"Think of it as any other race, just turn up and run. If it doesn't happen, don't worry about, go home get a bag of chips and forget about it" were the words from my coach. In truth, I tried my best to think of the race as any other but it's easier said than done; months of training had been put in, so many sacrifices had been made (abstaining from drink being the main one!) and now everything I had put in was going to be judged in hopefully less than 3 hours of my life.
I didn't talk race times with anyone this time round. In my head I knew in or around what I wanted but I felt safer keeping this to myself. No plastering my wall with projected times, no telling whoever'd listen what I thought I'd do, basically I had an idea in my head what I wanted but no one was going to be told. A projected time was going to be hard in any case as for I start I don't train with a watch - "Running is just one leg in front of the other" - so I never know how long I've been out, what pace I do are any of that lark. I had decided that I'd use the half marathon a few weeks before the marathon as a gauge to what sort of time I could maybe pull off this time round... but no, the gods had other ideas. For the first time in God knows how long the week of the half marathon I was stricken down with a cold which caused me to miss a few days training during the week and I certainly wasn't 100% on race day. In the end I huffed and puffed around the course finishing in what was actually a PB* of 81 minutes.
Preparation for the marathon went fairly well by all accounts looking back at it. There weren't too many long runs in the 3 months up to it. Injuries, I stayed fairly clear of them, although I always tended to have some niggle but then again you always will when you push your body that far. Besides having the cold before the half marathon my health was top notch and I couldn't have a complaint about any of the races leading up to the marathon. Over the summer I jumped in on races whenever I could - from 6km to 12km - and then in the final 2 months leading up to the marathon I think I had a 10 miler, the half and then a 5 miler with 3 weeks to go.
I've often wondered what it is that does be going through say a rugby players mind pre-match when the anthems are playing and tears are rolling down their face. Well, marathon morning I found my own reason for it. What a morning, everything just seemed to be right. There was a clear sky but you could tell there was going to be a breeze around the course. As I listened to the Arcade Fire blare through my headphones while I strolled around Merrion square to the baggage area I felt 100%, I knew this race was going to be MY race, I knew all the work I'd put in was all about to come good, nothing was going to go wrong. All the work I'd done, the months of sprinting on tracks, running in the sweltering heat, the rain, fartlek sessions, long lonely Sunday morning runs, slow runs, tempo runs, it's all for this, and now, now I was here and and I welled up. All I could do was smile at this and continue strolling, looking at the crowds and realising there was nowhere else I'd rather be. I flicked the mp3 player to Los Campesinos and listened to a few of their tracks while stripping off, Vaselining up and stretching before handing everything over to the baggage people and making my way to the starting line.
The start of the marathon was probably the smoothest of any I've taken part in. No tripping, shoving, weaving, and slightly downhill with the breeze to our backs, the ideal start. I got straight into my rhythm from the off. I spied a few lads that I'd noticed from the local club a bit a head of me as the race started so I jogged over to them, said hello and checked what their aims were. Their time was ideal for me but I noticed immediately that they were checking the watch way to frequently for the first 2 minutes of a race, so on I jogged on my todd. The idea of this race was to go with how I felt, no aim meant no watch, so I certainly didn't want to be running with a group that were going with what a watch said rather than what their legs said.
The first half of the race went smooth enough, I paired up with some other runners who were doing the same pace as me and came through the half way mark at just over 1h 23 mins. One of the group I was running with started to pull away from us at around Terenuer college, 15 miles, and I let him be but kept a firm eye on him as I knew I wanted to catch him again. Looking back on the race now I reckon that I stayed at the same pace up until 17 miles or so and then dug in. I don't know if by digging in I actually increased my pace, all I know is that I was really working for them last 9 or so miles.
At this stage I have way too many blanks in my memory, was the experience that bad over these miles that my brain has chosen to shelter me from it?!? I do know that running with a group was no longer possible. I left the English lad I'd been running with from about half way through the Phoenix park - as an aside he tripped at the start and cut his knees and elbows pretty badly so fair f**ks to him for the time he finished in - and was completely focused on catching the wee lad who got away at Terenure. Up ahead was just a line of runners, each must have been seperated by a few metres. As my coach said its just like a line, you just pick one reel him in and then pick another. But it seemed for every person I passed the wee lad passed one too, no matter how fast I moved, he moved that fast too, albeit about 200metres a head of me. Passing two people out on the climb up to Foster's Avenue at 21miles let me know that there was plenty of strength in the legs to get me through the final 5 miles.
As the race came into its final stages I recall one person passing me, I'm not too bitter about that! But my goal of catching the guy who had been my main focus for the past 10 miles came about as we headed for the final lap of Trinity College in the 26th mile. Although what seemed like all of 10 metres later I felt myself fading and had to dig deep for what was just the last few minutes. The wind had been strong through out the course. For the start we were sheltered, but had some strong winds up until half way, before turning at the Walkinstown roundabout so that the wind was at our backs. That lasted a nice 3 or so miles. The last 5 however had been all straight into a blustery wind which wasn't appreciated in the slightest. Every other runner out there had to deal with this wind so I can't really use it as an excuse for fading. I think I'll blame the preceding 25 miles...
At this stage I hadn't seen a clock since the half way point at this race so when a clock was to come into view what it said could have been anything - and with how I felt during the race I wouldn't be disappointed with anything that came up on that clock. As I turned the final corner on Nassau Street to get onto the home straight with 300m to go I got a view of that clock and it gave me a sudden burst of energy like never before. I couldn't tell you who was on that home straight, if I passed anyone, if anyone passed me (they didn't!). 2hrs 46 minutes is what that clock said, TWO HOURS AND FORTY SIX MINUTES!
At the start of this season that time was the ultimate time I was reaching for, the time I never thought I'd actually get. The realistic goal was around 2h50, so to beat that by four minutes was so much better than I could have hoped for. Now, what did I learn from that race? Well, I'm never wearing a watch again when I race that's for sure. Oh and I picked up a bag a chips and a battered sausage on the way home all the same...
*I don't really do many half marathons, in 2007 I did 2 and both were 81 minutes and in years previous I think I've only done 2.