The Kilmihil National School teacher, who lives in Cooraclare, has since run 30 marathons, up to 60 half-marathons and numerous shorter distance road races. When she’s not pounding the roads, Maura can be seen gardening, walking, cycling or Irish dancing. When she’s feeling a bit tired, she reads running magazines. Yet back in 1991, she had yet to be convinced of the merits of running.
“I never ran a mile until I joined Mary Clarke’s meet and train group in Kilrush. She’s my inspiration. It has completely changed my life and has opened up a new life for me since I joined that day. I’d say I couldn’t even run a quarter of a mile when I was 31. That’s the truth and this is why I’m trying to inspire other people of my age,” Maura told The Clare Champion, at the family home in Cooraclare, last week.
“A friend of mine used to say to me ‘I knew you when you wouldn’t run to warm yourself’. Whatever it is about Mary, she just encouraged me. I won’t say we didn’t have pain. I can remember the stitches but I’m doggedly determined in everything I do. There was up to 40 in the meet and train group. To this day, there’s two of us running, myself and my friend Deirdre Carmody, who is an endurance runner,” Maura revealed.
Her admiration for Deirdre is boundless. “She did 10 marathons in 10 days and she survived. She’s now getting ready for the Nairobi Marathon,” Maura marvelled.
A member of Kilmurry Ibrickane Athletic Club, she also cites Breeda Marnane and her cousin, Bernie Kelly, as her most positive influences.
While Maura’s marathon exploits have earned the admiration and respect of her family, her husband, Joe had a few questions when she started driving to Kilrush for the meet and train runs.
“He used to ask ‘why are you driving five miles in and out to run three miles?’ He could see no sense in it,” Maura laughed.
“That time, back in 1991, there was no such thing as women joggers. It just wasn’t done. We were nicely hidden away in Kilrush wood. It took me a few years to build up my confidence, put on my runners and go up the road. People used to say to me, ‘I saw you passing. I wish I could do it.’ It’s amazing. I was thinking the opposite, although I’m sure a few people would say ‘it’s more in her line to be at the kitchen sink’,” Maura mused.
The meet and train group competed in 13 successive ladies’ mini-marathons in Dublin. In tandem, Maura competed in Tipperary, Galway and Cork before completing her first marathon in 1994. She still remembers the help afforded by her brother-in-law, Peadar Falsey.
“He was the only person that I knew well who was a marathon runner. He finished up doing nine marathons. He heard that I was training for the Dublin marathon and he said he would run it with me. I find it easier to run on my own but at the time I didn’t know what a marathon was like.
“He ran every step of the way with me. To this day, I’m so thankful to him,” Maura said, noting that she completed the run in four hours and 29 minutes.
She has since completed marathons in Berlin, Barcelona, Belfast, Cork, Longford, Cologne, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Munich, London and Stockholm, although Maura doesn’t have good memories of the Swedish capital.
“I swore never again would I travel away to a marathon on my own. It was very lonely, they lost my luggage and it was very, very hot out there. So it just shows that not all the marathons were hunky dory,” she pointed out. Her best time was three hours, 53 minutes in Barcelona.
“The year I was 50, I did five marathons. I met somebody soon afterwards and I really enjoyed their comment, ‘you’ll probably be doing eight for your 80th’. But when I think of my friend Deirdre [Carmody], I’m only a wimp,” Maura laughed, adding that she is due to meet 71-year-old Liam Fenlon at a race in Longford.
“He is aiming for his 300th marathon by the end of this year. He does a marathon every week,” Maura said.
A few years ago, Maura decided she had run her last marathon. That was until her pupils at Kilmihil National School intervened.
“When I reached marathon number 14, I decided I had enough. It was my first time beating the four hours. I had started teaching in Kilmihil National School at that time. Mrs O’Gorman, one of the teachers there, decided to enter the Community Games project entitled Our Local Sports Hero. She decided that Mrs Falsey was the hero and the children put it together. The project motivated me to start back again and I’ve 16 completed since,” she smiled.
Following a health set-back last March, Maura isn’t certain if she will embark upon another 26-mile epic. Ideally, she would like to but time will tell.
“Not for the moment because I would scare everybody around me, including my family, if they heard I was going to train for 26 miles. Thirteen miles is about as much as I’ll take on for the moment but I will never say never. If I don’t do any more, I’m quite happy but I won’t say that I’m finished.”
Recently Maura, who doesn’t smoke or drink, was one of five winners of the Linwoods Fab over 40 campaign. Her prize includes £1,000 in vouchers and two sessions with a personal shopper.
“I entered because I feel more energetic and confident now than I did in my 20s. I also have a more positive outlook on life. I really enjoy when people mistake me for a younger woman,” Maura jokingly boasted.
“I’d like to inspire other women of my age to fill each day with positive thoughts and gentle exercise, which will lead to a feeling of well-being,” she concluded as she eyed the room in search of her running shoes.