Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Irish Times Article on Ireland's Marathon Mission...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Irish Times Article on Ireland's Marathon Mission...

There was an excellent piece by Ian O'Riordan in the Irish Times on Saturday (29th Oct 2011) about Ireland's Marathon Mission and the objective to improve the number of competitive Irish Marathon runners.

The article outlines the following...."11 of the first 14 Dublin Marathons were won by Irish men; but the last 17 have all been won by foreigners. Sonia O’Sullivan did win the women’s race in 2000, and thus remains the last Irish success of any sort on the day."

Sadly, it’s now 12 years since an Irish man ran sub-2:20 in Dublin (that was Gerry Healy, who ran 2:15:37 in 1999, finishing second), and if you look at the top-20 fastest marathon times run in Dublin, both men and women, there’s not a single Irish name among them. Sadder still, of the top 12 fastest Irish marathon times ever, only two have been set in the last decade, and two in the 1990s. Six still stand from the 1980s, and two from the 1970s. The Irish women’s statistics are just as startling – of the top 12 fastest times, only four have been set in the last decade, three in the 1990s, and the other five all in the 1980s, when women’s marathon running was still considered an extreme event."

To help counteract this decline in Irish Marathon standards, the 'Marathon Mission' was created and anyone meeting the following standards could apply......
Men Women
Sub 2.25 Marathon Sub 2.45 Marathon
Sub 67.30 Half Marathon Sub 79.30 Half Marathon
Sub 50.00 10 Miles Sub 60.00 10 Miles 

“Two years ago, when we started this mission, Irish marathon standards were really on the floor,” says Dick Hooper. “There were two problems. Firstly, no one was running fast times. Secondly, not enough of our good runners were trying the distance, properly identifying with it, or even being properly ambitious about it. “So we brought together our thoughts and ideas, which we all thought were obvious. The reality is the marathon is an event Irish athletes can be good at, can make major championships, and that’s what the Marathon Mission is all about.”

The mission statement is simple: to nurture an environment for Irish marathoners that will lead to Irish runners qualifying for and competing with distinction in major championships (i.e. the London Olympics) and being competitive on an annual basis in the Dublin Marathon.

“The first thing for us to achieve was more depth,” says Hooper. “Once you have depth in any event then more top performers start to come out. If you go back to the 1980s we had a lot of runners chipping in around 2:15, 2:16. Then a few 2:12 men emerged. Then John Treacy ran 2:09. That’s what happens when you get the depth. Someone runs 2:15, and the others look over their shoulder and think, ‘I used to beat him’.

It’s not a complicated or indeed expensive mission: the Dublin Marathon funds some overseas travel and medical back-up, but mostly just offers moral and motivational support: “We’ve also bought some altitude tents,” says Hooper, “and some of them have been using them. Mark Kenneally was, for example. They’re about €5,000 each. But it’s the winning ethic and philosophy we’re trying to nurture. “Some people buy into that more than others. They all have different coaches and different routines but we try to get them training together, at least once a month.

“I also think maybe in the 1990s some of our runners lost that drive, the commitment, to do that work. You can be a good 10km runner or cross-country runner, but the marathon does require the extra discipline and work load that not everyone is prepared to do.”

Martin Fagan and Pauline Curley both made it to Beijing in 2008, although before that, there had been no Irish representation in the Olympic marathon since 1992. Incredibly, no Irish athlete has run the European Championship marathon since 1990. “There are three places there for London, men and women, and our goal is to have three qualifiers in each,” says Hooper. “I think we have five or six contenders now for the women’s Olympic qualifying time, when you look at the depth that is starting to develop in the women’s half marathon times. “We have Maria McCambridge, Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchison, Rosemary Ryan, and Gladys Ganiel all running on Monday and I think that’s a terrific line-up, and surely one of them will have to get the time.”

Seán Connolly is a realistic contender to qualify for London. There’s another group just behind him, Joe McAllister, Greg Roberts, Alan O’Shea, Brian Maher, and I would expect all those to go under 2:20.  If Connolly runs sub-2:15 on Monday he’ll be top six, or top eight, and with the London qualification as well it won’t look as embarrassing as perhaps it has in the last few years, when we’ve waited for 10 or 12 minutes after the winner for the first Irish man to come in.

“At least we’re going in the right direction again, and what is important too is that the runners who don’t get the time this year need to keep at it. We’re calling it a mission, but we’re also trying to develop a culture, so that more and more of our top runners are attracted to the event.

(Live coverage of Monday’s race will be shown on RTÉ 1, from 9.15am-1.35pm)

The full Irish Times article can be seen at

More info on the Marathon Mission at

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