I had struggled to get to the start line, and getting to the finish line proved to be no easier. But I still finished the 2015 Tralee Marathon in exactly 3 hours and 49 minutes. Given that I was sick in bed with a chest infection last weekend and I was taking antibiotics up until yesterday, I’m happy with that.
(Tralee Marathon results are now online.)
Even aside from it being my hometown marathon, it was an excellent race and day. The weather was chilly and we faced a stiff breeze from miles 20 to 23, but otherwise the conditions were excellent – all the better to enjoy some spectacular views as the route passed along the scenic Tralee Bay coastal roads.
This was also my first time running in a smaller-sized marathon. Only 360 runners took part in today’s marathon, which means that it was 100 times smaller than the three times I ran in the Paris Marathon. With the smaller scale came a more laid-back vibe – and I liked it. The crowds and bustle of big-city marathons, added to the need to be at the start area at stupid o’clock in the morning to avoid long queues, can make it hard to relax – an essential part of running well.
My race plan in Tralee today was simple; make like Rosa Parks and not budge from my seat on the 3:30 pace bus. For most of the race this went like a dream; I felt comfortable and as we passed through four miles in a manageable pace I was almost giddy with excitement.
The route took us out of Tralee in a north-west direction. After a few miles of rural main road we came to the historic village of Ardfert, home to St Brendan the medieval seafaring priest and apparently the ‘real’ discoverer of North America. (An expedition in the 1970s recreated his voyage and showed it was possible to cross the Atlantic in a tar-coated, leather-hulled boat.) Ardfert is also the home of Tom O’Riordan, 1964 Olympian and esteemed athletics journalist. His son Ian is now the athletics correspondent for The Irish Times.
By Ardfert our pace group had settled into a nice gang of around ten runners. The roads weren’t closed to traffic, but drivers were careful and none of us were discommoded or spooked by any vehicles.
After Ardfert came another historic spot – Banna beach, where Sir Roger Casement was arrested for treason after landing with arms for the 1916 Easter Rising. For those of us from Tralee, Banna is the local beach and while running along the strand road today I saw some of the high dunes from which I would take flying leaps into the soft sand as a youngster – an early effort at long jumps. The ten-mile marker reached us bang on 80 minutes, and I felt fine; there didn’t seem to be any ill-effects from my chest infection.
We swung back close to Ardfert, and then towards the halfway point of the race we faced into the rolling hills around Barrow. The steep hill out to Barrow itself was on last year’s route and caused great hardship – but this year it wasn’t on the course. Still, the undulating road made us all focus on feeling comfortable and bottling some energy for the last part of the race.
Another hilly road took us to the small port of Fenit, where a looped turn would send us back towards Tralee for the last six miles of the race. Alas, this was where I started to fade. Just after the 20-mile marker I started to feel heavy-legged and light-headed. My breathing felt a little heavier, which brought to mind my recent chest infection. Added to that, a stiff onshore breeze started blowing into our faces.
I had a choice to make; should I force myself to keep up the pace, or should I be cautious given my recent illness? Common sense prevailed: I parked the ego, cut my losses and figured that I’d be happy to enjoy the run-in, guarantee a decent time and protect my fragile health. And so I slipped out the back of the 3:30 group and watched them head off into the distance and out of sight.
I travelled the last six miles at little faster than walking pace, which didn’t make it any easier. My revised plan was to save some energy for the last two miles, which were mostly downhill into Tralee town. The 3:45 pacer passed me; I kept my head down until the coast was clear.
Along I trundled, and a mile and a half from the finish, just before we reached Tralee, I did something I had never done in a race before – I took some food from spectators. It was a Jaffa cake, to be precise. I needed some energy and a psychological lift, and I figured that I was close enough to the end to risk some food clattering into my empty stomach. As it happened, the Jaffa cake was delicious and went down like a dream.
As soon as we swept downhill through the outskirts of Tralee, I got a second wind and I kicked for home. The thrill of finishing a marathon in my home town sent a surge of electricity through my legs. (It was that or the Jaffa cake.) Rounding the corner into the second-last street, I saw my family waving and cheering – another thrill for me, as it was the first time they had seen me run in a marathon.
All that was left was the finishing straight on The Mall. And I had it all to myself, with no other runners near me – this was a dream scenario. Neighbours from my home town cheered me on as I kicked like a mule and drove for the line. It was the greatest finishing straight I ever ran.
I crossed the line in exactly 3:49:00. Afterwards I was freezing cold, and when I got home I had trouble warming up again. But a power nap soon got me back in shape.
If you can have a hard 20-mile crash and a slow time but still feel you had a great race, then I had that race today. I’d recommend everyone run their home town marathon.