Mighty Quinn brothers turn back clock in New York marathon

Four Tyrone men prepare to retrace their steps from their initial run in Big Apple in 1980

The Quinn brothers (from left): Seán, Brian, Frank, and Michael. Photograph: courtesy of MS Ireland

The Quinn brothers (from left): Seán, Brian, Frank, and Michael. Photograph: courtesy of MS Ireland

 

They say in marathon running it’s not the distance that kills, it’s the pace, although the four Quinn brothers aren’t sure which part might kill them first. What is certain is that finishing Sunday’s New York marathon is the only option – no matter how long it takes.

All four of them have run a marathon together before - 35 years ago, to be exact, when they wrote their own little piece of distance running history by becoming the first set of four brothers to finish the classic 26.2-mile distance. So they’ve gone back to New York for this Sunday’s race, armed with plenty of memories, a close charitable cause, and countless more miles on the body clock.

“There has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1980, and a lot of other stuff too,” says Michael Quinn. “And by that I mean a lot of pint drinking. So we’re obviously not as fit as we were 35 years ago. It’s been tough going, but at least we’re all still physically able to run. And the marathon is all about having the endurance, and I think we all feel we have a fair bit of that.”

At 59, Michael is the youngest of the four brothers, “the rest of them a few steps up the stairs ahead of me”: indeed he admits that Brian (61), Seán (62) and Frank (66) are probably that bit fitter, despite being that bit older, and he puts part of their longevity down to their traditional rural upbringing in Pomeroy, Co Tyrone.

“Brian is still farming up in Tyrone, and is still naturally fit. He’s still the greyhound among us. We were also raised on the farm, and were naturally fit back in 1980. Since then the rest of us have spent a large part of the last 35 years in the hospitality business in Dublin, which doesn’t lend itself to marathon training, or indeed the 100 yard sprint. But we’re looking at around six or seven hours on Sunday, and we’re certainly determined to finish.”

Bar stool dare

The idea to run the 1980 New York marathon started (as it often does) with a bar stool dare: “Frank went out there first, was attending NYU, then I went out on a JI, for three months. And I ended up staying three years, working in various bars all over the New York. So Frank pitched the idea to us, and we all agreed. Seán was in New York too, and Brian come over from home.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but the night before the race, we were watching the NBC news in one of the pubs, and I’ll never forget the headlines were ‘Russia intensifies its campaign in Afghanistan’, then, ‘the Quinn brothers to run the New York marathon’, and after that, ‘the Broncos beat the Giants’. We were up there with the Russians and the Giants. There was no way we couldn’t do the thing then.”

He also vividly recalls what helped him get through the race: “Remember that 1980 was a very turbulent time in Ireland, although that’s a different story. Once the marathon starts, you fall in with runners around your own pace, and I remember running behind this young lady, from England, who happened to be wearing a Union Jack pair of shorts. She was all there, if you know what I mean. I’d pass her a few times, then she’d pass me. I knew I had to stick with her anyway. Only in the last 100 yards did I manage to sprint past her, and finished exactly four seconds under the four hours. I turned around after and said ‘thanks very much’, although I don’t think she really understood what I meant.”

It was Michael’s idea to suggest the 35-year reunion run, and again it was all or nothing: this time they are also fundraising for Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, to better the treatment for the degenerative disease which took the life of their cousin in recent years.

“We’ve just heard that ESPN have lined up a camera crew to follow us along the way on Sunday. New York still love these kind of stories. So again, there’s no way we can’t do the thing now.”

And they’ve so far raised €28,870: see www.justgiving.com/Quinn-Brothers.

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