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Thursday 21 November 2019

It's marathon mission gains

FAST TIMES: Stephen Scullion and Aoife Cooke helped deliver the best Irish performance in years in the Dublun Marathon. Pic: Sportsfile
FAST TIMES: Stephen Scullion and Aoife Cooke helped deliver the best Irish performance in years in the Dublun Marathon. Pic: Sportsfile

Last Sunday at the 40th Dublin Marathon, eight Irish men finished in times of under two hours 18 minutes while five Irish women broke two hours 40 minutes.

It was, without question, the best Irish performance in years, helped in no small part by the by ideal weather conditions. Not to be ignored was the two per cent improvement promised by the latest in lightweight cushioned shoes worn by the vast majority of the top finishers.

First Irish athlete home was Stephen Scullion who finished in 2 hrs 12 mins 1 secs, a time which puts him on the all-time Irish list. It's also the fastest marathon time by an Irishman since 2002 when Mark Carroll ran 2:10.54 in New York.

Behind Scullion in a personal best of 2:13:19 came defending Irish champion Mick Clohisey of Raheny Shamrock AC, while 25- year-old Hugh Armstrong of Ballina AC, making his marathon debut, finished third in 2:14:22.

Sean Hehir of Metro St Brigid's AC was fourth Irish in 2:16.01 and Eoghan Totten of Newcastle and District AC fifth in 2:16.09; both were personal best times. Gary O'Hanlon 2:16.29, Mark Kenneally 2:16.33 and Sergiu Ciobanu 2:17.17, all Clonliffe Harriers, took the next three places. For O'Hanlon, who was first M45, his time improved on the 2:17.11 he had run in 2018.

Let's put this in perspective: in the 17 years from 1993 to 2009, not one single Irish man broke 2 hours 20 minutes at the National Championships title. In the ten years since 2010 when Sergiu Ciobanu retained the title in 2:19.33, only one winner has been slower than two hours 20 minutes - and that, ironically, was Ciobanu, whose time of 2:21.01 was enough to give him victory in 2014.

Women have run Irish marathon championships since 1981 and until last year just four women had gone faster than two hours 38 minutes. Christine Kennedy ran 2:35.56 in 1991, Linda Byrne 2:36.21 in 2011 and Lizzie Lee 2:35.05 last year. In 2014, four-time winner Maria McCambridge ran a course record of 2:34.19.

Aoife Cooke's winning time of 2:32.34 on Sunday knocked almost two minutes off that time. Also inside the old record was Ann-Marie McGlynn who finished in 2:32.54. Breaking two hours 38 minutes as well was third placed Gladys Ganiel, whose time of 2:36.42 shaved a minute off her previous best, and Caitriona Jennings, fourth in 2:37.55.

Credit for this renaissance must go to the Marathon Mission, set up around 2009 to improve standards in the Dublin Marathon and to help Irish marathoners qualify for major championships. At the time, no Irish marathon runner had made an Olympic qualifying time since 1992.

So successful was the scheme that four women made the qualifying standard for London 2012, with Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson and Caitriona Jennings making the final cut and Maria McCambridge missing out. For the men's marathon, Mark Kenneally qualified.

Jim Aughney and Dick Hooper, the main men behind Marathon Mission, had always argued that if you improved standards in general, the times would get faster. And so it has proved.

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