On Sunday morning the quiet, blocked-off streets of Dublin were soon filled with a sea of women in pink, purple and all sorts. Dressed as chickens, wonder woman, and a vulva (a favourite among passersby for selfies), a festive atmosphere took hold of Fitzwilliam Place as an expected 21,000 women took their places for the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon.
Sighle O’Toole was at the start line early with two of her daughters, and the other was supporting from afar: “My daughter, Maeve, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, she’s currently undergoing treatment. My daughter Aoife decided we should do this race for Breast Cancer Ireland. Maeve is 42, she’s a mum of three. We’ve actually raised €6,800 for Breast Cancer Ireland. It feels brilliant.”
O’Toole said her daughter Maeve McBride would reunite with them at the finish line after her treatment at St James’s Hospital.
By mid-morning last year, crowds were thoroughly drenched, but at 18 degrees and few clouds in sight there were smiles on faces all around for the race. Crowds gradually gathered at the start line from 11am onwards — bananas in hand — and the more enthusiastic participants were running laps to get those juices flowing.
David O’Leary, race director and general manager, was out and about with the 800-strong staff early on Sunday to oversee the huge logistical undertaking across the capital.
“This is the world’s largest race for women, it’s in its 41st year … [and] almost impossible to assess what is the secret sauce behind this event. It’s just a magical day. I think it’s part of our culture and long may it continue.”
Dotted around the crowds were 25 friends, family and neighbours dressed in custom pink wear in honour of Eve McMahon.
“Eve in 2021 was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma cancer and unfortunately passed away last June,” said her 22-year-old sister Lucy at the start line. “It’s a very rare and aggressive cancer and she was just 23 when she died. It’s her anniversary coming up on June 19th. We decided to gather a few friends and family to run the race in her memory, but also to raise money for Sarcoma Cancer Ireland.”
So far, these women have raised almost €25,000 for Sarcoma Cancer Ireland, among the highest of any fundraiser this year.
“They’re a very small organisation and don’t have as much funding as other charities would,” she said. “It’s to keep Eve’s memory alive and … We hope this will increase the awareness for sarcomas, because if even one person finds out what a sarcoma is [it could make a huge difference].”
At the finish line, the first to cross was Shauna Bocquet of Craughwell, Co Galway, who won the Elite Wheelchair category in a time of 26.59. Not far behind were the frontrunners of the Elite category. The 2023 VHI Women’s Mini Marathon was won by Nakita Burke from Letterkenny AC [Athletic Club] in a time of 34:27. Courtney McGuire from Clonmel AC was second across the finish line in 34:33, and Teresa Doherty from Finisk Valley AC placed third in 34:58.
Burke had the medal in her sights for some time, coming in fourth place last year.
“It’s a dream come true,” she told The Irish Times. “It’s one of those things you look at but never think you can achieve.”
At the finish line, the thousands of women poured in, hugging and cheering and reuniting with their fellow race-mates —still panting from the herculean effort on the shadeless streets of Dublin. Powerful female ballads were thumping from the 98FM decks and, of course, the uptick of donations was in full flow. As women were jogging in, GivenGain — the official fundraising site for the race — indicated €430,000 had been raised, primarily for the Irish Cancer Society (€95,000), Breast Cancer Ireland (€53,000) and Temple Street Foundation (€29,000).
Afterwards, the crowds dispersed around the city, still buzzing from their achievement. Some went straight to beer gardens, others for a much-needed coffee, but all knew they’d achieved something special for a cause that matters.