From ‘stark reality’ to formidable athletics profile

By Paddy Walsh
It was when sitting in a jail cell at Letterkenny Garda Station that he finally began to face up to the starkest reality.
In the grip of alcohol – a grip that had progressed through the years – Barry Mackey realised the game was up. The alternative was staring at him from the bare walls of that cell.
Charged with assault, the Letterkenny man had time to contemplate his past, his present, and what the future might hold. “I knew I had to do something about it and this was the turning point.” The point where he finally surrendered to seeking help.
He sought that help through the appropriate channels which led him back on the road to recovery.
“One person in particular was instrumental in that process,” Barry declares.
Sober now for the past seven years, he owes his recovery to the services available, to his own determination to climb out of the pit, earn his place back in society and to athletics, the name Barry Mackey now synonymous with impressive performances, times and advancing personal bests.
Barry had started up a signmaking business in 2007 and that had come about through getting sober.  “I would not have been in a position to start it up, simple as that.”
Self taught, he had originally undertaken sign writing for local rallying favourites including James Cullen, Rory Kennedy, John Boyle and the late Danny Caddye – Barry’s hand-painted craft highly visible on the sides of many a rally car as they sped over the terrain of Donegal and other events.
Back in his youth, Barry had played football at a younger age as a left-back with Letterkenny Rovers Reserves. “I was there more for the training than for the actual football,” he admits.
“I did a lot of running with my brother, Philip, when I was in my twenties and thirties and that level of fitness stayed with me.”
His venture into the world of sporting participation arrived when his good friend, John Watson, introduced him to coach and trainer, Nigel Drein, as Barry continued his recovery process.
It acquainted him with the Gaelforce events combining running, cycling, mountain trekking and kayaking and also forged friendships with the likes of Angus Hunter, another organiser in the programme.
There followed Coastal Challenges and Duathlons as his fitness levels continued to rise. “I was getting a buzz out of it
It was another notable local athlete, Sean McFadden – now based in Dubai – who persuaded Barry to take part in his first cross-country event with L.A.C. “By that stage, I had begun to excel at running and it didn’t take much persuasion. Sean and I became good friends and I enjoyed several foreign trips to his training camp in Spain. My times started to come down in 5ks and 10ks.”
Another prominent athletics personality, coach Teresa McDaid, provided valuable assistance as Barry’s running career took off. “Ciaran O’Donnell was another influence and he asked me to join Letterkenny Athletic Club.” Another significant step forward.
In his first year with the club, Barry received the accolade of being named “Masters Athlete of the year”, running thirty-eight 5ks and a handful of 10ks.
“It was a great honour to get that recognition after just one year with the club and the recognition encouraged me to keep going to do better.”
There was inspiration too, from Derry athlete, Joe McCarthy, who still lines out with City of Derry Spartans. “He was a superb runner in his day and still runs well at the age of 60.”  Barry became great friends with Joe and honoured him with a special
 “Spirit of the Race award”  at Gransha, Derry in honour of athletes passed, an award that Barry says he will treasure for ever more.
Meanwhile, Barry got to know another highly regarded athletics stalwart and former outstanding athlete, in the form of Philip Connolly, who ran a 2.26 marathon in his day. “Philip became my coach and I’ve hardly looked back. My running
excelled to another level.
“I scaled down the races and focused on quality rather than quantity. Philip was highly instrumental in getting me to another level.
“When I was not mentally or physically in top form, he was there to perk me up also. His coaching enabled my times to dip significantly,” Barry points out, Within a five year radius, Barry saw his 5k times drop from 24 minutes to 17.58, and his 10k equivalents to climb down from 45 minutes to 38.16.
His half-marathon personal best stands at 1.30.56 while his full marathon PB. is an impressive 3.29.01 and this year with Philip, he has achieved a total of eight PB’s with six of them achieved in eight weeks consisting of 5k’s,18.43, 18.27, 18.10, 18.04, 18.00 and finally the sub 18min – 17.58.
His 10k P.B. stands at 38.16 while he boasts a marathon time of 3.29.01,which ranks as a superb achievement.
He has also competed in a 5,000 metres track in Tullamore this year and achieved a credible 5th place in the over-55 category, with a time of 18.55 at his first attempt. He’s aiming for the 3,000 metres indoors next March and a half-marathon in Malaga next year.
“The marathon is a different animal to other races. You have to run a marathon to race a marathon,” Barry insists. He didn’t stick to the plan drawn up with Philip for the recent Dublin Marathon but will learn from it for the next one.
But he still completed it and there are other marathons on the horizon to concentrate on.
As far as training goes, he maintains the key ingredient for him is building a good strong winter base. “Like a house needs a good foundation for strength or sooner or later, cracks will appear, and you could find yourself on a merry-go-round of injury and playing catch-up. This would consist of plenty of easy miles, for which there is no substitute, with plenty of hills, short hill reps, strength and conditioning in the gym as muscle deteriorates especially when you get older.”
Barry also stresses the importance of stretching, foam rolling, and taking recovery drinks.
“Then when the weather improves and the temperature rises, implement the speed training as you are less likely to
To hear him talking about training regimes and athletics generally, it’s hard to imagine that dark period of his life.
 But he is able to focus now on the self-esteem, self respect and self worth that was marked absent during his drinking days but has regained itself through his recovery and insists that he does not substitute his running for his drinking. He
has total freedom from that by letting go 100%.
“The respect that I have received from my fellow Letterkenny A.C. members and other athletes and clubs throughout the county and up North, and from people such as James Gibbons of Milford A.C. who has been very supportive, from my own townspeople, and from family and friends, is something of a miracle and being told that i am an inspiration is very humbling.”
It’s a tribute to what can be achieved and overcome. “It’s a big turnaround from hiding away and waking up looking for a drink to start the day.
 “People are talking about me now for all the right reasons”.
He hopes to compete at a top level and says he gives his all when wearing his L.A.C vest. “I’m honoured to be associated with this great club and the likes of double Olympian Danny McDaid.”

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