Day 128 – 26.2

Posted: May 12, 2012 in May, Races, Races 2012
Tags: , , , ,

I woke up this morning, even before my alarms went off, and went straight over to have a look out the window. What greeted me was some filthy wet greyness and teeming rain, way worse than what we’d experienced yesterday. I have to admit that my heart sank a bit at seeing this as, even though the forecast was bad, I still half expected it to be ok. At worst I thought we might have some showers at some stage during the race but this was proper, grey, down for the day, not letting up rain. Thankfully I’d brought a few different sets of gear with me to (hopefully) deal with any eventuality. After twenty minutes or so of me pacing around the room, stretching and throwing occasional glances out the window (where nothing had changed), my alarms went off and just a little bit later my wife got up.

The hotel that we were staying in, The Premier Inn, was the assigned hotel for the marathon, so they were starting breakfast from six am. I’d planned on heading down for about 6:45 but my wife, evil woman that she is, dragged our boys out of bed too so they could come down with us. Twelve and fourteen year old boys want little enough to be dragged all over the country to stand at the side of various roads while their father puts himself through hardship (of his own choosing), but throw in a pre-seven am start and you’re going to see some real sulking going on. I on the other hand was more than a little excited.

Like a giddy child on Christmas morning. The breakfast area in the hotel was jammed with skinny people in shorts and lycra and rain jackets, mostly tucking into huge bowls of porridge (apart from the odd mentalist who was having a big fry). I on the other hand  tried to have almost the same breakfast as I did at the Amsterdam marathon as that seemed to work out nutrition wise. I had a quadruple espresso, a massive bowl of muesli and fruit and some toast with jam. Normally I would have had some wholegrain bread with peanut butter and banana rather than the (white) toast and jam but with my stomach still being a little iffy I was avoiding anything with too much fibre in it.

After breakfast it was back upstairs and the big decision of the day – what to wear? Normally for races I tend to wear as little as possible, but I remembered how miserable I was on my last long run in the rain, even with my jacket on. I hummed and hahed about it for a while longer before giving myself a little slap in the face and telling myself to man up. I was here to race, not out for an easy jog. No jacket, sleeves off, guns out, that’s how I roll. I got all my gear together, got my Garmin, my HRM and my Clip on and walked down towards the start line with my wife and son no. 2 (son no. 1 had jumped straight back into bed as apparently sleep was more important than seeing his father off, and to be fair, to a fourteen year old it is).

Walking down to the start line, which was only about two minutes walk from the hotel, the weather didn’t actually seem too bad. Sure it was wet and cold and any glimmer of sunlight seemed a faint and distant memory but at least it wasn’t windy. Or rather where we were standing, blocked by buildings all round wasn’t. As soon as we moved out into the street the wind appeared and the temperature dropped significantly. By that point though I really wasn’t bothered about the weather. I just wanted to get my warmup done and get the race started. We still had about forty minutes or so to kill though so there was a lot of jogging on the spot, short runs up and down the street and stretching.

Eventually though it was time to shed the extra layers of clothing and line up. There was no separate pens or start points for the various expected finish times, just some boards with times, so everyone was kind of jammed in together. There didn’t seem to be any pacers either which was a bit strange. I’ve been at relatively small half marathons which had pacers at them, and at Amsterdam there was pacers for every time from 3:00 up to 5:00

One of the most important things in a marathon, for me anyway, is the music I’m listening to. You’re going to be out there for a long time, or I am at least anyway, and some good music can really help the time fly by. In Amsterdam I went with two essential mixes (Fake Blood and Felix Da Housecat) and then some Rocky soundtrack stuff to get me across the line. This time though I wanted to use my own selection so had spent about an hour yesterday putting together a rock/metal-centric playlist, with some dance and hip-hop thrown in, as well as the obligatory Rocky 4 montage stuff and Gonna Fly Now.

The combination of brilliant song after brilliant song popping up to surprise me and just the thrill of running a marathon had me grinning like a loon for the first half of the race. I’m not quite sure what it is about them but I just kept on thinking over and over in my head “I love running marathons”. I know it’s easy to say that at the start of one, and to be fair I’ve only run two so far, but there’s just something about them that I love. For all that I love running trails there’s something to be said for running through the streets of a city, with everything closed off and diverted for you. Running with that many people, with crowds lining the streets, is something that I don’t think is going to get old in a hurry either. As well as that I love that you’re out there running for half an hour, an hour, ninety minutes, clocking up five, ten, fifteen, twenty kilometres, and you’re still not even at the halfway point. It’s a bit silly and ludicrous but it always makes me laugh.

The first part of the race was very uneventful. I was running at a nice steady pace, feeling really good and just enjoying the run and the music I’d picked. My only real concern actually was keeping my pace down when certain songs came on. I was hoping to maintain a pace of around 6:10 mins/km, which would have brought me in at 4:20, but Queens of the Stone Age or Faith No More or something similar would come on my playlist and I’d find myself running at around 5:30. I knew I’d pay for it later but I was enjoying it so what the hell.

At about the 10km mark things became a little more memorable however as the route took us down the Falls Road. It was a bit surreal to be running past houses with the various murals that I’d only ever seen on the news before. It was particularly surreal to be looking up at the famous Bobby Sands mural as I had Eye of the Tiger blasting on my Clip. Not long after that, at the 12km mark, the route started to climb, and continued to do so for the next 12 kilometres. It wasn’t particuarly steep, just a slow, steady climb, and I love running uphill anyway, so I was able to keep my pace ticking over at around 6mins/km. I hit the halfway point at 2:05:37, which was well ahead of schedule and meant that not only was a negative split out of the question, but as I thought earlier on, I was definitely going to pay for it in the second half of the race.

When I passed the halfway marker of the race it was as if someone had flicked a switch and my legs were replaced by ones about two stone heavier. Where before everything had been effortless now the last couple of kilometres of climbing became a little bit of a grind. What really didn’t help matters was the weather really deteriorating. As I said earlier, it had been wet and cold all morning, but thankfully not too windy (for the most part). The wind had begun to really pick up, which meant that it felt far colder, and the rain which had also gotten considerably heavier, was now being blown into my face.

I’d passed a water station not long beforehand that was also giving out cups of Powerade (blue, my favourite!) but noticed that the ground was scattered with nearly full bottles of it. No one was giving out bottles when I was going past, just poxy paper cups, and I was dying for a bottle of it. I’ve bonked or slowed right down in plenty of races before, and knew I’d be absolutely craving some calories towards the end, and it felt like all these almost full bottles of my favourite energy drink were calling out to me, so I just thought fuck it, and grabbed the fullest one I saw off the road.

At the 23km mark there was two kilometres of pretty steep downhill which had my quads absolutely burning. The burning in my quads though was soon the least of my concerns as the route took a turn out of the city and spat us out on to a path running along Belfast Lough. There was a collective groan from almost everyone as the sight that greeted us was massive grey waves, crashing off rocks just to our left and the spray from those combined with the increasingly heavy, icy sharp rain which was now being blown horizontally at us. I couldn’t even see how far I was going to have to run along this path as it was impossible to look up or straight ahead with the rain and spray in my eyes. For the first time I was beginning to regret my choice of sleeveless top as my left arm was being frozen solid. My left hand was clenched in a fist and I wasn’t even able to open it out. There was no point getting down about it though, and all around me people seemed to be even more miserable and suffering more than I was, so I just put my head down and tried to push on as quick as I could and get off this sodden, godforsaken path.

Eventually the route turned back into town once more but my efforts along the path, as well as the cumulative efforts of the race were really starting to take their toll by this point. Since I passed the halfway point in 2:05 I’d reappraised my initial target of 4:20. There was a slight, slight chance of cracking four hours, but I knew if I was to do that I needed to get to the 32km mark at three hours, which would leave me an hour to do ten kilometres, which I knew I’d be able to do no matter how much I was hurting, if I had the carrot of a sub four hour finish in front of me anyway. The thought of that, and my desire to get away from the lough path, was what had been driving me on for the last seven or eight kilometres. I was scared to look at my Garmin though, just in case I wasn’t quite close enough, and so I waited until I got to the 20 mile marker (32km).

When I did I saw that I was at 3:05, and the disappointment coursed through me, draining what little energy I had left. Now I had no real target, nothing to aim for, my legs ached and burned, my stomach felt like crap and all I could think about was getting this over with. I still had ten kilometres to go though and what not long ago felt like “ten kilometres? That’s a 10k, that’s a piece of piss, you never run as short as 10k any more, you’ll do that in your sleep” turned into “forty two kilometres, thats how long it really is, and you’ve only done thirty two. There’s at least an hour to go and you can barely move. How the hell are you going to keep going for another hour?”. I tried to forget about time and distance and just keep plodding along but just about every thought in my mind now was a negative one. I kept on looking for an excuse to stop, looking for a building or something that I could go behind for a toilet break, water stations, just any reason to stop running.

For the next three or four kilometres I just zoned out, trying to clear my mind, not thinking about anything, not looking at anything, just one foot in front of the other and keeping going. I was snapped out of it however by someone shouting my name, and when I looked back I saw one of the guys I work with, who’s wife was running the marathon too. I just about managed to give him a thumbs up and then returned to my plodding. We were right back into the city now and the route was constantly zig-zagging, turning through junctions and different streets so it was hard to settle into a rhythm and zone out. It’s also hard to really remember too much about it now, even though just a few days have passed. Your mind has an amazing ability to wipe out horrible memories and the really tough parts of things like this, which is definitely a good thing, otherwise you’d never go back to do them again. I just remember miles 21 – 24 being among the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Physically I was really hurting and I had a whole host of voices in my head shouting at me to stop and try as much as I did to continue a couple of times I did stop to walk for a hundred metres or so.

After stopping to walk just after the 24 mile I’d finally had enough of my nonsense and gave myself a bit of a talking to. Everyone, absolutely everyone, around me was hurting. Everyone was going through their own shit and I was not a unique and individual snowflake who was experiencing some sort of pain unheard of unknown to anyone else. I was running a fucking marathon, or at least was supposed to be running one, and if I pulled my finger out and stopped being such a little bitch I was going to do it in a far better time than I’d done before. There was a guy in front of me who’d joined a group of his friends who were running the marathon, all of whom seemed to be suffering at least as much as me, and he was coaxing and cajoling them and encouraging them to start running again. It might sound a bit silly but I really didn’t want him to have to encourage me so I started to run again, slowly at first, more a loping hobble than a run really, and as I did my left hamstring started to spasm. This was a new one to me but it wasn’t stopping me run so I just kept going.

After about half a kilometre or so I was getting back to something approaching a normal pace and had overtaken the group in front of me. I kept picking up the pace and all of a sudden the yards that had been crawling by were now really ticking along (funny how that can happen as you go quicker eh?). Before I knew it I’d passed the 25 mile marker, and then I only had a kilometre to go. Every negative thought that had been crowding my mind for the previous hour was now banished and I just kept pushing harder and harder. My legs were still burning, my lungs were now burning too and I was gasping for air but there was now way I was slowing down. I still couldn’t see the finish line but I knew it couldn’t be far and unlike numerous races I’ve run before after the inital adrenaline surge dissipated I didn’t slow down, I didn’t slow down, I just kept running faster and faster. Finally I could see the finish line a couple of hundred metres away and I put in one final kick and came over the line in 4:15:58, nineteen minutes quicker than I’d done in Amsterdam.


  1. AndrewGills says:

    Congratulations on your finish and the great time.

  2. Sean Burke says:

    Fair play man – Great read!!

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