Delight for Sergiu Ciobanu and Laura Graham

Sergiu Ciobanu had equal measures of relief and delight when winning his fourth national marathon title in Dublin yesterday while Laura Graham made a quantum leap to win her first.
Delight for Sergiu Ciobanu and Laura Graham

Record numbers took to the streets for the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon in perfect conditions for runners — and the times didn’t disappoint.

Dereje Debele Tulu (Ethiopia) won outright with 2:12:18 and Namibia’s Helalia Johannes was the first woman home in 2:32:32 — just one second ahead of Ethiopia’s Ehite Bizuayehu Gebireyes.

The real action lay in the battle for national glory — both with two intriguing back stories. Ciobanu (Clonliffe Harriers) missed out on Olympic selection while Laura Graham (Mourne Runners), a 30-year-old mother of four, smashed her previous best of 2:48:03 set in London last April with 2:41:54.

“The pressure was on after the last few months,” said Ciobanu who won gold with 2:17:40.

“I was training for the marathon for a year now after the disappointment with the (non) selection. I had to stay focused. I love this sport. It doesn’t matter what happened.

"I was getting so much support. I knew I was on for a good time. Of course the pressure — and people expecting me to prove I could run a good marathon — was on.”

Breaking away at the 20km mark at the drinks station, Ciobanu said: “I kept the same pace. Gradually I opened the lead but Sean (Hehir) finished hard and fast.”

Hehir, last year’s champion, finished second with Mark Kirwan (Raheny Shamrock) winning the battle for bronze ahead of Gary O’Hanlon (Clonliffe Harriers) in 2:22:17.

“I’m relieved,” said Ciobanu on the result.

“I really wanted to win the national title. That’s my best Dublin marathon by two minutes. My previous best was 2:19. I had so much support. I had been away for two months altitude training during the spring. My wife (Eimear) understood what I was doing.”

The time was still shy of Athletics Ireland World Championship qualifying time of 2:17:00 but Ciobanu, formerly of Moldova, is looking forward to wearing the green vest once more and working with the governing body.

“I know I missed the world qualification standard of 2:17 but we’ll see,” he said.

“I’ve represented Ireland three times in the last ten months and I’m in Ireland the past ten years. My wife is Irish and we have a child and it means a lot to me. I’ve nothing against the association (following the non-selection for Rio). I look forward to working with Athletics Ireland and to represent Ireland in the future. I just love to run.”

Graham’s success was an incredible achievement as she only began running seriously over the last two years. She stepped up two places on the podium from last year to bag the gold and put herself on a new level.

Caitriona Jennings (Letterkenny) was second with 2:44:59 with Pauline Curley (Tullamore Harriers), last year’s winner, third in 2:48:38.

With four children aged 6, 5, 4, and 3, Graham has to do a lot of her training on the treadmill to keep an eye on the youngest, along with the occasional ‘bumpy ride’ with the buggy out on the roads. She is coached by Ryan Maxwell.

“It was really good,” said Graham who initially hadn’t realised she had won. “I really love the course and there was very little wind. The crowd was unbelievable. I loved every minute of it, even the tough bits. Hard work pays off.”

Despite her step-up in class, Graham still feels she isn’t good enough — but she’s not far off the World qualifying time of 2:38:00. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said.

“I’ve four kids so they take priority. I didn’t expect that at all. It couldn’t have been a better day.”

This was her sixth marathon, having run her debut in Belfast six years ago for charity. “I still don’t think I’m good enough,” she said, but soon afterwards revealed her competitive zeal on race day.

“I had it in my head ‘you have to go for this’.”

Le Cheile’s Rio Paralympian Patrick Monahan won the wheelchair race with a best of 1:39:18.

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