I <3 Dublin

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I don’t know why it’s been so long since I last visited Dublin. It’s a wonderful place and I’d only been twice before this weekend. The first time was a trip from Holyhead for a day on the stout. The second longer stay was in February 1996 on a first holiday with Catriona when we toured around the south of Ireland taking in Dingle Bay, Cork and Waterford with the trip being topped and tailed with stays in Dublin.

We took in the sights, sounds and tastes of the city and I had the best haircut of my life just off Grafton St. courtesy of Jeff Kenna’s barber. Neither of us have family connections with the city or with Ireland and I suppose that’s why we’d never gone back there with the kids as all those years have passed.

My marathon training had gone pretty much perfectly. I’d taken some pointers off Rob, Byron and Paul, increased my weekly mileage over the last 6 weeks to hit an all time high of 100 km and managed to fit in guiding, pacing and racing commitments in a schedule that flexed to avoid boredom. The taper fortnight had included a busy middle Saturday pacing a 26 minute parkrun with Prestwich AC and then racing cross country in the afternoon with club-mates. Obviously I wanted to avoid injury in that race and the soft springy ground of Heaton Park made for a slower and probably safer race than the equivalent event last year. I started it steadily and enjoyed picking off 5 places on the 2nd lap and a further 7 on the final 3rd lap. My hamstring tightness of a month ago had disappeared, assisted no doubt from dropping any further interval sessions from my training schedule. The foot pain (metatarsalgia?) that I’d attributed to tight cycling shoes had also completely disappeared. Mentally there was a lot going on at home and work, a few people leaving Sage Towers, building work kicking off at Holmes Towers but grabbing a slight PB at a challenging Macclesfield half followed up by a strong but comfortable 1:27:30 training half around Heywood a fortnight before race day had given me confidence that I’d trained hard enough to target a sub 3 hour time.

It was Mike’s fault I was doing this run with his well chosen words and tantalising images. I don’t understand why anyone would want to run more than one marathon and here I was lining up for my second. Hypocrite! My other one was London in 2000 taking a charity place for Childline/NSPCC and running in a dress to encourage more and larger donations. I ran 3:45 and remember trying to keep up with 3:30 pacers for the first 10 miles but then backing off feeling generally uncomfortable from the half way point. I finished, ticked the experience off my bucket list and, as I wasn’t then a regular runner then, moved on to other alternative challenges.

Mike had run Dublin 3 times previously, setting a PB there last year when he had met with one of his cousins Dan who also ran it. In turn Dan had stayed with Mike to run Manchester marathon earlier in the year and there had been some Man United vs Liverpool teasing on that occasion which Dan decided to return in spades this weekend. He met us at the airport wearing a Mo Salah mask and decorated the spare bedroom with Liverpool posters to unsettle poor Mike. From my point of view his interest in Leyton Orient which were his team when he lived in North London was of more interest to me as a Salford City season ticket holder. The banter flowed and our host took us out for a stroll to Blessington Lake which is fed by the Liffey before it winds its way from County Wicklow through County Kildare into the city. It was a fresh afternoon and the walk predictably finished with a Guinness (just the one) and have you ever seen such a beautiful looking pint?

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Dan had picked my number up from the Expo on Friday so no last minute trip into the City required which would have further stoked the butterflies in my stomach. Nervousness was hitting me in waves as I passed different landmarks in the preparation but Mike and Dan’s company was the perfect antidote as well as the reassurance that all logistical hurdles would be cleared.

It was an early start on Sunday morning and there was ice all over the car as Dan’s wife drove us in to the city for my 8:45 start. Mike and Dan were in the 2nd wave starting at 9am. We were dropped at his office about half a mile from the start where we left bags and a change of clothing. There was access to good toilets (always a bonus!) and we only needed to leave at the last minute reducing the amount of time in the fresh Dublin air. There was no frost in the city but out of the bright sunshine you felt the cold.

I made my way to the start alone and squeezed into the pen as close as I could to three red 3:00 pacing balloons. They were understandably popular and there must have been 50 bodies between their’s and mine. The squeeze was welcome on my part as we huddled like Emperor Penguins at the South Pole and with 3 minutes until the start I dis-guarded the foil emergency blanket I wore to cover my running vest. Once moving in the glorious sunshine I realised I’d made the right decision to run without any base layer.

The start and the first turn were predictably congested, but it felt like everyone was running the same pace so I enjoyed being swept along past St Stephen’s Green. I found myself just ahead of the 3 balloons as we dropped gently down toward the Liffey where we crossed by the James Joyce bridge. I felt so comfortable, everything flowed and all my nerves evaporated as I took in the sights of the city and the sound of the cheering crowds. Mentally I’d broken the race into four 10k chunks and those were the splits I was most interested in. I like running 10ks but four in succession (with a little bit more) would be quite different. I knew about the steady climb through Phoenix Park which I had to give due respect to given how early it fell on the course. I didn’t want to be too far ahead of the pacers (assuming they were running an even pace) so after enjoying the downhill start and building a little cushion I let them catch me in the park.

The balloons were right behind as the climbing finished and, still feeling comfortable, I accelerated on any slight downhill to build another cushion. The first 10k was completed in just over 42 minutes and the 2nd was around 41 minutes. I was exactly where I wanted to be and there was no need to push any harder. The route took in small towns and suburbs. The organisers had encouraged cheering points at junctions and these punctuated the route pleasantly. The most noticeable long drag was the straight slight climb through Crumlin to the hospital which was the only point where I noticed a headwind. It wasn’t all that strong but I tried to tuck in behind a cluster of runners ahead of me. I still lifted my pace on the downhills looking to take a few places but was equally ready to relinquish them on climbs. The third 10k passed in another 42 minutes so that was good but as the mile markers neared the 20s I noticed my right quad starting to ache. The heart and lungs were fine and gels I’d carried from the start together with a couple I had acquired en route kept the energy levels where they needed to be. I was now counting down the miles and/or kms and busying myself with mathematical gymnastics to distract myself from the increasing discomfort. My left quad started to ache to match the right which initially gave me some comfort as a sign that they were equally fatigued rather than just one being injured but the burning increased into the last 5km where my pace started to drop. I wasn’t going to stop and the legs didn’t feel like they were going to give way, they just felt super sore and less responsive.

3km from the finish I got a shock as I was caught by the first of the 3 hour pacers. I double checked my watch, sure that it was he ahead and not me behind schedule. A fellow runner concurred with my time-keeping and we let a little gap grow between us and that red balloon. I looked briefly over my shoulder and couldn’t see the other two balloons which was a massive relief. The pain grew but so did my confidence that I was going to finish under the 3 hour mark. There was no sprint for the line and I passed through it with a feeling of relief rather than ecstasy. Relief soon turned to pride and immense satisfaction at a job well done. I thought about the months leading up to the day and how blessed I was to have an uninterrupted block of quality training. I enjoyed the experience but it wouldn’t be one I would ever be repeating. I mean it this time!

I was given a goodie bag and put on the blue and white long sleeve finisher’s shirt which had a matching bobble hat then hung the medal around my neck. Sense prevailed and I spent the first 10 minutes drinking and eating before staggering zombie like to somewhere quieter where I could sit on a wall that I might trust myself to be able to dismount from. Chairs would be tricky for a few hours (well days actually).

Dan and Mike met up with me and after changing at his office we had a few Guinness at Ryan’s on Camden St. Another cousin dropped by with her family who were visiting from Reading though she was originally from Oklahoma and her husband (who wasn’t running that day) put things in perspective when I found out his marathon best was a staggering 2:29. We caught the bus back to Blessington stopping off for a chipper tea before a final pint and an early bed. It had been a grand day.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and in particular to Mike and Dan whose assistance across the weekend could quite easily have been worth more than 90 seconds. Thank you to my patient family who’ve enabled me to train so hard and have cheered me on from afar. I’m thrilled to have hit my 3 hour target and absolutely delighted to have put marathon and long distance running behind me for ever! I regret not having the time to reacquaint myself with the Fair City and must go back sometime soon with the family.

I < 3 Dublin. I Dublin.

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