Going the distance: the ironman who just keeps moving
Maurice Mullins has run 130 marathons, 20 100km races and some 24-hour races, but is facing his biggest battle yet
‘My first ambition is to run a 10k. I’ll stay at that for a few months. I would hope to reach a 10 miler. I might be satisfied with a 10 miler.”
This might sound like the ambitions of your average runner but they were spoken by a far from average man. Maurice Mullins has run close to 130 marathons, about 20 100km races and thinks he may have done “six or seven” 24-hour races. He’s not exactly sure of the figure, because after five rounds of cancer treatment, including a particularly rough course of chemotherapy, the 72-year-old’s memory can be a little sketchy.
Maurice’s lust for life and love of running hasn’t diminished and is beautifully captured in Going the Distance , a short documentary made by his daughter Deirdre Mullins.
Maurice was a relatively late convert to running – he was 38 when he completed his first marathon – having played hurling and then rugby for many years. But a couple of tackles in a match, “which sent me reeling”, convinced the then schoolteacher to hang up his boots in his mid 30s.
Attracted by the idea of being able to “do a few miles every day, either on your own or with some mates”, Maurice’s running addiction got better, or worse depending on your viewpoint, when he took to the mountains and became a confirmed “ultra” runner, ie regularly clocking distances in excess of a marathon’s 26 miles.
This love of longer distances led him to tackle the Western States 100, one of ultra runnings four grand slam events, which takes place in northern California every June and involves a 100-mile run over the Sierra Nevada mountains with a cumulative climb of 5,500 metres.
“I ran it but can’t say I finished it,” laughs Maurice. “I ended up 9 feet down in a hole in the snow and I’m not quite sure how I got out.”
Despite having represented Ireland at 100km Maurice concedes that ultra running is a “form of lunacy”.
“Every runner should do one marathon and then go back to doing 10ks or 5 mile races,” says Maurice. He had a regular 36-mile training run that he used to complete every Sunday morning in his heyday.
“I’d be passing the farm houses in the morning and I’d be getting the smell of bacon and eggs. Then at lunchtime I’d be smelling people’s Sunday dinner and I’d be going bloody mad because I hadn’t even had my breakfast yet, but was still out.”
Not content to participate, Maurice was also an organiser. He was involved in organising the first triathlon in Ireland, which was held in Skerries in 1983 and four years later put on an Iron Man event in the north Dublin seaside village.
As daughter Deirdre recalls, both events “were grassroots – organised out of our four-bedroom house in Skerries with lots of community involvement” in contrast with the much more corporate triathlon scene of today.