Tuesday 12 December 2017

Going the distance: 36 years of Dublin Marathon

From humble beginnings, the Dublin Marathon can hold its head up worldwide writes Nicola Anderson

The first of 12,000 runners start the 2014 Dublin marathon
The first of 12,000 runners start the 2014 Dublin marathon
Click to view full size map
Dick Hooper won the first Dublin Marathon in 1980
Maria McCambridge was the first Irishwoman home last year
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The countdown began from five, the rope was raised aloft and an initial wave of athletes crept underneath and took their first few hesitant steps.

The stewards holding the rope flailed in a sea of runners.

There were jugs of orange squash at the water stations and saturated bath sponges proved a welcome balm for parched lips and sweaty bodies.

But there was no capturing the euphoria or the sense of being on the cusp of something immense, in the archive footage of the very first Dublin City Marathon.

This was Ireland in 1980 - when even Olympic athletes waited for darkness to fall before venturing out onto the streets to run, clad in singlet and shorts, for fear of the catcalls and jeering they would have to endure.

The course had been painstakingly walked by foot and measured with a long chain to meet the exacting standards of the marathon requirements.

It was a procedure that took weeks.

The Dublin City Marathon has come a long way.

Now in its 36th year, it is part and parcel of life in the capital and features regularly in a respectable position in world listings of events of its kind and is dubbed the "friendly marathon".

And with news that it is to move to Sunday from next year - after approaches by tourism chiefs - race organisers are positive that we are now on the brink of yet another phase of life for the Dublin City Marathon, with a boost in the numbers of overseas runners taking part.

Race director Jim Aughney revealed how the renowned middle-distance runner, Noel Carroll - who was also spokesman for the Dublin Corporation - were in New York for the marathon in 1978 with Louis Hogan, a radio producer at RTE and Alan Storey, a British athletics coach.

All three men came away with the idea that they wanted to bring the marathon home to their own cities.

But Noel and Louis beat Alan to it.

While the Dublin marathon was held in October 1980, it took until the following April for the London marathon to come along.

"Dublin and London are really twin marathons - they came from the same inspiration," explained Aughney.

Olympic athlete Dick Hooper recalled how he had been electrified to hear that Dublin was to stage the event.

"I had it in my head immediately that I wanted to get in there ahead of the posse and win it in my home city," he said.

After a disappointing run at the Moscow Olympics, he had finished with his confidence shattered.

None of his subsequent achievements have ever compared with passing the tape at two hours and 16 minutes, to win the inaugural Dublin event, he claimed.

Back then, the route went through Hooper's home town of Raheny.

"It was the thrill of a lifetime to lead the Dublin city marathon through my own home town," he said.

"It justified all the abuse and the slagging I used to get back then."

"People didn't really run when we took it up in the 70s.

"We used to have to wait until it was dark to go out onto the streets in our shorts."

Hooper went on to win the marathon on two other occasions and his record hat-trick still stands.

Runner Mary Nolan Hickey was one of only 70 women who took part in the first event. "The first one was very strange," she recalled.

"I had done one 18-mile training run and that had me sitting in a field saying, 'Mother of God what have I done?"

But she got through it - and every other Dublin marathon staged since - currently facing into her 36th.

"I'm 63 but I've a lot of ambition still and I love it," said Nolan Hickey, who coaches 20 runners in the Coral Club in Arklow, who will all take part.

Billy Harpur from Wexford is another from the original 1980 line-up who has completed every marathon to date.

He liked the buzz of the old route, which went largely through the northside.

His least favourite part is the Phoenix Park. "I'm always glad to get out of it," he admitted.

But the myth surrounding the marathon is largely that, he believes.

"It's not as difficult as people think. The training is the hard part - and that is hard."

Irish Independent

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