“Go and do Dublin!” I implored. “You’ll have great fun, it’s a fantastic weekend, the atmosphere is amazing!”
Those were the sage words of advice I offered to friends in the last few months when they asked me about the Dublin Rock’n’Roll weekend. So convinced I was that I stopped just short of demanding they go, words that I based on my experiences of the 2017 event.
That remains one of the best overall experiences of my running ‘career’ to date
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about 2018. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good aspects to the day but many of the actual race related events fell some way short of last year.
My day began ridiculously early. I was travelling to Dublin on a bus organised by the Moneymore & District running club which was leaving from Toomebridge at 5:30am which meant me departing Ballymena some half-an-hour earlier. That was fine, I’m a bit of an early bird anyway so the time didn’t bother me.
Except I was feeling rough. Not because of any excesses from Saturday night (I was working) but an annoying cold that I could feel creeping up on me after my run the day before … the sort of cold that starts in your throat, gives you a temperature, shooting pains above your eye and generally leaves you feeling weak and yucky.
Despite that I slept relatively well and woke feeling not too bad, albeit not feeling 100%. I feared my condition worsening during the day but, with the help of copious amounts of fluids and cold/flu tablets, I managed to keep it at bay.
I did ponder not going but thought I could at least make the journey and see how I felt then. Maybe a nap on the 2-3 hour bus journey would help?
The journey itself was grand. A quiet bus with comfortable seats were just what I needed. We arrived just outside Dublin at 8am, stopped at services to get changed and then made our way into the city centre for the start of the race.
That was when the ‘fun’ began. The race was due to get underway at 8:30am … we arrived in the city at 8:25am, with no idea how to get to the start/finish area.
Cue a mass of people disembarking the bus desperately looking for anyone in a yellow bib. After a few moments we were pointed in what we hoped was the right direction, it was a case of running after the person in front and trusting they knew where they were going.
My training plan had instructed me to do a half-a-mile warm-up beforehand anyway so I looked upon this as meeting that criteria. It might not have exactly been in the relaxing circumstances I expected but it was still a warm-up run. A stressful one.
The start turned out be over a mile away but, I reckoned, that meant I wouldn’t have to do my cool down half-a-mile at the end.
Thankfully I found the start just as the first wave was leaving. I was in Wave 12 so I knew I had a bit of time to gather myself setting off. Once I slotted myself into the corral I relaxed quite a lot, and quite quickly. I was in place, the panic of trying to get here was over. Time to focus on the race ahead.
I was so chilled that I just sauntered over the timing mats, not in any rush to begin my race.
My tactics were to stick with the pacers in my wave for the first couple of miles in order to regulate my speed and not start too fast then, slowly and methodically, break away from them little by little over the miles that followed whilst trying to chase the next pacing group up ahead.
This worked like an absolute dream. I struggled to keep my pace slow enough to actually stay with them for the first mile but I found the discipline to do it. Same with mile two. I was running very comfortably, very relaxed and feeling very good about it. My bugs weren’t an issue, the pre-race stress was long forgotten about and I had high hopes of doing something special.
During mile three I decided to break away a little bit from the pacers, perhaps only 15 seconds or so, enough to keep them within sight when I looked over my shoulder.
The same for four and five. I was recording marginally quicker times each mile, the pacers were by now out of sight behind me but I was still running within my comfort zone.
I’m not sure of the exact distances but at the 10k/6 mile mark I was well pleased with how things were going.
Then it all went wrong. At around this point we were faced with the first of what turned out to be several very steep climbs. I looked at it, and decided there was no point even attempting to run up it. No-one else was.
So I walked. No shame in admitting it. It was the first I’d walked up to that point, apart from briefly stopping to take a gel and a drink a couple of miles earlier.
But, remember my bugs? They had clearly decided they’d left me alone for long enough. About halfway up this hill they returned suddenly and with a vengeance. All energy just drained from my body. Don’t forget I was walking, so should have actually been regaining some strength, not losing it in bucketfuls.
I felt so weak. Even walking became a struggle. I slowed so much that the pacers had caught up with me and passed me … but then even they had started to walk up this hill. That’s how steep it was, the very pacers were walking!!!
Once at the top I bumped into a couple of runners from my club, so I chatted with them a little bit hoping the rest would give me a little bit more recovery time.
It didn’t. I had nothing left. I was in trouble. After a couple of minutes I tried to start running again but my pace was considerably slower than it had been. My legs were fine, no issues there, but I had zero energy left.
Pretty soon there was another bloody hill. Excuse the language, but that’s mild compared to what I’d said at the time! This was ridiculous. I really wanted to just drop out, and curl up into a little ball at the side of the road in the vain hope that it would all go away.
Obviously I didn’t, and I couldn’t. This was awful.
I did begin to regain some strength. By mile ten I had increased my pace again, almost to the speed I had started at but then there was another hill, a sharp up and down, and this just finished me off.
Then, as if to rub salt into how I was feeling, I took my final gel hoping it’d give me some sort of a boost for the final 5k. I only had the strength to tear it open halfway but thought I’d try biting it anyway to see if I could open the rest of it. What a disaster! The damn thing just exploded in my face, all over my glasses, all down my shirt, all over my hands … everywhere! I wanted to cry. I swore profusely.
I was feeling so weak. I wanted this nightmare to be over. I more or less gave up on running. I walked the vast majority of the last three miles. I just didn’t care. I questioned what I was doing. I questioned whether I would ever do it again. I convinced myself that I was crap at running, that there was no point in it, that there was no point in me ever running again.
Those last three miles were soul destroying. Normally I’m much, much stronger than this. This is the point in a half marathon when I try to pick things up again. I know I’m repeating myself, but I had nothing.
I hated people seeing me, thinking I couldn’t do this. They weren’t to know I’ve run this distance many times, they weren’t to know I was suffering so much. All they saw was a little fat bloke who looked for all the world that he wasn’t cut out for this and hadn’t prepared properly. I hated myself, and hated what I had convinced myself they were thinking.
I walked almost to the finish line. It was just the other side of the stone gates at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham but pride meant that I wasn’t going to be seen walking right to the end so, once through the gates, I broke into a little jog to at least finish running. I actually started to feel ok again at this point so had the consolation of completing the race looking strong. Small comfort, I know, but by this stage I’d take anything.
Once over the line I made my way to collect my medal, t-shirt and whatever food and drink I could lay my hands on. After meeting up with the rest of the bus crew we made our way home via Monasterboice for our pre-arranged lunch. This was lovely, a proper meal and a proper drink, a chance to compare race notes and just generally get to know everyone a lot better.
I want to stress that my own personal issues with the race this year were clearly nothing to do with the organisation, nor the event. My bugs could have hit during any race anywhere.
I mentioned at the start that the event this year fell some way short of last year.
The route. Ok, I know the route had to be changed because Phoenix Park was unavailable due to the impending papal visit, but surely more of the city could have been included.
Last year we started out at the O3 Arena, ran into the city centre, past the Guinness Storehouse and out to the park. This year we only really went past Guinness before being directed to what felt like a rural route. This was billed as a city centre race yet for large parts we were running on country roads. And those hills. Really? Was there a need? I know if the route is the same next year a lot of people won’t enter.
Then there was a total lack of atmosphere. We were promised live music after every mile. This definitely wasn’t the case. At best it was only every couple of miles, and even then I’m being generous. This was a ‘rock n roll’ event after all.
I’ve done smaller races which have had more roadside entertainment. I know it’s a running event, not a gig, but music along the route really does help you, especially if you’re finding it tough going.
It perks everyone up, including your fellow runners, which gives a lift to the whole experience. This year it seemed no-one was having a good time. That, to me, is a terrible thing to say about a Rock ‘n’ Roll series race, the polar opposite of what appears to be one of their major selling points.
Then there was the wisdom of having the 10k route follow part of the same course. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, but having that race start after the Half forced us longer distance runners to move to one side to let the 6.2 mile front guys through.
With half the distance to do, these guys are naturally going to be quicker so why not let them go first? Surely that’ll avoid getting in their way, and us having to look over our shoulders for part of our own race. Perhaps I’m missing something but it didn’t make any sense to me.
Anyway, this was #12 in my challenge to run 18 half marathons this year (and I even ran over 14 miles if you include the warm-up!). It was a hugely frustrating and disappointing experience especially with it being one of the races that I was really looking forward to.
I’m not going to say I won’t do it again, but I won’t be signing up for next year until the route is revealed. If it’s the same as 2017 I’ll be there like a shot, I do like the event a lot and would like to do the entire weekend again but if it’s a repeat of this year I’m afraid I’ll not be anywhere near it, nor will a lot of others I fear.