I knew that the start on Sunday was going to be really early as a three hour plus commute to Cork was on the cards. With that in mind I had a really early night on Friday, a lie in on Saturday morning and an attempted early night on Saturday. The Saturday sleep was as good as you're going to get when you know you have to be up at 6.30am the following day. Hero for the day was the driver as it took such a weight off my mind going into the unknown not having to worry about trains being delayed or buses from the train station. We arrived with loads of time to spare which was ideal, time enough to eat some sandwiches, relax in the car, listen to the wind trying to get into the car before drowning it out with some music on my headphones.
The start of the race was a cause of anxiety for me in the days leading up to the race. 3000 people starting, all bunched together, how am I going to get a warmup in, get a decent starting position and be ready to race? I milled around the tents for a while trying to suss things out. Seeing a few elite lads I toyed with the idea of just hanging onto the back of them and trying to get into the front with them. I talked to them and it seemed that their bib numbers of 1-50 were the key into the starting area. My 1000+ number was not going to cut it. In the end I decided on a quick jog to the start just before 1 to join the masses. As I got to the turn off to the start I went for the brass neck approach and went straight on towards the start. No one said anything and I now had an area to warm up pre race. A light jog up and back the 200m at the front of the starting line. After a few minutes of this I got some strides out of the way and then a 15 minute wait for the gun to go. The warm up plan worked out exactly how I wanted and I was now ready to race.
The plan for the start of the race was to go out easy, run the first mile slower than the rest, by up to 30 seconds or so. With this in my mind I started about 6 or 7 rows back at the start. I didn't need to be impeeding people or having people dashing past me. Standard wise, 6 or 7 rows of people back was where I should be. While my effort felt like nothing at the start, I cruised behind people and didn't worry about people racing off like mad eejits, I was quite surprised to hear the mile time split called out. 5:38. While my effort wasn't a race effort, the downhill start obviously helped. From here on in I was racing. I tried my best to tuck in behind people to shelter myself from the wind, but for the most part the people a head of me in races are a fair bit smaller than my 6'5 frame, so there wasn't much shelter being offered. The next two miles into the wind were both about 5:40. At this stage I moved to the front of the group I was in as the pace seemed to be slowing. A lad from Clonliffe who I've raced and trained with before went with me and we left the group behind us. He took to the front and I stuck in behind him. I was starting to feel the pace but thankfully stayed with him. We hit the half way mark at 28.33. My mind was weak here - I was digging in to stay going. 5 more miles was a big ask at this stage.
Before mile 6 we picked off a runner who'd dropped off the group ahead of us. He stayed with us for a while but by mile 6 his foot falls were no longer being heard behind me. Likewise my foot falls were no longer behind Declan's. As we turned to having the wind behind us at mile 6 he took off. I tried my best to stick with him but soon enough it was me trying to keep him as close as I possibly could. This has to be the hardest part of any race - are you going backwards or is he kicking on? The way I felt I was sure it was me going backwards. I was going to crash and burn any minute. I crept past mile 7 at just under 40 minutes. Over the next 2 miles a runner from the two ahead was slowing and I managed to pass him. That was the ideal tonic at that point. I needed the motivation. Straight after that we had the cruelest uphill of the race. My form was totally out the window at that point as I felt my feet slapping the ground as I went up the hill and around the corner. At mile 9 - 51:15 was called out as I past. My goal of 57 minutes was definitely on. Here I was running in spurts - 10 metres fast, 40 metres slow, pickup the pace for 200m and then back down again. Pure hell, I was doing some insane fartlek session in the last mile of a 10 miler! Someone came flying past me then. I couldn't stay with him but I was able to get some momentum from him. The sign for 400m to go appeared... what a long 400m... I eventually got to the end and crossed the line in 56:53 - a PB by 2 minutes and 8 seconds. I ran my 59 minutes time 8 weeks before Dublin 2007 - this 56:53 couldn't have come at a better moment.
The complete shock of the whole thing is that the second half of the race was faster than the first, 28:33/28:20, because I felt like I was going backwards the whole second half. I'm chuffed to have won the mental battle as well. Without a shadow of a doubt that's the toughest race I've ever ran. The idea of running a marathon in 8 weeks is now not looking that tempting at all!
Anyone looking for pics of the race checkout Cork Running Pictures as there are hundreds there.