Tralee Marathon 2015 – finished!

Tralee Marathon 2015 finisher's medal and top

In the Kerry colours too.

I had struggled to get to the start line, and getting to the finish line proved to be no easier. But I still finished the 2015 Tralee Marathon in exactly 3 hours and 49 minutes. Given that I was sick in bed with a chest infection last weekend and I was taking antibiotics up until yesterday, I’m happy with that.

(Tralee Marathon results are now online.)

Even aside from it being my hometown marathon, it was an excellent race and day. The weather was chilly and we faced a stiff breeze from miles 20 to 23, but otherwise the conditions were excellent – all the better to enjoy some spectacular views as the route passed along the scenic Tralee Bay coastal roads.

This was also my first time running in a smaller-sized marathon. Only 360 runners took part in today’s marathon, which means that it was 100 times smaller than the three times I ran in the Paris Marathon. With the smaller scale came a more laid-back vibe – and I liked it. The crowds and bustle of big-city marathons, added to the need to be at the start area at stupid o’clock in the morning to avoid long queues, can make it hard to relax – an essential part of running well.

My race plan in Tralee today was simple; make like Rosa Parks and not budge from my seat on the 3:30 pace bus. For most of the race this went like a dream; I felt comfortable and as we passed through four miles in a manageable pace I was almost giddy with excitement.

The route took us out of Tralee in a north-west direction. After a few miles of rural main road we came to the historic village of Ardfert, home to St Brendan the medieval seafaring priest and apparently the ‘real’ discoverer of North America. (An expedition in the 1970s recreated his voyage and showed it was possible to cross the Atlantic in a tar-coated, leather-hulled boat.) Ardfert is also the home of Tom O’Riordan, 1964 Olympian and esteemed athletics journalist. His son Ian is now the athletics correspondent for The Irish Times.

By Ardfert our pace group had settled into a nice gang of around ten runners. The roads weren’t closed to traffic, but drivers were careful and none of us were discommoded or spooked by any vehicles.

After Ardfert came another historic spot – Banna beach, where Sir Roger Casement was arrested for treason after landing with arms for the 1916 Easter Rising. For those of us from Tralee, Banna is the local beach and while running along the strand road today I saw some of the high dunes from which I would take flying leaps into the soft sand as a youngster – an early effort at long jumps. The ten-mile marker reached us bang on 80 minutes, and I felt fine; there didn’t seem to be any ill-effects from my chest infection.

We swung back close to Ardfert, and then towards the halfway point of the race we faced into the rolling hills around Barrow. The steep hill out to Barrow itself was on last year’s route and caused great hardship – but this year it wasn’t on the course. Still, the undulating road made us all focus on feeling comfortable and bottling some energy for the last part of the race.

Another hilly road took us to the small port of Fenit, where a looped turn would send us back towards Tralee for the last six miles of the race. Alas, this was where I started to fade. Just after the 20-mile marker I started to feel heavy-legged and light-headed. My breathing felt a little heavier, which brought to mind my recent chest infection. Added to that, a stiff onshore breeze started blowing into our faces.

I had a choice to make; should I force myself to keep up the pace, or should I be cautious given my recent illness? Common sense prevailed: I parked the ego, cut my losses and figured that I’d be happy to enjoy the run-in, guarantee a decent time and protect my fragile health. And so I slipped out the back of the 3:30 group and watched them head off into the distance and out of sight.

I travelled the last six miles at little faster than walking pace, which didn’t make it any easier. My revised plan was to save some energy for the last two miles, which were mostly downhill into Tralee town. The 3:45 pacer passed me; I kept my head down until the coast was clear.

Along I trundled, and a mile and a half from the finish, just before we reached Tralee, I did something I had never done in a race before – I took some food from spectators. It was a Jaffa cake, to be precise. I needed some energy and a psychological lift, and I figured that I was close enough to the end to risk some food clattering into my empty stomach. As it happened, the Jaffa cake was delicious and went down like a dream.

As soon as we swept downhill through the outskirts of Tralee, I got a second wind and I kicked for home. The thrill of finishing a marathon in my home town sent a surge of electricity through my legs. (It was that or the Jaffa cake.) Rounding the corner into the second-last street, I saw my family waving and cheering – another thrill for me, as it was the first time they had seen me run in a marathon.

All that was left was the finishing straight on The Mall. And I had it all to myself, with no other runners near me – this was a dream scenario. Neighbours from my home town cheered me on as I kicked like a mule and drove for the line. It was the greatest finishing straight I ever ran.

I crossed the line in exactly 3:49:00. Afterwards I was freezing cold, and when I got home I had trouble warming up again. But a power nap soon got me back in shape.

If you can have a hard 20-mile crash and a slow time but still feel you had a great race, then I had that race today. I’d recommend everyone run their home town marathon.

Posted in Marathon, Tralee | Tagged | 20 Comments

Race to the marathon start line

640px-Air_Force_Marathon

The hard work is over and the running-26-miles-at-race-pace begins (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Ben Strasser

A marathon consists of two challenges. One is getting to the finish line, and the other is getting to the start line.

I’m almost at the start line of my ninth race over the classic distance, the Tralee Marathon. Race day is on Sunday morning, the day after tomorrow as I write.

This time last week, though, the Tralee start line threatened to recede into the distance. A heavy cold mutated into a mild chest infection, and I could hardly lift a leg even to shuffle forlornly to the couch to console myself with football on TV, I feared that for Tralee I would literally be a non-runner.

Thankfully I was able to start zapping the chest infection with antibiotics while it was still a mild irritant in my windpipe, before it could plough down into the lungs. I’m also thankful that my doctor is officially Sound On The Running Question. When I told her I needed to get well for a marathon the following weekend, instead of furrowing her brow and sighing in exasperation she asked me what time I was aiming for.

But then, this is the same doctor who patched me up when, two days before the 2013 Dublin Marathon, I rocked up to her clinic with mild gastroenteritis. Forty-eight hours later I ran what is still my marathon personal best time.

After seven days without running, during which I slept like a sleeping machine, this week I had a couple of tentative runs. On Tuesday night I went out for a speculative twenty minutes of light trotting – two ten-minute miles. By merely returning without having coughed up my lungs I considered that run a success.

Then on Thursday night I wrapped those two slow miles around a filling of two miles at race pace. It felt comfortable and I was greatly heartened, if not so greatly lung-ened.

Right now the infection seems to have cleared up. I have a light, dry ‘ahem’ of a cough like that of a groom trying to shut up a bawdy best man’s speech at a wedding reception.

So now I’m getting ready for race day. Tomorrow morning, 24 hours before the start, I’ll go for my traditional captain’s run – a light run of one mile the day before a race to loosen the legs and work up some battle fever. Then I must collect my race number: I’ll be number 60.

After that I’ll just be resting up, plus going over my race strategy. Although my legs are in the shape to go for 3:14 or even 3:09, I’m not so steady on my lungs. So for Tralee the plan is to sit in with the sub-3:30 bus and see how the windbags hold up. The main objective is to finish in a decent time but without my lungs oozing down the front of my shirt, and this may require concepts alien to most of us male runners, such as common sense and parking the ego.

And then on Sunday morning I’ll make my way to the Tralee Marathon finish line – via the start line.

Posted in Marathon, Training, Tralee | Tagged | 7 Comments

Finishing on The Mall(s)

The Mall in London, 1960s, with Buckingham Palace in the background. (Photo: Irish Memory)

It’s spring marathon season, and for us here in the English-speaking corner of Europe that means one race. Many runners are training hard and visualising intently for their glorious finish down The Mall. That includes me.

Yes, in a few days time, current illness notwithstanding, I’ll be blasting out a glorious run at the Tralee Marathon in Co. Kerry, Ireland.

Oh, there’s the London Marathon too, and that also finishes on The Mall.

If you know London, then you’ll know The Mall is the long, wide boulevard of red tarmac that sweeps from Trafalgar Square up the the gates of Buckingham Palace. Apart from London Marathon day, our British friends can be found on The Mall waving their Union Jacks on the occasion of some royal good news.

The Mall in Tralee is less spectacular; it’s the main shopping street in the heart of town. Back in the 1980s, when I was in shorts, it was a bustling two-way thoroughfare. Fast forward to today, when I’m still in shorts, and it’s a slightly quieter one-way street; an out-of-town shopping mall has hit The Mall. But the bustle will be back on Sunday morning.

The Tralee Marathon wasn’t due to finish there. On last year’s course and this year’s intended course, The Mall was the second-last street before a right turn onto the finishing straight down the wide Georgian thoroughfare of Denny Street. I had been visualising this finish since Christmas – in fact, during my Christmas morning run in Tralee I took the opportunity of a practice finish down a deserted Denny Street, to help me visualise it all the better.

But then in February, just a few weeks before the race, the Tralee Marathon organisers announced a change to the finish. The gaelic football match between Kerry and Donegal is scheduled to take place in Tralee on the same day as the marathon, and with extra traffic expected in town for both events, the local authorities need Denny Street to stay open and allow traffic to flow through town. And so the race will finish just before Denny Street, on The Mall. (The start line has been moved back the same distance.)

“Ha! So much for your visualisation!” says you. Well, as it happens, I had already practised my 2015 spring marathon finish on The Mall – the London version.

Regular readers will remember that I took a long run in London one sunny Saturday morning last September. At that stage I had entered the ballot for London Marathon places and was awaiting the result. Well, on that London run I made sure to get in some practical research – heading back from Tower Bridge and along the Victoria Embankment, I hung a right at Big Ben and followed the last couple of miles of the London Marathon course.

Even after 16 miles I got a tremendous shot of adrenaline from turning right in front of Buck House and kicking down The Mall. (The four miles after that to finish my long run were a bit tough, but there you go.)

Now, it mightn’t be apparent to you why practising the finishing straight of one marathon can help with the finish of a different marathon just because they finish on streets of the same name. All I can say to that is: if you’ve got to ask, then you’ll never need to know.

Enjoy your spring marathon finishing kick down The Mall, wherever it may be. And one reminder to anyone doing the Waterford Viking Marathon in Ireland in June: you’re starting on The Mall, not finishing there. Waterford is an odd place.

Posted in London, Marathon, Tralee | Tagged | Leave a comment

Taper illness

Sneeze

Thanks for sharing that. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / James Gathany)

Just because you’re maranoid, it doesn’t mean the world is not out to get you during your marathon taper.

With only nine days to go to the Tralee Marathon, I’m sick. I have whatever version of the cold bug is pinging around Dublin these days.

The day before yesterday I could feel myself a little drained and slightly light-headed. I made for the paracetamol and liquids, but in vain. Yesterday morning, when I woke up to get ready for another day down the coalmine, my head was reeling, my throat was rasping and I hadn’t an ounce of strength in my body.

There would be no coalmining yesterday – nothing of anything except medicine, fluids and bed-rest, interrupted only by the necessity to get up and watch the previous night’s recording of Match of the Day.

I feel a bit better today. I made it back to work, for one thing, and got from nine to five without falling into a heap. It’s the weekend now, so I’ll rest up and focus on getting back to full health. My main concern is to make sure I don’t get a chest infection – after previous marathons I’ve been susceptible to bronchitis, and getting another blast of it now would put an end to my hopes of running in a marathon next weekend.

Of course, it’s frustrating to be sick and unable to run so close to my marathon. But the enforced rest might be a blessing in disguise – I’ll be able to catch up on my sleep and avoid the risk of overtraining. A few days without running won’t cost me my fitness, especially since my substantive training is already done.

By the end of this weekend I hope to be fully recovered and back on my feet again. Otherwise I shall wreak my vengeance by hopping from rush-hour bus to train and spluttering on every commuter in Dublin.

Posted in Marathon, Training | Tagged | 9 Comments

Tralee Marathon 2015 – I’m in!

Tralee Marathon website for entry, route information and results

Click image to visit the race website

My parkruns and cross country so far in 2015 were fine in themselves, but they were all part of a greater plan. I’ve entered the Tralee Marathon, taking place on 15 March.

Tralee is my home town, and ever since the first edition of this race in 2013 I’ve wanted to run this marathon. What’s more, I’ve heard only good reports about the organisation and atmosphere of the event.

If I’m honest with myself, another motivation for running this marathon is my rough experience at the 2014 Dublin Marathon last October. I had trained and raced well all summer, but then on race day I had a shocker – I blew up with ten miles to go and finished half an hour outside my target time. While I was happy to have hung on to finish with a decent time of 3:38, a part of me felt disappointed at my poor showing. Tralee isn’t going to be a PB chase – I just want to have a more enjoyable marathon than I had in Dublin.

So, a spring marathon for me – my first since a great run at Paris 2012. For fear of a Dublin hangover I’ve prepared myself gradually. Notwithstanding my PB-setting 10K in November, I took the post-Dublin month to recover and return slowly to running.

My post-marathon slump continued into December, but by then I had already thought of Tralee the following March. So, I used December as a tentative base-building period, with a view to taking my training one month at a time. A good Christmas rest got me feeling refreshed for January and those fast short races to build up speed and strength. February training has gone well too, and last October’s Dublin Marathon seems like a long time ago.

So now there are less than three weeks to race day in Tralee, which means I’m tapering already. I feel well-prepared physically and mentally, and quite relaxed about the prospect of a marathon in 20 days time. Also, as my previous eight marathons have been in the big-city races of Paris and Dublin, a less-crowded event and a mostly rural course will be a refreshing change for me.

Back in the game, baby!

Posted in Marathon, Tralee | Tagged | 4 Comments

Tralee parkrun coming up roses

Three laps of the Green, boy! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Colin Park)

Three laps of the Green, boy! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Colin Park)

For the last couple of years my home town of Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland, The World has been gripped by running fever. The Tralee Marathon, first run in 2013, has been a great success, and is now complemented by a schools running programme and a regular series of shorter races.

And now, almost inevitably, Tralee has its own parkrun. The first Tralee parkrun took place this weekend, and I was there to take part.

Just as the Tralee Marathon was an immediate hit, I’m glad to report that the inaugural Tralee parkrun was a success too. Exactly 150 people, of all ages and speeds, turned out on a bright, crisp morning in the Town Park (or “the Green” for some locals). And of these 150 I finished 5th overall and first in my age category, with a time of 19:58 – just nipping in under the 20-minute mark.

What’s more, this was my first race in Tralee since my school sports days.

The Tralee parkrun course comprises three laps of the park, starting near the Ashe Hall and going clockwise along the church side, then the Presentation girls’ school side, then past my old secondary school, CBS The Green, then along by the Siamsa Tíre theatre, and back around the Ashe Hall. To make up the exact 5-kilometre distance, on each lap there’s a short out-and-back detour behind the Presentation school and beside the old athletics field. The course rises noticeably going up to The Green school but gives it back with a descent on the Siamsa Tíre side.

I enjoyed the Tralee course, but for a parkrunner wearing a no-nonsense PB-chasing game-face it mightn’t be ideal. A three-lap course means the faster runners will have to overtake the slower ones and the walkers. That out-and-back detour has a 180-degree turn around a traffic cone, which will slow you down a little.

But even a PB-chasing curmudgeon like me knows that parkruns are as much about the socialising, participating and not scaring other park users as about the fast times.

That’s easy for me to say when I’m feeling happy after a good run. My recent time of 20:47 at Tymon parkrun in Dublin was a post-Christmas workout that was slower than my real form. A sub-20 minute 5k is closer to my current capabilities, and I hope to make sub-20 the norm during 2015.

The thrill of a race in my home town obviously helped. I blasted out hard at the start and had to remind myself to settle into a more sensible pace. As an imperialist I was glad that the three-lap course allowed me to make splits in miles, 5 kilometres being roughly 3.1 miles. I finished the first lap in around 6:30, or 19:30 pace, but I factored the fast start into that.

On the second lap I had to pick my way past some walkers and slower runners. One pair of people I passed let out a sigh and an “Oh God, we’re so slow!” – whether that was good-humoured self-deprecation or genuine demoralisation, it made me feel a little guilty. I also felt awkward thundering past some of the older people shuffling towards the back gate of St John’s Church – I have no problem with bowling over other park users in Dublin parkruns, but how dare anyone do it to my native OAPs! Anyway, no one gave out or shook a walking stick in anger.

Fearing I’d get frustrated if I checked my time and was off sub-20 pace, I didn’t look at my watch at all on the third and final lap. I was still feeling a little post-Christmas sluggishness and that led me to think I was working harder than usual in a race. Still, as I came to the last few hundred metres a voice in my head convinced me to sprint for the finish. I can remember the voice saying that if I didn’t, “you’ll be sorry”.

And so I blasted off around the back of the Ashe Hall for the run-in.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I crossed the finish, checked my watch and saw that I had sneaked under 20 minutes for a time of 19:58. The voice in my head was right: a 20:01 time would have left me devastated. Kids, ignore what your juvenile parole officer says: always listen to the voices in your head.

Well done to the organisers and volunteers who got the Tralee parkrun off to a great start. I’ll give it another go on a future visit home – although before that I may be doing a longer race in Tralee. More on that soon.

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun, Tralee | Tagged | 2 Comments

My first cross country race: BHAA Eircom CC 2015

Click image to visit the BHAA website

Where it’s Hallowe’en every day (Click image to visit the BHAA website)

If only because I managed to eat my own weight in barm brack afterwards, my cross country debut was a success. Last Saturday I ran the BHAA Eircom CC 5-mile race in 34:09, for a good time in every sense.

(The BHAA is the Business Houses Athletic Association, who organise a series of short races hosted by local companies in the Dublin area. The BHAA Eircom CC results are now online. And barm brack is a type of fruit cake usually eaten at Hallowe’en but which the BHAA serve up in industrial quantities post-race all year round. Now read on.)

I had entered to enjoy the buzz of a new running experience, and with the expectation of mud, cold, exhaustion and a tough slog of a race. In all those counts I wasn’t disappointed. The mud was at a minimum, though – a few nights of hard frost had left the ground quite firm, so any mud on the course was generally at surface level rather than up past the ankles.

Still, I was surprised at how many people wore ordinary running shoes instead of spikes. I didn’t see any slips or falls but some of the tight, churned-up corners must have been quite hairy for those in smooth soles.

My brand-new pair of spikes worked a treat. I felt sure-footed all the way around, and the lightness of the shoes helped me lift my feet off the sticky ground with less effort.

The 5-mile course comprised three laps of Cherryfield Park in west Dublin and combined football pitches, parkland and a grassy trail. There were two small climbs, each perhaps only 7 strides in length, and apart from those the course was flat, firm and fast. Spikes of 5mm did the job.

To warm up on this bitterly cold morning I did a light one-lap trot where I could check out the course and stick up some mental Post-It notes to self. The corners and trail section were narrower than what I was used to in road races. To cross a tarmac path on two occasions we would run on a green felt mat that looked like a Subbuteo pitch, but my short spikes were okay on them – I didn’t have to use the clomping, sliding walk you’d use when crossing a road in your football studs.

Given the novelty of the situation and the challenges of your typical cross country course, my expectations were slow. I decided to use the first lap to get the feel of the course and find some running room; after that I would see how I felt. My road 5-mile PB is 33:29, but for my first off-road race I would have been happy with sub-40 minutes. (A muddy field invites a bit of sandbagging.)

I’m glad to say that I had an uneventful race and I ran at what felt like a consistent pace all the way around. My fears of getting spiked were unfounded. The surface felt fast and my spikes were comfortable.

And I had the deep, deep pleasure of moving up steadily through the field. After the first lap I remember only one person having the audacity to overtake me, and no one passed me at all in the last 800 metres.

After I finished I was tired to the bone. This 5-miler through the fields seemed to have the same effect on me as a marathon. I changed into my spare pair of running shoes – were they really so heavy compared to my spikes, or was that the tiredness? Summoning one last effort worthy of a cross country finishing straight, I shuffled across the road to race HQ, where coffee, biscuits and and barm brack waited.

Barm brack aside, the organization was excellent – I noticed what looked like Dublin Marathon race director Jim Aughney at the trigger end of the starter’s electronic pistol. My only gripe would be that the 5-mile race was billed as the ‘men’s race’, and was preceded by a 2-mile ‘women’s race’. This gender gap wasn’t so strictly enforced; some women ran in the longer race, although I saw no men in the shorter race. But it looks bad and sounds patronising; I can’t think of any reason why a cross country can’t consist of one mixed single-distance event, like at road races.

Anyway, I enjoyed my first cross country race and it won’t be my last. The BHAA will be bringing their barm brack roadshow to some more Dublin fields between now and April, so if I can’t have Christmas every day then at least I can enjoy some extra Hallowe’ens.

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun, Cross country, Dublin | Tagged | 5 Comments