Determined Sean Hehir records personal best in London Marathon without elite recognition

The Irish marathon runner speaks to about his performance and preparation for the race

BY Cian Roche 11:54 Thursday 4 May 2017, 11:54 4 May 2017

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Sean Hehir describes himself as a "proud" Clare man, but considers his home away from home to be Dublin.

Having spent 15 years of his life in the capital, three in college and 12 years as a teacher, it's funny that the 32-year-old finds himself in a small farmhouse in Wexford.

Issues with his new house, he explains, forced himself and his fiancé Olive down to the modest abode until they got up and running again in Dublin. A small sacrifice, he sees it, for long term gains.

The logistics make for slightly more difficult preparation when getting ready for one of the world's biggest marathons.

"You're up at 5.45am and in Dublin for 7.15am," he tells "I'd do my training, shower and go do my teaching for the day.

"Some days I'd coach the kids after school, train and then we'd be back down in Wexford for 8.30pm that day."

To live like this definitely requires endurance and Hehir knows how gruelling it is to balance the long days with training to perform at the top level.

"It was extremely draining," he admits. "I was struggling.

"Olive tried to explain to me that the arrangements were forcing me to be a bit more disciplined and a bit more patient. My coach, Dick Hooper, very much said the same thing.

"Thankfully by the time I got to March and April, I was beginning to come around."

By this time, the training began to peak. Strong performances in Paris and Berlin's half-marathons left him primed for London, but the journey which presented so many obstacles wasn't about to get any easier.

Hehir qualified for the London Marathon with a championship entry - a sub 2:45:00 time in a full marathon in 2015 or 2016, or a sub 1:15:00 half-marathon over the same time-frame.

Elite Entry

The difficulty for championship level entries is that they don't garner the same advantages as the elite entry athletes taking part.

If you're given an elite pass, runners are looked after with dedicated drinks tables every five kilometres and are given access to the top of the group when beginning. This year, a warm-up area for championship entries was unavailable.

"It means you have to get to the race area very early. You’re lining up an hour or an hour and a half before the race is supposed to start.

"You’ve got 40,000 people in the starting area, so you have to make sure you’re in the front row if you want to get a good time.

"Last year they had a section laid out for the championship runners to warm-up in, this year it wasn’t there. I was warming up in a small enclosure where people are queuing for port-a-loos."

Even something as simple as getting water on board is a challenge when you when you aren't in the top bracket of athletes competing.

"Last year because I knew I didn’t have elite entry and I knew it was going to be warm, my Mum, Dad, coach, my coach's daughter and my girlfriend were around the course at different points trying to get my drinks to me.

"Because of the masses that are out supporting, I only got three bottles. I came completely undone. I wobbled home."

London Marathon organisers have for the past two years denied his request to be given an elite entry. "They declined the request and basically told me, be thankful you have an entry."

Hehir has even had to turn to representatives from Athletics Ireland and the Dublin Marathon for assistance - officials who have both been rebuffed - and cited the fact that he's run faster than some elite athletes during his performances in the past two years.

"I’d like to think if I asked for it again, my request would be facilitated going forward."

Sean Hehir representing Ireland in the men's marathon at the 2014 European Athletics Championships in Zurich. Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy


The difficulties don't discourage him. He has had to remind himself time and again that it's a question of patience. 

"It’s not ideal but I just told myself, just bottle this. When I'm hurting in the last 10km, I used this. When they put challenges in your way, it’s a nice thing to draw on.

"I ran a personal best performance despite the obstacles put in my way. I can’t complain, I’ve the World Championships to look forward to this summer.

"I could have gone to Hamburg or somewhere else where I could have had my requests facilitated, but I wouldn’t have had the quality of guys to run with and the quality of the route to run.

"Before London last weekend I was a 2:17:00 guy."

Last year's performance of 02:17:20 was bested last month as Hehir proudly registered 02:16:18. The result was achieved in spite of the difficulties on the day, but a testament to the grit and determination of Hehir as an athlete.

"The first few weeks training in January were the toughest. But it made me ask myself, 'how bad do I want it?' When you’re not getting the return on the training, that can be damaging.

"That’s where it’s beneficial to have a good coach in your corner and a good family. Their support counts when you try and have faith that the training will work and the training is going to pay off."

His result comes purely from the love of the sport. Without a sponsor, Hehir has had to fund himself with gear. The Dublin Marathon have stepped in to assist with his travel and accommodation for races abroad, something admits he is grateful to have.

Because he has not reached performance standards to become a carded athlete with Sport Ireland, he's not entitled to funding from the body.

But Hehir hasn't been hardened by the any of these disadvantages and insists he hasn't taken his eyes off what the sport means to him. 

"At the end of the day, this is a hobby, it’s something I love doing and I’m passionate about it. I dedicate myself to it.

"I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had with athletics."

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