Finding inspiration and motivation from unexpected sources during month long challenge

A view of Donegal through the coronavirus crisis by journalist Siobhán McNamara

Donegal Dragons

Donegal Dragons Regatta 2019. PHOTO: Blaithín Murphy

Earlier this year when the Irish Cancer Society announced that they were looking for people to sign up for their Marathon in a Month in June, I knew it was for me.

It is highly unlikely that I will ever undertake an actual Marathon. I know many people who love running and have seen great mental and physical health benefits as a result, but my knees are somewhat worse for wear and simply not able for running.

But the Irish Cancer Society Marathon in a Month can be done using any form of exercise, be it walking, running or swimming, or in my case, using a dragon boat paddle erg which is similar to a rowing machine, but paddled like a canoe one side at a time. Furthermore,as the name suggests, I had a month to complete 42km.

As the time drew closer, I wondered would I do a bit every day and see how I got on, taking days off if I needed to? Or would I go all out and get it done as soon as possible? I felt confident that I would be grand, that I would rise to the occasion and just get on with it one way or another.

Then I saw a post by Jason Black who has among his many great achievements, climbed both Everest and K2. In that post that I read around one month ago, he challenged the idea that the ‘occasion’ will carry you through. He pointed out that great things are not achieved while you are doing them, but in the often lonely and difficult  preparation and planning.

My Marathon in a Month was small in comparison to his achievements but it was very important to me for a lot of reasons. And while I was physically ready - more or less - the reflection prompted by Mr Black’s comments made me realise that I needed a plan to follow, and I needed to be really clear about what I was doing and why.

I’m very glad I saw that post. I immediately took the calendar off the wall and drew up a plan of how I would complete 42,000m on the dragon boat paddle erg, how I would spread it out allowing for recovery and for days that I might not get to it. 

And when it was all laid out in front of me, only then did it dawn on me that I might struggle with motivation. A Tuesday evening, with the mental and physical exhaustion that often follows a busy print day on the paper, for example - how would I find the energy to complete 3,000m?

So not only did I need a plan of when I would do each stage of the challenge, I also needed a plan to motivate me through each of those stages.

My main reason for doing the challenge in the first place was because of the support my family received from the Irish Cancer Society during my late husband’s journey through terminal lung cancer in 2015. This was my starting point. Would it be enough, especially on the days when I was feeling drained? I didn’t think so. I needed something more positive. This led me to write a list that I won’t repeat in detail of people who battled - or are currently battling - cancer with varying degrees of success. They are all people whose journey touched me in some way, be it through their courage, their drive to help others, the additional fear of Covid-19 they face as they undergo treatment, or the inspiring way they live their lives despite the physical and mental devastation of cancer. 

These are the people who got me up off  the couch when I was wondering if I would bother with that evening’s session or just try and catch up later. They are the people who drove me on when I was flagging before I even reached the halfway mark of one of my 14 x 3,000m stages, despite having found it much easier on previous days. Though they will never know it, they are the people who reminded me to drink water throughout the day and to plan my meals to allow for an exercise session every second evening.

The calendar I used to plan this challenge is our Donegal Dragons club calendar for 2020 with wonderful illustrations by my clubmate Marie Drumgoole. With the picture for each month she has included a caption. The one for June reads: ‘Success is best when it is shared.’

My Marathon in a Month is a small challenge compared to what those affected by cancer face every day, but I hope it helps make a difference. Thanks to everyone who helped make it a success, from turning up for dragon boat training on wet, grey evenings on the bay over the last five years, to your donations and messages of support and encouragement over the last month. And most of all, to those who live their lives with such grace and fortitude, thank you for being an inspiration.

Together we have almost completed this challenge. And along with thousands of others around the country, we will help the Irish Cancer Society to continue providing services to those suffering from cancer and to fund research that will save lives and prevent suffering in the future.

Anyone who would like to donate can do so at

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Live editorial team any time. To contact Donegal Democrat and Donegal People's Press, email To contact Donegal Post, email To contact Inish Times, email

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