When The Chips Were Down In Dublin

Mick & Peter - Dublin Marathon 2003

Dublin Marathon 2003 Race Report

There are many, many things I could include in a report on this year’s Dublin City Marathon. From start to finish the weekend was a blur of both new and familiar faces wrapped around the daunting task of a race that had to be run. Home life had been hectic for me recently and I departed on Sunday morning feeling a bit guilty about the workload I was leaving behind for others to manage. I’d be gone for the most of two days and I was sure it was going to a roller coaster ride. As I drove out of Athenry on Sunday I couldn’t help but think back to last April when I had last tried to run a marathon in under three hours. The result on that occasion had been ugly and the recovery slow.

A small but dedicated group of Cool Runners had plotted their assault on this race from the ‘Race Together’ forum over the last couple on months. Some would be traveling as spectators and to sample the race atmosphere whilst others would lace ’em up. Of the forumites that would be in Dublin I knew only a handful. However, the old maxim that ‘strangers are friends that you haven’t met yet’ was applicable and I was fortunate to meet up with many new friends. I’ll leave it to Liam to give a more comprehensive run-down on the social side of the weekend. Suffice it to say that it was a pleasure to meet you all.

The serious business was scheduled for nine o’clock on Monday morning. In a move that was universally disappointing, the organisers did not provide Champion Chip timing for the first time in many years. I complained about this several times to race organisers and was given various excuses, many of which stretched credibility. I sincerely hope that they reverse this policy next year because a great race like Dublin deserves the best support on offer. There were other changes in arrangements this year that all conspired to give the impression of a race under financial pressure. With next year being the twenty-fifth running of the event let’s hope that additional sponsors can come on board to help the organisers offer a better deal to runners.

Anyway that’s enough complaining, on to the race. As I was anxious to make a clean getaway I went to the starting area early. Runners were not strictly segregated but were asked to start in zones according to their expected finishing time. I managed to be only two lines back when the gun went off. Runners streamed away from the start under a huge arch of blue and white balloons. I was oblivious to everything except staying on my feet and moving reasonably quickly in the early stages. I was running with two club-mates, Peter and Colm, who both had similar time goals and we had agreed to race together as long as possible. I was pumped full of adrenaline as we all surged down Pearse Street and turned towards the first mile marker on O’Connell Street. My plan was to run 6:50 miles all the way. If I could stick to that plan I’d come in around the 2:59 mark. It was a big ‘if’ though.

With all of the initial confusion, all three of us missed the first mile marker. Someone else heard us remark on this and told us that we had run a 6:55 split. Quite happy that we were on our way we relaxed a bit and tried to concentrate on rhythm. Miles two, three and four took us up to the Phoenix Park and perhaps the most beautiful section of the course. These miles were passed with splits of 6:53, 6:52 and 6:52.  This part of the course had included some gentle inclines and so we were not too worried about slipping some few seconds behind schedule. It was slightly more worrying however to see the five and six mile markers passing by in 6:59 and 7:03 respectively. The course had leveled out by now, the weather was perfect and we were running freely in a relatively small group.

Peter and I decided that we needed to put in a little work over the next mile to reestablish the correct pace and stop us falling too far behind the plan.  Thankfully mile seven was a 6:42 and we followed that with a 6:31 on the downhill mile eight. Another club mate, James, met us with drinks at this point, which were very welcome. I felt it was important to get some ‘carbs’ into me early in the race as I had decided against using gels later on. Miles nine and ten were difficult as they included some sudden dips and rises. I didn’t want to push too hard on the uphills and was wary of pounding my quads on the downhill sections just to gain a few seconds.  These two markers were achieved in 6:58 and 6:48. The first ten miles had thus passed in 1:08:33.

Despite the fact that it was a beautiful day, cool with clear sunshine, it was only from about the ten or eleven mile point that I started to feel like I was running well. Up to that point I think some self-imposed pressure had made me tense and stiff. As the miles passed by I seemed to lose that nervous tight sensation in my shoulders and run more freely. So many people had wished me well on this run that I could almost hear them by the side of the road cheering me along the way.

The road twisted and turned towards the halfway point. Miles eleven, twelve and thirteen passed through the suburbs of southwest Dublin and surprisingly good support. Splits for these miles of 6:36, 7:00 and 7:00 brought us to the thirteen-mile marker and the halfway point was passed in 1:29:50. This was actually about twenty seconds behind schedule but we reasoned that it was better to be very slightly slow than fast. This was my fastest first half to a marathon since the infamous crash-and-burn in London last April. I was very much aware that although I felt well that I had to keep this pace going for a lot longer yet.

Peter, Colm and I headed into the second half of the race in good heart. We felt that we’d put some good miles behind us and had run sensibly to that point. We perhaps needed to gain a few seconds on the clock to allow for a bad mile or two later in the race because although we wanted to run sub-three off of an even pace we didn’t want it all to come down to a handful of seconds in the end either. We pressed on. At one point I was running about five yards ahead of my two pals and it dawned on me that although we were running a constant pace that we were passing quite a lot of runners. A minute or so later the Peter said exactly the same thing, that group after group of runners we ‘coming back’ to us. It’s been said many times before but it definitely does lend confidence to be passing runners rather than being passed.

The early stages of the second half of the race were mostly uneventful. It was a case of getting our heads down and doing some steady work. In other races I have looked around the course to distract myself from discomfort or talked with the crowd but on this day I mostly looked at the road ahead and made the occasional wise-crack to Peter. From the halfway point we made splits of 6:51, 6:37, 6:50, 6:52 and 6:42 to the eighteen-mile mark. Although I felt tired and a little sore in some places I didn’t seem to be getting any worse. I felt at mile 18 much like I had at mile ten.

I’ve always agreed with the saying that the halfway point in a marathon is the twenty-mile mark. Often for me it has taken at least as much mental and physical effort to survive the last six miles of a marathon as has the preceding twenty miles on fresher legs. This felt different though. I felt as if the miles were passing quickly and I was much less ‘woolly headed’ that I have been before at this stage of a race. We were still passing runners in droves and were ourselves relatively comfortable. If anything it seemed like we were slightly increasing our own pace. Miles of 6:42 and 6:43 confirmed that impression and took us to the magical ‘halfway’ point of twenty miles.

 I had strategised, or perhaps fantasised, before the race that if I got to this point in fairly good shape that I’d try to push on a little for the last 10K. Whilst images of the disaster in London last April were flashing before me I knew that this race was working out better and that I’d have company on the way home in the shape of Peter and Colm who were both still running strongly. To a large extent Peter was leading the pack of three and looked really strong. I felt that he was increasing the pace gradually and committed to running that pace myself. I was taking a chance but a calculated one.

For the next three miles we had a slight following breeze and great support from the crowds along the route. The weather, which had been beautiful all along, started to warm slightly which felt great. These three miles passed in 6:40, 6:40 & 6:40. It was getting serious now. We were over a minute ahead of sub-three pace and had 3.2 miles left to run. I might have relaxed more had I not suffered such a crash in London at precisely this point six months before. I was no longer running comfortably but knew that that would be too much to expect after twenty-three miles. I tried to put all other thoughts out of my head and concentrate on the last three miles. It was to be death or glory, but preferably glory!

Peter was running a great race. Conversation between himself and I all but stopped as we neared Dublin City Center once more. Unfortunately Colm dropped off the pace at around this point but not before he had worked out that he only needed to maintain something like 7:10’s to make it in under the magical three hour barrier. At mile twenty-four the route passed by an office where I had worked for almost three years before leaving Dublin in the year 2000. On this occasion I clung desperately to Peter’s slipstream as he thrashed out a 6:32 split down narrow streets.  We turned on to Pearse Street again and puffed our way past Trinity College into a stiff wind. The penultimate split was 6:42.

It was only at this point, looking at my watch and seeing that I had about ten minutes to make it home, that I allowed myself to contemplate success. I had one more ghost to exorcise however. Last year in this race I suffered severe hamstring cramps at the twenty-six mile marker and collapsed to the ground loosing about three minutes in the process. Although there were no signs of cramps this time around I was starting to really suffer from the fierce pace that Peter was setting but I was absolutely determined that today was going to be my day. We passed a very vocal group of Cool Runners at this point led by Liam and Geenie and it was great to hear the cheers and shouts as we went past. Unfortunately I couldn’t even raise a smile in response let alone a wave. Sorry about that folks.

We blasted on to Nassau Street and could see down its half-mile length to the final turn onto Merrion Square and the finishing line. It was a daunting sight and the feel-good factor of earlier miles had evaporated. It was going to be a dogfight to hang on to Peter for the closing mile. With head down and teeth gritted we passed the twenty six mile marked in 6:24 and turned the final bend and faced the finish line. Without thought or logic I sprinted from that point to the line and crossed with the clock at 2:57:20. I promptly vomited what little I had in my stomach onto the pavement. Peter had followed me over the line two seconds later. The final .2 of a mile had taken 1:11. Colm came home in 2:59:08. A fantastic run!

Running a marathon in under three hours has been a personal target of mine for a long time and it feels sort of strange to have finally achieved it. I suspect that it’ll take me a couple of months to reflect on the race and to decide on what I’ d like to do marathon-wise next year. Lots of possibilities spring to mind but for the moment I don’t think I’ll try running any faster. That could change I suppose.

There’s much more I could write about but I’ll leave it for now. This report has been hugely over long but I hope you’ll forgive me as I just had to get some of it out of my system.

Finally, my sincere thanks go to Liam, Genie and the rest of the Cool Running gang for such wonderful support and encouragement over the weekend. It was a pleasure meeting you all and I very much look forward to running races with you all in the future.

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