Runners come from all walks of life and each of them has a unique story to tell. JustRunLah! chats with Máire, a recent podium finisher of the Shape Run 2015 (10km) and Asia representative for World Gaelic Games to find out more about her running journey and life as a professional athlete and therapist.

JustRunLah!: How will you introduce yourself to Singapore running community?

Máire: My name is Máire Nic Amhlaoibh and I’m a physiotherapist working at The Moving Body. I’m from Ireland and relocated to Singapore two years ago with my boyfriend, Liam, who’s also a physiotherapist. My name is Gaelic (Irish) and is the translation of Mary and my family name tends to be a mouthful for most but it translates to McCauley. I’m a fluent Gaelic speaker and completed all my studies directly through Gaelic hence why I only use my Gaelic name.

I was drawn to my profession as a young athlete who loved sport but took up running late, and over trained. This lead to me developing a hip injury on a warm weather training camp that was never clearly explained to me yet unfortunately resulted in weeks away from running. So, from there I decided I was going to learn how to heal other athletes and enable them reach their true potential injury free. And that’s currently what I’m doing and I love it. At the same time I’m continuing to train hard and develop myself as an athlete.

Apart from my passion of distance running, I also play Gaelic football. Since moving to Singapore I’ve taken up Gaelic football which is the national sport of Ireland, but ironically I never played it in Ireland. I play with the Singapore Gaelic Lions and I took up the sport as a means to meet other people and as a social outlet but I never knew I’d love it so much. It’s a mix between Australian rules football and soccer and its non contact for the girls but a little rougher for the guys. Since arriving I’ve managed to represent Singapore in two All Asian Gaelic Games finals, of which we won last year in 2014. Training and playing with a team is so different to what I’m used to with running, but it’s also amazing and inspiring.

Team Asia at the World Games
Team Asia at the World Games

JRL: When did you first pick up running (what age) and what inspired you to do so?

Máire: Unfortunately I didn’t start running until secondary school when I was 15 years old. I had always been an active child thanks to my very active parents and grew up walking everywhere instead of driving. I have fond memories of taking long Sunday hikes all around Ireland, even in the wind and rain. In the end, it was my older brothers who pushed me towards running. I have five older brothers and all have been very successful in mountain running and distance running. One of my brothers was actually a very accomplished road cyclist and won many national and international titles. They thought I had the talent and encouraged me, and I’m ever grateful.

JRL: Would you say that one needs to have a certain mindset to take up running as a sport/exercise activity?

Máire: Yes and no. I think running is as hard as you make it. If you want to be super competitive with it then yes I think you need to have strong mindset because there are days when training goes terribly or a race doesn’t go as expected and you need to be able to pick yourself back up and go again. So you have to be determined, diligent and you have to sacrifice certain things in life too.

Completing parallel bars during the Urbanathalon 2015 (Top 4 Females)
Completing parallel bars during the Urbanathalon 2015 (Top 4 Females)

But every runner gets something different out of running too, and some people just love to run for fun and it’s their therapy or release. So for those people their mindset is different – they may not be bothered about their placing and are just happy to be running. They’re running for themselves and I think running gives them a great emotional lift which improves their mindset and leaves them feeling positive.

JRL: What would you consider to be your biggest running achievement so far? 

Crossing the finish line of the Edinburgh Marathon with her six year old niece, Caoilfhionn.
Crossing the finish line of the Edinburgh Marathon with her six year old niece, Caoilfhionn.

Máire: Running my first ever marathon in Edinburgh in 3hours 21mins. I ran in honor of my Dad who passed away of cancer and crossed the line with my 6 year old niece holding my hand. And of course representing Ireland in cross country and mountain running too.

JRL: You ran an impressive 40min42s for the 10km! How long did it take you to train for that?

Shape Run 2015, 10km
Máire finishing fast at Shape Run 2015 (2nd position, 10km)

Máire: Well I was actually training for a half marathon so it was part of my training to run a sub 41min 10km two weeks out from my half. I was 6 weeks into an 8 week plan, but to be honest I’m always running, it’s just that I may increase the intensity to target a specific goal or race. I was training to improve my 21km time and get a 1hour 30min in the 2XU compression 21km, which I managed to do. I ran 1.30.17 but unfortunately didn’t make the podium as I was in the second wave but I was absolutely delighted with my time.

2XU Compression Run 2015, 21km
2XU Compression Run 2015, 21km

JRL: What advice would you give to someone taking that 10km race? Just Run Lah?

Máire: Exactly! Just get out there and run but run wisely. Pick your race and leave yourself enough time to train in advance. Try schedule a 5km 2-3weeks before the race to test the waters and see how you’re training has gone. I see so many people in the clinic who have injured themselves having gone into a race unprepared or with too little time to train.

Also, give yourself a goal like a time you’d like to complete the race in. Plan out what time you should be doing every km in and stick to the plan. Most of all pace yourself, 10km is long so make sure you don’t go out too quick so that you can enjoy it, especially the moment you cross the finish line!

JRL: Do you have any pre-race rituals? What goes through your head every time you run?

Máire: Yes I’m a little superstitious when it comes to race day. I make a chia and oatmeal pudding with coconut water and blueberries the night before and have that race morning. And a coffee of course! I’ll have my clothes laid out with my trainers and bag packed the night before. And I always eat the same pre-race meal the night before, I’ve eaten the same meal before every race day since I was 15!

I actually don’t know what goes through my head to be honest, everything I suppose. How my body feels, how my pace feels, how my breathing feels, what position I’m in and so on.

JRL: What is your mantra for when the going gets tough in a race?

Máire: I’ve tried mantras before and never found them to be helpful, so instead I try to motivate myself. I tell myself “I feel good, this is easy, only “X” km to go, do it for Dad” and that usually pushes me to the end.

JRL: What do you think makes a runner, especially someone who keeps at it, put feet to the ground day after day?

Máire: I think anyone can be a runner. It can be hard but it can be therapeutic and healing at the same time, and most of all it can become addictive. Most runners run because they enjoy it, or because it clears their mind or gives them focus or clarity. As they say, once you start, you can’t stop! It makes you feel good and for that reason you continue to pound the streets, and push your limits. Running can give you so much freedom if you allow it.

JRL: Finish this sentence: Running is…

Máire: …my freedom!