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88-year-old marathon man determined to keep on running

Having ran the Dublin marathon 27 times, Phonsie has no intention of hanging up his running shoes just yet. For Clifford, it’s not about winning or reducing time, instead his goal is to mark his 90th year in style, by running the Limerick, Dublin and London marathons all in the one year.

The feeling of crossing the finish line is something most people never experience, but it’s something Phonsie is used to:

“You just think, ‘Oh Thank God’. You thank God and you bless yourself. Once you see the finish line, a burst of energy comes into you and you feel like you could nearly sprint the last bit of the race. A lady puts the medal over you and you think ‘Thank god that it’s over for another 12 months’,” jokes Phonsie.

Clifford is something of a local legend in Limerick, known for running marathons with a sign on his back, stating his age and his number of grandchildren.

Phonsie admits that he was a late convert to running and only began pounding the pavement at 62:

“I was 13 stone and I wanted to lose weight, so I started walking. I’d do 20 yards and I’d be winded. I kept walking, then I started speed-walking, then jogging and then I started running.

“Once I got into it, it was like a drug, like smoking or drinking, I had to have it” recalls Phonsie.

Since he first decided to take the plunge and begin running, Phonsie has been dedicated to his training regime, which reflects the year-long commitment that goes into the completing the 26 mile endurance test.

“In the next few weeks, just after the marathon is over I start training again. I start off with 14 miles, three times a week. Eventually then, I increase it to 16 miles, then 18, before getting up to 20 miles just before the marathon.”

Although Phonsie never does the whole 26 miles as part of his training, he explains the atmosphere on race day is enough to carry him the final few miles.

“The minute you take off, you forget about everything. The house, the home, the family- all gone. A lot of [runners], when they run past me, they shout, ‘Good man Phonsie’, and give me a pat on the back. You’d hear some people saying ‘God, look at that, he’s passing us out at 88’.”

While Phonsie enjoys running, it’s the opportunity to inspire others that motivates him the most:

“I’m trying to motivate other people, of 60 or 70 years of age, and show them they can do it too. My son Richie used to run [ The Dublin Marathon], and he wants to do it next year with me now with Carmel [Richie’s wife]. They want to be like me at 88.

“Some of my grandchildren run and they’re trying to beat me all the time, but I keep in front of them- they’re only 30 years of age” remarks the grandfather of 13.

Photo: Aisling Moloney, Limerick Voice

For Phonsie, 26 years of running marathons has meant 26 years of fundraising for a charity that is close to his heart- Milford Care Centre, for whom he estimates he has raised around €56,000 for.

“I go out to Milford on a Monday as part of the day centre. It’s wonderful, all the people are happy. The atmosphere is beautiful.

“Some of the other people there ask me my age and they can’t believe it. I brought the medal out to Milford on Wednesday and they were amazed. The people in Milford are wonderful” says Phonsie.

Photo: Aisling Moloney, Limerick Voice

Setting goals is part of every runners’ preparation, but for Clifford, it’s not about winning or reducing time, instead his goal is to mark his 90th year in style, by running the Limerick, Dublin and London marathons all in the one year.

While running a marathon is a daunting task, Phonsie insists it is something everyone can achieve if they prepare properly and offers this advice to marathon-hopefuls:

“Don’t start off too fast. People go off like a bullet and then at 10 or 12 miles they’re gone. You start slow, and after a while, you’ll be passing them out.”

Photo: Aisling Moloney, Limerick Voice

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