Monday, December 23, 2013

DUBLIN MARATHON 2013 - Monday 28th October

I arrived in Dublin in good heart and full of confidence as the last few weeks of training had gone to plan and I'd even managed to treat my legs to a deep tissue massage.
It was only fair that as I had put my wife (Louise) through another 18 weeks of marathon training, I treat her to an extended break in Dublin. We stayed at the Camden Court Hotel as it was only a 10 minute walk from the start/finish area and it had leisure facilities including a pool. It was important that I carb-load before the race itself, so on the Sunday night I booked us a table at the Italian restaurant Dunne and Crescenzi where we enjoyed pasta and wonderful desserts.
Sunday afternoon was all about heading up to the RDS centre and visiting the Expo and collecting my race number and chip. This was a real eye-opener as my only previous experience of a marathon expo was in Belfast and that consisted of a few stalls inside a marquee, situated on the front lawn of City Hall. The Dublin Marathon Expo was huge, there were queues to get in and there was stall upon stall trying to get you to buy the latest kit, the best energy gel, sign up for a 2014 marathon and purchase the obligatory Dublin Marathon 2013 mug/keyring/hoodie.

I picked up my race number (2529) but where was the fiddly chip that I need to attach through my laces? The brilliant thing about my race number was there were 2 strips of very thin metal (or some such material) attached to the reverse of the number and these acted as the chip; I just had to make sure I didn't bend the strips.
Back at the hotel, the ritual of laying out my kit began...not forgetting my chicken hat, vaseline and corn plasters!!

Sunday night I was able to relax with Louise as we headed out for our meal. This was just another way of me saying "thank-you" for having put up with me over the last 4 months or so constantly boring her with how my pace was improving, what tracks should I put on my iPod and which jelly beans I should eat during the race!!
After a good nights sleep, we headed down to breakfast shortly after 6am and I stuck to my tried and trusted breakfast of porridge and green tea. A few bananas and yoghurts were sneaked back to the room for a post-marathon snack!! The next hour was spent checking and double-checking my kit, drop-off bag, iPod, gels/jelly beans and making sure my contacts were sitting properly. I left the hotel around 8am with Judith (fellow Dromore AC runner) Louise waved us off and wished us "good luck". Louise decided to stay at the hotel and relax and track us through a link via the Dublin Marathon web-site which would tell her my 10k, halfway, 20 mile splits and an approximate finish time.

Walking down to the start it became clear this was a massive event, the crowds were huge but thankfully there were plenty of volunteer marshalls to direct you to the bag drop-off and the start area. With such large numbers, the start was split into three waves, so at this point Judith and I went our separate ways as we were starting at different times. I was in the first wave so it was important that I get to the start shortly before 9am. Now, this is my only complaint about the start area of a marathon (not just Dublin), why are there too few portaloos? I thankfully seem to get my fluid intake right before and during a marathon as I have never had to use a portaloo but the queues even a minute or so before the start were very long. I need to have a moan about a small percentage of runners (M & F) who pre-start were blatantly using doorsteps and doorways of private residents as toilets - this to my mind is not on and gives the majority of us runners a bad name. Sorry about that but I needed to get that moan out there!!

9am and the gun sounded, the 2013 Dublin Marathon was under way. I, as ever remained at the back and ensured that I had clear run to the start and as I heard the beep of the chip-mat, I pressed the start button on my iPod, my 2013 Dublin Marathon was now a reality. And look what I found on YouTube:
If you scroll to 7:50, Mr Chicken will come into view.

Any runner will tell you that the whole experience of running a marathon is a very emotional one and at mile 1 it really hit home what I was undertaking and I had a tear in my eye. Sound stupid I know, but that's how I was feeling. My goal was to finish around 3:45 but ultimately I wanted to enjoy the experience and get round in one piece. I'm going to keep mentioning the crowds as they were absolutely amazing, the route was packed with well-wishers from the start and I lost count of the number of times I smiled at random strangers and gave a thumbs-up. Already by mile 2 on O'Connell Street I was acknowledging the crowds.

I was happy with my pace and the weather was being kind to us; the rain of the last few days had cleared away, the sun was shining, although the wind was quite strong as I headed into Phoenix Park at mile 4. You head on past Dublin Zoo and then have 4 miles of the park to run through. These miles were fairly straightforward and gave me a chance to take stock of how things were going and take in some of the beautiful surroundings. I spend hours working out my playlist and when I want songs to be played through the marathon and halfway through the park, right on cue "Walk in the Park" by Nick Straker was playing. And this is me, probably enjoying said song.

Out of the park and the crowds lining the streets were just getting bigger and bigger and motivation from these people was certainly the order of the day as between miles 11 and 13 there was a strong headwind which certainly caused you to slow the pace. The halfway arch was in the distance and I was looking to reach this point around the 1:55/2:00 mark and my pace was spot on as I looked at the clock tick over 2 hours. Taking into account I started 3 or 4 minutes after the gun, I was on target. This just filled me with confidence and now was the time to start slowly increasing the pace. The next 4 or 5 miles went by in a blur, I just remember the shouts of Mr Chicken, reading the inspirational signs that were being held up, smiling and giving more thumbs up.
Somewhere around mile 19 is a small incline which I had heard a few horror stories about but it posed no real problem for me and I was soon heading on towards mile 20 and I went through in under 3 hours. My focus was now just to maintain the pace and not do anything silly. The hardest couple of miles were 22 and 23, it was slightly uphill and there were fewer crowds but I kept at it and I knew soon enough that Trinity College would come into view at mile 25 and there would only be 12 minutes of running left. The crowds as you headed into the city centre were packed, the noise they made was deafening, just what you needed as you go past the 26 mile marker. Pick up the pace I told myself, sheer determination got me through the last .2 of a mile...

Head down, arms pumping, I ran across the finish line with "Chariots of Fire" playing on my iPod!! I managed to glimpse the clock above the finish arch and saw that my finish time was around 3:55. I was overjoyed that despite not getting a PB or getting near 3:45, I had run my best ever marathon in terms of enjoyment, the crowds, my pacing and support from other runners along the way.
The first person I wanted to speak to once I had collected my medal, goody bag and kit bag was Louise but she beat me to it and was already ringing me within 5 minutes of crossing the line. I expected her to be back at the hotel BUT no, she had made it down to Merrion Square and was waiting for me by the Oscar Wilde statue. This to me was a greater feat than me finishing the marathon as Louise has a real fear of crowds and would take panic attacks. I was so proud of her and this was the real icing on the cake. The walk to meet her loosened my legs and was a great warm down and I think this photo really shows how happy I was moments after crossing the line.

It would have been rude of me not to have a photo taken with Oscar...

I was buzzing and felt in great shape; there were no pains in my knees and the only ache I had was in my right achilles. I wanted to do it all over again!! I didn't see too many other Dromore AC runners at the finish but I did bump into Janette whose finished 4 seconds behind me...I think I may have found a running partner for Dublin 2014? I did catch up with Judith who like myself was very, very pleased with how her race had gone and in light of her health issues and interrupted training programme she should be (and was) very proud of her achievement. On the gentle walk back back to the hotel we shared our race stories, proudly wearing our medals. The rest of the afternoon was spent resting weary legs and bathing in the glory of another successful marathon.

It didn't take long for official times/splits to come through and I have to say I am so pleased with how the race panned out. I steadily made my way through the pack and ran a slightly quicker second half.

Gender Position 3962
Category M45
Category Position 486
10K 56:15
Stage Position 6424
Half 1:56:12
Stage Position 5797
20Mile 2:55:46
Stage Position 4931
Gun Time 3:54:59
Overall Position 4542
Chip Time 3:51:02
Chip Position 4211

OK, entering Dublin Marathon isn't cheap (75 euro) but you do get value for money, whether it be the overall organisation, the marshalls, the route, the crowds or the medal and technical long-sleeved shirt.

There is no doubt in my mind that I will enter Dublin Marathon 2014 and now I know the course, I would be confident of knocking 5 minutes off my 2013 time. As I sat in the hotel bar on the Monday evening reflecting on how the race had gone; I was already looking ahead to potential Spring marathons...little did I know at this moment, that come December, I would have a place in the 2014 London Marathon!! Now that's going to be one hell of a race report.

Pre-Dublin Marathon 2013

After Cookstown Half, I knew I had 3 months of training ahead of me before the Dublin Marathon, however within a couple of weeks of the Cookstown race, I was beginning to seriously doubt whether I would line up in Dublin. My infamous left knee started playing up and during an 18 mile LSR it nearly gave up completely. I felt it go with about 5 miles left and it was the same problem that I had encountered during the 2011 Belfast Marathon. I managed to get home in one piece having walked and hobbled the last few miles. This wasn't a good sign, so I took a few days off and vowed to take it easy over the next few runs. A couple of weeks later and I set out for a 19 mile LSR but as early as mile 6 I sensed something wasn't right, so I turned back on myself and without incident completed the 6 miles home.
I firmly believed that the hills during the Cookstown Half were the cause of my problems and with some rest and stretching, I would be back on track fairly quickly. By the beginning of September, the knee was holding up and with confidence returning, I entered the Laganside 10k race. The course was flat and was a race I knew well, so thought I could give a good account of myself. The first few km's I took steady and approaching halfway, thought about increasing my pace. I got to halfway in 23 mins but I could feel all was not right with my left knee and for a brief moment thought about pulling out of the race as my pace was all over the place and I thought my knee was going to give way under me. However, I was soon back on track and my stride began to lengthen and I was feeling positive of getting close to a 45 minute finish. Km's 6, 7 and 8 went by and I was passing more and more runners BUT just as the 9km marker came into view, BAM the knee did give way. I had to to stop and stretch but it was difficult to place my left leg on the ground, so I hobbled on and tried to jog but I just couldn't get the left leg to co-operate. Runners were streaming by me including a couple of fellow Dromore runners (whose 10k times would be a minute or two slower than mine) so I knew any chance of a PB was gone. I must have lost a couple of minutes but gradually I was able to jog up the final incline onto the Ormeau Bridge then it was a left turn to the finish. The final stretch is half a mile and suddenly the knee problem disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and I was able to run fairly hard to the finish and crossed the line in 47:13, which under the circumstances wasn't too bad as it was only a minute or so slower than last year's time. No chip-time's were released so I guess I can take a few seconds off as well; which probably means I was sub-47 minutes.
I still had 8 weeks before the Dublin Marathon and I was determined to get there in one piece, so I rested for a few days knowing that if I could get through the 20 milers over the next few weeks, Dublin was definately on. More on my experience in the Dublin Marathon in my next entry.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Summer Half Marathons Part 2

As I write this on a chilly November afternoon, it's hard to think back to how warm the summer was here in NI and how difficult it made running a Half Marathon.
I squeezed 2 more Half Marathon's into my summer schedule and the first of these was Lisburn Half on 19th June and despite an early evening start, it was very, very warm.
Lisburn is a race that lulls you into a false sense of security with the first 5 miles or so being fairly flat however this all changes as you head out into the countryside where undulating is the best way to describe the rest of the course.
I was hoping for a time of close to 1:45 but even before the gun sound I knew that this was probably going to be out of my reach. Stupidly, from the start I tried to hit my goal pace (sub 8 min miles) and whilst this felt fine for the first few miles, I began to slow towards half-way. I dug deep and around mile 8, I was cheered on by my wife, Louise and her friend Laurie, this lifted my spirits and my pace, particularly as the next half mile or so was downhill. The heat was getting to me and my water bottle was almost empty by the time I got to mile 10, but I kept pace with a Newry City runner and she pulled me through with a mile to go. Unfortunately, though there is still one hill to get over and with around half a mile left, it's the last thing you need. With sweat trickling down my face, I tried to pick up the pace but there was nothing left in the tank but I was still very happy with a finishing time of 1:48:29...maybe one day I will get sub 1:45 at Lisburn.
Mid-race and I already look like I've slowed to a walk!!

Cookstown Half Marathon
This year the Cookstown Half was part of the World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) ( which were being held in NI. I was involved in the Games, to the extent that Volunteer Now who I work for, were responsible for recruiting all the volunteers. I had the pleasure of attending a couple of the volunteer events as the Games mascot Emergency Eddie!
In terms of the race itself, it took place on 4th Aug and usually the weather in NI at this point would be fairly changeable with a fair risk of rain, not this year though, it was another very warm day. The course had also been changed, which I was a little disappointed about as I had grown to like the 'old' course and this year's course certainly had it's fair share of hills!
It was a much bigger event this year thanks to the WPFG and there was a very international field with runners from all corners of the world and one or two from NI.
I always err on the side of caution when facing a new course but I got into a good pace early on and was hopeful of maintaining it over the 13.1 miles. The course did have an out and back element to it, so this gave you a fair idea of what to face in the second half BUT this meant you knew that there was going to be some tough climbs to face over the last few miles. I can hope cope with the up-hills but down-hills do me no favours and have been no friend to my knees over the years. Still, I stuck with it, taking on more water than I usually would and trying to maintain some sort of even pace. The last few miles were tough and even the crowds in the town centre weren't inspiring me and it was all up-hill to the finish and despite the feeling that I had slowed considerably over the second half, I managed to cross the line in 1:46:35.
The pain is evident as I cross the line!!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Summer Half Marathons Part 1

One thing that I have learnt over this very warm summer is that half marathons and hot weather don't mix!
Back in March, I was due to run Larne Half Marathon but because of major snow storms here in Northern Ireland the race was cancelled and rearranged for June 8th. The weather in the week leading up to the race had been warm and sunny which didn't bode well as this was not ideal for a long-distance race. The one hope was that as the majority of the course was on the coast, there would hopefully be a nice cool breeze coming in off the sea.
Come race day, the weather remained dry and warm and there was very little breeze. Even as I warmed up at 10.30am, the sweat was pouring off me and any thought of a PB went straight to the back of my mind. This was going to be a race which as long as I enjoyed it and ran well, I would be happy with. I wanted to line up with the 1:45 pacer but the start area was very congested and I couldn't cope with the heat, so I started off at the back where I could stay relaxed and focussed.
11am and we were off and even after a couple of miles the heat was beginning to sap my energy levels. Trying to run under 8:00 min mile pace wasn't going to happen today so I steadied myself and hit a steady rhythm around mile 4, knowing the steep climb wasn't far away. I was happy to reach half-way in around 54 minutes but knew that the hill was going to be a killer particularly as the majority of us were having to face it at midday when the sun was at it's hottest. Usually, the hill poses no problem for me but it was tough going and my one saving grace was it was the same for everyone. Coming back down the hill, the views with the sea in the distance were amazing and they took my mind off how tired I was.
Back on the coast road, the good weather had brought the crowds out and they were a real help as the miles ticked by, some had even set up set up sprinkler systems outside their houses to bring a bit of welcome relief to the runners. I was even resorting to taking cups of water and just throwing the contents over my head. With a few miles to go, I was passing one or two runners and maintaining my pace but I knew there wasn't going to be any last minute surge as there was at Newry.

A couple of miles to go and the pain is beginning to show!! I'm on the left...
As you hit the promenade, you can see the finishing arch in the distance, but there's still half a mile to go. I tried to increase my pace but my legs were screaming "NO" but it was now a case of mind over matter and I pushed on and crossed the line in 1:48 which I was amazed with as I thought I would be lucky to get under 1:50. My official chip time though came in at 1:46:32 which was only 9 seconds slower than 2012. In light of the conditions, I was really pleased with this and probably on another day in cooler conditions, I would have got a sub 1:45 time? Let's hope in 2014, it's run in March and maybe the rain will pour and the temperature will be 10 degrees cooler!!

Here I am crossing the line...I think my face says it all!!
Thanks to NI Running for the photos (

Saturday, July 20, 2013

5th Anniversary - Newry Half

So, three and half weeks after the Belfast Marathon, I was lining up at the Newry Half Marathon with a number of other Dromore AC runners. I was still on a bit of a high from the marathon and physically felt in good shape, so was confident of running a good race. I wanted to do well as this my 5th Newry Half in a row,
I didn't have a fixed goal (sub 1:45?)but as long as I ran a good race and enjoyed it, I would be happy. The gun sounded on an overcast morning and we were off, one small lap around the leisure centre and then onto the tow-path. 8 minute miles were the order of the day but I felt I covered the first few miles a little too quick. I hit a comfortable pace fairly early and managed to avoid too many traffic problems out on the tow-path, which can get quite congested whilst runners sort themselves out. By default, I found myself amongst the 1:45 pacer group (led by a Newry AC runner) and generally I don't really pay the pacers too much attention but I stayed with the group for a couple of miles and it really kept me focussed. Off the tow-path and it's a flat road out to Jerrettspass and here I moved away from the 1:45 group, not by much but enough that I was able to slightly quicken my pace.
It was here that things started getting a little difficult as the sun had come out and it was beginning to get rather warm. Thankfully, I was always carry a water bottle with me, so was able to take regular sips and keep myself hydrated. The heat was having an impact on a number of runners including Tina (Dromore AC) who had to make a quick costume change from behind an outbuilding and remove her long sleeved running top from beneath her club vest!
In another couple of miles, the dreaded steep hill would loom large and as I started the climb, I passed Tina and I could also see in the distance another Dromore AC runner (Janette). I caught Janette on the downhill run and as I passed, I gave her a shout of encouragement. My favourite part of the race is getting back on the tow-path as it gives you a real chance to stretch your legs and slowly increase your pace. I was feeling good and the heat wasn't really having an impact and the other positive was I was passing more and more runners as the miles ticked by. I was on target for sub 1:45 but what was this? The Newry AC runner from the 1:45 pacer group passed me with 3 miles to go but he seemed to have lost his group. Was he running quicker than 1:45? Was I slowing? No matter, I kept on his heels for the next 10 minutes and with a couple of miles to go, he stopped to check on his group and as I passed he gave me a huge shout of encouragement. This was just what I needed and with the beat of "Sunchyme" by Dario G on my iPod, I found a little extra and really pushed on to the finish.
This year, the finish was to moved to the centre of Newry along the High Street (including speed humps!) and there was a large crowd to cheer you on and I could see the clock ticking towards 1:45 as I crossed the line. Having picked up my medal, I waited to cheer Tina and Janette across the line and we then shared our race stories. They both thought it tough especially in the heat but I was pleased with my race and confident I had got another course PB. My time was confirmed as 1:44:04 and yes it was a course PB and I have to say a huge thank-you to the Newry AC pacer who certainly helped me through those last few miles.
Now, to look forward to Larne and Lisburn in June...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Day I Met God....I got so carried away!"

Don't panic, this isn't a religious post, however it is a review of a recent Adam Ant gig I attended in Belfast, so be warned the following includes; men in make-up (and not just Adam), jelly tots and over-excited women. Hopefully, I will be able to convey the screaming, sweating and adulation over the next few paragraphs.
The journey to May 4th 2013 began on December 25th 2012 when I received a hand-made Christmas card in the shape of a vinyl record from my wife with a wee note inside to say that she had pre-ordered me Adam's new album on double-vinyl. The excitement didn't stop there as the sleeve was to be signed by Adam!! The next month was unbearable but finally at the end of January, it arrived BUT the f***ing delivery person had left it on the doorstep in the pouring rain!! Thankfully, no damage done and I was sooooo excited.......
Thinking that life with Adam couldn't get any better, he announced that he was to be playing the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast in May. A huge thank-you to Diane Couser for sitting patiently on-line waiting for tickets to go on sale and then purchasing one for me.
The next few months flew by as not only was I on countdown to the gig but I was busy training for the Belfast Marathon which was taking place 2 days after the concert. Initially, I thought I would be going to the concert with just Diane but as May 4th got ever closer, 2 became 3 and finally we were the Magnificent Five. To save blushes, I shall call these 3 Antpeople: Ruth, Maura and Jean.
MAY 4TH 2013
Before leaving for the gig, I applied a little make-up, make-up and painted my nails in a combination of orange and yellow (this was to match the colours I would be wearing on my vest during the Belfast Marathon). The venue was a marquee at Custom House Square and I met Diane and her Lovely Posse just before 7pm and whist we waited patiently at the front of the queue, Jean decided that I wasn't wearing enough make-up so applied a variety of Clinique products across my face; without a mirror I couldn't see the end result but I was reliably informed I looked gorgeous!!
Here's Diane and I both looking fabulous before the gig:
This was my 3rd Adam gig but the for the others this was their first experience of seeing Adam in the flesh and to say the four of them (particularly Diane and Ruth) were excited is a bit of an understatement. We entered the marquee just after 8pm and tried to stay calm and reserved but that was never going to happen as we headed towards the stage. Here the Magnificent Five (less Diane) try not to show their excitement before arrives on stage (please note, the bag of jelly tots...we don't drink, don't smoke but we do consume sugary confectionery)
There was no support band, so it was a case of waiting patiently and shortly after 9pm, the lights dimmed and a short burst of "1812 Overture" came over the speakers. The band appeared first, took their positions and the intro to "Marrying the Gunner's Daughter" filled the marquee. The crowd went crazy as Adam sauntered on stage and what followed was 2 hours of energy, excitement, sweat, screaming and having a bloody good time; not forgetting the 28 tracks which covered the 35+ years of Adam's career.
What I loved was the way Adam (and the band) were up there on stage really enjoying themselves and not just going through the motions. The songs came thick and fast ranging from 'B' sides such as "Beat My Guest" and "Kick" to new tracks like "Shrink" and "Stay in the Game". There was no time for a breather as hit followed hit - "Stand and Deliver", "Kings of the Wild Frontier", "Antmusic" and of course a few old favourites - "Cleopatra" and "Never Trust a Man with Egg on his Face"
The five of us had managed to stay in close proximity despite all the jumping around and the crowd surges, although the heat was getting a little unbearable and at one point Jean and Maura had to make their way outside for some fresh air.
It was left to Ruth, Diane and I to shout and scream during the encores particularly as we were this close to our hero -

By this point, I was getting a little carried away -

We wanted the gig to go on all night but when Adam and the band reappeared a second time and played "Red Scab", "Get it On" and "Physical (You're So), we knew that was going to be it. We stamped our feet and screamed but the lights went up and we left the marquee as "Twenty Flight Rock" by Eddie Cochran came over the speakers. It was a brilliant night and I would go and see Adam again in a heartbeat but why no "Bullsh*t"? The set list was also too similar to when I saw him in Dublin in 2011...maybe throw in a few album tracks from "Prince Charming" and "Strip" and mix up the 'B' sides? I'm not convinced that having Georgina on backing vocals adds anything to the band either. These are very minor grumbles and the five of us (in very hoarse voices) all agreed it had been an amazing evening. And to round things off, Diane then went and bought me a tour T-shirt as a memento.
I was on a high and 2 days later proudly wearing my Adam wristbands, along with the orange and yellow nail varnish, I ran Belfast Marathon in 3:49.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Belfast Marathon 2013

The last few weeks of my marathon training went exactly to plan - no injuries, no illness and all my LSR's were at close to my goal pace (8:46). My final 20 miler was completed in 2:55 and it was a run that I finished strongly and meant all my 20's had been under 3 hours. There was a good mixture of sessions at Dromore AC too including intervals, tempo runs and the occasional fartlek. In my own time, I ensured that I did some hill work too. Then, before I knew it, there was a week to go and I was just ticking the legs over with a couple of 20 minute gentle runs.
Once my pack was picked up, I knew all I could do now was rest, eat loads and remain calm and focussed on the task ahead. A big thing for me was creating a suitable playlist for my iPod (56 tracks) and I probably spent nearly as long on this as it was going to take for me to run the marathon itself! The night before was the ritual of ensuring everything was in place for the race, most importnatly; attaching the chip, pinning my race number (and my name) on my vest and sorting my kit out (inc chicken hat).
MARATHON DAY - Monday 6th May 2013
First things first and I had to go through my pre-race ritual of strapping both knees, applying vaseline liberally to avoid the dreaded chafing and taping down 2 very sensitive areas to avoid the bleeding! What a difference 12 months makes; last year the weather was rain, wind and more rain but this year the weather was set fair and as I arrived at the start area outside Belfast City Hall, there was cloud cover and a temperature of around 10 degrees. There were even rumours that the sun may make an appearance at some stage. I caught up with a number of Dromore AC runners including Judith (510) and Janette (2633). This was Judith's first marathon and she was going out to enjoy the experience, whilst Janette was running her second marathon and like me was hopeful of a sub 3:50 time.

Janette tried to convince me to run with the 3:45 pacers but having done all my training alone, I wanted to go out and run my own race without having the extra pressure of keeping up with pacers.
In keeping with other recent marathons, before the start there was a minutes silence for the Boston Marathon victims and this was a fitting start to the race. As ever, I started close to the back and as I went over the start line I saw the clock above the gantry ticking over to 3 minutes, knowing this became invaluable at the end.
The first few miles were fairly uneventful; I had avoided any bumping and barging and was running smoothly at just under 9 min mile pace. There's a bit of a climb up the Holywood Road before you turn back down the Sydenham by-pass and it was along here at around mile 5 that I passed the 4 hours pacers. This was a real confidence booster for me as I didn't pass these guys until around mile 15 last year.
As I approached mile 6, I started to concentrate as this is where the first relay handover is and of all the relay points this is the worst as it always very congested. Today, this is where my marathon nearly went horribly wrong; 3 relay runners came across me from the right; heels and ankles were clipped and although I didn't fall, my impetus was halted for a few moments and in anger I shouted f**k very, very loudly!! I don't think these runners were expecting this from a skinny 40-something man wearing a chicken hat and bright nail varnish!! As they ran off, I heard one of them give a meek apology. I wasn't going to let this affect my concentration, so I calmed myself over the next mile, shook the tension out of my shoulders and focussed on the 20 miles that lay ahead.
Through the city centre and the good weather had brought some big crowds out onto the streets and it was here that I first noticed the shouts of Mr Chicken and the occasional "go on Ian". The next 5 miles or so take you through West and North Belfast and here you get a lot of community support with many families lining the streets with cups of water, mini Mars bars, jelly babies, orange segments and most importantly lots of cheering. Although, I was fully committed to running a good time and concentrating on my pace/nutrition intake/breathing, I made time for those shouting my name out, I smiled, high fived the children, gave lots of thumbs up and waved.
Relay point 2 is just after 9 miles and just before you get out onto the Antrim Road and I caught of glimpse of a number of Dromore AC relay runners, who shouted encouragement to me. This is where I also high fived with gusto one of my work colleagues (Lizanne) who I think was a little taken aback with how much energy I had.
The crowds along the Antrim Road really spurred me on as this is long section up to around mile 14 and can seem to take forever. One highlight here was passing a care home and seeing a number of nurses and residents sitting on the front lawn and as I passed and waved one of the ladies blew me a kiss. This marathon was just getting better and better.
Halfway and I was aiming for around 1:55 and I crossed the chip mat in around 1:53, so was very much on target. The skies had cleared by now and the sun was beginning to shine but as it was only 11am, it was still relatively cool. A mile or so later and you take a right turn down towards Abbey Centre and this is downhill and where my knee went in 2011. I had been trying to master downhill running during my training and my technique was to let my arms down by my side and almost just let myself go. The one thing I wasn't going to do was try and put the brakes on.
Back on the level and I had my one and only flat patch between miles 15 and 17. Here, I got an annoying stitch but thankfully I ran through it and it didn't cause my pace to slow, it was just uncomfortable. Relay point 3 came and went and out on the towpath there was lovely breeze blowing in from the sea, which was very welcome indeed. You need to be mentally strong during this section as there are no crowds and you know that there are still the docks to run through. It gave me the opportunity to take stock and start thinking seriously as to what my finish time might be. I was confident of a PB but would I get a sub 3:50 time? Just hold it together, don't do anything silly and remember the crowds over the last few miles are worth 2 or 3 minutes.
Mile 20 came and went and by my reckoning I was smack bang on my goal pace as I passed through in just under the 3 hours. It was getting a touch warmer by now and my water bottle was almost empty, thankfully an energy station was handing out bottles of Powerade so a swap was made and I headed off with around 5 miles to go gratefully clutching 500ml of garish blue liquid. The final relay point comes up at mile 22 and here I got 2 shouts of encouragement; one from Una a work colleague of my wife's and another from Kerry who was on the last leg of one of the Dromore AC teams.
Back into the city centre and the last 4 miles take you along the Lagan cycle path into South Belfast and thankfully plenty of packed streets with lots of cheering supporters. There was no sign of 'the wall' but I was still munching on jelly beans and downing the Powerade, just to be sure. You are spurred on along the cycle path as across the Lagan you can see Ormeau Park and the finish area, not far to go now. The heat was starting to have an impact by now and any thoughts of a 3:45 were long gone as I could feel my pace was dropping slightly.
The climb up the Ormeau Road was tough and although not a stiff hill by any stretch of the imagination, after 24 miles it felt like it was never going to end. The crowds were brilliant here though and I almost felt like running along with my thumbs permanently up as a way of saying "thank-you". Mr Chicken flapped his imaginary wings and turned the corner down the Ravenhill Road and got a burst of energy, gradually picking up his pace and hitting mile 25 knowing in around 10 minutes he would get his marathon PB. The roar of the crowd pulls you round the final corner towards the Ozone and there were plenty of Dromore AC runners to give me a final cheer (thanks, Russell, Richard, Tina, Ian et al). I was on the home straight with the finish arch in front of me and I glanced up and saw the clock was ticking ever closer to 3:53. This is where I remembered I started at least 3 minutes behind everyone, so if I could cross the line before 3:53, I would achieve a sub 3:50 marathon. I put in one last effort and sprinted as hard as I could, the noise of the crowd was deafening as I heard the beep of the chip mat which signalled the end of my marathon. Oh and I managed to cross the line as my 56th track was playing, talk about pacing! I was ecstatic as I grabbed a well deserved bottle of water and my medal. I was so happy, that I could almost have cried...marathon's get you like that sometimes.
Keep moving I said to myself, do some stretches but don't stand still and just take it all in. The finish area was crowded so I thought I'd have no chance of meeting up with anyone but there they were Kerry, Susan and Pauline from one of Dromore AC's relay teams along with Roy our senior coach. Can you spot me in the pic below???

As I headed off to collect my bag and go for a shower, I was quite surprised as to how easy I was finding it to walk. There were plenty of people who were struggling to put one foot in front of the other and then there was the sight of those men with the 2 red dots of blood in that sensitive area that I had remembered to tape down.
Once showered, I had the task of locating my wife Louise who was somewhere in Ormeau Park, this was damn hard as all phone signals were cutting out and there were 100's of people milling about. I just kept moving and and nearly 2 hours after finishing the marathon, we met up and she remarked how fresh I looked and here's the evidence:

And that was it, my 2013 Belfast Marathon was over and what a marathon it was. My best ever and not just because of the PB; the crowds were amazing, the weather, the overall atmosphere, fellow Dromore AC runnners, the way I ran, all played a big part and I bloody well enjoyed myself. Now to enter Dublin Marathon in October!
Oh and not forgetting the most important thing, my final time came in at......
3:49:52, which was a PB by nearly 7 minutes.
Before I sign off, in case anyone is thinking of running a marathon, here are some of my tips, for what they are worth:
1: Follow a training plan (16 - 18 weeks)
2: During training, REST days are important and DON'T train if you are ill
3: A few weeks before, you will be a bag of nerves - embrace the nerves
4: On the day, ENJOY the experience - run with a smile on your face, high five the children, give plenty of thumbs up
5: Wear your name on your vest...stand-out from from the crowd...wear a chicken hat!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Marathon training and the Larne Half that never was...

The first week of a new year and most sensible people are still getting over their Christmas and New Year excesses; not me, I'm straight into my 18 week marathon training programme. I have Belfast Marathon at the start of May in my sights and as has been the case the last 3 years, I'm straight over to the Hal Higdon web-site ( printing off the Advanced Level 1 training schedule, which includes three 20 mile runs. I have gradually worked my way through a number of Hal's schedules but this one worked for me last year and got me a sub-4 hour time, so I thought I did stick with what I knew. The only slight change I made, was to have 2 rest days (Monday and Friday) and to limit the number of Wednesday runs I did. It wasn't enough to have a schedule to follow, I had to have an achievable goal in mind or how else was I going to be able to run at 'goal' pace? A time of between 3.45 and 3.55 seemed about right, so I knew my pace on the long runs would need to be around the 8.45 min/mile.
January was fairly uneventful, in that all my weekend runs went to plan, the sessions at Dromore A.C. were a good mixture of intervals and tempo runs and I stayed illness free despite many of my friends and colleagues suffering with viruses and colds.
February started off badly, with my first long slow run (LSR) of 14 miles being my worst run of the last 12 months. Although, I got the pace right (8.25), it was a real struggle. Two factors caused such a dreadful run; setting off too soon after breakfast (a bowl of porridge) and the orange squash mixture that I had made up, was much too strong and caused dreadful stomach cramps. I have always refused to believe all the hype that surrounds sports drinks, so have relied on either water or orange squash (with a pinch of salt) on my long runs. Up to this point, I had had no adverse reactions to my orange mixture but this was a turning point, so I vowed that in future I would go back to plain old water. Things improved over the next few weeks, with regular interval sessions at club and a LSR of 16 miles which I ran at 8.41 pace. My LSR of 17 miles on the last Sunday in February was a disaster. To be honest, I shouldn't have even set out as I was suffering with a raging sore throat but I was stubborn and set off with my water bottle filled with a sugary, honey mixture. The first 8.5 miles went OK and I was hitting my goal pace but my breathing was a little laboured and I was coughing at regular intervals. I struggled on and by mile 14, my stride was shortening, my pace was dropping and my throat was unbelievably sore. Over the last 2 miles, I was almost walking but I was determined to finish the 17 miles. This run had taken me 2 hours 37 mins at 9.10 pace and I couldn't take one positive thing from it. I did learn the hard way that no run is worth it, if you are feeling unwell.
March began with me taking 5 days off from running and re-evaluating my training schedule. I was going to restrict myself to just 4 days of training, which would comprise 2 club sessions, my Saturday pace runs and Sunday LSR's. If I got the opportunity, I would fit in some Wednesday hills or intervals but I wasn't going to out running just for the sake of it. March was going to be my toughest month with a couple of 20 milers and the Larne Half Marathon to look forward to. I was pleased that by the time my 19 mile LSR came around, I was almost fully recovered and this showed when I completed the run in 2 hours 42 mins at a very steady pace. A few speed sessions at club was mixing up my training nicely and then on the horizon I saw my first 20 mile LSR looming. I needn't have worried as the run went smoothly, despite a couple of hills. I kept to my word and just took water with me and as for those boosts of energy, I took jelly beans and a natural energy bar (TREK). The Larne Half Marathon was now only a week away and this 20 miler had filled me with confidence, that I would be able to run a big race. However, mother nature had other ideas and suddenly Northern Ireland found itself in the middle of snow storms, freezing temperatures, snow drifts and flooding. The event organisers only called the race off late on the Friday but by this point I was already contemplating not racing as a 70 mile round trip to run a bad race, wasn't worth it. Thankfully, the race has been rescheduled for the start of June. Strangely, the weather around our village had stayed calm and we didn't see any snow, so I was able to get out and run 13 miles without any difficulty. The last Sunday in March and it was out on the roads for another 20 mile LSR. I chose a different route but one with a few more inclines, just to keep me interested. Again, no major problems with the run, only that I was a couple of minutes slower than 2 weeks ago, but I put this down to extra hills and strong headwinds. I was still under 3 hours and close to my marathon goal pace.
Early April and I finally entered the Belfast Marathon and my number is 2511. I left it late to enter as I wanted to be 100% that my training was going to plan, that I had no niggling injuries and that I had put the February bad runs behind me. So, I have one last 20 mile LSR to get in before the taper and then...well we'll have to see how Belfast 2013 turns out!!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

2012 - my best running year to date

A whistle-stop tour of 2012

I regularly update my training on (a social network site for athletes) in early January 2013, they updated my profile with my 2012 statistics. This got me thinking that it would be a nice idea to write a post on how my 2012 went, the highs and the lows.
Looking back, it's fair to say that 2012 was a very good year for me, firstly because I managed to stay injury-free and secondly I achieved all of my race goals and got a couple of PB's too.
The year started with an 18 week training programme leading up to the Belfast Marathon in May. I decided early on that I would restrict myself to no more than 4-5 days of running and at the first sign of any strains, pulls or aches, I would rest. My first race of the year was the Larne Half Marathon in March which came at the right stage of my marathon training and gave me an opportunity to see how I performed in a race setting; and although, I didn't attain a sub 1-45 time, my finishing time of 1-46-23 was a course PB. The next 7-8 weeks of marathon training flew in and each of the three 20 mile runs were completed in just under 3 hours, which put me on target for a 4 hour marathon.
May Bank Holiday arrived and the weather was atrocious, with rain, wind and more rain. The race went to plan and I was hitting each mile at 9 minute mile pace. I reached half-way in just over 2 hours as I had done the previous year but the downhill section at Cave Hill is where my knee went in 2011, so I was very cautious between miles 14 and 15. I survived in one-piece and headed onto the tow-path with 10 miles in front of me. Yes, I was beginning to ache and was soaked through but I was still at my goal pace. Turning down the Ravenhill Road, with a mile or so to go, I knew that unless something strange happened, I was going to achieve my 4 hour marathon. Bizarrely enough, as I crossed the line, the clock was showing 4 hours exactly. My official chip time though was 3-56-23, which I was over the moon about.
After a few days of recovery, it was time to knuckle down to train for the 3 half marathons that I had entered between the end of May and end of July. I was keen to get a sub 1-45 half marathon under my belt, so I mixed up my training a little with a few a hill sessions to complement the longer runs.
Newry Half Marathon is a favourite of mine as it was the first half I ever ran and the course is relatively flat. My official time was 1-44-17, which was my best ever half marathon time and a course PB by a couple of minutes. I had no time to rest as Lisburn Half Marathon was just around the corner. This I find to be my toughest half marathon, so I wasn't overly confident of a quick time. Well, I underestimated myself as I attained a finishing time of 1-45-56, which was a course PB by 4 minutes. I had a bit more time to rest and recover before the Cookstown Half Marathon at the end of July. The course is actually quite hilly but I have always managed my best times here. 2012 was going to be no different as my finish time was 1-42-51. What a great way to end my half marathon season; a PB (knocking 5 minutes off last years best time) and 4 course PB's. Looking ahead to 2013, is a sub 1-40 half marathon possible? We'll just have to wait and see...
The next few months were all about the number 10 as I lined up for two 10k race and a 10 mile road race. In September, Belfast was the venue for the Laganside 10k which is always a popular event that is run alongside the River Lagan. I had run this on a couple of previous occassions, getting my time down from 55 to 47 minutes; this year although I didn't quite manage a sub-45 time, I finished in 45-41 which was a course PB.
September made way for October and the Armagh 10 mile road race was next on my schedule. I like this race as you don't get many chances to run competitively over 10 miles. I had a goal in mind of sub-1hr 20, so when I crossed the line in 1-16-16, I was very pleased indeed. Another course PB and maybe, I may get under 1-15 in 2013?
The final big race of the year was the Seeley Cup which is a 10k race around Ormeau Park in South Belfast. The course is quick and this is where last year I achieved my first sub-45 10k time. I went out hoping to hit each km in 4.5 minutes and to reach half-way around the 23 minute mark. The race went to plan and I achieved another sub-45 time but missed out on equalling my 10k PB by 1 second. My finish time was 44-45.
I have been running competitively since 2009, when I completed my first half marathon in 2-20 and over the last 4-5 years I have seen a huge improvement in my times, my abilities and my overall enjoyment of running. It's safe to say that 2012 was my best year ever. Was it the new Brooks I bought at the start of the year? Probably not but I'm sure wearing the correct type of runnning shoe helped. I stayed injury free, I blogged regularly, shared stories on Daily Mile and had the support of all my running friends at Dromore AC. Ultimately, though I think it was the sheer enjoyment I get from running that made 2012 such a great year.
Goals for 2013? I'd like to mix up my races a bit and try a few that I have never entered. Maybe, even get across the water and run in England? First up though, will be Larne Half Marathon in March and then Belfast Marathon in May. As ever, I'll be looking for a few PB's too. I'll keep the blog going too as it's been great over the last couple of years to connect with people from as far and wide as Canada and Australia.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Running up that hill...

My last race of 2012 took place on Saturday 8th December in a muddy farmers field. It was the venue for my club's annual Cross Country races. There had been torrential rain the week before and this led to last minute changes to the course. We were all relieved to find that we wouldn't have to endure the steep climb up the dreaded hill at the back of the field, not that that was going to make it any easier as the ground was saturated and full of divots left by the cows and sheep that would usually be grazing in the field!!
I have to admit that I'm not a huge Cross Country fan and I only run this race as it's my local one. It is however an opportunity to run without having to worry about times and pacing and to just go out and (try to) enjoy the experience.
On the day, it was dry, if a little on the chilly side. The juniors were the first out on the course and a number of races took place over distances ranging from 800m to 3k. Each lap of the course was 1k (approx) and seemed relatively flat but it was obvious from watching some of the juniors that actually running was going to prove very difficult indeed.
The main race of the day was the 5000m race for all senior runners (men and women) and had attracted just over 40 runners. My race plan, if you can call it that was to get round in one piece and not fall flat on my face at any point. The gun sounded and the first 200 metres lulled you into a false sense of security...the ground was firm and flat and you could stride out quite easily. Oh, if only the remainder of the course was in the same state but it wasn't and as the runners sorted themselves out, it was clear that even some of the elite runners at the front we're going to find it tough going.
I took the first lap steady as I wanted to get a feel for where the better ground might be, which boggy corners to avoid and see if there were any sections where I might be able to stride out properly and even pick up the pace. Having survived the first lap, as I started lap 2, I found myself in the middle of the pack on the heels of 2 fellow Dromore runners - Janice and Colin. This turned out to be a good tactic as I was able to see what problems they were encountering with the course and so I could then take a different line.
Lap 2 turned into lap 3 and as the race progressed, the course just got more churned up, the bends became slippier, the divots became deeper and everyone's pace got slower. I thought taking an inside line and keeping close to the tape that marked the course out would help but it was just as boggy and slippy here as it was in the middle of the course. My pace remained slow at best over laps 3 and 4 but I was still close to Janice and Colin who unbeknown to them, were keeping me going.
Lap 5, the final km lay ahead and it seemed to take an eternity to finish. My runners were caked in mud, I could barely lift my legs out of the ground and it was bloody freezing. In a road race I would save a bit for the sprint to the finish but today I was just pleased to finish, even if it was more of a stumble than a sprint!! My finish time was 27-41, which was slower than last year, however a number of people reckoned the full distance was closer to 5500m rather than 5000m.
We all headed back to leisure centre, where we had a well deserved cup of tea and slice of cake. This made it all worth while and I was just relieved that I wouldn't have to face another Cross Country for 12 months!!

Here I am, trying to run through the mud...