What follows is a brief(ish) race report of the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon held last Saturday.
To set the scene, this was an accidental marathon. A glass of wine, easy access broadband and a mobile tablet device sort of accident.
To date, bar none, I’ve been well prepared for every marathon and ultra marathon I’ve ever entered. Well prepared might be a bit of a stretch but I had at least done the miles in preparation for the other races.
This time, I’d spent most of November on pills for my chest and had a total of two runs over 10 miles in the bank. This race would require lots of crossing of fingers and hoping that I had finally washed up on the shores of that magical running land where the marathon was just a long run.
As I travelled down to Clonakilty on the morning of the race the car temperature gauge was hovering somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 degrees C. This was the start of my questioning my complete lack of preparation for the race. The lack of a bottle of water in the car, no wet weather gear (it was raining by now) and only two gels for the whole race were also give away signs that I was on the borderlands of normality.
After a spot of urban toileting I hustled over to the start and met up with Grellan and a few other familiar faces and started spreading my excuses as to how modest my performance would be today. I had a bank of excuses the length of your arm so that as they ran past my broken figure they’d understand that I was the epitome of ambition over ability.
The gun went off, we realised that this meant we should start running and off we went. This wasn’t a goal marathon for me so I took up a place behind Grellan and John who were the 3:45 pacers. My ambition was to finish under 4 hours so if I could hold onto them for a while and still feel OK I thought I’d have a chance at my target. If not, then I’d use my excuses to explain why I was walking and eating jaffa cakes from mile 19 on.
This part of the marathon field seems to be filled with two types of runners: people with a huge emotional commitment to cracking a decent time and the weekend jogging/100 marathon club group who are running way below their natural ability and are generally out for the running equivalent of a round of golf. (I like to think I’m in the second group!)
The first 4 miles of the marathon are like an underfed model – scenic and flat. I’d run the route twice before so the impending hills – from mile 4 to 21 – didn’t bother me. The flat section allows you to check your systems, run the diagnostics and check out the talent (not much to be honest). The usual suspect were there though, the fella running on two sheets of rubber (shoes are evil), the fella in the Hokas, the vibram people, the guy using it as a training run with a full rucksack on his back. All the paid up members of the happy gang.
As we rand on for the next 4 miles that took us up over the hill and into Castlefreake I took up with a chap from Porlaoise called Gerry. Within a mile or so we were sharing our end of life plans (no need for small talk) and agreed that 30 good days were better than 100 bad ones.
After a couple of toilet stops we drifted apart and I took to running on my own until mile 19.
The route was punctuated with great motivational slogans at every mile marker but, as this was not a run I had committed a lot of emotional energy into, I couldn’t use them to fully associate with the race. In fact, I found that each one of them just served to remind me that I wasn’t really committed to the race. This meant I couldn’t just drift off and forget what I was doing or where I was.
The consolation for this was the scenery. I’ve spent most of 2013 in boring meetings in Brussels and elsewhere and the simply stunning views we ignore because they’re on our doorstep really came home to me. Views of the low winter sun across the limitless ocean were food for the soul (it was jaffa cakes and coke for the body).
After what seemed like an inordinate amount of this being tormented by the inspirational signs I read one around mile 16 or 17 which came from one of the Rocky movies. The fact that Rocky movies are now inspirational made me realise what a gobdaw I’d been for trying to read some meaning into the quotes. This one said something like this is your day, there is no tomorrow.
As I jogged on I felt the day slipping away from me and I was realising that I’d have to grind out every mile until the promised black pudding and cup of tea at the end.
As mile 19 came around I could hear the dulcet tones of Ger O’Brien behind me offering support to two ladies running as Plum Puddings (you had to be there). I knew he’d eventually draw up beside me and I was getting my excuses ready so that I could send him on his way.
For those who don’t know Ger the best description I can give you is that when you’re at your physical low in a marathon he is like a gossiping housewife who is in awe of your ability while being completely humble about his own.
The practical result of this is that I spent the next two miles in his company and kind words and like a performance enhancing drug I found myself climbing the killer hill at mile 21 like a mountain goat (stretch your imagination!) and I never looked back.
All self doubt was gone and I finally realised that there was no tomorrow. The miles now churned around too quickly and I was fast running out of road to enjoy the feeling of turning off all the switches in my brain so I was operating on just the emergency exit light. (The feeling of passing those poor souls who had poured their lives into the first 23 miles and were reduced to a walk/run to get home was also sitting somewhere in there).
My final mile or two was faster than my first two which made me realise that the marathon was now just a long run.
I crossed the line in 3:47:05 which was a good day’s work for someone with no speed but with some endurance (and an over-inflated sense of their own ability).
Mile 24 and all lights turned off!
A cup of tea, a bit of black pudding and then it was back to the car, a few texts and phone calls and the drive home.
At home, the admiration and sympathy dials were set to zero so it was back to the normal dad routine.
golf was easier.