Oh Dublin, Dublin, Dublin … just where do I begin with you? So much went wrong, but so much also went right and, as I write this, I’m not really sure whether to chalk it off as a good ‘un or a bad ‘un.
I suppose the best place to start is with the Expo on Saturday. I had travelled down to Dublin with my training partners, Iverene and Bronagh, whereupon we met up with my daughter, Michelle, who had flown over from England for the weekend to support me.
This was my fourth marathon and Michelle has been an ever present at each of them. I’m not sure whether it really is to support me or to make sure I actually survive the thing!!! Either way, it was lovely to have her there.
Rather inconveniently, in their wisdom, the powers that be decided this would be a good weekend to cancel the local DART services on the line that would take us out to the RDS which was hosting the Expo.
Great decision, lads. A bank holiday weekend when visitors from all over the country, and the world, would be descending on the city for the fifth largest marathon in Europe, so it made perfect sense, then, to not have a feckin’ rail service available.
At the Expo, registering and collecting our numbers was a totally painless exercise. The volunteers were fantastic, it seemed like they were making a big deal of each and every runner, announcing to all and sundry where you came from or, in Iverene and Bronagh’s case, declaring them marathon virgins to much applause and adulation!
After a quick look around the very busy Expo we made it back into the city centre and out to Dublin 8 (just behind the Guinness Storehouse) to check into our apartment for the weekend. After a quick freshen up, it was back out again to find somewhere to eat for the all important ‘night before the race’ carb loading before going back to the apartment for an early night, not that there was likely to be much sleeping done, what with pre-race nerves and so on to contend with.
As it turned out, I did sleep ok. Perhaps the long day caught up with me. I also didn’t feel particularly anxious about the race itself. I know what to expect by now. I know it’ll hurt, and that was my only real concern, but not the pain itself rather what exactly would hurt other than my legs. I’ll let you use your imagination on that, but think rubbing, chaffing and, after the Royal Parks, bleeding.
We made it to Merrion Square in good time for the start. I said my goodbyes to Michelle as she made her way to her first cheering point at the two mile mark on the James Joyce Bridge.
The three of us then made our way to the baggage area to drop in our bags after some last minute checks, and then a further walk to join our correct wave in preparation for the race, and one last trip to the loo.
Well, that was the plan anyway. For some reason the portaloos were in pairs, rather than a huge bank of them as at other mass start events, and the queues were horrendous. After walking a little while we decided the queues weren’t getting any shorter so we just joined one and hoped it wouldn’t be too long a wait.
Unfortunately, it was. So much so that with less than ten minutes to the start of our wave I decided enough was enough and made my way as quickly as I could to the start, and even then I missed it by four minutes. I wasn’t too upset because it’s a chipped event so my time would still be my time, and I know what a mass start is like plus at many events it takes more than four minutes to even cross the first timing mat anyway.
I didn’t actually have to use the facilities, but we trained for this as a team so it would have been good to have started as a team even if I’d be trailing in their wake pretty soon after. Bronagh and Iverene, however, decided to wait it out at the loos. I felt bad leaving them behind, but I felt even worse that they missed out on experiencing the excitement and anticipation of a mass start.
Actually, and I’m straying into TMI territory now, I didn’t have to go once for the entirety of the race. That was a real surprise, especially considering it turned out to be one hell of a long day.
I power walked my way to the start line before breaking into a run. I was amongst the stragglers but not far enough back that I couldn’t see the bunch in front of me which was encouraging so I just focused on catching them, which I did after a few minutes.
To do this I had to go at a faster pace than I would have liked but it didn’t take much out of me, plus it did my morale good to be part of the crowd so the extra effort was worth it.
As I mentioned, I knew Michelle was planning to be on the bridge at the two-mile mark and, true to her word, there she was. I could see her looking for me as I approached the bridge so I shouted over to catch her attention, she saw me and cheered me as I got closer which felt great.
Due to the nature of the bridge there’s a bit of a gap between the footpath and the road so I couldn’t get within touching distance for a hug, but that was ok because I knew the hug I’d get when I saw her next would be much more needed.
I had started the race wearing my woolly hat so my plan was to hand it over to her at the bridge once I’d warmed up. However, given the gap between us, this proved a little more difficult than I anticipated so I basically had to chuck it at her and hope it didn’t end up in the Liffey … which it nearly did 🙂
Moving on, it was time to focus on the next few miles which would take us in and around Phoenix Park. I had feared this would be a fairly desolate part of the course, at least in terms of spectator numbers, but it wasn’t too bad. Granted, the crowds weren’t massive but there were still enough there to offer support and encouragement plus the interaction with my fellow runners helped make up for it. Indeed, as far as that aspect went, this was the best part of the day.
Whilst in the park, I also got lots of flashbacks to last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend with Dawn. We had done the 5k and Fun Run together, and it was nice to run parts of those courses again and to remember what a special experience that was.
We eventually left Phoenix Park at around 9.5 miles so my attention turned to making it to the halfway point where I knew Michelle would be again. I was running well within myself, perhaps slower than my favoured half marathon pace but that was deliberate.
I was aiming to hit specific times at different distances and at this stage I was perhaps seven or eight minutes to the good. I knew I’d slow down later in the race so I was banking time whilst still taking it easier than normal. All good.
Somewhere between the 12-13 mile mark there was a rise on the road and, at the top, I could see Michelle standing waiting. What a sight for sore eyes she was! I wasn’t struggling or anything like that but it’s always so good to see a familiar face. It also reassured me she was ok. She was here on her own in a strange city so naturally I’ll worry.
Stopping for a hug, a selfie and restock of energy gels I was on my way again all too soon.
Crossing under the halfway banner I knew this was going to be the first real test of the day. Because I have done so many half marathons this year I was worried about how I’d cope physically and, more importantly perhaps, mentally.
To be honest, this was a real struggle. I always did find this part of a marathon tough, but this felt worse because I had become so conditioned to running 13.1 miles and then finishing. I had to do it all over again.
It felt so difficult getting to around 15.5 miles but, gradually, I began to feel better again and at mile 16 I sensed I had got over the worst of it.
Then, running past a first aid tent, something told me to look inside and there I spotted a lady from my club sitting. She’ll not mind me saying that she’s in her 70s so, without hesitation, I stopped with her to see if she was ok.
She explained what was wrong and said she had been walking for the past few miles because she couldn’t run and was waiting on the sweeper bus coming along to bring her to the finish because she had enough of walking on her own.
Again, without thinking, I offered to walk the rest of the way with her if she wanted to continue. I’d rather help her to the finish than have her not finish at all if she felt physically able.
She accepted my offer so, after explaining the situation to the first aid volunteers, off we set.
My next priority was trying to get hold of her family. She is a pretty accomplished runner and, even in her 70s, is much faster than me. I figured her loved ones would worry when she didn’t finish in her expected time so I wanted to get the word out that she was ok, and to not worry. After a little difficulty I got hold of her daughter, whom I knew, so I was happy that this had been sorted.
Whilst I said this lady is an accomplished runner I should also have said that she can walk at a pretty nifty rate as well! We began at around 18.5 mins per mile, which isn’t bad as it is but even more so after 16 miles already in our legs. Then we got quicker … we drifted into 17 minute miles, then 16, 15 and then began to creep into 14 minutes.
Passing the 30km marker I was having to jog just to keep up with her. Don’t forget, this was us walking! I couldn’t keep up and had to admit defeat. I was reassured that she was feeling ok again so I let her go. She wasn’t that far ahead of me, and I could occasionally glimpse her a little in the distance so I was happy she was still going, I knew that if she did experience difficulties again I wouldn’t be far behind.
It did take quite a bit out of me and with five miles left I was exhausted. But I also knew it was only five miles so I knew that by digging deep I’d be able to push through. I felt marginally better as it got down to four miles, then three. Just a parkrun to go.
I began to feel sorry for myself. I was more tired, more exhausted and more in pain at this stage than I can remember feeling before during a marathon.
I also knew that Iverene and Bronagh had finished, and I began to beat up on myself. I messaged them to tell them to go on ahead without me, that I’d get back to the apartment on my own. Iverene, bless her, messaged back instantly, to say that they won’t be doing that, they’ll be waiting on me. Sorry it took me so long, ladies.
Mile 24 … just two to go. A bloke passed me, whom I’d chatted with on and off at different stages, he was as shattered as I was but a few words with him cheered me.
Mile 25 … almost there. Up ahead I heard a bit of commotion. Getting closer it turned out to be a cheering group from the Asics Frontrunners team. They had created a little human tunnel and as I passed through them I was treated to a blessed few seconds of the most amazing support. Fair play to them for standing out all day offering this to each and every runner. It was hugely appreciated.
Then, with just over half-a-mile to go, I heard someone calling me by name. I didn’t have my name on my shirt so it puzzled me a little. I looked to the left and saw Shelley from my club.
She said she’ll run with me to the end. I thought she had already run her marathon so I told her it was ok, that she didn’t have to do that because she must be exhausted already. But she hadn’t been taking part in the race and had come down for the day purely to spectate and support. She also said that she wasn’t going home until she saw every last member of the club finish. That’d be me then.
And that’s exactly what she did. She was fantastic. Just when I was out on my feet she ran alongside me. She was bloody amazing. She encouraged, cajoled and made me laugh as far as she could go. She was like a human slingshot, propelling me ever closer to the blessed blue carpet that covered the last 40-50 yards to the end. Thank-you Shelley, thank-you so so much for that.
Then, just metres from the end, was Michelle. It was so great to see her. I raised a celebratory clinched fist to let her know I was ok and, then, it was over. I had finished. I had bloody well finished.
Something totally unexpected then happened. I broke down. I’m not scared to admit it. I just burst into floods of tears. I hadn’t really experienced as much emotion as I expected after finishing my 18 half marathon challenge, perhaps because I knew I still had this race ahead of me.
I couldn’t help it. This was proper bawling. A huge wave of emotion, mixed with relief and dear knows what else just washed over me. I imagine it was because, subconsciously, I knew this was my year over and, finally, I allowed myself to acknowledge everything I’ve done. Who knows?
I can’t finish this account with paying special tribute to Iverene and Bronagh. For both this was their first marathon and, to coin that oft overused phrase, both absolutely smashed it. Thank you for training with me over the months. I hope all the effort was worth it. You should be so proud of yourselves.
For me this was, believe it or not, a marathon pb for me. It really doesn’t feel like it, but the facts speak for themselves. It also means that throughout this year I have achieved personal bests at every single recognised distance up to and including a full marathon. I guess that’s not a bad old return from a challenging year of running.
Perhaps, in the next few days, I’ll allow myself to ‘recognise’ that fact but, for now, I’m still very much in recovery mode and all the post-marathon blues that come with that.