Marathon running is all about beating the clock. Not turning it back. Except the body clock of Pauline Curley keeps telling her otherwise, and with that providing one of the standout runs of the 2015 Dublin Marathon.
At age 46 – and Curley doesn’t mind admitting that – she was the first Irish women’s finisher, turning back the body clock in ways she never thought possible: she’d undergone knee surgery during the summer and only returned to full training four weeks ago, yet somehow looked full of running when crossing the finishing line at Merrion Square in 2:49:29.
Curley has run quicker before, but then it wasn’t a day for fast times. Outright women’s winner Nataliya Lehonkova from the Ukraine ran 2:31:08 to take the top prize of €10,000, although there was no prize to beat Curley’s personal satisfaction of regaining the Irish National marathon title (plus €3,000), 10 years after first winning it, beating all her younger rivals in the process.
“It’s all a little overwhelming, it really is,” she said. “I know some of the top Irish girls weren’t here, but I had surgery on my knee over the summer, to repair cartilage, and I’m actually only back running the last four weeks, with one proper long run. Then maybe the rest did me good. But four weeks ago I was still walking with a limp. And that’s the truth.
“But someone was telling me to do this one. Maybe it was my father above. I don’t know. But I also said to my husband that this would be the last one, just to enjoy it one more time. And thankfully it all worked out.”
Indeed it did – Curley starting out cautiously, while Michelle McGee and Sarah Mulligan set off at the swifter pace in search of a first national title. Curley had the experience, however: she won her first national marathon title in 2005, and three years later qualified for the Beijing Olympic marathon. That doesn't mean the Tullamore runner didn't have to dig deep.
“But then I did feel stronger in the second half. I passed Michelle, then Sarah, around 18 miles, and knew they were struggling, although I still couldn’t believe it was happening to me, passing the young ones.
“I’ve won this before, run in the Olympics, obviously, but this equals all of that again, given where I was coming from. I hope that inspires women of my age, too, that age is just a number. If you keep putting in the work you get the results.”
For Curley, who also combines her training with a full-time job in Tullamore, the margin of victory over the next best Irish was perhaps more than she imagined too. McGee and Mulligan both faded, so winning silver and bronze were Jane Ann Healy-Meehan (Athenry) in 2:54:48 and Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) in 2:56:21.
Not far behind them came Sonia O’Sullivan, actually a year younger than Curley, yet running strictly for pleasure or charitable purposes these days. Still, 15 years after winning the women’s race outright, O’Sullivan is also turning back the clock a little, her time of 3:03:31 certainly surpassing her own expectations, also good enough for 20th woman overall.
“Absolutely amazing atmosphere out there,” she said. “When you start off you do wonder if you’ll make it back to the finish, but the support the whole way around made it great fun. And I’m delighted with that time, 12 minutes ahead of my schedule.
“It’s funny because I set myself the challenge of doing this, and all last week I was asking myself the question ‘why?’, but I think everything thinks that, and once you start running and get through it then it’s all so worthwhile. And it does give me the incentive to come back again, and maybe break three hours.”
Some runners just can’t help keep turning back the clock.
DUBLIN MARATHON – LEADING WOMEN
1 Nataliya Lehonkova (Ukraine) 2:31:08
2 Grace Monanyi (Kenya) 2:32:16
3 Tesfanesh Denbi (Ethiopia) 2:34:44
4 Zefre Boku (Ethiopia) 2:36:26
5 Esther Mancharia (Kenya) 2:39:23
6 Hulnara Vyhouskaya (Russia) 2:39:30
IRISH FINISHERS/NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Pauline Curley (Tullamore Harriers) 2:49:29
2 Jane Ann Healy-Meehan (Athenry) 2:54:48
3 Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) 2:56:21