Fortunately I run marathons better than I forecast weather. Today I ran the 2013 Dublin Marathon in 3 hours, 26 minutes and 14 seconds – a new personal best by almost two minutes!
The weather was perfect; a sunny autumn morning with only a slight breeze. (That breeze felt a lot colder in the start area, but that’s a distant memory now.) The storms that hit the south of England eventually swerved away from Dublin; not a drop of rain fell on the race.
Perhaps the relief of the unexpectedly fine weather brought out the crowds; the support all along the route was fantastic. Special mention to the people of Chapelizod; the joint was rocking! Music, large crowds, even a barbecue – I got a genuine thrill running through there. If you wore earphones during the Dublin Marathon today, then you missed out on a memorable experience.
Any race where you get a personal best time is obviously a rewarding and satisfying one. My objective was to beat my personal best of 3:27:58 and go close to 3 hours and 25 minutes, running each mile at around 7 minutes 50 seconds. With the weather uncertainty resolved, my only possible mitigating factor was whether my stomach bug of last week had drained me of valuable strength and hydration.
Off we went, and I covered the first mile in a slightly too fast 7:43. But this was okay, compared to the Dublin Half Marathon this summer when I tore off in a 6:50 mile.
I found it hard to get into a rhythm during the first three miles, and I fell a little behind my target split times. Without meaning to, I overcompensated as the race passed through the autumnal splendour of the Phoenix Park – after the four miles through the park I had gone from a minute behind schedule to well over a minute ahead of schedule, and by the ten mile point I was almost two minutes up. This concerned me slightly, but I put my worries of a second-half backlash out of my mind as best I could.
At halfway I was a minute and a half ahead of my planned split, but still feeling comfortable and calm. My first mental wobbles came around mile 15 – but I was able to keep up a strong pace. This would prove to be the story of my race; every time the mind wavered I had enough composure to respond by sticking to my rhythm.
Turning onto the Templeogue Road and Bushy Park, I passed my home. This gave me a great boost when I needed it. I had also run the last 10 miles in training a few weeks ago, which was valuable mental preparation in helping me break up the race and de-fang the more worrying hills. Up the short hill after Milltown bridge I ran comfortably and felt positive as I turned towards my nemesis of previous years – the Clonskeagh-Roebuck climb known as the Heartbreak Hill of the Dublin Marathon.
Thankfully I ran well up this hill and past the critical 20-mile mark without losing too much time. It helped that there were more runners and spectators on this stretch today than in previous years – a good crowd at the Clonskeagh triangle as well as at the top of Roebuck Road. Turning at the summit onto Foster’s Avenue, I had let my pace slip to just over 7:50 per mile but I was still within a minute of my 3 hours 25 minutes objective. I felt confident.
The next critical stretch for me was the Merrion Road, where in previous Dublin Marathons I had struggled mentally and physically. This time I knew I was within reach of a new personal best – but it would be close. My mind was wavering again and the legs felt heavy.
Time to unleash a mantra, then. And so, along the Merrion Road I kept repeating to myself “I want my P.B.” and even inadvertently said it aloud a couple of times. Whenever I was conscious of slowing even slightly, I said “I want my P.B.” a few times and made an effort to stick to a strong rhythm. By now I knew I was running well and I’d beat three and a half hours – but would I get the new personal best?
The last obstacle on the Dublin Marathon route is the slope of Grand Canal Bridge – normally a mere speedbump but on marathon day a vertical rock face. I made sure I ran strongly over it, but felt completely drained as I came down the other side.
Coming up to the 25-mile marker my head felt light and I reckon it was bobbing from side to side as if I were a middle-distance runner struggling on the sprint for home. At one point I switched off mentally for a few seconds, and when I switched on again my initial reaction was: “Am I still running in this bloody race?” I had a fleeting fear that I’d collapse or black out – but still I kept lifting the feet and sticking to a strong rhythm. My other running mantra came to mind: “You’re running faster than you think!”
The last full mile, around the block of Trinity College, was a blur for me. Coming round College Green and onto Nassau Street, I briefly misinterpreted the 26-mile sign as meaning I still had a mile left – with only four minutes of a cushion I almost groaned in despair. Then almost as quickly I remembered that I only had a fraction of a mile to go. Still in the game, baby!
On the finishing straight I couldn’t find any strength for my usual kick for home. My head was so dizzy that I couldn’t read the clock on the finishing arch, so I just kept going as hard as I could. Eventually I came up to the finishing line and glanced up just as I crossed it; I saw that my time was 3 hours, 26 minutes and something seconds – a new personal best.
At that moment, it didn’t sink in and I didn’t celebrate – I was completely spent. My legs were stiffening and my head was disturbingly light. I reckon it took me a good 15 minutes to shuffle and sway around the finishing area in Merrion Square.
Outside a massage tent I saw a chair, so I sat for a few minutes with my head between my legs to get blood flowing back to my head. Feeling a little better, I shuffled out of the finishing area and began to roll my new personal best time around in my mind like a particularly fine red wine on the palate.
It’s the evening now, and my run this morning is still sinking in. My main feeling is satisfaction at a job well done; I trained well and prepared sensibly, and it’s tremendously reassuring to get the reward I worked for. I’m also proud to see my splits for today’s marathon – although I went out a little too fast for the first 10 kilometres, I’m heartened to see that I kept up a good pace of just over 8 minutes per mile in the last six miles of the race, even when I was feeling it a struggle to do so.
From Christmas runs in Kerry to springtime track sessions in the Paris suburbs, and then to summer threshold training in Tymon Park in Dublin, it’s been an epic marathon cycle for me, and it coincided with my move back home to Ireland this summer. I’ve enjoyed every minute and every mile of it; I hope you feel the same about your marathon effort today.
Thanks to the Dublin Marathon organisers, volunteers and spectators for making today a fantastic occasion. Well done to Sean Hehir and Maria McCambridge on winning the men’s and women’s titles today.
And if you ran the Dublin Marathon today too, congratulations and enjoy your achievement.