This post is mainly about running the 2011 Cork City Marathon and if I can weave in a deep and meaningful conclusion I’ll put that in there as well.
My training for this marathon had gone well. When I say well I mean I did lots of running and enjoyed it all – except for having to get up early – I’ll never enjoy that. I was really running to get fit as I’d taken the foot off the gas after the Dublin City Marathon last October.There was no speed programme to speak of so it was mainly aerobic training in the sub-145HR zone for me.
In order to stop myself getting too stressed out about this marathon I had also decided to try an Ultra in the Autumn – As I type this my quads and my family are looking at me with a look that does not say ‘we love you’.
The pre-race stuff all went well – I collected the race pack on Saturday and for the first time ever I didn’t feel nervous – the laxative type of nervousness. I met Grellan out on the street afterwards and we chatted about Thomas’s sore knee and hoped he’d make it through the race in one piece. Apart from that it was just the usual rattiness that comes from not running and having to eat too much.
My only tip on the carb loading is to eat spagetthi as opposed to penne. The spaghetthi is much easier to eat – less fork time.
On Sunday night I realised that we had no energy drinks left in the house – the kids had been stealing them. I nipped out to buy a few at the local Centra and stuck one in a hedge at mile 20 – it’s a bit of a just in case – if the wheels are falling off at that stage you have a bit of a mental goal to get to the drink. While I was out my brother-in-law dropped around a relay band for his wife’s marathon relay team. She was short 2 people to run on her team so I was volunteered to run the first 2 legs of the relay. This was not a big deal as it just meant wearing a wrist band and looking out for Fran (brother in law’s wife).
Monday dawned and the sun was blazing in the sky. Not an ounce of cloud cover. This was the total opposite to the forecast and as I stepped out the door (after the regulation taping of the nipples, bowl of porridge, espresso & emptying of the bomb bay) I just shrugged and thought – if today is hard for me, it’ll be hard for everyone.
This, for anybody who knows me, is about as zen as I get when running a marathon. I am normally the guy having about 20 nervous pisses in every doorway between the car and the start line. I was pissing in my lucozade bottle at the start of the Dublin marathon last year (I wasn’t drinking it for anybody who thinks this is a fetish site).
This ‘let what happens happen’ approach would more or less dictate my race strategy. I decided to run by feel and neither get too upset nor excited if things went wrong or right.
The gun went and off we went. The first 5 miles or so are all pretty flat and take you around the city centre and onto the eastern approach to the city. I was running on my own with no one to chat to and pretty soon settled into a reasonable pace. The first 5 miles went by in 7:39, 7:42, 7:34, 7:29 & 7:31.
It felt warmer than I was happy with and the first squirt of water over my head at mile 4 made me realise that I was going to need plenty of liquids for cooling and concentration. As the race went on I found that my body temperature was fine – the day started to get cooler from about mile 6 as cloud cover crept in and there was even a shower after the halfway point but the one side effect of my ‘at peace with the world’ approach to the race was that I found my concentration was drifting all the time. I found that a squirt of water to the eyes or the base of the neck was needed to re-focus the concentration every mile or so (for the second half especially).
Mile 5 more or less matches up with the first relay changeover point where all the hares shoot off in front of you as you trot along at your tortoise pace. The only enjoyable part of this is that you invariably catch them about 4 miles into their sprint as they have slowed up.
Miles 6 and 7 are flat and take you into the Jack Lynch Tunnel (reasons never to be famous – they name infrastructure after you). The tunnel takes you under the lower harbour and is only about 600m long but the drag up out of it is the bones of a mile. At mile 8 I had a quick look at the time on the watch. It was showing 1:00:58 – about a minute off my pace in Dublin last October. I was happy with this as the Dublin marathon was on a frosty day with little or no humidity. Cork was running at about 70 – 80% humidity on Monday. The elevation climbs all the way to mile 9 before dropping down through the suburb of Mahon to mile 10 and 11 and the second relay hand over point. I passed one of my god children (Isabelle) at mile 10 but at just 15 months old she wasn’t doing much cheering.
I met her mother at the second relay change over point at this stage (Fran) and we ran together for all of about 200m. She asked me how I was feeling and my immediate reply was – ‘grand, I think I went out a bit fast and it was a bit warm but I’ll see how it goes’.
Miles 6 – 11 went by in 7:34, 7:40, 7:45 (hills), 7:54 (hills), 7:44 & 7:30.
I hadn’t looked at the HR as when I used to do this before I always got freaked out if I thought it was too high. Looking at the data today it was in the 155 – 162 range which is fine for a marathon (or so I’ll tell myself).
From mile 11 – 16 I was on home turf. This is a run that goes past my house and I run it as part of a 4, 6, 8 or anything up to 24 mile loop every day during a training programme. It is an amenity walk and mile 11 – 12 was the scene of my most recent old man shouty session with the dog.
I ran all this section on auto pilot and passed the halfway mark at just over the 1:41 mark – – Fine I thought – not sub-3:20 but still plenty of scope to do a PB on the course – I had a 3:25 from last year.
At mile 13.5 the course climbs over the N25 south ring road on a pedestrian bridge. As I came down the other side I saw a tidy looking little runner with a ponytail. Nice coordinated gear and lovely set of socks and trendy new runners on him/her. I was just starting to fixate on the ass of said runner (a well known mental strategy when you are catching a tow offa young female runner) when it dawned on me that it was not a lady jogger.
It was Johnny Donnelly of the Sawdoctors. I kept my mouth shut as I passed him as I would have probably said ‘ nice socks’ or something equally thick.
At mile 15 I spotted a neighbour, Denis Murphy, and shouted my hellos.
He obliged with a nice photo where I look like I have good running form.
Just up the road from him my support team were waiting for me. I got fresh supplies of gels and a kid’s drinks bottle with half a Nuun table in it. My mother, my brother and his wife were there as well and it was great to get a big cheer and a slap on the back at this point in the race. Just after this meeting was the first of the sponging stations. I took a sponge and after wiping my face I tried to store it in my shorts – they were already full of gels and the block and tackle so I had to juggle it with the water bottle.
For some reason at mile 16 I had a massive urge to have what the Americans would call a ‘bio break’ but what we’d call (at best) a shart or (at worst) a dump. This had never happened before and while I would have had no problem with it I knew it would fuck with my head about nutrition and all the pre-race rituals. I decided to hold off until the marathon relay change over at mile 16.5 where there would be port-a-loos. Thankfully, the embarrassment of having to sit in a port-a-loo while thousands cheered was enough to stop my desires to commune with nature and I kept of going.
Miles 12 – 16 7:39, 7:47, 7:51, 7:37 & 7:41.
Mile 16 (the one on the road, not the Garmin one) went past in 2:02 so the pace for these two 8 mile splits was going OK.
Still, I was impressed that I was still motoring on at this pace so I decided to stick with it and see what happened.
the next 5 miles to mile 21 are the twilight zone of a marathon where you enter as a fully functioning human and come out the other side as a husk, a shell, your eyes hollowed out and your soul on the missing list. In this marathon these miles represent the most desolate of the course with the running taking place on closed dual carriageways with little or no support or on slow grinding up-hillers that never seem to end. At mile 19 they were only handing out cups of water so I decided to retrieve my stashed bottle from the previous night. One sip told me that I was entering the phase of a race where sugar was the last thing you wanted. I took one decent slug of it and ‘discarded it’ – as we say in racing terms.
Mile 20 marks the high point (in terms of elevation) of the marathon but not the last hill. The course is designed so that all the hills are gentle and long on the up-hill but the down hills are short and painful. This bothers me less and less as the year pass. I used to fixate on anything bigger than a speed bump nut now I just plough on through them.
Mile 21 came about on the Model Farm Road and marked the end of the hills. At this stage I was performing systems checks on myself. I was feeling fine but the tops of my hamstrings/glutes (bottom of my ass to the non-runners) was sore. I wasn’t sure if it was from the new shoes (NB 1080s) or my super efficient running form. I was chugging down the gels at or about the 4 to 5 mile marks on the course as I’d rather bonk with them in my stomach that in the pockets of my shorts and I took another one around here.
It was at about mile 21 that I started to notice a lot of people with cramp and plenty of fast looking runners walking, hobbling and looking like the Bermuda triangle of miles 16 – 21 had eaten them up.
Miles 17 – 21 7:39, 7:48, 7:58, 7:54 & 7:52.
By mile 21 I was aware that my pace was slipping. Not panicked about it but just resigned to it. My 3:15 & 3:30 pacing friends seemed to have hoovered up all the runners around me and there were only one or two around me who remained constant until the end.
Miles 22 – 26.35
I go another bit of a boost at Inchigaggin Bridge as a work colleague – Tadhg – and his son had come out the cheer me on. Small as it seems, when you’re alone with your thoughts it is always welcome to have somebody wave at you.
At mile 23 we were onto the ‘straight road’. Somebody from the literal naming department had named this 2 mile stretch of straightness. The marathon only covers one of the two miles but it is not for those of a weak disposition. The number of wrecked souls walking the infinite mile to the 24 mile marker is a sight to behold. What makes it worse is that anybody in front of me was on for a decent sub-3:20 finish and at this pace they’d be lucky to get a sub-3:45.
By mile 24 I did another 8 mile split. I had reasoned that if the garmin showed 3:03 I’d push on as hard as possible for the last 2.2 miles as this would allow me to try and sneak in under 3:20.
When it showed 3:06 I switched to my preferred plan (i.e. the one agreed at 06:30 that morning with a sleepy wife) and I decided to relax and soak up the experience and run home with my children (not from the 24 mile mark in case anybody is wondering).
The route from 24 miles to the finish is pretty scenic and thanks to Darren Spring from http://www.Raepix.com I even look happy at the 26 mile mark.
As I crossed over the bridge onto St. Patrick St. I must have been the only guy who was slowing down as I couldn’t pick out the kids in the crowd.
With about 150m to go I spotted them and as the two older ones jumped the barrier I put the 3 year old on my shoulders and ran over the line with the 3 of them. The cameras had a field day and the 5 year old was delighted to be presented with the medal by the Lord Mayor.
I even turned up in the local evening newspaper – The Echo –
The photo was fine but as my sun glasses had fallen off my had and landed on the tip of my nose I was looking a bit special needs. For once it was me making the stupid face in the photograph and not the kids.
Miles 22 – 26.35 (garmin was only out by .15 which was pretty good for a marathon): 7:57, 7:53, 8:00, 8:06, 8:16 & 3:45 (I forgot to stop the watch at the finish line)
The clock time was 3:25:00 dead and my chip time was 3:24:35 which is about what I expected allowing for my ‘family moment’. It was only 2 minutes of a positive split and allowing for my foot coming off the gas at mile 24 it was pretty good.
Now – the deep and philosophical bit: I’d rather run 3:24 with a smile on my face the whole way around and finish with my kids than delude myself that I had any great talent.
Also, last Monday, or the day of any marathon, is a day worth a 1,000 ordinary days as it brings into focus all the things that make life fantastic – health, family, community, being able to piss in a doorway and tape on your nipples 😉