Anne Gilshinan: ‘People come up to tell me, they see what is possible’

Wexford middle distance runner inspiring with world records on the masters circuit

Ask Anne Gilshinan what motivates her to keep breaking world records and win medals on the championship stage and she answers just like any elite athlete would.

It’s about being the best she can be, testing herself to new limits and then beyond, and if she feels she hasn’t done that then it’s about making sure does the next time. She is, in other words, inherently and intensely competitive.

That Gilshinan is still doing this at her age – she turns 58 next month – has little to do with it: last month, she won a middle-distance treble at the European Masters Indoor Championships in Braga, Portugal, where over 2,000 athletes from 43 countries battled for medals across the various age categories. In most cases it seems age has nothing to do with it; it’s all about the competition.

In the end the Irish team of 87 athletes came away with 59 medals, including 24 golds, by far the most successful of any masters team from this country. What sets Gilshinan’s career apart is that she also holds six world records simultaneously in the Over-55 category – the 800m, 1,500m and mile all outdoors, as well as the same three events indoor – these achievements on the track were already recognised back in 2019 when she was named both European and world women’s master middle distance athlete of the year.


Most people in elite sport will at some point credit their parents for getting them involved, Gilshinan credits her daughter

Braga was the first time she struck gold at this level – adding to her two bronze medals and three silvers already won on the championship stage – and she didn’t have it all her own way either.

“I suppose going in with world records, there was the expectation I would win them,” says Gilshinan, who represents Slaney Olympic AC in Wexford. “The 800m was the toughest, racing against Britain’s Virginia Mitchell, who I had taken the world record off, three years ago. I went from the gun in that one, knowing she’s a 400m runner, and kept ahead of her.

“The 3,000m was next, and I sat in behind until the last three laps, went from there. Then in the 1,500m, I went from the gun, looking to win this one in style, and managed to stay well ahead.”

Her winning times were certainly impressive for any 57 year-old: 2:21.18 for 800m, 4:46.94 for 1,500m, and 11:26.37 for 3,000m. She set her last two world indoor records either side of Christmas, 5:07.01 for the mile in December, then 4:43.59 for the 1,500m in January, both clocked at the Sport Ireland Arena in Abbotstown.

Masters Athletics – formerly known as the veteran ranks – begins over the age of 35, with competition categories at five-year intervals from there. Also shining in Braga last month was Annette McQuaid from Leevale AC in Cork, who won two gold and silver in the Over-40 category (400m, 800m and 1,500m) plus the ever-enduring Joe Gough from Waterford, just shy of his 70th birthday, no stranger to world and European podiums, who won gold in the Over-65 1,500m and bronze in the 800m.

Most people in elite sport will at some point credit their parents for getting them involved, Gilshinan credits her daughter. Growing up in Virgina in Cavan, she dabbled in competitive running in her teenage years, at school at St Oliver’s in Oldcastle, in Meath, before moving to college in Dublin. Her teaching career and two children – daughter Danika (now 19) and son Jake (now 17) – soon took precedent.

It's all self-funded, but I don't mind that because I love it, love competing. I don't go out spending at all, so this is what I do

With husband Keith, the family later moved to Wexford, and now live in Bridgetown about 20km from Wexford town. Then in the summer of 2014 her running career suddenly resurrected itself, thanks to the encouragement of Danika.

“I’d kept reasonably fit all along, jogging, going to the gym, some level of fitness. I just never competed. Then I started running 5km, 10km races, doing some decent times. Then I was with my daughter at an athletics meeting in Cork, there was an open mile, and she suggested I run in that. I told her I’d never raced a mile, before, then she said I’d raced 10k. So that was that answered.

“I ran a good time then, for someone who never raced, was maybe 10 seconds off the national record. In my naivety I thought that was nothing, and that’s where it all got competitive again.”

In 2016 she won her first masters medal, silver in the 1,500m, and since then has built a team of support around her without which she says none of this would be possible.

“My husband Keith gives huge support, obviously, then I have a coach based in the US, in Texas, Rich Burns, who set world masters records himself. We became friends when he visited Ireland and we talk every day now, about the session, or the one just finished.

“I also work with the therapist Anthony Geoghegan in Carlow, he keeps everything in working order, maintenance therapy really. I also get great support from Kevin Cogley, the sprints coach, who introduced me to strength and conditioning, and I also get fantastic support from Slaney Olympic. The two children get very excited about it too.”

Still, she trains mostly alone, six days a week, typically for up to three hours a day. She’s retired from teaching now but still does tuition five evenings a week, which means all her training is done early in the day, adding to that need to be disciplined and motivated.

The perception of Masters Athletics is changing all the time too. Gilshinan’s next target will be the World Masters Athletics Championships in Tampere, Finland this summer, every year the standards are getting higher.

“Some of them might be former Olympians, and it is getting more competitive. People see it as a real sport, it’s all done to championship standard, starting gun, electronic timing, even anti-doping.

“I wouldn’t have thought before I was inspiring anyone, though people come up to tell me, they see what is possible to achieve, at the level it is at now. It’s no longer just older people out for a run, there’s a real competitive element to it.

“I would be naturally competitive anyway, no matter what, I’d always be pushing myself to the max, see what I can do. Even if I was doing sit-ups, I’d have to beat everyone else. If I don’t do well, I have to come back and do better.

“It’s all self-funded, but I don’t mind that because I love it, love competing. I don’t go out spending at all, so this is what I do. I want to be best I can be, not to motivate other people. The drive comes from myself, to set world records, to win medals. And once I’m out running, I love it anyway. Even that 1,500m, in Braga, the last two laps I felt like I was 20 again. I just feel so alive when I’m running like that.”