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Features KBC Dublin Marathon

11 November 2015, 12am

For over three decades now the Dublin Marathon has been regarded as one of Ireland's premier annual sporting fixtures, taking place each year on what has become known nationally as Marathon Monday: the last in October and a national holiday.

Local history

by Frank Greally

Airtricity Dublin Marathon
Mon 28 October 2013

With a record entry of over 14,600 runners the 34th edition was a celebration of both the capital city and the grit and determination of the men and women taking part. The fact that it was the first Irish double in 20 years was a great boost.

The men’s race was won at around 32km when Seán Hehir slowly closed up on Joe Sweeney and then swiftly overtook him. Hehir ran the last 10km in cruise control, vastly improving on his debut 13th place finish of last year. Not since John Treacy survived a minor hamstring cramp in the last mile to win the 1993 edition had Dublin produced an Irish men’s winner. Maria McCambridge became the first Irish women’s winner since Sonia O’Sullivan won 13 years ago. She was overtaken when making a toilet stop at 30km and had to strive to close the resulting 50-second gap, but the Dubliner hit the front again with 3km to run.

Both Hehir and McCambridge are coached by former three-time Dublin Marathon winner Dick Hooper who won the inaugural Dublin Marathon in 1980, with Carey May taking the inaugural women’s title. Irish doubles – even Dublin hometown doubles – were not uncommon in the early years. After the first edition sparked a running boom in Ireland entries swelled to over 8000 for the 1981 race, with almost 6500 finishing the event. Neil Cusack, who had finished second to Hooper in the first race, coasted to a popular victory in 2:13:58 – just a little outside the 2:13:39 time that he had posted for his famous Boston Marathon victory in 1974.

In 1982 Jerry Kiernan, a sub-four minute miler who had progressed to road running, held on bravely to win the Dublin title in 2:13:45. Kiernan went on to finish ninth in the Olympic Marathon of 1984 in 2:12:20 – an event in which Ireland’s John Treacy won silver with 2:09:56. Treacy closed his illustrious career with a victory on the streets of Dublin in 1993 in 2:14:40.

Ronny Agten from Belgium became Dublin’s first male overseas winner in 1983, finishing in 2:14:19. The Irish running boom had yet to peak, but that year the marathon had 8,688 finishers. Entries started to edge close to 10,000 in the Dublin Millennium edition in 1988, but from 1989 to 1993 the event’s future hung in the balance as entries dropped precipitously to under 3000.

Treacy’s emotional win in 1993 helped to turn the tide, and the organisers throughout never delivered less than a top-quality event. In the 21st anniversary race in 2000 another Irish Olympic silver medalist, Sonia O’Sullivan, was a surprise late entry and delighted the adoring citizens of the Irish capital with a resounding victory in 2:35:42.

By now, sports giant adidas was on board as title sponsor and this lifted the Dublin Marathon to new heights from 1998 to 2010. Elite runners, eager to capture the prize money now on offer, came in from overseas but non-elite foreign runners also began to swell numbers as they found that the tag of “The Friendly Marathon” had been well-earned.

There were 10,400 entries for the 30th Dublin Marathon in 2009 – in a country of barely four million souls. Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa fell just five seconds short of the 2:09:07 course record set by Aleksey Sokolov in 2007. The current course records of 2:08:58 and 2:26:13 were set by Geoffrey Ndungu of Kenya in 2011 and Tatana Arysova of Russia in 2010.

Ironically, the Dublin Marathon received a boost in domestic interest this year when the absence of a title sponsor in the planning stages left the organisers unable to recruit an elite international field. This made for a more tactical if not cautious race, and the 28-year-old Hehir, who was second Irish finisher last year in 2:17:19, made his experience count.

And even if he wasn’t quite the hometown victor, it felt as good as: “I’ve been living here in Dublin for over 10 years, since I was 17,” he said. “We do have a great marathon tradition. Two weeks ago, as part of the Dublin Marathon Mission, John Treacy spoke about what it’s like to win Dublin. “It’s a very special feeling, it really is.” Living in Dublin for the last decade, running with the Rathfarnham club, and teaching locally, Hehir was greeted at the finish by a sizeable band of friends and family members. McCambridge added “It’s a great feeling to win my home town marathon; it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” Both Hehir and McCambridge, apart from the acclaim, were rewarded with new Renault Fluence ZE electric cars valued at €30,000.

Despite the absence of the foreign elite this year, the international flavour of the event was undiminished. The free-to-enter Breakfast Run in Dublin the day before the marathon has achieved enviable success. It is an uplifting and joyous event in which runners from across the globe come together every year in Dublin’s Docklands area for a few preparatory kilometres followed by refreshments and live Irish music and dancing in Dublin’s International Convention Centre, along with some enthusiastic T-shirt swapping. The 2013 Airtricity-sponsored Dublin Marathon welcomed over 3000 international runners in a record entry of 14,500 and the Breakfast Run was bigger and better than ever.

The onlooking crowds in Dublin are always hugely appreciative of runners’ efforts and each year the number of spectators all around the course seems to increase.

The Dublin Marathon organising committee, led by Race Director Jim Aughney, is made up of runners or former runners and the same applies to the vast army of volunteers who help out on Marathon weekend. With the Irish energy giant Airtricity coming on board as title sponsor overseas elite athletes will return from 2014, but their temporary absence was an interesting, if short-lived chapter in the history of this great marathon.

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