Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Post: BILLY GRIFFIN - SIX-AND-A-HALF DECADES OF RUNNING John Walshe

Saturday, March 27, 2021



(By John Walshe, East Cork News & Advertiser, 25/03/2021)

Billy Griffin commenced running back in 1956, a year still remembered for Ron Delany’s Olympic 1500m winning performance at Melbourne. But while the famous gold-medallist retired from competition just six years later, 65 years on Midleton-man Billy is still going strong. He recently completed all the virtual 5km runs organised by his local club where he is pictured here receiving his T-shirt on the occasion of his 83rd birthday.

Although Delany’s achievement was no doubt an inspiration to any young athlete of the time, it was another iconic performance that first whetted Billy’s appetite for the sport, as he explains: “Two years before that, in 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile. Although we had no television or anything at the time, when we went to the cinema the Pathé News would come out at halfway and they would show highlights of it.

“Myself and Connie Shanahan, who passed away a couple of years ago, decided to go out the Youghal Road where there were mile markers in stone to see how fast we could run a mile. We had no watches to time us, so I took my mother’s alarm clock!” As there was no club in Midleton at the time Billy joined Carrigtwohill where well-known retired photographer Eddie O’Riordan was the main man, along with the Harte brothers. “I remember cycling down to a sports in Carrigaline as well as up to Glenville, and cycling home again,” Billy recalls.

 “There was an attempt made to start a club here in Midleton, we actually had shirts and all made, but it didn’t last very long but when the present club was formed, we moved back. My brother, Maurice, who was a few years older than me, was on the committee of the new club. He didn’t run, although he did a bit of high jumping.” Cross-country was the main activity, with hardly any road races back then. “One of the few races on the road was from Waterfall to Warren’s Cross and I won it on one occasion. They’d never give you a distance; you just ran from A to B, it could be anything from three to four miles.

“Training at the time was all in the fields. We lived on the Rocky Road near Castleredmond and I used to have a fierce problem in the night-time but then I got the brainwave of putting on a beret and tying a flash-lamp or torch to it. One night I was running in the dark in the field which was parallel to the road and I heard a few girls talking out on the road and when they heard the noise inside the ditch they took off. A couple of nights later my mother was returning from the October devotions when she met a woman who said “you come home along here on your own? Well, there were two girls chased down the road the other night by some fellow!”

Billy started working as a lorry driver with Rohan’s in the 1960s, where he remained for over 20 years. “At that time I used to train at six in the morning, although I often went out at half-five. It was an eight o’clock start there but when I went to work for John A Wood we started at seven, so I had to get out at half-five then to train. I couldn’t go out in the evening because we were working late, and anyway you would be tired when you’d get home.”

In 1973, along with future Olympian Liam O’Brien, Billy was a member of the Midleton team that won the Cork County Novice and Intermediate Cross-Country titles. He was also one of the pioneering 34 runners who ran the first-ever Ballycotton five-mile race in 1977 and later completed three Dublin City Marathons.

The Nike 4% shoes - which are supposed to improve running economy by 4 percent - are all the rage at the moment but Billy Griffin had his own remedy for swifter running back in the day. “I used to love running barefoot and never used to wear shoes for cross-country, I always ran in my bare feet from the start. I tried it on the road one morning and it was grand where the tarmac was good, but not where the surface was poor. Recently I thought of doing it on the Cricket Field but I suppose if I was seen doing it now I’d be taken away!”

Described as a “club legend” by Midleton AC registrar Danny McCarthy, like all runners at the moment Billy is greatly missing the local races. Although admitting the virtual ones aren’t the same, he still managed to run all five of the Midleton 5km events. “The first one was under 34 minutes, but I slowed a bit after that. I’m used to running on my own, but a race is different as you always have someone to push you and keep you going,” says Billy, who still heads out for his morning runs at half-seven four days a week.

The rest of the day is no doubt taken up with the bright and beautifully-kept garden that he and his wife Ann tend to at their Brookdale East home. “With the garden centres closed at the last lockdown I couldn’t get plants so what I did was to get packet seeds and grow my own, so I’m ready for action now. I’m inside the window following the sun around and will plant them when they get a bit stronger.

“The gardening keeps the mind going,” concludes this remarkable man who is certainly living proof at the age of 83 that a live-long passion for running keeps the body in excellent shape as well.

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