A local marathon for local people.
That was the ethos behind the first Tralee Marathon in 2013; which sparked a running revolution in the town, changing hundreds of lives in the process.
And on 20 April, race organisers are hoping to re-capture some of that magic as 150 runners- including many Born To Run members- return to that original route in what is expected to be a sell-out success, with just limited places left.
Speaking with Born To Run, race director Jim McNeice reflected on the origins of the Tralee Marathon, which was originally set up by Marcus Howlett. A long-distance runner from Dublin- but with family roots in Tralee- Marcus had coached a group of novice runners at IT Tralee for the Limerick marathon, after he returned to education there.
The success of this original “couch to 42k programme” led to the establishment of Born To Run in 2010, and in turn, the Tralee Marathon in 2013, which saw up to 1600 people take part in both the full marathon and half marathon events.
“Nothing would have happened without Marcus,” says Jim, who came on board from the start, along with other team members like Vivienne Li.
“I mean, to see someone out running on the streets pre-2013 would be kind of unusual; to drive out on any day or evening now and not see someone running would be unusual.”
While Marcus has since moved on to other projects, Born To Run and the Tralee Marathon have both continued under new stewardship, but there were fears that the marathon would not take place in 2019 after organisers decided to focus on a half marathon and 10k event in March instead. However, Jim and his team took on the challenge and the Tralee Marathon will now take place on Easter Saturday.
One of the big changes this year was the decision to return to the original marathon route from 2013.
“When we took it on, my first thoughts were ‘What has worked in the past?’ and the main thing was the original route, out towards Ardfert, Barrow, Fenit. People loved it,” says Jim, who hopes that this decision will help recapture some of the magic of the original marathon and re-build participation slowly but surely.
“It has such great potential. It’s going to take time to build it back up; but it will come back.”
Of course, most runners are fond of their “race bling” and this year’s medal is certainly one for the collection: a double-sided 3D/2D medal dedicated to astronaut Neil Armstrong, who visited Tralee in 1997.
“We are finishing on the Neil Armstrong Way, so that’s the road he opened back in 1997,” explains Jim.
“It is also the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in June and the idea is that because so many people in Tralee have run so many marathons, we just want to do something different with the medal.”
Indeed, this will be the first medal in an ongoing collection set to celebrate people with a Kerry connection, with Jim revealing that the 2020 Tralee Marathon medal will commemorate Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean.
“The Crean family are happy to do it in the sense in what we are doing is we are honouring Tom Crean and what he did. They gave me a great quote from a letter that he sent back to a friend of his in Annascaul after the 36 day walk…he said, ‘I think I’ve done Kerry proud.’ So that just kind of wraps up what we’re trying to portray him as: a humble man who did something absolutely outstanding,” says Jim.
“It’s to keep with the original ethos of the marathon, which is a local marathon for local people, supported by the local community.”
And speaking of community, Jim and the team have worked hard to source as much as possible- including the medals- from local businesses. They are also fortunate to have the support of Martin Brosnan, head steward with the Festival of Kerry, who will be co-ordinating volunteers to marshal the marathon within Tralee town.
However, they are still seeking about 15 volunteers to steward the route outside of the town and hope that Born To Run members who are not taking part on the day might give a few hours of their time.
But for those who still plan to run the marathon, but have not signed up yet, the advice is to act fast.
“We are down to the last 19 places,” says Jim. “I’m sure they are going to sell out.”
One person who is looking forward to this year’s event is Born To Run Chairman JJ O’Connell, who explains that the event is close to his heart.
“It was my first ever marathon, so it’s a massive checkpoint on my running journey. This will be my fourth Tralee marathon and it is special because it is the home town marathon,” explains JJ.
“The event has inspired people to take up running and as a Tralee marathon club, it’s great that Tralee has- and has maintained- a marathon over the last few years; and long may it continue!”
Club secretary Rose Brosnan is also taking on the distance. Like JJ, her first ever marathon was in Tralee and she has since gone on to complete 18 marathons, including three ultra events.
She is looking forward to returning to the scenic route; and to the challenges along the way.
“Tralee Marathon- although very beautiful- depending on the weather, it can be a very challenging route being so close to the sea as the wind can be a major factor,” she says. “There are also a few hills thrown in for good measure, especially the famous Barrow Hill!”
Still, we suspect that the Tralee Marathon runners would not want it any other way…
Registration for the Tralee International Marathon costs €50. Register at https://www.njuko.net/tralee-marathon/select_competition or follow “The Tralee 26.2 Mile Marathon” on Facebook