What Can VHI Women’s Mini Marathon Do For You?

I have never been a runner. In my head, the word ‘marathon’ was linked to professional athletes and the Olympics or Athletics competitions. I could not imagine anyone doing a race as long as one gets guts. However, once I found the courage and motivation to explore my body’s limits. It was probably our team fundraising ‘Hell&Back’ challenge in 2019 that ignited that courage. We did many! Virtual VHI MiniMarathon, the Dublin Mountain Way in a Day, Cyclothone, to name a few.

Eventually, I decided to do it on my own in 2024. I booked the VHI Mini Marathon 2024 entry and started my training. Having many fitness apps at my disposal let me pick the right training plan. 10K sounded manageable. The fitness watch kept all my training records, so I got a very good understanding of my body potential and limits to do 10K.

On that sunny day, hundreds and hundreds of women were getting to the starting line. Each set their own ambition and target. I had three: 1) jogging from start to finish, 2) finishing within 1hr and 20 min, and 3) supporting the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation.

So, June 2nd was fast approaching, and I injured my calf during the Wicklow hike. However, giving up was not an option, but healing was required. So, I decided to stop running for a week and gradually get back on track.

The atmosphere was cheering and empowering, and the sun was bright and hot. The green ‘wave’ began their race at about 12:45. Running in a big company was easy. It is less doubtful if you are in a group of allies. Distance and time flew. I was sinking into the diversity and variety of running women and supporters along the road, enjoying every minute. Some took over me, and I took over some. I stuck to my training pace to ensure my power and energy were not draining quickly under the sun. My fitness watch counted the distance, heart bit and steps, showing that I was slightly slower on average than during my training. I decided not to break the limits and kept running, listening to my body. Somewhere at the back of my head, I hoped to speed up at the end, if any. Unfortunately for me, the final 1-2 km were up the hill, so the slop ate my efforts.

Being a researcher puts every experience in perspective. We tend to analyse the flow of any information, sometimes unconsciously, by asking questions and reflecting. One of the running advantages is that you see an accomplishment right now at the finish line. Your fitness watch provides all the data to plan and complete a given challenge with very good accuracy. It is not about luck. It is about your trust in your body and mind. You are in the driving seat! Delighted with my accomplishment!

So, what is next on my to-do list? Definitely another race, very likely Run in the Dark.

Written by Olga Piskareva

Walking the Wicklow Way, 87/129 km

Little did I know about hikers when I moved to Ireland in 2004. Who they are and how they get around. My knowledge was limited to Rosalind Franklin’s love of hiking. I could not even imagine that one day I’d try their shoes.

However, things have changed since then! Spiced by the COVID-19 pandemic and various fundraising activities inspired by my team, my daily walking transformed into regular one-day hiking here and there. Luckily, my spouse shares the same attitude. So, we decided to explore longer walks one day.

The first go was the Dublin Mountain Way (42 km) in a Day. We started in Glensmole-Tallagh on a dry and sunny morning and finished in Shankill in the dark and pouring rain with a short recharge at Johnny Foxes. We were delighted with ourselves and raised the bar.

So, last week, we attempted the Wicklow Way. After studying the route, accommodation options and our fitness, we agreed on three days of walking in the north-to-south direction and 2 nights of sleep in B&Bs. We also monitored the weather forecast to make the most of this adventure. So, May 10-12 were the best. However, accommodation became a quest. Nevertheless, luck was on our side, and we found two nice places: one was near Roundwood, and the second was in Glenmalure.

Early morning of May 10th, we cheerfully started our journey in Marley Park. The day was fab; the topics for a chat were endless. We were walking away from Dublin. My fitness watch counted the steps and kilometres. During the walk, we got a confirmation that our accommodation in Glenmaluer had been upgraded to a room with a shower. Happy days!

37 km later, we arrived at our first B&B. It was actually a fancy hostel where all the guests walked in socks, parking their heavy boots in the lobby. It was the night of aurora borealis, but we did not know about it. We were tired and fell asleep before 11 pm. The next morning, none of the guests shared any pics or insights. Apparently, everyone was knocked down by the long day in Wicklow.

May 11th. Fueled with a tasty Irish breakfast, we said “Goodbye” to our hosts and headed further. While walking slowly to warm up for a long day ahead, I noticed that my calf was strained and walking downhill had become unpleasant. Where did it happen? I had no idea. We reached Glendalough around noon.

The day was warm, the car parks were full, and everyone enjoyed the beauty of Glendalough and the sunshine. We stretched our legs and backs on greens. During our light lunch, we discussed our options: 1) evacuation home or 2) continuing and hoping for the best. I did not give up. But our walking pace considerably slowed down.

We covered another ~15 km from Glendalough to Glenmalure and landed in the Glenmalure Lodge – the healing station for all hikers, cyclers, and bikers alike. People gathered outside, and strangers had cheat-chat sharing their tricks and tips for a better hike. Something adventurous was in the air.

Our friendly host picked us up at the Lodge and drove to their B&B. We stayed late and hoped to catch a glimpse of aurora borealis. The sky was cloudy. We saw nothing. While disappointed, our bodies cried for long rest, and we did not resist.

May 12 was the last leg of our journey. My calf did not improve. We took the shortest option to finish in Aughrim. I doubled the dose of painkillers. Then, we moved tirelessly, enjoying the sunshine and the forest.

This part of the Wicklow Way was mostly foresty. The forest was magical and a bit surreal. We agreed that it is perfect for various fantasy and horror movies. My fitness watch signposted that its battery was low, but it continued to count the steps and kilometres.

Overall, our hike had a fair amount of ups and downs. Some climbs and descents were quite steep before Glendalough. Then, they became more gradual, working well for my injured calf.

The luck was again on our side in Aughrim. We saw a taxi – a rarity in this area. The cheerful driver dropped us at the bus stop in Arklow. In 15 min, we were on the way to Dublin, relaxing and enjoying the peaceful countryside from the bus seat.

Our tally was 87 km in 3 days, fully recharged mind but worn body. Would I do it again? Absolutely!

Hello everyone! I’m Federica!

Hello everyone! I’m Federica, the new PhD student who joined the group 😃

I’m amazed that it’s been almost a month since it happened, and I couldn’t be happier!

I was born and raised in Palermo, a beautiful city in Sicily (Italy), but I always felt that it was not my place. So, I tried to combine my passion for cancer biology and my desire to live abroad by exploring the Erasmus Mobility Programme. I was awarded this scholarship twice, but both times I couldn’t avail of this opportunity. In March 2022, I got my Master’s degree and said to myself, “It’s time; this is my chance to go and build the future that I want”. And here I am. 😄

New adventures

I moved to Dublin in June 2022 and loved this city’s vibes! I met wonderful people from all over the world with which I spent really fun and carefree moments. 

These are only a few of that magic moments:

– I saw a deer for the first time in my life – I was soooo happy!

Deers in the Phoenex park
New drink experience

– I tried the “mate”, a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused herbal drink. As you can guess, I didn’t like it 😂 (sorry, my Argentinian friends).

– I got used to the outstanding colours of Ireland.

Obviously, I also had hard days. My English is still not perfect, but it’s getting better every day!  I remember the first day I arrived in Dublin when I was looking for a cup, but I asked for a cupboard in three different supermarkets 😂. People looked at me, probably thinking: “Why is she looking for furniture in a grocery store? Should I say something to her?” I realized that I had asked for the wrong thing only during the night, when I was in bed, thinking about that first crazy day. 

New colours

To be honest, I had a lot of really hard days, days when I felt that I wouldn’t be able to deal with other problems. But I never thought of giving up and returning to Italy. Every difficulty, every good or bad thing, is part of this wonderful experience, and I’m so excited and proud of myself for all the improvement I’ve been making, step by step.

I couldn’t make a better choice because I found my place in this super nice and great team in the Bioengineering Group 🙃

 I look forward to better knowing all my new teammates and sharing with them my journey as PhD student!

Written by Federica Cottone

Hey there, this is Alysia!

Hey there, this is Alysia! I recently joined the Cancer Bioengineering team as a first-year PhD student. At the beginning of 2022, I was selected as a Fulbright-RCSI StAR Programme student. I spent the summer in anticipation of what to expect from my new home. I had never travelled outside of America before! However, moving to Dublin has been a great new adventure with tons of amazing experiences and new friendships. One of the first things I did when I got here was going to cafes all over town to get to know the area. Also, to indulge in the foodie scene of Dublin. I also did some great walking tours, joined a tag rugby team, got cosy with the pub culture, and found some unique thrifting shops. Dublin has a lot of charm and hidden gems wedged in between the cobblestone streets. As an American in Dublin, I thought I would have a really hard time adjusting. However, everyone has been so friendly and helpful! I’ve been able to catch on to some of the local dialogue and sometimes catch myself about to say, “it’ll be grand!”

Feeling lucky!

One of my favourite things I’ve done since being in Dublin is exploring the surrounding area through hiking. I’m from Colorado in the U.S., so the mountains here are quite a bit different. However, I can greatly appreciate the hiking culture that everyone seems to enjoy. I’ve been able to go on hikes with colleagues and friends alike in new stunning locations. My first introduction to Irish hiking was along the Howth cliff walk. Not only was the wind strong enough to fly me back to America, but the rain was “lashing”, and the temperature was absolutely, “Baltic”. I was soaked to the bone but could not be happier about getting outside and finding a social hobby that would help me adjust to my new home.

Hiking along the Howth cliff walk, 2023

It’s only been a few months into my four-year journey in Ireland, but I’m looking forward to so many opportunities. Being so close to the rest of Europe, I’ve already travelled to Paris, London, and Barcelona. I was even in Brussels and Luxembourg for a Fulbright Seminar visiting the EU and NATO! I plan on travelling around Europe some more, exploring the coasts of Ireland, and of course, sampling all the new cuisine! I really lucked out with a great team here in the Bioengineering Group. We have conferences here in Ireland as well as internationally, which helps me explore. I can’t believe I’m here in Dublin doing cancer research. Being selected for Fulbright is an incredible opportunity for me to fall in love with Dublin while doing a PhD program.

Alysia, Ronja and Lin, Barcelona, February 2023

Written by Alysia Scott

My Irish Chapter

Moving to a new country could be a challenge, an opportunity, or perhaps both. It involves stepping outside of your comfort zone, but that is where growth happens.

The most exciting opportunity of 2022 was my joining Dr Olga’s Lab as an MSc student. Welcome to the Research world full of uncertainty! Each day comes with a fresh set of surprises! Which is not uncommon in a lab environment. Sometimes things do not turn out the way we plan. But I am confident that every surprise will be worth it. My project contributes to the big ambition of Dr Olga’s team to develop an anti-cancer vaccine for children with neuroblastoma. It spans one year, which is rather short, but it gives me a fair impression of what a PhD journey might look like. I am already two months in, setting up my experiments, troubleshooting protocols and learning new things daily. Nevertheless, I enjoy that our team is outgoing, and I am eternally thankful to the whole team for their tremendous support and making me feel like I belong.

Outside of academics, I made a few adjustments. I got the chance to become acquainted with a new housing market, banking system, and visa administration as a non-Irish citizen. It seems simple, not really!  

I also enjoy challenging my long-held beliefs. For instance, the after-work hangout and drinks is an intriguing example of a cultural difference I’ve noticed here. In Portugal, I used to enjoy my lab breaks with some pastel de nata with black coffee, but now I prefer a cup of butter h0t chocolate, which is everywhere.

Chinese New Year in Ireland

Hi, this is Lin, it’s my second year living in Dublin and the second Chinese New Year I celebrated here. I love Dublin not only because it is the country I’ve spent more time in than any other country besides China but also because it can support Chinese traditional culture to the greatest extent.

Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is China’s biggest extravaganza. In 2023 we celebrated it on 22nd February. According to the Chinese calendar, the world enters the Year of the Rabbit. I felt the Chinese New Year everywhere in Dublin.

Chinese New Year’s Eve is an important night for Chinese families, like Christmas Eve for the Irish. I didn’t go back to China, but I was with my Chinese friends in Dublin and celebrated together on that day. We put up spring couples and paper cutouts in our apartment, ordered some traditional Chinese food, and made some dumplings. We stayed home, stayed up late, and said goodbye to the old year. We did every vital ritual as we did at home.

In town, people also celebrated the Chinese New Year. Most notably, Good World Chinese Restaurant, my favourite Chinese restaurant in Dublin, has always contributed greatly to promoting Chinese culture. They received the Chinese Intangible Culture Heritage title from UNESCO for having one of the most traditionally prepared dim sums. On the day of Chinese New Year, they had the lion dance and worshipped the Gods of wealth. They think these vital rituals can bring people luck and wealth.


My Irish friends said “Happy Chinese New Year” to me with warmth and friendliness on Chinese New Year. They respect not only Chinese New Year but also any Chinese culture. Their kindness makes me feel at home.

I love my friends, and I love everything in Dublin!

Written by Lin Ma (PhD student)