Sean Hehir and Pauline Curley stole the headlines winning the national titles at the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon as Alemu Gemechu and Nataliya Lehonkova took overall glory ahead of a record entry of more than 15,000.
Wet and windy conditions greeted the runners at the start line of Fitzwilliam Square as they prepared for their marathon voyage of 26.2 miles around Dublin.
Hehir (Rathfarham WSAF), who had a quick turnaround from the Berlin marathon on September 27, led the field around the first turn but from there on it was an African procession at the head of proceedings.
Ethiopia’s Gemechu eventually prevailed in 2:14:01 while Ukraine’s Lehonkova trumped the Africans in the women’s race in 2:31:08.
In truth, greater interest lay in the battle of the Irish, with Hehir keen to erase the pain of Berlin where he was the fifth Irishman and outside the Olympic qualifying standard (2:17:00) running 2:17:48.
The Clare primary school teacher managed to wipe away that disappointment and was delighted to be crowned national champion once again in 2:19:47.
“I was very proud of the Irish guys,” said Hehir afterwards of the Irish in Berlin that ran Olympic qualifying standards. “I didn’t have it. I was very upset (after the race) and texted Jim Augheny (Dublin Race Director) and said I wanted to run (Dublin and I rang Dick Hooper my coach also. It was a balancing act between absorbing the effort from Berlin, recovering and trying to win the national title. I’m very happy with the sub 2:20. That’s special and to be national marathon champion that’s very special too.”
Hehir found the conditions challenging but praised the support of the crowd and said it lived up to the billing of “the friendly marathon” and joked “I’m going to take a few weeks off” after his whirlwind efforts.
Eoin Callaghan (Star of the Sea) was in medal contention up until 18 miles but stomach problems put an end to his chances and he had to settle for fourth Irishman, leaving him “very disappointed”.
Gary O’Hanlon (Clonliffe Harriers) put in a brave effort for national silver running 2:25:21 with the 40-year-old showing no signs of slowing down yet. David Mansfield (Clonliffe Harriers) bagged the bronze in 2:30:45.
Pauline Curley (Tullamore Harriers) proved age and injury were no barrier for an emotional victory in the chase for the women’s national crown. The 46-year-old, who was limping four weeks ago after a recent knee operation, breasted the tape in 2:49:29.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said the Beijing 2008 Olympian who won a team bronze medal in the World Cross Country Championships 18 years ago in Turin.
“I started off conservatively and ran fairly even,” she continued on her race plan. “I just ran to the way I felt. The crowd were absolutely amazing.”
DSD’s Michelle McGee and Sarah Mulligan led for the first half of the race but Curley timed her effort to perfection. “An auld one passing young ones,” she quipped. “I didn’t go through any bad patches. It’s the best feeling ever in a marathon. I know nothing can take away the Beijing Olympics but that was amazing.
“Age is just a number to me. I haven’t put in the work this time. I had this feeling that something was telling me to run this marathon. Four weeks ago I was walking with a limp.”
Mulligan and McGee paid for their efforts with the unheralded Jane Ann Healy-Meehan (Athenry) and Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) picking up the pieces running 2:54:48 and 2:56:21 respectively.
Watching on the sidelines were two Irish athletics legends, Ronnie Delany and Catherina McKiernan, as they cheered on Sonia O’Sullivan at the finish in Merrion Square in 3:03:21.
O’Sullivan returned to the race she won 15 years ago to raise money for the Irish Guide Dogs and stayed on to cheer the thousands that followed behind her on an electric day in the capital.
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