Mystery runner almost won marathon from his armchair

Henry O'Neill after winning the Cookstown Half Marathon.

It was almost the greatest marathon win of all time — even though the mystery runner happened to be in a different county as the drama unfolded.

It has emerged Tyrone marathon runner Henry O’Neill was ‘leading’ the Dublin City Marathon last Monday at the halfway point, even though it is understood he was at home in Omagh with an injury at the time.

How so? Well, organisers had placed his bag, with his number and timing chip, on the press bus, in the event he made the start line, leading to his times being clocked as the bus raced through the course ahead of the leading contenders.

The only reason Henry, a vet who has recently returned to the North after a spell in the US, didn’t ‘win’ was because the bus stopped short of the finish line.

Henry is an elite marathon runner and was listed as such in the Dublin City Marathon programme. Like many high-calibre runners, he trained hard for last Monday’s event, before having to pull out. He is also involved in Irondog, a animal charity that raises money through endurance sports, and wears their singlets at events.

The mysterious circumstances of competitor ‘32 H O’Neill’ were revealed on the site.

Local runner John Meade, who ran the marathon and who knows Henry's sister, said yesterday he only became aware of the H O’Neill mystery after he finished the race and chased it up with race director, Jim Aughney, who yesterday confirmed the details.

Quoted on the blog, John said: “Many people watched the astounding progress of elite no 32, H O’Neill, on the online tracker, as he ghosted just ahead of [men’s winner Sean] Hehir and [Joe] Sweeney through 10km, then half-marathon, in what appeared online like a brave solo effort.”

A post on Monday asking “Who is this Henry O’Neill leading the race at 10k?” showed the mood of those watching online, while other posters said he won a half-marathon in the US earlier this year.

Henry had in fact won the Cookstown half- marathon in August.

As John Meade explained on Corkrunning: “At the 20-mile mark, the next point for online tracking, race no 32, H O’Neill had mysteriously vanished. Blown up? Pacing work completed? Enough done for the day? Race no 32 is Henry O’Neill, from Tyrone, who was not running at all on the day. An injury a few weeks back put an end to his marathon prospects but he remained hopeful until the end.

“When he didn’t show at registration by Sunday evening, race organisers held onto his number, thinking he might arrive on Monday morning. Monday morning and still no sign.

“The bag with Henry’s number and timing chip ended up in the press bus and from there, merrily made its way around the course, a little bit ahead of the lead runners. No one on the bus realising the furore the little bag on the floor was unknowingly causing around the country, around the world."


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