I first met Noel Henry in the early 1980s. Once you met him you'd love to meet him again and again. When I told him where I was from, he was anxious to know not alone the old Derrydonnell AC lads, but also all the Galway runners from early 1900s as he was writing on the subject at that time. Then in early-1984 he contacted me to know would I care to join a group of them who were going to run the Cork City marathon, as they were also trying to gather a few quid for the National council for the blind. I thought about it and decided 'why not', though at that time I wasn't long running and certainly hadn't the required amount of training done.
This race was to be held on Easter Monday and it was also the National marathon and the winner would be selected to represent Ireland at the Olympics. When the time came, I thought wouldn't it be an ideal thing to make it a long family weekend, so on Easter Saturday morning with Mary and the three girls we loaded up the Toyota Starlet (not many of them around now!) and hit the road. At this time there was no mention of the Wild Atlantic Way but the route we chose was to travel along the Clare coast, cross over on the Killimer ferry, down through Limerick and we didn't stop until we arrived in Waterville in the very south of Kerry. A marathon done already!
While staying overnight in Mick O'Dwyer's hotel, I happened to pick up the local paper and on the front page was the headline "Dead baby found on the Slea Head beach". This story was to run for years after that. On Sunday morning, we got on the road, passing along South Kerry, and then West Cork, until we arrived in Cork City. Now, unknown to me, as well as the big marathon also on that weekend, was the Cork Jazz Festival resulting in accommodation not being that easy to get. With the words "Are we there yet?" ringing in my ears it seemed an eternity before we got fixed up. 
Folks this is NOT the way to prepare for running a marathon! Lesson learned. Monday morning, as arranged, Noel met us all in the foyer of the Metropole Hotel, and after handing out the singlets, he invited those interested that he was pacing one of the blind runners and they were aiming to finish in under four hours. 
As well as being national marathon champion himself (early-60s), Noel was also a very experienced ultra runner and could run at that slow pace all day long. On a very fine sunny morning, the race got going and after five or six miles I thought the pace they were going at was very slow so I told Noel that I'd push on and I'd WAIT for them at the finish. 'Lesson No.2 learned.' As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter and sometime after 20 miles I could hear my wagon wheels coming loose, and at 21 miles I was on the side of the road. A short while later Noel with the remnants of the group passed me out, still going at the same steady pace, and when I removed some egg of my face, pulled myself together and staggered on to the finish, in if can remember 4:05. Of course Noel and the lads finished easily under the four hours and they did WAIT for me at the finish!
We all returned back to the hotel for the post-mortems etc. When Mary and the girls came along, I don't think anyone was in favour of the scenic route for the return journey home. Gerry Kiernan won the race that day, and with John Treacy, they both represented Ireland at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic marathon. I still remember them two green singlets in the lead group with just a couple of miles left in that race. Who could ever forget John Treacy's super second place finish that early morning.
I met Noel a few times after that, I know Belfast was one that I recall. I ran much better that day. But although 30+ years have passed and several more marathons under my every increasing belt, I still haven't mastered the art of running each mile evenly-paced like Noel Henry could.
Rest in Peace, Noel, I'm sure you're keeping things nice and steady up above.
Martin Keane.