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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 21 February, 2019
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'Dublin wasn't coming to the marathon so we've brought the marathon to Dublin'

15,000 runners will take to the capital’s streets on Monday for the 36th edition of the Dublin marathon.

Thousands of runners will take to the streets on Monday.
Thousands of runners will take to the streets on Monday.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

SOME WILL SAY there are better ways to spend a Bank Holiday Monday – there are more relaxing ways, no doubt, but none more fulfilling than a day at the Dublin marathon.

Once an event for the elite, it’s become much more than a marathon. It’s a day when the the capital comes alive and the city can showcase itself to a global audience.

It’s a day when the power of sport, goodwill and unity is pronounced and a day when the overriding feeling is triumph and gratification.

It’s taken time but the marathon is now firmly part of Dublin’s identity – if you aren’t convinced, Monday will provide persuasive evidence.

The 36th edition will see record numbers negotiate the 26.2 mile route, weaving through the city’s iconic streets flanked by family, friends and thousands of supporters.

Known internationally as ‘the friendly marathon’, it’s the sense of occasion – generated by the crowds, organisers, volunteers and athletes – which makes it such an unique day.

There are marathons staged in cities around the world on a weekly basis but Dublin offers something different.

“The spectators make the Dublin marathon what is is,” race director Jim Augnhey tells The42. “Irish people have grown to it over the years. Of course, there are some who raise concerns over road closures, there always will be, but by and large it’s now an event of the people.”

Since the first race in 1980, the Dublin marathon has evolved, grown and blossomed. It’s played an integral part in the running boom on this island and has helped changed the nation’s mindset towards healthy living.

General view of the start of the Dublin Marathon The marathon has grown and grown each year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But there have been hurdles along the way.

The financial crisis threatened the event’s existence in the current form. The loss of a title sponsor and TV rights holder forced organisers to make substantial cutbacks and increase the entry fee.

Prize money for the elite field diminished and the city’s flagship sporting event was in danger of going backwards.

“We’ve had to work really hard to ensure we engaged properly with the public,” Augnhey says. “For years, it was a nuisance to many as their plans were disrupted. Dublin simply wasn’t coming to the marathon so we’ve brought the marathon to Dublin.”

Participation numbers continued to spiral despite the cutbacks and its standing continued to soar internationally. The intervention of SSE Airtricity as the main sponsor proved to be the catalyst for further growth and expansion.

The support of a long-term partner allowed the voluntary organising committee to focus on enhancing the product and delivering it to a growing audience each year. Marketing teams are deployed at the New York and Berlin marathons to spread the word.

“It’s an 18-month planning process,” Augnhey explains. “Once we know the funding is in place, we can apply for a licence and then engage with the relevant parties. I think people just presume the marathon is going to take place each year.

“In fact, we have to ensure everything is in place with the Gardaí, HSE, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and all the city councils. Once that’s done, we then have to consult residents and businesses who object.

“The marathon is worth €10 million to the city but a small newsagent on the route might not see that. We have to alleviate concerns and it’s always a challenge.”

SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon to move to Sunday for 2016 Race director Jim Augnhey. Source: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

The route itself begins, as normal, in Fitzwilliam Square before taking in the Phoenix Park and south county Dublin. It will be the first time the race will pass through all the councils in the capital before finishing in Merrion Square.

A thousand volunteers from athletics, GAA, football and rugby clubs from every corner of the country will ensure it runs smoothly while SSE Airtricity are adding to the atmosphere with DJs, face painting and balloons along the route.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a perfect fit,” Leanne Sheill, marketing executive at SSE Airtricity, says. “It’s such a proud event and falls in line with our ethos of healthy living.

“It’s our third year of sponsoring the Dublin marathon and we’re proud to be associated with an event which brings people from all over the world together.”

Such has been the success of the Dublin marathon, very little has changed over the three decades. However, this week, organisers announced the 2016 edition will take place on a Sunday.

It’s a move designed to attract more visitors to the capital. As the winner of the Best International Event at the 2015 Running Awards, the Dublin marathon has the capacity to grow even more.

“This year, we have over 2,000 participants coming from the UK and Northern Ireland but we would like to see this figure double for the marathon in 2016,” Augnhey continued. ”

“By moving the race to Sunday, we are hoping to encourage runners to spend the full weekend in Dublin which will allow them to enjoy other activities and sights that the city has to offer before they return home after the race.”

For now though the focus remains on Monday’s race. Each athlete will receive a goody bag, t-shirt and medal on completion while the larger budget has allowed the use of a timing service for all participants.

When the starting gun sounds at 9am, athletes from all walks of life and of all fitness levels will begin the final leg of their journey.

A view of competitors as they pass Christchurch Cathedral The route takes in some of the city's most iconic landmarks. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The renowned running author John Bingham once wrote: ‘it was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination.’

Running a marathon is a journey. It’s a physical and emotional one requiring every sinew of strength to be expended on the course. There will be the elite who are competing for Olympic qualification but the majority are there for personal triumph – running in memory of a loved one no longer here or for a charity close to their heart.

It’s the heartwarming and inspirational stories which make a marathon what it is. The athletes feed off the crowd and vice versa. It’s an experience like no other and each year is bigger and better than what’s gone before.

“Success for us is getting everyone across the line safely,” Augnhey concluded. “We want everyone to enjoy the day and provide them with an experience they’ll never forget.

“Our job is to show our great city off in the best possible fashion and the Dublin marathon allows us to do that. If we have happy customers then we can be satisfied with a job well done.”

All we need now is the weather.

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Ryan Bailey

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