The marathon that just keeps on running


DUBLIN CITY MARATHON THIRTY YEARS A GROWING: IAN O’RIORDANcelebrates the 30th anniversary of a race that has become a fixture on the city calendar and the 29 runners who have said ‘never again’ 28 times only to run in each edition

“One Less Thing To Do In Life” says the finishers T-shirt. Or as my accountant likes to say, “One Thing Too Many.”

Con Houlihan always described the marathon as equivalent to conquering a horizontal Everest, which is a good way of putting it. But how many people do you know have climbed Everest twice? Unless you were born and raised in Kenya, and ran several miles to and from school, the marathon shouldn’t really have a whole lot of natural appeal. It’s something to run once, and then brag about for the rest of your life.

But what the scientific research has also discovered is this thought of “never again” is soon forgotten, something they put down to “the childbirth phenomenon”.

In other words, the horrendous physical pain and mental anguish associated with running 26.2 miles is somehow erased from memory over time, and with that comes the desire to do it all over all again – the same way mothers forget the agony of childbirth and remember only the ecstasy. (Although most of us can only take their word on that one.)

So, of all the guarantees that come with running a marathon – including the ferocious desire to urinate within moments of the start – perhaps the most inevitable is your first one won’t be your last one. For some, there is the realisation that with a little more training and preparation their finishing time could be markedly improved; for others, there is the realisation that without the training and preparation life somehow feels a little emptier. In any case, what is certain is the majority of the 12,500 runners who line up in Dublin on Monday morning won’t be all virgins. (Marathon virgins, that is.)

What is also certain is for every runner who has made it to the start line, several haven’t.

Monday marks the 30th staging of the Dublin marathon, and one thing has remained constant during that time is what the scientific research refers to as the “cop-out rate”.

This is where the runners who have declared their intention to participate don’t, in fact, make it to the start line, often for a myriad of reasons, but usually on the premise that “ah, sure there’s always next year.”

Truth is marathon running is fraught with danger, being an extremely high-risk venture where so much can, and frequently does, go wrong. Even the most determined and stubborn runners can often find themselves victims of a mishap, say a tiny tear in their Achilles tendon, or a stabbing pain in their knee, and are therefore resigned to the dreaded Did Not Start (DNS).

All things considered, few if any of the 2,100 runners that started the first Dublin marathon back in 1980 could possibly have predicted they’d be back the following year, and again the year after, and so on and so on right up to next Monday. The 680 that dropped out definitely didn’t.

Well quite a few of them have – 29, to be exact; including just one woman. Naturally, they’re a hardy lot, and each has an amazing story to tell of how year after year they somehow made it to the start line, despite having had mounting reasons not to.

Given the Dublin marathon itself very nearly collapsed at certain stages over the years it’s a wonder they will all be back again on Monday to make it Dublin marathon number 30 – in succession.

They’re a varied lot as well – from 74-year-old Paddy Craddock from Blackrock, recently voted “Ireland’s Fittest Grandfather”, to the only woman, Mary Nolan Hickey, from Arklow, who in her determination to run every edition of the event completed the 1988 marathon six months pregnant. But the youngest of them, who signed up to run his first Dublin marathon at age 17, is Martin Kelly from Raheny, and he’s effectively spent the best part of his life trying to stay fit enough to run 26.2 miles every October. That’s consistency for you – and a lot of finishers T-shirts.

“For sure, there were some years when I didn’t really put the necessary training in,” says Kelly, “and if I wasn’t continuing the sequence, there’s no way I would have gone near the start line. Like in 1989, I got married, and the training was very limited. But after I’d done 10 I said I’d do 15, and then 20. But to be honest, if I missed one year at this stage, I don’t think I’d ever start another one. It’s all about keeping it going now for as long as I can. Once I miss one, that’s it.”

Kelly doesn’t even describe himself as a natural runner: “I’d done a little bit of running in school, mostly cross country, and a bit on the track. I just remember sometime during the summer of 1980 I saw an ad for the Dublin City Marathon, and figured I’d give it a go. I didn’t think a whole lot about it, and I didn’t do a whole lot of training either, more football training, to be honest.”

As he was only 17 at the time, Kelly had to get his parents to sign a consent form; his birthday is October 20th, so he would turn 18 by race day. Back in 1980, marathon running was a long way from the mass participation event it is now, and had his parents known what they were letting him in for they might have had second thoughts. (Then again, maybe they knew exactly was he was letting himself in for. . .)

“I’ll always remember the first year, when we came back through town after about 20 miles, down along Pearse Street. I could see the finish line up to the right, but we still had to go out past Vincent’s Hospital, up Nutley Lane, and back through Donnybrook. That was definitely the hardest six miles of the lot.”

He finished the 1980 race in just over three and a half hours. In 1981, when entries swelled to over 8,000, he ran three hours and three minutes, and in 1982, with another record entry of 11,076, Kelly ran his best ever time of two hours and 47 minutes.

He knows his best years are behind him and chances are he won’t ever improve on that time, but with the experience of 29 Dublin marathons already run, he’s naturally relaxed and calm about Monday’s race.

“Most years I’ve been averaging between three hours 10 and three hours 30,” he says. “But the big difference for the past few years has been training with a club, Raheny Shamrocks. For the first 20 years I always ran and trained on my own. It was only in 2002 I joined Raheny.

“I suppose I always regarded running clubs for real runners only, but the club has given me a whole new lease of life. It’s not that my times have improved, but the training is that bit easier, and definitely more structured, with people like Dick Hooper and Paul Brady, who put a lot back into the sport, things that you just wouldn’t be aware of.

“That’s my only regret, really, that I didn’t join up with a club sooner. And I would definitely encourage more to join a running club. For value for money and camaraderie there is nothing like it.

“I don’t see why more ordinary runners don’t join a club, because the benefits are fantastic. Raheny have had about 40 new members this year; and I think most of those joined simply because they saw us running down the Howth Road at 6.30 every evening.

“It may be that clubs need to recruit more,” he suggests, “but since joining the club I’ve come to realise how important is speed work, the hill work, interval training. The club structure brings so much more variety to the training, and that’s been a great way for me to stay at it.”

Kelly has witnessed many changes over the last 29 years, but reckons one of the things that have kept it so special is the eager and devoted organising team. But while he’s also seen numbers rise, he reckons the standards may be still dropping. Actually, they are: In 1981, the second year of the race, 608 of the 6,490 finishers ran under three hours; by 2004, only 233 of the 8,537 finishers ran under three hours.

Perhaps if more runners joined up with clubs the standards would rise again along with numbers, and maybe this year they will.

But with each passing year there’s likely to be less and less people who can say they’ve run all editions of the Dublin marathon, and as the youngest of that select group, perhaps Kelly has the best chance of out-lasting the lot.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“I just know that I’ve been involved with a lot of other sports, worked on the Ryder Cup, saw Tiger Woods, but marathon running is the one sport, once you cross the finish line, where you still get a hugely emotional feeling, that you’ve really achieved something for yourself.”

That much is true, whether it’s your first marathon in Dublin on Monday, or your 30th.

See you all next year.

The Marathon 29

The 29 who have run every Dublin City Marathon are:

Thomas Morgan; Pearse Fahy; Séamus Cawley; Peadar Nugent; Anthony Warren; Gordon Harold; Michael Carolan; Billy Harper; Mary Nolan Hickey; John Walshe; Gerry Carroll; Séamus Kilcullen; John McElhinney; Séamus Dunne; Martin Kelly; Donal Ward; Dominic Gallagher; Donal De Buitléir; Pat O’Loughlin; Paddy Craddock; Patrick Reilly; Frank Behan; Peter Behan; Stephen McNeill; Tony Ennis; Frederick Hickey; Ailbe Ó Murchú; Frank Starrs and Patrick Gowen.

Dublin Marathon: 30 Years Running

1980 – Less than a year in the planning, the first Dublin marathon attracts 2,100 starters – thanks in part to the promotional work of sponsors Radio 2. The 24-year-old national marathon champion, Dick Hooper of Raheny, wins in 2:16:14, over four minutes ahead of Neil Cusack. Carey May is the first woman home, in 2:42:11, with 1,420 finishing in all.

1981 – Entries shoot up to over 8,000, and this time Cusack is first home in a world-class 2:13:58. The former Boston marathon winner is three minutes clear of Belfast’s Greg Hannon. Emily Dowling wins the women’s title in 2:48:22.

1982 – With a remarkable entry of 11,076, the race has already hit its peak. Jerry Kiernan makes his debut and storms off to win in a time of 2:13:45, a course record. America’s Debbie Muller becomes the first overseas winner of the women’s title.

1983 – Another large entry and 8,688 finishers, the first of which is Belgium’s Roney Agten in a time of 2:19:16. Former 400-metres runner Mary Purcell ensures one of the titles stays at home by winning the women’s race in 2:46:09 – with 5,500 finishers coming home under four hours.

1984 – Dubbed the first EEC marathon, entries remains high, with the 7,365 finishers about 96 per cent of the starters. Denmark’s Svend Kristensen denies Hooper a second title, winning in 2:18:25. Again the women provide the home glory, with Ailish Smyth moving from third to first in the closing miles.

1985 – With a new course and ideal conditions, Hooper becomes the first two-time winner in 2:13:47 to collect the Nissan Micra car. The women’s title goes to England’s Julie Gates in 2:41:24.

1986 – Despite carrying an injury, Hooper wins his third title in 2:18:10. Best of the women is England’s Maureen Hurst in 2:46:27.

1987 – Less than 4,000 finishers for the first time since 1980, as little-known Czech twins Pavel and Petr Klimes fill the first two places, with Hooper in third. The third successive English winner of the women’s race is Carolyn Naisby.

1988 – With the Dublin Millennium celebrations as a backdrop, the entries are up to almost 9,000. Kerry triumphs when John Griffin wins in 2:16:02. Northern Ireland’s Moira O’Neill is the surprise women’s winner with a course record of 2:37:06.

1989 – Having lost Radio 2 as title sponsor, interest appears to be declining, and just over 3,000 finish. Griffin becomes the second man to win successive titles, clocking 2:16:44, while Dublin’s Pauline Nolan takes the women’s title ahead of Liz Bullen – twin sister of John Treacy.

1990 – A home-from-home winner as Dublin-born John Bolger, at this point a Canadian international, wins in 2:17:17, while Christine Kennedy is best of the women in 2:41:27, although only 2,806 finish.

1991 – Doubling as the trial for the Barcelona Olympics, Tommy Hughes takes the title North for the first time in 2:14:46, ahead of Kiernan. Christine retains her title in 2:35:56 – as this time just 2,751 finish.

1992 – Yet further decline in the numbers, the 2,414 finishers being the worst show since 1980. Kiernan repeats his win of 10 years before in 2:17:19, while Karen Cornwall of England takes the women’s race in 2:41:58.

1993 – John Treacy runs his last marathon, nine years after winning the Olympic silver at the Los Angeles, and wins in style, clocking 2:14:40. Ireland also provides the women’s winner in Cathy Shum, her time 2:38:14.

1994 – Steve Brace becomes the first overseas winner in seven years when clocking 2:17:13. England’s Linda Rushmere is best of the women in 2:40:17. Still, the 2,713 finishers are just six up on the previous year.

1995 – Despite a new category for “walkers”, still only 2,700 finish. Best of them is Kenya’s first winner in Dublin, William Musyoki, who clocks 2:16:57. Scotland’s Trudi Thomson wins the women’s race in 2:38:23.

1996 – By now the Kenyans are an unbeatable force in world marathons, and Joseph Kahugu is duly the best in Dublin, leading home three Africans in 2:17:42. Cathy Shum collects her second Nissan Micra in four years by winning in 2:38:56.

1997 – A new sponsor in 98FM, helps raise the entries again, plus the arrival of a large US contingent that will become an annual feature. Kenyan Joshua Kipkemboi wins in 2:15:56. Carol Galea of Malta wins the women’s race by a huge seven minutes, clocking 2:39:33.

1998 – With the number of finishers back up above 5,000 interest is clearly rekindled, although the race is practically an action replay of 1997, Kipkemboi winning again in 2:20:00. Belfast’s Teresa Duffy is the star of the show, beating Carol Galea and clocking 2:39:56 in her marathon debut.

1999 – Numbers continue to rise, and John Mutai of Kenya finally gets a Dublin win in 2:15:18. Gerry Healy is the best local finisher in several years when taking second, while Kenya make it a double with Esther Kiplagat best of the women in a course record of 2:34:24.

2000 – Celebrating its 21st birthday, the race boasts 7,171 finishers, including one special guest; despite driving wind and rain, Sonia O’Sullivan makes a surprise debut and wins in 2:35:42. Scotland’s Simon Pride storms home in 2:18:49 to take the men’s title.

2001 – With new sponsors Adidas on board, the profile is as bigger than ever; South Africa’s Zacharia Mpolokeng wins a blanket finish by four seconds in 2:14:03. Best of the women is England’s Debbie Robinson in her best of 2:35:40, with 6,155 finishing on the day.

2002 – A redesigned course see Frederick Cherono become the fifth Kenyan winner in 2:14:25, collecting €15,000. Again the women’s course record is lowered, with Russia’s Lidia Vasselevskaia clocking 2:32:58 2003 – Despite perfect conditions Kenya’s Onesmus Kilonzo wins in the slow time of 2:17:03 – although the women’s course record is smashed by Kenya’s Ruth Kutol, who runs a brilliant 2:27:22.

2004 – A near-record entry of 10,500 for what is the 25th edition of the race, and fittingly enough, Kenya’s Lezan Kimutai breaks Kiernan’s 1982 Dublin record by 37 seconds by running 2:13:08. Russia’s Yelena Burykina takes the women’s title in 2:32:53.

2005 – A wet and cold morning makes for a cautious race, with Dmytro Osadchy from the Ukraine first home in 2:13:14 – and Donegal’s Gary Crossan best of the Irish for the fourth successive year in 2:23:19. Russia again take the women’s prize through Zinaida Semenova.

2006 – Another course record of 2:11:39 for Russia’s Aleksey Sokolov, with compatriot Alina Ivanova, the former champion race walker, winning the women’s race in 2:29:49.

2007 – Two repeat winners – but this time Sokolov runs a truly world-class 2:09:07, Dublin’s first sub-2:10 clocking. Ivanova also collects another €15,000 by running 2:29:20.

2008– Lifestyle Sports join Adidas as headline sponsors and interest rises yet again, with a new record entry of 11,700. Andriy Naumov from the Ukraine wins in 2:11:06, the third-fastest time in Dublin, with Larissa Zousko of Russia taking the women’s prize of €15,000 in 2:29:55.

2009 – With another record entry of 12,500 the Dublin Marathon is ready for it’s 30th edition and for those who haven’t made it there’s always next year!