Athletics: Marathon hero Hooper on a mission to lift Irish standards
TOMORROW is a big day for the 8,000-plus runners taking part in the Lifestyle Sports-adidas Half Marathon in the Phoenix Park (10.0).
Many will be using it as preparation for the gruelling full 26 miles of the Dublin Marathon on October 25 and can check their progress in the full chipped results, which will be carried in Monday's Irish Independent.
But a group of 11 Irish athletes, including Martin Fagan, are opting to push themselves even harder by doing their 'half-marathon' in the ultra-competitive Great North Run in Newcastle on Sunday instead (live on BBC1).
They are part of Ireland's 'Marathon Mission', a joint initiative between the Dublin Marathon and Athletics Ireland, to try to lift Ireland's dwindling elite marathon standards back up to the glory days of John Treacy, Dick Hooper, Jerry Kiernan and Co.
Eleven of the first 14 Dublin marathons were won by Irish men who routinely ran under two hours 20 minutes, but there hasn't been an Irish men's winner since Treacy in 1993.
"The standard of Irish marathon running, at the elite, international level, has dropped really badly," says three-time Dublin winner Hooper. "It's extremely rare now to see an Irish athlete break 2:20. Martin Fagan did it in 2008 (2:14.06 in Dubai) but he's still only done it once so far.
"To join the group we set eligibility standards for 10 miles, half-marathon and marathon, and while we've had a few defections, we have a settled core group now."
Apart from Fagan, Ireland's marathon missionaries in Newcastle will be Gary Thornton, Barry Minnock, Greg Roberts, Brian McMahon, Joe McAllister, Maria McCambridge, Caitriona Jennings, Barbara Sanchez, Breege Connolly and Gladys Ganiel.
Elsewhere, in Glendalough on Sunday morning, the U16/U18 British and Irish Mountain Running International takes place, with races up Camaderry starting at the Education Centre between 9.15 and 11.0.