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.
Thirteen years ago I had the pleasure of lining up for the first ever Longford Marathon and tomorrow I’m hoping to repeat the process.
Since 2002 I’ve grown tremendously fond of this race. This is an event organised with the interests of the participants foremost in mind. It’s not a fund-raiser, a private-profit-maker or a tourism gimmick; it’s a marathon race. From the outset, the Longford organisers have had a single straightforward objective, that being, to put on the best race possible. Of course, no race is perfect and there have doubtless been some mistakes over the years but it’s always been clear that the Longford race organisers will go to great lengths to cater for the athletes who show up year after year.
Keeping a race like this going year after year is of course no small achievement in itself. There was even a time when the race came under direct threat from some less well-motivated individuals. Through it all they kept their heads, even when some of our athletic leaders who should have known better were losing theirs. For this achievement alone they deserve great credit.
The sport of road racing has changed so much in the intervening years that it’s difficult to imagine how exciting it was back in 2002 to have a new marathon on the calendar. Marathon races were rare and exotic animals at that stage and many marathon runners had to travel abroad if they wanted to to race regularly.
The Longford marathon organisers blazed a trail that others were soon to follow. Nowadays it seems that almost every medium-sized town in the country hosts a marathon annually. In breaking up the Dublin/Belfast marathon monopoly that had been in place up to that point, Longford did all Irish marathon runners a great service – and continues to do so – setting organisational standards that other races often fail to match.
In terms of my own targets for tomorrow, I’m hoping for a decent run. It’d be nice to get around the course a little faster than I did in 2002 (3:10) and even nicer to better my 2:57 from Portumna in June.
I’m hoping to run by feel rather than by the the watch. I’ll set out at what feels right and see how long my luck holds.
Just standing at the start line will feel good, fourteen years on, and many miles, later.
For some weeks now I’ve been dreaming running dreams. In quiet moments – sometimes when I run – I dissolve into memories of the pre-dawn drive to the start of the Connemara Ultramarathon. Van Morrison sings, ‘Keep it Simple’ from the CD player and the darkness fades to grey and then to silver
Effortlessly, I feel myself driving, slowly, noiselessly towards the start of that special race. I sink into this comfortable place in my memory and I don’t ever want to leave. For much of this year, dreams like these had remained off-limits. My mind was filled with regret and, ever aware of the potential for destructive melancholy, I stayed away. Perhaps it’s an indulgence that I cannot afford even now as I begin to recover some fitness, but I thrill inwardly, selfishly, hopefully and perhaps vainly that the dream might be made real again.
The darkness retreats behind the mountains and the lakes. The curtain rises and a sense of gentle anticipation fills me as the car ghosts its way towards Maam Cross. I approach Race HQ and the dream begins to fade. The huge room is filled with human potential, anxious conversations, whispered encouragement, knowing glances and mutual courage. The games are about to begin. This is the best time.
I want to be there again next year. I want the dream to stay with me – not to fade, not yet – to be made real once more. My heart aches for the quiet swish of untired legs as they steadily cover Connemara Miles, for the sense of recognition and the unchanging hillsides.
I know in my heart that long after I’ve run my race, these hills will remain, but I still allow myself to dream dreams of Connemara in the pre-dawn.
Thankfully, I’ve been both running and writing since I last posted here . Unfortunately, I haven’t been running as much as other years and none of the writing I’ve been doing has ended up on here. Even though I haven’t run as many miles this year as before, I have run plenty of marathons – ten or eleven so far.At least I hav’t sunk into complete sloth and self-absorbsion.
Despite my scaled-down training, I’ve enjoyed my running a lot over the last 10 months or so. Unusually for me, I didn’t find any real competitive focus after the Connemara Ultra in April. I had changed jobs in March and that move brought with it it’s own pressures and distractions. I tried to carry on as before, but it didn’t quite work. As a result, I trained enough to run fairly well without running really well. Not a disaster I suppose.
On the personal front, I had some tough times over the summer months that are hopefully behind me now. For a while, I found it hard to care much about sport and I ran more from habit than desire or design. For a while, I wondered if I’d ever get back to any sort of balance. After an early moning sit at a local meditation center, I noticed the words ‘It Will Pass’ pained neatly onto an outside wall. I snapped the words onto my phone and straight away made the picture my ‘wallpaper’ and ‘screensaver’. Looking back, it seems like that moment was when I stared to come out of the funk I had allowed myself to sink into. Being constantly reminded that no much trouble you feel you have, that it will all go away at some stage, was a real help.
Hopefully the funk has passed. I have enough trouble with fog without trying runningthroughfunk 🙂
It was great to be involved with the Limerick Marathon again this year as a pacer. I have to say that I just can’t get myself to think of it as ‘The Great Limerick Run’ and I’m not really sure why. The organisers of this set of races are certainly ambitious and there has been progress on the organisational front since last year’s inaugural event which had some problems. If nothing else there was an air of confidence about the place as race time approached. At least it looked like everyone knew what they were meant to be doing – which, in fairness, was a step up on twelve months ago. I was charged with pacing a group to a 3:00 hour finish.
The days are getting longer and the Connemara marathon and ultra draw closer. Race director Ray O’Connor hates to hear me say so, but Connemara is my second favourite race of the year. Despite its many wonderful qualities Connemara could never challenge the Dublin Marathon for my number one spot. I’ve run one or other of the Connemara races for many years and there have been both good days and bad, but even the ‘bad’ ones were really great. The only occasions on which I’ve found it difficult to enjoy the ‘Connemarathon’ was when I was too injured to take part and so had to contribute from the sidelines. Despite my ambitions to equanimity and non-attachment, I can honestly say that those non-running days were hard to manage.
I’m still enjoying Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”. The chapters are beautifully short and each one makes its point succinctly and entertainingly. In the chapter entitled, “The Ordinary and Extraordinary”, she writes,”We are all interwoven and create each other’s universes”. On the face of it that sentence might seem a little bland or ‘airy fairy’, but it rings true to me. When we run we express ourselves positively and in the process of running we help to shape or define the world around us. The impact of our actions extend even further out into the world and can help to define the universe as other will experience it.
It’s that time of year I suppose. A time when it’s tempting to look back at some of the running highlights that I’ve been involved with over the last twelve months. It was a very good year for me racing-wise, with more than one personal best to remember, as well as my usual quota of niggles, bonks and dodgy races.
In many of the marathon race reports I’ve read recently, experienced runners have admitted to what they’ve called a ‘rookie mistake’. Their assumption seems to be that although they’ve slipped up, they really shouldn’t have, because they’ve ignored basic advice that we’ve all heard many times before. These runners are owning up to getting their pacing wrong, or as we’ve all referred to it, ‘going out too hard’. It’s rare that we hear anyone complain after a marathon that they really should have set off faster. Although I fully realise that it’s unlikely I’ll make the Olympics at this stage, one thing I’ve always been good at is pacing. In the vast majority of my longer races, from the marathon up to 100 miles, I will usually record a negative split. Although I get many things wrong (ask my wife), I usually get the pacing right and so at the risk of making an arse of myself I thought I’d put down some thoughts on how I manage to pace longer races.
In ten days time I’ll be in Dublin to run my home town marathon and I’m really looking forward to the run. For me, Dublin is where it all started. As well as being born and raised in the city it was where I started to run. In 1999 I ran my first Dublin City Marathon and my life has changed since that day. As I’ve moved away from Dublin since that time I must return on a running pilgrimage of sorts each year to renew my vows on the streets of Dublin.