I wrote this ages ago the forgot to publish
After three years and three failed attempts I was desperate to finally run under three hours at the Dublin Marathon. My preference is for running trail marathons and ultras, so I’m not sure if I would have the mental resolve to try again after another failure.
However despite these fears I felt positive going into the race. My training had been consistent with no injuries or illness to disrupt things, and I felt in good shape. I had spent a lot of time reviewing my failure in the London Marathon, and managed to turn that race into a positive: I’d run the fastest 24 miles ever with zero fuel – just water! My pace and hydration had all been good, but my body had simply run out of fast burning fuel. If I consumed a few gels at Dublin, I should be able to keep running for another two miles. To back this up I had started testing various gels on training runs and chosen the EFS Liquid Shot as my preferred fuel.
I’ve only been to Ireland on business before, so had decided to take the whole family and go for a week. We arrived on the Saturday afternoon, and after checking in at the hotel went straight to the Expo to register. This meant Sunday was a day of sightseeing with the family, and I could take my mind off the race and relax.
Monday morning I was up at 5:30 and joined a few dozen runners having breakfast at 6:00 in the hotel before a short walk to the start zone. It was a reasonably well organised area, although if the race gets any bigger they will need to look at the bag drop area. Having the toilet queue next to the bag drop queue caused a lot of congestion.
By 8:30 I was walking down towards the start line. It was a reasonably warm morning, and the forecast was for 16C and gusting winds. However it is a circular route so the wind should not be much of a factor.
My plan was to start a little way behind the official 3:00 pacers, and take it easy for the first couple of miles, and then build up to a 6:45 pace. By half way I wanted to be tucked in behind the pacers and follow them until mile 24, where hopefully I would feel strong enough to push ahead.
After a few presentations and introductions, the race started promptly at 9:00 and we were all off. I crossed the start line only 10 seconds after the gun, and was running. The usual race excitement meant the first mile was a little quick (6:43), but I then slowed down and settled into a relaxed stride and even managed to chat to a few other runners. After 4 miles the race turns into Phoenix Park and onto a 2 mile straight. I could clearly see the pacers and their flags as they were about 300m ahead of me, and being followed by a large group of runners. There was no hurry to catch up, but as we left the park there was a short downhill stretch and as I naturally accelerated, I was soon up with the pace group. This was a little earlier than planned but quite good timing as the route from mile 10 was a rather dull suburban road, as we wound through the outskirts of Dublin and it was good to be running a larger group. For the next few miles I just concentrated on using my EFS Liquid Shot and taking water whenever it was available.
My wife and children were waiting for me at the 13 mile marker and cheering me on, so I gave them a smile and thumbs up to show I was feeling good, and crossed the half way point in 1:29 still feeling fresh and positive. I find it easy to drop off the pace if I let my mind drift too much mid race, so although all I had to do was follow the runners in front, I kept concentrating on where we were going, how fast I was moving and how much I was eating and drinking.
At 18 miles I still felt fine. There was a slight incline and I felt myself slowing, but relaxed and picked up the pace as I got to the top. The mental doubts were starting to creep in now, but I kept telling myself ‘it’s normal to feel tired after 18 miles’. Somewhere around the 20 mile mark there was a huge arch to run under, emblazoned with “You’ve run through the Wall” slogans. The road narrowed here as everyone went through the arch, and the noise from the crowd was deafening, but really uplifting too. There was one more hill at 22 miles, but again not very long or steep; certainly nothing to fear compared with some other races I’ve run.
My final worry was the 24 mile mark where I crashed at London, but I ran through in just under 2:45 and knew I was almost home. I saw Sarah and the children again, and gave them another thumbs up and grin, and tried to relax and enjoy the last mile or so. There is a fairly long finishing straight at Dublin. It’s longer than London, and too far to sprint when you first see the finish, so I waited and waited, and in the end never bothered with a final sprint. I was too busy staring at the clock over the finish line and smiling; 2:59:37 as I crossed under it, so a 2:59:29 chip time and 302nd place.
So what have I learnt…
Too often we create our own artificial barriers. It took me three attempts to run a half marathon in under 1:30, and since then the slowest I’ve done has been a 1:28 when my asthma was so bad I walked up the steep bits.
At Dublin I was no fitter or faster than I was at London or indeed Brighton the year before, but I knew I was capable. I had convinced myself that all i needed to do was run the same race strategy I used at London, + take a few gels and I would do it. Belief is no substitute for training, but without it, it’s very hard to succeed.