It started with a frivolous conversation around 10 years ago and in that time has raised in the region of €150,000 for arguably one of Co Longford’s most cherished organisations.
Over a decade later the Longford Marathon couldn’t, according to many of its chief organisers, be in better shape.
Standing before a crowd of assembled guests at last week’s launch, Fr Ciaran McGovern recalled the brief exchange he had with another of the committee’s stalwarts-Liam Fenelon.
“It was 2002 and about 18 months before Liam was due to run his 100th marathon. We both came to the conclusion wouldn’t it be nice if he could run it in Longford.”
Almost 150 marathons later, Mr Fenelon now sits on the 241 mark, a feat which Fr McGovern said had been greatly enhanced by the continued success of Longford’s annual 26 mile road race.
“Back then there were only two marathons, Dublin and Belfast. Now there are at least 12 marathons,” he said.
Much of its popularity, he said, had stemmed from a mix of diligent organisation and a warm, considered approach.
“Every marathon tends to have some kind of distinctive feature. Dublin is the capital city and Belfast has the Titanic Museum. At an early stage we decided we needed some feature that would distinguish us from everywhere else so we came up with the slogan, ‘Longford is the friendly marathon in the heart of Ireland.’ That is our mission statement, that is our bottom line. If you come to Longford, you are going to be treated with friendship and helpfulness.”
In a more light hearted twist, the Longford cleric greeted the presence of a four strong contingent from RTE as they prepare to take part in a relay style event.
Admiring the “skinny figures” of Fran McNulty, Sinead Hussey, Fintan Duffy and Ciaran Mullooly, the latter left audience members in raptures with the riposte: “You’re eyes must be getting worse Father.”
As the dining room inside the Longford Arms Hotel returned to relative calm, others including Michael Meaney from chief sponsor Pat the Baker’s and Michael Murray of St Christopher’s spoke glowingly of the marathon’s contribution over the years.
“The marathon has been so important to St Christopher’s in that time,” said Mr Murray. “And I can assure you all that in the context of cutbacks, every penny will be spent very wisely and astutely.”
Volunteerism, it would seem, in Co Longford at least is very much alive and well.