Ode To The Women’s Mini Marathon From Its Winner

The mini-marathon was to be this weekend. Postponed for now, like most things and we’re left only with our thoughts.

I wriggled in towards the starting line at the last minute last year, after a last few strides and a last quick pee and stood two rows back from the line.

One body in the midst of 40,000 bodies. There, right beside me was my old college friend, Niamh Murphy.

She’s Niamh Richardson now and she was there with her two daughters. I hadn’t seen them for years, not since the time we dropped in to see them all in Kilkenny.

Niamh had made pasta and pesto for all the kids that day with ice cream after. Our kids had never had pesto before. They asked for it every week after that.

Her girls were all grown up now and so pretty in their club gear. Just like their mam before them, who was a fabulous runner when we were in college, they were both running now.

I knew Aoibhe was on an American scholarship. “We’re hoping Aoibhe will bring home the bacon today”.

We were delayed a few minutes on the line. The sun beat down on us and girls were jigging, anxious to get going.

Niamh put her arms around Aoibhe and said something to her, something nice, no doubt. A moment of intimacy in the midst of a tide of fierce warriors ready for war.

Mother and daughter. I knew, at that moment, that day Aoibhe would win the mini-marathon.

The gun went and we were off.

The year I was doing the leaving cert, my mother and her ladies club decided they were going to run the mini-marathon.

I would look out my bedroom window, weighed down by the books, while they headed off training.

A gang of them; Ma, Jenny Sommers, Maureen Campbell, Patty St. Ledger all in fits of laughter as they headed down the road, out of Hazelwood onto the Kilmore Road to do a loop.

As the evenings opened up, there were weeks of runs instead of knitting or crocheting or whatever else they did at their meetings.

Ma had never done something like this before. She got a pale blue singlet and shorts and she looked great heading off on her big day.

That was it, I wanted to do it and the next year Deirdre Lennon and I signed up.

First night out for a training run and we were absolutely puffed at the end of Chanel Road. Not much more than one km.

We couldn’t believe it! She played camogie and I played basketball! But, once we got off level zero it wasn’t so bad and over the next few weeks we got ourselves into pretty decent shape.

The course was different then; half way around we went through Belfield. We had a little stop at the water station; but next of all big Aideen Foley from the basketball team swooped by. Majestic and easy, a great athlete.

We pulled ourselves together, tagged onto her and finished in about 47 minutes. Purple and delighted, not bad! Ma had even came in to watch!

My girls are 20 and 18 now. I’m not complaining. Fashions change. They were in the gym, cross training, treadmill, spinning, weights, even the odd swim.

But even at that, they were curtailing the workouts because of looming exams. And then the gym closed. And then there was no leaving cert. And they started to run.

First in Robswall Park, within 2km of home. Then the beach with the tide out, within 5km. Well away from everybody.

They are getting stronger, loving the feeling and the views. They are up to 10k and 5k now. In the midst of angst and upset, there is running. And now the mini marathon has come onto their horizon. I want to be on the line with them.

The cycle of life.

I drifted off after my first mini marathon and with college days and J1 visas, basketball and the aerobics craze, four years went by.

1990 and my final exams were over. Back home I went in to see the mini-marathon.

Christine Kennedy won that day. A tiny figure, glamorous in a pink leotard. Captivated, I thought to myself “I’d love to do that”.

The audacity of it. It wasn’t to run it again. It was to win it.

I couldn’t believe it when I read a piece about Christine recently. She too had been captivated by another runner before her – Emily Dowling.

I was inspired when I saw Emily Dowling win the marathon. I was not a runner prior to that I was so intrigued. A married woman with two small children, just like me. From that day forward, I felt that I needed to win that”.

It took Christine five years after seeing Emily to win the Dublin marathon. 18 years after I saw Christine I won the mini-marathon.

To win was so exciting, so delightful. A culmination of hard work and dreams and a husband who encourages and sees no limits.

A day when things go your way. A warm day; a nice group that goes off at a pace that is not so hard that you blow up later on.

The taking of a chance at the end of Nutley, too early really to take up the lead; if you have any sense; then pushing hard up the flyover to try to get away.

Dropping down the other side and getting to get to 6k and then holding on; the pain from 7k to 8, holding on through Donnybrook, the family screaming in delight at Leeson Street Bridge and the last big one kilometre effort with the crowds willing you all the way in.

To lead the 40,000 women in, each with her own story, each with her own effort. Pure joy.

Because this is a race for every girl

Sonia O’Sullivan was beaming when she ran the fastest ever time of 31m 23s in 2000.

Later that summer she went on to thrill us all in the Olympic 5,000m after a spectacular performance against Gabriel Szabo that brought the nation to its feet; screaming at the television in anticipation as they sprinted down the final straight locked together until the last few strides.

Catriona McKiernan, who loved every moment when she won for the first time in 1997. Our four times silver world cross country medallist -Boston, Ambiorata, Hungary, Durham. 1992 to 1995.

The mini marathon was something she always wanted to do. The crowds more incredible than she had expected. Catriona went on to win three more times.

For Aoibhe Richardson, probably the youngest ever winner in 2019 and Lizzie Lee, back after having her babies, in 2018 who continued onto third in the Dublin marathon.

Before that Siobhan O’Doherty, Maria McCambridge, Barbara Cleary, Linda Byrne, Catriona Jennings, Rosmary Ryan, Pauline Curley, Maria Davenport all competed for Ireland in some capacity, all proudly wearing the green vest at some point, all of whom were ecstatic with the win.

For the other fiercely dedicated and talented runners, who train 60, 70, eight miles a week.

Who fight valiantly on the day. Give their heart and souls. Who would love to get that elusive win, or to be in the top three or the top ten or the top 100.

For the girls who want to do a personal best over 10k, and the girls who want to break the hour! And the girls who want to run the 10k without stopping, hard or easy, and the girls who want to run and walk and walk and run, and the girls to want to take it easy and amble along and yap to a friend. A bit of fun.

For the girls who are visually impaired or in wheelchairs. Battling their battle. Wanting to win their category. Giving it everything.

Girls of all shapes and sizes. Young girls, older girls.

For auntie May, 86 now and walking it with her daughters. Loving it -and above all for the girls who are doing it all for charity. Raising millions.

At forty, I was probably one of the oldest winners over the years and even though I can’t ever win it again, I am drawn in!

I want to be a part of it still. They’ve changed the course. It’s backwards now. It was hard to get it right on the old course.

The start dropped down to Holles Street, (where many of us once screamed out the windows), but full of euphoria, it was so easy to miscalculate and fly off way too hard and to be suffering by 3k and knowing that it’s a long way in from here and to struggle the last few k and stagger across the line, in bits.

I love the new course.

And so I’ll miss it today. We all will. 40,000 of us swooping into town. Lining up in Fitzwilliam Street, stylish gear, shades and lip-stick and the scent of deep heat rippling everywhere.

Chatting. Hopping up and down in the sweltering heat waiting to go, filling Dublin with peals of laughter and whoops and cheers rising like balloons into the city sky.

The hard work and turbulent moments in training, the improving and the setbacks, the improving again, the nerves we felt on the way in; all in the past now.

All in high spirits, singing about Molly Malone and her troubles. A celebration of the capability of the human being. A celebration of the kindness of the human being. A celebration of togetherness. mothers, daughters, aunties, cousins, friends, work-mates, girls you know and haven’t seen for ages, girls with a big purpose.

Being part of it all. Then the huge snake of bodies meandering and weaving along the streets of Dublin, each runner now separate then yet still connected.

Working together. Finding a rhythm. The generosity of spirit after either taking or coming up to the u-turn out on Stillorgan Road and shouting across at a face we recognise, encouraging, emotional.

Then the relief of the gentle down slope of Nutley Lane from 6k to 7k, where once it was the other way around and it felt so hard.

Only 3k left to go. Pretty streets. Merrion Road. Pembrook Road. Shops and cafes nearer the finish. And there she is…Baggott Street Bridge!

Up and over and we’re in. We pour in. Triumphant and glorious. Our day.

Con Houlihan once said it was hard to explain this phenomenon. “All all is changed, an alarming beauty is born”. Ha!

We’ll miss it. But we’ll keep going. Keep training. Keep running. Keep walking. Even though it’s not easy in such uncertain times.

Where there is worry and fear and terrible loss and despair. Where there is no big goal. But getting out and putting one foot in front of the other is good for the body and the mind and the soul.

The mini-marathon might change. It might be modified. Nobody knows.

But let’s look at the new shoots and the ray of hope now and look forward to being back together again in some way or other before too long. Alive-alive-o.

Note: The first women’s mini-marathon took place in 1983, with 9,000 competitors. It has grown to be the biggest women-only event in the world with up to 41,000 entrants. In its 36 years, it is estimated that €250 million has been raised for various charities.

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