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.

Winter Training 2019

Goals of Winter Training

Winter training is crucial for runners of all abilities.

Generally, this period is a time to build an aerobic base, without the pressure of running hard. Thankfully (for some), the early months of the year are not packed with road races for recreational runners.

After 2018, which saw me suffer intermittently with MTSS, my priority for winter training was to return to consistent, injury-free running. My strategy was to run predominantly at an easy-pace (corresponding to an effort level of 5-6 out of 10), 5-6 days every week. My hope was to develop my cardiovascular fitness and enjoy my running again.

Statistics from My Winter Training

I’m pleased that my winter training has gone to plan. I also managed to deal with slight niggles without affecting my frequency of running.

Days: 84 (12 weeks commencing 31 December 2018 and concluding on 24 March 2019)

Runs: 70

Miles: 389

Average Miles per Week: 32.4

Longest Run: 10 miles (twice)

Time Running: 55 hours, 57 minutes and 8 seconds

Average Time Running per Week: 4 hours, 39 minutes and 46 seconds

Lessons from My Winter Training

Easy running aids recovery. But I found that it’s still demanding on the body and mind. The accumulation of miles and ‘long slow runs’ result in a lot of “time on feet”. I was able to experiment with double-run days, which are not easy to complete when running faster workouts. This strategy to increase my training miles allowed me to change shoes and routes, whilst benefiting from short periods of recovery.

Alongside my running, I’ve naturally committed to a routine of daily walking, core exercises and stretching (including some foam rolling). I’ve found that these activities encourage me to set different but complementary objectives. They also allow me to understand better my body as it deals with the training load.

My Recommendations for Winter Training

Running easy for months in a row requires discipline. It’s often tempting to speed up when you feel strong. But easy running improves the body’s ability to utilise fat as an energy source, which is crucial for endurance events. Easy running also strengthens important ligaments and tendons, which improves a resilience to injuries.

There is little pressure throughout winter training to ‘perform well’ so mileage should be gradually increased over time.* Instead, correcting any inefficiencies in running technique can be prioritised. Time-trials, strategically planned, can reveal progress in aerobic capacity. It’s crucial that they are not run at an effort level equivalent to that sustained when racing.

Winter training is a periodised approach that builds a foundation of fitness, which can ease runners into a new season of racing. If completed appropriately, runners will feel physically stronger than at the start of training, with fewer injury concerns. Runners should also have a greater desire and confidence to run hard as Spring arrives.


* Avoiding sudden increases in training loads will reduce the likelihood of running injuries, according to David Lowes, a level 4 coach, in his article ‘Wintering Well’ in Athletics Weekly, published March 21, 2019.