Athletics: Hooper urges Marathon runners to go the extra mile
IF races like Sunday's Woodies DIY National Half-Marathon in Athenry are to be more than just another event on the now crowded road-race scene, then athletes must aim higher and do more collective training.
That will be the firm message from the 'Marathon Mission' (MM) leaders, who will be using the event for the Connacht leg of their recruitment campaign.
The 'MM', a joint initiative between the Dublin City Marathon and Athletics Ireland, is already credited with helping Ireland get four marathon runners to London 2012.
However, former Olympian Dick Hooper wants us to do even better and, for that to happen, he believes marathon runners need to expand their ambitions and push themselves harder.
"At the moment there's far too many people happy to go down to the 'Ballygobackwards Marathon' to pick up an easy prize pot with a bad time," he said.
"Too many are content just to go and win somewhere from a field of just 200 runners with only a handful of them competitive.
"A few more people need to be lashed out of it while training in a group session. They need to be challenged if they're to move on to the next level," he stressed.
"For people to be competitive at international level, they should be doing a 'Half' in 63 to 64 minutes (men) and 70 to 71 (women)."
Hooper said that Phase Two of the MM will not just be about identifying and nurturing talent; it will also involve recruiting coaches willing to lead them.
"Yes, we got four 'A' standards for London and three 'Bs,' but for everyone to keep improving there has to be another group coming up to challenge them," he said.
Since the Olympics, the MM team have already held recruitment sessions in Munster and Ulster and, after Athenry, will take their road-show to Leinster (Donore Harriers).
Hooper stressed that it isn't just runners within a certain bracket (half-marathon 75-85 and marathon 2:35-2:55) that they are looking for.
"We need leaders. We're trying to broaden the base behind our top level with runners who will push on and, for that to happen, we also need people to coach and help drive them on."
Rathfarnham's Sean Hehir, who won the national half-marathon title last year in 65:24, ahead of Brian Maher and Alan O'Shea, will be defending his title on Sunday.
Among the challengers will be his clubmate Barry Minnock, Clonliffe's Gary O'Hanlon and Sergiu Ciobanu and Ulster's Paul Pollock, one of the MM's new young recruits.
Maria McCambridge, so unlucky to miss out on London after getting the 'A' standard, is the women's favourite after finishing fourth overall (in 55:13) in last week's Frank Duffy 10-mile.