Funeral arrangements for Jim on Monday morning are as follows:
Removal on Monday morning 14th March 2016 from his residence to the Church of the Most Precious Blood, Cabra West arriving at 11.15 o’c for Mass at 11. 30 o’c. Funeral afterwards to Mount Jerome Cemetery. Family flowers only please. Donations, if desired, to Donore Harriers Running Club. House Private.
Before the funeral on Monday morning Jim will be brought to his beloved polo grounds in the Phoenix Park, arriving at 10:30. Club members/friends are invited to assemble at the pavilion at the polo ground at that time (car parking on Chesterfield Avenue and in the zoo car park only please).
As a mark of respect Donore Harriers clubhouse will be closed all day Monday 14th March 2016. Also, the committee meeting which was scheduled for Monday night has been cancelled until further notice.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
A tribute to the distance legend and Donore stalwart penned two years ago by Anne Curley on the occasion of Jim’s 75th birthday
Jim Mac: You Are My Hero
Jim McNamara is quite simply a running legend. Since his emergence in the early 1960s he has won many titles, set numerous records, and represented Ireland in the 1976 Olympic marathon. He has a marathon best of 2:14. His 3:59 for 1500m at age 45 is still ranked eighth in the world. His 31:50 for 10,000m at 50 is ranked ninth.
Jim is widely known and hugely respected for those achievements, but less well known for his brilliance as a coach, an avocation he took up essentially out of the goodness of his heart.
Back in 1995 the women’s group at Donore Harriers was rudderless and in disarray, and though Jim was already busy training the men – and still competing at a high level – he agreed to take the ladies under his wing. He can hardly have suspected what he was getting into but he has stayed with the commitment for two decades and is as busy as ever.
The first night I arrived at Donore, in October 2000, Jim was marked absent – a very rare occurrence I was told. I asked what was the problem.
Some years earlier, Jim had decided, after years of endurance running, to change focus and attack the world M50 record for 800m. The combination of intense speedwork, a demanding day job and parenting three children after being widowed a decade earlier soon took its toll; he collapsed while training in Belfield in 1991. He was diagnosed with arrhythmia and put on medication for life, and though he has not been quite the same runner since, he never stopped training and racing.
He still managed to post 79 minutes for the half marathon at 60 years of age, a national age-group record.
Jim suffered recurring palpitations – the pulse would fluctuate wildly, often for hours – and a year later one such bout nearly killed him. It lasted for days and it was during his recovery that I joined the club, hence his absence on the night.
So without the pleasure of meeting Jim I joined in with a group that included Betty Kehoe, Ann Woodlock and Sheila Hannigan.
Betty told me all about Jim and soon I felt I knew him well despite having yet to meet him. She spoke of his fierce devotion to running despite his heart problems. She also said he was made of ‘the hard stuff’ – stuff that few others are made of. She was right.
I explained to my newfound friends that I loved running but after some recent bad experiences had been tempted to give up, and if I didn’t like it in Donore that would be it.
Without hesitation Sheila said, ‘That won’t happen, because Jim will motivate you.’ And again she was right.
I went down the following Saturday morning for the session on the Magazine Hills, nervous having not trained with a group in years but eager to meet this legend called Jim Mac. It was the start of an incredible running journey that I am still on at 43 years young.
Coaching is a tough job. You need patience and insight. A certificate in coaching doesn’t necessarily cut it. Bad coaches are like bad teachers – they can damage people.
Jim Mac has been motivating women of all ages and all abilities for 20 years without making noise about it and without taking a cent. He has mentored teams from beginner to elite standard and the medals won are too numerous to mention. And there is no agenda other than to help his girls get fitter, take pride in competing, and become more confident in the process.
Once you join Jim’s group you become part of a family. You might have since moved to the US or Australia but you will remain on his Christmas card list, which numbers 150 and counting.
I suspect there are some who envy Jim and his rapport with women. How, without having a mental meltdown, does he manage a large group of feisty females ranging in age from 21 to 75?
Well for a start Jim always welcomes everybody, not just readymade talents. Over the years he took stick for wasting his expertise on ‘handbag runners’. But Jim can spot potential that others miss. There is no magic formula, anybody can improve with hard work, and he is prepared to put the work in, to transform a jogger into a real runner.
Jim’s work ethic has been without question but the X factor is his character as a person. Women respect him because there is no hidden agenda, no smarm or bravado, no Messiah complex. He doesn’t try to be nice – he just is.
There is no insecurity about him; you don’t have to be friendly first for him to like you back – he will see the good in you and in everybody.
Jim doesn’t go the extra mile – it’s more a marathon, and there are numerous examples. Buying a pair of spikes or paying travel fares for athletes out of his own pocket; travelling far and wide with his girls for racing and training at his own expense; helping some get jobs by using his contacts.
He suffered a stroke in 2007 and he was back coaching in the club a week after leaving hospital. He would bus it to Navan to coach an athlete and still make it back for the 7pm session in Chapelizod, often struggling with dizziness.
Jim has been a regular at the many weddings of his girls over the years and has been a regular visitor to maternity hospitals on happy occasions. He has also visited hospitals for the sad occasions.
When his girls have a good race he is happier than they are. When they have a bad race they still get a hug and gentle, sound advice. There is no negative shouting from the sidelines; the roaring will be all encouragement.
His numerous medals are in biscuit tins under the stairs and not one photograph of himself is on display in his house. As for the latest gadgets and gear, his only concessions to bling are the lightweight racers in funky colours. He has struggled to make ends meet for most of his life but is the most generous person you will meet. If Jim were a millionaire he would still be running in the Phoenix Park – he calls it ‘a healing park’ – at seven each morning.
So what is the enigma that is Jim Mac and why is he one of the most loveable men you will meet? Jim is a hard man – as an athlete he has always had the kamikaze instinct – yet as a coach he’s as gentle as the proverbial ‘Irish mammy’. He may be the only man on the planet who can tell a girl she’s looking a little heavy and still get a hug.
Jim was born with superior natural ability but he was also of a golden era of runners that trained so hard they didn’t need a drug. Under the guidance of the great Eddie Hogan he enjoyed every minute and mile of that painful graft. Like many of his generation, Jim made the Olympics while holding down a day job.
As for me, I have come a long way since I first met Jim in October 2000. Many championship medals won, numerous hard battles fought, and thousands of miles later I’m a healthier and happier person than I was then.
The journey running takes you on is a constant cycle of pain and pleasure, disappointment and triumph. But if you are hooked you will keep coming back for more. And as long as Jim is there keeping an eye on things, that is enough to keep me going.
Nothing good lasts forever and it’s hard to imagine who will take the reins from Jim when the times comes.
You won’t see another of his kind again, the legend that is Jim Mac, who has devoted a noble life to his club and his sport – and for all the years since I met him to his beloved girls.
Happy birthday, Jim! Thanks a million for all the miles and all the laughter and all the good times! We love you!