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Kim Cowart
Christian and Kimberly Cowart sport their finisher's medals outside the U2 concert venue.

DUBLIN, Ireland — Last week I fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing a U2 concert in Ireland. Whenever we plan a trip, we always look to see if there are any local races we can run while we’re there. As luck would have it, the Dublin Marathon was happening the morning of our concert in Belfast.

My husband and I decided that it would be an incredible adventure to run the race Sunday morning and drive to Belfast for the concert that evening. We had general admission tickets, which would mean standing at least five hours. As exhausting as it sounds, we decided it was worth the effort and signed up to run.

Why on earth would we put ourselves through such a physical challenge knowing the long night we had ahead of us?

Of course there’s the sightseeing aspect of running 26.2 miles through a city. Dublin's streets are notoriously narrow. We ran through neighborhoods and parks no tour bus could take us. Far from the touristy epicenter of the city, we saw open fields with sheep and cows, local pubs, schools, bike parks and churches. We were able to catch a glimpse of what living in Dublin really looked like, even if only for a moment.

And then there’s the party-like feel of running outside our hometown. For good or for bad, Utah has many marathons to choose from. You could run a race almost every weekend during the spring and fall, and even a few during the winter. But most big cities have one big marathon. The benefit is everyone comes out for it. Dublin boasted 20,000 runners this year. The buildup to race day wasn’t just hype. The pre-race energy was electric around the expo and around city. And it wasn’t just the runners who turned out on race day. The spectators were there in full force, too. Almost every mile was packed with cheerleaders boosting our spirits and handing out candy and water. I never once had to reach for the fuel I’d brought! To add to the party atmosphere were the DJ’s along the course revving up the crowd. It was truly a citywide event.

But the best reason to run in a different country is the chance you have to connect to the community. Seeing a country from the window of a tour bus isn’t all bad, but you’re removed from the people. A country is more than its monuments and buildings. A country is defined by its citizens. When you run a race, you become part of that community, if only for a few hours. You have time to strike up conversations with people whose paths you would otherwise never cross.

Running past mile 15, the local DJ yelled to the crowd, “And it’s Kimberly from the USA! Put your hands in the air for Kimberly!” Suddenly I had hundreds of Irish men, women and children cheering for me by name! I put my hands in the air, too, in mutual celebration. Whether I was high-fiving fellow racers before the race started or chatting my way through miles 8-10 through Phoenix Park, I felt truly connected to the people around me in a way I never have in a tour group.

3 comments on this story

The Dublin Marathon, like Berlin, Amsterdam and New York, has its own personality. New York starts every race with “New York, New York” playing runners over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Berlin takes its runners through the ghost of the Berlin Wall. And Dublin boasts a specific Irish friendly chattiness. Even the woman in front of me in the line for the bathrooms shook my hand and wished me the best of luck! And of course there’s the can of beer awaiting every finisher in their finish line goodie bag.

But what I’ve learned through running around the world is that in the end, we are all more alike than not. Our accents may sound different, and we may have varying political perspectives, but mile 20 hurts for everyone the same. The start line nerves are the same. The pride and joy when that medal is placed around our neck is the same. As Bono says, “I want to run. …”