“Ring a ring a rosie, as the light declines, I’ll remember Dublin city, in the rare auld times”
The light was arriving not declining and the times weren’t so rare nor auld but I’ll certainly remember Dublin last Sunday.
My father is one of nine children and his parents were one of eleven and twelve children. I have a huge family and umpteen cousins that I have never met. Why am I telling this? It was the first meeting of one cousin, Dan, that initiated my involvement in last Sunday’s 39th Dublin Marathon.
Dan’s mum is my dad’s first cousin and I first met him with two other cousins, James and John, last November in a pub in Dublin. At the beginning of the night Dan let slip that he’d ran sub 4 hours in the Dublin Marathon two weeks previously. I’d never gone sub four in three marathons and swore never to do one again, in fact Mrs C had banned me, but the Guinness flowed and the temptation increased and by night’s end I’d signed up to do 2018 with him.
Fast forward eleven months and last Saturday afternoon I flew into Dublin on a rowdy Ryanair flight seemingly full of pissed up hen and birthday parties. Part of me wished I was joining them getting locked in town rather than 26.2ing.
Dan picked me up at the airport and our first stop was a carb loading session at the famous Eddie Rockets American Diner. Following burgers, fries and milkshakes it was off to rural Wicklow where he lived and after family introductions we rested for the remainder of the day.
Marathon morning came and after an early breakfast of porridge and bagels it was off to the Fair City. Ice covered the car windscreen and there was a skin stinging bite in the air but as we left the countryside and entered Dublin’s southern suburbs the temperature started to rise above freezing.
We had one pickup to make, Dan’s mate Neal, and we reached our pre race HQ at around 0815. Conveniently Dan’s office was two hundred yards from the start on Fitzwilliam Square and thus gave us opportunity to relax, stay warm and most importantly stay clear of the portaloos for our pre-race ballast shifting. The Green Wave that we were in started at 0915 so we left the office at 0900.
Originally my target had been a first sub 4 however a late entry into the Manchester Marathon in April (again to run with a cousin) had sprung a surprising 3:42 finish and a recalculation of my Dublin target. A further recalculation arrived three weeks prior to race day when Pete, a similar paced club mate, ran a stonking 3:28 at Chester. I had a dilemma. Should I go with my original target of simply bettering my Manchester time or should I go with a ‘well if Pete can do it then so can I’ attitude and dangerously go for his time? Decisions, decisions. I was still umming and arghing as we left the office.
My training had gone fairly well. No major injuries, 25-35 miles per week, two long runs with built in ‘headf***s’ to fortify mental strength and plenty of short to medium range progression runs. Add that to my times getting quicker in races I was reasonably confident. Many people had said that I had a 3:30 in me but the thought of 26.2 x 8 minute miles frightened the bejesus out of me.
As we approached the start of the Green Wave I made up my mind. Balls to caution, I was going for it and Pete’s 3:28 was my target. I’d found out a Salford Harrier was one of the three 3:30 pacers so that pleased me, a local (to me) voice. After displaying the admirable qualities of the Englishman abroad with choruses of ‘excuse me’, ‘would be so kind’, ‘please can I just sneak past you’ and ‘ever so sorry’ I finally got near to the front of the wave just before the starting gun fired. And off we went.
My race and fuelling strategy was simple. Only look at my watch every five miles (I covered it with my PAC buff), keep to 4:56 average kms, a gel every seven miles, don’t overdrink the water (one mouth swill then spit and one gulp at every station) and stay clear of the jelly babies and treats being handed out.
Within the first mile I spoke with Paul the Salford Pacer and he knew of me, ‘ah you’re Nigel’s mate’. I stuck around him for a few minutes but the buffering I got from his balloon and the general busyness around him caused me to just go off in front as we crossed the Liffey over to North Dublin and I settled into what I felt was a comfortable pace.
The first incline of note was running up Chesterfield Avenue that bisects the Phoenix Park. It’s not steep at all but it just goes on for a couple of miles before it plateaus at Castleknock where the first major cheering sections were. Absolutely fantastic support as it was to be pretty much the entire distance around. Plenty of ‘g’wan ya good ting’, ‘fair play t’ya’ and ‘pull like a dog boy’ shouts of encouragement.
At 8 miles we reentered the Phoenix Park and this was the only point where it became deathly silent. Only the sound of runner’s feet along the road on the twisty-turny road through wooded area broke the silence. I didn’t spot any of the famous deer but I guess 18000+ runners interrupting their Sunday morning hindered any sightings.
We exited the park at Chapelizod, another section where the crowds were phenomenal, and we recrossed the Liffey. We headed out toward Inchicore as I checked my watch at the 10 mile marker, 1:16. It momentarily worried me but I was feeling strong.
The first ‘take the pace from under you’ incline was near Inchicore. One of the two South African runners I was beside shouted ‘come on guys, let’s sprint it’ and off he went like an actual Springbok. Nobody followed him. His mate shuck his head and told me that it was his 226th marathon. 226th!!!
At 11.5 miles we passed by Kilmainham Gaol. Sounds hammy but I looked up at the prison walls, thought of the sacrifice of Connolly, Plunkett, Pearse et al, blessed myself and pushed on. Strength can come from all manner of different sources.
I passed through halfway in 1:41 and was feeling good but then again this is where the actual marathon starts, the hard road was ahead. Pretty soon after I saw a spectator holding a banana and it was here that I re-evaluated my fuelling. I took it from her, after asking of course, and decided to take a bite after every mile. I fathomed that not only would it give me a slow release of energy but it would also give my mind something to focus on.
At 17 miles near Terenure I spotted spectators that I knew, Dan’s wife, mum, dad and kids. Terenure was like a Tour de France mountain section in terms of support. The crowds roared and narrowed in so much that if one reached out both arms one could probably touch a person on each side of the road. Potentially dangerous but an immense adrenaline boost.
The banana lasted until 19 miles and the last bite was a mushy browning mess but it had served its purpose and my pace was still consistent. Fortunately enough another bananagiverouterer appeared soon after so I simply repeated the process.
In marathons you see a range of people dressed in all kind of garb and it was just before 20 miles that I moved up alongside a huge Irishman wearing a blooded helmet with a hurley stick embedded in it. It was nearing Halloween after all. Fair play to him.
I must confess that I did miss the ‘don’t trust a fart after 20 miles’ sign as it always makes me chuckle but also intestinally paranoid.
In my plan I wanted to be at 22.5 miles by the three hour mark. Before that point though is what’s known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’. It’s a short and steep incline near University College Dublin that I’ve faltered on previously but I hit it with no fear and summited it before I knew it. Mile 23 came and a quick time check showed 3:00 with a only parkrun left to do. It was here that I knew Pete’s time was within reach but it was also where I started to fade a tad. The fillip that I needed came when Paul the Salford Pacer appeared beside me at 24 miles without balloon, it had burst on a low hanging branch, and gave me a wee pep talk.
The last two miles are down hill slightly which helped massively. Entering Ballsbridge (that always makes me snigger too) as mile 25 came up I now started to enjoy the marathon. The 400 metre sign appeared at the moment you cross The Grand Canal and then the finish line in Merrion Square came into sight. The crowds felt deafening once again, so much support, and I could just about muster enough energy to break into a mild sprint and crossed the line in a time of 3:26:35. Sixteen minute marathon PB. Absolute unbridled elation.
Getting a hold of the medal at the end with Constance Markeviez engraved upon it, a woman that the dearly departed Granny C loved, added an extra bit of emotion to the occasion.
Neal (3:40) and Dan (3:53) performed great with personal bests also achieved so the après marathon in Ryan’s Bar on Camden Street went on well into the evening as the celebratory Guinness flowed. The craic was mighty as my dad would say so it was a fitting end to a great day.
Dublin is an unbelievable marathon venue. The route is challenging without being overly difficult and the crowds really will the runner on. The post race atmosphere in the pubs and bars is as you would expect in Dublin. If in search of a marathon to do then pick this one as you won’t regret it, I’ve signed up again for 2019.