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Runher: Why these two GAA All-stars and netball champion keep on running

Next Friday's Runher event takes place by the North Down coast. Kerry McKittrick meets three of the top athletes taking part

The popular Belfast Telegraph Runher Coastal event is warming up to be one of the most successful outings for female runners province-wide, with a new 5k route to encourage women of all fitness levels to take part.

The all-female running event is now more accessible to fledgling athletes who want to enjoy the spectacular Co Down coastline while boosting their fitness levels.

The regular 10k route is still a feature of the race, but the shorter distance now means there is no excuse not to pull on your trainers and have a go. Runher has become a firm fixture on Northern Ireland's running calendar with hundreds of women regularly participating in the twice yearly event. All the finishers are invited to join the party at Crawfordsburn County Park for a barbecue and DJ - making it a day of family fun. Online entry is now open, so there's never been a better time to get out there and feel the burn.

We talk to three local female athletes at the top of their game who say Runher is inspiring women of all ages and fitness to take part in sport.

Dr Caroline O’Hanlon (30) from Bessbrook is a GAA All-star and the vice-captain of the Northern Ireland netball team, not to mention winning Belfast Telegraph. Sportswoman of the Year in 2010. She says:

My family has always been involved with the local GAA club, and so was I from a young age. Primary school nurtured my interest in netball and I started playing when I was nine.

I’ve played both sports for so long they have become something I’ve always done, and I’ve managed to fit them both into my life. The fact that netball is generally played in the winter and GAA in the summer helps, as there is little overlap.

When you start playing competitive sports at a high level, it’s because you enjoy it — winning championships is an added bonus, but it’s not the only reason I do it.

I’ve always enjoyed running and both of my sports require quite a lot of it. I’ve taken part in a number of 10Ks over the years, but I’ve never done Runher or an all-women event before. I’m looking forward to it — it’s a lovely route and hopefully the weather will be nice. The number of women in sport is growing, and netball is starting to attract a lot of attention now, especially since the Commonwealth Games.

Northern Ireland is hosting the Netball European Championships, which begins today until May 17, and this is the type of event which will encourage a lot of women to get into sport. The fact it is being staged locally is also an incentive for them to come out and support their team.

Something like Runher is great for getting people of all levels of ability out and about. It encourages all women to get out and get moving. I’m really looking forward to the craic and running by the shore-side, which is such a stunning backdrop.”

Mairead Tennyson (31) from Silverbridge, is a physiotherapist and one of only four Antrim GAA players to be awarded All-star status. She says:

I think I was born sporty — one of my first memories is of sports day at my local GAA club. Running would have been my first sport, as I was very keen on athletics and netball.

I was quite late to the sport of Gaelic football as I didn’t start playing until I was 14. Whatever your sport, the most important aspect at any level of participation is the training.

Despite the fact that GAA is always amateur, we actually do train like professional athletes, with at least two sessions of strength and conditioning a week for the county, never mind what’s required of you from your club.

I’m very lucky to have a job that works around my sport, which enables me to achieve a better work-life balance.

I have my evenings to myself, as I work 8am to 4pm each day. When it comes to committing to a competitive sport I don’t believe you would do it unless you enjoyed it.

My first love was running and I still like going out by myself when I can. When it’s out of the GAA season, I keep my fitness levels up with lots of cardio work, with mountain running to maintain my stamina.

An all-female running event is a brilliant concept and such events really encourage women to be the best they can — it can only add to raising the profile of women in sport.

I’ve taken part in 10K races and Belfast Marathon relays and wouldn’t mind doing the full thing at some stage.

I’m looking forward to Runher — the fact that it is a female-only event is a great way to engage with women and encourage them to give running a go — anyone can get involved and you don’t need any special equipment apart from a good pair of trainers. Women who have never run before can use this as their deadline and a goal to focus on. It might be the first step, and hopefully they will carry on once the race is over.

I can’t wait to take part, I’m not sure if myself, Caroline and Bronagh will all run together — we might get a bit competitive if we do.”

Bronagh McAfee (40) is a PE teacher at Assumption Grammar School and lives near Lisburn with her husband Stephen. She is a former Northern Ireland netball captain and still plays in the Northern Ireland Premier League. She says:

My dad was very big into sport — Gaelic football, in particular — so he was a huge influence on me, and I have always been involved in sport at some level.

I started taking part in gymnastics almost as soon as I could walk and was quite good at athletics at primary school. When I went to Dominican College at Fortwilliam, it was all about athletics until netball took over and I started competing at district tournaments, progressing to regional level and eventually the national team. In 2006, when I retired from the national team, I was one of their most capped players.

There’s something very social about netball and I still love playing the matches, although I would like to take a step back from the game soon — perhaps in the next couple of years. It’s a little strange for me as a PE teacher — when I look around the team, there are girls I taught when they were in first year playing against me.

I’ve always loved running and even when I’ve been training for netball, I’ve tried to fit in two or three runs a week. I’ve done a couple of half marathons and some 10ks and they’re really enjoyable. Runher will be the first all-female 10k I’ve ever done, and I am aware that women are under-represented in sport, so it’s wonderful to see an event like this which is dedicated to women. Importantly for me, Runher provides good role models for young girls who can be inspired by their peers to achieve their sporting and fitness goals.

I have a busy life with my sporting commitments, so I make a point of taking time to relax at the weekend and on holidays, but if running or any sport is your passion you will find time for it.”

Register for both events online

  • Runher is an all-women running event of either 5k or 10k taking place on Friday, May 22. The 10k event will start at Seapark in Holywood and the 5k event begins at Rockport School. Both events will finish in Crawfordsburn County Park
  • To register go to Registration costs £20 and is available for those aged 12 and up for the 5k event and those aged 15 and up for the 10k event. Registration includes a Runher t-shirt and goodie bag
  • Also at you can find videos of the coastal route, training plans and picture galleries of previous Runher events 

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