IN WHICH WE SET OUT TO DO A VICTORY LAP OF THE CAPITAL CITY AFTER MANY MONTHS OF TRAINING IN THE LOCAL PARK, WITH THE SIMPLE AIM OF GETTING IN UNDER FOUR HOURS… WE HAD, AFTER ALL, PROMISES TO KEEP
It’s about Mile 21, and they’re handing out plastic cups of Lucozade Sport somewhere along Clonskeagh Road. After many water stations with a myriad little bottles, the hand-eye coordination required to sup from a small cup was beyond most of us. Plenty of Lucozade slopped onto the road for the next hundred yards or so, making the tarred surface slick and sticky. The strange sound of hundreds of pairs of runners going ‘squelch, squelch’ is rather odd. But it made me smile. And anything that brings you a smile at Mile 21 in a marathon is welcome…
Mark and I have been training for Dublin for most of the year. That’s what it seems like, anyway. In truth, we followed a set plan which kicked off mid-July. Prior to that, we were casual observers of the religion of running. Once we hit mid-summer, we became devotees at the temple of training – six a days a week. And although we both missed a few days here and there through illness or holidays, we put in a good shift. There’s not much point otherwise. A marathon is just too long a day out if you haven’t done the training. Sure, you can get around on willpower and stamina alone, but it can be a lonely and dispiriting experience. And I have been that soldier.
It was Mark’s first marathon, so, keen that he experience all its many facets, we met up at the Expo on Friday afternoon. Expos are designed to trap the unwary. Unless you have something specific in mind, your best bet is to get in, get your number, and get out. And of course, if you have something specific in mind to pick up, the question is, why haven’t you already sorted that shit out? Unless you are the kind of person who gets their kicks from being disorganised, it’s wise to have all your prep done well in advance. For me, I enjoy the small display of previous marathon memorabilia. And I stay away from the stands with the new shoes, fancy running belts and tempting races for the new year.
I also took the liberty of leaving a message on the wall that greets you as you enter the Expo at the RDS. Nothing like a little fate-temptation!
With the Expo out of the way on Friday, it meant I could put the feet up on Saturday, which is exactly what I did. I was able to knock off from station duties that night, and get a reasonable sleep. Of course, I don’t suspect any marathon runner gets a decent night’s sleep the night before. And as always happens with Dublin in Autumn, the clocks go back that weekend, so you are trusting your phone to automatically reset itself in order for your alarm to go off at the right time.
We had snagged a lift with another runner, which took a lot of pressure off, and we once again found parking near to the start. That’s a secret, by the way. I couldn’t possibly reveal it, otherwise you’d all be there next year!
It was a cold morning, so the five of us stayed in the car for as long as possible, with occasional forays to the portaloos, before making the circuitous route to the baggage drop. Not unlike those few moments before you take the plunge into the sea for a swim, there are several moments of hesitation before you strip off the final layers and hand in your stuff. The stewards are under orders not to hand back bags to runners, so you need to make sure you have both handed in all the bits you won’t need, and salvaged all the stuff you do. Five minutes before kick off is not the time to realise you have left all your gels in the baggage area…
Even though we were in Wave 2, we dropped back to Wave 3 in order to pick up the four hour pacers, who were at the start of the wave. I recognised Pacer Joe from last year’s run, so knew we would be in good company. And then, after all the months of training, we were standing yards from the start line, counting down the seconds to 9.30am. The last 30 seconds are quite giddy. The crowd hoots and hollers. And then we were off.
The first few miles snakes through the outskirts of the city centre towards the Liffey, and then northside to the North Circular Road and the Phoenix Park. Without doubt, if you could run more of the race in the Park, you would choose to do so. We didn’t have a repeat of the frightened deer episode from last year, which is just as well, and we were spat out of the Park and into Castleknock, where the crowd volume went up a notch. We were as far from the start/finish line as we were going to get, and now the road turned back and a mile later, we plunged back into the Park for a second time. And for me, another opportunity for a quick whizz behind a tree.
The downside to these impromptu pit stops was that Mark would get ahead of me, and it would take me five to ten minutes to reel him back in. And as the race continued on, we stayed slightly ahead of the four hour pacers. It’s a good plan. Each group of pacers creates its own little knot of runners, and behind these is a comet’s tail of people, all keen to keep the balloons in view. Just in front is a nice quiet spot, relatively-speaking.
At Chapelizod, we cross the Liffey once more. On the bridge, I was able to high-five Mark’s two daughters, but I missed Saoirse and Ciaran, despite running right past them a few hundred yards later…
Above is me in the orange T-shirt as I approach Saoirse. She has a sequence of pics of me from the time I came into view.
And above is the last one of the batch, as I sail past, oblivious. It was only when Ciaran shouted my name and I glanced back that I realised I had missed them. I paid more attention at Kilmainham after Mile 11, where I was hoping to see my folks, but I didn’t catch a glimpse. They were there, but somehow we conspired not to make eye contact.
The route now sends you out into the suburbs proper, and at Crumlin, you pass the halfway point. We were bang on schedule. Drimnagh gives way to Walkinstown, then Kimmage, before you hit Templeogue and Terenure. The race is beginning to hurt now. We’re at mile 18, though I admit I was mildly surprised at how quickly the race seemed to be going. Mark too seemed in good shape. Indeed, I could sense he was keen to up the pace a little, and as we passed on through the 19 Mile mark and dropped down into the Dodder Valley, I allowed my mind to daydream about a PB, and possibly getting in under 3.50. A series of hills at this point has softened the cough of many a Dublin marathoner. Your pace is almost guaranteed to fall away a bit as you negotiate these speed bumps, but even the much-maligned Heartbreak Hill at Roebuck Road didn’t cause us any concern, and once this is negotiated, and the last of the inclines at the Stillorgan flyover, you are heading down Nutley Lane and turning left, and heading for the finish line.
Our pace was steady, and we were ahead of the balloons. Indeed, I had not seen them for a good few miles. But I knew they were not far behind. As we pushed on along Merrion Road, I knew the RDS would not be far off, leaving you with about a mile to go. I glanced around, to my surprise, and not a little horror, there was the group of four hour pacers, cheerfully hunting us down with abandon, red balloons bobbing in the air. The last time red balloons freaked me out this much was reading It by Stephen King…
I knew one quick mention of this was all that was required to fire us both up, and we upped the pace as much as the legs would allow and pushed on. At this stage in the race, quite a number of runners have started walking so the final mile is something of an obstacle course, and with nearly fours of running under your belt, sudden sideways swerves are just not an option.
Here we are, charging down the home straight. I say charging, but in truth, pictures rarely suggest any type of speed whatsover. Not sure who took this pic – possibly Cathy, in which case, thanks!
We pulled away from the pacers once again, and crossed the finish line. Mark was 3.58:00 and I was two seconds behind on 3.58:02.
Medals and tops were collected, but not before I had the chance to shake the hand of the man who makes it all happen; race director, Jim Aughney, who has been at the helm since 1997. I pointed out Jim to Mark at the Expo. Jim was there, needless to say, when we arrived, and as we were leaving, I saw him again, bringing out some rubbish in a bag. I knew he was at the finish line when the winners crossed (I saw that on the TV that evening), and two hours later, he was there when the middle-of-the-road geezers like us came in. That’s one dedicated soul. Fair play to you Jim.
A quick note on the rather wonderful medal: it commemorates Irish revolutionary, Countess Constance Markievicz, who was the first woman elected to the Irish Parliament (the Dáil). She also held a cabinet position. The timing also celebrates 100 years since women got the vote in Ireland. Below is a pic of the lady in question, snagged from the internet. They weren’t really running marathons in Ireland in those days, but I’m willing to bet Constance could have knocked out a decent time if she had put her mind to it. Certainly, Irish poet WB Yeats described here as a ‘gazelle’. I like the way the knotwork on the medal matches the piece on her cloak. Probably not a coincidence either.
So with the formalities, done, it was just a question of finding Mark’s wife, Paula, and our chariot home. Back at base, the detritus of running was discarded onto the table and I swapped athletics for swimming and leisure. I picked up Mark and we headed up to the nearby pool and enjoyed a good steam and soak and a few lengths of the pool.
Later that evening, we popped up the local gastro-pub and refuelled with some fine food and one or two of these…
And then I made it to the couch at home, put on the football highlights, and within a half hour or so, nodded off. Manchester United just does that to me these days!
Above is the official time ‘cert’ from the event. My own Garmin stats suggest we covered 42.72k, or, in layman’s terms, more than we needed to 😉 But the Dublin City Marathon is Europe’s fourth largest, and the course has been well-thought out. Deviations off the ideal running line would account for some discrepancies, but my watch’s errors make up the bulk of it. Last year’s watch stats tell the same story.
And so we did what we set out to do. More or less to the minute as well. To crack four hours for your first marathon is pretty impressive, but I never doubted Mark could do it. His trajectory has been equally as impressive in a short space of time, graduating quickly from 5k parkruns, to 10k, then half-marathons. And as the bar was raised, he would generally suggest that he had reached his limit, only to surpass it with bravado. I did joke at the end that I promised I wouldn’t make him run any more races. In typical Mark fashion, he replied that I hadn’t made him run Dublin… it was at Chapelizod Bridge last year when he came to cheer me on, that he changed his mind. The buzz of the crowd was just so infectious as thousands of runners passed by that he just had to have a shot of that particular drug.
I think in that, he is not alone.
Of course, life goes on. Just because 16,000 plus souls tramped around Dublin doesn’t mean life stops. On the contrary. (And on that figure, by the way, depite that Dublin is a 20,000 sell-out, it’s remarkable how many don’t make it to the start. I’d love to know why that is. To lose 20% of your athletes before the starting gun is fired seems sort of… careless. No doubt Oscar Wilde would agree; the house where he lived as a child is just yards from the finish line on Merrion Square).
Then again, I’d say Wilde would have had some sharp and pithy remarks to say about marathon runners. But alas, we will never know. What you could do is have a quick review of his best quotes, and see if any fit the art of running 26.2 miles…
“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
– on deciding to enter a marathon.
“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”
– what you believe spectators are thinking as you jog past. They probably aren’t…
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
– what you are (definitely not) saying to yourself as you jog past the spectators…
“No good deed goes unpunished.”
– when your mate enters the marathon, you enter too.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
– how you feel at the finish line, and also at the halfway point when you realise the winners are already back at their hotels, showered and changed…
“Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.”
– upon hearing one of your running mates just did a 2.59:45 in Berlin.
“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
– how marathon runners heroically think of themselves.
“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
– how are friends secretly suspect we are full of shit.
But seeing as we are quoting famous Irish folk here, perhaps it’s only fitting that we finish with the lady herself – the revolutionary, nationalist and socialist suffragette, Constance Markievicz. She apparently rocked a satin ball gown in her day, but when it came to the serious business of shooting at the enemy, one should “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.”
She was arrested, along with many of the other ringleaders after the Easter Rising in 1916. Simply by dint of the fact that she was a woman, the British decided against executing her, fearing for the repercussions. On hearing that her sentence had been commuted, she is said to have replied “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me”.
And just sometimes, that is exactly how you feel when you have run a marathon.
P.S. As is always the case with these jolly events, one must put the hours in, but one must also rely on the kindess and support of others. S always keeps me honest, and gives me all the slack I need to carry out these little fits of madness. Mark and I kept each other on the straight and narrow, and many other family members, station crew, and friends offered great support and encouragement. So a big thanks to one and all. It is the well we must all dip in to in order to keep going, and it is always hugely appreciated.
And speaking of kindness, a quick mention of a wonderful book we picked up in town last week. S and I were lucky to get to the launch of The Kindness of Strangers in the Patagonia store where we heard two of the contributors – Easkey Britton and Breifne Earley – along with the editor, recount some of their travel tales. We met some lovely people there, and this segues nicely to a mention of another book I am reading at the moment, I Found My Tribe, by Ruth FitzMaurice. If you feel the need to reconnect with humanity over the Christmas (or reckon someone else might), then these are two wonderful places to start.