The Story of Christmas Morning and the Way you Might Measure it

First let’s get the facts out there. The Main Avenue in St Anne’s runs straight as a dye and is flat as a pancake writes Dick Hooper.

From gate to grass (where once stood the stately home of Lord Ardilaun) measures 1,420 metres. Fact.

Both Lord Ardilaun and his home are long gone but the distance remains the same, 1,420m. It is worth mentioning too that the prevailing wind, again from gate to grass is most always favourable.

Next the history bit. Raheny Shamrock Athletic Club members have always had a club run on Christmas Day. In the early years this involved a run from Raheny to the Little Willie Hospital in Baldoyle to bestow small gifts to the residents.

In 1971 feedback suggested a new idea was required. In December 1972 the race down the Avenue, commonly known as the Christmas Day 1,500m was born.

There was no such convoluted things as Garmins back then and the humble car which previously had measured many a course was not allowed acces to The Park.

Nobody in the club had a wheel. It was a few years later when one of them fell out of the Van of one of the club’s Eircom employees. Somebody said they reckoned the distance was as close to 1,500m as made no difference and nobody objected.

Keeping the spirit of the event festive the original idea was that all runners would estimate their time and the winning order of the race was that the one who ran closest to their estimated time.

Everyone brought a gift, threw it into the lucky dip and you got to dip in the order of whoever had got closest with their estimate. Nobody had digital watches back then so the nearest thing to cheating was somebody carrying a stopwatch in their fist as they raced the Avenue.

However noble as the idea was the real race immediately became who could get down the Avenue first and after that how fast could people get there.

But most of all it was a race that determined how the rest of your Christmas Day would go. It was a race that offered a huge chance of a 1,500m PB.

A new best time that nobody dared query, the nearest incursion of negativity might mention that there was a bit of a wind at their backs. Get a PB and sure you might even get a Selection Box or a pair of socks out of the Lucky Dip to embellish things. The perfect Christmas.

In those early days the field might number 40 or so afficianados. The first race in 1972 was won by a couple of outsiders. Dermot Nagle of Phoenix Harriers scorched the Avenue in 3.52 and Mary Tracey, later to become Purcell and the big women’s star in Irish Athletics prior to Sonia came home in 4.16.

Pat Hooper became the first club member to win the race the following year and after that the race and its prestige took on a life of its own within club circles. It earned the title of a Classic.

Within the Club three races, The Holland Cup, The Joe Noonan and the Christmas Day 1,500m have been designated Classics. The ones you need to get on your CV.

In truth Christmas Day has become the one. The Masters and The British Open rolled into one.

Next Wednesday marks the 48th version of the event that has morphed again in latter years with its association with GOAL.

In essence nothing has changed. Still gate to grass down Lord Ardilaun’s Avenue. Except now same Avenue is deemed 1,609m.

The GOAL mile. The law abiding oldies still deem it “only” 1,500m, the newbies are thrilled with their whopping new Mile PB’s. Why make anybody miserable at Christmas.

So now that the field On Christmas has swelled to over 1,000 it is as if nothing has changed. The man on the Mike might be talking about the history of the event, explaining beforehand the quirkiness of the course measurement and its actual distance, about the importance of estimating your likely finishing time and getting it to an an official 10 minutes before starting time. Only 5% care.

In truth there are two tribes, one is going to war, the other is going for a run. Nobody is listening to the man on the Mike.

The one going to war is the Raheny Shamrock diehards, intent on socking it to their mates in the individual race, getting a PB that no one dare query or winning the family event for the Freddy Fox Trophy.

This is awarded to the parent and child combination from within the club. It has caused much controversy, banter and competitiveness.

Many a distinguished club family has been mocked for running time trials in the week proceeding.

At present this competition has become the preserve of Bernie and Orla Manley who together have clocked up more Freddy Fox’s than all other families including the O’Sullivan’s who have been known to rotate selections when results have not gone their way.

On this Christmas Day , Kieran Kelly whose Festive season and how he might review it, seems governed by this race, attempts to become the 1st man to win the event 5 times in a row.

Two others Ger Fulham and Richard Corcoran have already won 5, but not in sequence. Other serial winners include Paul Campbell with 4 and a quartet of Gerry Giblin, John Hayes, Daire Bermingham and Kevin Moriarty have won three each.

To Kevin Moriarty stands the unique record of having the slowest winning time in the history of the event. 4:15 on Christmas Day 2009. But that too needs to be explained with an asterisk.

2009 was the year of the big snow. The Avenue was covered in six inches of hard packed snow and ice.

A decision was made to pull the event onto the grass (itself covered in a white blanket) for health and safety reasons and to use the opportunity to have an accurate 1,500m.

Eircom’s old wheel was by now considered official club property.

Annette Kealy has been far the most prolific winner on the female side, amassing 9 victories between 1991 and 2005. Next best is a group of 4 with a hat trick of wins, Pauline Durran, Susan Byrne, Siobhan Eviston and Becky Woods.

To Kieran Kelly stands the honour of fastest man down the Avenue. His 3:34 looking world class before closer examination. Similarly Siobhan’s Eviston’s course record of 4:09 would win her many a Diamond League spot were if’, but’s and maybe’s to be removed from the equation.

Indeed if the length of the course has fuelled debate in many sectors the validity of the course records would provide keyboard warriors with opportunities aplenty.

Between false starts, jump starts, convenience finish lines, un-sequenced timing devices and that old refrain, human error, many a dethroned record holder has considered themselves short changed. The season of goodwill prevails.

But it’s Christmas folks. Goodwill and bonhomie dominates. GOAL gets significant funds to help those less fortunate. Be there at the main gate on Vernon Avenue, Christmas Morning for an 11am start. The starting whistle will shrill just once.

If you are of Raheny bring your racing brain and a few Bob for GOAL. If not you are all welcome anyway.

Bring your Christmas cheer and your few quid for GOAL and let’s all dash down Lord Ardilaun’s Avenue together – the one he bequeathed to us the people of Dublin.