Rugby kicked into touch for the day as Limerick becomes great city of runners


Just like Munster rugby, the Great Limerick Run provides joy and tears in equal measure

HAVING LONG since stopped thinking of it as mere sport, and reluctant, it seems, to even settle for regarding it solely as a religion, they were using Munster rugby as a unit of measurement on O’Connell Street yesterday, where Great Limerick Run organiser John Cleary described the race’s importance to the city as being “between a RaboDirect Pro12 and a Heineken Cup game”.

Not bad going for an event in its third year and still possessing the forward momentum of the home side’s pack up at Thomond Park on an average weekend.

The importance of the race to those who actually take part is more straightforward to gauge for an outsider. You simply have to stand back and watch for a while.

More than 8,000 participants from across the city, around the county, up and down the country and, in quite a few cases, well beyond these shores, converged on the city centre for yesterday’s three races; something that would strike many non-believers as a foolish exercise in sporting excess.

Yet for much the same sort of time it generally takes Munster’s rugby stars to get the better of visitors, all seemed transformed into heroes as they crossed Sarsfield Bridge, climbed Sarsfield Street and turned into the final couple of hundred metres.

It was a lonely looking stretch when Brian McMahon of Clonliffe Harriers appeared before lunchtime to lead home the first race to finish, the men’s marathon, but 1½ hours later it bordered on mayhem as “fun” runners from all three distances hauled themselves home; agony and ecstasy evident in fairly equal measure as goals were achieved; or limbs, somehow sensing they had done all that was required of them, simply seized up, often within inches of the line.

McMahon, who won the half-marathon last year, had come to put a disappointing run in Paris behind him and was rewarded with his first marathon win.

Women’s winner, Clonmel’s Angela McCann, had been looking forward rather than back. The 41-year-old, who started running seriously just five years ago in order to lose a bit of weight after the birth of her third child, is at an advanced stage of training to defend her title in Cork.

And so she seemed a little bemused, though delighted of course, to have taken the title here, particularly as she had only decided on Thursday to run the full rather than the half- marathon. “Ah well,” she said with a smile, “that’s my long run done for today.”

For half-marathon winner Linda Byrne, it was a slightly more serious business. The 25-year-old will know in a couple of weeks whether or not she will represent Ireland at the Olympics, and yesterday’s event was part of a training plan that must be based upon the assumption that she will.

“The timing of this was perfect for me,” said the Dubliner after the race. “I’m going to Portugal on Friday and wanted a race before I went, I knew this was a good one and that there would be a good crowd. It’s worked out really well.”

More used to competing on the track over 1,500 metres, the Dooneen and UCC athlete Orla Drumm, who won the six-mile race, took part to support the local event and to share a start line with her mother Eimer and sister Darina.

Among the runners that followed her home were family groups who laughed, embraced, or, occasionally, shed a tear at the finish. Some, like Michelle Ryan, her two sisters and five friends ran in memory of loved ones. “My sister, Louise, died by suicide two years ago,” she said, as the runners, in their distinctive T-shirts, greeted each other by the side of the crowded finish area. “We wanted to do something and to raise some money for Console.”

They’ll make about €2,000 for the organisation, she reckons, while Gillian Mortell estimates she and her 20 or so colleagues at Goggin Insurances will raise more than €3,000 for Pieta House, which, with Milford Hospice, is one of the most represented of many organisations for which people participated on the day.

Others ran for the hell of it. Lockett Wood, a 73-year-old American from Boulder, Colorado, happened to be coming to Ireland on business with healthcare firm Covidien, when he heard about the race. This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, his first outing over 26 miles and his previous outings included few of the sort of big-name races that people tend to travel between continents for. His trip to Limerick paid dividends, though, for his time qualified him for Boston in 2013.

Race winners:Marathon. Men: Brian McMahon (Clonliffe Harriers) 2:27:43; Women: Angela McCann (Clonmel) 2:58:36. Half-marathon. Men: Sergiu Ciobanu (Clonliffe Harriers/Moldova) 1:07:59; Women: Linda Byrne (Dundrum) 1:14:57. Six miles. Men: Paddy Hamilton (Annadale Striders) 29:17; Women: Orla Drumm (Dooneen/UCC) 33:51.