Huge crowds swap lazy lunch hour to run with Ray

Susan Parker Last (My Canine Companion) and Ray D'Arcy pictured with Tom Webb and his loyal friend and companion, Queeta, a grey Labradoodle.
Bernie Commins

Bernie Commins

Normally lunch hour is a pretty pedestrian affair - lazy sandwich, internet browsing, chatting about the weather. Or whatever.

Well nothing could have been further from this scenario last week when up to 1,000 people turned out on a bitterly cold day to ‘Join SPAR and Ray for 5k’ in Clonmel. An ocean of illuminous yellow flowed through the town, as participants embarked on the five kilometre lunchtime run, with Today FM DJ Ray D’Arcy at the helm. Clonmel was day two of the five-day event, sponsored by Spar in association with Athletics Ireland and the Irish Independent, which took running enthusiast Ray to Killarney, Westport, Dundalk and Dublin. But the Clonmel walkers, joggers and runners who took part last week, and of course the Clonmel Athletics Club who pulled out all the stops to ensure its success, truly impressed the organisers of this annual event.

With hundreds of eager participants gathered outside the Town Hall on Parnell Street, model Roz Purcell from Killurney, and Tipperary senior hurler Brendan Cummins who were there to start the race, joined in a wery welcome zumba warm-up provided by Kool School fitness experts Karen O’Dwyer and Nikki O’Connor. Mayor of Clonmel Billy Shoer - who was notably without his yellow tee - was also present to wish everyone well. Ray had to remind a few super athletic individuals that it was ‘just a race lads’ and told everyone that he hoped it would be the first of many organised runs that they would participate in.

The Join SPAR and Ray for 5k event is a fun run aimed at encouraging people to get out there and complete the event during their lunch break. Fun is very much a part of this event, making it enjoyable, social and ideal to prove to people that they can do it - and then do some more.

When Athletics Ireland approached Clonmel Athletics Club last November with their proposal to bring the event to Clonmel, they jumped at the chance, according to committee member Nicola Maunsell, who along with Frank Lynch (chairperson) and Niall O’Sullivan (PRO) spearheaded the co-ordination of this mass lunch-run, with help from the South Tipperary Sports Partnership. The club, with a membership of about 500 juveniles and seniors, devised the route which brought people across the Gashouse Bridge, onto the Coleville Road, the Old Spa Road, the Mountain Road, down to the Loreto school roundabout, onto the Raheen Road, onto Irishtown, and finishing up at the West Gate. On the eve of the event they brought Ray on a practice run, they liaised with the Department of Defence to organise free parking at Kickham Barracks, they also manned the registration area at the vocational school, and liaised with the Clonmel Borough Council, the Gardai, and Civil Defence in preparation for the event. They also alerted all the shops along the route who may have been affected by the road closures, and were delighted with the support received.

Last year Nicola sent an email to Ray D’Arcy asking if he would consider coming to Clonmel, but it didn’t happen, so she was delighted this year when Clonmel finally got its day, after Kilkenny and Waterford in previous years. Volunteers from the club were out in force last week with 30 stewards, 20 on registration and many juvenile members tasked with the important job of distributing tee-shirts.

The response from members of the public to the event was astonishing and Clonmel was the first of the five locations to reach the 1,000 registration limit, according to Nicola. When she and Frank travelled to Dublin in February to meet with event organisers, 550 people had registered for the Clonmel run - the next highest number registered was 260. Clonmel was rearing to go.

“And from the demand we could have had about 500 more,” said Nicola.

“We were surprised by the number, it is just amazing that there was that amount of interest out there,” she said.

“This was an organised run not a race which is important, so people had participants’ numbers instead of race numbers, this was all about getting out there, having fun,” said Nicola.

As well as a few gentle flurries of snow along the way (organised by the athletics club to cool the runners down!), the route also provided some humorous moments as runners giggled at the funny posters erected along the way by the club, in association with Suirprint: ‘Keep calm, it’s all downhill from here’, ‘Run like you stole something’ and a favourite, that iconic image of Mrs Doyle saying ‘Go on, go on, go on, go on...’

For two kilometres Nicola ran with Ray, before he decided to drop back and talk to some participants, and allow some of the more eager runners to speed to the finish line.

“He went back to support and encourage and speak to people along the way,” said Nicola who praised Ray for his friendly, genuine and interested nature. “Ray stayed until the very end, he spoke to everyone and was so genuine and appreciative that people came out for the event,” she said.

Race participants were revived at the end with a goody bag and banana from Spar, yummy yoghurts from Glenisk and tasty O’Donnell’s Crisps, ending an exciting, exhilarating and energising lunch break. And the team from the South Tipp Physiotherapy and Sports Injuries clinic were also there to sooth any sore muscles.

Visit for more details of upcoming fixtures, their weekly Meet & Train event, and to find out more about their upcoming fun-run in Cahir on May 1, in association with Morrison BMW, Cahir.