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“I was in horrible pain, my body was broken. I just couldn’t do it…I realized then that I had to change my outlook on running. I think I put it on a pedestal and almost I needed it to live, and I think that was one of the biggest mistakes that I made.” On the 29th of July Corkman, Conor O’Keeffe began Project 32. A challenge had been a part of his life for nearly 3 years. A challenge that had been postponed twice. A challenge that had been all-consuming for months prior. A challenge that would take him to every county in Ireland. A challenge that he would tackle with the ultimate objective of raising €100,000 for Pieta House.
Okay. On paper it was 32 marathons, 32 days in the 32 counties of Ireland, wearing 32 pounds, losing 1 pound a day. So that was the basic premise of it. If people wanted to replicate it, that’s what they have to do.
I suppose it was a medium that was close to me. Running didn’t save me it didn’t magically transform my life, but I think running in a way, gave me a window into myself.
Conor an avid outdoor enthusiast talks regularly about the effect that sitting around a campfire can have on people’s ability to open up and share their problems, struggles, and concerns. Conor decided that his equivalent of a campfire was group runs. Every day there would be an open invitation to join the marathon, for as short or as long as people were comfortable.
I wanted to bring this campfire around with me. We’ll run in every single county of Ireland. That way, people will get the message and spread the message. That was the simplest way of sending this message was through the medium of running. It’s so strange. I actually most of the time didn’t even have to say a word. My feet did all the talking. Just being out there running the roads like that, people were just finding it really, really helpful.
Rather egotistically. It was initially just to make it different from other people that had run 32 marathons in 32 counties in 32 days. I wanted to do something that was like topping that, and that was that ego creeping in and but it really, really and truly changed for me throughout my time training for Project 32 because I only then actually began to realize how symbolic it was, losing this weight, signifying losing the weight that I carried around within myself of these thoughts that I had about myself and my own life. It really started this superficial, egotistical, “I’m going to be better than these people.” And then it really just transformed through my time training. I think that it really became a contributing factor to the reason why I actually managed to do Project 32 so successfully was that I fed into the meaning behind it.
It was postponed in March 2020 because we were hit with a global pandemic that nobody foresaw.
Then in 2021, I was like, I would love to get Project 32 done this year. That was a big goal of mine. I was then a contestant on RTE Ultimate Hell Week in May. About 2 and a half weeks after that I ran a 12 – ultramarathon in Killorglin, 110 kilometers and I afterwards was incredibly sick, very, very badly sick, and completely low energy for about a month and a half. No matter how much I rested it wouldn’t go away. I then rushed a six-week training block to be able to compete in the Kerry Way Ultra.
After a hundred miles I DNFed at the Kerry Way Ultra as I had got sciatica and couldn’t straighten my leg for about four days, it was excruciating pain. Project 32 was set for the 4th of November in 2021, and that was going to be 7 weeks after that. I couldn’t train for it, I was in horrible pain, my body was broken. I just couldn’t do it. So I kind of slipped away from running, really, in 2021 and basically backed off.
I had never set out to start to win races or do any of those types of things. That was not what running was for me, it was just about getting out and giving my best, and enjoying the process. It just didn’t seem like that anymore.
For about three and a half months, from the middle of October to January, I didn’t run at all I didn’t do really any training. I hiked an awful lot and also got outdoors. I absolutely loved this and really just enjoyed the lack of pressure. I just enjoyed getting over and rediscovering who I was outside of running.
Then as the New Year started, around March 2022, I basically started training really hard again. Like really, really hard and really enjoy training hard again, which I, I just didn’t have before.
I downed tools, I stopped every single aspect of work. All I did was train every day and by train I mean every aspect of training, looking after everything I ate, looking after my hydration, looking after my sports nutrition. I just ate, slept, and breathed every single aspect of Project 32. I really fed into it. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience for me to completely immerse myself in something and not have any races on the horizon, or any distractions whatsoever.
The training block for Project 32, would probably surprise a lot of people because it didn’t actually include a ton of running. The most kilometers I ran in one week, in one seven-day period, was 114 kilometers. Which is not a lot for somebody who is looking to run 1350 kilometers in 32 days, so I knew the running would come during the project itself. It was just about basically getting to getting to the start of the project strong enough to carry the weight that was the key. So it meant a lot of time at the gym.
Yeah. I think the more surprising part of it is the delay helped me, not in terms of physicality, but in terms of maturity. I think my outlook on Project 32 had matured and I actually finally gave Project 32 the respect deserved. When I started Project 32, I was just after coming off the back of a 200-mile ultramarathon win. I thought, “if I can win 200-mile ultramarathons with four months of training. I’m going to be able to do whatever I want,” basically, you know.
As a result of the delay, I really was able to be in a positive frame of mind during the project. I never finished one of the marathons in bad form. I never finished one of the marathons or was even doing one of the marathons, without a smile on my face. I’m out here doing exactly what I want to do, what I’ve wanted to do for three years. That’s what the time off gave me.
On day 29 of Project 32, we joined Conor for part of his marathon. We were relly taken aback by how overwhelmingly positive he was still. We wondered, “Is this a stratefgy, or is this genuinely how he feels?”
Hero Of The Week: Ger Prendergast – Decathlon Winner
Yeah, most definitely. Blind positivity gets nobody anywhere. I think a real sense of positivity from me came from gratitude, compassion and honesty.
I was grateful for the opportunity to do something like this.
I was compassionate with myself. If I made a mistake or I didn’t have what I needed to have, or I didn’t plan something properly.
I was honest with myself in that I was you know, I was realizing that I was giving an honest effort.
If there was ever a time that I wasn’t giving an honest effort, that I wasn’t doing the things that I was supposed to be doing, like doing my ice baths and recovery and all that kind of stuff. I was quick to let myself know, “Look, you really could be doing a better job here. Can we do it? Yes, we can. I will do it.” Those three aspects were the reason why I was able to do it.
As we ran the final few kilometers with Conor on day 29 of Project 32, on a warm day at the Vartry Reservoirs in County Wicklow. There was an air of excitement as we discussed the few days that were remaining with Conor. He expressed his gratitude for the team he had around him. He credited much of the success he had experienced so far to their dedication to him and to the project.
Listen To Conor’s Flip The Script Podcast
It was “This too shall pass.” I’ve said many, many times before “This too shall pass.”
It’s a powerful set of words. Specifically thinking about Pieta House [who Conor was raising money for during Project 32] and the people that they help or I suppose the people that they don’t get a chance to help. Those people that take their own lives lose sight of the fact that this too shall pass. They lose sight of the fact that life has its ups and downs, but ultimately life changes. It moves, it shifts, it evolves, it grows. I’m in a beautiful moment in my life right now. That’s the element of “This too shall pass.” that is so powerful, it’s not just for times that are tough. It’s for times that are good. It makes me cherish things that are good.
By Matthew McConnell
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