Marathon runners of all shapes, sizes and ages united by one goal

Dublin’s streets had it all - from no-nonsense elite athletes to gleeful runners in elaborate costumes


There’s something a bit martial about the marathon. The first one, in ancient Greece, was run to declare a war victory. And now, as 14,500 of the fittest, most motivated people in Dublin gather on Fitzwilliam Street Upper, I hear drumming (well, hi-energy pop . . . I think it’s Rihanna) and militaristic language. The runners will disperse in “waves”. They will be sent forth by the sound of a “gun” (a starter’s pistol). Meanwhile, announcer Dave Dempsey rallies the troops with propagandistic tales of manifest destiny. “The world belongs to those who believe in their own dreams,” he says.

“Yup, the fit people are finally taking over,” I think, as I stand on the sidelines chewing a Twix.

Of course, I’m not sure where the colourful costumes fit into my military metaphor – the leprechauns, witches and Batmen. “I feel a bit silly,” admits Alastair McDonald, one of two charitable pumpkins, as people accidentally run into the sides of his inflated costume. “Like a bit of a hazard.”

‘Here for the weather’
There are runners from all over the world. I meet Phil Erestain, formerly an exercise-averse man from the Philippines who is running the marathon “to surprise his doctor”. I meet four people from France. “We’re here for the weather,” says Francois Valle, smiling ironically at the dark, cloudy sky.

A generously moustachioed Clondalkin man named James Hempsey has run in all of the Dublin marathons. This year he is dressed as a Native American. He started wearing the costumes as a way to keep himself motivated. “I’m really starting to feel it a bit these days,” he says ruefully. He’s 72.

Another fit person, Olwyn Dunne, has volunteered to be a pace-setter. She has a camera mounted to her head and a large butterfly-shaped sign springing from her back. It says “4.00” (this means that those who stick with her will run the race in four hours). “A walk in the park,” she says. I take a bite of my Twix.

Eventually the race starts. Wave after wave of runners head off and soon the starting line is empty of people and filled with discarded clothes. “It’s like a war zone,” mutters one of the volunteers filling a big plastic skip. There’s a single foil blanket floating above us in the wind.

Of course, if these 14,500 fit people do take over the country it wouldn’t be too bad. And as onlookers wait to cheer on friends, family and strangers, the atmosphere is lovely. Children in face-paint wave inflated promotional gewgaws from Airtricity (the sponsor) and handmade signs saying things like “Go Daddy Go!” Adults swig coffee and hold signs saying things like “Go on Derek, you ride!”

The Dublin Marathon means a lot to people. Paddy and Joan Flannery are cheering on runners for the Clare Crusaders, a charity for children with special needs, established by their son Howard. Howard died tragically while cycling for the charity in 2007. Shortly before that, Paddy ran the Dublin Marathon with Howard and his other son, Gordon. “Well, I walked it . . . The two lads were runners and they came back after finishing to the 25 mile mark to finish with me. We have a lovely photo. It was like they carried their dad home.”

Howard’s son Cathal (14) also wants to run a marathon someday. “I have no choice!” he says. It’s something of a family business.

The finish line
Soon runners begin arriving at the finish line. First there are the no-nonsense elite runners, a handful of whom, the show-offs, continue running after their race is over. Seán Hehir, the first Irish winner since 1993, is greeted by his mother, Cushla Murphy-Hehir. A resourceful woman, she managed to get herself behind the finish line despite obstructive security guards. Seán’s evening, she tells me, might begin with a trip to see his girlfriend in hospital. She has a suspected fracture after trying to keep up with the race on her bike. “She went over the handlebars,” she says. “So when Seán’s done here, he’s off to the hospital. Then we’re hoping to have a meal.”

After the elite runners, the body shapes and ages get more diverse and the attitudes more ebullient. Runners high-five members of the crowd and friends physically support each other as they cross the line. A few seem like they’ve just been for a brisk walk. Others lean against railing and collapse exhausted at the side of the road. But they all seem quite happy about it. Only at the finish line of the Dublin Marathon have I ever seen people vomit with joy.

Monaghan woman Breda Caulfield rubs down the sore legs of her daughter Sinéad. “Ah I’m very proud of her.” It’s Sinéad’s second marathon in a few months. But that’s nothing, says Breda. They have a friend called Shane McCarville who’s on his 61st marathon of the year.

John Barrett is pushing a pram festooned with banners for the aid agency Concern. “Never again,” he says. He’s 61 and has run 20 marathons. This is the second one he’s done with a pram. “If someone would push me in it it’d be fine,” he says. “Is going in the pram an option?” I’m not sure. If it is I’ll do the marathon next year.