Whether you’re a 5k novice, an expert 10k runner, or you are pushing yourself to complete a full marathon, we know that training can be difficult at the best of times. Each event requires its own specific training programme, and level of commitment. The ability to prepare properly can be altered by a variety of factors, including flare-ups, work commitments and mental focus. 


Although there will be challenges along the way, we want to ensure that you enjoy the process and that you are supported along the way. Therefore, we are bringing you expert advice from somebody who knows what it takes to embark on a significant physical challenge while living with arthritis.  

Interview by Conal Fagan, Fundraising Executive with Arthritis Ireland. 

Ken Byrne, from Celbridge, Co. Kildare, knows what it means to conquer physical challenges. Over the course of the last 10 years, Ken has completed several Triathlons, a Half Ironman, and the Dublin Marathon. But what has made these events more challenging is that Ken has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for more than 15 years, as well as hemochromatosis. In addition to his diagnoses, Ken underwent hip replacement surgery in 2019 while also continuing to live with ankles which cause him constant pain.  

Despite these setbacks, Ken’s positive outlook on life has led him to his next challenge: the 2024 Irish Life Dublin Marathon. Ken has decided to run the marathon on behalf of Arthritis Ireland, a cause which he is passionate about. Given his experience of training for major events, we caught up with Ken to pick up some helpful tips and to hear the story of how he has adapted his training to suit his own particular needs.   


CF: Ken, thanks for being willing to share your advice with our readers. Firstly, what do you consider to be the most important part of your training?  

KB: For me, having the right training kit, mostly in the form of trainers. I have had trainers in the past that just did not do the job and I suffered so much with pain post-run. Because of this, I decided to go to a running shop and explain my issues. It made such a difference as I found a trainer that was more cushioned which was exactly what I needed. Although it can be a little more expensive to find the right trainer, it can make a huge difference in the long-term. Also, if I decide to do a strength session at the gym, I use specific gloves for lifting weights that support the pain which I experience in my hands.   

CF: How do you mentally prepare yourself for months of training?  

KB: I set myself a challenging goal. That may look different for everyone, but for me, I want to put myself in a position where I look forward to training rather than feeling like I have to train. For example, in preparation for the upcoming 2024 Irish Life Dublin Marathon, I decided to spend more time in the gym at the end of 2023 to strengthen my foundations. Then, as the New Year entered, I began running with smaller distances  

I keep chipping away at things and plan training sessions that I know I can achieve. At this current moment, I run one day per week but as the weeks progress, I will increase my distances. Winter can be very tough, and finding motivation can be difficult. But it is important to be consistent with training as this will help in the Spring when the weather improves, and when I can increase my training capacity 

One thing which may be helpful to combat decreased motivation in the winter is varying training methods. I started swimming and added this activity to my training rotation as swimming helps with aerobic fitness. Having alternative ways in which to still reach your goals can help you overcome any monotonous feeling. 

I have also found that a training plan has helped me greatly when I am training over a longer period. It really can help prevent injuries or burnout. Having a training plan allows you to clearly see your progress as the weeks go on, and it will allow your goals to become more achievable. And it helps me to adjust and re-assess over the course of my training when challenges arise.  

CF: How do you develop a training plan? 

KB: This has been the most difficult thing for me over the last number of years. I have found that I cannot follow traditional training plans. It has been through lots of trial and error (more errors than successes) that I figured out what works best for me. For example, I figured out that due to my situation, it can take me up to 50% longer to train for anything. In this way, I would require 10 months for a training plan compared to what might take somebody else only six months.   

With the marathon being many months out, I am taking stock of where my body is at right now and figuring out where I am struggling. From that, I can determine how I can try to improve that. For example, my right knee was causing major issues, so much so that I thought that I may need a replacement. However, after visiting the physio and being informed that it was due to weak hips, I have been able to modify my training and strengthen this before getting into heavier running. By spending more time in the gym earlier in the process, it has helped me become much stronger when I run.  

CF: Can you share an example of a training plan that others might benefit from?  

KB: The plan below is for what I would describe as ‘Winter Training.’ It is a flexible plan, so I am not too hard on myself, but I do like to stick to and know what I am doing each week. As you will notice, there are several gym sessions currently. As the weather improves, I will swap a gym session for another run, and eventually perhaps run 3 times per week. 

Example Training Plan 






Gym: 30 minutes of weights and hip training. Walking to / from gym. 


Gym: Same as Tuesday. 


Rest: Depending on week, I may run 3km at lunch. 


Gym: Same as Tuesday / Wednesday. If I run on Thursday, I will rest Friday. 


Swim: Activity varies but builds each week. 


Run: 3k – 5k distance. Current training consists of a 2-min run, followed by a 1-min walk. The time and distance of these runs and walks can increase or decrease depending on how you feel, and progress as the weeks go on. My fitness has increased a lot because of this, and I feel great. 

CF: In an ideal world, everything will go to plan. But how do you deal with setbacks to your training plan, particularly when flare-ups occur? 

KB: I think it is important to first accept that this is an inevitable part of the process. I always hope that it does not last too long, but I just try to do small amount often and progress at my own rate. It is always better to rest than to push through a pain barrier, as it will take longer to recover.   

Personally, I always experience pain, particularly with my ankles or hands. But I find that on the mornings when I walk to the gym that I have loosened up by the time I arrive, meaning that I can get through my session. I have learned to identify between normal pain i.e., pain that I would have all the time, and a flare-up.  

When I experience a flare-up, I experience low energy and fatigue, so I usually take it very easy for a few days. This includes getting to bed early and getting some important sleep.  

While it really is the most frustrating part of the journey, I find it is important to not go too hard when coming back from the flare-up as it can cause more pain. It is better to ease back into things again at the pace which feels right for you. If you miss sessions, that’s okay. Just continue at your own pace and don’t feel like you need to squeeze two sessions into one. Everybody is on their own journey. 

CF: How do you stay motivated in times of struggle?  

KB: The process is hard. There are times when I question if and why I want to train. There are times when I can't even walk up the stairs with sore ankles. There are times when I can’t do my afternoon run because I wake up with sore knees. Regardless of this, I keep trying. 

I laugh about it and put a smile on my face because I can. I am motivated by other people, and it is by remembering them and their support that I able to kick myself into gear. There are many people who would love to be in my position of being able to do it, but are unable to for various reasons. When I think about them, I repeat my mantra of I can or you don't have to do it, you get to do it. And I often listen to motivational songs or movies to keep me going.  

I won't be winning races, and I will likely spend more time on the course than most people. But I always keep trying because I know it is helping my arthritis, both from a pain perspective and from a mental health perspective.  

Setbacks will happen, but it is how you deal with them. I use any setbacks as motivation for what is ahead. At this moment in time, there is no clear path to the marathon in October, and I know that there will be challenges along the way. It is important to find a way in which to put these setbacks behind you and move forward.   

CF: What is some of the best advice you can give for somebody who is beginning on their training journey? 

KB: Be consistent and patient. It is arguably the hardest part of training, but being consistent pays off in the long term when it is coupled with patience. To make those improvements which you are hoping for, it takes time and an understanding that this process is gradual rather than a quick fix.  


  • To read more about Ken’s journey as he trains for the marathon (and his experience of living with arthritis), read his blog here.


  • Inspired to run in the 2024 Irish Life Dublin Marathon 2024 for Arthritis Ireland? Start your journey today. 


  • If you’re not in the ‘running’ for a marathon, don’t worry – there are other ways to improve your fitness, including walking. Follow our 6-week walking blog here and read our 5 top tips on how to set achievable goals here.