Running for mayor
THE MAYOR of Kilkenny Seán Ó hArgáin is unusual in many ways. As if the fact that the Cats made this man from The Kingdom their mayor wasn’t odd enough, he also went from being overweight to running a marathon in just 10 months. Kilkenny’s mayor doesn’t do things by halves.
Five years ago, approaching the age of 40, the primary school principal says lack of exercise and an expanding waistline finally started to get him down.
Playing football with his native Waterville from childhood to his early 30s, he hadn’t always been so unfit.
“I played football, although it was atrocious football, for most of my life. I was never particularly a first team player, but I would have continued to play and train with the lads until I was in my 30s.”
But by the time he, his wife and two children moved to Kilkenny in 2002, he says sport had gone out the window. “We had a busy house, both of us were working full-time and I suppose I just fell out of the habit of regular exercise.”
The build-up to change was slow. “From the time I’d stopped playing football, I’d put on the guts of two stone. It was always niggling at me and I suppose I was getting more and more conscious of it.”
He says it was canvassing a member of the Kilkenny City Harriers during the 2007 general election that got him back on track. When she challenged him to take part in the local Smithwicks Road Race Series, five races starting at two miles and building up to six, it was just the push he needed.
Completing the series in May, he followed it up with a 10-mile race in August, a half-marathon in September before completing the Dublin City Marathon in October in five hours 10 minutes.
“I was fairly throwing myself in at the deep end alright,” he admits.
Despite the running however, from 2007 to 2011, Ó hArgáin says his weight remained static. He says it was no mystery why.
“We’ve got five of the best chippers in the country in Kilkenny. You’d find me in the queue of a chipper in my running gear, having done a run, feeling I deserved a snack box.”
Standing on the scales in January 2011 was a reality check. “I’m 5ft 4 on a good day and I was half a pound off 13 stone, I said right, this just isn’t good enough.”
Joining a local men-only Weight Watchers class, Ó hArgáin dropped a stone and a half in six months. Catching the diet bug, he even started to bake his own high fibre bread. With the support of the 23 teachers at his school, staff room biscuits were replaced with a twice-weekly delivery of fruit.
Completing a local marathon in June of that year, his time dropped to four hours and 30 minutes. “A lot of that was me carrying a stone and a half less. I found the training much easier and much more satisfying.”
Neither have his pupils at Gaelscoil Osraí been spared his zeal. Working with a different class each year, he takes them out to run five minutes the first day before building up the distance. The emphasis isn’t on winning but finishing.