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 Position 486
Stage Position 6424
Stage Position 5797
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.