‘We’re not dropping out we’re dropping dead!’: 11 left in elite club to have run every Dublin Marathon

‘There’s only a few of us left … I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to get to the start every year’

It is an elite club that you can leave but never join, says 61-year-old Martin Kelly. as he comes off a golf course in Portmarnock, Co Dublin.

He’s not talking about the club where he’s just finished a round but ever-shrinking posse who’ve run every Dublin Marathon since it was first staged in the city in 1980.

“I just do it for the craic, the camaraderie,” he says. “It is not that I want to necessarily keep the marathon sequence going, it’s more just general fitness and it’s good for the head.”

He is one of just 11 runners in the club. Mary Nolan Hickey from Arklow is another and she’s the last woman standing.


“There’s only a few of us left, we’re not dropping out we’re dropping dead,” she says with a laugh. “I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to get to the start every year.”

Three of her Dublin marathons stand tall — the one when she broke three hours, the one she ran six months pregnant and the one she ran in 2017 with her ex-husband who was in a wheelchair the year before he died.

“It’s grown so much from when I first started,” she says.

She is certainly not wrong. In 1980 about 2,000 hardy runners competed. Tomorrow 22,500 people will cross the starting line of the Irish Life Dublin Marathon having completed a cumulative total of almost 34 million training miles.

It is — by some distance — Ireland’s largest marathon and the fourth largest in Europe with over €100,000 in prize money on the table spread over 22 categories divided equally between men and women.

There is also the wheelchair and visually impaired races and a newly introduced non-binary category.

“I think it’s one of the best marathons. I’ve been to,” says Nolan Hickey. “I’ve been to Boston and I did the first ever London as well and the crowd support in Dublin is just something else.”

About 300,000 supporters will line the route cheering the runners who have generated almost €10m for various charities.

Nolan Hickey took up athletics in 1968 on a whim. “I ran a race I think it was only probably about maybe 200m and liked it so kept coming back.”

Fast forward 12 years an advert for the first Dublin marathon in the RTÉ Guide. “I got through that first one and then because I’d a fairly good run I came back and managed to run it under three hours, it was 2;57.”

She had three sons — one of whom died when he was 20 — and is running it for the Wicklow Hospice. “Like us all we’ve known an awful lot of people who’ve had cancer and we’ve a beautiful Hospice now in Wicklow.”

While one Hickey is running her 44th race — including two virtual events during the pandemic — another Hickey is running her first.

Sinead Hickey from Cork hopes to cover the 42.2km as a present to herself. “My birthday was in June and I wanted to celebrate my 40th but also celebrate good health.”

She’s more reason than most to celebrate her health. “Almost five years ago I had a brain tumour removed. I was very lucky, it was a benign tumour but it had to go.”

She is running this weekend to raise money for an oncology unit in Cork, where a friend is receiving treatment, and the Beaumont Hospital Foundation where she was treated.

When asked about a time, she doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m hoping to get across the line. I’m really looking forward to it in one respect and very nervous and if I’m honest, a bit emotional.”