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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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An event of the people, for the people: the Dublin marathon showcases the city at its best

19,500 runners will take to the capital’s streets today for the 37th edition of the Dublin marathon.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

SOME WILL SAY there are better ways to spend a Bank Holiday Sunday – there are more relaxing ways, no doubt, but none more fulfilling than a day at the Dublin City 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, today will provide persuasive evidence.

The 37th edition will see record numbers (19,500) 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 a 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 it is,” race director Jim Augnhey told The42.

inpho_00979846 Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“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.

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.

A view of the medals Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

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.”

This year, there has been a surge in international interest and 30% of the runners will have travelled overseas to take to the start line this morning.

The route itself begins, as normal, in Fitzwilliam Square before taking in the Phoenix Park and south county Dublin; the one change being the day.

It’s hoped the move to a Sunday will attract more international entries and certainly the marathon has the capacity to grow further.

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.’

A view of competitors as they pass Christchurch Cathedral Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

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 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.”

– A version of this article was originally published on October 24 2015.

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Ryan Bailey

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