On Sunday evening we went for an early bite to eat in a great little restaurant on Dame St, in Dublin. The food was great, plenty of good carbs, but my nerves were certainly kicking in. I could frequently get lost in the maze of Dublin’s streets but somehow the marathon route was burned into my mind, like a nameless overlay from our hotel, around the city and back again. We headed back to the hotel after the meal, past Trinity College and up Nassau St, Leinster St, to Merrion Square, the same streets that I would hopefully be running along the next day. It was 9 years since I first said to myself that I would definitely run a marathon before I was 30, naturally last minute planning and all that, this was my last chance; no pressure now!
So back in the hotel, getting twitchy now, running through everything in my head. My clothes, the route, my plan, energy food to bring with me, my fluid consumption plan, early pace – too much. My toenails! Damn them! They were getting long, surely they would cause pain after 20 miles and would stop me progressing. I had to trim them. A small scissors, what could go wrong? Well somehow I managed to stab myself in the toe with said scissors and create a pain point anytime that pressure was put on it. 9 years of waiting and I stab myself with a scissors; Christ JB what are you doing?
I fell asleep at 12’ish with a goal to wake-up at 6; I woke up at 2, 3, 4, and 6 so I was doing pretty well. However, when 6 arrived, it was suddenly all the more real. There was no more future, it was now. I dressed for the event, it was chilly outside so I went for a dual shirt combo of a light vest under a long sleeve breathable top to keep my arms from freezing up. We headed for the starting zone amidst the other runners, walking along the side of Merrion Square – nervous energy was making me bounce along. A group of guys ahead of me were laughing and joking, I heard one of them say, “remember now lads, we’re all supermen” to which another responded looking at a fellow group member, “except him, he’s from Limerick”. It wasn’t even that funny but it was exactly what I needed to relax my mind. We reached the starting zone and I said my good-byes to my wife and headed for the line.
There I was standing in the middle of 11,000 other people; the crowd was overwhelming and the atmosphere, to use a cliche, was simply electric. Under starters orders, we’re off! A sea of people flooded past the square and into Dublin’s heartland. “Steady now, steady. Nice easy pace”, I said to myself. Keep an eye out for family members and the wife, “there they are”, chest out, head up, friendly wave, this was easy. 😉 The swarm made its way to O’Connell Bridge and toward Phoenix Park. Upon reaching the entrance to the park – exit stage left lots of runners – “what, had the route changed?” No, it was the effect of too many isotonic drinks for too many people. The shrubs of Phoenix Park had never been enriched with so much nitrogen before then. Before we hit the park, the weather was perfect, overcast, nicely cold and no real breeze. However, upon reaching the park, my worst nightmare, the clouds broke and the sun came through raising the temperature and as so it would continue along the route.
The run was going well though, I had settled into an easy pace and wasn’t feeling any niggles or aches when I reached the half-way marker I could see I was off-pace by about 20 minutes but I wasn’t too concerned as I was happy. It was about then that I started to notice other runners around me, each with their own charity. I was running for the Waterford Hospice others were running for cancer research, children’s charities and any number of noble and deserving causes. However, some were running with pictures of loved ones and friends on their backs. People who sadly were no longer with them to see them cross the finish line. A group of orange t-shirt runners from Clare were running for a friend, the picture on their backs was of him crossing the finish line in another marathon, the text below signified that he had passed away at the young age of 40. Another set of women were running all in black and for a liver transplant charity, they had a picture of their father on their backs and the slogan “we’re doing it for Dad”. So many others also, that it made me realise that this race was not just about personal ambition and reaching goals, this race signified something that so many others wanted to do as a mark of respect for others, to raise awareness of those who are not able to do so themselves, to ensure that worthy causes are never forgotten. I raise my glass to all of you who ran this race for those reasons, you deserve more respect than runners alone.
The sun was still shining down, not a cloud in the sky or a sheltered patch of road. 14 miles, 15 miles, 16 miles – the heat – 17 miles, 17.5, feck it I need to cool down! So I stopped to walk briefly while I poured some cool water from the Ballygowan stop over my head and back and got chatting to a guy with a bandana and a goatie who had run 2 races previously but only decided to do this one about a week beforehand. Cheers for the chat mate and I hope that you made it back safely, it was good to talk to you. Then family and the wife, they had somehow made their way to Milltown to cheer me on and I had to kick into stride again. “Look fresh, chest out, smile for the camera” – I was a deluded God, but they couldn’t see the pink elephant that was pulling me along so it didn’t matter, keep up the pretence.
22 miles in, one carb bar, one carbolyte gel pack, half a dozen glucose tablets and about 3 litres of free Ballygowan. I couldn’t get the fluid into me fast enough and the heat was making me sweat like crazy. I drank so much water that I was almost feeling bloated, yet thirsty at the same time – that stuff should come with a label that says “Enjoy Ballygowan responsibly”. 23 miles, I could smell the finish the line, no, my mistake that was some dude beside me with strong b.o. Time to kick forward, 24 miles, turning onto Grand Canal St where I once lived, oh it was starting to look familiar now. Nelly, my elephant knew it too, “go on girl, take a rest, I can make it on my own from here”. 25 miles, the numbers in the crowd where increasing, loads of Americans shouting for fellow runners, the 26 mile marker was in sight, suddenly the adrenaline started to pump, where had it been at other times? I felt rejuvenated, my legs came back to life I was passing people like they were walking (some were), I could feel a sprint finish coming on. I turned the corner at Trinity, heading up Nassau St, I was running faster than I had all day, turned onto Merrion Square, I could see the finish line. The emotion was welling up inside me, 9 years of wanting this so much, 10 months of light to heavy training to get myself up to the distance, it was all coming to an end. One last push for the extra second saved and across the line. The time was slower than I had hoped but I didn’t care, I had realised another of my life’s goals. The relief, the exhilaration, the joy, oh CHRIST! The PAIN! I collected my medal, met with the others and headed back to the hotel for a hot bath and some rest.
About 90 minutes after the run, I realised why proper training was so important. My heart rate was back to normal, my breathing was fine, my head felt fine and the only indication that I had done anything was a tightness in my calves and a slight pain in my ankles from the constant impact of 26.2 miles of Dublin road surface. Later that evening, we went for some food downstairs in the hotel. Recognising fellow runners was not hard; there we were, all fully paid-up members of the “Walk like John Wayne Club”. A nod and a smile, we knew what each other had achieved, regardless of time taken this is such a personal goal with so many that time simply doesn’t matter, it’s crossing that finish line and knowing that so many things we want in life, sometimes depend on others or third party events; running 26.2 miles however, you hold the cut switch, you call the shots and only you can determine whether or not you make it. Thankfully I did and now I can sit back, think about the memories and like so many drinking sessions, say to myself, “never again!”.