Dublin Marathon: Blood, sweat and free water

Frank McNally on high winds and even higher spirits among runners in the city

Erin McGuire talks to Dublin's marathon runners and finds what kept them going the distance.


In some ways, it was just another day at the office for 83-year-old John Collins from Limerick. There was a slight break from routine, in that the veteran of 30 consecutive Dublin City Marathons began the 2014 version by collecting a special medal from the Lord Mayor. Then it was down to the business of completing the 26.2 mile course yet again, which these days is almost a full day’s work.

His shift began at around 9am when he joined 14,600 other competitors at the starting line of this year’s race. He passed the half-way mark around lunchtime and at one stage there were concerns that he might have to do overtime – beyond the seven-and-a-half hour limit for which the course is officially open – to cover the distance.

In the event, he made a mockery of his predicted 5pm finish, knocking off just before 4pm. He thereby completed what he insists will be his last 26-miler, although many runners say that around this time every year and later change their minds.

Free water

The good news for those taking part in the 35th Dublin City Marathon – even the record 10,600 Irish entries – was that the water was free. The bad news was that the wind was free too. When you threw in a few extra hills on the new route, courtesy of the city-centre Luas works, it was not a day for fast times.

But try telling that to Patrick Monahan, who rewrote the record book in the men’s wheelchair event. In shift terms, he fairly did: finishing before most office workers’ morning tea-break, in 1.52.43. Or try telling Maria McCambridge, the ageless (but 39, if you’re asking) national champion who continued the form of her life by almost taking the overall women’s event.

In the end she was just edged out, by a mere four seconds, behind the winner, Esther Wanjiru Macharia, who completed a double for Kenya. her compatriot Eliud Too having earlier won the men’s race. But in the process, McCambridge defied wind, hills and age, to lower her personal best time by a minute, to 2:34:19.

As always in the Dublin marathon, there were races-within-the-race. The most intriguing was the one involving 31 members of an extended Hughes family, originally from Westport. Their mass participation had its roots in 1984, when three Hughes brothers ran the marathon, since when, they had gone forth and multiplied.

At the start of yesterday’s event, the same three brothers were joined by 28 sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews. And the gathering’s main idea was to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people from the same family in a marathon. The necessary paperwork is now in train.

In the meantime, 28-year-old Hilary, a medical student based in Dublin, had the honour of winning the unofficial Hughes family derby, in three hours 32 minutes.

Also as usual, there were dramatic contrasts in the way people had prepared for the event. Some had been laser-like in their focus. Take Ennis runner Frank Landy (no relation to John, the second man ever to run a four-minute mile), who started training for this year’s marathon in February and avoided all preparatory races, even short ones, en route to finishing in just under three hours: a whopping nine minutes inside his previous best.

Mad idea

But then there was Robert Young who, while watching the big race in London last April, had the mad idea of running at least one marathon every day for a year. Less crazily, he decided to do it for children’s charities. He had completed something in the region of 200 by yesterday’s, in which he achieved added celebrity by racing in a kilt.

Even his schedule seemed modest, however, compared with Tony Mangan’s. A 57-year-old from the city’s Liberties, Mangan had run around the world over the past four years in an odyssey involving 41 countries, 48 pairs of worn-out runners, and an average of a marathon a day, for a total distance of almost 50,000 kilometres.

Like a homing pigeon, blown thousands of miles off track, he was now finally back in Dublin, where the adventure began in 2010. More than most in yesterday’s race, he had an excuse for taking it easy. He finished in a little over six hours.

For others, it was only the challenges of course and weather they had to face. But with unseasonably muggy conditions, as well as wind, even the most experienced runners could suffer. Belfast man Tommy Hughes, who won the race in 1991, was making his first Dublin appearance since, and found it hard going, although he still posted a time of two hours 36 minutes, a time most fiftysomething men could only dream about.

That age group also included Martin Kelly, the youngest member of an exclusive club: those who have run all 35 Dublin marathons. In fact, even at the finish line Kelly looked a bit too fresh to have run the previous 34, never mind the 35th. But he was only 18 the first time he did it and his latest was completed in a highly respectable three and a half hours, wind and all.

Shane McGrath, by contrast, declared his race “a disaster”, yet did so cheerfully and refusing to blame the conditions. He had been aiming for under three hours, and was 20 minutes over. As he put it, not even “Hurricane Gonzalo” could explain that.

Crowd support

But once the target became unattainable he just relaxed and enjoyed the experience. Like many runners, he was deeply impressed by the support along the route. Big noisy crowds at Castleknock, Dolphin’s Barn and Walkinstown roundabout came in for special praise.

If John Collins occupied one end of the race’s age spectrum, Angela Bailey from Wigan occupied the other. Well, not her, exactly. But her as-yet-unborn baby certainly had a case for being considered the youngest entrant. Bailey was five-and-a-half months pregnant at the starting line, and slightly more than that at the end. So her obstetrician will be relieved to know than she took it relatively easy, finishing in just over six and a half hours, without an epidural.