I’ve read loads of race reports before and they are a combination of a suspense thriller and a stamp collector’s description of his latest find so as this is my first report I’m not sure whether it will come out as a suspense thriller or a stamp collector’s tale.
To set the scene, this was my 7th marathon and they had gone something like this (in terms of mental head wrecker): Hell, Great, Greater, Hell, DNF and Ok. A longer way of describing them would be that the first one was realising you had signed up for something horrible and realised you weren’t ‘that’ into it, the next two were a better (read – the training went well, the conditions were good and the result was better than expected). The next 2 (Hell and DNF) can be characterised by the following words: medical tent, drip, cardiologist, virus, angry wife, cop-on. The Ok marathon was basically me realising that in order to run a good marathon you had to run well within yourself no matter what the out-come was on your result and you could not go balls out like you would on anything up to 15 miles and get away with it.
Which leads to last Monday’s marathon.
I had decided that I was going to stick to home races this year (partially because of the recession and partially because sitting in a novotel in some European pos- war industrialised town eating pasta on a portable stove makes you realise that you are a bit of a nutter). Anyway, I stuck in an entry for this race back in March and got on with the training. The training went well (which might be something I’ll note for future events but probably won’t) and I only had one minor injury – the tight hip – easily solved by giving some money to a man to manipulate my hips – and the taper was the usual mix of am I over eating?/not resting enough?/head wrecker.
There was one other non-running injury: Last week I had done ‘something’ to one of my ribs (a muscle or a cracked rib) and it was healing well until I put some neurofen gel on it before bed. Then I slept on it and when I woke up I couldn’t bend over on the sore rib. I could still take a full breath on the ribs so I decided to hope for the best and run trough the pain.
I collected my race pack on Saturday and met the usual host of people who make marathon running seem normal – the girl who had run from one end of Ireland to the other in 5 ½ days; her husband who was running the marathon in his fireman’s gear, they guy who was pushing the ‘bog-trotter’s marathon’ and so on.
In order to test my mental reserves my wife arranged for us to visit a student art exhibition on Saturday afternoon. When you bring children with you to an art exhibition you only need the following words: don’t. touch. It.
On Sunday I couldn’t take the sitting around anymore, my legs were jigging like an extra from Riverdance after 2 days of rest so I went for a 2 mile run. I did an out and back on mile 20/21 of the marathon course. It was about 20 degrees C and my pace was about 7:56 for a 155HR. After all the rest an food this was supposed to be 7:30 pace for 135HR – I could not say that my nerves were settled but at least the idle feeling was gone from my legs and I was a bit more tolerable to be with. The rib was ok but the first mile was painful, still, it settled after that. I must have given the impression of enjoying the art visit from the previous day because we ended up in Ballymaloe House at another art exhibition complete with small children who wanted to touch everything.
I hit the bed at the usual time but like a school child the night before a school trip I didn’t get much sleep but was relieved to hear driving rain when I got up at 6:00am for the mandatory bowl of porridge and honey. For anybody who has read this blog will know that I am not very good in the heat so anything other than that keeps me happy.
I got a lift from my brother-in-law to the start. He was running the relay with his wife so they went back to get ready for that as I braved the elements and jogged to the start. I met Brendan at City Hall and had a brief chat with him. I explained to him that I wasn’t really up for a day of suffering to which he replied ‘why the hell are you running a marathon then?’
There wasn’t too much hanging around at the start and following the start of the wheelchair race the gun went off for the main race. I had lined up about 30 seconds from the start and had decided to run at whatever pace seemed tolerable and then decide what to do after 4 or 5 miles.
I ditched the bin bag and put on the sun glasses and set off.
The sun glasses are like on of those superstitions that everyone has. They were a bit pointless on the day that was in it but they kept the wind out of my eyes.
Miles 1 – 5
7:45, 7:41, 7:40, 7:35, 7:41
These miles went by very comfortably and there was a conscious effort to hold back so that I didn’t over commit too early. I felt fine but the easterly wind that was blowing a driving rain into your face for part of mile 1 and all of miles 3 to 5 was pretty uncomfortable. Still, I enjoy the rain and my only concern was that my core temperature would drop later in the race.
Around mile 4, going down the low road I got into running with two others. One was a guy wearing an Eagles AC top and the other was a guy who I ran with on and off from miles 4 through to mile 18. I found out later that his name is Eoin Field and I would highly recommend him as a running partner. He was chatty, funny and very supportive to me and to others who we met and ran with. He saluted and acknowledged every supporter we met.
At mile 5 we hit the first relay change over point. The wall of sound and support was fantastic and I was still very comfortable and able to enjoy the atmosphere. I realised later that I was upping the pace at the relay change over point (the running fast past the fit looking chick syndrome) and by the third relay change over I had managed to slow down.
Miles 6 – 10
7:45, 7:45, 7:38, 7:47, 7:39
With the first change over point behind us I was time to settle in and get on with things. The easterly wind was still with us all the way to mile 7 where we met our first gentle hill. I used to regard any hill I met with a phobia normally reserved for spiders but through plenty of aversion therapy I have learnt to love them. In previous marathons I had always take energy gels at every half hour but I had been sipping on a lucozade for the first few miles so I had postponed the gel until mile 7.
After mile 7 we hit the Jack Lynch tunnel under the river Lee. I agree with Thomas that the Garmin always gets the distance wrong (I recorded 26.44 miles) even though I followed the racing line religiously but when we got to the Jack Lynch tunnel the had cordoned off the racing line for recovery vehicles. Not the best.
Mile 8 and 9 were on the N25 road and slipped by in no time at all. I ran beside a guy from East Down A.C. and was able to give him some advice on what the next few miles would be like. We were approaching my hunting ground and I knew I could run the next 8 miles in my head easily.
Mile 10 took us through Mahon and onto the second relay change over point. This was slightly downhill. At this stage we were all soaked through to the bone and it was really only a question of whether you were running into the rain or away from the rain.
Miles 11 – 15
7:31, 7:47, 7:54, 8:05, 7:45
Mile 11 was another one of those running too fast through the marathon relay change over point but it felt fine and I only noticed it once I studied the Garmin data at the end of the race.
Miles 12 and 13 had such extreme weather as to be almost a comedy. We were running along the coastline on an amenity walk with a driving rain almost pushing you off the path. At the start of mile 12 I came across some ladies walking their Labradors against the marathon runners. I had expected loads of different things but to be hit by a dog was not one of them. The slower times for miles 12 & 13 were basically because of the head wind and because I was running behind slower runners. I had decided that it was better to hide behind a slower runner than to push on on my own through the head wind.
I hit the 13 mile mark in 1:41:37. This was based on the chip timer. I don’t know why they didn’t put the timing mat at the halfway point but I was satisfied with this time. I still felt fine and now knew that I would be on for an enjoyable day.
The time for mile 14 was slower mainly because I had stopped for a piss. I had been toying with stopping from about mile 10 for a piss and had contemplated pissing while running but I haven’t reached that level of ‘commitment’ yet!
By this stage I was running with Eoin again and another lad called Sean O’Mahony who ran for UCC AC and we were on my turf. The marathon route was now along a sheltered railway line that had been converted into an amenity walk. Of the 5 or 6 days of running I might do a week I would run this route at least 4 time so I was actually running with my eyes closed at some stages. We were getting close to the 16 mile mark and Eoin kept telling us that from that point we were in single figures. That was a reassuring mantra. I still wasn’t suffering but I did find myself cooling down the legs and the back of the neck with water to keep myself fresh and focused.
The legs were holding up reasonably well. The ‘good’ leg was sending pain signals from the hamstring but nothing too serious. The calves were in good condition but I was a little worried that I might cramp at some stage. My liquids intake was lower than normal because of the weather and the piss stop. I took the second of 4 gels around the 15.5 mile mark. I also took a water sponge on board (why, I don’t know) and kept it tucked into the elastic of the fuel belt.
Miles 16 – 20
7:41, 7:39, 7:50, 7:56, 7:57
Mile 16 took us through the next relay change over point and the run through the change over point was starting to become a real boost. The field had thinned out at this stage and the relay runners at the change over really seemed to appreciate the effort being put by the full marathon runners.
At mile 17 I had a few gels to be collected from one of the volunteers manning a water table. The collection of the gels went very well and this marked one of my internal mental goals for getting around the course.
Mile 17 and 18 marked the end of the flat section of the route and the start of some hills to mile 21.
By mile 18 we were running through Turner’s Cross and it was at this stage that Sean (or maybe Eoin) formally announced that ‘it was starting to get tough’. My mumbled answer was to embrace the pain and not to fight it. I was a few feet in front of them at that stage and I was still feeling fine so I decided to hold my pace and see how long I could keep going with out a blow-up. I wasn’t aware of the drop in pace that the Garmin shows up but we were now approaching the end game in terms of whether my original plan to set out at a steady pace would hold true.
Mile 19 and 20 were generally up-hill and although it was gentle the field had started to throw up casualties. The weather was still pretty bad but it was vying with lots of other things for attention now. I had entered that zone where you start to feed like a vulture scavenging off the failings of others. I was spending my time eyeing people up in front of me who were clearly suffering at the wall and in pain and I was using that to drive myself on. It’s never pretty but it does allow you to objectify the stupidity of what you’re doing.
At mile 20 I had hidden a bottle of lucozade in a garden hedge in case I needed it. I had realised that water and gels were what I was going to use for the rest of the race so I let it pass. At mile 20 we had reached the high point of the course and it was now a drop down to mile 21, a climb to mile 22 and then downhill or flat all the way home.
Miles 21 – 26.2
7:54, 7:56, 7:52, 7:52, 7:52, 7:53, 3:08
My support team had made it to Rodger Casement Park at mile 20.5. Before I could see them we were confronted by the sight of a full funeral cortege travelling towards us. As we slogged up the last hill but one I turned to the guy beside me and said: ‘this must be some sort of a joke!’ Still, I spotted my mother, Finola my wife and my 3 kids just after that and Finola had to go into action as the official photographer, gel provider, cheer leader and water carrier. It was like watching a formula 1 pit stop.
I got a huge hit from meeting them there and I knew now that no matter what pain I encountered from here on in I was going to enjoy the whole thing.
Mile 22 brought up the last marathon relay change over point. I didn’t need to moderate my pace for this one as fatigue had done it for me. Just after mile 22 we went down the last hill and turned onto Inchigaggin lane. I was really starting to appreciate the support been shown by those that had come out to brave the wind and rain to cheer us on.
At about mile 22.5 we turned onto the ‘straight road’. We now had about 1.5 miles of a dead flat, dead straight road with a wind and rain blowing straight into us. In previous years people had complained that you never seemed to make any progress on this road because the buildings at mile 24 never appeared to get closer. There was no need to worry this year because the low cloud and rain had obscured everything.
At mile 23 (by the mile markers as opposed to the Garmin which was now a good 500m off the markers) I went through in 3:00:03 and knew that I would make it home in the 3:20-3:30 bracket. I had set 3 target times for myself at the start: 3:25 for a good day, 3:30 for an average day and 3:35 for a tough day.
I was feeling very good now (better than I should have been) and at mile 24 I found my self cracking jokes with the motorcycle cops marshalling the route.
Mile 24 took us up past the mardyke area and Fitzgerald’s Park. I collected my last few water bottles at mile 25 and dug in for the last push.
At mile 25.5 I spotted Dan Kennedy, a St. Finbarrs AC runner I’ve overlapped with in a few marathons and local 5ks before (despite his being 18 years my senior and having a pretty impressive track record). I decided I’d try and kick to catch him but I think he had the same idea so I couldn’t get to him. I knew he would have started near the front so I would probably have him on the chip anyway.
The Garmin had beeped about 500m before the 26 mile marker – hence the 3:08 for the last 0.44 mile. This was a 7:04 Garmin pace.
With Dan away in front of me I had the 300m of the finishing chute from St. Patrick’s Bridge to the tape to myself – and I enjoyed every minute of it. I aeroplaned and zig-zagged down the road, I whopped the crowd, high-fived my kids and had my name called out over the loud speakers. I was absolutely delighted with myself – the proverbial dog with two cocks.
I crossed the line with 3:25:27 on my Garmin and this was confirmed as my chip time later.
I felt fine afterwards and my average heart rate of 161 confirmed that I had run well within my abilities. I had excluded any sort of speed work in favour of an aerobic base so the idea of hanging on for 10 miles in the anaerobic zone was never on the cards.
I could have gone faster but with the idea of building on this for an autumn marathon I think my plan worked out as well as I could have hoped for.
Afterwards I met my family and the mastermind behind www.racepix.com and I got another medal from my kids – A chocolate medallion with ‘number 1 dad’ stamped on it.
The support out on the course was sparse but really appreciated. Given the bad weather conditions I’d rather have the few but dedicated supporters – they were like an extra energy gel.
On the general organisation of the event I think that of the 7 marathons I’ve run it is up there in the top 2 for organisation. The only hitch I could find was the lady walking her Labradors on the narrow part of the marathon course at mile 12. Not a very big gripe really.
I think I’ll enjoy the next few months and run for fun before deciding what the next challenge is going to be. It’ll either be another marathon or an ultra. The training will lead.
I’m up-loading this from a hotel WiFi so the photos will be added later.