Sonia recalls causing a stir on the streets of Dublin

Sonia O’Sullivan caused a stir at the Dublin Marathon in 2000 as she toed the line at the last minute after her heroics at the Sydney Olympics and duly won her maiden marathon voyage in 2:35:42. Here the Cobh legend recalls how her surprise debut over the marathon came to pass:

“I was sitting in the Italian Place, a cafe in Teddington, when Richard Nerurkar (5th in the 1997 London Marathon in 2:08:36) dropped in and happened to mention that he was going to be in Dublin on October 30th, for the Dublin marathon. I quickly replied ‘I’ll also be there on the 30th for my book launch, maybe I’ll run the marathon.’

“As easy as that the seed was planted and I started to think maybe I could really run the Dublin marathon. I looked up the results from previous to years and it looked fairly manageable with winning times hovering around the 2:40 mark. I mentioned the idea to my coach, Alan Storey, and he didn’t seem to mind either way, He probably thought it would be a good way to get me back training after the celebratory tour I’d been on after the Sydney Olympics.

“We decided I should line up as if I was going for a long hard run with no expectations and to enjoy the experience. So as not to totally go from zero to marathon, I started to do a few hour runs during the week and aim for 2 hours around Richmond Park the week before just to get some miles in my legs.

“I was at home in Cobh the day before the marathon and as we were about to fly from Cork the incoming plane that was due to turn around and take us ran off the runway into the grass.

“It looked like we would be staying in Cork so the marathon plan was slipping away. We were issued some vouchers for a measly airport meal – not quite carbo loading the night before my first marathon.

“Then, just as we had resigned to staying in Cork and traveling up the next day in time for the launch of my book Running to Stand Still, an announcement was made and we were going to be flying to Dublin that night after all .

“On the morning of the race I awoke to a dark and cold greeting from the weather gods, I decided to wear a t-shirt beneath my singlet that I expected to remove a few miles later when I warmed up.

“I’m not sure I ever really warmed up as I remember the rain coming down as we passed through 10 miles in  just under an hour, I was running along, often in small groups, and enjoying the pace thinking I’d definitely rather be running than standing along the road watching, particularly in this dirty weather.

“At 18 miles the marathon came to say ‘hello’ – all of a sudden the steady pace started to feel like hard work, I was having to concentrate now to keep the pace going. As I had managed to establish a lead over Teresa Duffy and not too far from the finish, I was determined to get to the finish first.

“It wouldn’t be easy but surely I could hang on for 6 more miles, That’s 2 x 3miles I thought to myself: ‘Ok let’s break it down and take it one mile at a time.’

The rain was sheeting down as we crossed a little hump backed bridge onto the straight road back into town alongside the (Phoenix) Park, along the quays to the finish in Smithfield. Every step I took was one step closer to that finish line, a finish line I’d never seen before as this was my first ever marathon.

“As we rounded the corner with 20 meters to go across the cobbled courtyard I was never happier to see a finish line and win my first ever marathon in Dublin. 13 years later I am still very proud to recall that I once ran the Dublin marathon and was first woman home. It surprised me as much as I’m sure it surprised many others on the day.”

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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