Long story short – 4:12.01, beautiful, hilly, great fun, tough.
My Dublin marathon experience began about lunch time last Saturday when I arrived at Dublin airport and went out for a huge burger with my cousin and his girlfriend, both of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. From there we went back to the airport to meet my mum off her flight. My cousin and his girlfriend then went off, and mum and I caught a taxi into the centre of town to go straight to the expo to get our time chips.
It was about 5.30 by the time we got there (it closed at 7) and although there were still a few people checking in there was absolutely no queue. It was all very well organised – show barcode and ID, get race number and safety pins, walk to another set of desks and pick up a bag with numerous goodies inside it – not least a technical t-shirt and a headtorch! Then it was time to explore the expo. I picked up some new headphones and some skins compression wear. There was 20% off at the expo anyway, and I managed to get a better deal as we were approaching closing time so I got a pair of 3/4 length compression leggings for €60!
We then jumped into another taxi to our hotel (taxis in Dublin are plentiful and cheap) before going out to a pizza place for dinner. The hotel was lovely, really comfortable beds and we had a bed each, and dinner was just what we needed – I had a huge bowl of pasta. We were in bed by 8.30pm, reading for a bit before turning the lights out. The clocks went back overnight so we had an extra hour’s sleep which was amazing as it meant we woke up fully rested on time for the race!
We got dressed and had some breakfast (porridge and a banana for me, scrambled eggs for mum) before walking down towards the start. Our hotel was filled with women who were running the race – about 40 of them from a women’s running group and so already had a fantastic atmosphere. One lady was having a cigarette outside in her running kit with her race number on and wished us good luck! I can’t imagine how on earth you’d run a marathon with a few morning cigarettes inside you!
The race briefing pack had told us to get to the start area for 8.30, which we thought was a bit ridiculous given our start was 9.20. But actually – it really wasn’t and it would have been better if we’d been there a bit earlier! Bag drop-off was quick and easy and then we had to walk around a marked-out route which separated the different pace groups from each other. There was a bit of congestion initially when all the groups were together but it soon cleared as we split onto different roads. I grabbed a pace band for 4.10 (they didn’t have one for 4.15). We walked past a few sets of toilets with huge queues but continued past as we had heard there were lots more toilets along the way to the start. When we got to the 4th set we decided we should join the queue… I ended up ducking out and peeing behind a bush by the river – pretty much everyone could see me but never mind!
I then left mum behind in the queue and continued walking towards the start as we were running out of time for the start of our wave. Of course I then passed several sets of portaloos with barely any queue! I reached the back of my wave and I could see the 4.10 pacers right at the front so I began pushing through all the people lined up to start, trying desperately to make it to them before they crossed the line. As it was, I didn’t quite manage – our wave began as I was half way between the 4.10 and 4.20 pacers! All this meant I hadn’t set my watch early enough and it was still trying to find satellites as I pressed the start button (as it was the first time it had had to do so in Dublin). With hindsight, in a race that otherwise went really well, this was my main big mistake. I should have found those satellites earlier!
I set off and tried to sprint the first bit until I caught up with the 4.10 pacers, weaving my way through them. I caught onto the back of the group and eased my pace back – I was still slightly behind but in a good position. I found the first few miles slightly stressful as I struggled to ease into a rhythm that fit with the pacers – entirely mental as my mind questioned whether I was running too fast, too early, would I be able to sustain it?
Soon we came in to Phoenix Park where the morning mist still hung over the grass and the trees were orange red and yellow and it was all just beautiful. One of the pacers had a bathroom stop and I managed to get right on his heels, enjoying the upbeat atmosphere that comes from running in a pace group – lots of chatting, lots of cheering, even quite a bit of singing. I could barely keep the smile off my face.
The run through the park was just beautiful, then we came out onto a narrow country road going downhill with stunning views and then back into the park for a lovely downhill. It was the best kind of running, I was having an absolutely fantastic time and the first 10 miles just flew by. I really, really loved the first 10 miles.
It was around mile 9 that I noticed a slight issue with my watch. It had been slightly ahead, about 0.13 miles, but I put that down to all my weaving around at the beginning. But gradually it got worse and worse, until my watch was showing more than 1 mile farther than the mile splits and it was showing that I was running a lot faster than I knew I was. This began to really piss me off around the 14-15 mile mark. I was starting to lose touch with the pacers, just gradually slipping back from them until they were nowhere to be seen almost without me realising.
I think it probably happened at the top of another really steep hill (Dublin is hilly). I knew I wasn’t going to run 4.10, which was fine, because it was never really my aim anyway. But I was getting stressed about how to work out if I was still going to make 4.15. I did not want to miss my main goal, and my watch was not helping because I couldn’t trust its splits, they were so clearly wrong. I had a 4.10 pace band on because they didn’t have a 4.15 one, and I knew as I passed the mile markers that I was slipping back from 4.10, but my brain couldn’t do any maths to let me work out what I needed for 4.15!
So I just kept pushing on, trying to stay with the people around me and a constant pace. This part of the course was dull – just wide streets through suburbia, seeming constantly uphill (although I’m sure they weren’t really). My motivation levels were suffering and I was feeling crap. Weirdly, it wasn’t muscle pain. I’m getting used to that soreness you get in marathons and at the end of long training runs now, and I’m quite good at making myself run through it. But my legs felt fine, no pain to speak off at all. I just felt as if I had so little left in me. I tried plugging my headphones in but that didn’t help so I took them out again and tried to focus on everything that was going on around me. That was another good point – the Irish are famous for being ridiculously friendly and their support was second to none all over the course, cheering, shouting, waving banners. Including one I saw several times saying “keep her lit” – can anyone tell me what this refers to?!
Around mile 20 we started to run downhill and I began to perk up a bit. There were only a few miles left to go and I picked up the pace so was running past people – always a nice feeling! My feet hurt and my legs were sore but not too bad. The crowd ramped up as we reached the final few miles and the barriered section and it really was a wall of cheering and shouts of encouragement. Dublin support was amazing. Given my watch was so out of sync I had no idea how much further I had to run until I saw an “800m to go ” sign. But my brain wasn’t working and I thought that meant 0.8 of a mile…
Just as I realised that was only half a mile and so I was well within my 4.15 goal, the finish line came into sight. I glanced down and saw 4.11 on my watch… I sprinted forward to try to get under 4.12 but stopped my watch at 4.12.1, which would be my official finishing time. I crossed the line and staggered forward, all my energy gone. Two volunteers came over to catch me, to check whether I needed medical assistance, but I politely shook them off – I knew I just needed to hobble a bit and then put my legs up in the air. So that’s what I did, hobbling to get my medal, my goody bag and technical long-sleeved shirt. When I got to the first bit where there was space up against some railings, I stopped. I swapped my sweaty, wet running top for the new, clean Dublin marathon one, drank a bottle of lucozade that came in the goody bag, and then slowly, painfully, manoeuvred my legs up the railings so they were above me.
I lay like that for about 20 minutes, tracking mum on the Dublin marathon website and waiting for her to finish. She managed 4.31 and was really pleased with herself. It was over a 10 minute PB from her first marathon this year and only 1 minute outside her London marathon qualifying time so she is almost there! We went to pick up the bags we had checked before, no hassle, no queue, and then slowly hobbled back to the hotel – with numerous people saying “well done” to us as we passed them in the street. There was just time for a quick shower and then it was off to the airport and back to the UK.
Could I have run any faster?
Perhaps. On the day itself, no, I don’t think I could have. I was really pleased with myself for pushing at the end even though I had no energy and just keeping going to that finish line. I had nothing left at the end. But. If it had been a colder day, or if I had been wearing less clothes, I think I would have found it easier. If I hadn’t had problems with my watch, I think I would have found it mentally easier to stick with the 4.10 pacers. The atmosphere around them was amazing and I think that would have helped me when I had my low moments from mile 14 onwards. As it was, I was concerned they were running too fast, that I was running too fast. That caused me to back off, and then I lost them. I also think that I could have run faster had I had a little more faith in myself. I never really thought I could run 4.10. Even in the first few miles, as I ran quite happily behind the pacers, I was questioning my capabilities and whether I was doing something stupid by trying to run so fast.
Three things I learned
- I actually do love marathons. Even in my worst moments of this race, I never thought “why am I doing this I am never doing this again“
- I can run faster than I think
- I need to not question things so much and over-analyse
Three things I’d do differently
- Sort my watch out earlier! That really made a huge difference to my mental state and how fast I allowed myself to run.
- Take some more energy in to get me through the 15-20 mile slump. In this race, they had lucozade at the aid stations and it was just too strong and too much. I usually watalternawater and energy drink but I couldn’t with lucozade so I should have taken more gels.
- Worn less clothes. I was far too hot!
Three things I did well
- Mentally at the beginning and end – I was able to keep my speed up in the last 10km and push to the finish, and I was able to run really strongly in the first half.
- Generally – physically, I was capable of the speeds I ran.