A REMARKABLE career and it ain’t over by a country mile for Knocks runner Denise Toner.
The 43 year-old enjoyed what she herself believes was the highlight of her career last month when she won double gold at the European Indoor Masters Championships in Portugal and there’s no sign of her taking the foot off the gas as she prepares for the start of the outdoor season.
Denise is no stranger to the podium over the years, having won a World silver, three European gold’s as well as national cross country and track medals to name but a few.
Her love for the sport started when she was just 9 years of age when she and her family were living in London. After joining the Ealing and Southall Running Club in West London, Denise discovered a sport she loved but when the Maguire family moved back home to Fermanagh the opportunities were limited and Gaelic football took precedence.
Denise excelled at football, representing her club, St Patrick’s, her county, her university Jordanstown and indeed she made the Ulster select team in colleges football.
While running was always in the background, it didn’t feature prominently until after her third child was born and she really got back at it.
After starting back at the odd 10k here and there, it was by pure chance that she ended up properly competing;
“I met Paul O’Neill at a 5 mile race in Newtown and he had asked me if I’d like to join the club (Clones Running Club) and from that I started racing cross country.”
Denise’s cross country was short-lived though, after she went over on her ankle and did ligament damage. Now she can laugh at her misfortune and muses how it’s a running joke in the club;
“There’s a bit of a joke amongst my clubmates that I’ve got glass ankles. If there’s a divot anywhere , I tend to fall into it with these glass ankles of mine” she quips.
It was that ‘bump in the road’ at cross country that led her to her ‘first love’ she says; the track.
“It’s just real honest racing. You can either have a great day on the track or a real crappy day on the track . I love the whole tactics of it, you’ve so little time, especially there in the indoors when you’re running in an 800, you’ve so little time to make your move and when you do you have to commit 100 per cent with it.
“It’s exciting. I love watching the races and seeing how other people apply their tactics in a race.”
And it was on the track in February which once again catapulted Denise back into the limelight and the headlines. Her passion for running is palpable and the benefits of it is something which helps her in her own life;
“People do ask me- why do you go out to run? For me, 80 per cent of it is for my mind. That is ‘me time’. I love nothing more now than getting out after a day’s work for a run, sticking on the music or listening to the birds.”
Denise clocks up about 55 miles a week training. Sometimes she’ll take a Friday off but generally she gets a run in every day. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings the St Mary’s Irvinestown school teacher, coaches juveniles at the Clones Running Club in an effort “to give something back” she says.
The Knocks woman continues to inspire athletes in Fermanagh and outside of the county and she believes running is something anyone can master;
“A lot of people say, I can’t run. I always say, if you can walk, you can run, but you just have to really build it up really slow. There’s no magic formula. People say, how do you do it? The secret is being consistent and managing to stay injury free.You’d be amazed at how quickly your body will adapt.”
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