by Frank Greally-Editor/Irish Runner Magazine
Ireland is famous in film and literature as a magical island with a wild and legendary history. Its people are fierce partisans - and friendly folk glad to share a song or a pint in the local pub. Much of the island is rustic and pastoral, but Dublin City is a most enjoyable place to shop, visit museums, take in a show or enjoy traditional music.
The Phoenix Park (the biggest public park in Europe) is close to the City Centre and has an abundance of running trails with easy access. Phoenix Park is also home to the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, whose husband Martin is a regular runner. The American Ambassador to Ireland also resides nearby. But most American runners come to Ireland for one reason: The adidas Dublin Marathon.
The adidas Dublin Marathon
The adidas Dublin Marathon continues to be the best barometer of the Irish running scene. The inaugural Dublin Marathon took place on the October Bank Holiday Monday back in 1980 and signaled the start of Ireland's running boom.
Dick Hooper, three times an Olympic marathoner, became a household name in Ireland as he won the men's title in 2:16:14. His finishing time gave him a winning margin of more than four minutes over Neil Cusack, the only Irishman to win the Boston Marathon. A total of 1,420 finished the marathon that year, planting the seed for the running boom that was to follow.
In 1983, the event peaked with an entry of 11,076. At that time, it seemed everyone wanted to run a marathon, and the National Radio station featured former Olympian Noel Carroll in a hugely popular weekly slot offering marathon training advice.
But the race struggled through the remainder of the '80s and well into the '90s; the total number of finishers in 1992 was 2,414. Then the graph rose again in 2000 with 7,171 finishers. The Dublin Marathon celebrated its 21st birthday in style with victory in the women's race going to Ireland's Olympic women's 5000 meter silver medalist, Sonia O'Sullivan, who clocked 2:35:42 in her debut over the classic distance.
Sports giant adidas came on board as title sponsors for the Dublin Marathon in 2001 and saw entries again go on the rise, thanks in part also to American runners who do the event for charities like Joints in Motion (Arthritis Foundation), Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Aids Foundation.
Marathon Monday, October 29, 2001 provided the closest men's race in the event's 21-year history as South Africa's Zacharia Mpolokeng won in a sprint to the line in 2:14:03, a personal best. Debbie Robinson from England won the women's race in 2:35:40.
The course route for the adidas Dublin Marathon has changed a few times. In the early 2000's, it started on the banks of the river Liffey in downtown Dublin, taking a route that is mostly on the south side of the city. Another year, it took a trip into Dockland, home of the city's thriving financial community. And later, the marathon started outside the General Post Office in O'Connell Street, the main street of the Capital, on Monday October 29. There is also an International Breakfast Run on the Sunday for overseas runners, followed by breakfast and a feast of live Irish music and song.
Runners and walkers are made very welcome in Dublin, and every marathon finisher receives a special commemorative plaque, a quality t-shirt and a generous goody bag. The adidas Dublin Marathon has over the years been given the title "The Friendly Marathon" by international runners. The race route is not overly demanding and the spectator crowds are enthusiastic and very friendly. The weather can be a little cold, but there is a great party atmosphere at prize-giving on the night of the marathon.
Race registration takes place in central Dublin on the two days prior to the event at a venue which also houses a big Runner's Expo. There you can purchase the official adidas Dublin Marathon Running Kit as well as lots of other souvenirs, and each day guest speakers give last-minute marathon advice at the Running Forums.
If you want to visit Eire, however, there's no reason to limit yourself to one Monday a year. The running scene is well developed, and opportunities to stretch your legs a bit while tasting the differences inherent in racing in another country abound. Without a language barrier to deal with, you could plan your trip around any one of these events:
Early June is a time of celebration for thousands of women from all over Ireland who annually take part in the Flora Women's Mini-Marathon, a 10K road event around Dublin's Southside. The inaugural Women's Mini-Marathon took place back in 1983 and the event has seen some 440,000 women run the event.
This is an all women's event, an annual celebration of fitness and well-being by the women of Ireland, who join hands at the start in Dublin's Georgian Fitzwilliam Square and fill the air with a unique rendering of Molly Malone, a song that has been adopted as the race anthem.
"She wheeled her wheelbarrow
through streets broad and narrow
Crying "Cockles and mussels alive, alive O."
There is a terrific atmosphere about this Dublin race. Runners, joggers and walkers are often raising money for a favorite charity - nearly $100,000 has been collected for various local and national charities since the race's inception.
Every finisher receives a special commemorative medal as well as a goody bag and a special raffle from the overall entry has a new car as the grand prize. There are bands playing all kinds of music around the course and lots of spectators out to cheer the runners on.
This is a road event in the South of Ireland, starting and finishing in a small fishing village of Ballycotton in East Cork. Unless you are quick off the mark, you have little hope of gaining entry to this very special Irish road event, which has an entry limit of 2,000 because of the narrow start.
Now in its 29th year, Ballycotton is a race of special charm run along country roads with loads of spectators lining the route. The inaugural race in 1978 had just 31 finishers, but the event, organized by local runner John Walshe and his team, has mushroomed over the years. It offers excellent value for a modest entry fee of just 10 Euro.
The course is tough, with a testing hill in the final mile but the atmosphere in the village on race day is special. British runner Gary Staines holds the men's course record of 47:00 set in 1995 and British runner Marian Sutton holds the women's record of 55:28. All finishers receive a t-shirt, a commemorative mug and a goody bag. There are generous prizes for top finishers as well as winners of the various Masters age categories.
Other Classic Events
There is a thriving road racing scene in Ireland, and a number of races have earned the "Classic" tag.
The Raheny Prize Bonds 5 Miles
A road event on the last Sunday in January. Excellent organization. Fast flat course on Dublin's Northside
The Belfast Marathon
A well established May event with flawless organization.
The Dublin 5 Mile Classic
Walkinstown, a few miles from the city centre, is another very popular road event.
The Ballycotton Road Race Series
A series of road events with an average distance of 5 miles. These take place in villages close to Ballycotton, County Cork on midweek evenings during the summer. Great atmosphere and post-race party.
The Ballyhoura Athletics 5 Mile Series
Held in small towns in south of Ireland on Friday evenings during the summer.
An August race at the classic distance in Ireland's midlands. Flat, fast course.
adidas Dublin Half Marathon
Organized by same group that does the adidas Dublin Marathon. Great September race, super atmosphere.
West Waterford Ger Wyley Summer Series
Another evening series in the Southeast of Ireland with excellent organization and friendly atmosphere.
A real scorcher in October. Great course and atmosphere. Close to Dublin City (Southside). Fastest 5K course in Ireland. There are also plenty of mountain races around Dublin and Wicklow throughout the summer.
Streets of Galway 8K
The premier road race in the West of Ireland happens in August. Evening race with great atmosphere in the Capital of the West.
Bupa Loughrea 5 Mile International Road Race
Another top class road event in October in the West of Ireland. International stars Sonia O'Sullivan and Paula Radcliffe are past winners of women's event there.
Other Useful Contacts
Irish Runner Magazine
Ireland's national running scene, published bi-monthly.