Harry Potter and The Dublin Marathon

Dublin Marathon Finish 2002

Ok, what to say? This was a strange weekend, one with great parts and a few not so great parts. The great parts first. On Sunday evening, as planned, I met up with Icedog & Bonnie and Muscatel. We shared a nice pasta meal together with all the folks from ‘Fred’s Team’ in a little Italian Restaurant on St. Stephen’s Green. What could I say about meeting Icedog? It was like meeting a star! Bob is an impressive man with a heart of gold that all can see. His company is warm and his words are wise. I really hope to see him again sometime. Neither had I met Muscatel before and we got on like a house on fire. Muscatel had acted as a sort of combination of local guide and interpreter for Icedog Bonnie and some of Fred’s team. It was great to have such nice company in the lead up to the race.

As regards the running this was going to be an unusual one for me, insomuch as I had no real race plan. It was my fourth marathon of the year and I didn’t really want to set hard and fast goals. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could. I had decided to run with a friend, Peter, who was on an aggressive 3:05 schedule. My plan, such as it was, was to run with him until the pace got too hot and then to drift off it and meet him at the finish chute. We met outside my hotel at 8:00am for the 9:00am start and went about the usual formalities. The baggage area was a bit chaotic and so we only reached the start with 15 mins to go. Instead of my usual spot about 10 runners back we ended up about 1000 back and had to take a few chances with politeness to even get that close. Barriers were climbed, slightly annoyed looks were endured, you get the picture.

Peter planned to go out at 7:05 pace and hoped to drop that to 7:00’s for the second half. His times in previous races over half marathon and 25K justified these targets easily, but in fairness mine didn’t. I didn’t know how long I’d hang onto those sorts of splits. When the gun went I was thrown into further confusion by the fact that I lost sight of Peter within about 400 meters. This was partly due to the fact that I was looking out for my wife and son who I passed within the first mile. I’m sad though to say that the often talked about problem with walkers at the start featured strongly again yesterday. I saw three or four groups of walkers two and three abreast amid the very front starters, they must have been immediately behind the elite start. That sort of weirdness just depresses me. Anyway, with loosing Peter at the start and weaving around slower runners and walkers, I missed the 1st mile marker. I passed the second in 14:34. I reckon this was a 7:34 and a 7:00 as the crowd loosened out. I now just had to accept that I was running the race with no company and no plan. In a way this was sort of liberating I could just run as I felt.

The next few miles went by in 7:02, 7:12, 7:17, and 7:17. I was still keeping an eye out for Peter but given his schedule I was fairly sure he was ahead of me and so I felt that I was unlikely to catch him given that my splits were slower than his plan. After mile six I ditched a long-sleeve ‘T’ that I had worn from the start and was found I was cold and picked up the pace a smidgeen to fight the cold. The next four miles were 7:03, 6:56, 7:23, and 7:11. As I rounded a turn at mile eight I was greeted by a wall of noise from all the supporters of Fred’s Team along with Muscatel, Bonnie and Liam. This gave me a real lift and I ran on waving both fists in the air. If ever I’ve had a boost in a race this was one. I don’t think I stopped smiling for about a mile. Somewhere around this point, mile eight or nine I spotted a familiar head bobbing up and down in the distance ahead of me. It was Peter! He was about 50 meters ahead and going strong. I moved up enough to catch him and he was delighted to have company again. He knew that he was a little behind the planned pace but wasn’t too worried and felt sure he could pick it up again. From that point on he pushed as he reckoned if I caught up to him I could cope. How very kind of him 🙂

For the next three miles to halfway we did 7:11, 7:06 and 6:48 and passed halfway at 1:33:54. Peter needed to positive split by quite a bit now to make 3:05, but he still felt strong. Mile 14 was into a headwind and we were probably talking too much and when Peter saw a mile split of 7:20 I think he decided it was time to go to work. The next four miles were punishing for me at 6:54, 6:46, 6:55 & 7:07. During these miles I decided about four times that the pace was too much for me and Peter started to move ahead but each time I seemed to end up beside him again. In the end I think what was happening was that as a mile marker came into view that he would check his watch and subconsciously ‘up’ the pace towards the marker, thereby leaving me a little behind. He would then settle back to the general pace and I’d slowly catch him.  We had one more mile left before the fearsome Phoenix Park hill and that went by in 7:10. I think we were both a little preoccupied with the prospect of the hill and there was little enough talking for this mile.

At the bottom of this hill I said to Peter ‘Good Luck…’ and we leant into the slope. Almost immediately an English chap that had been near us for miles went by us slowly. Instinctively I jumped on his tail and Peter tucked in behind me. The three of us slogged it out like a train up the hill and were pleased with a 7:18 for that mile. Twenty miles down, I turned to Peter and said, “That’s the hard bit done, only a 10K left”. At this point I felt tired and had a good few aches and pains but wasn’t falling apart. Yet! As it was to transpire later this was only the beginning of my problems. I think I invested quite a lot on that hill and never really recovered from the effort. I started to feel really sore over the next mile. Not in any one spot but absolutely everywhere, legs, shoulders arms, chest, pains everywhere.  Mile 21 was a 7:17, which surprised me given the way I was feeling. At about this stage I lost Peter as he slowly pulled out a few hundred yards on me. The numbers were quite thin on the course so I never quite lost sight of him completely but for the first time since mile 8 or so he was gone well ahead.

From here on in it was a real slogfest. It was like the last few miles of Boston this year where the hills had just killed my legs and I stumbled through the last few miles like a very tired and drunken pig. Mile 22 was a 7:10 aided by the fact that after the big hill in the park it was flat or downhill to the end. I was startled to see I was gaining on Peter again. It was starting to resemble either farce or comedy as I had been dropped and had re-caught him so often. I pulled alongside him going down Broadstone Hill, just outside the Bus Garage. Mile 23 and 24 saw me slogging along but with a new danger present. My left hamstring was threatening to cramp. This hamstring had cramped on me in the last couple of hundred yards of the Longford Marathon in August and I had just stumbled over the line before it went totally. It was giving all the warning signs now of leaving me in big trouble. I started to alter my stride pattern to try and help. I lengthened and shortened my stride in an effort to help it but it didn’t seem to matter. Every couple of hundred yards it gave a big twinge that spelt big trouble coming. I couldn’t believe it at this stage but I was actually moving ahead of Peter. The mile 23 and 24 splits were 7:09 and 7:08. Mile 25 down O’Connell Street, the City’s main thoroughfare was one I had been looking forward to for weeks. I had pictured crowds on the street and lots of noise. The reality was a bit of a disappointment. Sparse crowds, road works and lots of pain diminished the experience somewhat. I was in real trouble now and every step was an uphill struggle. The 25th mile passed with a 7:33 split, the slowest since the first crowd-congested mile.

About two-thirds down O’Connell Street I got a warning. In soccer parlance, this was the yellow card. My left hamstring jolted into a cramp. I made a jump that must have looked like what triple-jumpers do at the start of their jumps. I’d say I cleared the road by about a foot and clutched the leg. I knew now I was close to disaster. I rounded College Green and Nassau Street well into the final mile. I never got to record the 26-mile split because just as I was approaching it, and I actually had my finger on the button of my watch to record the split, my left hamstring gave up the ghost and cramped completely. I went down like a sack of potatoes. I could feel the hamstring muscle in a ball the size of a grapefruit under my left thigh. A steward came over immediately and asked if she could help. I lay on my back as she stretched my left leg out. Unfortunately, and this was almost predictable I suppose, my right hamstring cramped as well. I then had to bend double at the waist to try and lengthen both the muscles. Eventually, I got hobbling again. I had seen Peter flash past as I was on the ground and was relieved that he hadn’t stopped. I could feel the muscle starting to go again after a few steps so I decided I’d go for broke and try to run. It lasted to the line and I crossed in 3:09:40. Peter had come in about a minute and a half ahead of me.

Despite the fact that it had seemed like I had spent an eternity on the ground I probably only lost about two minutes. Even with all the drama this was an 18 seconds PB. I really needed more long runs beforehand having rarely gone over 17 in the weeks leading up to race time. All in all despite the late setback it was a decent if difficult run. After the finish I met my wife and son. She was a bit shocked at how I looked, as I was very sore in my lower back and legs and was only walking with difficulty. I was also very cold and started to shiver violently. I made it back to the hotel which was nearby, showered and went to bed for a half an hour. I had said to Icedog the night before that I’d try to find him at the finish but it wasn’t going to happen at this stage. I was in poor condition and I also had 135 miles to drive home with my wife and son.

Both Muscatel and Liam phoned me afterwards (Thanks!) to send best wishes and I can’t wait for a report from Icedog. Initial indications are that he did very well. What else would we expect I suppose. This was a special one for him. I eventually hit Galway by about 6:00pm a sore and tired guy, satisfied with what had been done but wondering about what could have been done.

Personally the highlight of the race for me had to be had to be the point during mile sixteen or seventeen when Peter and I were stringing a few quick ones together and I spotted a little boy of about eight by the side of the Road with a full Harry Potter costume on. I turned to Peter and said loudly in mock surprise, “Looook it’s Harry Potter…..cast a magic spell Harry….. pleeease!”. The poor boy didn’t know what to do. In the end he made some sort of weak gesture with his magic wand and then hid behind his mother. Priceless.


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