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Stevey putting his best foot forward for gruelling 60 ultra-marathons in 60 days


On the run: Stevey McGeown gears up for his challenge

On the run: Stevey McGeown gears up for his challenge

His painted yellow hands

His painted yellow hands

On the run: Stevey McGeown gears up for his challenge

One bright Saturday last August, Stevey McGeown trotted into Gosford Forest Park in Armagh. The end of the line for his successful bid to complete 100 marathons in 100 days, becoming the first man to do so in Ireland. Time for a modest celebration.

He experienced a sleepless night of cramps and pains as his body unwound, but the £35,000 he raised for the Laura Maguire Foundation was ample consolation. Along the way, a lot of people ran alongside the 37-year-old Armagh man, so he returned the favour in completing runs all over Ireland, until the thought struck him.

60 ultra-marathons, 60 days. Why not? A marathon is just over 26 miles. Anything above that is considered an ultra-marathon. Stevey has settled on a daily 40 miles in order to circumnavigate Ireland, starting off at the point where he stopped the previous day.

He is going to run around the perimeter of the island, crossing into every county, hitting up the big cities and the small towns. He will take in some of Carrauntoohil, the highest point in Ireland among the MacGillycuddys Reeks of Kerry. Up at the top, he will become acquainted with Malin Head in Donegal. Down below, Cork's Mizen Head.

Last year, he raised £35,000. This year, he wants to make 10 times that amount for Autism charities. In Northern Ireland, the money will go to the Paddy Wallace Fund for Autism. In the Republic of Ireland, the Keith Duffy Foundation will benefit.

Gerry Rowe, the man behind various running events in Northern Ireland, is on board. The two of them headed off before Christmas for a mini circuit of Ireland, plotting out the route.

Stevey recalls: "The whole purpose is to raise as much money as we can so you have to hit the major towns and major cities. Last year we had a goal and fell short but we just didn't get the publicity until the end.

"A lot of people found 100 marathons in 100 days unbelievable. But the fact that I achieved it last year gives me a bit of credibility, and bigger organisations are willing to get behind you."

John Boyle, the proprietor of Boylesports, is on board. His team are project-managing this dream. Running the marathons last year equipped him with legs like pistons, lungs like hot-air balloons and the heart of a lion. But another 13 or so miles on top of a marathon requires a bit more.

There are a few alterations and tweaks he has to make to his approach and technique.

"One of them is the breathing," he reveals. "I am working with a guy Tom Herron, who worked with Tyrone's GAA footballers."

Herron operates the Healing Centre in Dungannon. His approach centres around PEPSfit (Become Physically, Emotionally, Psychologically and Spiritually fit).

Stevey's own experiences and work as a 'life coach' - he isn't fond of the term - also comes into play. To paraphrase Haruki Murakami, what does he think about when he thinks about running?

"I mostly listen to the birds," he says. "I stay in the present moment. I just listen to the birds, listen to nature.

"The mind can go into your thoughts. You start going, 'I have 20 miles left'. You have to stay in the present, listen to what is going on and enjoy around you.

"If you ever get it a little bit tight, then you talk to yourself in a positive way. I would be affirming to myself; relax, light, strong. Relax, light, strong. Relax…

"That would be my background for the last seven years. I suppose it comes under the new term now of 'Mindfulness'. That term has become hip and cool and trendy, but I have been teaching that for a long time. That's what I would be applying."

Plugging into an iPod while he runs is not for him. He might listen to a wide variety of music, with a particular fondness for U2, but while driving around, "it is mostly audio books I would listen to."

His reading materials reflect his business and leisure pursuits.

"I read 'Born to Run' and would highly recommend it. At the minute, I am reading 'The Demographic Cliff' which is a book on economics by Harry Dent," McGeown says. "A book that I always read is 'The Power of your Subconscious Mind' by Dr Joseph Murphy.

"It would always be fairly close to me."

And this kind of athletic pursuit could not be possible without keeping a strict eye on his diet. He likes the "handiness" of apples and eggs, but, "I like an odd burger too!"

On Wednesday June 1, he heads off on what he has called the dedicated website 'Stevey's Epic Adventure', leaving from his front door and heading east to Newry. His wife Catherine will bundle their children Ben, Katie and Harry into a camper van and they will follow him.

On the final day, he traces the steps of Cuchulain, from Drogheda to Armagh, arriving at the historical Navan Fort on July 30.

If you see him, you might notice his hand painted yellow.

"One of the challenges Autistic children have is making friends. Yellow represents communication and friendship," he explains.

Already, he has been to Stormont to get his picture taken with Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, along with Paddy and Tina Wallace sitting on a yellow 'Friendship Bench'.

"So whenever I am running, I will have my hand painted yellow and I am crossing the border nine times, crossing all the county borders. Friendship crosses all the divides. Friendship dissolves a lot of hardships and challenges," he adds.

"I am going to be extending the hand of friendship to everybody as I am running."

As the cavalcade approaches each county, McGeown has appealed to all musicians to meet them there, where they can play their county song and get a party feel to it.

Cyclists, walkers and runners are all welcome to join him along the way and he wouldn't refuse your help if you can shake a charity bucket.

"It's not really about the run, it's about friendship, raising the money and encouraging people to get along with each other," he concludes.

And we could all do with a little more of that in our lives.

Belfast Telegraph