Jim O’Byrne, who is training for next year’s London Marathon with his running companion, Elton Chambers, compares pounding the pavement accompanied by his friend with the confessional.
While Jim says that what is said while running stays there, he readily admits that talking to Elton about his wife Karen’s breast cancer helped him to cope.
Feeling frustrated that he couldn’t take away Karen’s ordeal and the suffering of their two children, Ailis (15) and Cian (17) over their mother’s diagnosis, Jim is doing something positive – raising funds for CUH men’s health services.
Ironically, it was Karen, concerned for her husband’s health, who got Jim out walking.
“I’m 52,” said Jim. “I was two and a half stone heavier than I am now when I started walking. I enjoyed a good drink. I enjoyed my food. Out walking one day in July 2020, I started running and I haven’t stopped.
“At the time, I looked like somebody that was seven months pregnant. It was all in the stomach and around my jowls. I’d had one or two incidents of breathlessness and ended up in CUH a couple of times with chest pain.”
In February 2021, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. She used to run herself but the illness and the treatment weakened her. For Jim, running distances, which comes naturally to him, is great for both his physical and mental health.
“There’s a selfish element to it. I needed to get out and to find my head space. I’d be the first to admit that I ran and cried – out of pure frustration and helplessness. The nature of what I do (he trains seafarers in survival skills at the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy) and what I am is that I fix things. I can turn my hand to anything, but I couldn’t do anything to ease Karen’s suffering. Just being out running, you solve things in your head or at least compartmentalise things. It helps.”
The first day Jim started running, he managed to complete 5km. Within a few weeks, he ran half a marathon. He went on to run the Cork City Marathon, raising money for breast cancer. He also ran the Limerick Marathon.
“I was probably running four days a week, slowly building up distance. It’s all about getting the mileage into your legs and it’s about what you eat. My diet has changed since I started running. I know that what I eat and drink affects my running. I haven’t had a drink since July.” (He has been training for the Dublin Marathon).
For Jim, breakfast is the most important meal. He now has porridge with various seeds including chia seeds. “It’s good for endurance.”
Jim’s running time at the Cork City Marathon was so good, at three hours and nine minutes, that he qualified for the Boston Marathon next year, but won’t participate in it as he’s focusing on London next April.
The challenge of running marathons is all relative as far as Jim is concerned.
“This sounds a bit corny. But when I was running the Cork City Marathon in June, I hit the wall a dozen times for the last half. Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to stop, to take a rest. But I kept on thinking back to Karen and what she went through with the chemo. Her torture lasted for weeks whereas I had another forty minutes of completing something I chose to do. The bread that Karen went through made me drive on. I couldn’t let people down. I had to do this.”
For Jim’s running mate, Elton Chambers, running is all about community.
“It’s nice to be part of the running community as opposed to having to go to the pub,” says Elton. “It’s another way of meeting people.”
Elton says he is health conscious. The 46-year-old says that he is now probably healthier than he was in his twenties.
“Back then, I would have been out socializing with friends in pubs,” he says. “I still do a bit of that. But I really enjoy exercise. I go running five or six times a week. It doesn’t have to be a 20-mile run. I could go out for just 40 minutes.”
Training, even for relatively short periods, can be sociable for Elton as when he catches up with Jim. It is also an opportunity to reflect and plan ahead.
“I like that free time. It gets me away from the desk and out in the air. When I’m running with Jim, I can say what I want. Like so many others, I have lost family members (his parents and his brother) to cancer in the last ten years. Running doesn’t make it better but it gives you time to understand what’s going on.”
Elton also goes to the gym every morning at 6am which sets him up for the day. He works for GE Healthcare.
Since Covid, he thinks there has been a big shift in society.
“People are now a lot more conscious of their health,” says Elton. “Covid got people out of the rhythm of going to the pub on a Friday or Saturday night. They’re making a lot more effort. The message I always give to people is that exercise is great for your physical being and also for your mental health.
“And as Jim says, you can have your own private confession, getting something off your chest. At the end of it, you’ve done something energetic. It doesn’t have to be a run. It could be a walk or a cycle.”
Elton and Jim are regularly to be seen running between Carrigaline and Crosshaven. When Elton moved from Bandon to Tracton (where his wife is from) 20 years ago, he didn’t know anybody in the area.
“I was looking for a club. I joined Tracton Athletic Club and started running. My passion for running started from there. There was no real plan or structure to it. I just ran for general fitness. Having done a lot of team sports when I was younger, I was getting out of that and looking for something to keep me going.”
Running is good for discipline. “It’s good for balancing work, home and life in general. You get a nice bit of release from it. If I’m training and I have a busy day ahead with something big coming up the next day, it gives me time to think about it, how I’ll present it and position it. I just like that time. It always gives me a clearer idea in my head of what I need to do. And it’s relaxing too.”
Elton is looking forward to the London Marathon on April 23. “It will be different because this is the first marathon I’m doing where it’s about somebody else. It’s about raising money for the CUH Men’s Health Services. It’s nice that this marathon is not really about chasing time for me.”
He adds: “As a CUH marathon group, we have people that have started fund-raising. With Christmas coming, we acknowledge that many charities are looking for support. As a CUH charity, dedicated to saving and changing lives, we appreciate any contribution that people can make.”
- The CUH Charity Team for London Marathon 2023 is full. If you want to be kept up to date on similar events into the future, contact Matthew: [email protected]
To donate, click: www.cuhcharity.ie/donate/