Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A little dream came true!

Did it!

Official position: 1,649 (8,428 finishers, approx. 11,000 starters)
Official time (race time): 03:40:54
Official time (chip time): 03:40:15

10 km, half-way, 30km times: 00:51:33, 01:47:39, 02:33:57. (Check it out here).

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I slept very well the night before the marathon. As I was fairly convinced that I only had a very small chance of making it, that took the pressure off. I had begun to think that it was possibly a stress fracture - it gave me pain at night, is quite localised and in the "right location" and I couldn't contemplate hopping 10 times on it; all of which are apparently indicators of a stress fracture. I was, though, also seeking to put all of that out of my mind - determining to give it my best. Having booked my place, the ferry, hotel room, etc., I might as well start! My plan was to run until it hurt, take an ibuprofen, and then run until I could run no more - and walk the rest.

Before the start

The weather was good for the time of year - clear sky, only a gentle breeze. It was cold though to stand around for an hour beforehand. I took the advice and wore a bin-liner! The toilets were surprisingly clean, and the queues not too bad. I joined the "less than 4 hour" group that I'd signed up for a few months ago, and waited.

Eventually we were off, and you can see from the difference between my "race" and "chip" times that it was about 40 seconds before I crossed the start line. (Each runner has an electronic chip which triggers as you pass certain points monitored on the race. The official times and places are decided on the race time which starts at the same time for everyone, whether an elite runner starting from the line or someone 5 minutes back. Those who are competing for prizes will be at the front anyway and so the two will hardly differ for them).

There was not much room to move in the first half-mile, and it was about 3 miles before there was comfortable freedom. I'd done all my training on my own, so it was quite different to be surrounded by lots of runners all the way. By the end it got a little bit thinner than the photo below, but not very much. The photo below looks like I'm about to execute a karate chop, but I think in fact it's just that I've given or am about to give a "thumbs up" sign.

I think that the first mile was actually the slowest for me - 9:00 according to my watch (which I started as I crossed the start). In such a huge crowd I found it really difficult to know how fast I was going - you can't "listen" to your body amongst so much commotion. I'd heard plenty of warnings about going off too fast (if you've got spare energy, use it in the last mile, not the first!), so erred on the side of caution.

The next couple of miles were about 8:22 and 8:10. At five miles, my watch said 41 something (either 20-something or 50-something, I can't remember). My dad caught my attention at about four - he was running across between various points on the course where it was possible to meet up: I think I saw him at 4, 11 and 21 miles. He says that thinks he ran 8 miles during the race dashing across the city!

I did all my training with isotonic drink bottle in hand, and that's what I did here too. I figured that if you're using energy and fluids gradually, it makes sense to replace them that way. I found the water stations, every 3 miles, a nice concentration break - I used most of them to grab a bottle and tip some over my head to cool down!

So far, it all seemed pretty good - I wondered at what point I would start feeling my shin. It had been before 4 miles just over a week ago. In fact, it hit me just after 7 miles (which I think took me 56:56). I was feeling a real pain, every time I landed on it - thud, thud, thud. Ouch! Very disappointing - I was beginning to dream that it had gone away!

Time to take an ibuprofen! I didn't take one before beginning the race, because I didn't really know how long they would mask the pain for, and I did want to know if there really was pain still there. Half a mile later, the pain was getting worse, so I took a second one as I doubted that the first on its own would be enough once it had kicked in. It was about ten miles before my shin just started to feel like a minor soreness rather than a sharp pain on every step.

It was really nice to see so many people lining the streets. Those playing drums, ringing bells were a great encouragement. There were stretches of a mile or two with nobody, and then others with quite a lot - it varied from one part of Dublin to another (the course is basically one big loop around the city).

I dashed into a Portaloo at about 11 miles - the only time I stopped running during the race. For me the stretch from about 7 miles to 12 or so is the toughest mentally in many ways - by now, things are hurting quite a bit, and yet it's a long, long way to go. I found it very boring! Eventually, though, the half-way mark approaches. As I crossed over, my watch said 1:47:00 which about agrees with the official time (given the chip difference and a couple of seconds). I was still feeling good - plenty of energy still in store. The large amounts of rest in the final couple of weeks had done the job. If I could repeat that time in the second half, I'd make 3:34; I wondered, hopelessly optimistically, if I could beat that if I retained enough energy for a speed-up in the last few. My plan was basically to just keep going at a comfortable pace until 21 miles, and then if anything was left for a speed-up, to go for it from then and see what was possible.

In reality, though, they don't say that it's a whole different ball-game from 20 miles onwards for nothing! At that point, I could really feel the bruising in my calves, and everything felt that much stiffer and heavier to move. I've got some nice blisters under my feet too, as I was wearing some new shock absorbers. The photo above is from about 21 miles. I did though feel reasonably comfortable mentally - the sun was out and it was quite bright, and there was a little breeze behind us for a couple of miles or so from about 15 miles. At about 15 miles I picked up a gel sachet, and ate it a couple of miles later - very sickly, but surely full of energy and caffeine! From about this point onwards there were plenty of people handing out all kinds of things - sweets, chocolate, oranges, biscuits; not all of these things are easy to digest at this point though! I took a barley sweet from someone but had to spit it out a couple of miles later as there's just no energy to suck the thing! At the 16 mile mark there was the chance to reflect on the fact that the winners would have already finished... but still, they do train 120+ miles every week.

At about 20 miles, my shin started to become quite painful again, so I took another ibuprofen - a final one to see me through the last few miles. Into the last 6.2 miles - which many runners say are often as painful as the 20 going before! I started to see people walking from about 19 miles onwards; at the pace we were going (just slower than 8 minutes/mile) I didn't get to see any walkers until this point. Now there started to be plenty of people stopping because of exhaustion, to stretch, or suffering from cramps, etc.

The miles started to slow down noticeably for me, but not hugely. As I said, I think the slowest mile I ran was probably the first, at 9:00, though maybe the 23rd or 24th were a few seconds longer; I wasn't keeping an accurate count. I could see that the time per mile was slightly rising and likely to get me to about 3:40 (I thought I was going to just dip under it but the final 0.02 in the 26.22 must have tipped me over!) When I got to 21 miles I felt like I still had some energy and ran the next mile slightly faster, but when I finished that mile I didn't keep it up!

The end was getting near now, and the crowds were getting thicker as we came nearer to the centre of Dublin. At this point of course you're pretty desperate for it to end. I found it quite difficult with all the cheering crowds not to cry (I managed!) - I really didn't think I would be making it to this stage, still running, only just outside the pace I'd been aiming for if I'd never been injured. It was such a thrill to be fulfilling a dream which I thought was not going to come true. Truly God is full of mercy.

Eventually, comes the 26 mile sign... and it was only after I'd run past it that I realised, "you don't need to save any energy now - that sign means there's only about 300 metres to go!" I broke into a sprint, which was quite fun, as some of those around me did too whilst others were clearly just hanging on as best they could to stagger over the line. I think I won the sprint of those around me! I got into it so much that I forgot to look up and smile for the photo they take as you cross the line. It was impossible not to smile though once I'd stopped running - made it! Yes yes yes! At last! I looked at my watch: 3:40:13 (my eventual chip time was 3:40:15). I could hardly ask for any more.

First half: 1:47:39
Second half: 1:52:36

As you walk through the finishing area, you're congratulated and given the medal, and then the T-shirt (which says "Finisher" on it). I was asked if I was small or medium, but was too brain-dead to process the question and the fellow just gave me a small. The chap next to me seemed to have done several marathons and said that 3:40 was very good for a first time.

With my dad

It was some minutes before dad turned up, back from the 21-mile marker. I hadn't spotted my wife and children cheering me down the home straight - I think you get tunnel-vision once you see the finishing line!

With the love of my life!

I owe a huge amount to the help and encouragement of my wife, Liz, over the six months since I hatched this insane idea. She has been supportive from the start. I don't know which of us was more relieved that it all turned out so well on the day - I thought it was all going to be for nothing!

Scoff, scoff - mine's a double whopper; make it large please!

Though I did keep stretching after finishing, it's not long before the stiffness started to set in! A marathon really is a very very long run - there's no escaping it. Those last few miles are really amazing in what they do to you. I started to feel the pain from my shin pretty quickly. Writing this the day after, I can hardly walk - it's staggering rather than walking; everything is stiff! My shin is very painful, and I can't put enough pressure on it to operate the clutch, so it was a good thing I didn't go to Dublin alone else I'd likely still be there now! I had a somewhat painful night with it, as it wouldn't and still won't let me turn one way or the other without a lot of discomfort. If I press it it's very painful. I don't care too much about that though - it got me through my little dream, and now it can do what it likes for a few months. I'm not planning to need it to take me running anywhere any time soon. Mission accomplished!

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