Blood, sweat and tears, but no swoosh


ATHLETICS DUBLIN CITY MARATHON: As a record entry of over 14,000 prepare to take on the gruelling 26.2 miles on Monday morning, IAN O'RIORDANtalks to race director Jim Aughney

STRANGE DAYS indeed when one man is being lined up with $250 million to wear a little swoosh around a golf course, winning millions more in prize money, and over 14,000 people will run around the streets of Dublin without the slightest chance of winning anything at all, unless of course they’re a Kenyan, and still that little swoosh doesn’t want to know anything about it.

Maybe it’s because marathon running has always been risky business – that anyone willing to endure 26.2 miles on their feet better realise so much can, and frequently does, go wrong. There are plenty of guarantees too, including the desperate urge to urinate within moments of the start, the horribly vicious blisters, and at least some mild form of diarrhoea, if you’re lucky – although nothing, it seems, can stop people from coming back for more.

Con Houlihan always described the marathon as the equivalent to conquering a horizontal Everest, and those who do complete the journey secure instant bragging rights that few so-called mass participation events can ever rival.

So, while some sports become increasingly reliant on commercial sponsorship to justify their existence, or struggle to maintain public interest, the 33rd running of the Dublin Marathon has attracted the highest ever entry and best ever elite field, and set up a course that looks faster than ever, all without touching either the entry fee or the existing pool of prize money. All this, by the way, without a title sponsor for the first and only other time since 1992 – which adds further weight to this inexplicably formidable force known as the running boom. Monday’s race may be lacking that little swoosh or any other type of branding, but it brings sport back to its basics, of health and human endeavour, which is what sport should be all about in the first place.

It was only last May when Jim Aughney, Dublin’s long-serving race director, revealed this year’s event wouldn’t have a title sponsor: the National Lottery had signed up for 2011, intending to stay on board until 2013, but when its own licence was put up for sale earlier this year things changed, and no agreement could be reached in time for the 2012 race (at least not one that satisfied the Dublin organisers). By then it was too late to seek a replacement, so Aughney and his team went about trimming some excess fat from an already lean operation.

“The first thing we wanted to ensure was that it has no impact on the runner,” he says, “and that come Monday evening, no one will look back and say, ‘gee, there was a noticeable difference there not having a sponsor’. And we strongly believe the quality of the race won’t change.

“But we have had to pare back a few things, to get the race over the line. We’ve done less overseas promotion this year, where in other years we’d go to the other big city marathons and essentially sell Dublin. We’ve also done away with the post-race party, staged on the Monday evening, with various presentations. Plus there’s no TV coverage, either live or otherwise.”

As absurd as it might sound, a large chunk of title sponsorship money goes towards TV coverage, with RTÉ being paid handsomely to cover last year’s race live – when some might argue it should be the other way around.

But Aughney’s fears that the lack of a title sponsor might somehow affect race entries didn’t prove true, with the final entry of 14,350 better than last year’s record tally of just over 14,000.

More importantly the Irish entries are also up, accounting for around 10,000, despite the plethora of marathons now popping up around the country. The UK entry figure is still healthy too, at around 2,000, with around 500 still coming from the US, with 47 countries represented in total. Aughney has always maintained the international dimension can be further tapped, and that Fáilte Ireland mightn’t quite realise this. “It was too late to go to Fáilte Ireland this year, given they’d already budgeted for 2012 anyway, and we would certainly hope they could back the race for 2013, particularly in the year of The Gathering. But as of now we get no assistance from the tourism industry.”

Aughney was also adamant that Dublin maintain its modest entry fee (€70, or €90 for later or overseas entry) and decent prize money (€15,000 for the men’s and women’s winners, because Dublin has never done appearance fees). He’s been fighting to maintain the route too, marginally improved this year, as Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park is reopened after roadworks. Yet he still gets the sense parts of the city just about tolerate the marathon, rather than embrace it.

“I do think the city is gradually getting behind the event more and more, and the people of the city too, who are coming out in greater numbers to support it.

“One of the nice headaches we’ve had in the last year or so is crowd management, at certain points, where very large numbers of spectators are coming out. Dublin City Council too has improved considerably in the way they manage the event, the paperwork, etc. Of course there is always room for more support, which is why it is important we secure a title sponsor for next year. Because I still believe there is huge potential to grow this event further.”


1Last year Geoffrey Ndungu ran a personal best and Dublin Marathon course record of 2:08:33 to pocket the €15,000 winner’s cheque, and €5,000 time bonus, as Kenya filled seven of the top 10 places, (or eight, if Qatari convert Gamal Belal was included). Not surprisingly the 28-year-old Ndungu is back to defend his title, again with a host of fellow Kenyans to contend with, including former World Junior 10,000-metre champion Robert Kipchumba, and the fastest man on the start line, 2:06:52-runner Charles Kibiwot. Only Ethiopia’s Demessew Tsega looks capable of spoiling another Kenyan win.

2The Dublin Marathon had been somewhat cruel to Helalia Johannes, the 31-year-old from Namibia, as she finished second, third and fourth in her first three efforts – that is until last year, when her persistence paid off and she took outright victory in a personal best of 2:30:55. Since then Johannes finished third in Vienna, last April, and better still ran another personal best of 2:26:09 to finish an excellent 12th in the London Olympics, and she’s also back in town on Monday to defend her title.

3Since 2003 the Dublin Marathon has also doubled as the National Marathon, and to good effect, restoring some worthy honour to the prize, and the 2012 Irish men’s title looks like being decided between a pair of marathon debutants: Paul Pollock, from Annadale Striders, ran a half marathon best of 64:16 last month and certainly looks to have the leg speed, although Seán Hehir from Rathfarnham has the potential to outlast him, assuming the race really does begin at 20 miles.

4Maria McCambridge won’t want any reminding of the circumstances that denied her a place in the London Olympic marathon (although there was always going to be one loser when four Irish woman ran the A-standard), yet undeterred, her form has been superb, and in the absence of Irish champion Linda Byrne, who did compete in London, McCambridge looks to have this title all to herself.

5She turned the big “Six-O” in June, and has long been the only women to start and finish every Dublin Marathon since the first edition in 1980, and yet Mary Nolan Hickey is back for more, race number 33 in succession, and this time with a team of 21 fellow Wicklow runners that she has helped train and mentor in recent months. She’s quietly targeting a sub four-hour finish, as this is one woman who clearly has no perception of the marathon’s infamous ‘Wall’. Ian O’Riordan

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