RACES: Adidas Dublin Marathon

The Dublin Marathon. My first. Where do I start? (we'll I better get started because this will be a long article!)

I'll start like the Oscar speeches, with all the thanks. Firstly to all those who send words of encouragement, Moiré, Beth, Karen, Paul, Emma, Conor, Lindie, Jackie, and those on the IMRA forum. And for the fantastic support along the route: Zoe, Bronagh, Michael, Susan, Don, Gavan, Eileen, Diarmuid, Eva, Justin, Niamh (whose tireless running and bicycling on the route was a crucial support on the way), and Peter "All The Way René" O'Farrell. Not to forget, of course, Sharlene, who not only supported me throughout the route, and after, but made sure I had little or nothing to think about for most of the day.

Thanks to Peter for sending on photos. You can check his gallery here. All my pictures will be compiled here as I get them in. To those I have forgotten, I'm sorry, a lot of the event is still falling in place in my mind.
Well done, Peak Centre
I'll have to mention Emma Cutts from the Peak Centre, though. There's a big bottle of champagne coming her way. She had me ready for Snowdon as she promised, she got me ready for this. You've got the magic touch Emma, and I don't know how you hit it like this!

Waking up - 0600
My day started slightly chaotic: At first everything was to plan. Up at 06:00 to give myself time to wake up before the race, bags were packed, long shower, good muesli breakfast, and last text-message exchange with Brendan and Mick.

Then I over-dosed on supplements (not Dynepo!): Creatine, Ginkgo, Omega 3 oils, Echinacea, Chondroitin/Glucosamine, zinc/magnesium complex and a multi-vitamin (just in case!). I read that a bit of protein is good as well, as it can stave off the mental tiredness often felt in long races (caused by central nervous system fatigue), so I had myself a nice slice of turkey breast).

The Gathering
I was planning to meet Orla and Aoife at the Merrion Hotel at 8:10, but left it too late, and found no one when I arrived. Queuing for the loos (for my sixth visit of the morning!), Brendan and Mick passed by, and I asked them to wait up so we could make our way together.
Mick was just "freshly" recovered from last weekend’s Amsterdam Marathon, his fourth this year, Dublin about to become his fifth. He wasn't expecting to better his Dublin PB of 03:29:43 from 05, but would be happy with 03:30. Brendan, likewise, was looking to better last year's 04:07 time, preferably with a 03:30 finish after a season of mountain running under his belt.

As we moved through the crowd to the start, I knew there was plenty of well-known faces out there, Geraldine, Orla, Aoife, Mary, Emma, and Shane all from Crusaders, Cormac, our own IMRA president (looking to smash his PB with 03:17 time), and Barry Tennyson, whom I saw from afar, running another of what must now be an endless string of marathons since his debut in Vancouver back in 1983 (when he, as it would later prove, ran almost the exact time I would do today).

The Start
"You don't get these crowds on a Saturday night," I said to Mick as I watched the spectacle unfold in front of me, the slight chill of the morning wind held off by my disposable plastic cover. A somewhat annoying drum kept beating away as we tried to hear what the announcer was saying.

Mick, Brendan, and I were quite a bit down, and would end up spending 1min 36secs getting past the start line, but we were probably fortunate compared to some. Shane on the other hand, had received a place among the elite starters from a friend, to fully enable him to get out of the ramps on his daring go at the 02:50 barrier.

As I looked around I saw the ugliest fairy I've ever seen (no offense, mate, but fairies are supposed to be lithe, semi-dressed females of extraordinary beauty, I won't have it any other way!).Then as I looked forward, what did I see? Was that a guy wearing a cap and t-shirt saying "Tønder Bank" (that's the bank of my small home town in Denmark of 12.000 residents). Then there was two younger guys next to him wearing "Tønder Atletik". I didn't recognise any, but what are the odds! (as I was on the phone with the old man this evening, I wrote aloud the names of all the 39 Danes attending the race, and at a good 8 of them, he said: "Oh, that's the guy from etc. etc.") What a small world it is.

Crowd Surfing
Or was it slam-dancing? No, I'm kiddin', we were all good as we tried somewhat erratically to pick up speed, and only once was I met with a "hey" as I followed Mick dancing in and out of the thousands of feet plodding along the Dublin roads.

We lost some time at this stage, notably doing the first kilometre in only 05:39km/min (a 09:06 mile split), then after about 5 kilometres Mick and Brendan suddenly steered off to a fence by the side to attend to Nature's Way. I was in two minds on whether to wait or not, but in the end decided I didn't want to be stranded alone this early with no previous experience of pacing myself in an event like this. I should probably have used the chance myself, as I was feeling "the urge" as well, after swallowing half a bottle of Powerade in the last ten minutes before the race, but somehow the body managed to "suck it up" and the urge disappeared about 16km later never to reappear...

Half a minute or so later, we were back on the road, and running confidently towards Phoenix Park. At this stage our pace upped and for the kilometres 5-18 we did faster splits than needed for my newly revised 3:20 target (that is, less than 04:45min/km, or 7:39min/mile, in fact, we went as low as 04:21 on the 13th kilometre).

Phoenix Park
It was somewhere during those kilometres that Brendan decided to resettle into his own pace, and left me and Mick up front. I was looking down at the Garmin nervously quite often at this stage, telling Mick: "We're going too fast".

"That's because you're pushing the pace," Mick said.

And I probably was, Niamh had come up to us at this stage with early updates on Orla and Aoife somewhere in front of us, and Cormac also doing well ahead. She has a fiery way of supporting that just spurs you on, and I imagine this is what upped our pace.

My mood was still very light at this stage, though, I chatted away rigorously, and enjoyed the first PowerGel at the 12km mark (I stupidly ate at kilometre marks instead of based on time, even though our schedule was erratic and not according to the base plan): "Nothing like a lunch in the park". At this stage, the gorgeous sunshine of the day was showing us it's full blessing, but there was a cold wind from the Sea awaiting...

Coming out of the Park and down a few descents, we decided we had to make a concerted effort to slow down, and on kilometres 19-23 and 25, we dropped below the 3:20 time, but stayed over 3:30 time still.

Half-Marathon Mark
"Don't let me PB on the half-marathon mark, then we're in trouble," I was telling Mick, as we were about to put the dreariest part of the route behind us and entering Dublin South proper.I tried to fall back and let Mick pace us, banking on his greater experience to carry us through to the safe shore of the finish line.

"If you don't mind, I won't be talking for a while, I'd like to save the talking energy for the later stages," said he.

Those were wise words, and until the last mile, as I kept fearing a self-combustion, they kept ringing in my head. Was I getting cocky?

"It's a genetic defect," I told Mick, "I can't stand seeing people in front of me."

"I'm used to it," he replied in calm Wicklow manner, with not a hint of false modesty. Mick and I have had some good slugs on the mountains this season, and while I've had my share of wins, I'll never forget how he refrained from pulling me in at the finish of Glen of the Downs in the most gentlemanly of fashions.

The Old Pains...
As we hit the 19km, though, a familiar pain, of Achill Island days, made its presence known. I had been suffering from a minor blister on the left foot since kilometre 8, but now my groin (I should have learned not to speak of that in Wales, one thinks...) was giving me problems in both sides. As I settled into pace behind Mick, I was grateful for a bit of a let-off and while I was looking forward to meet up with Sharlene, and my first provisions at kilometre 24, thoughts of speeding up were now very much at the back of my mind.

We did well, though, hitting the half marathon in 01:41:45, almost three minutes slower than my PB from Achill Island, which I took as a good sign at this stage, we hadn't overdone it, despite my fears.

Orla and Aoife
At this stage Orla and Aoife were progressing at great speed ahead of us, having arrived at the half-marathon point a little less than two minutes ahead of Mick and I, and about 5 ahead of Brendan, who was fighting his own battle, a we all were somehow, behind us.

Then things started to go wrong, though. At the 8th kilometre Aoife had started to suffer from a bloody blister below a nail, and it was now getting too painful to bear. Niamh, ever vigilant, went ahead to the nearest first aid station to prepare them for Aoife's "coming", but even with advance warning they turned out to be utterly useless (and were apparently not allowed to burst the blister, a task which Niamh then took on herself without hesitation).

A good four minutes were lost for Aoife, though, and while a rest can be nice, this type of adversity is not exactly what you want with almost half the race to go, and Aoife would do very well to claw herself back into the race and finish in 03:29:08, only 3 seconds slower than her time last year. Without the injury, the PB would have been in the bag.

"Orla is looking really good," Sharlene would tell me later during the race, and this showed in her time. Defying a week of sniffles and cold, she went on to smash her previous best on the route with 03:22:06 with more than 8 minutes. A remarkable betterment. But those who watched the Winter League would not be surprised...

UCD Fly0ver
As I crossed 24km and still saw no Sharlene there was a short moment of panick, but Don of Crusaders was standing on the sideline yelling: "On your left, 100m"



And there she was as I moved around the corner, there was no time for hellos and niceties, as she threw me my gel, and me and Mick made out on kilometre 25. Behind me, I had been greeted by a small enclave of Danes waving our old Crusader flag. They weren't waiting for me, but they'd be seeing a total of 39 Danes in action on this day, and I for one, was glad to see old "Dannebrog" swaying ahead of me.

Home Sweet Home
Truly everything helps when you're up against it, and, as I saw one of my familiar routes laid out in front of me, crossing through Terenure/Rathgar junction less than 200m from home, my spirits rose again, well helped by loud cheers from Peter O'Farrell and company.

Going down the hill I passed out quite a few runners, and turned up left towards Milltown. I was now, for the first time, on my own, as Mick had told me to go off. He had that knowing: "Go on lad, make your way in the world,"-look in his eyes.

I wasn't sure it was wise at first, but an old lady shouted "You're on track for 3:30", and while she meant it as support, it triggered my competitive spirit, and I couldn't suppress muttering: "I'm not taking that," to myself, and accelerated (too fast, as I soon felt) back up to positive splits for 3:20, except for kilometres 25, 35, and 38, during which I had spells of tiredness.

As I headed swiftly towards the Milltown ascent, I saw Sharlene on her bike in front of me, and called her over. We exchanged quick words about the race, and how I felt, and she assured me I was looking good (which is really all you want to hear at any stage of any race!).

Of course, Sharlene had ricocheted that encouragement back to me as I had cried just that to her during the Novice Cross-Countries: "Not feeling good, René." How many shared that feeling with her today? 1000? 5000? 10000?

Ascending in the Wind
Dublin is known as a slow course, and there's something to it. We were hit straight in the face by wind on several occasions today, and while I didn't find the ascents troublesome until the very end, they will, of course, impact your ability to generate a fast time which probably explains while we won't see Haile here for a while.

The descending and ascending does serve the purpose of changing the muscle usage a little bit, giving some muscles relief while working others, and this worked pretty well for me, allowed me to change rhythm, and not get too "stuck in the rut." Then again, it's hard for me to see a descent and not feeling like attacking.

Shane's War
Far in front of us, but not quite within sight of eventual winner and once-again record-breaker Sokolov (who did 02:09:07), Shane was fighting a different type of war. Having gone off clever, in a for him conservative half-marathon pace of 01:24:15, he was looking well on course to not only better his previous 03:01:39 best on the route, all the way back from 2003, but was within touch of his ambitious target of 02:50:00. A good time, but as Don would later consider, a lot slower than his 1/2-marathon PB, and nothing that should have caused him any kind of strain.

But some days things come together, others they don't, and at mile 13 Shane was struck with a cramp in his left leg, from which he could never quite recover during the race. That being as it might, he still shattered his old record and wrapped up a very respectable 02:56:27, also bettering his previous all-time best, set in Amsterdam 06 of 02:57:03.

The End Nears
Turning out onto the N11 and heading back towards the centre, the familiar cry of "ah, Borgmeister" alerted me to Gavan's presence. Earlier I had passed by Zoe, Eileen on her bike, and Diarmuid, who had been pacing Aoife for spells of the race.

Around kilometre 30 I really started to make a concerted effort into running aggressively, and remember whispering to my legs: "Race will ya'"

The last big hill around the 36km mark took a good chunk out of me, for the first time, but interestingly, while the race consists of 7.05km of ascent and 6.86km of descent, my speed stayed a stable 12.8km/hour on ascent and flat while rising to 13.1km/hour only on the descents (descent is "free speed" as I like to say).

Then my old adversary from the Winter League popped out of nowhere, there was Eoin O'Brian (we were 31st and 33rd in the WL), who immediately took the chance to run the next 500m or so with me while getting a short status report off me.

It was getting harder now, and long gone was the audacious thought "what's the big deal about this", that had crept in around kilometre 25.

Brendan and Mick
Behind me, Brendan had almost made up the gap on Mick, who was now feeling the exertions of the previous week, and perhaps, the other 3 marathons that went before it: Longford, Cork, and Belfast.

The two mountain men would almost have seen each other as Brendan came in at 03:54:49, setting a PB, on a, as he put it so well: "Tough day at the office".

Slightly earlier Mick had arrived, in 03:54:07, and while it's a lot slower than he has done on many of his previous 11 attempts at this discipline, it's not a shabby performance after having broken 03:30 just more than a week ago. Ask me to run again in a week and see what happens!

That Final Mile
On the last 12 km I told myself: "Now just run a normal race, keep below 5min/km, and you'll be grand." As I neared target more and more, my head was calculating away like a rampant Kasparov, and I saw that the schedule for 3:20 was tighter than anticipated, so I kept pushing it, trying to squeeze sub-4:45min/km times out of every single kilometre. At 36, Sharlene gave me my last provisions, and I decided to only swallow half a gel, as I had less than half an hour to go, and couldn't risk another stomach cramp, like the one that crippled my Snowdon descent. Calories and the 2 euro spent on the thing be damned...

The Conqueror of Snowdon
Well, that wasn't me, but somewhere out there on the route was a true legend: Andi Jones, twice winner of the Snowdon race who had demolished me and more than 400 hopefuls with his vicious attack from kilometre one on the highest mountain of Wales.

Running the Dublin Marathon, he managed 02:41:51, and before you can say "what a great all-rounder", this is apparently slow for him, as he managed less than 02:20 in London. Of course, he's not the first, as the fastest man on Snowdon, Kenny Stuart, would blow away the 02:15 barrier multiple times once he left the hills.

The Road to Anything
The next water station seemed to be forever in it's coming, as my tongue dried from the thick gel. It was a necessity, though, as around the 32nd kilometre, my left calf started to give in, displaying cramp like pains that had last haunted me on Slieve Donard. The left leg is my weak spot, after two injuries in a year, and it was faltering now. Would it hold?

Then we were down to just 3 kilometres, and still there was doubt on my mind, I had a good 17 minutes to spare at this stage, but my mind was still clear enough to know that even a slight collapse into sub 05:00min/km splits would topple the house of cards I had spent 39km assembling.

A Surge from the Sky
Then came a rallying cry as I ran up Pearse Street, "All the Way René", Peter roared over the crowds, and I clocked up a gear, round the corner up towards Molly Malone. There was Niamh again, sprinting in front of me, I forget her words of encouragement, but it triggered something, something I'll never forget.

It was like a surge of energy, from the outside, like being hit by a bolt of lightning (just more pleasant), and suddenly there was a life in my legs that didn't feel like my own, and I burst away, passing by what must have been at least 30 runners within a minute, my speed reaching 02:50 for a short period.

Apparently the crowds always cheer a good sprint, and the roar that raised at the sight of us runners fighting it out this late, send a chill down my spine, and as I looked at the clock and realised that 03:20 would now be well-beaten, I started celebrating like a madman, smiling in a way that would get you arrested for drunkenness on any Danish pedestrian street! (Danes have only two facial expressions: light smile or blank)

Then, with 800m still to go, the main boost wore off, but I maintained just enough momentum to pass out a few more at the death. Maybe I would have been faster if I'd used some of this energy earlier, but there's something about sprinting across the finish line of a marathon that is just unforgettable and unreal at the same time. The 42nd kilometre would be my fastest, running it in 04:07min/km (a 6:38min/mile split), my average time on the Intermediate Cross-Country.

The result: 03:18:47, a minute and 13 seconds faster than our most optimistic projections. This was truly one of the days when everything went right, and on the final half of the marathon, I had set a personal best on that distance with 01:37:02 beating my PB from Achill with more than a minute.

There will be other days, and in some ways, they will be the true test of my running character, not today.

Finishing Bliss
Right now, I will let nothing detract from the result, though, and I was all smiles as I hobbled ridiculously from the finish, a mere mockery of the person who had sprinted over the finish only seconds earlier in full gallop.

Then I remembered my mad celebratory gestures on the last 800m. I had flailed my fists, looked to the sky, and smiled like a lunatic, all the while sprinting after this ordeal.There is a much reproduced photo of Kenny Stuart, the great fell-runner, as he crossed the line of his first marathon in less than 2:15, arms aloft, beaming from ear to ear.
Richard Askwith described it as the smile of a man "who realised that nothing was beyond his reach." I'm not Kenny, and I didn't break 2:15, but it felt just like that. Like one's own will was the only limit to ambition.

"Elation" was the word I heard most at the finish, and there is no greater elation than a brief moment of knowing that everything is possible, or as sponsors Adidas will say: "Impossible is nothing."

At the gate, I met Caroline Reid helping out, and asked if she had seen Orla and Aoife. I had no memory of passing them out, but she assured me they were not in yet. I would later learn that I had passed Aoife out while she was in the medic tent. How I missed Orla I don't know!
Goodie Bag!
Picking up my goodie back I met Karen Duggan, who was all smiles and compliments on the good race, and I must admit I felt it hard to hold back a few tears as the result settled in. I was about to say: "This is what makes all the training worth it", but it isn't, because the trainings are just as much part of it, and if I ever felt differently, I'd quit running in a second.

This was a special day for all the runners, and that was clear during the post-race rehydration at Maguire’s, short as it was, fatigued as we were. The relief was palpable.

The Results
Myself I finished 704th out of about 11000 runners (my real position is closer to 682nd as at least 21 people listed in front of me have slower chip times than I do).

Here's the results of all the runners, I know of:

Garry Crossan 02:26:57
Niall Coppinger 02:43:48
John MacEnri 02:54:11
Shane O'Rourke 02:56:27
Martin Francis
Bernard Fortune 03:15:14
Cormac O'Cealleagh 03:18:08
René Borg 03:18:47
Orla McAvoy 03:22:06
Aoife Joyce 03:29:08
John Ahern 03:29:13
Fionnuala NiBhradaigh 03:31:07
Sean Burke 03:42:09
Brendan Lawlor 03:42:57
Tony Kiernan 03:44:09
Dena Hogan 03:48:18
Mick Hanney 03:54:07
Brendan Craig 03:54:46
Vivian O'Gorman 04:06:54
Anne-Marie Casey 04:14:13
Sarah Heal 04:17:26
Geraldine O'Shea 04:41:40
Mary Donnelly 04:57:36
Barry Tennyson 05:04:22
Seamus Kilcullen 06:11:50

As tremendously useful statistics go, I'm sure Shane, Aoife, and Orla will be delighted that they finished as first "Shane", "Aoife" and "Orla" overall.

Myself I was delighted to learn that of the 39 Danes who attended, I finished first beating off experienced marathoner Per Hviid who did 03:21:04. Although I was registered as Irish! (assimilation is complete it seems, and they say I am the Borg...).

(sadly I had to concede defeat to 1 of the 31 Swedes finishing the race, and thus could not completely revenge our latest setbacks on the football pitch in this ancient rivalry, or can I allow myself to count it as a 31-1 victory???). ;-)