Redemption in Longford
Longford Marathon 2015 – Race Report
On the way to this race, a pal asked me what time I thought I’d run. I said that, all going well, with a fair wind (or none) and a pinch of good luck, the best I could hope for was around 2:52 – but that over 3:00 was entirely possible.
In short, I really hadn’t a freaking clue.
In light of how things worked out on the day, I won’t really complain.
Number pick-up was gloriously uneventful – you just can’t beat good race organisation. Within minutes of arriving at the venue, we’d collected our race numbers, t-shirts and goodie bags and were about as ready to ‘rock’ as we were ever going to be. As we had time to spare, I could afford the luxury of stopping to chat with some old friends. It’s a mark of the enduring popularity of this race that the same faces reappear year after year.
It was soon time to make my final preparations; one last visit to the loo, a check of my laces and to strap on the gel belt.
It felt like I was good to go.
My most recent marathon – in June this year – had not been a positive experience. I had slowed dramatically over the closing miles and, to be honest, my confidence had taken quite a knock. My finishing time that day of 2:58:35 had been my slowest competitive marathon for over ten years. Unfortunately, I had no obvious excuses to fall back on. I had prepared reasonably well, had tapered properly and gave it my best in the race. I just couldn’t run any faster.
In early August my poor form was repeated at the Rock ‘n Roll half-marathon in Dublin; where I ran over four minutes slower than I had for the same distance just twelve months before. What really niggled me – in both cases – was that I had slowed so much over the later miles. That really wasn’t like me, and I certainly didn’t want to admit that the years were eventually catching up.
In contrast to those races, I thought training had been going reasonably well. Some decent long runs through July and August allowed me to hope that some better form might be around the corner. At the Claregalway 10km just a week before Longford, I ran 37:00 – as good as I’ve done for that distance in the last couple of years – another reason to be optimistic perhaps.
I had no particular pacing strategy in Longford. Broadly speaking, I hoped to run by ‘feel’. I had posted 2:55 in this race last year, but, given my problems in Portumna and Dublin, I certainly wasn’t confident that I could repeat the dose. Perhaps if I could go through halfway in 1:27:30 or thereabouts I’d be on target to repeat last years’ time. I found it hard to be confident.
We lined up across Earl Street just before the scheduled 10:00AM start and, with little fuss we were sent on our way. From the off I tried to ‘zone out’ and establish a comfortable repeatable rhythm. I clicked through the first few mile-splits with my head down and saw 6:42 and 6:41 appear on the watch – almost bang-on 2:55:00 pace. I felt quite stiff and awkward on the road, which surprised me, as I’d rested well and had concentrated on stretching over the last few days.
Never mind – plough on!
The early water stations offered only plastic cups of water, which I hate. I walked through those first few water stations, making sure that I drank enough without taking down air, reasoning that the seconds lost in doing so would be repaid with interest later in the race. These early miles are run mainly alongside a busy road into the town and they proved uneventful from my point of view. The roads were clogged with cars full of Mayo supporters making their way to Croke Park for the All-Ireland football semi-final later that day. I was hoping to be back in Athenry to watch it on television myself.
I was now logging splits around the 6:40 mark with some regularity. Some miles felt easy, others not. I still hadn’t loosened up, but at least I wasn’t slowing down (yet). Head down, say nothing, and keep on running!
The field had become fairly well spread-out. Even with a sprinkling of marathon-relay runners amongst us it, was fairly much a solo run. Ten miles passed in 1:06:26 and halfway came and went with 1:27:26 on the clock.
Woohoo! I was 4 seconds ahead of ‘schedule’.
I felt certain that the early miles of the second half of the race would be important. In Portumna, the metaphorical ‘wheels’ had come spinning off at around this point. I concentrated on striding out and watched my breathing. I didn’t want to up the effort but at the same time hoped I wouldn’t slow. We ran along beautifully quiet county roads and between tall ditches and all was well with the world. I did my best to pass lightly, quietly and smoothly. Remarkably – almost imperceptibly – my pace began to quicken. Without any conscious additional effort splits in the 6:30’s and 6:20’s began to appear regularly on my watch. I passed one or two runners that I hadn’t seen since the start on Earl Street, not really daring to believe that this would last.
The day was warming noticeably as the sun rose higher into the sky and I started dousing myself with cold water at each water station – a tactic that’s proven useful in the past. Thankfully, many of the later water stations offered sports-cap water bottles. Each time I drank half the bottle and the rest went over my head. I had been taking Kinetica energy gels every three or four miles since the start and the combination of cooling and fuelling seemed to be working out quite well.
A couple of the mile-markers in the second half of the course appeared to be a little out of place, but a ‘slow’ mile was usually followed by a ‘fast’ one and so I didn’t worry. Unlike in Portumna and at the Rock n’ Roll half in Dublin, I actually felt like I was getting stronger as the race went on and started to believe I could maintain this faster pace to the finish.
Although the last five or six miles were a bit of a struggle I was catching and passing runners regularly, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the early miles. I wouldn’t say that I was skating along, but I was becoming more and more confident that I could get home without crashing. Over the last few miles I threw what little caution remained to the wind, even dipping under six minutes for one of those late mile splits. I worked really hard over the final familiar mile into town and eventually passed under the large red inflatable finishing gantry in a time of 2:52:29. I was done. Phew!
I was a happy man, less as a result of the race itself but more because I felt I’d put the ghosts of Portumna and Dublin to rest for a while at least. Perhaps I wasn’t completely past my sell-by date after all. Après-Marathon conversations are always a lot more enjoyable when you’ve run well and I lingered just a little to watch others finish their races, soak up the brilliant atmosphere and to catch up on all the latest gossip. Longford had been kind to me this year and not for the first time either.
Before long I was limping back towards the car, content that I might have a few miles left in the engine and that the Dublin Marathon was just around the corner.