The launch of this year’s Longford Marathon took place in the Longford Arms Hotel on Thursday, August 15, with Abbott revealed as the title sponsors for the 18th annual event on Sunday, August 25.
Since the inaugural event in 2002, which was held to mark the 100th marathon completed by Ballinalee man Liam Fenelon, the marathon has grown from strength to strength. For Liam, he developed a passion for marathons at the ripe age of 42 and has since completed in excess of 300 altogether. Liam will partake in the Longford marathon once again this year at the age of 77 years young.
“The first day he went running I think he actually went running in his shoes,” Liam's daughter and committee member Fiona Fenelon remarked.
“He was very much into eating healthily, he never smoked, he never drank and I guess when he was 42, he decided he would start doing a bit of exercise.
“Back then, people were nearly surprised to see someone out running on the road. They would nearly think you were a bit crazy,” Fiona chuckled.
What is interesting is that the idea to host the very first Longford marathon came via a casual conversation between Liam and Fr McGovern, the latter of which has served as chair of the organising committee ever since.
Fiona explained: “When we had our inaugural Longford marathon, at that point there were only two other marathons in Ireland, Belfast, Dublin and Longford. We were the third, which was a huge deal.
“It is a testament to us that we are still here and the competition has gotten very strong over the years.”
At the recent launch night, Committee chair, Fr Kieran McGovern, acknowledged the inspiration and zeal of Liam Fenelon, who has been at the core of the event since its inception. He also welcomed this year’s new title sponsors, Abbott, and noted that their commitment to “helping people live their best lives through better health” fitted in with the ethos of Longford Marathon.
Fiona said of Abbott coming on board: “We are delighted to have Abbott on board. It is a fantastic profile for the event because they are synonymous with the World Marathon majors.
“To have them as our main sponsor is amazing. They are a great employer locally and they are very involved within the local community, which is fantastic.”
Fiona also wished to take time to thank Pat the Baker, previous title sponsors of the event.
She said: “Pat the Baker was a fantastic sponsor for nine years.
“Normally for the sponsorship of marathons it is usually a two or three-year cycle, so to have Pat the Baker supporting the event for nine years was amazing.
“They will be supplying bread for the weekend of the marathon as well, so they still have some involvement in the event.”
Conor Murphy, site director for Abbott, said of the new sponsorship: “Our sponsorship of the Abbott Longford Marathon celebrates what people can achieve with good health.
“Abbott delivers life-changing health technologies to help people live their fullest lives. Marathons are an excellent demonstration of what’s possible with good health and represent tangible opportunities to bring our core beliefs to life.
In conclusion he said: “Our diagnostics facility in Longford employs over 500 people, and we are proud to support this local marathon and support our employees from across Ireland who plan on running in one of the many race categories.”
The 18th annual event is expected to welcome in excess of 1,000 participants, a far cry from the 200+ runners who partook in the event back in 2002.
“We have a lot of runners who come back year after year. There are also a lot of people who have participated in all of the races,” Fiona explained.
“We will have approximately twenty countries represented this weekend.” she continued.
The charity partner for this year’s event is St Christopher’s, who have been the main benefactors of the event since its foundation.
Fiona said: “St Christopher’s are our charity partner. Any profits we have from the event, St Christopher’s would reap the benefits of that.
“That is how it has been right from the beginning. It is a very long-standing relationship with St Christophers. They are an amazing local service and a very important service.
Continuing she said: “Originally we were doing this as a one-off event, we weren’t looking at years to come or anything. We thought it could be a disaster or it could be a success, but we got fantastic support that first year.
“At the end of it, we had a very big sum of money as we are very frugal. So, we decided that St Christopher’s would be a very cause. We got such good support locally, so it made sense to put that back into the locality.”
At the launch night, CEO of St Christopher's Services in Longford, Derek Scanlon, thanked the organisers for their generous support over the past 18 years. Mr Scanlon said there had been a series of funding cuts to the service in recent years and says the generous support of the public, through initiatives like the Longford Marathon, have helped them continue to provide a high level of service to their clients.
Fiona wished to thank both local businesses and the Longford public for their continued support of the marathon, before calling for furher support again this year.
She told the Leader: “We are known as the friendly marathon in the heart of Ireland. The runners get so much support along the route from all of the locals and they absolutely love it.
“There is such a good atmosphere in the town as well.
“I would ask people to come out and support the event and if anybody would like to come onboard as a volunteer we would be delighted,” she added.
As well as the usual calendar of events, this year’s marathon will feature the 'Streets of Longford 5K Course' for the third year. The 63.42 km Ultra Marathon and the 42.25km Marathon Walk will start at 07:00am on Sunday, August 25, and the Marathon, Half Marathon and Relay Marathon all start at 09:00 am.
The half marathon course distance is 21.15 km, with the full marathon course distance of 42.25 km. Registration is still open for those looking to take part, which you can complete at www.longfordmarathon.com.
Fiona adds: “We are still taking entries up until Saturday, August 24, at our race headquarters in the Longford Arms hotel. People can still enter all of the events up until 6pm.
“Alternatively, people can enter online at longfordmarathon.com right up until midnight on Friday night,” Fiona concluded.