Going the distance for others
You couldn't miss them in Dublin. In the days before the race the streets and hotels were full of purposeful men and women in tracksuits who had the air of commandoes putting the final touches to an upcoming mission.
And on Monday over 13,000 of them accomplished that mission, breaking the record for entries in the Dublin City Marathon. There was also the bonus of a course record being set by winner Moses Kibet but, though this will boost the status of the race among elite athletes, it's not the real story.
The real story is Ellen Boylan, a 25-year-old Louth woman who ran the marathon five years after breaking her neck in a car accident which killed her sister Irene. Back then, Ellen spent six weeks motionless in bed before undergoing rehabilitation. The real story is Collette O'Hagan, a 61-year-old Dundalk woman running her 200th marathon, a remarkable woman who has fostered over 60 children and recovered from serious illness. Or Enniscorthy's Kay O'Regan, a 75-year-old who was running her 100th marathon, having taken up road running at the age of 48. Or Mary Nolan Hickey from Arklow who is the only woman to have run all 30 Dublin City Marathons. And what about Tony Mangan, a 53-year-old from Crumlin whose race was only beginning when he finished on Monday. Over the next three years he plans to run around the world, a distance of 43,000km, roughly a marathon a day. The final leg of his journey will be the 2013 Marathon in his city.
But really these extraordinary people aren't the full story either. Because the fact remains that running 26 miles 385 yards is an extraordinary feat. What people they are, those marathoners. It remains the great sporting achievement within the compass of the ordinary man and woman. And once you've achieved it, you've made something extraordinary of yourself.
One of my daughters had a school friend round last week. When her mother arrived to pick her up she was asked what she'd done over the weekend. "Oh, I ran the marathon up in Dublin," she replied, as though recounting a trip to the shops. You'd be proud to know people like that.
And perhaps the greatest thing about that great community of effort which wound its way through the streets of the capital was that their achievement did not solely benefit themselves. Ellen Boylan was running to raise funds for the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre in Drogheda, Mary Nolan Hickey ran for the Wicklow Hospice. Collette O'Hagan organised a team of over 200 people to complete the marathon in aid of the Aurelia Trust, which works with abandoned children and young adults in Romania.
It's easy to despair at a time like this. But for a few minutes, why not forget about politicians and bankers and developers and think instead of people like Collette O'Hagan and Ellen Boylan. They are people who live to give. And they're Irish too.