The day didn’t start perfect. The legs were great, probably the best they’d felt in months, the blue sky and 20C temperatures of Saturday were replaced with clouds and cool temperatures, but the 4 hours sleep the night before had me like a zombie at the breakfast table. While initially nerves for the day may have had me anxious and possibly affected my sleep, the real problem was the heat in the room. On the Friday night I’d also struggled to get to sleep there, but luckily on the Saturday morning I didn’t have to wake at 6.30 so got a few extra hours sleep in then. Once I woke on Saturday at 8.30 though that was me up for the day.
At the finish area, before the race, as I was stripping off and getting ready to head down to the start, instead of feeling excited that the day was finally here, nervous or anxious about the race itself, I felt nothing. There was no buzz in me – the day just didn’t feel right. I strolled down to the starting area and checked out where the red zone was - my starting zone. There was some uni-cycle race starting 15 minutes before our race so there was no early queuing going on. I went into a small park beside the start and jogged lightly for a few minutes until around 10 minutes to go.
In the red zone with only a few minutes to kick off I was surprised at how few people there were – 50 maybe 60 of us at the very back of the zone while the elites were being introduced to the crowd. Still no nerves. 1 minute to the start. Everyone moving up. This should be the time… Heart should start racing any second, but still nothing. This wasn’t me being ultra relaxed and confident that everything was going right – quite the opposite. The tiredness seemed to have shut all thoughts from my brain. Positive and negative feelings gone, I was now in “do not care” mode. The very last thing I’d expect to be feeling in the final seconds before a marathon. The countdown started, I realised I don’t know any numbers in German, did they start at 5? 10? What number is it now? BANG! Run
Before the race the low end race pace in my mind was around 19:00 per 5km. I started out conservatively, flat roads, no wind, a nice easy pace….
Kilometre one – 4:00 too slow… I picked off a few runners and moved up the places a bit
Kilometre two – 8:01 Son of a… I picked out someone in the distance and decided to try and catch them by kilometre three. This had to be done very gradually because there’s no point upping the pace ridiculously too early in the race.
Kilometre three – 11:53 Getting there… I hadn’t caught him at this stage but he was close. Before 4km I’d caught up with him but still felt I was going too easy and went past him bringing a couple of others with me.
Kilometre four - No need to watch check because I was happy with the pace.
Kilometre five – 19:33 A bit off the low end target pace but moving along comfortably and I’d a small guy beside me for company. I threw my watch in bushes and got a puzzled German question from the puzzled small German runner. I manage to confuse the small German runner more so by answering him in French!
While throwing the watch away was never part of the pre-race plan, stopping it was. I’d decided that once I got to 5km I’d know what my pace was and nothing that the watch could say would make me run faster or slower. On the morning when I woke up the strap on my watch had broken. It had served me well, a trusty Casio from Argos which I’d bought 7 years ago for about a tenner, but this was to be its last day. The running Gods clearly didn’t want me even checking my 5km time.
Myself and the puzzled German continued on at this pace. Nothing exceptional happened for the next while. I’d tuck in behind him when it got a bit breezy and then come out onto his shoulder every now and again. The roads were flat, very flat, until just before 10k when there was a gradual climb onto a bridge – this was the biggest hill we’d to deal with – I think we dealt with something like it three times over the course of the race and I feel embarrassed even referring to it as a hill. All it was was a couple of hundred metres with a very gradual incline. We passed the 10km point on the bridge – 38:51 – a good bit outside my hoped for pace but it was early days yet and I wasn’t a bit bothered.
Into the second 10km and our two became three. A new runner equipped with headphones, playing fairly loud music, joined us. We were going at quite a nice pace. For the most part I stayed on the shoulders of the other two, but from time to time took a step back and tucked in behind them for a free ride. The nearest runner ahead of us was probably 200m or 300m in front and we weren’t closing that gap any time soon. At 14km we passed by one of the Elite females, with her 3 pace makers, who had pulled up. Every time she started to jog the three pacemakers broke into a jog beside her and then started walking when she’d stop. Quite a bizarre sight…
Come the 16km mark and I was to the front of our group and thought that I was maybe going too fast (stupid conservative Private!). My initial thought was to keep going until the 20km mark and gauge my time from there. Then I copped myself on and remembered that if I was going too fast to slow immediately rather than after a further 2 miles. I took my foot off the gas and just jumped in behind the other two again. Somewhere between 19 and 20 kilometres Headphones decided to up the pace and left myself and Puzzled behind. I’d have liked to have gone with Headphones but his pace seemed to accelerate that bit too quickly to go with. Up and down the bridge again, this time coming the other way, completed the second 10km in 38:09 bringing the time to 1:17:00. Half way across the bridge there was an announcer telling the crowd who was passing. “*Random German words* Private from Dublin, representing Ireland”. Yep, that’s right, representing Ireland! Heheh!
No clock at the half way point (well there was but it had the wrong time on it) so I wasn’t too sure what splits were at the time, not that it mattered really. I’ve since learned that it was 1:21:19. We just kept clipping away for the next while. I’d said to myself that I’d up the pace with around 9 miles to go if I was feeling good. Even though with every mile I was feeling stronger I sat off upping the pace. Eventually after kilometre 28 we caught up the guy in front and from there there was no looking back – I went for home. After all my sitting easy, scared to up the pace a little, ultra conservativeness for the first 17 or so miles, this was kind of stupid! My do or die move… why I didn’t just use the approach I used for the first five kilometres is beyond me now. Pick the next person, give yourself a few kilometres and catch them, rather than the headless chicken run, run, run approach.
I felt great though so more than likely I’d do the exact same thing again. I didn’t go flat out, I went at a pace I realistically thought could get me to the finish at that time. The 30km mark came and went in 1:55:14 (38:14 for that 10km split). By mile 20 I was flying, there would be no stopping me, my breathing was comfortable and I felt strong. This is the problem with a sparsely populated field though, every time I caught someone it was because they were going backwards, meaning I couldn’t just sit in behind them and work off them for a bit. I’d catch and pass people, and then be gone metres a head within seconds. But each time I passed someone there was probably a distance of about 200m to 400m to the next person – a fairly large gap. For the final 9 miles it was all solo running and for good measure, the wind that had been barely existent for most of the race, started to pick up and naturally was a head wind!
With just under 5km to go I felt myself slowing for the first time. I’d got a good 5 or so miles out of upping my pace. I refused to let myself believe that I was out of energy, telling myself that there was plenty more there – I just had to dig deep. I started to think thoughts to make me stronger, sing songs in my head, anything to keep going. I was still keeping a good pace and nowhere was hurting – energy was just getting a tad low. Right as I crossed the 40km mark I thought I was gone. It just came ever so suddenly, the feeling that I had no energy at all left. The feeling came and went over the space of 10 seconds – I slowed down a bit and thought I’d have to jog it home. The two lads ahead of me looked like they were struggling. I upped it a bit and caught one of them. I had to remind myself that what was left was only a mile, just like the lap of Trinity College at the end of the Dublin marathon… that was nothing. The next person in front of me was Headphones, I gave it what I had left and passed him just before 42km. The final home stretch was easy, down a little hill, straight along the river, long, comfortable strides and I was done. Why had that last 5k been so hard when the final 195 metres was so easy?!
The strange thing about my weak final 5k is that no one went by me. Looking at the results I’d have gone by 11 people from the moment I took off at 28km. Not one of them stuck with me and not one of them managed to capitalise on me when I started to slow down. Puzzled told me afterwards that I went way into the distance ahead of him, but during them last 5km he closed me right back down, finishing about 10 seconds behind me. It’s mad to think that if I’d stayed at the same pace as him, which I found easy going, for the last 9 miles I’d have finished in an almost identical time! My final position of 23rd will more than likely remain my highest ever marathon finishing position for many years to come.
I’ll take my result on the day. Can I go faster? Too right I can – there’s a high 2:3x in there somewhere, I just have to bring it out. The next question is When? At the moment I have no idea. My club will be super pissed off if I do the Dublin marathon and miss out on a load of Cross Country races in the autumn. For the moment it’s marathoning to the back of the mind for a while, take a breather for a week, slowly start back to regular running again and get some track races in during June and July. After the track is finished I’ll start to think what the next step is then.
0-10km – 38m 51s (6:15 avg pace)
10-20km – 38m 09s (6:08 avg pace)
20-30km – 38m 14s (6:09 avg pace)
30-40km – 38m 59s (6:16 avg pace)
40km – 42.195 – 8m 36s (6:18 avg pace)