Following in Noel's footsteps, though in a a slightly lower gear

 

This one was for Noel. When people start saying that's what happens when you jog and you don't smoke or drink, there's only one thing you can do to face them down - get out and run. More than 6,000 athletes did just that in the 19th running of the Dublin City Marathon, the sort of figures that haven't been seen in this race since the glory days of the 1980s. A surge of late entries, mine included, showed that few were deterred by the premature death of Dublin's guru of running.

There was a Bloomsday feel to yesterday's race. It wasn't just the fancy-dress costumes - the reggae Scotsman in tartan tights who comes every year, or the unfortunates sweating away in fulldress suits. The route was also a sort of pilgrimage which took in the main points of Carroll's life.

First, there was Trinity, a favourite haunt for a short lunchtime run. Facing into early morning sunshine, the field then passed Carroll's offices in the Dublin Chamber of Commerce on Clare Street. And so on past Belfield, home of the Goal Mile on Christmas Day, and the place where he died while running last Friday.

It all got a bit grim for me after that, but towards the end of the race, on the quays, I couldn't help throwing a weary glance at the Civic Offices of Dublin Corporation, Carroll's employer for 24 years. Nobody's perfect.

The former Irish, European and world record-holder was remembered with a minute's silence before the start of yesterday's race. His son, Noel junior, attended as a spectator.

Even the New York Times took a morbid interest in Carroll in yesterday's edition, comparing his death to that of Jim Fixx, the American running guru who was 52 when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1984. That put millions off running for a while and delivered a heavy blow to the marathon boom of the 1980s.

The Americans, though, were everywhere in Dublin yesterday. There seemed to be thousands of charity runners, particularly from Team in Training, a fundraising division of the US Leukaemia Association, and Joints in Motion ("Pass the dutchy," said one Dublin wag), linked to the US arthritis association.

Their supporters-cum-cheerleaders noisily shouted their encouragement - "Way to Go!" - drowning out the polite applause of the Irish grannies at their gateposts. Jeff, from Maryland, said charity-running was "big business" back home: "I had to raise £2,500 to get here. I got £800 from a company, and the rest in smaller sums. Now I have a free holiday." He said the arthritis association expected to raise £30 million in this way this year.

By mid-race, as the route wended its way through anonymous housing estates on the southside, motorists had begun to nose their way out of their driveways, seeking escape routes through the traffic jams. One woman remonstrated with a garda who was preventing her engaging in shopping - Dublin's real sport.

Somewhere out in front, the Kenyans were making a clean sweep of the men's race, with last year's champion, Joshua Kipchemboi, finishing first in a slowish two hours, 20 minutes. John Fulham and Patrice Dockery won the wheelchair categories.

In the women's race, Teresa Duffy, from Belfast, scored an easy victory in her first marathon in two hours, 39 minutes. Maybe a few thousand runners later, there I was proceeding down the quays, my frame listing something worse than the Titanic. My joints were in motion, but only because going on was easier than stopping. Still, I thought, as I crossed the line in a few minutes short of 3.5 hours, that's an achievement.

But later I read Noel Carroll's half-joking description of athletics as "a way of proving you're better than someone else at something that's of no use to anybody". But at least he was better than most.