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Mary Hickey strives for 41st ‘Virtual’ Dublin Marathon

Dublin marathon legend Mary Hickey has a very impressive record to look back on as she heads into her 41st marathon on Saturday, which is now virtual. With the new Level 5 restrictions, that might mean running “zig-zags around my garden,” she tells TheCity.ie‘s Ciaron Noble.

Mary Hickey from Co. Wicklow. Picture courtesy of Mary Hickey.

Mary Hickey (68) from Arklow in Co. Wicklow has competed in every Dublin Marathon since its inception in 1980, being the only woman to have run in every single staging of the event. Although the 41st year of the race won’t be like any of the previous forty races, participants from across the globe will run the race virtually, tracking their progress on an app. 

The 26.2 mile challenge will be done in different settings by everyone. Current restrictions state you cannot travel further than 5km from your home, this will greatly limit how far people can travel while doing the challenge. 

“I’ll start at 7am on Saturday morning and just keep going until I have the 26.2 miles done, even if it’s a case of just doing a zig-zag around my garden, I’ll get it done, it might be a bit boring and repetitive but sure look it is what it is,” said Hickey.

Despite the remarkable times we find ourselves in, it comes as no surprise to most that the Wicklow runner won’t let the pandemic stop her from moving forward and taking part in the event. She has to take part in the race this year to maintain her record as the only female to compete in every Dublin Marathon. She has also had to power through other physical and mental obstacles over this 40-year period.   

In 1989, she was six and a half months pregnant but that didn’t stop her competing in the race. “In those days it was almost taboo for women to exercise while pregnant, never mind doing a marathon.  However, as long as you are fit and healthy and know your own body, you’ll be ok” she said. She had to take her time and make plenty of toilet stops along the way that year.

She admitted that this year’s marathon will be a really challenging task as some illness and staggered training has prevented her from being as physically prepared as she would usually be. 

“I know it’s going to be a struggle and it will be very slow but I don’t care about times anymore like I did in my younger days, I just want to get it finished, that is the most important thing for me”, said Hickey.

The Marathon veteran has done a few virtual events since the pandemic raising much needed money for some worthy causes. She will be doing the event on Saturday to raise money for the Arklow RNLI. She has also convinced four other local friends to do the race, with one more friend doing the half marathon, a ‘strong lady’ who has faced three different types of cancer. “She’s some survivor”, said Hickey. 

The runner touched on the effect the pandemic has had on people’s mental health, understanding that many people will be at the end of their tether. Hickey pleads with people to just ‘dig deep’ as we all hope for better times ahead.

It hasn’t been the easiest road for the runner through injuries and personal grief as she has lost family members over the years, including one of her sons in a tragic incident. “I wonder sometimes how I ever got to the starting line as all these things were happening, but we have to keep going, nothing in life is easy,” she reflected.  

She is a big believer that physical activity is the best medication a doctor can recommend to anyone, urging people to stay motivated and try to look after your physical health as well as your mental health.

In 2019 Hickey reached the milestone of her 40th consecutive Dublin Marathon, keeping up her record as the only female to achieve this feat. But the question is, how long can she keep going?

“To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll do many more, the body is already telling me I need to slow down and take it easy, but as long as the mind is willing and I believe I can do it, we’ll see how it goes.”

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