After weeks of training and a year’s waiting for my favourite race to come around again, the Dublin Marathon reigned supreme on the streets of Dublin city for the last time on Bank Holiday Monday.
All week, the weather forecast on accuweather.com was predicting “Cloudy with a chance of rain” for the day of the race and despite my (and thousands of others, no doubt…) rapid return to Catholicsm and many prayers being offered up to the clouds, that forecast consistently got darker, wetter and windier as the weekend approached and by yesterday morning, the national weather forecast had a yellow weather warning in place. Strong winds and rain from before 9am and to continue for the rest of the day. As accuweather put it, “Poor for running”. Okay. I’ve always been lucky with marathons weather-wise so I figured that I was due for some less than optimal running conditions. Not to worry, I’m a runner, code for tough bad-ass. Oh, and I also have a big black plastic sack and a hat. How bad-ass is that? 😉
Mum is great (have I mentioned that?) and had decided that she would come and support me yesterday, which was great. As we drove up to Dublin, the clouds got bigger and darker and the rain started to fall. My mum has parking in her office building in Earlsfort Terrace, which was brilliant as it meant only a 10 minute walk to the start/finish area. Quick detour to the Conrad hotel to go to the loo and I was black-sacked and ready to go. I waved Mum off at the bag drop area and walked around to the orange number wave area on Fitzwilliam St., with about 15 minutes to go before the start. There was plenty of room in the start tunnels, which made for a nice chance, and I did a some stretching before sorting out my i-pod and getting the Garmin all set to go.
The visually-impaired runners and the wheelchair participants headed off at 8:55am and then the 9am gun went off to set the first wave of runners on their way. It was a nice relief to be in the first wave on a wet day like yesterday as the last thing you need is to be standing still in the wet and cold before a run for longer than is necessary. I chucked the black bag and of course, once we got going, I didn’t feel cold anymore and forgot all about the rain. Quick wave to the mom on Leeson Street (who didn’t see me…) and it was time for the good stuff.
Marathon playlist was rolling in my ears and I hardly noticed the first 2 miles, with looking around me at all the lovely runners, supporters, trees, roads, lampposts… you know how it goes! You literally love everything in the first few miles of a marathon. Down onto the keys, we soon crossed over the Liffey for the only new section of the course and the first significant climb of the day, up Blackhall Place and through Stoneybatter. I was wary of this section before the race, as I knew that shortly afterwards, there would be more climbing through the Phoenix Park so I tried to take it easy on this section. It was a long enough climb and significant enough to de-rail you if you took it too hard. I held back and remained conscious of the gradual climb, before the course then turned left onto the North Circular road. This part was nice and used to be part of the old course before they removed it due to Luas works.
Into the gates of the Phoenix Park, there was a nice group of supporters cheering the runners on and we were past 3 miles. Confession: my first 3 miles were faster than they should have been. BUT they were not as fast as they usually were for a race. My plan for the day was to try and adhere to 9:08-9:10 pace as much as I could and while I still ran the first 3 faster than this (8.15; 8.05; 8.30), in the past these would typically have been in the region of 7:15 – 7:45 per mile, so at least it was an improvement. I also didn’t feel like I was pushing that hard and more than pace, my aim was to stay relaxed and comfortable while running (inasmuch as you ever can!) so I was happy enough at this point.
The beautiful autumn scene that is the Phoenix Park in October was a little dreary yesterday but it was nonetheless abundantly leafy and colourful. Admittedly, this is not my favourite section of the course. It’s a long, straight 2.5 mile drag that has a deceptive incline. Last year, I ran this too hard and paid dearly for it after 16 miles. Again, I was careful not to go hard and I kept reminding myself that there would be downhill after we got through Castleknock and any time lost here could be made up there so not to worry. Out of the park and we continued to climb into Castleknock, where there was great crowds of people and brilliant support. I remembered this from last year and was not disappointed yesterday. Thank you Castleknock! Awesome cheering, so loud I could hardly hear my i-pod. I took out my headphones for this section, before we turned left down College Road and to the 7 mile water station.
I took a clif shot and some water at the 7 mile mark, as per the plan, and continued on down the hill to Tower Road and then back into the park at Knockmaroon. I swear, there are times in this race when you feel like you’re never going to leave the Phoenix Park. I think I may be alone in this, but when I leave the park at the 9.5 (ish) mile mark, it always feel like a massive relief and that I’ve broken the back of the race. Like all the hard stuff is behind me! Of course, that isn’t true but in my head, it’s a big relief to get that section done, get out of the park and move onto the rest, ie. the bits I enjoy!
I drank about half a bottle of Lucozade Sport between 9.5 – 10 miles and was feeling fine. At 10 miles, I was at 1.26. My Garmin was still telling me that my miles were faster than the plan so I was still conscious of trying to slow it down a bit and my mantra for the day soon became “What do I have to give? I’ve got time to give” So, frickin give it already! There were 2 BIG hills that I had forgotten about on this course where you run beneath 2 underpasses between Chapelizod and St Laurence’s Road. I must have blocked these out… I took it really easy on these climbs- my legs had already had a good amount of up and down from the first 10 miles of the course and I knew there would be more to come. All this up and down can mess with your legs so reckless sprinting up hills just to prove to yourself that you feel awesome right now is just stupid. ( I speak from experience of being stupid. And stupid again. And again.)
Straight, flat into Inchicore and towards Kilmainham Royal Hospital. Great! I loved this bit. Loads of people lined the street in Inchicore and one of the highlights of the race for me is the AWESOME crowds of supporters in Kilmainham. You have to climb uphill through Kilmainham before turning onto the South Circular Road but I hardly ever notice it because of all the cheering, clapping and brilliant atmosphere here. As we ran down the South Circular Road, the rain had stopped completely and a perfect rainbow appeared in the sky. A good omen. Thanks Gran 😉
I jinxed myself. Second later, I could feel discomfort on my left side, which in no time flared up into a sharp stitch. Culprits: (a) breakfast too late (I ate 3.5 hours before…should’ve been enough); (b) digestion issues; or (c) my body was struggling to deal with the lucozade/ clif shots I had taken on during the race. I have practiced with eating/drinking on the run so this wasn’t new but I was taking on slightly more I normally would so this may have been it. I had to slow down. I was pissed. I was just after going over the halfway mark (1:52.42), feeling really good, happy with the pace, legs fine, looking forward to the next part of the course… and then bam. It’s a bitch. But I had no choice. It was a really sharp pain so I slowed right down, tried to massage it out and breathe into the stitch. It had faded out by the time we reached the 16 mile marker, but was annoying because every time I tried to up the pace, it seemed to get worse. No choice but to tread carefully for the next few miles. Luckily, it subsided but I could still feel a little something there so I remained conscious for the remainder of the race about not taking in too much of anything. Needs must.
Shout out to the crowds around Dolphin’s Barn, who were only massive 😀
As we turned onto the Cromwellsfort Road and down onto the Kimmage Road, the wind suddenly became tough. It was strong and it was in your face for this stretch of road, which is dismal and bleak at the best of times. I took my second clif shot at 16 with some water and then we turned onto Fortfield Road to begin my favourite 3 mile stretch of the course. From Fortfield, through Terenure village and along Orwell is all leafy suburban Dublin and it is just beautiful in autumn. The crowds are always excellent, with so many people handing out sweets, drinks, gels and all unbelievably wrapped up in the spirit of the race. It’s an absolute tonic for the runners who by this stage (mile 17-19.5) are starting to feel the aches and doubts creep in.
Running down Fortfield Road, the rain was largely stopped, though there was intermittent spells of drizzle. To be fair, the rain was not heavy for the most part of the morning and I was thankful. The wind, however, remained for the duration and it was just a matter of sticking the head down and trying to ignore it. A brown paper bag of jelly beans from the “Terenure Jellies” people helped 😀 Trundling alongside Bushy Park, I grabbed lots of high fives from the kids lining the walls and then it was into Terenure village (where there were more brilliant supporters) to pass the 18 mile point. I was feeling good again and reckoned this was probably what people refer to as the “second wave” of energy. For the first time, I was feeling comfortable in my run and more relaxed.
Pace? Still faster per mile than it should have been but again, I didn’t feel as if I was pushing too hard. I reminded myself that I was ahead time-wise, so could afford to slow down and reserve some energy for the later miles. I also knew that there would be a few big climbs coming from 20-23 miles, so that energy would be needed.
Second wave? Yep, that wave broke shortly after as I approached the 19 mile mark and the miles started to go by much slower. Milltown was tough. Not gonna lie here folks, it’s a steep climb and long enough to reduce people around me to a walk. I slowed right down but kept running. My usual long run route at home has a couple of big ass climbs around this point so this probably helped out here. I also knew that I had lots of time to spare so I was content to slow it right down and take my time. I think not feeling pressurised at this point really helped and despite wind, giant hills and marathon distance running, I was able to relax somewhat and enjoy everything around me. I was able to enjoy this moment and I loved it.
I crossed the 20 mile point in under 3 hours for the first time ever, and clocked in at around 2:54. I nursed a full bottle of Lucozade between 19-21.5 miles but I couldn’t turn down another bottle at mile 22 when it was handed to me by no other than Kerry’s Colm “Gooch” Cooper. What a nice, down-to-earth fella and gave me such a smile on my face that it carried me right over Heartbreak Hill (albeit slowly…)
YAY!!! Suddenly we were coasting downhill and turning left onto the Stillorgan Road and the 23 mile point, which I am never so happy to see! Only 5km left to go and apart from a short climb onto the overpass, it’s a flat run from there. I looked at my watch and at 23 miles, I was at 3:22 ish – my Garmin and the course were a little out of sync… I didn’t care because either way, I had loads of time to make it under 4 hours…. unless I got run over, knocked over, fell, got cramp, got sick, collapsed, went into cardiac arrest… I was taking nothing for granted. I went easy and tried to just enjoy it.
I felt good heading down Nutley Lane and crossing the 24 mile mark and despite telling myself that it’s fine too slow down if you like because I’ve plenty of time to spare, my legs kind of just wanted to keep going. I was running purely by feel. This was mostly what I let guide me in this race and thus far, it had worked just fine. I started to stiffen up from mile 24-25 but I had a few jelly babies to make me feel better 🙂 Suddenly, it was the last 1.2 miles and the crowds of people lining the streets started to grow. Huge crowds. THANK YOU thank you thank you all. Lots of people were walking at this point, some were stopped, stretching out cramps and the support for those struggling from fellow runners and supporters alike, was wonderful.
Final stretch was down Northumberland Road and onto Mount street and then… yay…. I could see the neon green finish line!!!!!!!!! Somewhere along the way, I heard my Godmother call my name and I looked over and somehow managed to spot her in the throngs of people lining the rails. I felt really good for this last part and ran strong to the finish line, where I was met by a really sound volunteer who gave me the biggest high five, congratulated me and told me I’d run a great run. He was so genuine, I nearly cried.
Moments later, I also met 86 year old Harry Gorman, a former National Marathon champion who was volunteering for the day. How incredible is that? I shook his hand and had a brief chat, before congratulating a random stranger (who told me “never again!”) and heading down the finishers’ chute to collect my medal, t-shirt and goodie bag. I had a good stretch, before walking around to meet my mum and godmother nearby. Super to have these ladies with me on the day and it really transforms the day into a special day.
I ran under the clock in 3.52.57 and my official finish time was 3:50:54, bringing my marathon PR down by 8 minutes and my Dublin marathon PR down by 14 minutes 41 second from 4.05.35. I couldn’t believe it and still can’t.
Last year, I was so focused on time/pace/a 4 hour goal, that I hardly enjoyed the race. I missed my goal and was felt disappointed at the end of it. This year, I didn’t really have a goal, except to enjoy it and try to relax into the pace. I ended up smashing my pb AND I massively enjoyed it. There is a message in here. In fact, there are multiple messages in here. Firstly, that pace cannot be forced and conversely, that to run better/faster, you need to relax more and push less. Obviously, there is a balance here and “relax” is of course, in context! Secondly, this is an amazing race with arguably one of the best, friendliest atmospheres of any race around the world so enjoy it. Let yourself do this and you will never be disappointed.
Incredible day and thanks to all of the volunteers, organisers and the many people who turned out in the rain and wind yesterday for HOURS and who make this race as special as it is. I will be back next year and already, I cannot wait.
I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off running and filling my face with lots of nice things for the next few days. Time for recovery.
9.15 (horrible stitch…had to slow it right down)
9.28 (my slowest mile: big climbs circa 22 miles and heartbreak hill)
7.58 pace for the last .2 miles!