There is no doubt that every one of the 14,000 runners who will congregate in Merrion Square less than three weeks from now will all have a personal reason for being there. Some will have more poignant reasons than others for running the Dublin Marathon.
This week I would like to share the reason why Tommy Archbold is busy training hard in these final weeks. It has sadness at its core but it is also a story full of hope.
I first got to know Tommy when I met him about two-and-a-half years ago. I never forgot that day as he illustrated over a five-minute period just what 'running' had helped this 64-year-old former Irish Army gunner driver overcome.
The year 2009 had been an Annus horribilis for the Archbold family from Mullingar. A family tragedy dealt as severe a blow as any family will ever be sent. Any parent will tell you that being predeceased by a son or daughter is their worst nightmare. That is what happened that July, when Tommy and Mary's second-eldest son Martin died tragically by suicide. He was just 26 years old.
"He was a gunner in the Army, 4th regiment," Tommy recounts proudly. "I had 25 years served. Martin had joined in 2000. He had run in the Army and had been involved in charity fundraising when he was there."
Tommy had been running himself for about three years, but news of Martin's death erased it from his life overnight. Such pain is impossible to comprehend. In the months after, Tommy struggled.
While he was immersed in trying to cope with such deep grief, he came across a T-shirt of Martin's, one from his Army running days. It was from a charity run which he had completed. "That was the moment," he recalls. "I said to myself. This is it." Tommy put on his runners and went back running again.
"Looking back now, it became my outlet for dealing with what I was going through. My wife Mary walked and still walks for an hour or more. Maybe that was her way of coping, and this became mine.
"I would run for an hour to an hour-and-a-half. I needed to do it. I needed that to get me going again. During those runs, I cried and cried."
Over the next few years, running became his 'go to' place of solace, where the pain of loss was helped to heal with natural medicine. Perhaps the gift that 'running' was to Tommy is summed up by his words: "It kept me sane."
I didn't know Tommy then. We only met two years later. By then he had joined our local club, Mullingar Harriers. He and his running partners Pauline Troy and Claire O'Donnell came to seek some advice from a team of coaches that the club had put in place.
"Pauline and I had run two marathons back in 2006 but now we were eager to improve, so we enquired about how we might do that," he said. The club's marathon coaches Matt Glennon and Mary Scully immediately took them under their wings.
"I had never done a tempo run before," Tommy confessed as we chatted over a coffee. "That soon changed. We started to do some tough sessions, but always with a reward of tea and a scone after. That's very important," he chuckles. "Attendance at both was compulsory."
A local newspaper started a column on the efforts of the triumvirate, and stimulated interest from others with marathon ambitions. "Before we knew it, there were 52 people signed up. Where they came out of, I don't know."
Perhaps Tommy is shying away from the inspiration he gives. What struck me was the sheer positivity of the man. Tommy has a wonderful presence about him and always appears cheerful. The fact that such presence and personality has emerged from such difficult times is very inspiring.
Now in 2013, that same running group has grown to more than 70 people. And all will hop on a bus to head for the nation's capital on the October bank holiday Monday.
"I love that group," Tommy beams. Although you wouldn't want to be sensitive! We have some great laughs."
Before we paid for the coffees, Tommy was very keen to speak of his other four children, 32-year-old Aaron (named after Elvis 'Aaron' Presley), Alan (26), Leona (24) and Elizabeth (20). Sporting talent, it appears, is not confined to the older generation. Leona has represented Ireland at U-19 soccer level.
Tommy recalls the first time he ran the Dublin Marathon seven years ago. Having his wife Mary greet him at the finish in 2006 meant the world to him. "The atmosphere is what keeps bringing me back. Even when you're feeling down, the crowds will lift you. It's a carnival atmosphere."
So, has he a predicted finishing time in mind? "Well, I put myself under pressure between marathons one and two," he laughs, "because I improved by 37 minutes".
This year, 3:45 is his goal, which will require another PB, but by only four minutes this time.
Tied to his running shorts he will have a keyring with Martin's picture inserted in it. "It makes me feel like he is with me," Tommy explains.
Regardless of whether he ticks that 3:45 box or not, this man will certainly inspire and help a lot more people along the way, just by being there.