Only recently did I realise that since I moved back to Dublin in July I’ve been living near mile 16 of the Dublin Marathon course.
So, as part of my training and mental preparation for the race, now only two weeks away, I decided to run in the last 10 miles of the course this morning.
I already know this end of the course quite well – after all, I’ve run the Dublin Marathon three times before. I’ve also taken plenty of training runs up the Clonskeagh and Roebuck stretch, the so-called Heartbreak Hill of Dublin. But on race day I’ve always found that hilly section to be my undoing – perhaps mentally as much as physically. And the Merrion Road at mile 23 has felt tough too, with nothing to relieve its monotony.
This morning’s run, then, was intended to help me get a mental fix on parts of the course where my mind has struggled in the past.
I set off this morning by running a little bit back up the course, so that I could turn around and run past where I live. The top of our road comes at a crucial part of the race, just before the marker for mile 16 where the course turns from south to east, towards the toughest section of the race and back towards the city-centre finish. Even on my test run this morning I felt such a buzz going past my home, so I’m sure it’ll give me a great lift on race day.
The Templeogue Road, almost a straight half-mile, felt long and monotonous, so I looked for landmarks that would break it up in my mind, such as the end of the Bushy Park wall and then Terenure public library.
Coming out of Rathgar, at mile 17 I missed the turn for Orwell Park, a tree-lined residential street. As I headed back to the turn I saw a group of club runners approaching from Rathgar and seemingly intent on running the marathon course too. Call it competitive instinct or egotism, but for some reason I resolved to finish the course ahead of them.
Mile 18 dips down to the Dropping Well pub at Milltown before rising after the tram viaduct. This brief hill is where I started to fade in my first Dublin Marathon, in 2004. Today I felt a lot better – I passed two other runners and kept the following group around 100 metres behind me.
From Milltown the course swings around the bend at Clonskeagh and down to the bridge over the river Dodder, where the mile 19 marker is. This marks the start of the Dublin Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill – a mile and a half uphill. Today I was determined to ascend it quickly and steadily. I passed another runner and there was no sound behind me – had the group stopped or just fallen silent? I drove on.
As I reached the top of the hill and swung left onto Foster’s Avenue, I was buzzing with satisfaction. This was exactly what I wanted from today’s run: to reinforce positive vibes and images. From here on, you’re running in for home.
Crossing the flyover at UCD, at mile 22, I looked back up the road and saw that group of runners well behind. This gave me another shot of energy. Now I just had to get my head together for the last three miles.
On the Merrion Road I made sure I felt strong in my legs and happy in my head. The junction with Ailesbury Road is probably the only landmark along here to break up the distance to Ballsbridge, so I made a mental note to look for it on race day. At Ballsbridge there’s usually a large and noisy crowd so that will give me another boost as I head for the finish.
The last obstacle on the course is Grand Canal Bridge, at around 24 and a half miles. After this bridge you’re into the city centre and within hearing distance of the finish – but in previous races I’ve found it to be an energy-sapping wall rising into my face. This morning, of course, it was a mere bump in the road. Hold that thought.
Now I was on the run-in to the finish, with just a lap of Trinity College to go. Even on a Sunday morning College Green was busy with tourists, so I had a bit of dodging and weaving to do. But I emerged unscathed. Now I would just turn onto Nassau Street, pass the 26-mile marker and kick for home.
Well, there were still people along Nassau Street too, waiting for buses or heading into Trinity, so I couldn’t run flat out to practice my grandstand finish. But branching off to Clare Street, you’ll see the finish line on Merrion Square, and even this morning I got a shot of adrenaline running up there. I ran strongly to where I figured the line would be, and completed my run with a great sense of triumph.
About a minute later, that group of runners ran in for their virtual finish, giving themselves a cheer without realising that I had beaten them soundly in this Dublin Marathon dress rehearsal.
Out of habit I walked around the square in the same direction as when I’ll have finished the race and collected my medal and goodie bag. To think that in two weeks this square will be alive with runners! Having brought some paper money folded up securely in my pocket, I made up my own goodie bag this morning by popping into a shop nearby and getting a Mars bar and a bottle of Lucozade (goodie bag items from my races in the Phoenix Park this summer) and the Sunday papers. Then I got a taxi home.
I got a great kick out of running the last 10 miles of the marathon course this morning. On race day I’ll be aiming to run faster for longer, but now I have a huge psychological boost from such an enjoyable run, replete with positive images.
Most importantly, it left me raring to go for race day. Bring on the Dublin Marathon!