Thursday 21 November 2019

Cathal Dennehy: '2020 lottery proves Dublin Marathon has become a victim of its own success'

A general view of runners during the 2019 KBC Dublin Marathon. 22,500 runners took to the Fitzwilliam Square start line today to participate in the 40th running of the KBC Dublin Marathon, making it the fifth largest marathon in Europe. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
A general view of runners during the 2019 KBC Dublin Marathon. 22,500 runners took to the Fitzwilliam Square start line today to participate in the 40th running of the KBC Dublin Marathon, making it the fifth largest marathon in Europe. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

FRANK SHORTER, the US marathoner and 1972 Olympic champion, had a theory: “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”

If that’s true, then many of the 22,500 who entered last weekend’s KBC Dublin Marathon will be surrendering to a bout of collective amnesia later this week. Because long before the creaking in their limbs has abated, before the memories of meeting that wall head-on have been suppressed, they’ll line up in their droves, raring to go again.

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Their friends will tell them they must be mad, and they’ll hear their concerns without listening, then log on to their laptops, whack in their card details and commit – 51 weeks in advance – to another dance with the marathon devil.

There’s a good reason those famous words of Shorter came to mind yesterday. Not only because he so accurately captured the psychology of this event: its slow-burning pain, so filled with suffering yet so strangely addictive. Like Mark Renton in ‘Trainspotting’, the nausea of the withdrawal will only start to set in by the time they sit up in their beds and tell the world: "I need one more f***ing hit."

Jim Aughney knows this. The Dublin race director was waiting at the finish on Sunday as the thousands streamed across the line and, for all that they were hurting, he knows the vast majority will be back for more.

So too will thousands of others, some who lined the roads to cheer on friends and family, others watching at home on the live stream, telling themselves that in 2020 things will be different, that they’ll be out there.

When the entry system opens on Friday, there should be a deluge of interest. Last Sunday was one of those bright, beautiful autumn days when for a few short hours, everything about this fair city seemed utterly flawless. The finishing times were fast, the 1,400 volunteers as generous with their support as they were with their time and, later that day, as the sun beat a slow retreat and battle stories from the course were being shared in many a pub, it felt as if this race had reached its zenith.

But can you have too much of a good thing? That’s the question now for Aughney and his team, who announced yesterday that entry to next year’s race will be done via a lottery system.

This follows the lead of major marathons like London, New York and Berlin where demand for spaces greatly exceeds supply.

It was inevitable given the logistical limitations in Dublin, where raising its current cap of 22,500 places would prove hazardous without serious changes being made to the course.

Change is hard, and it was no surprise that many a die-hard Dublin devotee took to social media yesterday to voice their concerns.

But in a statement to the Irish Independent, Aughney was quick to reassure such folk that those who committed to this race in the past would not be frozen out in the future: "We recognise the loyalty of runners to the event and this will be factored into the lottery systems allocation process."

Given the event doubles as the national marathon championships, there will also be an allocation for members of clubs registered with Athletics Ireland.

Throughout November, runners can sign up for the lottery on Eventmaster for €15, which will be deducted from the €90 entry fee if they’re successful and refunded in full if they’re not. 

While race organisers will likely cop some flak for the decision, it’s a good problem for them to have. After all it’s only six years since the event seemed to be wandering lonely under a dark cloud, irrelevant to the international stage during its 2013 edition.

"Things are pretty bleak," said Aughney back then, announcing that in the absence of a title sponsor, the race would raise its entry fee, cut its prize money and eliminate its elite athlete fund.

SSE Aitricity came on board the following year, with KBC taking over as title sponsors this year, and what a great investment that’s now looking.

For an organisation with only one full-time employee, it’s to their eternal credit how the ship has not just been steadied but is charging full-steam ahead. In terms of quality of elites, Dublin will never stand in the ring with the heavyweight marathons, its budgetary restraints meaning it only typically attracts B-grade talent from abroad.

But ask any mid-pack runner about the quality of their experience and it’s right up there.

Sure, a few deserving runners may miss out under the new system, but the vast majority will still make it to the line.

They know that for €90, it’s hard to find a better hit, a bigger high.

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