Seeing as my complete lack of preparation for Dublin City Marathon had paid off so well I thought I’d head into Clonakilty by doing even less. And having the greasiest chips known to man and a manky chicken burger as my pre-race, night before meal. Not that I was really worrying about anything but one thing I certainly didn’t have to worry about was the weather. Despite being filthy and wet driving down last night this morning it was just as the forecast had predicted – crispy cold and without a cloud in the sky, which made for a pretty nice view on the walk up to Inchadonny House where the race was starting from.
In fact the view was pretty spectacular.
As usual I was as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning waiting to start the race, so giddy in fact that I hadn’t noticed I was back among the half-marathon runners until just before the off and I had to almost fight my way to the front.
Too busy posing to notice where I should have been starting.
After only about 50 metres of flat ground I got a hint of just what the Clonakilty marathon is all about as I encountered the first of the many, many hills on the course. I also saw one of the most unusual sights of the day – a young lady wearing just a bikini and a Santa hat helping to push a wheelchair competitor up the ridiculously steep hill. The narrow road was already quite congested and she almost caused a huge pile up with guys turning, and in some cases stopping altogether, to get a better look at her.
We ran past the beautiful Inchadonny Strand for a bit before heading out into the countryside, with the four hour pacers setting a fairly brisk pace. Despite my lack of preparation I decided just before the start that I’d go with the four hour group, but unlike in Dublin I’d stick religiously with them. However, unlike in Dublin these guys were motoring, generally hovering about the 5 mins/km mark, a bit slower on the uphills, a bit quicker on the downs. After about forty five minutes of this I asked the guys, jokingly, if they were aiming for 3:59:59 (we were on pace for about 3:40 if we kept up the early pace). They explained to me they were putting a bit of time in the bank as the second half of the race was “a bastard”. That was all well and good but my “easy from the start, wind it on a bit at the end” plan was completely out the window at this point, as was my heart rate. I was averaging about 165bpm, way above what I’d intended (about 150-155bpm), which meant I was burning energy/glycogen/stamina that I wasn’t sure I had.
It was such a beautiful day though, and such an amazing course, that I just tried to forget about it and thought I’d deal with the pain later.
We hit some really big hills then and I actually felt fantastic and began to drop the group I was with. Marquee Moon was playing on my mp3 player, building to a crescendo as I approached the brow of the hill and as I crested it I caught sight of the most beautiful white beach, the sun was a shimmering, white hazy ball filling the sky and the sea a glistening mass of crystal waves. At that point in time there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather have been, and nothing else I’d rather have been doing. It was a staggering, breath taking, wonderful scene. I honestly didn’t know this little island of ours was capable of such beauty. I practically crawled down the other side of the hill, looking out to sea, my jaw still on the floor, just taking it all in.
Not long after that we hit another hill, this time a much longer drag, but just in case I needed any inspiration my mp3 player flicked on to Freebird and I knew I had about six minutes to get to the top just before the really big solo kicked in. I got there just in time and came over the top of the hill just as the Allman boys went crazy, another amazing coastal view and visions of The Devil’s Rejects playing in my mind.
Going tearing down the other side of that hill might have used up just about the last bit of fuel in my tank though as suddenly my wheels just came off. For twelve miles I’d been with or just ahead of the four hour pacers, now it was beginning to be a real struggle even to stick with them. I managed to do it for another couple of miles but any sort of an incline, never mind proper hill, was really starting to wear on me. I tried to get my second gel into me but my stomach was doing somersaults and all I could bear was some water. I laboured on to the next water station at the fifteen mile mark where I planned to get a fresh bottle, really water down my gel and walk for a minute or so. As soon as I stopped to do that my calf muscles on both sides really tightened so I stopped to stretch them out. I tried to start running again after that and there was just nothing there. Absolutely nothing. There was still eleven miles to go and my tank was completely empty. Oh balls.
I eventually got going again but only shuffling. Mile twenty two or three shuffling, at just past the half way point. The next hour or two were not going to be fun.
I tried to forget about how early in the race it was, and ow slowly I was going, and tried to figure out just what was wrong. I know I hadn’t exactly prepared in a professional manner but I hadn’t done for Dublin either and that had gone fine. Maybe there was only so much winging it you could do when it came to marathons? Had I learned something earlier in the year about winging it? Obviously not. Well, if I hadn’t learned my lesson by now I was going to have plenty of time to think about it as I spent a couple of hours trudging around the West Cork countryside. To be honest though I was having a lot of trouble thinking about anything other than my churning guts. I wasn’t quite at the point where my lovely Race to Glory buff (pictured below) was going to be called into action as emergency toilet roll but only because the contents of my stomach were up around my epigolottis. How the hell was my stomach in such a heap when (a) I’d only had a couple of gels and (b) I was barely moving?
Trying to figure this out at least took my mind off the fact that the beautiful early morning sun was dissipating and it was now looking far more like a regular Irish December day, though thankfully at least there wasn’t a hint of rain. After quite a length by myself I spotted another sorry soul trudging along, so I decided misery might as well have company, and slowed my shuffle to walk along with him. We walked the next four kilometres, a horrible, wet, dirty, shitty, cold four kilometres, together and even though we were walking it I didn’t feel too guilty as we were pretty much managing the same pace as the one or two others that were attempting to run up this horrible hill. Admittedly one of those others might have been in his sixties but still, he was barely quicker than us. I could take no more though when some white trustafarian type, who’s legs not only had less muscle content than the average kitten but were never seemingly moving in the same direction, overtook us. I bade goodbye to my shuffling chum and, churning guts bedamned, set off running.
For a bit. Minutes later I was in the hedge, heaving and desperately trying to empty my guts. Via my mouth I meant. Sorry, I just read that back and it sounded like I meant something else and it conjured up a horrible mental image. Anyway, I’d had enough lollygagging and loafing, and a marathon is meant to hurt after all, so I cranked up the death march and tried to pick off the few straggles that were left on the road with me. First the lady, then the guy from West Cork Tri Club who looked to be cramping horribly, then as I finally approached the finish the guy who was shuffling horribly, weaving a little and who looked like, even with only about half a mile to go, he was in danger of not finishing.
Perfect. As terrible and all as the last couple of hours had been, I could still overtake someone as I approached the finish and it would look like, at least to my wife and anyone else who might be hanging around the finish line, that I was finishing ‘strong’. I was gaining on him, only about a hundred metres or so back and with that last horrendous hill I knew he was mine, right up until I saw these two rosy cheeked little girls jumping up and down and cheering “Daddy, Daddy!”. His stooped, twisted frame straightened a little immediately but he still didn’t look as though he had it in him to go any faster. I picked up my pace just a smidgeon and was gaining on him, byt the tiniest margins, but gaining on him all the same, when some interfering goodie two shoes on the other side of the road shouted at the two little girls “run to your daddy, go on down to him”. Before I knew it those little bundles of joy were on him, jumping and prancing like a little pink My Little Pony that had been hewn in two and taken adorable, laughing, loving human form.
It would have been callous and underhand of me to rush past and steal his glory while he was so enraptured by his little ladies so I hung back a little, let him and his girls cross the finish line and have their moment in the sun, before skulking across a moment or two later, completely and utterly shattered.
It took some time, a foil blanket and the kind words of one of the many lovely Clonakilty ladies who volunteered on the day before I started to feel even remotely human. My wife, who’d turned in a magnificent effort in the half marathon and had a far more pleasant day than I, poured some sort of burger/sausage hybrid down my throat and after that, a large handful of jellies and a Lidl’s best ‘Snackers’ or two I started to come back to life. I wandered over to the finish line and spent some time cheering in the few hardy souls who were still out on the course, not to mention the chap in the wheelchair who I’d seen at the start, now sadly missing his bikini clad sidekick, who was dragging himself, inch by inch, up the last horrible incline to cross the finish line. Any element of still feeling a little sorry for myself quickly disappeared, and I remembered, as is the case with everything really, that you get out what you put in.
I heard a great analogy on the Marathon Talk from Australian marathon runner and multiple Olympian, Lee Troop – running is like a bank account. In training you make your deposits, and then when it comes to race day, you make withdrawals. Since about August onwards I’d been making withdrawls and today I finally went overdrawn. Sure there were other contributing factors but the fact of the matter is I didn’t respect the distance, I didn’t respect the race and I though, been there, done that, what were you worried about? When it came down to it though Clonakilty well and truly kicked my arse, so despite me cursing it for at least half it’s distance, and swearing never, ever to go back there, there’s now way I can leave it like that. I’m going to have to go back and give, what is possibly Ireland’s toughest, but definitely friendliest, marathon another go.
Anyway, how can you not love a race where the transport to the start is a model railway?