Tara McCormack tells Donegal Woman how she got back on her feet to set out for a 100 mile race across Inishowen.
Tara McCormack, aged 27, is setting out to conquer her 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th marathon in four days next week. However, the student nurse from Dublin will be conquering much more than a mammoth sporting achievement when she takes on the Extreme North Adventure Race.
Enduring Donegal’s unforgiving hills and crossing four finish lines will be more of an emotional triumph for Tara after one of the most challenging years of her life.
Tara lost her partner Paul Cusack to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome in November 2012, just three months after losing a baby girl. She struggled to cope with the grief at just 22 years of age, but one flash of motivation spurred her to get up and run.
Tara told Donegal Woman: “We buried Paul on a Monday and on the Wednesday I was looking at his emails. We met at bootcamp and I saw an email from him to our instructor. Paul said I didn’t have the confidence to run a 10k and asked if the instructor could give me a nudge. I thought ‘who are you to tell anyone I don’t have the confidence to do this’!”
Tara had moved home from Tallaght, Dublin to her family home in Cavan after Paul’s death and downloaded the Couch to 5K app to prove a point.
“Running became the only thing I would get out of bed for,” she said. “I had lost my baby and my partner, it was to annoy Paul and it took me a long time to realise he wasn’t coming home.”
Tara and Paul had been together for two years. “When you’re that young you’ve lost your future that you’ve planned out with someone and that hurts more,” she said.
Running gave Tara a sense of purpose and reconnected her with friends and a supportive community. She fondly remembers her ‘ma’ introducing her to her trainer, Peter.
“I shook the man’s hand, he knew nothing about me, nothing about what I had been through, and he said ‘You’ll run the Dublin City Marathon this year’. I turned to mam and said ‘This man is mad!’”.
Tara did run the Dublin Marathon in 2013. She even joined Marathon Club Ireland and went on to challenge herself to 24 marathons in 12 months last year.
“Only for the running I got my confidence back to move back to Dublin and start my life again.”
Developing from a novice to a marathon runner has been a particularly tough task as Tara has a genetic lung condition which leaves her lung capacity at 48%.
“A normal human would be above 90% capacity. When I run next week I’ll have a nebuliser and medication. Running has really helped my lungs and I just have to be careful I don’t overdo it.
“People talk about life-limiting conditions but when Paul died it showed me how short life is.”
Tara uses her challenges to fundraise for CRY Ireland – Cardiac Risk in the Young. She hopes to give something back to the charity which offers free counselling and screening to raise awareness of Sudden Cardiac Death or SADS.
Four of Tara’s 24 marathons in aid of CRY last year were in Donegal during the Extreme North. She says every race is a mental challenge.
“If you do a quadrathon it makes you feel you can do anything. The sense of achievement is second to none,” she said.
This year’s event has been a life saver for Tara.
“I’ve been through a lot mentally this year, I had a bit of a breakdown. Things hit me very hard, Paul’s death really hit me and I lost interest in running, college and work. I was very much on the verge of suicide. Someone told me – ‘you need to get back into the running’.
It was the anniversary of Paul’s birthday, the 28th April, when Tara committed to the quadrathon again.
“I told myself: I know I’m going to find my love for life and running again.”
Tara recalls how she was often struck by the scenery of Donegal at the toughest moments of the race last year.
“It was the most wonderful event. You could be in the depths of despair on this dark old road and you take a turn and it’s the most amazing beach. Everyone who does the quad has to stop and take in the scenery at some stage.”
Last year Tara remembers being overcome with tears before the final finish line at the Redcastle Hotel in 2016. It was only for her mother turning up that she got to the end.
Tara’s grandmother Pauline McCormack is from Mountcharles and still holds a lovely affiliation with Donegal, she says. Tara spent her childhood summers in Gweedore, and is looking forward to coming back to the county.
“The challenge next week is to get me up and going. It has been such a tough year. I have to put myself back out there after losing my confidence.”
“I won’t let my lungs get my way. I just don’t run very fast,” she explains.
Tara is aiming to complete 50 marathons before she finishes college and is a big believer in the benefits of running for everyone.
“It suits everyone. The support and the friends are amazing, so get out, put on a pair of runners and go for a walk, and then run,” she said.
Visit Tara’s everydayhero page here: give.everydayhero.com/ie/quadrathon
You can follow her journey on Twitter here: twitter.com/gaelstara