Monday, May 16, 2011

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Hobbler

Well, here it is my first attempt at writing a blog and if all goes to plan this will become a regular feature of my training schedule. Anyhow, I digress...
The build up to the 2011 Belfast Marathon began way back in the depths of winter when I started my 18 week training programme during the first week of January. I was out running 3 sessions around the village of Donaghcloney and 2 sessions at Dromore AC. All was going well, I had all my long runs under my belt and then WHAM! 3 weeks before race day, my lower left leg developed cellulitis and I was prescribed antibiotics for a week.  All I could do now was rest and I hope the antibiotics did their job. Thankfully, with a week to go, the leg was healed and I managed 2x 30 mins sessions on grass, safe in the knowledge that I had all the miles in the bank.
With only a few days to go, there were still one or two things that had to be done; there was the carb loading, picking up my race pack and most importantly putting together a playlist for my i-pod.  Sunday night came and I checked and double checked everything – chip was attached securely to my running shoe, number was pinned to my vest, chicken hat was with the rest of my kit and energy bars/gels/jelly beans were placed on my running belt.

Monday morning came around, the sun was shining brightly and it looked like it was going to be a hot one.  I got myself ready and ensured all bare flesh was coated in suncream, Vaseline was liberally applied and plasters were placed on potentially sensitive areas. I arrived in Belfast at 7.45am and then had a 10 minute walk to City Hall, which I counted as part of my warm up! I dropped my kit bag off and spent the next 20 minutes doing some gentle stretching. The butterflies had really kicked in by the time we were all called to the start area and feeling confident I lined up amongst the runners that were aiming for a 4 hour finish. As I stood there waiting, I kept playing through my mind, how I was going to pace myself, when I was going to take on water/nutrition and what my split times were. I also knew, not to set off to fast and if I could try and run in the shade.
The atmosphere by now was electric and I just wanted the gun to sound so that we could be on our way. Cheers went up which meant the wheelchair race was about to begin and shortly after the gun sounded and the 2011 Belfast Marathon was well and truly under way. It took a while to get across the start mat but once I knew my chip was registered, I hit play on my i-pod and was off BUT aaggghhhhh I didn’t want my tracks on shuffle, I needed to be listening to my marathon playlist. So, 18secs into the marathon, I had to move across to the barriers and select the correct playlist. I know this sounds quite trivial but I had split my playlist into hour long segments knowing that when I was listening to track X, I should be at mile Y on the course. Relieved that I was now listening to the right songs, I set off at a steady pace.
The first few miles took us off in the direction of East Belfast, City Airport and Titanic Quarter and I felt my pace was steady and I was due to hit the first relay changeover point (6 miles) in just under an hour. These changeover points can be a bit of a pain but managed to get through without too many problems and I was on target. Up and over the River Lagan, we ran through the city centre and out towards West Belfast with the dreaded climb up the Antrim Road ahead of us. At this point, I was still happy with my pace, my salt enriched squash was doing its job and a fair few jelly beans had been consumed. The 13 mile marker came into view as did the half way chip mat and I crossed it with 2hrs 4mins on the clock. I was maybe a minute or two behind schedule but felt confident I could make up the time in the second half if I was to get under 4hrs. The final 2 hours of my playlist should spur me on and my fuelling strategy was going to plan.
Just before you get to Belfast Zoo, you take a right and it’s a sharp downhill towards Abbey Centre and this is where my troubles began. There was discomfort around my right knee and it was causing me to shorten my stride and slow my pace. At the bottom of the hill as we turned towards Abbey Centre, the pain got so bad I had to stop and stretch in the hope this would make things better. It didn’t so I resorted to walking for 30secs or so and then picking up a gentle jog. This made things a little more bearable  and as we passed Gideon’s Green and headed onto the tow path, I knew that a 4hr marathon was out of the window but gentle jogging/walking should get me home in under 4hrs 30. Mile 19 came and went and I got to this point in 3hrs 9mins, so a 10 minute mile pace over the last 7 miles would definitely mean beating last year’s time of 4hrs 35mins.
The pain and discomfort got the better of me at mile 20 and it was at this point, I realised that trying to finish even at a gentle jog was likely to cause a long term injury. So, as the wheels came off my 2011 marathon experience, I decided to walk the remaining 6.2 miles and ENJOY the experience. I could quite easily have given up on this point but a combination of my own stubbornness, Aware Defeat Depression (the charity I was running for), people who had sponsored me and sent good luck messages and my wife Louise, kept me going. My playlist was still going and “Born to Run” came through my earphones and the lyrics hit home “The highways jammed with broken heroes...” there was no way I was going to be a broken hero on the side of a Belfast street.
Certainly having my name in bright letters on the front and back of my vest (thanks Louise), wearing a chicken hat and limping awkwardly meant I was getting lots of attention from the crowds, fellow runners and marshalls. Over the last 6.2 miles, I must have high fived every child, given a thumbs up 100’s of times and waved and waved whenever my name or Mr Chicken was called out. Up the Ormeau Road with just over 2 miles to go, two St John’s Ambulance volunteers on bikes, slowed to check on me and give me words of encouragement, at this point this is just what I needed as 2 miles seemed more like a million miles away. It must have been around 2.45pm on the Ravenhill Road when Louise called me to see how I was (“Brilliant Mind” by Furniture was playing, sample lyric “You must be out of your Brilliant Mind”), I tried to convince her I was fine as 2 bananas ran past me... Don’t forget Louise and other friends had been expecting calls/texts around 1pm which is when I had planned to finish.
As I came off the Ravenhill Road, I knew that that I only had to complete another 0.2miles and my ordeal would be over. The crowds were still cheering and willing me on and as I turned into the Ozone, there it was looming large in front of me, the large blue finish arch.  I smiled as my name got called out over the tannoy and urged on by shouts of “Go on Mr Chicken” I staggered over the finish line, arms aloft in a time of 5hrs 18mins and 12secs.
Before I had chance to collect up my medal, I was helped into the back of a St John’s ambulance, where my knee was iced and strapped. Having rested for 15 minutes, I hobbled out of ambulance, picked up my medal and headed straight to the sports hall to pick up my bag. Thankfully, half the sports hall had been given over to St John’s Ambulance volunteers and I was still in  a great deal of pain, so made my way over and sat down to get a second opinion. More ice was applied and one of the doctors prodded and poked my knee and came to the conclusion it wasn’t the knee itself, more likely to be tendons or ligaments. I was advised lots of ice, rest and ibuprofen and that’s how my 2011 Belfast marathon came to its conclusion.
So what if the last 7 miles took over 2 hours and I was in complete agony but as I crossed the line, I knew I had completed my 2nd marathon and all being well; I would be back next year. The finishing time of 5hrs 18mins 12secs didn’t matter, I had run/walked/hobbled a marathon.


  1. Ian I have enjoyed reading your posts here in Australia. I know Aine and it was interesting to hear her name mentioned as you use fellow Dromore runners to gauge your own pace. Keep up the good work, both physically and textwise.