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Sunday 20 October 2019

BHAA hits its stride at 40

Former Dublin Marathon race director Alex Sweeney was one of the founding member of the BHAA
Former Dublin Marathon race director Alex Sweeney was one of the founding member of the BHAA

When the American Frank Shorter won the marathon at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, it caught the public imagination and, starting in the USA, gave road running a profile it had never enjoyed before this time.

People of all ages began running to keep fit, stay healthy and have fun. Marathon running went mainstream. In 1977, Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running spent 11 weeks on top of the best seller list in the USA.

"There were a lot of runners who had gone past their best and were no longer able to make club teams.

"There was a lot of talent - a lot of people wanting to run who weren't always getting the opportunity in clubs, so there was a hunger for competition," said Alex Sweeney, a former Dublin Marathon race director, a few years later.

At the Donnybrook bus depot in Dublin, a group of bus drivers, conductors and mechanics began running at lunchtime to keep fit. Among them was Frank Slevin.

"We were soon joined by some lads working in RTÉ across the road and then a few more from Philips Electric in Clonskeagh who had seen us out on the roads," says Slevin.

The late Bertie Messit, an Olympic marathon runner in his day, became mentor to the group in Donnybrook. Next step was to organise a race where they could test their fitness and so Donnybrook AC invited other company teams to compete in a four-mile cross-country race at the CIE Sports and Social Club in Coldcut, Ballyfermot.

Outstanding

Winning the race was Denis Noonan, an outstanding club athlete in his day, with Dublin Corporation the winning team.

After that came the first Bray to Donnybrook 10 mile, a handicap race where Mary Butler, a journalist working for RTÉ, was the winner.

By now, the number of inter-firm races was increasing, and better communication and some regulation was needed.

Firms already involved in organising inter-firm races were sent a circular inviting them to preliminary talks after a race organised by Joe Walsh of Linson Squibb in Swords on 25 February 1979.

"The good atmosphere within the existing inter-firm races plus the fact that fellows wanted to get a race - and a good race - really provided the impetus. It grew from there," said Alex Sweeney, one of the founding members.

Later that year, on September 29, the first annual meeting of the Business Houses Athletics Association was held. A few months later, the new organisation was asked to organise the first Dunlin Marathon. But that's another story.

Suffice it to say that both the BHAA and the Dublin Marathon are celebrating 40th anniversaries this year.

As part of the celebrations, the BHAA is organising a 40th anniversary cross-country at Abbotstown followed by a barbecue this coming Saturday (11.0).

Distances are 4km for women and 6km for men and all are welcome to have a trot around the national cross-country course.

Entry fee is the usual €10 for existing BHAA members and €15 for guests. Or why not sign up with the BHAA for 2020 for an all in fee of €25? Further info at www.bhaa.ie

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