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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 23 November, 2017
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A 40-a-day smoker has moved to Ethiopia to chase his dream of running for Ireland

Christopher Harrington only took up running at 27. Now he’s rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s best.

Harrington, front, alongside Olympic 5,000m and 10,000 champion Mo Farah.
Harrington, front, alongside Olympic 5,000m and 10,000 champion Mo Farah.

AN IRISHMAN WHO weighed almost 15 stone and smoked over 40 cigarettes a day is on course to represent Ireland in athletics and has moved to Ethiopia to train with the world’s best in an effort to achieve that.

What makes the story more remarkable is that Christopher Harrington is 32, had an horrific car crash 12 years ago where he was lucky to survive and his knee was so badly mangled doctors feared he’d never be able to run properly.

Oh, and there’s the five kids and a wife back home in Cork whom he left for the Christmas and New Year to train at 9,000 feet where there’s no internet connection.

“Tell them Daddy will be home next week,” crackles the Leevale AC athlete from the village of Yaya where he’s based, 20 kilometres north of Addis Ababa, the country’s capital.

“I’m here to train for 31 days in total, just training for a couple of races I’ve planned this year.

The plan is to be at a level where I can compete with the best Irish athletes and one day wear an Irish singlet.

For a man with no sporting background, it’s quite a statement.

“Correct. I drank and smoked and weighed 14 and a half stone until I took up running at 27.

“But through sheer hard work and dedication I’m now nine and a half stone and a 54-minute 10-miler.”

Under 50 minutes would be regarded international class and Harrington said he won’t stop until he achieves that.

“I will admit, I feel guilty being out here doing nothing but training and recovering in the sun while my wife Claire is at home with the kids.

“When I told her I was going, there was a heated debate. But she knows I’m focused and knows I’ve that burning desire inside me; I won’t stop until what I set to do, gets done.

So everything I do – that has always been my way from day one, is geared towards running for Ireland.

His daily routine is a fairly unexciting mix of eating, sleeping and training with the best guys in the world. So he’s hardly complaining.

“The life here is very different to home but it’s great,” he explains.

“There are no sweets or luxuries. Although the food where I’m staying is catered for the western food types which is great – three meals per day, cooked up to me and served with a smile in baking sunshine.

“Running is tough but I’m getting better with each passing day. The best way I can describe my first few days of training is hardship.

“Your legs and arms are heavy. You’re struggling to breathe.

“The first few days were very tough, the heat is manageable but the altitude takes getting used to.”

And for Christmas? Surely an all-you-can-eat buffet somewhere?

“Not a chance; we celebrated with a cup of Ethiopia’s purest coffee and fresh bread. We then went for a long run and passed people right in front of us chopping up a cow for dinner. Quite a sight.”

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Brian Canty

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