Marathon strategy

"Right lads, let's hang in with numbers 2 and 85 - they look like they know what they're doing!" (Photo: Anna & Michal via photopin cc)

“Right lads, let’s follow numbers 2 and 85 – they look like they know what they’re doing!” (Photo: Anna & Michal via photopin cc)

In this pre-marathon week, my runs are light and easy. This gives me a good opportunity to think about the big day and in particular my marathon strategy – splits, finishing time and the like.

“Ha!” says you. “I don’t need your plans and strategies! I’ll just trot around the course and finish the race.” Well, unless you fancy having the worst running experience of your life, I’d advise you to have a more concrete plan than that.

The one time I didn’t have a proper objective, the 2010 Paris Marathon, soon became a mentally torrid affair that degenerated into a real sufferfest. A marathon is no place to be half-arsed or vague about what you’re doing.

Using your times from shorter races and an online tool like the McMillan Running Calculator will give you a realistic target finishing time. Then I use this handy pace calculator to break down my finishing time into pace per mile or kilometre. (You should have done these calculations long before pre-race week, you know.)

And all of this helps you to pick the correct place to stand in the marathon start area – which is critical, because a 3:45 runner lining up with the 3-hour pace group will either get shoved and jostled by others passing or get sucked into following a foolishly fast pace. (Since you asked, a 3-hour runner lining up with the 4-hour group would be weaving and dodging so much as to ruin any chance of enjoyment or a clear run.)

I’ve printed out the Dublin Marathon course map and annotated it with my target finishing time and pace per mile. On my runs this week I repeat to myself my splits for every 3 miles, halfway and at key locations along the route. Fortunately, my target pace gives me 3-mile splits that are round numbers and easy to remember.

Of course, splits and target pace times are only meant as a guideline, not a strict prescription. I shouldn’t get frustrated if I’m slightly up or down on a planned split. Depending on things like climbs, descents, winds, corners and straights, I’ll cover some sections at a different speed to others.

And for the very first mile I’ll be taking things handy, noting which runners go tearing off so that I recognise them when I pass them in their quivering, snivelling heaps at mile 22. Don’t go trying to “bank time in the first miles” either. As if the Dublin Marathon organisers were trying to counteract such eejitry, the new opening miles through the Liberties have some tight corners that will slow down the field.

Remember too that nobody cares about your finishing time. Your loved ones just want you to finish in one piece and have a good day; your friends and workmates will be impressed that you simply finished the marathon.

I’ve also been visualising the course and noting locations that I know – that’s the advantage of living in Dublin and having run this marathon four times before. As well as using splits by mile I’ll break up the race by geography: from the start to the Phoenix Park and Chapelizod, then on to Dolphin’s Barn and the halfway point at Crumlin, then past Bushy Park and near where I live – a tremendous boost and a marker which signals for me the marathon’s turn for home.

And once I’m over the series of small climbs from Milltown to Roebuck, I’ll be on the run-in to the finish on Merrion Square.

That finishing line is something I’ve been visualising. After all, on any journey it’s useful to know where you’re going. Not only do I visualise the new Dublin Marathon finishing straight down Mount Street, but I also see myself collecting my medal and gear, meeting my people afterwards, and heading off somewhere to eat and celebrate another great marathon experience.

And believe me, the better my planning, the better my marathon experience.

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Running in Vienna

The Staatsoper, or state opera house, in Vienna (Photo: Friedrich Bohringer / Wikimedia Commons)

The Staatsoper, or state opera house, in Vienna (Photo: Friedrich Bohringer / Wikimedia Commons)

I’m just back from a few days in Vienna – and as usual on my travels I made sure to fit in a run.

This was my first visit to Vienna, and as it was work-related I spent a lot of it down the coal mine. But I still had some time to stroll through this magnificent city and sample its cuisine.

But forget about the running and the sights for a minute; you just want to know about the food, right?

On the first night we popped into the first nice-looking restaurant we passed – and so by complete chance we had found ourselves with a much sought-after table in Figlmüller, the original, most famous and most popular wiener schnitzel place in the city. The schnitzel was massive: sagging over the sides of the dinner plate and touching the table. But I finished it and the potato salad on the side.

And I knew you’d want me to sample on your behalf a wide range of Viennese desserts and cakes. So, over a few days I had some Sachertorte (a chocolate cake), Kaiserschmarrn (scrambled cake pieces covered in stewed plums) and Malakoff (a cream and sponge cake), as well as plenty of other little viennoiseries whose names I missed. However, I didn’t have any strudel, nor did I get to visit any of Vienna’s celebrated coffee houses – that will have to wait until my next visit.

As for the minor matter of running, coalmining duties meant that by necessity I could only manage a short early-morning spin. But I made sure I passed as much of Vienna’s historic sights as possible.

Up at the crack of dawn, I started from the Schottenring, one of many wide boulevards lined with elegant buildings that reminded me of the Haussmannian streets of Paris. If I were to compare the two cities, I found Vienna to be more spacious, more convivial and altogether grander than Paris.

Even at that early hour there was plenty of traffic on the streets, plus the clanking and lumbering of two types of Vienna tram – the eye-catching old model, mostly in red and white, and an uglier modern version in grey.

My run took me along the Ringstrasse, a circle of boulevards built on the old city walls and which encloses the Innere Stadt – not an inner city in the American sense of a deprived ghetto, but the historic heart of Vienna. Following the Ringstrasse brings you past all the major palaces, state buildings and opera houses – the ideal route for a Viennese sightseeing run.

On my right were the 19th century University of Vienna and the spectacular Rathaus – the city hall of Vienna, with a soaring clock tower and Gothic arches. In the park outside the Rathaus was an old-fashioned circus tent and amusements, plus a vintage railway carriage converted into a restaurant – all quiet and in semi-darkness after the previous night’s festivities.

Across the street from the Rathaus is the Cafe Landtmann, one of the more famous Viennese coffee houses. It’s popular with tourists and guide books, but a colleague of mine from Vienna told me that other coffee shops have nicer fare and friendlier service.

Further along on the left as I ran was the imposing Burgtheater, the Austrian national theatre and a place with impeccable music credentials – it was the venue for the first ever performances of Beethoven’s 1st Symphony and Mozart’s operas Cosi Fan Tutti and The Marriage of Figaro. At this remove it’s strange to think of these works as ever being new, and you have to wonder what those Burgtheater punters thought of this new music.

The morning was still half-dark when I passed the Volksgarten, so I couldn’t see its monuments or rose gardens. The side closest to the street was better lit, and along it a fellow runner was picking her steps carefully through the shadows. Across the street was the Parliament with its ancient Greek-style columns.

Turning onto the Burgring, I passed between the Natural History Museum and Art History Museum on one side and on the other side the Hofburg Palace, formerly the residence of the Hapsburgs but now home to the President of Austria. I saw a couple of other runners around here – the wide boulevards of the Ringstrasse are clearly popular for early running on dark Viennese mornings.

(In daylight hours I imagine most of Vienna’s runners go to the Prater, the large park on the bank of the Danube. Unfortunately I didn’t have time on this visit to run in the Prater or along the Danube – something else to save for next time.)

Next along the Ringstrasse is the Opernring, which you might deduce to be the opera house area of the city. The Vienna State Opera is at a busy junction which I navigated by dipping underground into the Karlsplatz U-bahn, or metro, station to emerge on the other side. In the station, The Blue Danube was being piped to commuters who probably didn’t hear it at all.

The next landmark on my Viennese run was the Hotel Imperial, perhaps the most famous and prestigious hotel in the city. The hotel is also known for its Imperial Torte, a rich chocolate truffle cake made to a secret recipe and presented in a box. Less impressively, a young Adolf Hitler worked in this hotel for a while, and both he and Mussolini stayed here at various times during the Anschluss period – once the hotel’s Jewish owner had been forced out and sent to his death in a concentration camp.

Heads of state, hopefully more socially acceptable than fascist dictators, still stay at the Hotel Imperial – and during my stay in Vienna I reckon some head of state was there. The night before my run, while walking past, I had seen a fleet of black cars pull up at the front entrance while police blocked off the pavements. Police were still outside when I ran past the hotel the following morning – in fact, minibuses of reinforcements were parked outside. I wonder who was there.

Behind the Hotel Imperial was the furthest point of my run – and my true destination. The Musikverien may not be a name that means anything to you, but it is the venue of the annual New Year’s Day Concert broadcast live around the world from Vienna. At around midday on the first of January I like to switch on this concert on television to see the elegant interior of the Musikverein, the Golden Hall, with the audience in black tie and formal wear, as the concert ends with two traditional encores – The Blue Danube and the Radetsky March.

I ran all the way around the Musikverein, past the suspicious police posted on the rear service door of the Hotel Imperial, and headed back on the second half of my run. In the Karlsplatz station as I ducked through it again, The Blue Danube was still playing – regular commuters must be sick of it.

Instead of going back the way I came, I ran through the Innere Stadt so that I could fit in more sights of Vienna.

Kärntner Strasse is the pedestrianised main shopping street of Vienna, with department stores and exclusive brands on both sides. The premises here have the misleading habit of leaving their lights on at night, so that you think they are open. But it creates a warm and safe atmosphere, and gives the impression that Vienna is a wealthy city where businesses can afford pointlessly huge electricity bills.

The heart of the Innere Stadt and of the city is Stephansplatz, which features the Stephandom – Vienna’s cathedral and one of the tallest churches in the world. More impressive than its skyscraping steeple, though, is its colourful, zig-zag patterned tiled roof. I know Notre Dame in Paris well enough to say with confidence that the Stephandom compares favourably.

From the Stephandom I headed up another wide pedestrianised street, the Graben with its cafe terraces and an extravagant baroque column called the Pestsäule. Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton have large stores along here, while carriage drivers circle around with tourists aboard.

Continuing on after the Graben, I came back to the Schottenring and the end of my run – my Ring run rather than a Ring Cycle, if you’re in the mood for a laboured operatic pun. I think I had a better tour of Vienna than those tourists with the horse and carriage.

Well, I loved Vienna and I’ll definitely return there. On my next run I’ll make sure I take in the Prater and the Danube.

And – shame on me – I must rectify another omission; I can’t believe I spent my whole first visit to Vienna without once remembering to sing an ’80s classic out loud on the street. Not that one – this one:

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Dublin Marathon 2014 training – month 4 review

Dublin, get ready for us!

Dublin, get ready for us!

Another four weeks of running done, and I’m pleased to report that I trained hard for three of them.

I started my taper last week, you see. The long runs and hard sessions are over; now I’m just running to keep ticking over. There are only two weeks to go to the 2014 Dublin Marathon.

On a related point, I’m watching more television right now than I’ve done all year.

But there was certainly some hard training earlier this month – and hard racing too. I had a great run in the Dublin Half Marathon, where I took over seven minutes off my personal best and went under 90 minutes for the first time. And I could have kept running for another few miles at the same pace.

However, I was worried that my half marathon performance may have taken too much out of me. The following week my right knee was sore – it got relieved quickly by a physical therapist and there was no serious injury there, but I still missed two days of training.

After that, I had to fight off a heavy cold. Autumn marathons are desperate for leaving runners vulnerable to the change in weather at precisely the moment when their immune systems are depleted after months of training. All those draughts and soakings and damp days generate germs and illnesses that fester inside every bus, train and public building.

Races, niggles and illnesses aside, my training this last month went well. I settled into a routine of doing my midweek 12-miler as a running commute home from work. Last weekend I did my last 20-mile long run – I was careful not to empty the tank, but nonetheless I felt fine as I hit the significant 20-mile barrier.

And I got another long run in on my travels, this time a glorious 18-mile loop of central London – along the Thames, past the Houses of Parliament, across Tower Bridge, and down The Mall in my own private London Marathon finishing kick.

I hope to fit in some more foreign running this week – I’ll be in Vienna for a couple of days, and my plan is to get up early for a whirl around the sights of the city.

Apart from that, it’ll be short runs and light strides for me next week.

And the week after, I’ll be in full Dublin Marathon pre-race preparation mode.

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Last of the long runs

Autumn running weather in the parks of Dublin (Photo: Rodrigo_Martins via photopin cc)

Autumn running in the parks of Dublin (Photo: Rodrigo Martins via photopin cc)

Right, that’s that. With my long run this morning I finished my substantive training for the Dublin Marathon in three weeks’ time.

I was glad to get that long run done at all. I had planned to run it yesterday (Saturday) morning. But on Friday I found myself sniffling and squinting with a head cold.

Emergency measures were deployed, such as Lemsip and soup. But by Friday evening I had to admit that for me the cold war was over; I was fighting a losing battle. My inner Captain Sensible knocked some sense into my bunged-up head – there would be no long run on Saturday morning.

Nothing for it, then, but to do my best to shake off the head cold, keep it from spreading to my chest, and see if I could recover in time for a run on Sunday.

So, after a sound Friday night’s sleep where I bundled up to sweat out the sickness, I spent Saturday resting up. And in truth, after a busy few weekends of travelling and running in various locations, I enjoyed my Saturday of lounging at home. I sat on the sofa, surfed the channels, kept warm, drank plenty of fluids, took paracetemol and ate heartily.

It did the trick: apart from a husky throat I felt well enough this morning to go for my long run.

It was a glorious morning in Dublin – one of those sunny autumnal mornings where the sunlight catches the brown and golden leaves and the trees start to take on some of that lovely wintry bleakness. Already at half past eight there were more people than usual strolling in the park and along our tree-lined residential roads. Little kids, bundled up in jackets and gloves, waddled excitedly to the park to kick some leaf.

My running route was busier than usual too. I usually take in a few miles of the second half of the Dublin Marathon route, and as this weekend sees the last long run for most people training for that race there were a few groups of runners – and some lone wolves too – taking the hills around Milltown and Clonskeagh for some race-day preparation.

I’ve run around here so much that I know the route well by now. But it was still a thrill to see on the hill of Roebuck Road a discreet ’22’ sprayed in white paint at the kerb – that’s where the 22-mile marker will go. Marathon day is coming.

My long run went well, and I haven’t felt any ill-effects after it. Just to be careful, I spent the rest of today on the sofa again. And over the next three weeks I’ll be spending a lot more time there too.

After all, it’s Dublin Marathon taper time now.

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Running home from work

When your run home from work strays onto the New York Marathon course, you've just got to join in (Photo: ccho via photopin cc)

Multi-tasking high achievers like to run home from work via the nearest marathon (Photo: ccho via photopin cc)

Remember when I said I didn’t fancy being a running commuter? Well, I’ve changed my position slightly.

These last few weeks I’ve had to do a midweek 12-mile run as part of my Dublin Marathon training. My workplace, down the coalmines, is around 12 miles from where I live. I’d rather not have to get home after a 12-mile commute just to turn on my heels and head back out for a 12-mile run.

So, a couple of weeks ago I started running home from work every Wednesday evening.

Unlike most runner-commuters I see, I don’t run with a backpack. I just carry my keys and some emergency paper money wrapped up in the pocket of my shorts.

The logistics are as follows: on Wednesday morning I travel to work on public transport as usual, but with my running gear in a bag. (I leave my mobile phone at home; in an emergency I can be contacted at work, if a scruffy young pit-lad shouts down the mineshaft or sends a message via carrier canary.)

Then when it’s quitting time I change into my running gear, leave my clothes and shoes at work, and run home unencumbered by bag or belongings. The following day I bring home Wednesday’s clothes.

So that’s the planning. What’s the actual run home like?

Well, it’s not the most scenic of routes. I start on the footpath beside the busy N11 dual carriageway through south Dublin. While I’m running on the relatively quiet side heading into town, the far side is a stream of cars towards the suburbs at the end of the working day.

Maybe it’s the bustle of traffic jangling my nerves, but I usually feel a bit subdued and edgy at the start of the run home. Another possible reason is that, unlike the out-and-back loops of my runs from home, this run is a 12-mile point-to-point route, which means I’m 12 miles from home. That might make the run just a little bit harder psychologically.

I get some respite from the roar of traffic when the pedestrian route veers off the dual carriageway for a mile and into the village of Cabinteely. Being bypassed and off the main road seems to suit Cabinteely; it has an old-fashioned pub and some nice-looking restaurants. When I’m not running, I must pop down there sometime.

After Cabinteely I head back to the dual carriageway for a couple of miles. Going past the junction for Foxrock, the heartland of genteel south Dublin, my route has a fairly demanding climb. If you were driving here you mightn’t notice the hill because the road is so wide, but on foot it’s a notable drag.

Down the other side, I leave the dual carriageway again to head through Stillorgan. Another bypassed suburb, it hasn’t got the village feel of Cabinteely or Foxrock – Stillorgan has a busy shopping centre from the 1960s and not much else. But I like this place; I lived near here as a student and I still pass through here on my weekend long runs. And I like shopping centres, especially old-fashioned ones.

After a mile through Stillorgan, it’s back onto the main road. To avoid having to wait at busy junctions I take a pedestrian flyover and then further down the road I take another one to cross back. This manoeuvre leaves me outside Belfield, the campus of my alma mater, University College Dublin.

Belfield is a great place for running; you can choose from its miles of tarmac ring road or its 6-kilometre trail. But the Belfield track, a legendary venue in Irish athletics, now seems to be gone forever. Closed in 2011 because the surface was in a worn state, the track was used for a couple of years as a storage area for construction material – and a few weeks ago half of the track was paved to be used as a car park. The red, dilapidated segment of track that remains is a sad reminder of former glories.

After running around Belfield to the Richview exit by the old red-bricked college of architecture, I reach the last section of my run – three miles of tarmac paths through parks along the river Dodder. Tonight I found myself speeding up here, probably because I knew I was almost home.

So that’s my regular Wednesday evening run right now; it ticks a box on my training schedule and gets me home early enough to let me feel like I have an evening off. Once the marathon is done, I’ll know if I like it enough to continue doing it.

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Running in London

No GPS but it still gives your time and location (Photo: Adrian Pingstone / Wikimedia Commons)

No GPS but it still gives your time and location (Photo: Adrian Pingstone / Wikimedia Commons)

After my recent weekend trips to Copenhagen and Mullaghmore, I’m just back from another jaunt – this time it was a quick visit to London.

The immediate reason was to see the mighty Kate Bush, who put on an awesome show. But it wouldn’t be a weekend away for me if I didn’t profit from it to go for a run in some new surroundings.

I’ve been running in London before. On a previous visit I took an enjoyable spin around Hyde Park. But this time I wanted to get in a long run for my Dublin Marathon training, and get some touristy sight-seeing done too.

And I must admit that I had an ulterior motive – to do some practical preparation by running past some key locations on the London Marathon route, should I do that great race someday.

So, on Saturday I got up before the dawn at 6 a.m., slipped out of our HQ in trendy South Kensington and set off on an 18-mile long run around the early-morning streets of London.

My plan was to head straight down to the Thames and run along the riverbank as far as Tower Bridge. Then, crossing Tower Bridge, I would run back upriver as far as Westminster, turn up to St James’s Park and The Mall, and then finish with a lap of Hyde Park.

London was surprisingly busy at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning – the pavements were deserted but the streets were humming with cars and buses. The office workers among us often forget that for many people Saturday is also a working day. As well as shop workers, there were groups of labourers waiting around to be picked up or let into sites.

The weather was glorious; once I got to the Chelsea Embankment I was running east, towards the orange glow of sunrise.

My route was unashamedly touristy, designed to pass the maximum of famous sights. As soon as I reached the river, across from me I saw the iconic Battersea Power Station. After three miles along the Chelsea Embankment and Millbank, I crossed Lambeth Bridge to run along the South Bank walkway and get a better view of the Houses of Parliament. It’s such a familiar sight that we forget how deeply weird this building is, with its Gothic architecture and molten-wax colour.

Between Westminster Bridge and the Tate Modern, the South Bank is usually busy by day and night with strolling tourists. It was nice, then, to pass along it in comfort. Cleaners and technicians were chatting at the base of the London Eye. Waiting staff were setting out the terrace furniture of the riverside restaurants. The razzle-dazzle hull of the battleship HMS Belfast was impressive in the morning half-light.

After six miles I had reached my furthest point – Tower Bridge. As well as being iconic and idiosyncratic like the Houses of Parliament, the bridge is a landmark of the London Marathon route, coming just before the halfway point as huge crowds line both sides.

And even when deserted at the crack of dawn, Tower Bridge was exciting to run across. I made a mental note, came off on the north bank and turned upriver for home.

Passing the Tower of London and the fairly drab London Bridge, I reached another stretch of the London Marathon route – the Victoria Embankment. The traffic wasn’t so busy along here, although later that afternoon the corner with Westminster Bridge would be jammed with tourists taking selfies in front of Big Ben. But for my run I could skip freely through Parliament Square and up to Birdcage Walk, towards another marathon landmark.

Yes, I just had to make the turn in front of Buckingham Palace and down The Mall, the finishing straight of the London Marathon. After 10 miles of a long run I felt enough of a buzz on that distinctive red tarmac to kick for home; with plenty of visualising I can prepare to make a similar burst after 26 miles for a real finishing line.

That was the main business of my London long run done. After that I took further advantage of the quiet streets and indulged in some more tourism – I passed through Trafalgar Square and headed up to perhaps my favourite thoroughfare in London, the elegant Regent Street.

However, Regent Street was closed to traffic – stage crews were setting up screens and other attractions to mark the American football game between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins in London this weekend. This meant I could run right up the middle of my favourite London street, one which isn’t on the marathon route.

On Oxford Street just before nine o’clock the shops and department stores were getting ready for Saturday business. Hairdressers sat inside their salons for one last coffee and chat before opening for the busiest day of their week. Those famous red double-decker buses unloaded the last of the shop workers and the first of the shoppers.

The last stage of my London run was Hyde Park. I crossed into it at the Marble Arch corner and followed the northern side by Bayswater. My previous run here was at 7 a.m. on a weekday morning when the park was deserted, but this time there was a good turnout of runners and walkers.

On the Kensington Gardens side, on the Broad Walk there was a charming sight. A lady was being taught to cycle by a cycling instructor. The lady wobbled slightly and laughed nervously while concentrating intensely; the instructor had one hand on the rear carrier and another on the left handlebar. He spoke in the calm, reassuring and polite tones of everybody’s favourite teacher. I was tempted to stop my run to watch them and perhaps even cheer them both.

Apart from runners and fledgling cyclists, Hyde Park was filling up with other sports people. Well-to-do mums and dads brought their kids to football practice in the pitches behind the Albert Memorial; some arrived by black cab.  Also on Saturday mornings, the Serpentine lake is home to open-water swimmers.

But my sports were over for this morning; I left the park and passed by the museums of Kensington to finish my run.

For its culture, history and streetscapes I love London, so for me running there is a thrill. Hopefully I’ll be running in London again someday for the marathon, with a grandstand finish down The Mall.

As for this particular Saturday in London, what started with a long run finished with some advice by this woman about her favourite hill repeat sessions:

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Dublin Half Marathon 2014

Dublin Half Marathon 2014 finisher's t-shirt

A classic shade of blue – and none of your fancy continental kilometres either!

You’ll be sickened to hear that I’ve just had one of those great races where you exceed your expectations, knock a nice chunk off your previous personal best and get under a notable time barrier too.

I finished this morning’s Dublin Half Marathon in 1:28:51, which is exactly nine minutes quicker than I ran in last year’s race, over seven minutes under my old P.B., and my first time under 90 minutes for the distance.

You can check the Dublin Half Marathon 2014 results online or in Monday’s Irish Independent.

I was always fairly confident of setting a new P.B. today, but a bit uncertain about the sub-90. On recent form I was likely to sneak it by only 30 seconds – an uncomfortably close margin of error. Last night’s rain in Dublin made me even less certain, should it continue into race day.

But the rain had cleared by this morning, and the overhanging clouds kept off the beating sun that had proved tough on many runners in last year’s race.

The threat of bad weather hadn’t deterred competitors. An hour before the start, the Phoenix Park was heaving with runners and cars. This summer, people seem to be arriving earlier and earlier for each race to try and snaffle a precious parking space. Near Heuston Station a long queue of runners waited with varying degrees of patience for a shuttle bus to take them a mere 20-minute warm-up walk to the start area. Entry numbers seemed to be up considerably on last year. All great for the atmosphere but tough on the pre-race nerves if you’re stuck in traffic.

My race plan had been to put myself around 30 seconds ahead of the 1:30 pacers so that I could have a clear run and some open road. But when I went into the starting pen, 15 minutes before the off, the 1:30 pacers were up near the very front of the first wave, with a large number of devotees packed in tightly behind them.

Plan B, then, was to sit in on the pace bus for the narrow first mile or two and then move past them on the wide open spaces of the North Road in mile three or down the second pass of Chesterfield Avenue in mile 8.

After the familiar pre-race witticisms of Liam Moggan on the gantry microphone, wave one surged forward to the start line – and away we went.

As I expected, the narrow descent of the Khyber Road felt uncomfortably packed on mile one. Some runners took to the grass verge – a risky move after a night of rain. On a couple of occasions I felt a foot brush off my ankle, and the bumping of elbows made that first mile feel more like a mile race on the track. The red flags of the 1:30 pacers were a few seconds ahead of me, but with a heaving mass of adherents between them and me. My nerves were jangling a bit.

Thankfully we soon turned back onto spacious Chesterfield Avenue, which relieved the build-up of pressure. But the crowd behind pacers is always a bit uncomfortable for my liking, and so by mile 4 along the North Road I made my move past them – just in time to avoid another squeeze where the first water station lined both sides of a narrow stretch.

From here on, the story of my race was to stay ahead of the pacers. I felt like I was being chased down, and I dared not look behind me. But the comfort of having space for my own running made up for any nervous jangles.

I ran at a steady pace of under 6:50 for the next few miles, which were a slight net descent and rather unremarkable. On the pre-race walk up to the start I had been memorising my splits through the medium of a mantra: “3-6-9-12, 20-40-60-80″. (In other words, 3 miles at around 20 minutes, 6 miles at the 40-minute mark, and so forth.) My key split for a sub-90 was to hit the nine-mile marker on the hour – and this I did, even though the marker was further down Chesterfield Avenue than I expected.

(I know well that mile markers are never exactly at the designated distance; they hang from the nearest available lamp-post or visible spot. Most times I also listen for the tell-tale beep of GPS watches around me: I choose to race with a simple digital watch.)

Around mile 10 we left the Phoenix Park and took the closed-off bus lane along the Conyngham Road. Here came the major change from last year’s race – instead of ducking back into the Park to tackle the Military Road hills, we kept going straight on to the Chapelizod gate. From here we had less than two miles to go – but mostly uphill.

All this time I lived in mortal fear of the 1:30 pacers wafting past me from behind. I kept an ear out for their motivational chat to the masses, but heard nothing. Instead I got an earful of encouragement from a self-styled drill instructor of a coach standing near the 12-mile marker, roaring some inanities at runners: “You finish the job; you do NOT feel sorry for yourself!” He seemed pleased with himself.

I don’t remember if I checked my watch at the 12-mile marker but I knew that if I kept turning my legs I’d go close to the magic sub-90. In fact, I felt a little better than at the same point on the Upper Glen Road in the run-in of the Frank Duffy 10 Mile a few weeks earlier.

On the finishing stretch along the Furze Road, I knew I would do it. I knew I had a cushion of a minute for the sub-90. And while I still kept the legs turning at the same rate, or as close as I could muster, I afforded myself the luxury of a clenched fist in celebration as I sailed up to the line for my new personal best half marathon time of 1:28:51.

Maybe it was the narcotic effect of the sub-90 coursing through my veins, but I felt good afterwards. By the time I picked up my goodie bag and t-shirt I had already recovered. And the sun even came out.

With the half marathon done, next up is the full thing. But I’ll wait a few days before I start thinking about that. Right now I want to savour my brilliant race today like a fine wine on my palate.

Posted in Dublin, Half marathon | 11 Comments