Interview with Irish ‘Parkrun Tourist’

Donal Murphy was born in Ireland and played Gaelic football until in 2010 he hurt his back and couldn’t play anymore. Ever since he has focused on non-contact sports, such as triathlon. As of 2 March 2019, he ran all 111 parkruns in Ireland. It took him two and a half years. He documented his journey through his blog and social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Why did you run all the parkruns in Ireland?

My initial motivation was to get out and see Ireland. I have done a lot of travelling around the world and have lived abroad but I didn’t know so much about my own country. I felt that the accessibility and openness of parkrun, and the geographical spread offered a good opportunity to travel to different places around the island.

What was you most memorable parkrun?

Bere Island. It’s a small island off the coast of West Cork in the south west. Firstly, you have to get a ferry there, which is unusual. Unarranged and unexpected, a guy with a van took people to the other side of the island for parkrun. The weekend I was there the volunteers arranged for the island children to run the event, so we got our instructions from a boy around 10 years old. There was no traffic so we ran out in the middle of the road, and afterwards all the runners and volunteers gathered in a local café for cake and coffee. It was in the middle of summer and the weather was great. Plus, the scenery of West Cork was fantastic.

What was your worst parkrun?

I tried very hard in the first year to do a new parkrun every Saturday. It took some sacrifice but I was on course to complete 52 straight weeks, when on the 48th week I drove two hours to the west of Ireland only for the parkrun to be cancelled. There wasn’t a nearby one so I lost my streak.

Who did you meet on your journey?

Given the broad spectrum of people that take part in parkrun I have spoken to all sorts of runners since starting, from the ‘couch to 5k’ runners to ultramarathoners. I don’t think you would get that in any other running event. It motivates you to set goals for yourself, but also allows you to see how far you have come.

Who supported you along the way?

I’ve had support from friends and family, but getting up really early on Saturday mornings to travel hundreds of miles around the country is generally a solo pursuit. More recently though I have come across a group of like-minded tourists in Ireland, called the parkrun Trippers. We have a Whatsapp group where we share all our parkrun reports. This has become a great source of entertainment and support for me.

How did you train for all those parkruns?

My athletic goals are based mostly around triathlon, so parkrun was a part of my training, as opposed to me “training for” parkrun. I was not to too rigid in my approach to training, because there are other things going on in my life. I varied it over time, some weeks doing slow runs, and other weeks doing a tempo or near race pace.

Did you suffer any running injuries?

I was fairly lucky for a long time until the last few months of 2018 when I got a mild case of plantar fasciitis. I had to cut back on my running volume but I was still able to complete some parkruns. There were a lot of weeks that I skipped parkrun, which was frustrating. But in the long-run I was better off treating the injury properly, rather than rushing back when I wasn’t fully fit.

What would you do differently if you did it again?

I should have spent a little more time getting to know the local area. There were a few parkruns where all I did was show up, run, then go home. But again, there will always be other things going on in my life so I need to have some flexibility. I can’t always spend every Saturday being a tourist at a parkrun location.

What advice would you give other runners?

Consistency is key. Even if you feel terrible and unmotivated just go out and do something. I came across a quote that said “it is better to do a lot of a little, rather than a little of a lot”. I think that is a good approach.

Now that you’ve completed all the parkruns in Ireland what’s your next running goal?

There are parkruns in other countries, aren’t there? But more seriously, I’m still getting over the fact that I achieved my last goal. So I don’t know yet what I’ll set my mind to next.

A Sporting Holiday

19-25 March 2018

I enjoyed a much-needed week-long holiday. I visited my parents on the sunny (and windy) Spanish Costa del Sol. My week was filled with long walks and sports, including golf, tennis and walking football. This was not planned but I enjoyed my personal version of cross-training.

I ran only twice: two slow 5k distances, one along a boardwalk [Tuesday], the other along a beach [Friday].

The latter was the toughest easy-paced 3.1-mile route I had ever run, as the uneven soft sand and fierce winds made every step a struggle.

Selfie on Costa del Sol

I relaxed and was pleased to stay active without expectation to complete specific workouts. However, despite the relatively low physical stress on my body, the numerous strokes I took on the driving range after many years away from playing golf strained some of my back muscles [Monday].

The fast walking I committed to during the walking football match, despite competing with men over 50 years old, caused my legs to ache in unfamiliar ways. I felt it was worth it, as I scored twice to help my team draw 4-4 [Thursday].

Selfie whilst playing Walking Football

Even an hour of playing tennis resulted in further aching in my feet, legs and arms, as I ran around the court quickly and hit powerful shots [Friday].

A rest on Sunday back home felt well-deserved. Although my back and left quadricep still ache I feel ready to attempt time-trials for my One Mile Challenge in the coming days.

My twelve weeks of training and tapering are now complete, and I have mentally devised my flat, mostly traffic-free routes as I did not get my opportunity to race any earlier.

First Signs of Progress

22-28 January 2018

Monday – workout #10

4x 0.25 mile at a range of 1 minute slower and faster than 1 mile goal race pace* with 1¼ minute walking/standing recoveries)
5 minute walking recovery
4x 0.12 mile at a range of 30 seconds slower and faster than 1 mile goal race pace* with 1 minute walking/standing recoveries)

After another 3 days of rest I was desperate to run.
I kept my sports tape on my right leg, as it was still not fully healed.
I shot off for my first lap, smashing my quarter-mile personal best by over 4 seconds [1:04.66].
Predictably the remaining 3 reps were a struggle.
My pace dropped even though my legs were working hard.
I wanted to redeem myself so I ended the session with shorter bursts.
Once again my times were inconsistent, despite the constant discomfort in my stomach.
Interestingly I didn’t use any internal mantras to support my running. This was a contributing factor to my erratic performance.

Wednesday – workout #11

Pyramid sets of approx. 4x 30, 4x 45 and 2x 60 seconds with jogging recoveries of 1½ – 2½ minutes at a range of 15 seconds slower and faster than 1 mile goal race pace*

I ran with my running group at work.
The path through the park was flat.
I led from the front, conscious of not running at my maximum.
At times I used the grass verge to avoid collisions with walkers.
I also slipped on the mud at the start of one rep, but regained my front running position.
I stayed focused, using approximate markers to keep my consistency.
By the last rep the rain was pelting down but I didn’t slow.
The group leader reminded me of “becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable”.
The workout, and my training thus far, has epitomised this principle.

Thursday – workout #12

5 km time-trial at a perceived even pace.

On a calm night I tackled the same route around the perimeter of my local industrial estate.
I felt confident I could beat my previous time a month ago.
I told myself to “show up”.
I had different competition this time, with some strong club runners looking to impress.
I relished the challenge and went out hard from the start.
I led for only a short time before the eventual winner pulled out of sight.
By the end of the first lap I was in third position.
I reminded myself to keep pushing hard, reducing the gap to the runner in front.
A lorry turning into a side road meant the challenge was easier for me.
I used the incline to surge.
My competitor matched my effort.
I had to stay a step behind him as we approached the final stretch.
Again I surged but he maintained his position, crossing the line two seconds ahead of me.
I shaved 30 seconds off my 3.1 mile time in just over a month, achieving 17:54, 7 seconds shy of my lifetime best time.
The time-trial had proved my speed endurance was improving.

Sunday – workout #13

1 mile time-trial at a perceived even pace.

A last minute change of mind meant rather than an easy run I would complete the first of my mile time-trials.
I became nervous as I warmed-up and did some strides.
I ignored the few teenagers milling around the area.
I reminded myself that I shouldn’t run the first lap around the patch of grass too fast.
My fiancée took some photographs of me as I ran, which made me relax.
I began feeling fatigue by the end of the first lap, but at no point was my breathing out of control.
I just kept hanging on, driving with my arms and legs.
I didn’t look at my sports watch until the last lap to confirm I was nearing the end.
But my timing was off so rather than a sprint finish I ran just over the distance before stopping.
I waited after a long recovery walk before checking my time.
I recorded 5:20.57, my current sixth best ever mile time.
Although not especially close to my ultimate goal, I was pleased with the consistent effort for each lap and how I dealt with the sunny and windy conditions.
In less than a month I had reduced my mile time by over 6 seconds, another measure of successful progress.

One Mile Challenge: Week 4

The remainder of the week included 1 rest day (Saturday) and two days of easy running (Tuesday and Friday) amounting to over 4.5 miles. Thankfully my right fibula and sore throat have subsided, although they remain an irritant.

During my four quality workouts I accumulated 7.08 miles (38 mins and 23 secs) between 4:19 – 6:06 min per mile pace. My maximum heart rate recorded was 192 bpm.


* 1 mile goal race pace is 5:00 per mile.

Race Report: Basildon 5km

Basildon 5km

I was amongst a large group of runners.
Ready.
Then we were off.
I was soon on my own, the race spread out and the leading pack out of sight.
I followed the concrete path, and passed a lake, trees, benches, other park users.
I kept thinking of the time I wanted. My goal.
At halfway my mum and fiancée cheered me on, which inspired me to push my pace.
Once out of view I returned to a manageable rhythm.
On the second lap I fought off a stitch. I developed a metallic taste in my mouth; I was on the verge of manifesting runner’s cough.
I had to dig deep not to drop my pace.
I came to the playground and car park for the second time.
The finishing stretch appeared as I lapped the runner in last position. I sprinted to the line, passing a couple of runners.
As I got my breath back my family told me my finishing time. It was seven seconds quicker than my goal, equivalent to the time saved from two bursts of sprinting.


Although I had a clear and realistic time goal of 20 minutes I did not wear a watch. The benefit is there are no distractions. The drawback is that at no point during the race did I know whether I was on track; I had to trust my instinct.

I did not complete any specific 5km training but I was prepared to push myself and experience pain.

The start line felt like a mass cross country competition, even if the circular, flat and dry course did not.

It was also the first race my fiancée watched me, which was a boost. I was surprised and pleased to obtain a new personal best and finish in the top 20. Better still, at least half the runners that finished ahead of me were over 40 years of age.

I was excited that if I kept myself as fit as these experienced runners I knew I could achieve greater success.

Later, when I looked to enter again I found that the race was no longer held. I wonder if the emergence of free parkruns had an impact…

Basildon 5km Finish