Limerick's 87-year-old Marathon Man is ready for the next charitable test

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

Proud dad Phonsie Clifford, 87, with his athletic sons Richard and Denis on the day of Dublin City Marathon in October

Proud dad Phonsie Clifford, 87, with his athletic sons Richard and Denis on the day of Dublin City Marathon in October

AGE IS just a number and that is the simple motto by which Limerick’s 87-year-old Marathon Man Phonsie Clifford lives.

Chipper, with a smile, the Garryowen athlete shows off a hefty medal that was hooked around his head after winning the Dublin City Marathon this year, in the over-85s category.

“I feel good. If it was on in the morning, I would take it on again, you know?” he says with confidence.

After all, this is the sixth time the runner has been crowned champion of the marathon; three times in the over-85s and three times in the over-80s categories.

He finished in first place in the race, which was held in late October, in seven hours, 42 minutes and 31 seconds.

His personal best is four hours and 20 minutes, achieved at age 70.

Joining him in the marathon were his athletic sons Richard “Mr Motivator” Clifford and Denis, who completed the race in two hours and 25 minutes, and two hours and 28 minutes respectively.

In addition to having a successful career in the high-endurance race, he uses his talent to raise much-needed funds for Milford Care Centre. As part of his Dublin Marathon campaign this year, he has raised €2,371 for the organisation. He has so far raised more than €54,000 for Milford Care Centre.

“I am doing this for elderly people. They can do something in life, and not to be sitting down. I go to Milford day centre and I talk to the people, bring them books, sit down, and they get something out of it. And they feel good.

“ I meet people on the street and they ask me: ‘How do you do it?’ And you just do it, and that’s it,” he tells the Leader. 

But he wasn’t always Marathon Man, as he only started his fanatical fitness campaign when he was 62. “I could barely walk up the road,” he admits.

What did he do before that, the Leader asks.

“I was working,” he laughs. He explains that he was working two daily shifts, where he would finish work at Peter Henshaw’s abattoir on the Dock Road at 4pm and then work his second shift in Broadford until 10pm.

Twenty-five years later, Phonsie runs a minimum of 20 miles a week, spread out over three sessions.

As marathon season creeps closer, he will increase the distance to 30 miles and then 40 miles.

And what is his secret to keeping fit and healthy?

“Just keep on jogging and walking,” he says, adding that he always take a drink at 9pm – a glass of whiskey with red lemonade, and a few biscuits on the side.

And if it’s on TV, he will relax to an FBI or drama-mystery while sipping on his nightly beverage. 

Proferring his last few words of wisdom, Phonsie says with a smile: “I never took up sports, I never won nothing in my life. And since I came into my 70s, I have been winning everything.”