On the road in Ireland

Three area women finish Dublin Marathon

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2000

It was, according to race officials and publicans alike, the worst weather runners of the Dublin Marathon had seen in 20 years. The air was cold, the wind blew hard, and rain soaked the ancient city's streets. The Dublin Times called it "a three-way tie between the wind, the rain and the air temperature."

It was torture on the runners from Arizona. But for the three Soldotna women who ran with them, it was just another run, albeit a very long one, in the cold.

Soldotna residents Claudia Furlong and Kenda Blanning and Cheri Woods of Kenai joined the Southwestern chapter of Joints In Motion for the 21st Dublin City Marathon on Oct. 30.

Joints in Motion is a program of the Arthritis Foundation in which runners raise money for arthritis research.

Approximately 9,000 people from around the world ran in the Dublin Marathon. There were 7,100 finishers.

Scottish runner Simon Pride won the race, crossing the finish line in 2 hours, 18 minutes and 49 seconds. Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland placed first among the women, with a time of 2 hours, 35 minutes and 42 seconds.

Furlong, Woods and Blanning said the harsh weather added to the difficulty of the race, but noted that it was harder on other runners who were accustomed to the fair weather of warmer climes.

"It did give us an advantage," Woods said.

Apparently. Of all the Southwestern/Arizona chapter female runners, Blanning was the first to cross the finish line, and she was the only one among the chapter's runners, male or female, who qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. Many of those runners, especially among the men, had set qualifying for Boston as personal goals.

"They were disappointed," said Blanning, who ran the 26.2-mile course in 3 hours, 39 minutes and 45 seconds.

Blanning said she does not plan to run in Boston this year.

Furlong and Woods crossed the finish line after 4 hours and 50 minutes, holding hands and supporting each other.

Their mutual emotional support was apparently stronger than any physical support either woman loaned to the other. They literally crashed into the finish line structure, knocking over race officials and spectators, "like Dominoes," Furlong said.

The three women have been running together and with other peninsula runners through the Peninsula Running Club. Blanning and Woods have been running for about 20 years; Furlong has been a runner for less than a year.

Blanning has run several marathons before, including races in Seattle and Tucson, Ariz., the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego, Calif., and the Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage.

Blanning said she first heard about Joints In Motion during the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

"I knew for my next marathon I wanted to run for a cause," she said.

Woods had heard about the program from another runner, Mindee Morning, and she suggested the idea to Furlong.

All three women agreed the experience was extremely rewarding.

"It's very emotional when you run for a cause," Woods said. "It really makes a difference."

In addition to the support they received from their donors and members of the central peninsula community, which Furlong described as "awesome," the women said the Arthritis Foundation helped with accommodations and furnished them with a dinner before the race and a victory party afterward.

But perhaps the most moving display of support, they said, was that shown by a woman actually afflicted with arthritis, who cheered them on from her wheelchair on the sidewalk.

Blanning, Furlong and Woods saw more of Dublin than just the race course, and said they enjoyed a fair glimpse of Irish life.

That way of life was easier to appreciate at some times more than others. The women's hotel room was next to a pub, which stayed open until 3 a.m. and whose patrons patrolled the streets until close to five. That made getting a good night's sleep, of immeasurable importance for marathon runners, difficult.

"It reminded me of what you think of (when you picture) Las Vegas," Blanning said.

The three women did get a chance to enjoy the pub life themselves after the marathon was over. The Arizona Joints In Motion team enjoyed a victory celebration, organized by its travel manager Barb Davis, at a large pub called the Bloody Horse Pub, which had a dance floor and an Irish band playing across from the bar.

"It was pretty rustic," Woods said.

The women also saw several castles and kissed the famous Blarney Stone. They said the Irish people were very hospitable.

Still, it was nice to be home, they said, where everyone congratulated them and praised their achievements.

"It was truly the support (that mattered)," Furlong said, "not even before we left, but after we came back."

All three runners plan to run again for Joints In Motion. Blanning said she wants to organize an Alaska chapter.

"If you've ever wanted to do a marathon, I think doing it internationally was a great experience," she said.

As Joints In Motion participants, each woman originally had to raise $4,400. Blanning was able to raise money more quickly than Furlong and Woods. Once she had met her fund-raising requirements, her additional funds went toward helping them meet the requirement, which was later dropped to $4,000.

Now that the women have participated in one marathon for Joints In Motion, Furlong said, they will only have to raise half as much money next time. About 30 percent of the funds they raise go toward their air fares and accommodations.

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