Marathon Training My Life Running

Running the 2017 Dublin Marathon

November 3, 2017

I absolutely loved this race so I’m gonna get the big fat negative out the way with – the toilet situation at the start line was absolutley ridiculous.

*Leans back, sips tea, crosses legs and prepares to have one hell of a rant*

There are four waves, each wave a different colour and I was purple, the last wave (ie. the slowest group). Us purples had quite the walk to the start line. There was not only a 10 minute walk to our, let’s call it, our ‘pen’, but a further 10 minute walk from the pen to the start line (although I didn’t know this at the time). This was to give the other three waves a chance to set off before us slow coaches reached the start line for our scheduled start time of 9.30am.

As all the runners from all the waves queued for the toilets in the baggage drop-off area, a lady on a speaker began telling us not to queue for these toilets but to head to our designated pens, where there are “80-100 more toilets available”.

80 more toilets? What am I wasting my time here for? So, desperately needing a piss – which seemed to be the theme of the weekend so far as all I’d done since I arrived in Ireland is need a a bloody wee due to consuming so much water – I toddled off to the purple area.

But when I got there, I was absolutely devastated to see that there were not 100 toilets, more like 10! And the crowd of hundreds of people standing around in front of me wasn’t actually a crowd of people, it was a toilet queue, one big enough to resemble the opening of a new ride at Alton Towers!

It was too late to go back to the other toilets. I had no choice but to wait.

50 minutes queuing for the loo (yes 50 minutes!) meant I was one of the last 15 people to cross the start line out of 16,000. As the clock ticked closer to 9.30am, many of my fellow runners gave up queuing and headed to the start line. But those of us absolutley determined to go to to the toilet (aka those of us with weak bladders who were about to piss our pants at any moment) kept queuing and waiting for a portaloo to become available. As more and more people nervously darted for the start line grumbling ‘sod this’, the quieter and quieter my now not-so-atmospheric purple pen became. But there was no way I was starting my marathon with a bladder full of pee.

By the time I exited a stinky loo, having pissed like a race horse, there was hardly anyone around, not even the girl I’d befriended in the queue who I thought would wait for me because we bonded over snacks.

As I began my run at a rather late 9:44am, there were no crowds cheering me on, no big cardboard signs, no DJ throwing out tunes; it was like a scene from a zombie move. Almost everyone had vanished, there were abandoned jackets everywhere and half empty water bottles rolling in the wind like tumbleweeds. Unlike the cheering crowds at the Paris marathon six months earlier, there were just a few passers-by giving me a little slow clap as I began mile one of 26.2.

Whilst having the empty space to run at a good pace was a big bonus (at Paris my first mile was incredibly slow due to actual human traffic) it felt eerily quiet. And I didn’t like the fact that if I didn’t catch up with my fellow runners that I could potentially be the one of the last to cross the finish line. I wanted to be alongside them, I wanted the race atmosphere, I needed it. This need must have lead me to subconsciously pick up my pace and after no more than a few minutes, I was reaching my fellow purple runners who had all started before me.

(I actually had no idea that despite being one of the last 15 runners to start, throughout my 26.2 miles I would overtake nearly 4000 runners as I finished in 12,107th place out of nearly 16000 participants *pats herself on the back*)

In no time at all I was comfortably snuggled into the Dublin Marathon atmosphere and surrounded by other runners. Phew!

Despite running at a quicker pace than usual at the start, I didn’t feel too tired or like I had peaked too soon, I felt just right. The weather was lovely – bright and sunny and a cool 14 degrees. With the sun shining and with the lovely Irish runners all being in such high spirits (so much chanting and constant encouragement for each other) it was impossible not to absolutely love this run. I had a full on runners high at mile seven as I ran under the blue sky, passing a beautiful lake, gorgeous sky high trees, one of my favourite Chemical Brothers tracks beating in my ears; my feet simply pounding the pavements to the rhythm. I felt blissfully happy and unusually energised.

During my training the second time around I’d found it much harder to reach the autopilot stage. For me it’s usually around mile four or five and only continues upto to mile eight or nine. When it switches off, you have to really push yourself. But this time I managed to run on auto-pilot from around mile three until mile 10, where three of my friends where waiting, with banners!

I was chuffed to see them, although not so chuffed when I realised they were stood waiting at the top of a hill and I knew there was no way I could walk it, not when I had supporters waiting in the cold. To be honest I was was so excited to see them that I sprinted to the top (the only hill I managed to sprint). Pretty much as soon as I got to them I was offloading things I didn’t need anymore; it was goodbye jacket, goodbye scarf and I also decided to abandon some peanut m&m’s that my tastebuds were just not hankering for.

My friends asked how I was feeling and I remember saying “okay actually, I don’t feel too tired and I haven’t taken an energy gel yet”. I took a quick pic of them and then was off on my way again, promising to meet them at the finish line. But no sooner had that sentence come out my mouth and I was faced with some serious hills. Runners who do trail runs or who are used to hilly courses might not have found them that bad, but I rarely run hills. So this was hard for me. There is one in my local park and I hate it – it kills me every time. Fortunately these hills didn’t actually kill me, what got me through them was knowing that what goes up, must come down and I managed to do every single hill at a steady pace.

Shortly after mile 13 when I hit the half way point, I had that knot in my stomach when I realised I’d have to do what I just did all over again. And yet still I didn’t feel the need for an energy gel. I did notice that the food I was struggling to digest a few hours ago had well and truly been digested and I felt a little hungry, so I avoided the gels packed in my bumbag and took out some skittles instead. These honestly really help me. It’s a sweet sugary little fix that gives me a lovely boost of energy even if it is only short.

Still feeling fairly okay (obviously very tired but nowhere near stopping point) and having consumed my skittles, I decided to look at my Fitbit for the first time, which was timing me. As I peered down at my wrist I was quite surprised. According to my watch I was actually doing okay for time, much better than I’d anticipated. Although my previous record was 04:47:17, I was aiming this time round for 05:30:00 (due to my lack of training and being ill). I realised that if the race continued to go as well as it had done so far, then I could actually be on for a PB, to do that I needed to cross the finish line in 04:47:16 or under. And just over half way I was on a time of 02:16:22.

But I also knew that just like during my 19 mile practice run a few weeks ago, I could crash and burn at any point, that I might have to stop all together, that if the pain that came during my 19 miler returned to my legs or my hips, that it could even be game over.

But I could try, couldn’t I?

 

During Paris, the organisers gave out pieces of banana and orange. The orange was a game-changer, it’s incredible what a slice of it can do when your running. It’s so refreshing and revitalising. Unfortunately the Dublin Marathon doesn’t give out any kind of food or snacks, only water and Lucozade. But thankfully the people of Dublin do! Stood outside their houses, they hold out boxes of Haribo sweets, skittles, Jaffa cakes, bananas – AND ORANGES! You have no idea how much I wanted to cry when a little girl at mile 15 was stood, looking so adorable and angelic in a pretty dress, with a huge tub of orange slices. I ran up to her and called her my angel, grabbing two slices, lobbing them into my mouth one at a time like mouth guards, and sucked the life out of them. Across the next six miles I was able to suck on five more pieces of orange, each stranger feeding me not only pieces of orange but words of encouragement “go on girl, your doing so well, your incredible”.

I honestly cannot express how wonderful the crowds and supporters were, from cheering us all on and telling us how well we are doing, to handing out refreshments just because they wanted to help, to holding up some of the most brilliant signs I’ve ever seen (including a chap at mile 24 holding up a sign saying ‘My arms are killing me.’) I must have high fived about 20 people and I hit 4 different ‘touch here to power up’ signs – they actually work!

For some reason the whole of my run up until mile 19 felt like it had gone very quick. Obviously not quick quick, but it hadn’t dragged. But mile 19 was the point I got to when I really started to struggle. I’d needed a wee at around mile 18 and so had popped to the loo, and as I had began running again I realised how absolutely knackered my body felt. I’d already had plenty of water, plenty of Lucozade, and I couldn’t face anymore skittles. As I felt myself slowing down and my chances of a PB slipping from me, I pulled out an energy gel.

I went with Clif energy gels this time after being a little disappointed with Stealth in Paris. And despite not initially liking the citrus flavour on my training runs, I just could not face the sickly overpowering taste of the chocolate or the espresso ones, so I actually chose my least favourite and went for the citrus. At the next water stop I grabbed a bottle to help down the thick liquid, only I couldn’t open the dam thing. The tab you pull to open the wrapper was somehow pulled off by my sweaty hand and I had to use my teeth. This was difficult to say the least. The label on the back was transferring to my hand and face like a cheap tattoo transfer due to beig so sweaty and I had to keep wiping it off. But eventually I managed to pierce a small whole in the sachet and squeeze some into my mouth. The whole was so small and so painfully difficult to get gel out of though – and I was on a pretty tight schedule – I probably only consumed about half of it before I tossed it away.

But half was enough.

Somewhere in between mile 22 and 23 the gel, along with one last cup of Lucozade, had well and truly kicked in! Despite feeling super tired and in pain, I started speeding up and overtaking runners, dodging in and out of them like I was in a TV car chase. Throughout most of my race I had been running behind the 5 hour pace makers who all had giant red balloons tied to them, floating above so us runners could see them. Those b***** balloons. I felt like I’d been chasing them for most of my run, I nearly overtook them at mile 18 but needed the loo. But at mile 23 I finally ran past them. Knowing I had started the run about 10 minutes after them and that I was now overtaking them, I knew I must be soooo close to getting a PB.

But my burst of energy didn’t quite last the rest of the race. I can’t even begin to describe how painful that last mile was!

My feet were hurting, me legs were hurting, I could feel myself losing my breath. I had no idea how I was even running anymore, let alone how I was going to finish the last mile. You’d think mile 26 would be the easiest bit- it’s nearly over, It’s easy, right?

Nope. It’s horrifyingly painful and it feels like the longest mile of your life. Everytime I turned a corner and I didn’t see the finish line I wanted to cry. I was so close to stopping, but I just told myself ‘it will be over soon.’ I finally saw a sign saying ‘2k to go’. 2k – thats nothing. And yet it dragged soooooo much. The crowds got bigger and bigger, “your nearly there” they shouted, yet there wasn’t a finish line in sight. This was the worst 2k of my entire life – I had no energy left, I was in pain, I so badly wanted to just stop and walk it. But deep down I knew there was no way I was walking across that finish line. I’m so stubborn. At one point I thought I could feel one of my toe nails coming off, but I still kept on running.

As me and my surrounding runners turned one final corner, sure enough the finish line came in sight. I wanted to cry. It still looked so far away. But I just continued to tell myself “it will be over soon, it will be over soon, it will be over soon.” I quickly glanced at my Fitbit and could see I was on around 04:45. I couldn’t let it get to 04:47. I couldn’t. It was time to speed up.

It took every ounce of strength to move my body faster, and I still don’t know how I did it, but somehow I started sprinting towards that finish line. My body ached, especially my feet, my breathing was chaotic, at one point I felt like I actually couldn’t breathe. I had tears in my eyes as I realised I was literally steps away. And suddenly I was crossing it, suddenly I was on the other side of the line. It was over.

Did I really just do that? How did I do that? was all I could think. I actually felt faint and tried to lean on a railing before being ushered away by staff. Everything felt like a dream. In fact I felt like I was in shock. I limped towards man who placed a medal around my neck and congratulated me. I wanted to cry but I felt like I had no energy. I stumbled further along where I was given a T-shirt, I should have grabbed a medium, but in my haze, I just took a small from the women handing them out. I was given a plastic bag and inside I saw a bottle of water and Lucozade and quickly grabbed them both and began to down them.

Then I felt my phone vibrate. It was my Dublin Marathon app. My hands shaking, I swiped my phone open and saw the alert telling me I had completed the marathon…

…in 04:46:32.

I had a new PB.

I literally burst into tears!

I had doubted myself so much. I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to do it in less than five hours, let alone achieve a PB. I’d only shaved off around a minute, but just weeks earlier I thought I was going to have to pull out all together, so the fact I not only ran it, finished it, and got an even better time, was incredible. I felt so unbelievably proud of myself.

It turns out a) muscle memory is a real thing and god bless my chunky legs for basically being amazing and remembering how to carry me all that way without giving up and b) I have some serious determination in me, like serious serious serious determination – something I am very proud of. My training may not have gone exactly the way it had, but I didn’t let myself down and I worked hard in that last month to really look after my body. And it worked. It really did.

And yes, I’m already planning my next one. In fact I’ve got three more in the pipe line, so watch this space!

 

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