Did you have a good bank holiday Monday? I did – I ran the 2012 Dublin Marathon in 3 hours, 53 minutes and 2 seconds, and I have the medal to prove it.
Unfortunately, many other finishers don’t have their medal – according to what seems a hastily-written message by the Dublin Marathon organisers, “our medal supplied [sic] left us short on the order of medals.” This meant that some runners arrived at the finish line only to find that there were no medals left – a very unfortunate error indeed.
Without wishing to jump on the Dublin Marathon-bashing bandwagon, this medal mix-up follows other logistical problems that I experienced on the course. The organisers and volunteers do a great job, but perhaps their current procedures need to be adapted for a larger field and less funding.
A few parts of the course were uncomfortably narrow. The initial stretches in the Phoenix Park were a tight squeeze before the relative relief of Chesterfield Avenue. Heading up to Walkinstown the field was squashed into a bus lane that was only four persons wide, leaving many runners to occupy the footpaths and endanger pedestrians.
And at Chapelizod many runners were tripped up by a line of traffic cones that seemed random and pointless – after all, runners were allowed to go on both sides of this line, so it wasn’t serving any purpose. An athlete in front of me went flying over one cone and flicked it up with his flailing heels like the famous Coventry City ‘donkey drop’ goal of the 1970s. The cone landed right on my legs – I did well to keep my balance and not trip up too, but in doing so I strained my groin and my left ankle. Thankfully I ran off those knocks quickly – but this morning both knees and my left thigh are still grazed.
Another issue came with the water stops. In general they were not clearly marked in advance – only one red sign hanging from a lamp post, not always in runners’ sight. Many people running with me missed the first water stop on the North Circular Road, which was just one short table – I went a few metres past and had to turn back, breaking my rhythm and causing a hold-up of runners. I recall only two water stops that used both sides of the road.
All that said, none of these things seriously affected my running. So how did I get on?
Well, my plan was similar to last year’s – sit in with the 3:30 pacers. But while this felt fine for me in 2011, yesterday even from the first few streets this 8-minute-mile pace felt like an effort. Our pacers were also feeling the strain. One of them lost the flag from his pole, but fortunately another runner had picked it up and caught up with him to put it back on. And just like in the Paris Marathon this year, the leading 3:30 pacer suddenly veered off into the park bushes for a pit stop, to great cheers and roars.
The first half of the race just flew by, and at 13 miles I was still with the 3:30 pacers. But after 16 miles I felt my legs starting to tire and cramp up. So, I decided just to run in and make sure I finished. Stopping or walking was out of the question; my mantra was ‘keep lifting your feet and you’ll finish.’
There were very few spectators and competitors around me on the dreaded ‘Heartbreak Hill’ of Clonskeagh and Roebuck in mile 20, so that was probably the bleakest part of the race for me. I was feeling tired and slightly demoralised. But I knew this part of the route well, so that reassured me. Getting to the top of the hill also gave me a boost – and I was greatly encouraged when I noticed that I covered mile 20 in 10 minutes, proving again my other running mantra of ‘you’re running faster than you think’.
On the run-in my legs were stiff and other runners were streaming past me, but I blocked all that out. “It’s someone else’s day today, not mine”, I told myself with a philosophical air I never suspected I had. I kept my running posture upright and fluid, and mentally I felt very strong. With five marathons already finished before this, I knew that this was only a mild discomfort before the great pleasure of crossing the line.
Coming around Trinity College for the last mile, we were again squashed into a bus lane as traffic whizzed by on Pearse Street. Nassau Street seemed a little less crowded than the previous year. On seeing the finish line I managed to put in a slight burst of speed to see myself home comfortably under four hours.
So, the Dublin Marathon organisers have a lot to think about before next year’s race – and so do I. It surprised me how far off my usual 3:30 pace I was on the day, even though I felt great going into the race. Do I need to look again at my training, even though it got me to 3:32 in Paris in April? Or was it just the effect of running three marathons in 12 months?
I’ll leave the thinking for later – right now I’ll savour another successfully-completed marathon.