Mountains reflected perfectly onto lakes as smooth as glass, flocks of sheep running through the finish line and Ultra Marathon course records broken by an English man were the talk of the day at the RonHill Connemara Marathon on Sunday. There were as many stories as there were runners when the 3,200 participants gathered in Peacockes Hotel in Maam Cross for the after run refreshments - many of whom dined alfresco to soak up the 19 degrees of glorious sunshine.
'It is one of those days that you truly believe will be a once in a lifetime experience', commented Ray O'Connor, the Connemarathon race director, 'Everything went perfectly from the weather to the traffic management which involved moving 3,200 people around Connemara in a convoy of 70 buses, to the post race celebrations.'
The event sold out four months in advance and entries are already in for the 2011 Connemarathon. It has always been extremely important to the tourism industry in Connemara and Galway City and attracts participants form all over the world.
The Ronhill Connemara Marathon is now regarded as a serious event on the Irish athletics calendar - runners come from far and wide to test their stamina in what is regarded to be one of the most challenging marathons in Europe. The winner of the gruelling 39.3 mile Ultra Marathon was David Kirkland from the UK in a course record time of four hours and three minutes which also gave the winner a well deserved prize of €1,500 and a Galway Crystal trophy. The title was hotly contested by Denis Walmsley from the UK and Russian athlete Vasilily Neumerzhitskiy. The Women's Ultra Winner was Ann Marie Holland from Cork in an impressive five hours and 40 minutes. The full marathon was won by the National Marathon Champion, Sergiu Ciobanu in a time of tw0 hours and 31 minutes. Canadian woman Mary Walsh completed the Full Marathon Course in the winning time of two hours 43 Minutes. Winners of the Half Marathon were Chris Mahoney in one hour 17 and Mairead Finucane in one hour 30.
The success of the Connemarathon has lead the way for a whole host of new events throughout Ireland - nine years ago there was the Dublin, Longford and Belfast Marathon - now there is a marathon or half marathon in nearly every county. This is good for the country on several levels but mainly on the fact that these events encourage people to train and live a more healthy lifestyle.
The Connemara Marathon is organised by running enthusiast Ray O'Connor who has completed 73 Marathons and is preparing to take on the challenge of running 10 marathons in 10 days in Cumbria next month. 'I know exactly what I am letting myself in for' he says, 'I completed the same challenge two years ago - I have trained really well but sometimes ignorance is bliss and the mental challenge will be more of a problem than the physical one.'
So what is the secret ingredient that makes the Connemarathon so successful?
'The scenery is breathtaking even in bad weather, the course is challenging especially as there are very few spectators so the runners bond and help each other through the tougher miles, but I think it is the attention to detail from the organisers that makes this event extra special.”