I wanted to take a little look at the phenomenon of marathon running.
I’m not sure if it’s just me or if the distance has become more popular recently, but for the last four or so years I’ve noticed a big increase in ‘Marathon Fever’. It’s that buzz that accompanies a race and the build-up, and the huge increase in races that we’ve seen on this island recently.
I’m just back to normal after running the Dublin Marathon on Sunday, on short notice with no discernible training. I was blown away by the support and the emotion of the sunny but cold day in Dublin and how the support spurred me on at times I could have stopped and walked to the finish.
It’s that support, coupled with the fact I hadn’t run more than 5k in any one go for the last 5 months that made me want to look at what’s possible with a little determination, some good vibes and your body weight in energy gels.
I’m not entirely new to running. Full disclosure, this was my third marathon. I ran my first in Vancouver in 2015 in 4:30 and Cork in June of this year in 4:27. I was still very out of practice lining up at the start line last week. My fitness routine all summer had been just an hour of football weekly and in the four weeks leading up to the marathon one night of running with a local club.
I’m not likely to be the next Mo Farah, and I was feeling nervous before the start gun, but I managed to power through the race almost without stopping. I was looking around me at the other runners, people of all shapes and sizes, and all ages, and thought that there is something so unifying about getting out and signing up to what is widely regarded as the toughest distance out there.
Considering I didn’t hear I actually had the entry until the week before the race, preparation had been at a minimum. With the race on Sunday morning, I went home to vote on Friday and met the lads for a pint or two. Saturday evening then meant carb-loading (Apache Pizza) and eight episodes of Prison Break, probably to get myself in the fugitive mindset needed to keep running!
Up early on the Sunday and off to the start line on my bike. Atmosphere palpable as I cycled through the city; but freezing. I chowed down a breakfast of porridge and a smoothie and picked up a black Americano before dropping my bag off and making my way to the start line.
I made the mistake of just wearing my racing singlet down to the holding area, and at 8:30 on an October morning that was foolish. I got talking to a New York couple who were over for the race who were kind enough to lend me a bin bag to take the edge off. This was my first experience of what they call the “Friendly Marathon”. The couple was in town to run, cheered on by their four daughters and they were all going to a Van Morrison gig that night. Great to see.
We made our way to the start line in time for the last wave which I was in to start, a full 45 minutes behind the leaders, who we were informed were already at the 10-mile mark. Time to discard the bin bag. Then, countdown...and go!
Running through the Georgian streets was a special start, from Fitzwilliam Square across the city and over the James Joyce Bridge. Body felt ok here apart from what I hoped wasn’t a shin splint starting in my left leg. I was passed by two German runners in lederhosen with beer glasses and chuckled. Crowds were plentiful as we ran through corners with signs and cheers despite the early hour.
Up and into the Phoenix Park then for miles 4-7 which were cruisy, with my body finding a rhythm and loosening up. I ran past a man running with an ironing board under his arm. He was calling himself ‘Ironman’. Out through Castleknock was like running through a stadium there were so many people. Huge noise greeted us as we hit miles 8-12 and I was feeling ok getting into the halfway mark. I’d taken my hat off now and had it tucked into my shorts. I knew my family were cheering around mile 14 so I put the foot down and did the first half in about 2 hours, knowing that in Cork in June I’d done the first half quicker and ended up walking most of the 2nd half.
I’d been taking on fluids at every station which is a must for anyone doing the run and saw my family up ahead around mile 14. My mum had cleverly put fruit pastilles into an old vitamin tube and passed these over the barrier to me as I ran past.
I think these, combined with my third energy gel of the day kept me going until about mile 17 when I fell into stride with another runner, about my age and about my pace which I think kept the two of us going until I saw my friends at the Dropping Well around mile 20 which gave me another boost. Up the hill then and around the back of UCD I started to hurt. My knee had been giving me trouble in Cork leading to me walking and now my back was at me. I stopped for a small stretch for a few seconds and walked at the side of the road for about 100 metres. This was an uphill section around Roebuck Road and miles 21-22 leading to Fosters Avenue where the support was incredible again. I saw Minister for Transport and Sport Shane Ross cheering on the fans at this point.
I guess around mile 22 your mind clicks into thinking it’s nearly home. That being said my knee gave out as soon as I crossed the flyover at UCD. I stopped again thinking I was dust, but a fellow runner stopped and offered me two nurofen! She joked with me that they were ‘only a euro each’ and said that at least we were still able to laugh! Again, I was thinking that the moniker of ‘The Friendly Marathon’ really rang true.
Buoyed by the placebo of instant pain relief, I was able to keep going to the end; down the tree lined Nutley Avenue and onto Merrion Road, onto Northumberland Road; the home stretch. The crowds at this part were probably 3 deep and the noise was unbelievable. People cheering and shouting your name. The finish line comes into view like a beacon of hope in the distance as the roar reaches fever pitch. Any thoughts of the pain you had are out the window as you just focus on crossing that line.
It’s emotional as you do cross it. The realisation that you’ve just ran 26.2 miles coming home and hitting you. Stopping and stretching as your medal is put over your head you say to yourself “I’ll never do that again”. I grabbed my bag as I swapped stories with strangers while we changed on the side of Merrion Square. Then it was off to bump shoulders with other marathon finishers on a (not officially) pedestrianised Baggot Street before making my way to the lads in the pub for a celebratory pint and to swap stories with the others who had run the course too.
Now that the dust has settled I’m proud of the 4:17 I got around in. I know there’s more to give in terms of speed for me if I focus and prepare properly, but I couldn’t recommend attempting this course any more. Definitely worth making it a target.
This was my third but by far my favourite so far, with the support and the fact that I knew the streets making a huge difference. Get out there, challenge yourself! Applications are open for 2019; I might see you at the start line!
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