At mile 22 of a marathon, my thoughts are usually along the lines of “Why am I doing this?”
But at that stage of the 2011 Dublin Marathon, while starting to fade, I was thinking “Okay, next time I’m going to…” That’s how I knew that I was enjoying the race.
Everything about last year’s Dublin Marathon felt great. The race started around 10:00 instead of 9:00, and that extra hour meant that my wake-up and breakfast were at a reasonable time. The weather was good – mild and not too windy, and I finished just in time to escape the torrential rain that fell on the runners over 4 hours. And the largesse of the race sponsor ensured live TV coverage, which added to the excitement around the start area.
For me personally, it was my first time running in a race in Ireland since I had left the country. My move to France came soon after I had run my first marathon, in Dublin in 2004. There’s no doubt that the planning and focus of my marathon effort helped me apply those same qualities to my plans to go to Paris. The two seemed intertwined – and now that I wanted to move back to Ireland again, running the Dublin Marathon again somehow felt like a step on the way, as if I would be coming full circle. Plus, I was feeling nostalgic about running in Dublin. All in all, I was really looking forward to the 2011 Dublin Marathon.
But only a few days earlier I had serious fears of a suffer-fest. Overtraining had left me feeling exhausted, and in the week leading up to the race I could barely shuffle a mile. However, as soon as I got to the start area, adrenaline kicked in – I had enjoyed my summer of hard training, and the week’s enforced lay-off had freshened me up. Whatever doubts and niggles I had, I just put them to one side. I lined up behind the 3:30 pacer and waited to go – and off we went.
We covered the first mile in just under 8 minutes – a little too fast, but the pace soon relaxed to a steady 8 minutes per mile. I remember in that first mile the air felt unseasonably warm and humid going down Dawson Street, and I wondered if a thunderstorm was coming or if I was overheating already. Fortunately, the river breeze at O’Connell Bridge cooled things down.
At the Phoenix Park runners were still bunched together, and a brief, light shower of rain came as a welcome relief. I had trained in the Park for the 2004 race, so I got a great kick out of being back there again. These are the times that I’m glad I don’t listen to music when I run – all the sights and sounds and feelings of that first marathon-training summer went fizzing around my brain and gave me a huge surge of energy.
Once the hill at Saint Laurence Road had broken up the field, I had more running room and I hit a good rhythm all the way through Kilmainham, Rialto and Crumlin. The uncertain weather had probably dissuaded a lot of would-be spectators, but there was still plenty of support – much of it offering plates of sweets. (I’ve already mentioned in previous posts Mrs Mars Bars in Walkinstown, who shimmered before me like a moving statue to a gullible massgoer.)
One unfortunate spectator near Terenure probably doesn’t have as starry-eyed a view of the 2011 Dublin Marathon. As the leading 3:30 pacer and his followers passed by, she shouted well-intentioned words of encouragement: “Keep going, you’re well on course for 4 hours!” Who would have thought marathon runners could spare so much energy for the hail of abuse that rained down on that poor woman?
Coming out of Terenure and heading towards Milltown, I was still in touch with the 3:30 pacers. Alas, just as in 2004 Milltown was where we parted – once again I had the demoralising sight of the pacer’s orange balloon moving farther away from me. As I reached the top of Roebuck Road and turned left I could see my pacers already turning off the far end of Fosters Avenue, and that was the last I saw of them.
Passing the grand institutions of UCD, RTE and the RDS I was still moving smoothly enough, but with considerably less energy and speed. Reaching Lansdowne Road, though, with just a few miles to go, I was now only driving on fumes, putting one foot in front of the other through force of habit rather than force of nature. The slight hill of Grand Canal Bridge felt like a vertical rock climb.
My original target of 3:30 now well out of reach, I revised my plans – I figured that I could still beat 3 hours 45 minutes. This mental clarity gave me a great psychological boost; the body was fading but my mind had overcome The Wall unscathed. Turning into Westland Row I knew I only had a lap of Trinity College to go – another psychological boost.
In that last mile I ran hard. Passing the Screen cinema some poor guy was lying flat on his back on the road with his head using the kerb as a pillow – but my sympathy for him was tempered by the fact that he had his arms outstretched in a crucifixion pose. This for me felt like the equivalent of pulling the emergency brake between train stations – couldn’t he not have simply kept going for the last half-mile instead of stopping to suffer so self-consciously? Perhaps after I had passed, he rose again…
Around College Green the crowds were deep, pressing up against crush barriers and generating a wave of noise. Coming to the end of Nassau Street I could see the finishing line and the clock ahead of me – and I went for it. Suddenly I couldn’t hear anything anymore. I had no tiredness or any other feeling in my body. Mentally I had locked onto the clock – and it showed me that if I wanted to beat 3:45 I had to get there in less than one minute.
I tore for the finish line, and all I could think of was “Don’t slip on the wet ground” and “Don’t bang into anyone”. And I made it – 3 hours, 44 minutes and 30 seconds. It was around 17 minutes outside my best time, but I was still very pleased at having improvised a Plan B during the race.
No sooner had I collected my bag and left the finish area than the sky grew dark and rain fell in torrents. I felt some sympathy for those runners still on the course, but I wasn’t going to begrudge myself the good fortune of just beating the bad weather. Later, heading home after sitting out the rain in the warmth of a pub, we saw a finisher wearing a pair of jeans and walking with his legs wide apart like a duelling cowboy – not from injury but from severe inner thigh chafing that was rubbing against his unfortunate choice of post-marathon trousers. (Lesson: wear a loose tracksuit after the race, not denim.)
So, Mister Jesus-Off-The-Cross and Mister John Wayne had bad marathon experiences – and I’ve been there too. But my positive attitude and good planning helped make my 2011 Dublin Marathon a great time all round.
But there’s always room for improvement, a lesson to learn. “Next time I’m going to make sure I don’t overtrain” is what I said to myself at mile 22 that day. And next time I didn’t.