Archive for the ‘October’ Category

Chastened, humbled, drained, even emasculated. All words that could be used to describe my emotional state at the end of the Dublin Marathon. Not exhilarated or elated or exalted, empty at absolute best. I’d just finished another marathon, finishing in a respectable time of 4:14:09, off only five weeks of concerted training, and after all it was only meant to be a training run. In the weeks running up to the marathon I’d said over and over when people asked me what time I was planning on doing Dublin “it’s only a training run, I’m just looking to get round”, but then I’d add “once I get in under four hours I’ll be happy”. As the marathon approached though I was putting in some good training runs (ignoring the fact that they were primarily around 10k with only a couple of 20k plus runs), I was lighter than I’ve been at any stage since first year in secondary school and I was getting confident.

In the run up to the marathon I was gorging on books on running, trying to fill my mind with tales of excellence, absorb by proxy all the knowledge of all these running greats – Dick Beardsley, Alberto Salazar, Alan Webb, Seb Coe, Steve Ovett. It’s something I always do when I’m into something – read absolutely everything I can on the subject – but with the marathon approaching I put myself on an accelerated learning program to see if all this knowledge could be translated into even a tiny bit of power. One thing that seemed to link most of the heroic feats and performances that all these guys accomplished was an ability to push beyond normal physical boundaries when it really mattered, ignoring the body and succeeding through sheer willpower. They’d all managed to overcome what Tim Noakes called the Central Governor, the part of your brain that tells you to slow down so as to protect your body from damage. Noakes found that one of the things that separated elite athletes from your ordinary Joe Soaps isn’t necessarily their physical gifts – their fast/slow twitch muscle fibres, their VO2 Max, their narrow ankles – but their ability to suffer. If you have two athletes with similar physical capabilities then the one with the greater ability to suffer, to deal with pain and anguish when they’re competing will win.

Going even deeper I found a book called Run – The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald. Now I know that sounds a little bit new age and Tony Robbinsy, but Fitzgerald is a long established and respected coach, nutritionist and author of many coaching books as well as the training plans offered through the Training Peaks website. In short he knows his shit. The premise of this particular book is that the principal focus of training efforts should be to train the mind, that a confident, relaxed, comfortable athlete, but also one that has been trained to endure suffering, is one that’s going to maximise their abilities. This sounded fantastic. OK, so I’m only at the start of my training cycle, but I’m not short of confidence at the moment, I can get relaxed and comfortable, and the enduring suffering bit, well I’ll deal with that on the day, won’t I? That’s what these guys did. The hurt came on and they just dealt with it. Between that and going at a nice steady pace then surely I could get round  these 26.2 miles, and why not, if everything went well maybe push on for 3:49. Who knows? Maybe I could have one of those miracle days and even get low 3:40s?

Well I’m sorry, but in my experience the marathon doesn’t do miracles. It tramples all over your dreams and crushes your lofty aspirations. If that’s all you have in the bank that is. No amount of positive thinking will get you round 26.2 miles in an aggressively targeted time unless you’ve the miles logged, the hours and hours on the road, especially in your long runs. Any sane, objective person will tell you that. Unfortunately though, despite wittering on incessantly about the use of logic and rationale, when it suits me I throw all that out the window and can jump head-first into a purely emotional choice. I have an infamous spreadsheet which I use to calculate the actual real cost per year and per month of various prospective car choices, which I then totally disregard as soon as I see anything black with M or XR emblazoned on it. I did exactly the same in the run up to the marathon, disregard facts and logic and go all in on a brand new approach. This was running, but with a cerebral edge to it, and dear God but didn’t that appeal to the (ever so slightly) pretentious side of me. It meant, to my now twisted mind, that I could take a horrifically blase approach to the marathon and everything would be alright as long as I thought it would be. I was travelling up to Dublin in the morning with Mark and Paul, leaving shortly after six, yet it was approaching midnight and I was just sitting down to watch tonight’s Love/Hate (I couldn’t see it earlier as I’d been in Dublin sitting in the IFI for the day watching horror films).

Myself, Mark and Paul

Myself, Mark and Paul

My first inkling that my approach might have some flaws in it was standing around waiting for the off when the national anthem was played. I was meant to be enjoying this, I was going to skate around on a wave of enjoyment and positivity but I was finding the whole thing a bit anticlimactic. Two years ago the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck as they played Amhrán na bhFiann and I was grinning from ear to ear. Today – nothing. The thought occurred to me then that maybe it felt anticlimactic because a climax requires a build up? OK, not a great start to the whole ‘enjoying the marathon’ thing, but once I get going I’ll be fine. I always love the first 10k of a marathon, there’s so much enthusiasm and positivity, so much energy that people are struggling to contain. Today though I felt nothing. I kept on telling myself to enjoy it, and in fairness I wasn’t moping around, I was running at a very controlled pace, conditions were decent, overcast, not too cold but a bit windy, especially going through the Phoenix Park.

Trying to run smart I kept running abreast of groups through the park, trying to avoid copping the brunt of the wind. One person I spotted who was definitely running his own race at that time was a guy who looked like he’d run straight off Venice Beach, resplendent in pastel vest, shorty short short, mullet and headband. Keeping the dream alive! Just after that I spotted Joseph Clifford of “He Ain’t Heavy” who was pushing his brother Ciaran around the 26.2 mile course in a specially designed  but huge wheelchair, an enormous and incredible undertaking. These two very different ends of the spectrum of marathon participants really lifted my mood, and from 10 – 15k I started to push on a bit. I still wasn’t feeling anywhere near as good as I had on my training runs of late, just a bit flat and heavy legged as opposed to feeling really fresh, light and full of energy. Maybe I would have been better served by getting more sleep each night rather than reading for an extra hour after I went to bed in the preceding week, regardless of how late I went to bed. And maybe I should have been in bed at nine the night before, with a good dinner inside me,  when I knew I had to be up at half five the following morning. I was sure I learned a lesson before about getting a good dinner and good night’s sleep the night before a big race. I’m almost certain in fact that I’ve learned it (or you know, written it) at least half a dozen times.

Regardless of the need for sleep and general conditioning in the lead up to a race I was still somewhat confident at this point. I had a cunning back up plan, which involved 40 grams of maltodextrin, 5 grams of BCAAs, 4 grams of beta alanine, 500ml of water and 200ml of apple juice. When combined together you’ve got essentially homemade Powerade or Lucozade Sport, but with no nasty sugary additions or nefarious corporate sponsoring. As part of my experiment I was also running on no breakfast, just a large coffee with a spoonful each of butter and coconut oil (a homemade Bulletproof coffee). The plan was gel at 13 miles, then pick up the bottle off my brother Gugs at 18 miles, then maybe just one more gel at 23 miles or so and I’d be done. Natural fuelling as much as possible, minimise GI stress (gastro intestinal stress, basically when your stomach starts to churn because you’re throwing a load of stuff at it to process, exacerbated by running), get most of my carbs in as a liquid. I’d left the bottle in Gugs’ the night before sending him a message to let him know where it was. This I had to do as he was out at the Samhain festival for the night (you can see where this is going, can’t you?). I have to point out here that I was at pains to say to Gugs all week that I wasn’t relying on him to be there, that if he was there great, if not, no bother, my marathon was definitively NOT hinging on me getting this bottle off him.

I probably should have had a more concrete plan in place for if he wasn’t there, and I definitely shouldn’t have been spending the five miles all the way up to the KCR (where I was due to meet him), imagining how great things were going to be when I got the bottle off him, and how my marathon was really going to start there, and how this was going to be some sort of magic elixir that was going to replace my legs with those of someone who had 18 weeks of training in them. Coming up to the KCR I kept one of the small water bottles that I had just finished, then got another one and emptied that. Two 375ml bottles would be so much easier to carry than one big bulky 750ml bottle. That had been my only concern with the bottle, it’s size, but now the perfect solution had been presented, this was how it was meant to be. Definitely a good ome……….

Nope. Not there. Oh balls. Maybe when I reappraised the importance of the bottle and raised it’s importance from ‘negligible’ to ‘actually quite crucial’ I should have informed Gugs. Or given it to someone else. Or given someone else a backup bottle. I wasn’t thinking that as I ran through the KCR scanning the crowd of faces on either side of the road. I was thinking of a load of expletives that I’m not going to detail here just in case my mother has made it this far. Suffice to say that my, already neutral at best, mood worsened considerably after that and just two miles later, at mile 18, I adopted a run walk strategy. Walk 100m, run 900m. As soon as I broke the seal on it the walking genie was out and so now as soon as my legs started to hurt, well it was a run-walk strategy wasn’t it? Stomach started to churn, first hint of nausea, walk. Strategy. What happened to enduring suffering? Gutting it out? Well I found out, somewhere on the side of the duel carriageway headed for Donnybrook, that the question you ask yourself again and again when the suffering starts is “why?” Why should I do this? Why should I endure this? What’s the motivation? Well if you’ve spent the last six weeks telling yourself and everyone who asks that this is just an inconsequential training run (albeit one you’ve assigned a fanciful target to) well then the motivation is a little bit lacking. This wasn’t a target race, this wasn’t anything I’d been building towards, I’d treated it as just ‘a run’ of 26.2 miles and I was getting out exactly what I’d put in.

Very shortly after that I saw up close and personal what it actually meant to endure some suffering, what having real motivation meant. Just after the 24 mile marker I was shuffling along when I saw someone out of the corner of my eye take a stutter step. I turned to look and saw a woman to my left stagger and almost fall as she tried to take another step forward and I put out my hand to steady her. As I looked at her I could see she was completely disorientated and out of it and as I took both her arms she just collapsed backwards. Myself and couple of spectators helped her sit down at the side of the road, but despite being unable to stand she tried to claw herself to her fight saying “I have to finish”. We got her some water and some jellies and tried to get her some help, but again she was adamant that she had to finish. She could barely tell us her name, she couldn’t  focus on us, she certainly couldn’t stand up let alone run, but she was asking how far to mile 25, saying she had to finish, pointing to her t-shirt, saying she was running for Barretstown, a charity founded by the actor Paul Newman that provides therapeutic recreation programmes for seriously ill kids and their families. It was quite a humbling moment, the amount of bitching and moaning and walking I’d been doing, wussing out at the first real test when this woman was an example of exactly what I’d been reading about. She’d pushed beyond what her body was capable of, ignoring the exhortations of her brain to slow down or stop to the point where her brain had to shut her body down. I’m not saying that this is what you have to do for a race to be worthwhile, or that this is how far people should go, but it was a real lesson in how far people could go, and if I got nothing else out of this marathon at least I’d remember her and how far she was willing to go.

After a few minutes with her some more help was on the way and I left her with the ladies who had been with me looking after her. I made one last deal with myself at this point, the only one I didn’t actually break – no more walking. There was only 3k to go, nothing in the greater scheme of things, just keep shuffling for three more kilometres. Catch that person in front, then the next one, then the next one, all the way to the end. I wasn’t suddenly filled with a bolt of energy from the heavens, or anywhere else for that measure, and I couldn’t even muster the energy for any sort of a ‘sprint’ finish. Instead I dragged myself across the line in 4:14:09, before slumping across the nearest barrier and leaving myself hanging there for quite a while. I just felt utterly spent and empty, which at least from a physical standpoint is a good indicator that I used up whatever stores of energy and fitness I may have had. I wasn’t really ready for rationalisation yet, I just trudged along to get my goodie bag and t-shirt before going to meet Paul and Mark again.

I put a bit of a front on when I met the lads but all I could think about was how wrong things had gone, how I’d failed to do the number one thing I’d set out to do (enjoy it!), how I’d prepared so badly and why the hell I do this to myself. I realised today that despite ostensibly making a pig’s mickey of the whole thing, I’d actually learnt a whole lot from the exercise. Sure I didn’t run a ‘good’ race, I’d been wildly optimistic with my targets and pacing, casual in the extreme with my approach and the whole thing smacked of hubris, with a whiff of arrogance, but at least now I know a whole lot more of what not to do when attempting to run a marathon. I suppose it’s one of the reasons why so many people are drawn to running in general, and marathons in particular. I learned a whole lot more about myself in that four hours yesterday than in the forty hours I’d spent reading in the weeks beforehand. I might not have liked a lot of the stuff I was learning at the time but it’s what’s going to stick with me.




Me, Mark Clifford and Paul Molloy

Me, Mark Clifford and Paul Molloy after the race.

Brilliant running from both the lads as usual, 3:38 for Mark and 3:19 for Paul, off it must be said not ideal preparation for the lads either. The just don’t moan about it as much as me.


Coming as it did, slap bang in the middle of my soon to be patented, hopefully never to be repeated, seven week training plan for Dublin Marathon, Killarney Adventure Race was a race I was both looking forward to and also trying to ignore. I really only wanted to run a few marathons this year but I can be a bit of an idiot at times, a prime example of which is responding to the post-race mocking I received from my old Waterford work colleague and friend Ben while in the pub last year by swearing I was going to do the 70k race this year. You see, Ben, and his considerably quicker and fitter wife Michelle, had completed the 60k version of the race, while I had stropped and staggered around the 27k, cursing both the rolling hills of Killarney and the rolls of flab underneath my jersey I had let creep back in. I really didn’t enjoy the race last year, annoyed at how unfit I had let myself get again, so my pledge to do the 70k this year was both a foolhardy retort to Ben’s crude barbs and also the kick in the arse I needed to get training again.

Which I had done. Up until Killarney Marathon in May of this year. Since then it’s been sporadic at best., non-existent at worst. Still, I was down here now, with at least some level of fitness, hoping that the fact that I was at least a few kilos lighter than last year would help me round the extra forty kilometres or so.

Another advantage I had this year was a slightly more performance focused pre-race preparation. Last year there was a whole bunch of us down here, and there was a bit more of a party atmosphere in our campervan. This year there was just myself and Benny, and his race face was well and truly on.

I should probably make clear at this point Ben is the older, swarthy, slightly husky gentleman on the right of this photo, my old running buddy from Bausch & Lomb, Benny is the wiry, mop-topped lunatic in the middle I’ve known since he was an even more mop-topped, even more lunatic teen.

See Benn, I didn't say anything about your chins

See Ben, I didn’t say anything about your chins

Benny and I had made it down to Killarney in plenty of time, registered, and dropped our bikes out to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. By the time we made it back into the car park of The Brehon hotel though, our guerilla camp site for the weekend, there was nowhere really open to get any food so we went with the nightcap in the hotel bar option instead.

The morning of the race was an absolute masterclass in ‘just in time’ scheduling. Despite being camped up for the night approximately two minutes walk from the departure point for the race, Benny and I were the last two people on the last bus for the last wave heading to the race start out at Kate’s Cottage, and at that Benny only made it as I was getting the bus to hold on. This was going to be a decent test to see how well my fat adaptation and training on empty regime was going as well, as due to the faffing around last night and this morning I was heading off to start the race with only a very large espresso in me.

I hadn’t managed to meet Ben and Michelle the night before the race as, like most right minded people, they were in bed by the time Benny and I arrived in to The Brehon bar. I was keeping an eye out for them when I got out to the cottage but Ben spotted me first, unable to even say hello as I was squeezing a large sachet of nut butter down my gullet. We barely had time for hellos and a quick picture before it was go time, and there was Benny disappearing off into the distance. We had discussed strategy, what to do at the kayak and so on but really I was just smiling and nodding along because I knew as soon as the whistle went he would be long, long gone and it would be the finish line before we’d properly see each other again.

Michelle also scampered off up the road, the first stage being a 7k run up and down Strickeen. I really wanted to go after her but I’d learned my lesson about going off to quick after the first stage of Gaelforce West a couple of years ago so just went at a nice steady pace uphill. It was almost impossible to go too much quicker with the path little more than single file, but seeing as we were the last wave to go off when we turned around at the top the path down was mostly clear. Normally I’m a terrible descender but the bit of practice I’d had on Croagh Patrick and Ticknock, plus the fact that it wasn’t an overly technical descent meant I was actually making good time. For once I wasn’t hesitant and nervous, I just relaxed and actually really enjoyed it, overtaking some people on the way down, including Michelle. I think I relaxed a bit too much though because just as I was leaving transition with my bike Ben and Michelle were coming in and grabbing theirs.

While Benny had been a bit apprehensive about the first part of the cycle leg, from Kate’s Cottage over the Gap of Dunloe, I had paid it little heed. I’d run up and down over it twice a couple of years ago as part of The Gauntlet half marathon so felt I had little to worry about. I was a little surprised then to find myself only a few minutes later off the bike and pushing it uphill. The race organisers definitely knew what they were doing making us cycle uphill straight off our short mountain run, my legs, and the legs of just about everyone around me judging by how many people were in a similar situation, were completely dead and so when I saw three or four people around me hopping off their bikes and pushing I didn’t hesitate in following suit. Of course as soon as I did I berated myself and felt somewhat emasculated, which was made a hundred times worse immediately after by the motorbike and cameraman for the race passing me and capturing my moment of weakness on film.

What followed then was almost an hour of humbling and near humiliation. In my mind at least. I managed to grind my way to the top of The Gap of Dunloe at least, but as I got there it started to lash rain. That combined with the glassy smooth, newly laid tarmac which the race director had warned us about had me extremely hesitant as I started the descent. My already fragile confidence took another kicking as first Michelle and then Ben sailed past, all the while I was squeezing both brakes like a terrified kitten clinging on to it’s mother. As the rain came down harder and harder, and the road got narrower, steeper and bumpier I got worse and worse until I practically ground to a halt. By the time the road levelled out I was completely on my own, miles behind anyone with only wounded, chastened pride for company.

It was far, far too early in the day to crumble completely though and with what looked to be reasonably flat road ahead of me I was determined to catch up to Michelle. I reckoned that despite her fitness that on a flat road I should be able to put down a bit more power and claw some time back. I put my head down and started to work and eventually caught a glimpse of what I thought, or hoped, was her in the distance. Fifteen minutes or so later I had just about caught up but was bloody exhausted with my efforts, and it took another five minutes or so to close the final few yards. Michelle had been going back and forth with a small group of riders for some time, pulling ahead on the climbs, being dragged back on the flats, and I managed to latch on to them just as we hit (what Michelle told me was) the last climb. I had my cycling legs back by this stage and was determined to at least get up this incline on my bike, rather than pushing it, so I adopted a Chris Froome-esque approach, looking only at my stem and the yard of tarmac in front of me rather than all the way up the road.

This worked brilliantly and before I knew it I was at the top, flush with exhilaration, and delighted I could see beautiful, wide sweeping roads ahead of me rather than nadgery, gnarly country lanes. I passed Michelle just as we crested the top of the climb and decided it was about time to put the hammer down. Being able to see all the road in front of me meant I was much more confident, and after a couple of really fast sweeping bends I started to really get into it. The road tightened up a bit but I talked myself through the first couple of tighter bends “ok, it’s the same as on a motorbike, easy on the brakes, don’t grab. nice and smooth, look around the bend to where you want to go, you can see the exit, go, go, go, full gas” and before I knew it I was flying downhill, and despite the return absolutely loving it. I was kind of glad to be alone on the road now because between the talking to myself, smiling like a loon and laughing at how much fun I was having I might have seemed a little unhinged to anyone else.

Considering I’d been cursing it at the start I was really disappointed that the bike leg was finishing so soon, but at least I was getting off the bike in a great mood. I jogged down towards the lake for the kayak leg and had one of my bread rolls with Philadelphia and jam (no bloody brioche rolls to be found anywhere in Super Valu, that’ll teach me to leave my shopping until the last minute) before teaming up with a girl from Abbeyfeale who’s name I forgot to get. We had a very, very relaxed kayak, taking the scenic route around the lake but I knew Mangerton, the real meat of the race, was still ahead so I didn’t really mind an extended breather at this point. Soon enough though it was off the water and heading back up the road to the bottom of the mountain where the sensible people doing the short race would go one way, and all the masochists doing the long ones would go the other.

Almost right from the start of the run section my legs felt heavy and tired. I assumed they would come back to me at some stage but after 5k or so of relatively flat running through the forest, just before I got to the bottom of Mangerton where the real hurt would start, I felt the same pain and looseness around my right knee that I did towards the end of the Killarney marathon. Now I started to get a little worried as the last time I felt this I was out of action for three weeks, and with Dublin Marathon only three weeks away that wasn’t really an option. A few minutes later I got horrendous cramps at the bottom of my right hamstring, right at the back of my knee so I decided there and then my plan was just to get round. I wasn’t exactly racing anyway at this point but if I needed to walk all the rest of the way to get round without any further injury that’s what I was going to do.

I started the long, slow trudge up Mangerton, the whole time keeping an eye out for Michelle, presuming she’d be coming past me soon enough. After what seemed like an age I saw Benny coming hurtling down the mountain, still absolutely flying. He shouted that it was 54.8km at the turnaround point, so just about 3km for me to get there. It seemed to be taking forever to get up this bloody lump of earth, 100m was hard fought never mind 3000m but I just kept repeating to myself “one little step after another, one little step after another” like a mantra, ocassionally stopping briefly to pause for breath and admire the beauty all around us. I’d made the mistake in previous races of just getting engulfed in drudgery and not taking the time to appreciate where we were, but not this time. It might have hurt to get there but how many other people on that day were where myself and a few hundred other hardy souls were, standing atop a mountain in one of the wildest and most beautiful parts of the entire country. It was a privilege to be up there, not some sort of penance, and I just had to remember that now and again.

My reverie was shattered very soon after by the sight of a tiny figure in green t-shirt and red bandana flying down towards me. I was sure Michelle was still behind me but apparently, and quite obviously I was mistaken. I asked her how and where she’d overtaken me but Michelle wasn’t hanging around for a chat. A wave of fear and dread crept over me now. If Michelle was ahead of me maybe Ben was too. Benny was always going to finish miles ahead of me, and Michelle most likely too, but Ben? Dear God no. If I did anything today it was at least catch him. Sure enough a few minutes later I spotted him lumbering down the mountain towards me, his gait looking as strained and laboured as mine. We stopped and chatted briefly – his dodgy knees were killing him, someone was stabbing me in my hamstrings – before we both carried on. I still had 2km to go to the turnaround point, but I also had 9km then of downhill to catch Ben and I was certain I could do it.

I won’t say I had a spring in my step then, but I definitely had a bit more zeal about me. I got up to the turnaround point, as happy to see the marshall with the checkpoint as happy as I’d ever been to see a complete stranger. Then it was time to get my arse in gear and begin my descent. I knew there was a quicker, if considerably riskier, path down the right hand side that Benny and all the quick guys had been taking. Despite my lack of descending skill I was encouraged by my run down Strickeen earlier and I knew it was the best chance I had of catching Ben, so I set off down the spongy, soggy trail, making really good time and just about staying upright. In a matter of minutes I spotted Ben’s unmistakable lumpen form, and very shortly after I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I caught right up to him. He was really struggling with his knees, me with my muscular woes so I suggested bringing it home together.

I’m delighted that he agreed to do it, because his company was a godsend. I felt so empty and drained coming off the mountain, that the last few kilometres of forest trail felt like a marathon. It was great to be able to relax, chat, have a laugh and drag each other along when needed. Both of us were suffering so we just walked the uphills, jogged or shuffled best we could the downhills, and then staggered down the Torc steps like a less athletic Statler and Waldorf, oohing, aahing, mewling and yelping, attracting the pity of children and pensioners alike, all of whom were moving more quickly and easily than we were.

The relief at approaching the bikes once more, and the knowledge that we could get off our feet again, was one of the most fantastic feelings I’ve ever experienced. We were practically giddy with excitement getting on to our bikes, so giddy in fact that we couldn’t tell left from right and could barely get out of the way of the other competitors crawling past us. Once we were out on the road for the last little spin into town though we felt great, finally able to laugh at the misery we’d put behind us and even discussed crossing the line hand in hand. We’d long gave up hope of getting across the line in under six hours, but seeing as we were entering the final bike drop at 6:05 there was a chance we could crack 6:10. 6:09 reads and sounds way better than 6:10, so we gathered ourselves for one final push to the line. We (almost) ran the few hundred metres to the finish, with only the bastard bridge to cross. I hit the bottom steps at a canter, but could hear Ben whimpering behind me. Benny and Michelle were on the other side, cheering us on and for a change it was now me exhorting Ben to come on. We crossed the bridge together, setting foot on to the red carpet side by side for the last fifty metres to the line.

At which point I sprinted for the line as hard as I could, laughing my arse off as I could hear gasps of “what a prick” from the crowd, laughter, cheers and and all sorts of swearing from Ben wheezing behind me. I was laughing so much I could barely dib in but just about managed to, an entire, and massively important, second in front of Ben. 6:09:52 for me, 6:09:53 for Ben.

Benny had finished in a spectacular 4:50:26 for 63rd place overall, and first of our little quartet. Michelle had finished in an equally impressive 5:38:32 to be the 14th woman home. I honestly think though that I was happier than either of them to finish with the final podium spot for our group, relegating poor old Ben to the first loser position.



(Dickishness aside for a second I was hugely impressed by Ben’s efforts. Due to various ailments, aches and injuries he’s barely got to put any decent training in but through sheer toughness and bloody mindedness he dragged himself, and me, round the toughest race I’ve done to date. I said as much to Benny afterwards, though I couldn’t possibly have admitted it to Ben. Huge, huge congratulations to Benny and Michelle on their efforts too, phenomenal showings.

I think too that huge credit must go to anyone that got round that course. I have as much respect for the people who did it in eight and a half hours as I do for the absolute animals who cracked it in under four).



Despite my abysmal preparation for the marathon I was still in a positive frame of mind heading up this morning. I wasn’t racing, I didn’t really have a target time in mind, all I had to do was go out there and enjoy it. I knew I could run the distance, and injury notwithstanding I would finish the race, so there was nothing to worry about. On the subject of target times, the question I had been asked most in the week leading up to the race was “what time do you want to do it in?” In training leading up to London to Brighton I was pretty confident that I’d go under four hours, maybe down around 3:50 if everything went well on the day. With how the last few weeks have gone I long ago resigned myself to the fact that there would be no 3:anything in my time but I was perfectly happy with that. You only get out what you put in and all I’d put in lately tequila and fried chilli pizza. Once I was quicker than my 4:15:54 from Belfast I’d be happy.

Looking As Excited As Ever

Despite everything I just said there when I lined up at the start I did so right beside the four hour pacers and was soon visualising a heroic final sprint to the line to sneak in at 3:59:59

Lining up at the start I suddenly realised I was part of something quite special, and far bigger than I’d thought. I’d approached all aspects of the marathon with quite a blasé attitude, despite not having run the Dublin Marathon before, and only having run two previous marathons (three if you count London to Brighton). I hadn’t looked at the route, I hadn’t read any race reports or looked up anything about the race at all. I was really surprised then when I arrived at the expo yesterday evening to find that there were almost 15,000 entries in the race. Belfast only had about 3,500 and a large number of them were doing various relays. Half of Dublin seemed to be packed into the streets around Merrion Square and half of those seemed to be wearing runners and race numbers. Standing in my pen there seemed to be an endless throng of runners ahead of me and almost the same again behind me.

The race announcer talked about how there were runners taking part from every county in Ireland, from 64 countries around the world, people of all shapes and sizes, people from every sort of background and every walk of life and we were getting a city, my, our capital city shut down for a few hours so we could run around it. When the national anthem was sung I could hardly believe that I was standing there, about to take part in a national sporting event, the biggest sporting even in the country today (despite what RTE might think). I was reminded of something Gerry Duffy* posted on Facebook recently: “I don’t have to run a marathon, I get to run a marathon”. To be fit and healthy enough to do something like this, and then to get the opportunity to do it is a privilege. It’s something I thought of quite a few times while out on the course, particularly coming into Chapelizod and Milltown, where crowds of people thronged the streets, four or five deep on each side of the road, cheering like crazy for us, the ordinary Joe, just as much as they were cheering for the elite guys going round in half the time. I’d heard before that the crowds at the Dublin Marathon were fantastic, and it’s something that always gets mentioned in relation to Dublin, but it still amazed time after time. You’d kind of get used to it after a bit, but then you’d turn a corner only to be hit by a wall of noise and be blown away by it yet again.

I haven’t really talked much about the race itself, or at least the running part of it, because to tell you the truth I can’t really remember too much of the first three hours. The running itself was going really well, after about 10k or so I was loosening up from muscular hibernation of the last month and pushed on ahead of the 4:00 group. I knew full well that I was probably going to pay for it later but I convinced myself that it was time in the bank, and anyway, I had got on to the Slayer portion of my playlist and Slayer don’t allow you to slow down. My overriding memory of the race, for the first three hours at least, was the crowds (especially the kids who cheered and high 5’d every runner they could going past).

Running In Formation

That all changed at the three hour mark though. I’d hit 32km at that point, which meant that if I could do the last ten (and a bit) kilometres in under an hour I’d go sub four. The problem though was this was also the point where my lack of (recent) training was starting to kick in and I was starting to slow down. Still, 10k in an hour, that was definitely doable. Or so I thought. I tried and tried to make my legs go a bit faster but at this point they were really grumbling. To be fair they had a point, they’d practically been in a coma for a month and now I was asking them to actually run. With about 8km to go I slowed to take my last gel when I was consumed by a wave of runners from behind me. Instantly I knew that was the 4:00 group and they were going past me like I was standing still. My heart dropped at that point as I saw my hopes of a sub four finish disappear up the road, a little purple flag of disappointment bobbing away from me.

I spent the next two or three kilometres arguing and bitching with myself, convinced I couldn’t make it, convincing myself I could make it. Unlike previous marathons though I didn’t stop, or even pay any serious consideration to stopping. One thing I learned from London to Brighton is that carrying on, even if it’s just shuffling along, is far preferrable to stopping. With about 5k to go I’d had enough of the whining. Five kilometres is a paltry distance, nothing really in the greater scheme of things, half an hour of hurting and it would be over. If I could manage to do the 5k in 28 minutes I might just about squeak under the four hours, but there and then I just wanted to finish in the best time I could do. I gritted my teeth at that point, literally and figuratively, and tried to focus on just catching one person in front of me, then the next, then the next. I couldn’t tell you how many people were out supporting at that point, what streets I ran through or where I was. All I saw were the heels of the people in front of me.

With about a mile to go I spotted an older chap a distance in front of me. I had passed this same gentleman quite a while back (while I was still running reasonably well) and I’d thought to myself I’d love to be like him some day. He was probably in his early sixties, short and not particularly athletic looking, but he was proudly wearing his Donore Harriers singlet which identified him as a founding member of the group, so he’d definitely put in his miles over the years. When I passed him he was definitely working hard but moving well, checking his Garmin, and probably bang on target. He’d obviously stayed rolling along right on pace, and my erratic pace and an (almost disastrously delayed) toilet stop had seen him roll right past me. As much as I admired him however  he was now my target.

I figured we must be closing on the finish line and as I saw my target about to round a corner I visualised myself running quicker and quicker, firing off the bend, passing my target and sprinting triumphantly up to and over the finishing line. The first part of my vision actually came to pass, I made myself speed up, taking an outside line around the ever more congested road, came around the corner, passed my target and looked up to see once more only a horde of runners as far as the eye could see. Where was the finish line? I could see straight ahead for what looked like miles but no finish line. I tried to maintain speed as much as I could but I was really, really hurting at this point. I couldn’t slow down now as (a) finally the finish line had appeared and (b) I’d just noticed again quite how packed the street was. There was thousands of people crammed along Nassau Street and I was essentially running down a tunnel with all of them looking at me. This is Ireland, there’s bound to be someone watching who knows me or would recognise me. Can’t. Slow. Down.

I hate to not be able muster some sort of sprint finish to a race but I was done. I’d given everything I had and it was all I could do to stay running to the line. The second I stopped my left hip stopped working properly, my IT band on the same side curled into a ball and my right calf felt right on the verge of popping. I staggered around for a bit in a complete daze, just shuffling where I was pointed by the race staff. I was completely and utterly spent. I checked my Garmin to see a time of 4:01**, which a little bit later when I started to come to, I was absolutely delighted with. Yes it would have been great to sneak in under the four hour mark but I’d given everything I had and come up a little bit short. One thing I promised myself starting the race was that I’d leave everything out there. I had no definite target in mind but I was still going to run as hard as I could, and I did. I can’t do anything more than that (apart from prepare properly obviously).

* Gerry Duffy – 32 marathons in 32 counties in 32 days, Decaman champion, author of Who Dares, Runs and all round inspirational character.

** Official time 4:01:26

In the weeks since London to Brighton I’ve only managed a handful of easy 5km runs and one 12km run. In fact I’ve drank more bottles of tequila than I’ve run long runs and I’ve eaten more pizzas than I’ve done any sort of run. That means in the last seven weeks the only real run of note I’ve done is London to Brighton. And Dublin Marathon is tomorrow.

Last weekend was a prime example of my appalling preparation for Dublin. We had some friends over on Friday night, I was making dinner and we were to watch a film, with the dinner and the film to be from the same country. My first mistake was probably choosing Mexico as the country for our themed night. I’d never drank tequila before but decided that now would be a good time to start. With shots before dinner. We were then joined by other friends just after dinner, with more booze, and the night ended many, many hours later with many, many empty bottles. A similar situation arose this Friday night  which meant that the few days before Dublin Marathon, when I should have been preparing my body for the rigours of running 26.2 miles, were spent sitting on my hole, on the couch, stuffing my face with hangover comfort food.

Friday was the first day actually that I’d felt like my old self (not my old old self, which would be bad, but my new old self, which was good). For weeks now, since London to Brighton, I’ve felt sluggish and tired, I’ve struggled to get up in the morning and I’ve had absolutely no desire to get out and train. On Friday however I woke up early, despite having a relatively late night, and all day in work I was full of beans, just feeling brimful of energy and enthusiasm for the first time in weeks. I think I may have been feeling a little too enthusiastic however and channelled all that energy in an entirely inappropriate manner. At least my pre-marathon meal was just what the doctor/nutritionist/experienced marathon runner ordered – bucket after bucket of fried chicken. Anyway, there’s very little I can do about it at this stage now other than just get out there and run tomorrow.


I was really surprised by how good I felt in the aftermath of London to Brighton. That evening, and the following morning, I was pretty stiff and shuffling around like an early Romero zombie, but by the time I got home on Monday night I was feeling fine. Even with the contortion required to squeeze into a Ryanair seat. I generally recover quite quickly from these things, which I attribute, in part at least, to getting into full compression gear as soon as I can post-race. The couple of hours shuffling round Brighton definitely helped to get the legs moving again, plus it was great just to get to see Brighton again for the first time in fifteen years.

Having done some research on post ultra (or marathon) recovery, and in light of Dublin City Marathon being only four weeks away, I decided to take a bit of a break this week. I would have probably gone out for a spin or two on my bike but I actually sold both my bikes last weekend and now find myself (almost) bikeless. As it was I don’t think I did anything that even vaguely resembled exercise for the week, and instead just worked on my winter insulation. I know I’m probably going to curse myself when I’m hauling these extra pounds round the streets of Dublin on the 29th but as of now I was just enjoying being a lazy git again.