part of my preparation for the National Half Marathon event which is more to my liking these days.

“That race is also very important to me because of my record.”

Amazingly, McMonagle never took up athletics while at school and his introduction came about as he felt we wasn’t good enough to get into the St. Mary’s Boys’ Club football team.

“I was always told that the more you train, the better your chance of getting into the team, but I suppose I just was good enough.

“I was then informed that the Highland Games were taking place at Piggery Ridge and there was a one mile race which I agreed to enter as I wasn’t in the football team.

“I ran an extra lap of the track and won the race,” he laughed. “And from that point, myself and a few friends formed the Athletics Club within St. Mary’s Boys’ Club.

“And we shocked quite a few in our first season when winning the Derry and Ulster Novice Cross-Country Championships, the first boys’ club to achieve such a feat.

“Oak Leaf AC was the fashionable club back then, but I think they got a shock when racing against us.

“As it turned out, the club lasted for about two years with quite a few of our athletes joining Oak Leaf.

“Due to my lengthy friendship with Fr. Joe (Carolan), I opted to hold back for a while before joining the club myself and I achieved some great successes and enjoyable times while there,” he concluded.