Marathon wait finally ends for 25,000 runners

Dublin event, twice postponed during the pandemic, returns to the capital’s streets this Sunday

Such was the buzz around the finish of the 2019 Dublin Marathon the sense among many runners was they couldn’t wait to get going again.

The 40th staging of the event on that last Sunday in October, which drew a then-record entry of 22,500, further heightened an appreciation for running in the capital and for anyone coming from beyond.

Indeed three months later, in January 2020, the organisers announced an increased entry of 25,000, via a part-lottery system. Still, that fell short of the demand from more than 35,000 applicants.

At that point in time few people in the world had heard of Covid-19, before in a matter of weeks it brought the world to a standstill. Soon, running became appreciated in a very different sort of way, a lonelier exercise perhaps, at least compared to any mass-participation marathon event such as Dublin.


Now, after being twice postponed, or twice staged in the anonymous encounters of the virtual space, the Dublin marathon returns to the city streets this Sunday morning (8.45am) under fresh starters orders at Fitzwilliam Street. After three years — or 1,098 days to be exact — the sense now is it can’t get started fast enough. Which for some of the 25,000 runners may be a worrying thing, especially if they start out too fast. Everyone knows the marathon only begins at 20 miles, or as race co-founder Noel Carroll always said, “it’s not the distance that kills, it’s the pace”.

Race ready

As in previous years, there are also several races within the race itself: for the elite few there’s the aim of winning the €12,000 for the first man and woman to finish on Merrion Square North; since 2003, the event has also doubled as the Irish National Marathon championship. For some it’s a race against the clock and the setting of a personal best, for most it’s a race simply to finish.

Other things have changed since 2019: in January, the event secured a new headline sponsorship, Irish Life coming on board for three years, replacing KBC Bank. Still, it’s effectively the same 25,000 runners that originally signed up for the 2020 event, although there was the offer of a full refund at the time of the postponements — first in May 2020, then again in July 2021.

“Only a handful actually requested the full refund,” said long-term race director Jim Aughney. “And they were snapped up fairly quick to get us back up to the 25,000. The vast majority of entries were those entered for the 2020 race. We put on virtual events, in 2020 and again last year, that helped keep our head above water. We did get support this year from Sport Ireland, through Athletics Ireland, to help us get through it all.”

When last staged in 2019, Stephen Scullion was the top Irish finisher, second overall in 2:12.01, Aoife Cooke the top Irish woman, eighth best overall in 2:32.34, though neither will start on Sunday.

After also being postponed in 2020, the Irish National Marathon was staged as part of the Belfast event last October, Mick Clohisey taking the men’s title in 2:20.42, Fionnuala Ross claiming the women’s title in 2:43.43.

Likely contenders

Clohisey, now 36 and also the top Irish finisher in Dublin in 2018, is back to defend that title, though with plenty of opposition. Kenyan-born Peter Somba, who spends several months of the year resident in Ireland running with Dunboyne Athletic Club (AC), and eligible for the national title, won three of the four Irish Life Dublin Race Series, including the half-marathon in August, setting a best of 67:37.

David Mansfield of Clonmel AC, who set a best of 2:16.08 in Seville earlier this year, will also be in contention. Ann-Marie McGlynn, second-best Irish woman in 2019 in 2:32.54, will fancy going one place better this time.

At the very front, Nataliya Lehonkova of Ukraine, now 39, the winner here in 2015 and 2017, is back seeking a third title, now training in Austria after fleeing her country. One of the east African women, including Ethiopian Hawi Alemu Negeri, with a best of 2:27.56, is a more likely winner. As indeed with the men, Ethiopia’s Birhanu Teshome boasts a best of 2:08.16.

Patrick Monaghan can win a sixth wheelchair title, though only seven of the 25,000 starters — Mary Nolan Hickey (Wicklow), Dubliners Michael Carolan, Dominic Gallagher, Martin Kelly, Peadar Nugent, plus Seamus Dunne (Meath) and Billy Harpur (Wexford) are setting out to make it 41 finishes from 41 Dublin starts.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics