Never have I been so anxious about a race. Monday 27th October 2014 felt like it would never come and then I felt like it was suffocating me. 2014 has probably been my best year of training, breaking a whole host of P.Rs, training for 5 days of the week instead of 3 / 4 and introducing more speed work and varied runs during the week. Two weeks out, I felt like Superman, cape and all, ready to rock the streets of Dublin and annihilate my marathon P.R. I say annihilate, but you must understand this is in the context of being a 4 hour plus marathoner so just for clarification I thought it would be good to point out that while I run like Sonia O’Sullivan (Mo Farah / Wilson Kipsang sometimes too…) in my head, this does not translate exactly into results. I am an amateur, mostly solo runner who likes to stick the headphones on, open the front door and run for sanity and a daily injection of happiness and satisfaction. So, my superman comparison should be taken in context, even if I feel like my progress this year has been mighty! Three weeks out I was all set to meet my 4 hour marathon goal. I was confident. I was excited. I was ready to rock and roll with a big cheshire cat grin on my freckled face. But my body knew different and after my last big 22 miler, my right foot went wallop. Excrutiating tendonitis nearly crippled me at around the 14 mile mark, coupled with the worst stomach cramp I have ever experienced caused me to almost double-over multiple times. In hindsight, I probably should have called it a day and walked home but I hate not finishing a run, have never in fact not finished a run that I set out to do. Not smart, just stubborn. I finished the run and visited the physio who told me not to run for a week. With just 2 weeks before the marathon, this prescription of no running made me nervous. The following 2 weeks were unbearable – no running coupled with tapering plus carbo-loading made me a an over-energized, obsessive, anxious mess. There were the usual last minute doubts that I wouldn’t be able to run the distance, that I wouldn’t meet my goals, that I might get a cramp, that I wouldn’t get the food/ fuelling right and end up either without enough fuel in the tank or worse still, with the wrong balance causing stomach cramps and worse… That’s normal for marathoners but what I had not experienced before was the added anxiety that comes with being injured immediately before a marathon. The taper typically causes anxiety because runners are used to the physical depletion of energy that comes with high mileage along with the mental discipline (and sanity) of running. But not being able to run at all made me C.R.A.Z.Y. I became obsessed trawling the internet for information about foot injuries and recovery methods. I read running blogs from Dublin to California. I allowed myself to obsess over running as if reading about it would compensate for the gap left by not being able to run. I was wrong. Note to others: Do not do this if you get injured. You would be much better served to just try and relax, step away and garner a general optimistic outlook about things. Much healthier for the mind.
As a result of the craziness and the ongoing injury concerns, I was not sure I would even make the start line on Monday morning and I certainly was less than confident that I would cross the finish line. I could no longer feel the Superman cape around my shoulders. But as mentioned, if I had nothing left in this world, I would still have determination! I was determined to get to the finish line and earn my medal and tee shirt, even if I had to swallow my pride and walk.
Thankfully (and utterly miraculously) my foot injury stayed at bay throughout and wasn’t an issue at all. Nor did I pick up a stomach cramp at any stage. So I was smiling at God from Mile 1!! The new route meant that the first 3 miles flowed from FItzwilliam Square, down Leeson street, around by the South Circular Road, through the Liberties and down towards the keys. This new section of the route was something of a mixed bag with the section around by the Liberties being somewhat uphill. However, the change of scenery along with the route variation with a good few turns and a great street crowd made this a very enjoyable beginning to the race and a gave me a great buzz to kick start my run.
Down onto the keys and it was another mile down past Guinness’ and then up towards Parkgate street where runners were confronted with a steep incline into the next phase at the Phoenix Park. Not to worry, it was still very early in the race and I had lots of energy to burn. I knew this incline was coming and was also aware that the wind could be a significant factor for this stretch given the exposure in the park so I was prepared and just aimed to maintain a steady pace until I got out of the Park. It took me about a mile to settle down in the park but once I found my rhythm, it was fine. Out of the park just after 6 miles and into Castleknock, which was also a new feature of the race and a welcome one at that, because although more uphill, the crowd there were amazing and completely distracted me from the extra strain on my legs from 4 miles of incline. This left me on a high as I rounded the corner and passed the 7 mile sign as I headed down the hill along the outside of the park. First shot gel taken at the 7 mile water sign and I was ahead of my race pace by about 5 mins.
Back into the park again at the 8 mile marker, and yes, at times it does feel like you’re never going to get to leave the park, for a short stint and then out at Chapelizod. Over the river and into Inchicore for a straight run into Kilmainham, which is possible my favourite part of the whole race. The crowds as always were brilliant. Loud, exhuberant, enthusiastic and abundant! Such a fantastic lift just before the half way mark was exactly what was needed to give me an extra kick to make sure I reached a good half way time.
Unfortunately, that was where my good marathon came to an end. After having felt great when I passed halfway, my quads started to tighten up after 14 miles and rather than loosening out after a while, they simply got tighter and there seemed to be nothing I could do. My 14th mile was slow and this was a hard one to swallow as this is usually the point in my long run that my legs wake up, my body is warmed up and I start to fly. My 14th mile has typically been one of my fastest miles, followed by a quick 15 and 16. But today, this was not to be. I tried to pick it up and managed to push through a better 15 and 16, though the times were still not as good as I would have liked. This continued to be the pattern for the rest of the race but I knew from the feel of my legs that it just wasn’t going to happen today. It just wasn’t going to be my day. Sometimes, despite meticulous planning and preparation, your body just has on off day and sometimes a good run just isn’t there. Sometimes, you just have to swallow it. Just suck it up and accept that today it’s not going to happen, that there will be another day, another marathon and another chance but rather than force an effort that could result in injury, just relax and enjoy the run.
I hit 20 miles at 3.02 which was, in fact, only 2 minutes over my target pace so I wasn’t feeling too bad at that point and as always, I was looking forward to relishing the last 6 miles, where the real challenge lies. On a better day, I felt like I could have really attacked the last 10K but today, I went quick when I felt I could but generally it was a hard slog. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it hard going out there for that last stretch. It was a great relief to have the extra miles done by the time we reached the RDS on the Merrion Road. Usually, there are at least 3 miles to go at this point but on the new route this year, there was just 1.5 remaining. And you can always run a mile and a half… I loved the new run in. Tired, hurting, stomach cramps starting to push through… all went away as you rounded onto the Shelbourne Road, around into Haddington Road and then the last 800 metres down Mount Street. The crowds, so loud and so many people just lifted my tired spirit completely off the floor. I took out my earphones and floored it (it probably looked like I was barely shuffling but it felt like I was Mo Farah powering down the home straight!) down the blue carpet. It was fantastic. There is no feeling I have ever experienced like that of finishing a marathon. It’s so emotional, so magical and so overwhelming and there really is no satisfaction like it in the world. All the training, all the hard work, sacrifice, rigourous diet and discipline, all of the moments from the last year, everything you’ve put into this one moment just bubbles up to the brim in that moment and you feel like you’re ready to burst. As they might have said in the 70s, it’s a trip, man. And I love it. Cannot wait for the next one.