In 1980 the starting pistol was fired at the inaugural Dublin Marathon. In 1983 – the same year Glenroe hit our TV screens and Bonnie Tyler’s power ballad Total Eclipse of the Heart topped the charts – Dublin Marathon founder Frank Slevin and other like-minded athletics enthusiasts put together a women-only event – the first Women’s Mini Marathon (WMM).

hile organisers thought they’d only get a few hundred entries, they began to flood in once the event was announced.

Some 9,000 women lined up on the first start line in 1983, with numbers swelling every year since, peaking at a record attendance of 41,000 in 2014.

The ambition of the WMM was to encourage women to give running a go. As it transpired, it didn’t simply give these women an excuse to partake in the latest fitness trend or provide them with an endorphin high. For many Irish women and mammies, it gave them a sense of freedom.

“It was just electric. When we got to the finishing line all the husbands were there with the prams and the babies and the women running into the Shelbourne Hotel to use the loo,” mother-of-four Trish Horgan recalled.

Along with a handful of other ladies, Trish (71) has participated in the event every year since its inception.

“It made me realise that anything is achievable. It doesn’t matter if you walk or if you run,” she said.

To date over a million women have run, jogged, skipped and ambled their way along the 10km route – raising €225m along the way for charities.

And yesterday, after a two-year Covid-related hiatus, the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon returned to Dublin’s city centre. For many, crowding back on to the streets was a highly emotional experience, with some of this year’s participants describing it as “euphoric”, “pure magic”, “cathartic”, and a “personal Everest”.


In pictures: Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon 2022 Close

Runners pictured at the start of the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon on Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. Photo; Damien Eagers

The Mini Marathon has always been less about physical prowess, celebrity participants or smashing personal best times. Instead, the focus is on the amateur runners and joggers passing over the finishing line, and their backstories.

In the run-up to the event, as media partners the Irish Independent had the privilege of talking to some of the women taking part.

“I am walking the marathon, definitely not running it – I would need a week in bed if I did that,” says mum-of-four Niav McNamara, who suffered a mini-stroke last year. “This is my Everest. I am so excited about getting across the finishing line. I will feel ten-foot-tall coming home.”

Everyone running in the Mini Marathon is doing so for a reason. To increase their fitness, to keep the memory of a loved one alive, as tangible evidence that an illness can’t hold them back, or to raise vital funds for a charity. For many of the participants, running is both emotionally and physically demanding.

In Catriona Menzies-Pike’s book The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, she writes that the impulse to run can often be driven by “the desire to shed one’s skin and step into another”.

At times, it can be restorative; the rhythmic sound of footsteps hitting pavement slabs can act as a salve. Becoming a dependable and familiar meter to calm the mind. This was the case for participant Mary Phelan. In the years after her husband Willie was diagnosed with MS, she began to run.

“Getting that diagnosis as a young family –the children were under three – your world does change. You just hear ‘wheelchair, job is gone’. At the time it was huge. [Running] is quiet time just for me,” she said. “I can put everything else to one side and put on my runners and I just enjoy that quiet, special time.”

Musician Emma-Jane Stoker-Phelan also found running essential for positive mental health. In 2017, Emma-Jane was admitted to St Patrick’s hospital for a five-month period as she was suffering with severe anorexia nervosa. When she was discharged, she started regular runs. Lacing up her trainers gives her a sense of structure, and a feeling of achievement.

“It is a big driver to stay well,” she said. “[It keeps me] motivated in fuelling my body…these little glimmers bring you what you need… It’s not always the big things, it’s the small goals that keep you on the road to recovery.”

For others, the Mini Marathon is empowering – a tangible act showing how far they have come.


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Runners pictured at the start of the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon on Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. Photo; Damien Eagers

Roisin McConnell was born with genetic condition neurofibromatosis (NF) and a tumour in her brain. She had to undergo multiple surgeries as a child and lost one of her legs, and her eye. Her parents were told by medical professionals it was unlikely she would live beyond her sixth birthday. She is now approaching her 53rd birthday.

“I just love the build-up and soaking up the atmosphere and just crossing that finishing line and getting my medal – it gives me a great lift. It’s like a challenge for me, that I can do it with my disability,” she said.

Yesterday was Karen Ward’s 13th Mini Marathon. The mum of two underwent open heart surgery in 2018 after going for a routine check-up and says competing in the 2019 Mini Marathon was a profound experience.

“It was emotional because I was back doing the things I had done before the surgery. It was a test for myself that I could do it,” she said.

Despite the seriousness behind many of the decisions to sign up, there is such a sense of fun about the event. The starting line has been described as ‘a rainbow of positivity and joy’ complete with water bottles, blister plasters and isotonic gels.

Lining the streets are cheering friends and families, there are firemen dousing runners with water hoses, impromptu singsongs, novelty costumes (one year a man ran it in a latex catsuit – not advisable) and in 2017 there was even a proposal at the finish line.

Maybe the jubilant atmosphere is not that surprising, given the months of wet and wintry training sessions. When June rolls in, participants have their fingers crossed for a day out in the sunshine.

“There is a real sense of community, even if you run on your own. And each year you lace up your runners, the crowd becomes more familiar,” Emma-Jane said.

The theme this year was #MakingWomenMagic and many former participants cite the atmosphere and the support of fellow female runners as the reasons they chose to sign up again and again.

“The day in Dublin is always magical. It is emotional and there is such a sense of achievement running beside everyone else,” said Marie Spriggs-Campion.

Marie started taking part in the event to raise awareness for Our New Ears, a charity for children in need of cochlear implants. Her son Jake was born profoundly deaf, and her family benefited hugely from the charity. Yesterday was her sixth Mini Marathon.

“When you come to the finish line, you think ‘I did it’. That is such a great feeling,” she said.

Karen Ward agrees that a sense of sisterhood, community and goodwill makes the Mini Marathon unlike any other run.

“When you see all the T-shirts from charities, or with pictures printed on them – there are charities for women’s refuges, there are charities for children who are sick – everyone is there for somebody,” she said. “On the starting line, everyone has a story to tell. There is a sense of community. It is the nicest run I have ever done.”


In pictures: Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon 2022 Close

Runners pictured at the start of the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon on Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. Photo; Damien Eagers

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