An insight into the Jude Gallagher Memorial Round the Bridges Race (by David McGaffin)…


The Jude Gallagher Memorial Round the Bridges Race (by David McGaffin of Springwell RC):

The 29th June 2017 sees the running of the 37th Round the Bridges Race, which in 2001 was renamed the Jude Gallagher Memorial Round the Bridges Race.  While many of the senior members of Springwell Running Club knew Jude and ran with him, as a relative newcomer I knew nothing about the man and made a point of asking the question, “Who was Jude Gallagher?”  From conversations with those who knew and ran with him and, most importantly being allowed access to his running diaries by his wife Heather I have been able to get to know a bit about Jude Gallagher and why there’s a race in his memory.

Heather Gallagher kindly gave me access to Jude’s running diaries which covered from 1987 to 2000 when he was in his 40’s and early 50’s.  In the days before the multimedia uploading of times, distances, pace and calorie count Jude simply recorded the distances that he ran each day, totalled his mileage at the end of the week and at the end of the year totalled his annual mileage.  For the majority of the time the only details recorded were the miles ran but when he did decide to record a few more details he gave away a lot about himself, why he ran and what he felt about other runners.

Jude was a proficient runner with race times that would be the envy of a lot of similarly aged runners.  In 1988 he broke the 3 hour barrier for the marathon with a 2.57.02 in the Dervock Marathon on the 23rd July when he was 13th overall and 5th veteran.  The six other marathons that I found him running in, including Dublin and Belfast ranged from 3.04.25 to 3.19.10, all very respectable times.  His personal best for the 5k was 17.53 and he regularly ran under 20 minutes for this distance.  At the Magherafelt 10k on the 28th May 1988 he set a personal best of 36.43 and was consistently a sub 40 minute runner for the 10k, barring injury or illness.  In 1992 he set his personal best for the half marathon on the 28th March at Omagh when he ran 1.22.22.  At the old course of the Round the Bridges, which was 10.5 miles his personal best was 63.20 and over the mile he had 4.43 as his fastest time.  He often ran 20+ races each year and was a regular feature at the cross country races from November through to February each season. In 1998 he was selected to represent Northern Ireland in the over 50’s team at the British and Irish Veterans Cross Country International at St. Asaph, Denbighshire, Wales on Saturday 21 November 1998.

So, while that tells us something about his running achievements it doesn’t really say much about him.  In his 1991 diary he wrote down his resolution on 31st December 1990, “To train every day in the year if possible.”  That resolution lasted until the 25th January when illness brought that to an end.  The resolution was repeated each year and not achieved until 1994 when he gave it another go, and it went well, until the 20th April when he injured his back.  He continued running for another 9 days before seeking medical advice.  The diary entry on the 29th April reads “Dr says it’s a pulled muscle in my back and it’s pushing the rib out.”  Any normal person would sit down, have a rest and get better, but if you’re a runner you’ll understand this, you have to keep going, no matter what.  The diary entries for the next week all record the fact that although Jude still ran each day he experienced back pain and it wasn’t until the 17th May that he says that the injury improved.  Throughout the rest of 1994 he suffered the occasional muscle strain or a chest cold but ran each day, sometimes only a couple of miles, but still, there’s a run each day finishing the year with a total of 2001 miles.  He didn’t take a rest day until the 9th January 1995 when he records the fact that he feels, “a bit guilty” in doing so.

In his best-selling book, Born to Run, Chris MacDougall states, “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, but to be with each other”. Having been able to go through Jude’s diaries I think I can safely say that he enjoyed the company of other runner’s whether on a training run or at an actual race.  If he was running alone then the distances were kept short with only 4 or 5 miles being covered, but if he was in company then double figure distances were often done.  It’s when noting these runs with Jim Reid, Bill Deehan, Marcus Devine, Peter Jack and others that Jude makes comments about how good the run was or how much he enjoyed it, especially how fast Peter Jack was.  Jude’s mischievous sense of humour led to a close and lifelong friendship with Paul Campbell, who Jude had a great fondness for, in return Paul describes Jude as the funniest person that he ever met.

Jude took as much enjoyment out of someone else’s success as he did from his own performances, often commenting on other runners podium finishes, age category wins or personal bests. He had a great admiration for Colin Loughery, who, as a cyclist who also ran, competing at a very high level in both sports was a rarity in the 1990’s. The only criticisms in his notes are those of his own performances when he felt he should have done better or been more motivated and the one and only sense of rivalry, and it is absolutely the slightest suggestion, is on the 16th February 1991 at the Belvoir Park cross country.  Jude records, “2 mls cc Belvoir Park 12.33 PB.  Easily the best I’ve run over the country.  Ran with commitment and grit.  Just failed by ½ metre to catch Jim Reid.  I am really pleased.”  Jude would often travel to the cross country meetings to support other runners even though he was injured or too ill to run himself.

In 1995 Jude was coaching two of the juniors in the Roe Valley Athletic Club, unfortunately I haven’t any surnames and only have the names Germaine and Lindsay, but Jude took a lot of pride in their performances.  On 7th October he wrote, “Ballymena CC Germaine won the U14 1100 metres in 4.08. Lindsay was 5th in 4.18.  They were both terrific.  I was really pleased for them both.”  On the 26th November, “went to Cavan with Germaine.  She finished 29th in the all Ireland U13.  There is plenty more to come” and on the 9th December, “Germaine was 3rd in Coleraine CC 1 ½ mls in 10.03.  Lindsay was 10th in 10.36.  Very good running by both girls.”

Jude was always keen to encourage young talent and to enrol new members into the club.  During a period of injury he came up with the idea that the club should attend the School Sports days in Limavady to identify the most talented runners and invite them to the club to run on the track.

Through this talent spotting the club quickly acquired a very talented squad of young runners ranging from 11 to 18 years of age. These included Chris Nutt, Richard, Chris and Martin Mullan, the Devine brothers, and Paddy McWilliams, Lisa Nicholl and Jude’s daughter Karen to name a few.

Running was also a distraction from life’s troubles for Jude.  On 21st October 1993 Jude wrote, “Procrastination is the thief of time,”  it’s an 18th Century proverb that means that if you put off doing what you ought to do, you will end up not having enough time to do it properly.  Jude, like everyone else had the difficulties that life throws at them, which everyone copes with in their own way, his way, was to go for a run.  It didn’t deal with the issue, it just allowed him to forget about it for a few miles, but it was still there when the run finished.

Perhaps the most poignant entry in the diaries was on the 15th July 1999 when he wrote, “Went to the Dr today with pains in chest and arm.  Told not to run again.  It seems I may have angina.  I feel devastated, going to see a specialist tomorrow.”  On the 16th July the entry reads, “Dr McNeill confirms what Dr Magee has said, I have to wait now for treadmill test.”  The diary is then blank until the 19th August where there is a three word entry, “treadmill test today.”  There are no further entries with weeks of blank pages until the 28th October.  “In the Royal for tests.  It showed up a slight narrowing of one of the arteries.  Dr agreed to let me start jogging but he wasn’t too keen.  He definitely said no racing.”  I have to question whether it was what the Doctor said or what Jude heard that resulted in this diary entry, whatever it was on 31st October his diary entry is “I jogged 1 mile.”  On the 3rd November the entry reads, “4 mls, I was totally wrecked and the pain was still there.”  Jude also ran 4 miles on the 4th, 9th and 10th November, each time experiencing chest pain.  He then ran 4 miles on the 13th and 9 miles on the 14th November experiencing no pain.  During the rest of November he recorded another 20 miles with no reference as to whether or not he was experiencing chest pains.

It is clear that running meant a lot to Jude Gallagher, despite having been diagnosed with a cardiac condition, he continued running and began to race again in 2000 against his doctor’s advice.  In January 2000 he ran 97 miles and in February another 83.  In March he started racing again taking part in the Ballyclare 10k road race.  In April, May and June he was injured and his running was restricted but in July he covered another 105 miles and in August raced in Clough, Bushmills and Antrim at 5k, 10k and 7 mile road races, and he was competing, taking 2nd place in his age category at Antrim.  September was a quiet month but October and November saw him covering between 80 and 100 miles each month.  In December Jude ran 76 miles including what was to be his last race on the 9th December with a 3 mile cross country race at Ballyclare which he ran in 21.51.

On the 17 December Jude Gallagher went for an 8 mile run; it was to be his last. On Christmas day 2000 he succumbed to his heart condition, passing away at the age of 54.

There is no doubt that running meant a lot to Jude Gallagher and even the risk posed to his health through running with his heart condition wasn’t enough to stop him.  To him running meant a lot of things, it was a camaraderie, it was a distraction from life’s troubles and it was an opportunity to help others achieve their potential, and to him that was a risk worth taking.

As I said at the start, I didn’t know Jude Gallagher, though I have been in the same races as him over the years, but from what I have learnt about him from his peers and his own diaries I have no doubt there should be a race in his memory and the reasons why are best summarised by his one of his many running partners, Paul Campbell, “Jude was about much more than his times and distances as a runner, he was the encourager, the organiser who put the good of the club and its members quietly and competently, before his own goals, his own training.”

Jude would often recite whole poems, and as a lover of W.B. Yeats, “The Cloths of Heaven” was his perennial favourite, and one, I am told, that ably reflects the man;


Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

(W.B. Yeats)

Photo below… Jude Gallagher with Jim Reid MBE at the British & Irish Veterans Cross Country at St Asaph, Denbighshire, Wales on the 21st November 1998.  (Photo courtesy of Heather Gallagher).