Long after Haile Gebrselassie, the marathon world-record holder, had crossed the finishing line to collect his third victory in the Dubai event, Gerry O'Leary was still attempting to make a name for himself yesterday in his own special way.
Mr O'Leary had set his heart on the rather dubious honour of finishing the Dubai Marathon last. He achieved his feat with a time of 7hr27min05sec, finishing the 42.2km route more than five hours behind the Ethiopian winner: 5hr20min46sec later, to be precise. By the time he made it across the line, the roads had already been opened to traffic and Gebrselassie had finished the after-race press conferences hours before and was probably sitting with his feet up, taking a well-earned rest
Mr O'Leary, however, could not have been happier with his own performance. He said: "I worked out I could walk the marathon in seven hours. I saw that the last one in the previous marathon had finished in 6hr19min and I thought, 'Hey, I am going to be the slowest.' "I thought the only way I couldn't do it was if there was some 95-year-old beating me to the tailgate." "I had it drop it down a gear to make sure I stayed at the back, and that actually made it more difficult. I could have done it an hour quicker."
Mr O'Leary, 47, an architectural photographer from County Kerry in Ireland, who was "running" to raise awareness, as well as funds, for multiple sclerosis sufferers in the UAE, added: "I wanted to be able to tell my grandkids not my kids, they are teenagers and they'd just say, 'Dad, you are so embarrassing' that the day Gebrselassie won the Dubai Marathon, I ran against him. I won at the other end, at the rear end."
Mr O'Leary summed up the spirit of yesterday's Dubai Marathon: an event not just for professional runners but ordinary people keen to achieve a personal victory. Among the record field of 12,000 runners who stood at the start line in Dubai Media City early yesterday morning for the Dubai Marathon, 10km and 3km fun run, there was Nicky Green, 37, running her seventh marathon and her second in Dubai to benefit cancer research. Her grandmother lost a battle against stomach cancer in her early 60s; her aunt is a breast-cancer survivor.
Henry Wanyoike, 35, who lost his sight 15 years ago, finished 16th in the 10km race after competing with a guide and running partner. Graham Rafferty, the co-ordinator of the Dubai Road Runners club, was running with his son Christopher, who suffers from a rare congenital disorder that causes muscle weakness and was attempting his first marathon. Another runner pursuing an extraordinary goal of his own crossed the line in 3hr35min18sec. Tristan Miller, an IT specialist who lost his job when Google closed its Melbourne office last year, was running the fourth race of a planned 52 marathons in 52 weeks.
Mr Miller, 33, who was scheduled to catch a flight from Dubai last night in order to run in the Canary Islands tomorrow, said: "I actually had a bad first half due to a few reasons. "But just knowing I was running in the footsteps of my hero, the great Gebrselassie, meant I was able to crank it up in the second half and I was just flying after that." Further back in the 10km, Carlton Palmer, a former England footballer who now works at Repton School in Dubai, looked sprightly as he crossed the finish line, just ahead of a man pushing his baby in a pram. They were followed closely by a Welsh woman carrying an inflatable sheep on her back.
Mark Cowley, a teacher at Wellington International School, in Dubai, completed his second marathon, thanks to a little bit of help from his wife, Sue. They had run together on their first trip around the Dubai course 12 months earlier. Although Mrs Cowley opted for the 10km this time around, her work for the day did not end there. "She did come and see me out on the course when she had finished the 10k," Mr Cowley said.
She ran about 5k with him late in the race, "which was handy, because I was struggling a bit at that point". The more serious business was taken care of by Mr Gebrselassie in 2hr06min09sec, well off his own world record of 2hr03min59sec set in Berlin in 2008. He failed to collect the US$1 million (Dh3.67) bonus which had been offered as an incentive for a world record, but earning $250,000 for finishing first.
Mr Gebrselassie, 36, needed intensive physiotherapy ahead of the race just to make the start line, after falling asleep while watching television and waking with a stiff back. "It was not a good night and when I woke up this morning my back was in a bad position," he said. "At halfway I decided just to win the race" and give up an attempt at a record. "With all the spectators at the finish line, it would be unbelievable. I could not lose in front of them."
Chala Dechase Beyene, of Kenya, finished second to Mr Gebrselassie in 2hr06min33sec. Mamitu Daska Molisa made it an Ethiopian sweep of titles as she won the women's race in 2hr24min18sec, eight seconds ahead of another Ethiopian, Aberu Kebede Shewaye. The women's 10km race was won by Emma Philips of Britain, while Outhmane Chaibi won the men's 10km. firstname.lastname@example.org
Read The National's RAK Half Marathon Blog .