Friday, November 15, 2013

Dublin Marathon / Maratón Bhaile Átha Cliath 2013

 The Inspiration
I went for my annual physical in May of 2013. The doctor didn't have to say it - I had got a little tubby. And this despite regularly running and playing volleyball.
What to do?
Several days later I was Skyping with my friends Frank O'Donnell and Alison McNamara, and Alison mentioned that she had taken up marathon running. In fact, she had just finished the Prague Marathon, and was feeling like training for another. How about doing the Dublin Marathon together?
I mulled this over. It didn't seem like a bad idea. The Dublin Marathon was to be held at the end of October, and that gave me five clear months to get myself ready for it. I started reading.

The Preparation
The first thing I found was a training schedule. There seemed to be a lot of them, and they all looked mostly the same (or so I thought, until I realised that they change according to the time you'd like to finish the marathon in!). I decided this one would do fine:

I didn't actually tell anyone for a month or two. I just began to extend my runs a bit. The first person to notice was actually Emil Schuster, my father in law, who was curious as to why I was so carefully measuring and timing my runs around Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 95degF! I swore him to secrecy.

Gradually my runs got longer. Suddenly I realised that a goodly portion of my Facebook friends were uploading information about marathons. I WAS NOT ALONE! I don't know why middle-aged people all want to run marathons, but they do, and there they were.

Eventually my wife had to find out. "I think Brian might be training for a marathon" she told her father on the phone. "Oh, yes. He is. He told me last month" replied Emil, thus putting me in the doghouse for a week.

Training proceeded through thick and thin over the summer, even through the three weeks we spent in Ireland, when I ran out to the Dublin suburbs along the Royal Canal, to Maigh Cuilinn from Galway on the back roads, and to Ceann Sléibhe from Dún Chaoin.

I ran my first half marathon on August 17th. Sweated a bit (it was bloody hot), but survived. My worst run was actually when I tried for 14 miles but misjudged and ran 17 with nothing more than a half bottle of water. That nearly killed me, and this didn't help!

Things I Learned; Discoveries I Made
So gradually I began to learn my limits. Any runs over about 14 miles needed support, which I did by going out and back for (say) eight miles, refuelling at home, and going out and back again for another six (or whatever). This strategy worked all the way up to my longest run before the marathon, which was 20 miles. Actually, that link isn't exactly it, but I couldn't be arsed tracing the Lenape Trail on Google Maps, which is the route I used for my longest runs.

Probably my most wonderful discovery during my training was the Lenape Trail, a suburban hiking trail that links Newark with West Orange in a northern arc that takes in almost all the parks and trails of Essex County. Whatever direction I ran, I was almost never on roads. God be with the brilliant people who thought of it!

I nearly lost my nerve several times, and very nearly missed registration for the Dublin Marathon, but by late September I had indeed booked my flights and my place in the Marathon. Alas for Alison, she missed the registration date, but I know I'll see her in a marathon next year!

To Ireland!
Very fortunately for me, Alison and Frank were in Leixlip that weekend (they normally live in Prague), and offered to put me up for the two nights I'd be in Dublin. So on October 27th I found myself leaving my sainted parents in Galway, whom I'd visited for two nights (Mother: "Promise me, a mhic, that this'll be your last marathon. Please.") and making my way to Dublin to register at the RDS.
Before leaving Galway, however, I had a chat with my brilliant brother in law, Kieran Whyte (Ciarán de Faoite), an accomplished triathlete and family doctor. Kieran gave me some fantastic tips on clothing, anti-chafing techniques, and gels, and without his advice I'm certain I wouldn't have finished the marathon.

Registered, I made my way out to Leixlip. Frank and Ali just had to throw a party, didn't they? Oh, how tempting it would have been to just grab a glass and down the Chateauneuf du Pape, but I kept it to a few sips. No point running dehydrated!

Off to the Marathon!
And to the race. Frank, God bless him, dropped me into Heuston Station, where I took the Luas to O'Connell Street and followed the cheery runners across O'Connell Bridge and around Trinity College to Fitzwilliam Square. I expected to be bored, but the adrenalin was running at this stage, and time was of no consequence. I was at the back of the intermediate registrees on Baggot Street, and this was possibly my only error of the race, as I allowed the runners around me to dictate my pace for the first five miles or so, leaving it nearly impossible for me to speed up and catch the 4:00 pace runner.

The marathon organisers had very helpfully placed "Pace Runners" in the race. These hardy souls ran with big flags attached to backpack-style harnesses advertising their expected finish time: 3:30, 3:40, 3:50, 4:00, 4:10 etc. Presumably they were being monitored by GPS. I saw them at the head of the intermediate runners, but paid them little mind until I realised I should have been haring after the 4:00 pace runner rather than allowing the runners around me to dictate my pace.

On the other hand, perhaps it was all for the good. Had I struggled to catch Mr. 4:00 I might have overexerted myself and not finished at all. 4:00 was my goal, but I hadn't been consistently making 9-minute miles before the marathon.

The Race Begins
Everything really went fine for the first eight miles. The cold, windy, rainy weather of the previous day had cleared, and left a cool, clear, autumnal Dublin for the runners. Crowds lined the streets all the way from Leeson Street all the way up to the North Circular Road, and the Phoenix Park was just heavenly.

I think I'm going great guns until I realize that the flag I can see bobbing around in the far distance is the 4:10 pace runner, and not the 4:00 pace runner, like I thought. I turn up the pace a bit, but don't want to wreck myself simply to meet an arbitrary goal. I end up catching him about mile eight and putting him behind me. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can keep up this pace and get the 4:00 pace runner.

Chapelizod marked a change from central-urban and parkland to resolutely suburban. There were crowds, but a bit thinner now. Under the N4 and the runners calling to hear their echoes from the bridge. Suddenly a woman runner roars: "Uggie Uggie Uggie!" We all respond!

 Sarsfields Road: oblivious commuters in a train above as we run below them under the railway bridge. The road like a nineteenth century stone gauntlet before coming out into established old world suburbia and the Inchicore Road. Good Lord - is that really Kilmainham Gaol?

Through Dublin's Southern Suburbs
On to the South Circular Road. Newer suburbs now, but the crowds as great as ever. Every few miles a stage with a platform and a D.J. Somebody calling out names. Encouragement coming from all sides. Dolphins Barn. Crumlin Road. Drimnagh. A few Gardai on the road here (didn't really notice them before), but the crowds full of good cheer. Definitely a sense of fifties and sixties suburban streets here.

Somewhere between Crumlin and Walkinstown we pass the thirteen mile marker. HALF WAY! Loads of music and a big crowd. I assess myself. Pace: OK; body: OK; supplies: OK. Well, okay - looks like I might be finishing today!

Since mile eight I've been having a gel and a bottle of water every two miles. Looks like it's paying off. I've got a bit of energy still, and there's no cramping. Now to just keep that up, even though I'm occasionally slipping into a running-induced stupor and missing the mile flags!

Kimmage. Terenure. Rathfarnham. Everything's a bit familiar now from the time I spent at Blackrock College and U.C.D. I'm a bit vague on the geography, though, and am expecting U.C.D. any second now. But it's still four or five miles away. The hope of it keeps me going, however, as I know it's the last major landmark before the finish.

It Starts to Get Serious
Suburbs, suburbs, suburbs. It's all a big blur now. Every so often I clap my hands at the onlookers and ask for a cheer. Down the Clonskeagh Road. An ambulance whizzes by, siren blaring, lights flashing. The detritus of the brave is beginning to wash up around here. The guy who shot by me four miles ago is now standing haggard, stunned, unmoving. That speedy female with the shirt about vegetarian athletics has vanished. Somebody is trying to stretch and shake out a cramp, weeping. People, dressed like professional runners, with obvious runner's form, are suddenly pulling up for no reason and walking away.

Still on the Clonskeagh Road. O'Shea's Pub, which I know from a Celtic linguistics conference two years ago. Too much foreign lager, but nice staff. Some genial fellow beside me says "Oh God, here it comes". I look around. "Here it comes" he repeats. I see nothing. Suddenly he stops and spews.

We're not going through U.C.D. Somehow I missed that when I scanned the course map. Instead we swing around the campus via Roebuck Road and Foster's Avenue. And instead of U.C.D.'s familiar water tower, I see minarets.

Minarets? That's pretty cool.

Home Stretch
Then it's the Stillorgan Road. RTÉ's television antenna beckons like the Eiffel Tower. This is definitely the home stretch. I'm looking for gels, but I have none more and they had none on Foster's Avenue. A stranger is handing them out, and I thank him profusely. Two miles later I actually pick one off the ground (unopened!) and consume it. I know I need energy. My body is no longer responding to instructions. It's simply running because that's what it's been doing for twenty two miles. We change into the southbound lanes of the Stillorgan Road and I see the mile marker. Four more miles. It dawns on my that I'm going to make it. My goal is 4:00, but I haven't seen the pace flag. I'll take 4:15, like I've been saying all along. Hell, I'll even take 4:30!

There's a buzz in my thigh. I'm not going to listen to it. We're turning from Nutley Lane onto the Merrion Road when suddenly I'm neck and neck with a pace runner. It's 4:00! I'm elated! Right until I realize that it's not. It's the 4:10 pace runner overtaking me, and I am absolutely powerless to stop him. There's no acceleration left in me. I plod on, on. 23 miles and I count off what's left. It's shorter than my usual run to Brookdale Park and back. I can do that.

The crowds are looming over me now. Hundreds of cheering people, and all of them shouting "You're nearly there!"

I'm nearly there. How much further? What's this? The R.D.S.? I was here yesterday, wasn't I? I had to take a bus to get here from the city centre. No way am I nearly there! I lose heart.

The Shelbourne Road. Lansdowne Road Stadium visible between the houses. This isn't suburbia anymore. We're definitely back in town. Grand Canal Street. Over the Canal. We're in the Inner City again. I can do this. We've cleared mile 24, now mile 25. 1.2 miles more. I can do this!

"Just a Few More Hundred Metres"
People everywhere shouting "Great Time!" "A few more hundred metres!"

Fool me. I believe them. I can't tell where I am anymore. I recognise everything, but have lost the ability to measure, locate, time. It's all just crowds and "just a few more hundred metres". Is it? I can't tell.

There's a knot of runners in front of me who've lost it. They're walking slowly in a long line, one of them crying, and they're blocking everybody. I overtake them on Pearse Street, cursing them silently, and my right thigh punishes me for my lack of sympathy.

Cramp. Terrible, muscle-tearing, leg-grabbing cramp. I am not going to stop. Damn the cramp. I can stop and cry at the finish line. It's so close I can feel it. But every corner I turn it's still not there. WHERE IS THE FINISH LINE? Am I lost? Who are these people?

But it's all right. I'm back on earth again. Trinity College. Not a puff left in me, but I'm on home turf.
Not far now, surely. "Just another hundred yards" says somebody. I want to punch them. It suddenly dawns on me that they're just bystanders. They haven't a clue where the finish line is. They probably think it's at at the top of Grafton Street.

So do I. I turn the corner and it's not. I groan.

Nassau Street. Not a bus to be seen, and not a finish line either. I run on, despairingly. At the end of Nassau Street it reveals itself. It's there. The finish line. Any acceleration left? None. I push doggedly on, and yes, I can raise my arms and manage a smile.

I've made it. 4:09!

Will I do this again? Never!

But hell, yeah! Why not?

Alison McNamara for the challenge.
Alison McNamara and Frank O'Donnell for the accommodation in Dublin.
Nancy Livingston and Judy Heller for advice and allowing me to shadow their training for the New York Marathon!
Nancy Livingston for the running belt. It made all my long runs (and the marathon itself) possible.
Kieran Whyte for gels, running clothes, and EXCELLENT ADVICE!
Fleet Feet of Montclair for excellent advice on footwear, including socks. Thanks, Lisa!
But most particularly: Jo Schuster, for all the support. Danke, Liebchen!

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Blogger Nancy said...

Awesome post! I definitely had some similar feelings during my marathon experience only you're a hell of a lot faster than I! You must show me where the Lenape Trail is. Put your name in for the lottery for NYC next year. It is amazing! Congrats and kudos!

7:49 AM  
Blogger rodney s. said...

Congratulations Brian! Also, great job of capturing your "journey" on your post! Made me feel like I was right along side of you. I might suspect more than a few pints needed afterwards to replenish electrolytes!!

4:54 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Kasanov said...

Brian, this is great! Congrats on finishing the marathon. After reading your post I feel like I was there, and yes I'm exhausted! I know I wouldn't have finished as I get woozy at the first sign of bloody nipples.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Congrats Brian! What an awesome accomplishment. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am no longer curious about running a marathon ;).

6:52 PM  

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