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Runher: Why this family finds Belfast Telegraph challenge a generation game

Published 30/04/2015

On track: grandmother Violet Davidson (centre) with her daughter Karen Mulholland and grand-daughter Zara Mulholland
On track: grandmother Violet Davidson (centre) with her daughter Karen Mulholland and grand-daughter Zara Mulholland
Stepping out: from left, Karen Mulholland, Violet Davidson and Zara Mulholland who are all competing in Runher this month

Meet the grandmother, daughter and grand-daughter who are in training for the Belfast Telegraph’s latest Runher event next month. The energetic trio tell Helen Carson why it’s never too late to hit the road to fitness and fun.

Three generations of a Bangor family will be setting the pace at this year's Belfast Telegraph Runher Coastal Challenge which will feature a brand new five kilometre route as well as the regular 10k event which kicks off at Seapark in Holywood on May 22.

Seventy-year-old grandmother Violet Davidson, her daughter Karen Mulholland (49) and grand-daughter Zara Mulholland (16), will all be pulling on their running shoes to take part in the 2015 Runher event along with 1,000 other female competitors.

Organiser and race director Michael Jenkins, from retail outlet Pure Running who introduced the coastal running event in 2012, says: "Women of all ages and abilities are encouraged to sign up to walk, jog or run either our classic 10k which begins at Seapark, or our brand new five kilometre event from Rockport School.

"Many ladies take up our team challenge and raise money for much-loved charities - so it's a 'win, win' event for everyone involved.

"Belfast Telegraph Runher is all about friends, family, work colleagues and teammates joining together for fun and exercise."

And it really is a family affair for the Davidson and Mulholland trio, all of who are aiming to achieve a personal best at the coastal run.

Both Violet and Karen are accomplished marathon runners, having successfully completed the ultimate running test all over the world.

Meanwhile, Zara is juggling her AS exams with a punishing training regime which enables her to compete as an Irish youth international in Modern Pentathlon.

But the fleet-footed clan weren't always so athletic, as Violet only started running at the age of 50 and Karen decided to join her pounding the roads of North Down, aged 30.

The Runher Coastal Challenge 2015 route
The Runher Coastal Challenge 2015 route

Not surprisingly, the running bug rubbed off on Zara at a young age - now she is a fully-fledged member of Ballydrain Athletics Club and a pentathlete.

The three women have already notched up many Runher outings and would encourage women of all fitness levels to register and take part.

Violet says: "I'm living proof that it's never too late to slip on the running shoes and get stuck in.

"It really is good craic as well as being good for your health - I can highly recommend it."

This year mum and grandmother will do the 10k run while granddaughter Zara is hoping for a quick time on the five kilometres run.

They all plan to meet up at the end of the race to toast another successful Runher.

Karen says: "My husband always picks us up in the car afterwards, and mum and I have a cheeky glass of Cava to celebrate another coastal event."

'It's a brilliant concept and brings together so many women'

Karen Mulholland (49), a PSNI officer from Bangor, is mother to Zara. She says:

Fitness really only became part of my life when I joined the police and I had to have a good level of general fitness. When I became a police trainer, though, I did pick up on exercise again as I wanted to set a good example to the new recruits. I got running with mum in 1995 - just a few miles to begin with and we set ourselves the goal of running the Paris marathon in 1999 - and we have been running ever since.

I love running because it is a fantastic stress-buster and you can do it wherever you are. I love to travel, so rather than worrying if a hotel has got a gym, you just throw your running shoes into your case and you're ready to go.

I went on a cruise once and got off the ship at Istanbul to run - it's a great way to sightsee. When I visit my sister in London, I run in the parks there.

Growing up in a family who ran a bakery, I love my food. We are all foodies, so one of the great things about running is you can eat whatever you like. I love cooking, too, so being a runner helps balance out what you eat - but I don't have to deprive myself of treats.

I don't stick to a special diet when I'm preparing for a marathon. You need to eat more carbohydrates.

I try to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and drink lots of water. When it comes to training, mum and I will keep our mileage up before a marathon. I have taken part in 15 marathons in America and Europe, including Paris, New York, Dublin, London, Cardiff and Belfast, as well as competing in the 2013 World Police and Fire Games in Belfast, taking part in the half marathon.

I haven't done a marathon in three years, but mum and I are gearing up for the Great North Run later this year.

For us, Runher is a fun event and we get into the spirit of it by joining in with all the activities that make it something we just wouldn't miss. Runher is a brilliant concept as it brings together so many women of all ages. It's very relaxed yet we all want to achieve a personal best."

'I haven't looked back since I began competing'

Violet Davidson, (70), a retired bakery owner, lives in Bangor. She is mum to Karen Mulholland and grandmother to Zara Mulholland. She says:

I took up running 20 years ago when I was aged 50. Last weekend, I completed the London marathon in five-and-a-half hours - that's 31 marathons I have chalked up. I haven't looked back since I started running all those years ago. I ran our family's bakery business in Bangor, the Carlton Patisserie for many years. Working full time at the bakery was my fitness routine. I spent every day lifting heavy baking trays laden with bread and running up and down stairs - that was my exercise. I did go to the odd aerobic class but I didn't really have the time, as I was so busy working. Then, when the business was sold, I started working in the civil service and had time in the evenings and at the weekend to exercise - that was a turning point for me. I started running, just a couple of miles to begin with. Karen began running with me, too, and we decided to build up our distance and enter the Paris marathon.

Now I run two to three days every week with a big run at the weekend. I would think nothing of running 12 miles on a Saturday or Sunday with pilates and lots of core exercises to maintain my flexibility. Karen and I are currently in training for the Great North Run and the Royal Parks run. We will do a few local half marathons to maintain our fitness levels, and we always take part in Runher as it is such fun.

I love the atmosphere, which is so friendly, and we take part in the warm up exercises before the run itself. There is also entertainment and music which we have a dance, too - it's a great event."

'Runher is a welcome break from studying'

Zara Mulholland (16), from Bangor, is a student at Glenlola Collegiate. She says: 

My 17th birthday falls just two days after completing the new five kilometres Runher event. I am hoping to run a fast paced five kilometres while mum and grandma will do the 10k, so I can meet up with them at Crawfordsburn Country Park. I have six Runhers under my belt, and I've joined them for several Runher events in October, though I tend to run on ahead.

It is a relaxed outing and I don't feel the pressure of a serious competitive event, although I always want to achieve a personal best.

I train with Ballydrain Athletics Club two nights of the week, swim about five times a week, and do hill sprints and interval training to keep my fitness at the right level. As an Irish youth international in Modern Pentathlon, I also have to be competitive in the disciplines of running, shooting, fencing, swimming and horse riding.

As I train so often, I will take protein shakes to keep my energy and fitness levels up.

May and June are going to be busy for me educationally, as I have 10 AS exams to sit in the sciences and maths. But training and competing in Runher will be a welcome break from all the studying.

I'd like to study chemical engineering, hopefully at Bath University. The scenic city was home to Jane Austen and has beautiful Georgian architecture so it would also be an inspiring place to run."

Prizes galore for competitors

  • There are the usual top prizes for first, second and third places. This year sees the introduction of additional prizes for age group winners in the 10k event, with the fastest runners receiving a £50 hoodie and Pure Running T-shirt. There will be spot prizes for the five kilometres' participants with prize draws online and Facebook in the lead up to the May 22 event
  • Belfast Telegraph Runher, which began in 2007, is Northern Ireland's largest female only running event
  • Other sponsors, Water Within, will provide refreshments at the halfway point on the 10k race and at the Crawfordsburn finish
  • There is a carnival atmosphere at the finish line with children's entertainment, live music and a family barbecue

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