Sean Hehir desperate to defend Dublin Marathon crown
When Sean Hehir took to the starting line in last year's Dublin Marathon it was only the second time he had ever competed in the 26-mile event.
The previous year he had run the same event and, such was his impressive time of 2:17:35, his coach challenged him to win next time around.
Seven months later, speaking at the launch of the 2014 Dublin Marathon, Hehir is the defending champion.
The 29-year-old Clare native, who is a full-time primary school teacher in Inchicore, reflected on what he described as a "completely surreal" year. "I have to pinch myself every time people remind me that I am the defending champion," he said.
"From the word go, at the start of my 23-week build-up for the Dublin Marathon last year, my coach said to me that I was training to win this.
"I was coming off a bad injury and an illness (tonsillitis) and I was doubting myself a bit. It wasn't until after the Cardiff half-marathon that I actually thought maybe I could do this.
"Coming into Merrion Square and having the crowd roaring me on was like a dream.
"It's still surreal for me."
Hehir, who has competed in only two of the five marathons for which he has trained, became the first Irishman in 20 years to win the Dublin Marathon but he fully accepts the absence of Ethiopians or Kenyans in the field was significant.
His focus has slightly shifted this year and he ran the Rotterdam Marathon four weeks ago.
"I entered that with the intention of making the qualifying time for the European Championships in Zurich – which was sub 2:17. But my build-up was woeful – I got sick and was injured.
"With four miles to go, I was well on track for 2:16 and feeling very good. But unfortunately it was a warm day and dehydration kicked in and the legs buckled a bit. I still came home in 2:17:45, which, all things considered, was quite positive."
Hehir received confirmation last week that he is on the Irish team that will compete in Zurich in August, so another one of life's ambitions will be ticked off his list.
Running in the Dublin Marathon as defending champion is also very important to him.
"I want to do everything I can to be on the starting line in October but a lot will depend on how the Europeans go," he said.
"As the defending champion I want to be a condition to do myself justice."