Marathon man Mark on awareness mission

by James Hendicott

MARK CONLON, who will reach an astonishing 120 full-length marathons should he successfully complete the course in Dublin on Sunday – will represent one of the more unusual distance-running stories pounding Dublin’s streets for the annual city mega-run on bank holiday Monday.
Based in Clondalkin, Conlon ran a single marathon in 2008 and another in 2009, got the bug and has gone on to clock up some fantastic feats in the sport, not least two intensely demanding marathon series sessions.
The first saw him complete 26.2 miles ten times in ten days, and the second bettering that by running ten more marathons in just five days.
A former marine, Conlon’s latest outing is inspired by a story from Dublin’s pre-race expo a couple of years ago.
“After the expo I was having a pint with a couple of American tourists, and a guy ran past covered in a sleeping bag and soaking wet,” Conlon told GazetteSport. “I went out and gave him some money for a hostel and to get a new sleeping bag.”
Since returning from serving abroad, the Clondalkin-based athlete has been heavily affected by the extent of Dublin’s homeless crisis, and is running his latest race in aid of the Simon Community.
Having fundraised for Pieta House during previous events, this time he’s focusing on awareness instead. A lot of the inspiration for his race comes from that one moment.
“I’ll be running draped in a sleeping bag covered in messages from the Simon Community, wearing a monkey hat and tracksuit” Conlon explains. “It’s really an awareness raising exercise. The Dublin Marathon gets a huge crowd and if some of them act on what they see, that will make it worthwhile.
“There’s a huge problem with homelessness in Dublin, as we all know. I think part of the problem is with shelters. Some people are scared to go into them.
“I’d like to see separate shelters for women and children, and separate shelters for drug users and alcoholics. The winter is an incredibly difficult time for these people and it’s obviously very difficult for them not to be able to use the facilities. I don’t see any reason not to provide more services.
“Even for the average person to go out there with soup, sandwiches or warm clothes makes a difference. Some people don’t like handing over money for whatever reason, but people have died on our streets and little things make a real difference.”
Despite having more opportunities to do so than most, Conlon has yet to fail to complete a marathon. His one DNF came at an overnight 100-mile race in Wicklow, where he was forced to pull out at the halfway mark having lost a toenail.
He admits, though, that the races don’t really get any easier and points to grit and determination as essential factors in any marathon finish. “I have good days and bad days,” he tells us. “This won’t be one of my faster marathons, for obvious reasons.”
Having run so many marathons and with the time for Dublin training long since passed, Conlon identifies some things runners can do to make life easier on the day.
“Don’t go off too fast” is a key tip: after so many races, Conlon’s become adept at spotting runners who “could be half an hour in front of you, and end up lying on the ground with a few miles to go because they go off too quickly.”
Other essentials are around fuelling, clothes and self-preservation. Conlon deals with his marathon pains by cooling down in the sea for 20 minutes and easing back in the next morning, but recommends less abrasive remedies for the newcomer:
“Get your gear setup properly. Wear old clothes to the start line that you can then throw away [in Dublin, they’re also given to the homeless]. Eat a lot of carbs in the week before the race, but something normal for you the night before.
“Take sports gels on the way around. Get an early night the night before, and when it gets hard, that’s when to keep going. If you freeze up, just run slowly for a while and eat a gel and your legs will come back.”
Of all the runners taking to the street for the city event – “the best marathon I’ve done, because of the support” – Conlon should know what it takes.
The Marathon Club Ireland athlete will be donating his medal to the Simon Community in a presentation case, complete with messages of hope for the future. In his 120th 42km run, he’ll be doing his own small part.

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