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McCambridge big in Ballycotton!

MARIA McCAMBRIDGE of Letterkenny smashed the course record by half a minute with an eye-catching time of 54:48 at the 35th Ballycotton '10'.

McCambridge hopes to make the London 2012 qualifying mark of 2.37 at the Rome Marathon on March 18.

The previous Ballycotton record of 55:20 was set by Westbury's Marian Sutton in 1997.

Sutton, who had a best marathon time of 2.28:42, ran the 2000 Olympic marathon and also won Chicago twice.

When she ran in Ballycotton she was pushed hard by Clonliffe's Cathy Shum, who finished just a second behind.

By contrast, McCambridge was on her own for much of the race, finishing 16th overall in cold, windy conditions.

Second woman was the 2011 winner, Lizzie Lee of Leevale, in 57:17, 90 seconds faster than a year earlier.

Sonia O'Sullivan's 51-minute run in Portsmouth in 2002 is the Irish best for the distance.

Another record was set by Mary Sweeney of St Finbarr's, winner of the inaugural Ballycotton women's race in 1979. That day, Mary ran 68:47 -- her 64:57 on Sunday was 1:13 faster than she ran last year and improved on her own W50 record.

While the women were setting the records, defending men's champion Sergiu Ciobanu of Clonliffe had good reason to be pleased with his effort. His time of 49:20 was 16 seconds quicker than his winning time of last year and put him a minute clear of runner-up Paddy Hamilton from Annadale, with local man James McCarthy third and Raheny retaining their team title.

Of the 31 who completed their very first Ballycotton in 1978, seven ran on Sunday, among them John Walshe, the man who spearheads the huge community effort that goes into this special race every year.

In the demanding world we live in, John and his superb team of volunteers have managed to keep it simple.

They charge as little as they can get away with, they don't kowtow to big-name sponsors and they look after the basics -- a well-judged course, plenty of parking, and a place where those privileged to have got a place in the race can gather and chat.

Others have tried to simulate its success; few come close.

Ballycotton is magic; long may it flourish!