“For me, the Dublin marathon was everything,” recalls running legend Kiernan, who made his debut over the classic distance in Dublin in 1982 in a course record time of 2:13:45 which stood until 2004.
“I’m not going to compare it to the Olympics but I ran in the Olympics (Los Angeles in 1984) in the marathon because of Dublin. If the Dublin city marathon never existed, I probably never would have realised I was good over the distance.”
This will be the 35th running of the SEE Airtricity Dublin Marathon on Bank Holiday Monday as the first wave of runners get underway at 9am to make their own lasting memories.
The allure of the distance for Kiernan, and the race in Dublin itself, began when he saw Neil Cusack win in 1981 and a lack of international opportunities provided by the national governing body on the track. “I remember seeing Cusack winning it in ’81,” said Kiernan. “For the likes of me in the early 80s, there was no track season. If you didn’t get to run the Cork City Sports, you got into nothing. My personal best for 5k is from the Cork City Sports, 13:32, which I’m almost embarrassed to say, because it’s crap. With the exception of the sub four-minute mile (in Crystal Palace), all my times have been done in Ireland because there was no opportunities to run abroad. I had an association that was run by two people who didn’t have any interest in me. They didn’t like me because I didn’t like them. And so consequently when Cusack won in ’81, I knew I could beat Neil Cusack. I did the hard runs with Neil Cusack where by the end of it I had him by the balls. I knew then if he could win Dublin in ’81, then I could win Dublin in ’82.”
The final straw for Kiernan to move to the roads was when the international secretary did little to help him get into a 5,000m race in Lausanne, Switzerland other than provide a phone number for the meet director.
“So I rang this dude and he says ‘what have you run for 5k?’ I said 13:32. He says ‘everyone in the 5k has to run 13:25 or under.’ And I says ‘if you let me in your effing race and I’ll do it.’ And that was the finish of it then.
“I said ‘to hell with this.’ And then I just jumped on the roads and then suddenly I started running 46 and 47 minutes (for 10 miles) on any given day in any kind of weather on any kind of a course. And that was it.”
Aged 29, and with a sense of abandon, Kiernan hit the roads in Dublin in 1982 to a captive audience that swarmed the roadside.
The colourful Kerryman was on world record pace at halfway with over exuberance set to kick in and take its toll. “The first 10 miles was 49:01, halfway in 64:07/8 and this was up in Finglas. The rest was downhill into town.
“So I got up to Finglas in 64 something and I said ‘right I’ll go down surely in 64 something’ because I was only jogging. That would have been a world record at the time which was 2:08:18 by (Robert) De Castella.
“The problem was then I got excited and I just took off. I did a whole series of 4:40 miles down Collins Avenue, started cramping, got to Raheny, couldn’t utilise the downhill from Raheny down into Fairview and staggered home. I ran 2:13 and my last mile must have been 7 and a half minutes.”
Nonetheless, it was an unforgettable experience with spectators leaving just enough room to run through.
“Absolutely incredible,” recalls Kiernan fondly. “Raheny was like the Tour de France. There was a gap there for me to go through and the gap parted for me as I was running. You know when they are climbing the Alpe d’Huez and you think, the cyclist is going to run into the crowd and then they part? That was the way Raheny was. It was incredibly exciting.”
Dublin whetted the appetite for marathon running and enhanced his love of athletics.
“That evening I sat down with my coach, Brendan O’Shea, and said ‘maybe this is my event, maybe I can run this in the Olympics.’ The thing is this, for me, I loved running. I loved the people involved in running. If I had a bad season, I’d say ‘I hope next season is better.’ For me it wasn’t ‘oh I have to make the Olympics or I’m going to shit myself.’” The Clonliffe Harrier did go on to make the Olympic marathon in LA, where he finished 9th in a personal best of 2:12:19 behind John Treacy’s silver medal run but it’s that joy that he holds to this day.
The standard of distance running in Ireland was incomparable to now, with leading Irish runners not dipping much under 2:20. Kiernan doesn’t know why.
“I don’t believe for one moment that any generation is inherently better than another. Why should that be? But I tell you what, I was rooting at home about six months ago and I came across a diary from 1992. I was nearly 40. I was doing 120 miles a week. I was completely into it.”
It was in 1992, in his 40th year, that Kiernan won Dublin for a second, and final time, in 2:17:19 with no ambition other than to enjoy his boyhood pursuit.
Sean Hehir and Maria McCambridge won last year due in part to no international field assembled as a result of budgetary constraints. This year sees the return of the Kenyans and elite international field but Kiernan feels there’s more to running than trying to keep up with the East Africans.
“I think we’re missing the big picture when talking about Kenyans. What we have to do, what I’ve always done and it’s been a mantra: ‘I do the best I can.’ Forget about the Kenyans running 2:02/3. First of all, if you’re involved in running, you’re involved in an incredibly healthy past-time; number two, you meet the best people; number three, you do the best you can. Why should a person’s happiness in running be predicated on Kenyans running 2:03? Why should it be like that?”
International fields return
This year will see the return of an elite international field after an absence due to budgetary constraints. The East Africans, from Kenya and Ethiopia, and Russian entrants will be the favourites. Merkebu Birke of Ethiopia boasts a 60:14 half marathon personal best and will start as favourite in his debut marathon. Fellow Ethiopian, Meseret Godana, and Kenyan Esther Macharia are best placed to claim the women’s title.
More than 3,000 club runners expected for National championship
Monday’s event also incorporates the national marathon championships and Maria McCambridge returns to defend her title with an outside chance of taking overall glory. Cork marathon winner Pauline Curley will be in the mix for medals while evergreen Gary O’Hanlon faces the likes of Sergiu Ciobanu, Freddy Kerron Sittuk, Brian Maher and Eddie McGinley.
Mangan’s world jog
Dubliner Paddy Mangan completes his self-entitled round the world jog with the Dublin marathon this Monday. The journey has seen him traverse the globe. You can read all about him on his site www.theworldjog.com