CLOUGHMILLS woman Claire Martin's feet have barely touched the ground since last Sunday – but given that she had been running for 24 hours prior to that she's bound to be glad of the rest!
Claire lined up last Saturday at Belfast's Victoria Park to take part in the Energia 24 – a 24 hour run that would test even the strongest runner's ability and covered 111.4 miles in the 24 hour period.
Initially the mum-of-three set out to run for 12 hours, but in the days before the run, decided to run the full 24 – with the money raised going to a charity very close to Claire's heart – Marie Curie.
Claire said: “I will be 50 in November this year. I knew I could run 50 miles in the 12 hour window and so the seed to run 50 miles for 50 years was planted! I also wanted this event to be a fundraiser for Marie Curie as they helped nurse my beautiful sister, Julie O'Kane, who passed away last May at only 37. Life is short, so I wanted to mark and celebrate my 50 years.”
Claire, who is a member of Ballymena Runners, trained with Ballycastle woman Helena Dornan and for the first 90 miles of Sunday's run, the buddies were in each other's shadow – in fact at the final count, Helena was placed 5th woman overall, whilst Claire placed 6th – both were absolutely overjoyed by their achievement.
Claire is also the brand-new holder of a new outright club record, the last one standing at 107.4 miles, she beat it by four miles and she did it in a tutu!
When Claire, a classroom assistant at St Patrick's College, Ballymena, started running at the age of 37, it was Paula Radcliffe's 2005 marathon success that spurred her on.
She said: “I took up running the day after her win, I ran from one lamppost to another – there was no such thing as couch to 5k when I started!”
The first step was all it took for Claire and she hasn't stopped running since, with her biggest achievement to date being her quadrathon – which is four marathons in four days – in Donegal.
Claire has also taken part in at least three six hour challenges, scooping second lady title on one occasion!
Claire added: “When I was 40 I wanted to try a marathon, so the first marathon I trained for and ran was in Edinburgh in 2009. I remember it was 30 degree heat, nothing like the conditions I had been training in at home, but I completed it in four hours four minutes. I can't describe the sense of achievement, but it was another five years before I did another...!”
And she didn't stop there, with (she thinks!) 35 marathons under her belt, she recalls Dublin in 2014 being her second, and another time in Monaghan running a marathon prior to the actual event....just to see if she could do it! On both these occasions Claire came in under four hours.
Unfortunately the life of a marathon runner doesn't come without its injuries and after one summer where Claire ran a record number of miles, it was discovered she had a stress fracture, one which she hadn't been aware of and had continued to train on.
She said: “I have picked up a few injuries which have put me out of action for a while, the worst being in 2015 for four months which left me unable to run the London marathon.
“I had a 'good for age' after Dublin (3.48) which got me into the London one for 2016, but I was injured again then (hip trouble!) so London is still on the 'to do' list.”
Claire, who is a fully qualified aerobics and spin cycle instructor, has raised a lot of money for charities over the years, but this 24 hour run meant the world to her and her family.
She said: “I wanted to raise money for Marie Curie. I am one of eight and we lost our youngest sister to cancer in May last year. Needless to say we were devastated, it's not something we will ever get over as a family, but I wanted to help other people who find themselves in our position.
“Julie was able to be at home with her family in her final days and this was thanks in no small part to the Marie Curie volunteers.
“It's a great service and one which we were all so grateful for, the Marie Curie nurses were so kind, they said looking after Julie had been a pleasure – and that's how we felt too, it had been an honour to have them in Julie's home.
“Knowing they were there provided some reassurance for us all and my aim was to raise £950 for the charity.”
It will come as no surprise that Claire managed to break through her target with her total currently sitting at £1,600.
Claire, affectionately known among her running friends as ‘Mighty Mouse’ concluded: “I always say 'never give up' and as I ran round the course during the night that's what kept me going.
“I wanted to do this for me, I wanted to do it in Julie's memory and I wanted to do it for Marie Curie, so that any family facing the same heart-break we went through, would have some support just like we did.”
Claire wants to thank everybody who sponsored her, many of whom she doesn't know personally, as well as her husband Damien and her family who were there at the finish line. She said: “The atmosphere among runners is one of the best you'll find anywhere. If you're thinking of running my advice is just to give it a go.
“You're never on your own at any event, there's so much support from parkruns to larger events, if you want to give it a go just do it!”