I had a lot riding on this race; some personal and some physical. For me it was yet again another big test of my abilities and training. In the week leading up to the race I was constantly asking my coach various questions, making sure I understood the strategy and that I was really prepared for this.
It didn’t help that the day before the race the weather turned stormy and the day of the race was predicted to be stormy, windy, rainy but humid.
The usual. Woke up early, had breakfast and got dressed while finishing packing my bag. I put in extra clothes, bottle of water and an energy bar, all wrapped in plastic bags to help protect them from the weather. I made my way to the shuttle bus and after a short wait we were off to the start.
Got there with loads of time to spare but the weather really decided to play up and instead of getting a warm up in, I spent the time huddled under a tree with everyone else. I met up with some running friends and we joked about the weather for a bit. I said we’d all PB this race just to get out of the weather quicker!
My warm up consisted of running to the bag drop, hopping out of my things and checking my bag then running back to the relative shelter of the tree.
With 10 minutes to go I lined up at the start, hoping I’d picked a place where I could stick with a group. As usual, I got it way wrong and ended up running my race alone.
Mile 1: 13:02
The plan was to take the first mile conservatively. Saving my energy for the upcoming hills (down and up). The rain had let up a bit and I wasn’t feeling the wind much so I took this mile handy, trying not to get too complacent though. I had a lot of work ahead of me. Unfortunately, even though I had hit my watch start button when I crossed the start mat, it was beeping ahead of the mile marker already. It got progressively worse during the race but I don’t think I was weaving that badly. I tried to run the line and without any crowds ahead of me it wasn’t hard to stick to the centre line. Anyway, more on this later.
Mile 2: 12:40
Ran this on pace and felt pretty good so I was pretty happy with the way this race was shaping up. This mile included a lovely long downhill stretch that I’ve run loads of time so I just relaxed and let the downhill do all the work. The weather was still improving so I breathed a sigh of relief and crossed fingers it would stay that way! The DJ at the bottom of the hill was a welcome distraction from the gloomy skies and wind.
Mile 3: 12:46
I made it down the hill and up to the S bends fairly easily. Again I’m well familiar with this section so I knew what it would take and when it would flatten out. I was a bit slowed down by the uphill but I had planned for that so I concentrated on getting through the S bends and onto the next downhill.
Mile 4: 13:06
Fairly substantial hill in this mile, although it was thankfully short. My pace suffered here partly because of the hill, partly because my left hamstring started acting up. I have a big knot/hot spot there (I call him Lucifer because he’s the devil, just ask my sport massage therapist!) and it was starting to hurt. Getting up the hill was actually the easiest part of the mile. Cresting the hill and finding my feet and pace on the flat was harder. This is where my race started to fall apart a little bit.
Mile 5: 12:59
I was just happy to see the pace was under 13:00 for this mile. This mile hurt and I was finding it difficult to keep up the pace never mind actually pick up the pace. I was still very much alone, until I found myself running behind this guy who seemed to be going the same pace as me. I don’t think he even knew I was there as he was wearing headphones but I followed him for a bit, using him as my pacer until we hit the Dublin Zoo bypass and somehow he got so far ahead of me that I couldn’t catch up.
But then…couldn’t I? Or was I just too chicken to try and speed up? Looking back I honestly think I could have done more here, and run a bit faster and stuck with the guy for longer. This is where my race started to crumble even more. By this point, I was already seeing finishers heading for their cars. Normally, I’d say I’m used to it and fair play to them. Today it irritated me.
Mile 6: 13:32
Ouch. This mile hurt, physically and emotionally. I was feeling the pain in my hamstring, feeling miserable, alone, hating my inability (perceived!) to run any faster, hating that I couldn’t keep the pace under 13:00 and wondering if I was really cut out for racing such a distance. I was seriously questioning myself here but I think that conversation was more to my detriment and it showed in the pace.
Towards the end of the mile, just past the water station I got a big boost when two running friends who were marshalling spotted me and gave me a big cheer.
It was either this mile or the previous one that I became aware of a guy using me to slingshot. He was walking, then I’d pass him so he’d sprint by me and run ahead for a bit then dropping back to walk. Normally I just let it happen, I have nothing against people who run/walk races. Heck, I’ve run/walked races before. But today, already irritated, this really really irked me. Actually, looking at my splits, I think it was the next mile.
Mile 7: 13:14
I passed the guy who was walking, then when I heard him take off to sprint I deliberately sped up so that he couldn’t catch me. In hindsight, I probably needed the kick so I’m not sorry I was so irritated. It was good to find out I had it in me, even when feeling the pain!
This mile though, one of the worst. I had to turn down Chesterfield Avenue and it was packed with finishers. It was incredibly demoralizing and disheartening; knowing how far I had yet to go and yet being surrounded by happy finishers in their race t-shirts and looking through their goody bags. I got loads of shouts of encouragement and that was nice; but it was hard to keep going in the crowd. I felt so alone. It’s hard to explain just how depressing that was. I’m normally good with words but I just don’t have the words to explain how much this took out of me.
Mile 8: 12:58
I almost quit.
For the first time in my racing life, I almost quit. I almost turned around to get my bag and go home. I was still on Chesterfield, still surrounded by runners who had finished, still in pain with my hamstring and feeling the pain now in my feet and quads. My watch was beeping the miles a full 200m before the markers so I wasn’t even sure I was on track to finish before the cut off time. I figured I’d had a great run of races up to now, what’s one DNF out of 20+ races?
I almost quit. And I’m not even sure now how I mustered up the drive to keep going. Maybe it’s innate, maybe it’s ingrained in me but I kept going. I just kept going.
I had lost sight of anyone in front of me still running and lost sight of the race route too, having to ask marshall’s which way to go. I just wanted to get off Chesterfield and away from everyone who was lucky enough to already be done.
For that brief moment of wanting to quit, I paid the price in spades. I turned onto Acres Road and Wham! No, not the band, the wind. It hit me full force. It was all I could do to keep plodding one foot in front of the other. I got to the mile marker and nearly cried. Still two miles to go.
Mile 9: 13:39
Still on Acres road. Still two miles to go. The promise of a downhill just ahead was tempered by the uphill that would soon follow.
I met a girl here who passed me and said she’d been trying to catch me for ages. She powered on ahead of me, but not before boosting my confidence a bit; she’d been behind me and had seen that I hadn’t stopped running, not once. It was nice to be reminded that even while struggling I hadn’t stopped, hadn’t walked. Again, not knocking walkers but in a race like this which I had trained so hard for, to stop and walk, to me would mean I had missed something; done something wrong.
Whatever confidence boost I got was quickly deflated as I was passed by two guys out for a jog…wearing their finishers t-shirts. I know they didn’t mean anything by it but it felt like a real kick in the face. They looked as fresh as daisies and there I was, hurting, tired and working so hard just to finish. They disappeared for a moment but they must have turned around because they passed me again coming the other way and I had to grit my teeth and forget about them.
Anyway, I got to the downhill and passed some marshalls and I heard one say to the other ‘2 hours’. I’m not sure if he was awed or horrified but hearing the time (as I’d been ignoring it on my watch) told me what I needed to know. I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped but I was doing better than I expected.
Mile 10: 14:21 + 11:27 (the extra 200m from my watch not matching the miles)
200m before the last mile marker my watch beeped. The last mile. The hardest mile. A steep uphill, more twisting and turning roads and a finish line that was still a lifetime away.
I wasn’t aiming for a time target anymore. I was aiming to just finish the race and get it over with. I told myself it’s only 15 minutes, only 15 more minutes and I’d be done. I wrote off any sort of kick sprint at the end and just worked on getting up the hill and getting closer to the finish.
I passed a few people here, which helped, I didn’t feel as alone as I had for the first 9 miles. The finish line was hard to spot, the usual gantry wasn’t up I guess for safety reasons with that wind, but a finisher told us to run for a green flag as the line was just past it. I found a kick after all, though where it came from I’ll never know. As I was heading for the finish a girl passed me. I was going to let her, I really was but somehow I found myself hurtling along to the finish, determined to pass her and beat her to the finish. I did, but by a mere second. We turned to each other at the end and shared a hug and a congrats. It turns out, I actually know her from an online forum and while I beat her to the finish, she beat me on time. So we were both winners 😀
It was an unexpected finish to what was probably my most difficult technical race to date. I finished in 2:15:07, a full 5 minutes off my target time.
I spotted a workmate who had been running the race also and he gave me a bottle of water. I nearly fell over when I reached for it. My legs were like jelly. I just wanted to sit down and not move. Ever. But of course I had to keep moving. I collected my finishers shirt and goody bag, looked for my friends and found one so had a bit of a chat.
When I felt better, I stretched out my hamstring as best I could, then headed down the park to see if the shuttle bus was still running. There was no one there to say yay or nay and after waiting for a while I decided, with another runner, that it was probably not going to come. We ended up walking, only to be passed by the shuttle 15 minutes later.
I had a 3 mile walk home. It took me over an hour. It was the worst 3 miles I have ever had to cover. I actually cried going up the stairs to my apartment. But I was soon in the door where I stretched, and finally, blessedly, got to sit down.
I know the weather caused a lot of havoc with people’s times and I know that it affected my race too, I’m just not so sure that was the only thing that caused me to run so badly. I told my coach afterwards; I don’t think I gave it everything I had. I don’t think I gave it my all.
But how much of that is my usual habit of being incredibly hard on myself? And how much did the weather, my hamstring and the hills affect my time? Can those factors really account for a full 5 minutes? I think it will take a lot of thought, and post-race analysis before I can come away with the right lessons to learn from this. I mean, there were positives too; I finished, and in a faster time than I thought I was running at the time. I found a kick when I needed it, twice! and had a strong finish.
As for the hamstring, it’s something I’ll need to tackle in the next few days. I have sport massage booked for Tuesday and I’ll work on stretching and foam rolling. I don’t want to go through a race like this again and the legs were a part of it. I need to get them in shape for the half marathon in September. So my focus will be training for that and getting my body into better shape.
Thanks and acknowledgements
I can’t write about this race without mentioning and thanking all the volunteers and organizers who came out in that weather to see the race was set up, marshalled, staffed and kept safe for everyone out running. From the baggage drop, help desk and start line set up, to the water stations and marshalls, to the finish area…everyone involved in putting this race on, in conditions like that…well, you’re all superstars. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Thanks also to all my running friends, long time and new. Seeing some of you before, during and after the race really helps alleviate the loneliness I usually feel on the course.
And thanks to my coach, Luke and trainer, Michael. Without you, I wouldn’t be fit enough, strong enough or smart enough to train the way I do. I’d have never got this far without you.