The Echo Women's Mini Marathon had more than 10,000 entries at its peak

ELAINE DUGGAN talks to Cork County Board AAI, the driving force behind The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon for the past four decades, and hears about the huge logistical undertaking involved in organising the event, every year
The Echo Women's Mini Marathon had more than 10,000 entries at its peak

Spectators cheer on the runners near the end of the 1983 Echo Women's Mini Marathon.

FROM small acorns great oak trees grow - and so it has been with The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon.

The race began with between 200 to 300 participants back in 1982 - but at its peak over the years it had more than 10,000 annual entries.

So how did the race begin? Cork County Board AAI, Assistant Treasurer, Pat Walsh explained that the event began 40 years go, after the Examiner and Echo athletics correspondent, Brendan Mooney and Cork BLE Chair (now Cork County Board AAI) Reg Hayes had a conversation.

It was around this time that road running was getting popular and they decided to have a road race, inviting the public to take part, with a big focus on charity from day one.

He said: “The Echo event was one of the earliest versions.

“From the start there was a big focus on charities.”

For many years the race started on Academy Street, in Cork city centre, the former home of The Echo and Irish Examiner - but many will be familiar with it’s most recent home on Centre Park Road, finishing at Kennedy Park.

 Runners setting off at the start of The Echo Women's Mini Marathon back in 1984.
 Runners setting off at the start of The Echo Women's Mini Marathon back in 1984.

The mini marathon is a really big event logistically and an unbelievable amount of work goes into it, year in, year out, all on a voluntary basis.

It is driven by a committee of around 10 people from Cork County Board AAI - many who have given decades of service to the organisation.

The main race directors over the years have included, Reg Hayes, Fr Liam O’Brien, Pat Walsh from 1988 to 1995, Paddy Buckely who served 21 years, starting in 1996 (the assistant director was Pat Walsh) and in 2017 Bill Allen took over and remains in charge (the assistant director, is John Quigley).

While this year’s virtual race will be very different, I spoke to Pat Walsh to find out about what a typical year’s work organising the event would be like.

Kay McShane from Cobh going well in the 1983 mini marathon.
Kay McShane from Cobh going well in the 1983 mini marathon.

Pat explained that no sooner would the mini marathon supplement be published, in the days after the race, with all the results in The Echo, and the committee would be picking a date for the following year. The date would get popped in the calendar and the committee of 10 would then meet to review that year’s race, to see what went well, what didn’t go well, and discuss new ideas and recommendations, which they would then bring to The Echo.

Nothing then happens for a few months, Pat explains, until maybe March the following year, when the gears would go up a notch and they’d start working on the event for that September - talking to sponsors, pinning down launch dates, etc

One major task over the years was finding items for the goody bags, but in recent years that is all handled by goodybags.ie

Pat said, nearer to the event, three months or so before, they begin meetings with gardaí, to talk about the course and road closures, etc.

They also meet with Cork City Council and Bus Eireann - all the official bodies affected by road closures on race day. They publish the road closure notice in the paper, to tell the public about them.

They also have to contact ambulance crews - the Red Cross, Order of Malta and Civil Defence, to give them the date - with around three months to go, as they all provide vital support on the day.

The committee then meet monthly, or every three weeks - until closer to the event, when they meet weekly.

Pat said: “An event of that size involves a lot of organising.

“We have to have everything sorted.

“You have to have time on your side, to make adjustments.”

In previous years there was a race office set up - at the former Examiner/ Echo office on Academy Street, or at Roches Stores, or Debenhams in the weeks leading up to the race. There was always a good reception there. That office was manned by volunteers, many of whom would take holidays off work to give their time. Pat described these volunteers as hardy annuals, in it for the long run, fully reliable and hard workers.

Mary Murphy, Tower Street, Cork limbering up before the Echo Ladies Mini Marathon  in 1984.
Mary Murphy, Tower Street, Cork limbering up before the Echo Ladies Mini Marathon  in 1984.

The committee would keep in touch with The Echo daily, to keep them up to date, doing press, checking in on race numbers, etc.

The day itself is a big undertaking to organise. It begins very early in the morning, and the roads would be closed off, and signs put up.

Around 90 volunteers are involved on the day - including the civil defence - but primarily Cork County Board AAI’s own club members, from around the county.

Deliveries arrive from before 8am - everything from the bottles of water to portaloos (there could be 25 to 26 of these).

“We have a list of things arriving every hour, or half hour,” said Pat.

A race office would operate from 10am to deal with the last few entries, there usually would be a few hundred signing up on the day itself. The race office would be set up on Victoria Road, again manned by volunteers.

As well as this, the volunteers need to set up the microphone systems for announcements.

The stage also gets set up for music and the warm up exercises - all adding to that electric atmosphere that we all know and love.

The speeches are also given on this stage by the different parties involved.

The race itself then starts with the wheelchair participants - who set off 10 minutes before everyone else, then its the athletes, who line up at the start, with other runners/ joggers and walkers behind them… And then they are all off.

It’s a scene that has been played out so many times, over the past 40 years. We won’t witness it this year again, due to Covid. But here’s hoping that we will be back with a live event, in 2022 - as great as the past 40 years.

HOW TO TAKE PART THIS YEAR

The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon virtual race day goes ahead this year on September 19. But don’t worry, if you can’t do your virtual 6k on that date, you can do it between Friday, September 16 and 26.

Registration this year is as follows;

a) Early Bird, 10 euro = includes a race number and medal b) After Early Bird Closes = 15 euro There will be the option for people to set up an iDonate fundraising page for registered charities.

You can register for the event at the new site: www.echolive.ie/minimarathon 

Also keep an eye on social media @theechominimarathon

More in this section

Sponsored Content

summersoaplogosml

Called Droid, our next story is about a boy who designs a robot at UCC and chaos ensues. It was written by Margaret Gillies, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC.

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more