You’ll be sickened to hear that I’ve just had one of those great races where you exceed your expectations, knock a nice chunk off your previous personal best and get under a notable time barrier too.
I finished this morning’s Dublin Half Marathon in 1:28:51, which is exactly nine minutes quicker than I ran in last year’s race, over seven minutes under my old P.B., and my first time under 90 minutes for the distance.
You can check the Dublin Half Marathon 2014 results online or in Monday’s Irish Independent.
I was always fairly confident of setting a new P.B. today, but a bit uncertain about the sub-90. On recent form I was likely to sneak it by only 30 seconds – an uncomfortably close margin of error. Last night’s rain in Dublin made me even less certain, should it continue into race day.
But the rain had cleared by this morning, and the overhanging clouds kept off the beating sun that had proved tough on many runners in last year’s race.
The threat of bad weather hadn’t deterred competitors. An hour before the start, the Phoenix Park was heaving with runners and cars. This summer, people seem to be arriving earlier and earlier for each race to try and snaffle a precious parking space. Near Heuston Station a long queue of runners waited with varying degrees of patience for a shuttle bus to take them a mere 20-minute warm-up walk to the start area. Entry numbers seemed to be up considerably on last year. All great for the atmosphere but tough on the pre-race nerves if you’re stuck in traffic.
My race plan had been to put myself around 30 seconds ahead of the 1:30 pacers so that I could have a clear run and some open road. But when I went into the starting pen, 15 minutes before the off, the 1:30 pacers were up near the very front of the first wave, with a large number of devotees packed in tightly behind them.
Plan B, then, was to sit in on the pace bus for the narrow first mile or two and then move past them on the wide open spaces of the North Road in mile three or down the second pass of Chesterfield Avenue in mile 8.
After the familiar pre-race witticisms of Liam Moggan on the gantry microphone, wave one surged forward to the start line – and away we went.
As I expected, the narrow descent of the Khyber Road felt uncomfortably packed on mile one. Some runners took to the grass verge – a risky move after a night of rain. On a couple of occasions I felt a foot brush off my ankle, and the bumping of elbows made that first mile feel more like a mile race on the track. The red flags of the 1:30 pacers were a few seconds ahead of me, but with a heaving mass of adherents between them and me. My nerves were jangling a bit.
Thankfully we soon turned back onto spacious Chesterfield Avenue, which relieved the build-up of pressure. But the crowd behind pacers is always a bit uncomfortable for my liking, and so by mile 4 along the North Road I made my move past them – just in time to avoid another squeeze where the first water station lined both sides of a narrow stretch.
From here on, the story of my race was to stay ahead of the pacers. I felt like I was being chased down, and I dared not look behind me. But the comfort of having space for my own running made up for any nervous jangles.
I ran at a steady pace of under 6:50 for the next few miles, which were a slight net descent and rather unremarkable. On the pre-race walk up to the start I had been memorising my splits through the medium of a mantra: “3-6-9-12, 20-40-60-80”. (In other words, 3 miles at around 20 minutes, 6 miles at the 40-minute mark, and so forth.) My key split for a sub-90 was to hit the nine-mile marker on the hour – and this I did, even though the marker was further down Chesterfield Avenue than I expected.
(I know well that mile markers are never exactly at the designated distance; they hang from the nearest available lamp-post or visible spot. Most times I also listen for the tell-tale beep of GPS watches around me: I choose to race with a simple digital watch.)
Around mile 10 we left the Phoenix Park and took the closed-off bus lane along the Conyngham Road. Here came the major change from last year’s race – instead of ducking back into the Park to tackle the Military Road hills, we kept going straight on to the Chapelizod gate. From here we had less than two miles to go – but mostly uphill.
All this time I lived in mortal fear of the 1:30 pacers wafting past me from behind. I kept an ear out for their motivational chat to the masses, but heard nothing. Instead I got an earful of encouragement from a self-styled drill instructor of a coach standing near the 12-mile marker, roaring some inanities at runners: “You finish the job; you do NOT feel sorry for yourself!” He seemed pleased with himself.
I don’t remember if I checked my watch at the 12-mile marker but I knew that if I kept turning my legs I’d go close to the magic sub-90. In fact, I felt a little better than at the same point on the Upper Glen Road in the run-in of the Frank Duffy 10 Mile a few weeks earlier.
On the finishing stretch along the Furze Road, I knew I would do it. I knew I had a cushion of a minute for the sub-90. And while I still kept the legs turning at the same rate, or as close as I could muster, I afforded myself the luxury of a clenched fist in celebration as I sailed up to the line for my new personal best half marathon time of 1:28:51.
Maybe it was the narcotic effect of the sub-90 coursing through my veins, but I felt good afterwards. By the time I picked up my goodie bag and t-shirt I had already recovered. And the sun even came out.
With the half marathon done, next up is the full thing. But I’ll wait a few days before I start thinking about that. Right now I want to savour my brilliant race today like a fine wine on my palate.