Those are the words I kept saying to myself yesterday as I ran the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Over 15,000 people took part in the marathon yesterday and I was one of them. As I ran, I passed (and was passed by) many people; I started to think to myself that we’re all here with a story. We all have our reasons for running this marathon, our own journeys that got us to this point. Being part of that crowd of marathoners and processing my own race, all I could think was ‘this is my marathon’.
I finished my marathon in a time of 6:51:15, which was twenty minutes off my target time of 6:30:xx but I’m absolutely delighted and proud of my achievement! The key word for me is finished!
My race report is going to be a little different. I won’t be giving a mile by mile replay like I normally do. Some miles were boring, some were exhilarating, some were exhausting! Instead I’m going to trace my way around the course and note thoughts, feelings and experiences I had on the way.
I had a huge checklist to follow the weekend before the marathon so I was well prepared. I had everything checked off and done by the time I went to bed Sunday night. I had been told that I probably wouldn’t sleep the night before the big day, but luckily I actually managed to get a decent night sleep. My cat woke me up an hour early but I’m used to that too so I used the time to just rest and relax.
I got up around 6.30am to make breakfast (if I never see another bowl of porridge again!) and choke it down. Nerves were finally beginning to surface and it was touch and go for minute whether I would keep breakfast down! Luckily I did and I was able to start getting ready. It didn’t take long as I’d laid out everything the night before.
I took a taxi to as close to the start as I could; had an interesting conversation about the merits and risks of running, especially a marathon!
I arrived an hour before my wave start and did the usual bag drop, loo stop, meeting fellow first time marathoners I know and generally soaking up the amazing atmosphere. I was in the last wave, towards the back and we soon got underway.
The race plan
I was always going to run a slow marathon. It’s what I trained for and I planned to try for a time of 6 and a half hours. It sounds daunting but for me it seemed reasonable, and normal. For my training I peaked at an LSR of 18 miles, and a time of just under 4 and a half hours. What’s two more hours after that!
As I started the race, I had my Garmin set to show me two things. My distance, and my mile pace. I did not look at my cumulative time, and I did that on purpose. My plan was to run the race by counting down miles, not counting up hours. I knew that if I looked at my time at 2 hours and thought about the 4 and half hours left to go, it could be demoralizing. This proved to be the best strategy as the time passed more quickly than I imagined it could.
In running the race I knew fuel was important, so my plan was to take a gel and a piece of a Clif bar every four miles. In this way I broke up the marathon into short, do-able stages. That plan didn’t hold together towards the end but it got me far enough!
I also realized when I got to the start that I’d forgotten my race water bottle at home! This turned out to be ok, there was plenty of water available on the course and in fact I suspect I drank too much water while I was out there.
It felt a little surreal crossing under the start line and over the mat. To have spent such a long time training for this and to finally be underway; it didn’t feel quite real! This, of course, didn’t last and pretty soon the pain made it real enough!
So for the start, I deliberately tried to run these miles slowly, which is what I had been advised to do. Save the pace and strength for later! Going out too fast can cause a lot of problems later on in the race! I’m familiar with these streets so I just concentrated on keeping things nice and slow. Although I do remember feeling surprised when I got to Patrick Street. I was thinking ‘wow, I’m here already!’. From the quays onwards I was running a part of the course I trained on; I’ve run this section more times that I can count! I really enjoyed the cheering from the crowd on the corner turning onto the quays. My name was still on my shirt so getting personalized cheers was great! The stickers fell off soon after that though so I ran most of the rest of the race nameless!
First water station was great to see. I picked up a bottle of water, it was small enough and light enough to carry easily so I kept it with me.
It was between miles 2-3 that I saw some workmates cheering at the side of the road. It was brilliant to see they’d made it out! I gave them a cheery wave and carried on. I always like to wave and smile at supports, volunteers, marshals who cheer at me…remember this…it’ll come back to bite me later!
When I got to the Phoenix Park via North Circular Road, I came across a guy in camo gear carrying a huge backpack. He was struggling a bit and I was running slowly enough that I could run beside him. I struck up a conversation, as much to find out why he was carrying such a huge load, and also to try and distract him. It turns out his boots were fairly new and causing problems, all he wanted was to get to the nearest ambulance and get his feet taped. We ran together for a while and I really enjoyed the conversation. It was something new to me as I’ve always run alone.
After a while I had to pick up the pace and carried on. Dude, if you’re reading this, I hope you made it to the finish!
I also got a hug off a guy who was running with a big teddy bear on his back; he asked what charity I was running for and when I told him the Dublin Simon Community, he gave me the hug.
I really did meet some awesome people on the course!
At mile 4, I stopped to walk and take my fuel. I had practised this method during my training runs and the walk made for a nice break while I fished my fuel out of my fuel belt.
Again this is part of the course I’m very familiar with so it made for an easy run. I was keeping to my pace (having increased it slightly from my first few miles) and enjoying the day. The weather at the time was perfect for me, and a rainbow in the sky felt like a good luck sign.
When I got to Castleknock, I got my one and only experience of the kinds of crowds Dublin Marathon is famous for. It gave me goosebumps. Wow! The noise and energy of the crowd was phenomenal! I knew that I’d miss out on those kinds of crowds for much of the run so getting a glimpse of what it’s like was something I’ll never forget!
Tower Road is my favourite road from this part of the course. It’s mostly downhill so feels like a treat!
Back into the Phoenix Park then, at mile 8, again took on my fuel here. I was feeling really good, enjoying the day and my progress. I knew the next few miles would be ok, and that I’d see a few more friends cheering along the way including a pit stop for supplies.
I think these were the best miles of my marathon. It was during this section that I started to notice more of the people around me, and realizing that everyone here has their story for the day and that I was in the middle of making mine. I began to think ‘this is my marathon’ and that thought stayed with me as I took in my surroundings and the experience.
Just after mile 10 I passed Ash from RunLogic who had a table of supplies set out for friends and customers. I had given him a small bag of gels so I wouldn’t have to carry everything with me from the start. It was so nice to see a friendly face, it gave me such a boost! He walked with me for a way while I refilled my belt; his encouragement was so heartfelt, it stuck with me for a good while afterwards!
So I carried on, knowing there was a hill I’d have to get up and decided to walk it. In my training, I’ve always walked hills so it made sense to walk it now. At the top of the hill I saw another workmate and her friends, giving me a big cheer. I started running again and she ran with me for a few metres. That also gave me a boost and I carried on, feeling happy to know I was nearing the half way mark.
It was on the South Circular Road that I entered new, uncharted territory. I had never passed beyond that point on my training runs. It was all going to be new from here!
But I knew that at this stage, I was feeling a lot better in form and emotion than I had at the same stage during my half marathon in August. It was a big mental win for me, to know that my training had made such a difference.
Mile 12, took on my fuel as per plan, though getting down the Clif bar was hard, it was so sweet and sticky.
It was at Dolphin’s barn when I saw my friend MG, and her daughter who had come out to support me. Their plan was to get to various points on the course to see me, and they held on to more supplies for the 18th mile. I ran up to them, gave them a hug, briefly told them how I was doing then carried on. The halfway point beckoned! I was pretty much on track for the time I was aiming for, I still felt good though I was starting to feel the distance and time on my feet. My next target, 16 miles, was a big target. After that, it would be only 10 miles to go. I was hoping to hold to my pace, and keeping my miles under the 15 minute mark.
The half way mark wasn’t quite what I expected though. Last year when I was cheering there was a big inflated arch over the roadway, lots of people cheering and more importantly, it was in a different spot. Because they changed the route this year, it meant the half way point was pushed back away. My Garmin was also beeping the miles early (by nearly half a mile!), so that was no help!
I eventually made it though, and felt so proud when I crossed the chip mat, knowing the various people tracking me would be notified I’d made it this far.
I think I took my fuel a little sooner than 16 miles. I was feeling like I needed it so decided better to take it early, rather than leave it too late. So I walked as I took it, skipped the Clif bar as I didn’t think I could stomach it anymore. I took my gel and sipped my water then carried on.
At mile 16 I met another workmate out cheering for me. She’d been tracking me so knew when I was close. She ran with me up the road and the company was so nice to have! I had to carry on though, so soon left her behind.
These miles were tough! The weather took a bad turn and it rained and poured by turns. I don’t mind rain so much, it’s the wind that really gets to me. I ended up running into a headwind so had to really slow my pace. I wasn’t too bothered about having to go slower, while I did have a target time, my ultimate goal was to finish. Of course, splashing through a puddle didn’t help as my feet got soaked! Running in wet socks and shoes isn’t my idea of a fun time! I also knew at this point that relying on my Garmin was causing problems. Because my miles were off from the markers, I wasn’t sure of my actual pace. It turns out there were a couple of miles that I ran too fast; these probably contributed to the problems I had later. But I can’t be sure and I don’t want to be the workman blaming the tools!
As mile 17 I remember thinking that I was down to single digit miles left. I had absolutely no sense of time of day, or time I had spent on the course. I’m glad I didn’t know. I think it would have been a lot harder if I had! I had to walk a little bit here, and stopped to stretch for a minute as my hamstring was starting to feel tight. When I tried to rotate my ankle, I knew my body was feeling the strain; I could barely move my foot in a circle! The stretching helped though and I carried on.
At mile 18 I met MG again, and completely randomly she had met a friend who I volunteer on a Soup Run with who happened to be passing by! I stopped here for a bit, taking the chance for a little break while I restocked my fuel belt, drank more water and thanked my friends for their support. They were really enjoying the day and feeling inspired by watching all the runners! I lingered here a bit longer than I should have but seeing them was just what I needed. It meant so much to me that they were out there in that weather, waiting for me and cheering on my fellow marathoners. I’ve always said that if anyone needs inspiration, go cheer a marathon; this year my friend and her daughter did just that and supported me along the way. I’m getting teary eyed just writing about them, thinking about all they did for me on the course. I don’t know if I could have done this without them and I’m so glad I didn’t have to find out!
After I left my friends I ran down the street, rounded a corner and was surprised by yet another friend! Another guy I volunteer on the Soup Run with was out with his father. It was so nice to see them! They followed me for a bit and we had a little chat, which surprised my friend as he thought at 18 miles I’d be too winded to talk! It was a boost to hear that I was looking so fresh, and in fact I do look happy in the photo he took of me at that point.
It really was just what I needed and I took off, rounded the corner and passed another timing mat. Again, thinking of my friends who were tracking me, knowing they would be cheering for me.
I really started to struggle at mile 20, my left arm started to twinge every time I bent it. I hadn’t been carrying anything in my hand so I’m not sure why it happened but it threw me off my pace and stride. I had to alternate between walking and running from this point on. The pain in my legs was starting to hit me, although I followed the advice of one of my mentors and accepted it then kept moving.
At 20 miles, there were only 6 more to go, but these last 6 miles were the longest, toughest, most brutal part of the course for me. Each mile felt like it was twice the distance!
I knew I’d finish though. There was no doubt in my mind about that. I had friends waiting for me in the pub after all! But it was hard. It was emotionally, physically, mentally the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I can’t even remember anymore when or where I took on more fuel. I do know I was drinking too much water. I’d had a magnesium drink at mile 18 but my mouth was so dry that I kept drinking water, and was too shy to spit it out so I kept drinking it.
It was during these miles that I realised my marathon was different to that of my friends who had already finished. Water stations were closing, roads were opening again and those of us slogging it out were left pretty much to ourselves. No crowds, no roads, running on and off footpaths, running with cars driving up or across the road.
It was lonely.
But I’m used to that so I kept going. I concentrated on getting from one mile marker to the next. It was rainy, grey, dark and cold. All I could think was how tired I was and how badly I wanted to get to the finish line.
These two miles were one dogged footstep after another. There were a few volunteers and people cheering and I could barely manage a wave with one hand to acknowledge them. I was so tired and a little disillusioned with myself for not being able to keep up the pace I had set. I’d had such a great feeling about this marathon so to see it slipping away was disheartening. But I also knew that these were the uncontrollables I had been warned about, there was nothing I could do except stick to the plan; the plan to finish the marathon.
It’s at this point I need to acknowledge a family I sort of met along the way. A mother and her kids were cycling along the route, cheering people on as they went. We slingshot around each other as they would stop and park the bikes and cheer for a bit, so I would pass them. Then, a mile or two later they would cycle past me only to stop up ahead. I don’t actually know who they were cheering for, if someone special to them was on the course, but they cheered me too and kept telling me what a great job I was doing and how brilliant I was doing. I don’t know who you are, and I am sorry I didn’t see you at the finish; I hope you read this and know how encouraging you were and how much it helped to have your support!
At mile 24.5 I said hello to the pain, to the tiredness, to the endless hours on my feet…I said hello then I said goodbye. I was going to finish this once and for all and I was going to finish at a run.
Mile 24.5 to 26.2
It felt good to get back to a running pace, I pushed past the pain in my arm and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Still giving a tired wave to people who cheered and feeling the emotion start to rise as I neared my ultimate goal, the finish.
I knew by my Garmin that I had passed 25 miles, but I somehow had missed the mile marker so I couldn’t be sure. I was so tired that it was possible I was reading my watch wrong. I did feel a sense of disbelief, wondering if somehow I had to run further than I thought. Maybe I hadn’t passed the 25 mile marker after all?
Luckily someone yelled out that I was only half a mile away from the finish. In the grand scheme of things, what was half a mile?
As I approached the finish, I could see it, far into the distance. I’ve experienced this before, where a finish line feels like it’s not getting any closer, no matter how fast I move so I put my head down and ignored it.
I just ran.
At 800m I knew I had it. And when a passerby yelled out to me ‘this is your day’ I nearly lost it and burst into tears then and there. From then on I had to battle the tears, finally allowing myself to look up at the finish line, seeing it so close and knowing I was going to do it.
I crossed the line at 6 hours, 51 minutes and 15 seconds.
I crossed the line, a marathoner.
And promptly burst into tears of joy, relief, of pride. A volunteer was standing nearby and saw me crying, she offered me a hug and I collapsed into her arms, sobbing like a baby. She just held me while I pulled myself together, I still had to collect my medal!
Of course, I cried again when the medal was put around my neck. In fact, I cried a lot that evening, randomly and without warning it would hit me. The sheer magnitude of what I had done. The time spent on the course, the distance I covered, the challenge I had set and met. I knew I could run a marathon. And I did.
Thanks and acknowledgements
There are far too many people I need to thank, and I’m afraid if I tried to thank everyone I’d end up unintentionally forgetting someone. There are a few people who I need to personally acknowledge and thank but if I have forgotten anyone, I am truly sorry!
As always, my coach, Shona Thompson. Your training plan got me to the start line. Your advice and support, your absolute faith in my abilities got me to the start line, and saw me cross the finish line. You never once doubted me, even when I doubted myself. You helped me through some tough times, and saw me through some awesome ones. Thank you!
My second mentor, DG. You wouldn’t let me quit and I’m so glad for that. You have this unwavering belief in me and that means so much to me. Whenever I visualised the marathon, I could see myself finishing, but I also saw myself walking up to you in the pub and giving you the hug of a lifetime. Thank you!
My trainer, Michael. You were the first person I told about running a marathon. Since then your enthusiasm for my challenge and your willingness to help me, support me and encourage me has been phenomenal. Without you I never would have been able to take on the intense training that I did. You got me to the start line in one piece. I’ll be forever grateful! Thank you!
MG. My friend. You and your daughter were absolute angels out there on the course. You cheered me, ministered to me, helped me, supported me far above and beyond any expectations. I am still overwhelmed by what you did for me. I hope that you are blessed tenfold for the blessing you were to me.
My fellow first time marathoners (you know who you are!) I don’t even want to think about what it would have been like to do this without you. I have enjoyed getting to know you all, seeing your progress and sharing the course with you. Physically, I ran this marathon on my own, but mentally and spiritually, I was never alone. You were with me the whole way.
My friends, co-workers, family, followers. Wow. Your support along the way has been amazing. I’m blown away by your belief in me. It helped me to believe in myself. Thank you!
And lastly, but in no way least…Alison and the Dublin Simon Community. I thought about you a lot while I was running. 7 hours of pain that I chose to put myself through was nothing compared to the years of pain people can go through when homeless and who don’t have a choice. It is a testimony to you that so many people have been so generous in my fundraising for you.
My Just Giving page is still open for those who want to donate. My original goal was to raise €500; that amount has been exceeded beyond anything I could have dreamed. It is going to a fabulous cause, one I care deeply about and there are not enough thanks in the world to express how grateful I am to everyone who has donated.
I am looking forward to my future running plans with excitement, although I need to take a week or two off to recover! It’s been a long year and an even longer day yesterday. I AM tired but not of running. I plan to improve on my times for the shorter distances, 5k and 10k. It will be another physically demanding challenge but I’m ready for it. I ran a marathon, I can do anything!
This marathon has been the journey I always thought it would be. Challenging, exhausting, exhilarating, amazing. I am not the person I was when I started. I am better, stronger and more confident than ever.
And I’m crying again.