The weather was kind to the race organisers of Dublin’s 40th marathon. The event has grown from something of a curiosity to local Dublin folk into a serious race on the global marathon schedule. It is also a well-oiled machine at this point, with about 22,500 entrants. Not that the full total toes the line on race day, and then there are those that start and don’t finish for a variety of reasons; we probably ‘lost’ about 5,000 or so by the time the blue carpet was rolled up at the end of the day. According to the official race results page, 17,683 clocked a finishing time.
But for everyone else, it is a great journey. There are countless stories, of course. How could there not be, in such an event? There are a small and dwindling band of diehards who have competed in ALL 40 Dublin marathons. That’s epic. And this year’s second-place runner (male) was Stephen Scullion, an Irish athlete, who finished behind the Moroccan runner who is just returning from a two year doping ban. Ho hum. And in fact, there were four Irish runners in the top ten, which augers well for the Olympics.
And here’s some inspiration from Stephen:
“On my left arm I wrote ‘ego’, which means don’t race people too early, then ‘hills’, for obvious reasons, then ‘patience’. That was for the first 20 miles., Then ‘animal’, on the right arm, for the last six miles. I got into around fourth place, at mile 22, saw Mick just ahead of me, just kept pounding, pounding. At 24 miles I said ‘f***’ the heart rate, just race. And I loved it.”
Gotta’ love that!
My race was a much more conventional effort. (This was my third Dublin in a row, with several more trailing back to 1998). I rose at 6am, checking to see that, yes, the smart phones really are that smart and did reset themselves back an hour.
In keeping with the great Eliud Kipchoge, it was oatmeal for breakfast, with a banana and an energy bar. The night before, I had downed about 500ml of Energy Source drink, and my main departure from previous pre-marathon breakfasts was to avoid drinks, other than a mouthful of orange juice and a sip of water before the off. In marathons past, I have had to stop 3-4 times for a wee. This is never a good idea, not least when you are trying to keep up with pacers, and in fact, any stoppage at all is inadvisable (lest you fail to restart…)
My mate James picked me up and we got into town in jig time. The weather was going to be perfect. Blue skies, no wind, and cold.
Dublin scrubs up well on Marathon morning, not least when the sun pops out. The starting point is in the heart of the capital near government buildings and more Georgian architecture than you can shake a T square at.
There is always a friendly buzz around, and this year was no different. The bag drop is on Merrion Square, and is a slick operation. Once you have committed to ditching the bag, you’ve officially passed through the gates into the departure lounge. There’s no turning back. Nothing left to do now but queue for the obligatory last minute portaloo experience, and then take your place near whatever pace group grabs your fancy.
I didn’t really have a plan for this one. Normally, I would have trained carefully for a set pace and time. But after the exertions of Connemara (did we tell you we did a big race in Connemara? We did? Oh. Sorry), there was no plan for anything. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had bought my ticket of my usual running partner, Mark.
So with two sub-four marathons under the belt, so to speak, there wasn’t a whole lot left to do, not least given the haphazard training in the last few months. I rolled the dice on the 3.50 pace and off we went.
Dublin Marathon is not a particularly challenging course, not that I have lots of experience with other courses. But it’s not considered to be especially hilly, nor is it flat. (And as I read that, for some odd reason, I am reading it in Gandalf’s voice, from the Lord of the Rings). In very rough terms, it’s made up of about three sections: the first, a steady rise from the start all the way through the Phoenix Park, to the highest point in the race at about 73m which is also the furthest point west, on Tower Road. Then you plunge back into the Liffey Valley at Chapelizod at one of the lowest points which starts a long, steady climb through the southside: Kilmainham, Dolphin’s Barn, Drimnagh, Crumlin and the next ‘high point’ at Terenure, at about 55m, where you take a sharp left. Then it’s on to Rathgar and Milltown, and the pointy end of the race where you have the final ‘peak’ of Heartbreak Hill (Roebuck Road) at about 46m. There is nothing particularly horrific about this hill really: it just happens at a bad time in the race (36k or 22 odd miles) when you don’t need the extra grief. But if you have done the training, just put the head down, shorten your stride, and you’ll be up it in no time. From there, it’s pretty much downhill to the finish.
My race started well. I stuck with the pacers through the first few miles and got sucked along in the draft of the like-minded souls bent on a similar time. I managed to pass through the park without stopping for a whizz, which suggested my ‘no liquid’ strategy might be working, but then as we entered the park for a second time at around the 13k mark, I did find a discreet spot behind a wall for a quick splash and dash. I don’t know what it is about me and running, but it just makes me want to wee…
I spent the rest of the park visit catching up with the pace balloons, and as we headed for Chapelizod, I passed them out and stayed on the right, knowing that Saoirse, Mark and a few others would there near the bridge for a shout of encouragement. Sure enough, there they were, and we had a quick ‘high five’ and I pressed on.
I was feeling reasonably good at this point, and passed through the halfway mark in 1.53:49. My gel strategy was going roughly to plan. And then, as many a marathoner will tell you, the race begins. Or, to put it another way, it sort of sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking. I gamely stayed just ahead of the pace group until about mile 20 and then I began to get slowly gobbled up, and then steadily dropped. This is a hard place to be, because your head is a little muzzy anyway, and mental calculations on the fly are not my forte. But I know enough about running and my own pace to know that sub-3.50 was gone as an option, leaving only two other options: finish under 4 hours, or get a new PB. I didn’t really want to think about anything else.
I pushed on into the event horizon of Dublin, which is the last four or so miles after Roebuck Road. At this point in a race, I am hoping to have stored a little gas in reserve for some form of finish. I like to think I will do the passing, and not get passed. I try and pick a runner up ahead and see if I can catch them, and if that works, rinse and repeat.
Well, now it was me getting passed, other than those poor souls who were tramping the last few kilometres to the finish. Garmin stats don’t lie, and from the heady heights of those glorious 5:15s and 5:20s (with even a 5:08 at mile 9… what was that all about? Must have been a downhill section), the pace dropped from 5:21 at mile 20 to 5:28, and then 6:06, and then slowed again in the very last mile to 6:30. The race package I bought from Mark includes the photos, and whilst it will take a few days for them to appear, I have no doubt there will be nothing pretty to look at in those last few miles… there was a lot of grimacing, and very little pep. Indeed, pace is a cruel four-letter mistress: if I could have kept up those 5:30s instead of slumping as I did, I could indeed have dipped under the 3.50. But then if my aunt had wheels, she’d be a wagon. Wheels were what I needed on that last home stretch, but wheels, as we know, are not allowed in a marathon.
The good news, such as it was, was a new PB of 3.55:56. But I felt pole-axed. In comparison to the last two Dublin Marathons, this was a much more standard example of how failing to adequately train for such a distance and pace is going bite you at some point. It’s just a question of when. Luckily enough, I had banked enough in the first 20 miles to get an aggregate pace of 5:33 (or bang on 9 minute miles in old money). And hence I dragged my sorry arse over the line in a half-decent time.
So, whilst it was disappointing to see the possible sub-3.50 slip away, it was still great to get a new PB, not least given the rather unconventional build up. Did I mention Connemara… yes you f**king well did… get over it…
I was 6,524th out of 17,683 overall. It felt like 6,000 of those passed me on the last mile.
My mate James had had a worse day, as it transpired. His back seized up at the halfway point, and despite some heavy duty physio on scene, he was forced to retire. He lives to fight another day, and I gather he is going to go again. Good man.
Nothing soothes the nerves after a marathon like a cool pint of Guinness and a hot bath (don’t get them mixed up).
And so, as I type, the rather fetching medal has joined the others on the wall in the office. and the race number has been pinned to the back door of said same room. The splendid running top has been tucked away into the box of running gear under the bed, and all is well with the world.
Well, of course it isn’t. The world is a rather strange place at the moment, and no telling where it might end up. Which is partly why, I believe, that we do such things as run marathons. They are personal achievements, of course. They get us fit. They get us out the door. They are a challenge, and more often than not, we lack these in the modern life of a civilised society where everyone has a smart phone, a foreign holiday and at least two cars on a cobble-locked driveway out the front…
But they are also things we can, to a large extent, choose to do, and control. And in a world that can sometimes feel startlingly out of control, that’s no bad thing at times.
Enjoy your running out there, wherever you are.