Sunday, November 2, 2014


So, 6 months ago I couldn't see myself running 1 mile let alone 26.2 miles, yet here I was at the end of October registering at the expo and picking up my number for the 2014 Dublin Marathon.

I felt I got to the start line, by training smarter, regular rest, more strength work/stretching, realising my limitations and listening to my body. Come the morning of the race, I felt I was in the best shape, I could possibly wish for. The one big problem I still had to face was the mental side of running and having confidence in myself.
On race day, I was up at 6am and with the nerves jangling all I could face for breakfast was porridge and a herbal tea. Left the hotel at 7.45am, which gave me a good hour, to drop my bag off, get some strides in and get to the start line.

The weather forecast was for strong winds, sunshine and no rain - hardly ideal marathon running conditions but you have to go with the cards that you are dealt. As I mingled with other runners, I couldn't help but notice how many seemed to have 7 or 8 gels strapped to belts; this seemed to me quite extreme but that's maybe because I can't stomach gels. I planned to fuel every 4 miles (liquorice torpedo's and energy bar) and take water at most energy stations. The plan was to be more positive from the start rather than take the first 3-4 miles very gentle and then hope I ran even paced.

I crossed the start three and half minutes after the gun sounded and I as went on my way, I was given a huge cheer from Janette, a running buddy from Dromore AC. The first half of the course was slightly different this year and the first 4 miles took you through the city centre and along the Liffey. It was immediately clear that the wind was going to have a big impact as it was certainly very windy alongside the Liffey.
Into Phoenix Park, there was a stretch of nearly 3 straight miles ahead and the crowds along here really gave you a lift. I couldn't help smiling at the sign that read "Smile if you've pee'd yourself a little". I was spotted by two fellow Dromore AC runners (Michael and Diane) and they gave me a huge cheer from the sidelines.
Out of the park and the first time-check came up at 10k and I went through in approx. 54 minutes. My plan was not to check my iPod for splits and just run by feel but if a clock appeared at any of the key points, I could guess at my time by taking three and half minutes off.
Ran through Castleknock for a mile or so and the crowds were even bigger here and the cheering for Mr Chicken became very evident. Then it was back into Phoenix Park where it was a little more scenic and the route had a few more twists and turns. A straight stretch of nearly 3 miles took you up to halfway and my pace was good and I felt comfortable despite the wind. As I crossed the chip-mat at 13.1 miles, I guessed that I was through in around 1:54, which filled me with confidence as at even pace, I could get close to 3:45 BUT the wind and heat would do for me over the second half.
Last year, I found miles 13-15 tough due to the strong headwind and this year was no different. Cheering crowds along this section certainly helped as I found this section quite hard but I was still passing more people than were passing me. The sun was making an appearance too and this made it quite warm but I was able to collect 250ml water bottles every 3 miles or so and certainly taking on water regularly was helping.
The route from now to the end was the same as last year, so I knew there would be sections where I would be able to pick up the pace a little and around mile 17, I did exactly that.
Conditions were beginning to have an impact on some of the runners, many were walking whilst others were being attended to by St John Ambulance. At one point, I had to put on the brakes to allow an ambulance to cross from one side of the road to the other.
There was no chip-mat at mile 20 but I was still running with purpose, if a little slower but after nearly 3 hours of running with the heat, it was getting hard and I knew my mental strength would have to come into play

Mid-race and still going strong...

From now to the finish, the crowds really came into their own and on occasions the cheers were so loud that they drowned out my iPod!! My chicken hat and tutu were certainly making people smile and at one point a young lad ran up behind me and patted me on the back and shouted "Go Mr Chicken". Other runners couldn't help passing comment as I went by and I joined a runner from Enniskillen AC for a while, who I thought I must be crazy to run in a tutu!
This was beginning to be the toughest last 6 miles of any marathon I had run, so I just focussed on maintaining my (slowing) pace and getting to the end. There were more and more walkers as you approached the incline to mile 21 but I got up and over it despite the buffeting from the wind. There was a bit of a breather after mile 23 and then it was fairly flat to the finish. I was ever more determined to get close to last years time of 3:51 but I felt I was getting slower and even started to worry that I wouldn't get a sub-4 hour time BUT with 800m to go, there was a lead athletes clock up ahead and this showed 3:53, my confidence was lifted as I knew I was going to get close to 3:51. With 100m to go, a female runner collapsed but two male runners came to her rescue and lifted her up and carried her across the line.

There was no mad sprint to the line, just a gradual increase in pace and arms aloft, I crossed the finish.

I checked my iPod and had a time recorded of 3:52:48 and I was pretty damn pleased with that and this showed that despite feeling like I was going backwards over the last few miles, I was actually a lot stronger than I had realised. I didn't fall into a heap, I had no niggles, yes I was knackered but I was elated and walked proudly through the crowds to get my goody bag and medal. I was stopped by an official who interviewed me for a couple of minutes and if this appears anywhere I will post that at a later date. I managed to bump into the Enniskillen AC runner from earlier and it seems I beat her across the line by 3 minutes. My chip time was confirmed as 3:52:34 and that was my third fastest marathon.

I got the obligatory photo with medal...

The final part of any marathon is meeting up with loved ones after and this was a marathon in itself but eventually after 15 minutes or so, I finally met Louise and we slowly made our way back through the crowds, stopped for lunch before resting in the hotel for a couple of hours.

With time to reflect, I have no regrets about the 2014 Dublin Marathon, I ran the best I could on the day and so what if I ran a positive spilt and the last half took 2 hours, I still got within ninety seconds of last year's time. The course was harder and the wind played it's part too. I now plan to rest and there will be no running until after my birthday (5th November), I will continue to stretch and do some walking and the aim is for a 10k race at the end of November. Looking further ahead, I'm sure there will be a Spring Marathon and if conditions are in my favour, I could get a 3:45 marathon under my belt.

I must give a shout out to Vikki, who plagued with an injury in the lead up to the marathon and suffering from mile 9, still recorded a sub-5 hour time and then it was great to bump into her and her family at Stephen's Green on the Tuesday.

There will be no Dublin Marathon for me in 2015 but I intend to line up in 2016, so for now I have my medal and running top to remind of the wonderful experience that was the 2014 Dublin Marathon.

My splits and final position -

Position: 3957
M45 Category Position: 440
10k - 54:29
13.1 miles - 1:52:41
30k - 2:41:29
Chip - 3:52:34
Finish - 3:55:56

The long and winding road from London to Dublin

I was on a real high after my experience of running the 2014 London Marathon and although my cold lingered for a few days, my body was in remarkably good shape. I had a few aches and I was a little stiff but was able to get up and down stairs without any pain. I made sure I went out and did some walking just to keep the legs moving but running was certainly off the agenda.
Back home in Northern Ireland, I was keen to focus on my next race, which I hoped would be the Newry Half Marathon at the end of May. So, about a week after the marathon, I was out on the roads running some gentle miles. This turned out to be a big mistake, particularly as I continued running with a slight niggle in my left knee. The upshot of this was nearly 3 months out of action, nursing my left knee back to full working order. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; yes, I should have rested for longer after the marathon and I certainly shouldn't have continued running with a niggle.
These 3 months were frustrating but it also gave me a chance to take stock of how I approached my running. Firstly, I had my knee checked out and no major problems were detected and my injury had probably come about because I had run the marathon with a cold, not enough rest after the marathon and not listening to my body.
So, between the end of April and the start of July, I started to regularly do some strength training and dynamic stretching with focus on my glutes and hips. May and June was when I started some gentle walking and by mid-June I was able to go out for over an hour. With my knee getting stronger, I started to walk/run where I went out for 90 minutes, walking for 10 minutes and running for 5. The final week of June saw me run non-stop for a couple of miles without any ill-effects.
In early July, I picked up a copy of Irish Runner magazine which included a 22 week training schedule for Dublin Marathon and this is when I decided my focus for the rest of 2014 would be to get to the start line of the Dublin Marathon. My training started at week 8 and I was determined to follow it as best as I could BUT I wasn't going to lose sleep if I had to miss the odd day or take extra rest days. I would continue daily stretching, run on grass at least twice a week and try to mid-foot strike as much as I could without compromising my natural style.
I didn't enter any races in July and August but I was keen to get a couple of races under my belt before Dublin Marathon, just to see how my training was progressing. There was my first ever Park Run (5k) which I completed in 21:50 and then on August 7th, I ran the Laganside 10k which went really well (other than I started too far back) and completed this in 45:44. Although, not a PB, this was my third fastest 10k time, so was very pleased. The following week, I was lining up at the Belfast Half Marathon and was hopeful of a sub-1:45 time. The start got delayed by an hour after a PSNI officer got knocked down helping to set the course out. Rather than stand around getting cold, I took myself off to do some gentle strides and get some stretching done. The only drawback was by the time the organisers called us to the start line, I had no way of getting through the crowds to the 1:45 pacers. I didn't lose too much time by starting at the back and by the first mile, I was already hitting a good pace. I ran even paced and although there was difficult section between miles 10 and 11, I found the course quite straightforward and not too challenging. Really pleased to cross the line with a time of 1:44:26 (my third fastest half marathon).

Here I am at mile 9...I was trialling the yellow tutu as I had agreed to wear said item at the Dublin Marathon (don't ask!)

September and October flew by and my confidence was growing, particularly as I completed two 20 milers with some miles at marathon pace and for the first time, I ran a 22 miler as part of my training and this went really well. Now, all that was left was to taper and prepare for Monday 27th October and the 2014 Dublin Marathon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

LONDON MARATHON 2014 - Sunday April 13th

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So, after nearly 18 weeks of relatively trouble-free training and four days before the marathon, I go down with a sore throat and runny nose!!
By the time I head off to register at the ExCeL on Saturday afternoon, the sore throat has all but disappeared but I'm still sniffing and coughing. Upon arrival at the Expo, the first thing I had to do was pick up my race number and timing chip; I expected huge queues and a long wait but I registered within five minutes and was soon in the main arena proudly showing off my race number.

The Expo was huge and I could have spent a fortune on running gear, gels, medal hangers and entry into world-wide marathons; however I resisted and only came away with a London Marathon teddy bear and a pin badge. It was here at the Expo that the nerves started to kick in and the realisation of how big an event the London Marathon is. On top of pre-race nerves, I was increasingly worried about my cold and the fact that the weather was set fair and likely to be on the warm side.
Having eaten plenty of pasta in the lead up to the marathon, I chose noodles with tofu as my pre-marathon meal which I knew would still have all the carbohydrates I needed without sitting too heavy on my stomach. Back at the hotel in Stratford, I laid my kit out, pinned my number to my vest and attached the timing chip to my running shoe. I was too nervous to go straight to bed so planned out my train journey down to Blackheath and refocussed my goals for the marathon. I knew that any chance of a PB had gone and 8:30 miles would be beyond me, so my focus now was just to enjoy the experience and then see how I was feeling during the race itself.

Up at 6am and I had my usual breakfast of porridge and a cup of green tea. The nerves were really taking hold now but I knew once I left the hotel and boarded a train with the thousand's of other runners I would be able to relax. My wife, Louise who was going to track my run and watch the marathon from the comfort of the hotel, took this photo as I was about to leave the hotel at 7.45am.

8.25am and I along with hundred's of other runners boarded a train from London Bridge to Blackheath. The walk up to Greenwich Park took around ten minutes and I soon found myself in the Blue Zone where I dropped off my kit bag and took in the sights and sounds of my first London Marathon. Over the tannoy, I heard the announcer start the wheelchair and IPC races, which meant there was an hour to go before the masses were sent on their way. I thought this hour would pass slowly but it went by so quickly. Around 9.20am, I made my way to pen 5 which slowly filled with runners but at no point
got too overcrowded that it became unbearable. The weather at this point was clear blue skies, a slight breeze and bright sunshine. There was a very calm and relaxed atmosphere as the clock ticked towards 10am. Marshalls began slowly moving the pens forward as the starter set the elite men on their way. This was it, the beginning of my London Marathon.

The view from pen 5:

The mad dash to start:

What I didn't anticipate as we moved forward was that the pens would be released around 100m from the start line and as I continued to walk forward, the majority of the runners behind me had begun to start running, so although I had started in a pen with runners of a similar ability, by the time I crossed the start, I was amongst those whose anticipated finish time was around 5 hours. It would have been easy at this point to get caught up in the moment and start too quickly but I held back and didn't start running until my feet hit the start mat. It was very overwhelming but it wasn't as noisy or crowded as I had imagined, maybe it would have been different if I had started in the Red Zone?

I couldn't quite believe that I crossed the start line only 6 minutes after the elite men had started and that the road ahead of me wasn't that congested. I got myself into a very steady rhythm and hit the first couple of miles around 9:30 pace. The crowds even at this early stage were very noisy and this made for a great atmosphere. I was soon catching up with slower runners and getting my first taste of how congested the route can get. Speed bumps and traffic islands over the first few miles didn't help either and meant there was quite a lot of weaving round runners and trying to avoid clipping the heels of those around you. It was through these first few miles that it was very clear that my cold was going have an impact on my run; my breathing was a little laboured and my nose was certainly running a lot more than usual!! Just enjoy the experience and don't try and be a hero, I told myself. At mile 3, the roads got even more congested as the red starters joined the masses; there were huge cheers from the crowds and other runners as we all became one huge group. The congestion between miles 5 and 6 was really affecting runners and on a number of occasions I got shouted at, as I pulled round slower runners only to block people behind me. One bug bear of mine at races, is the way runners dart across to water stations without thinking and then then take one sip before throwing an almost full bottle of water on the floor. This happened through every water and Lucozade station and caused many runners to almost trip and fall and it wouldn't surprise me if the runner I saw at mile 5 being treated for a huge gash above his eye, had tripped on a water bottle.
As you head towards mile 6, you are on the far side of Greenwich Park and approaching the Royal Naval College and Cutty Sark. Here, the crowds were 10 deep and cheered so loudly, I could hardly make out the music on my iPod. In the briefest of moments I was round Cutty Sark and on my way to mile 7.

MILES 7 - 22
The next couple of miles were fairly uneventful other than I passed a couple of pace groups (4:15 - 4:30) and the congestion wasn't easing that much. I was doing my best to follow the blue line on the road to ensure I went the quickest route but this proved quite troublesome. I was on the heels of the 3:56 pace group which for a brief moment filled me with confidence as usually I would be able to run at this pace quite easily, however I couldn't keep up; which just showed how below par I was today. There were more and more street musicians and bands as you got closer to Tower Bridge and this made for a wonderful carnival atmosphere. Just after mile 12, you turn right towards Tower Bridge but nobody tells you beforehand what an impressive sight comes into view and seeing Tower Bridge in the distance was amazing. Running across Tower Bridge was a bit of a blur and I was over it no time and soon running towards halfway.

Marathonfoto though got a great shot of me on Tower Bridge:

Along the far side of the Highway as you approach 13.1 miles, the elite runners are heading past mile 22 and here I glimpsed Richard Whitehead making his way to the finish. I hit halfway in 2:02, which considering how I was feeling, I was really pleased with and this spurred me on if not to run sub 4 hours but at least run an even paced second half. I certainly didn't want to put myself under additional pressure and fall to pieces over the last few miles. Narrow Street as the name suggests was very narrow and here the crowd felt like they were on top of you; I was certainly pleased to get through this part of the course and head on down to the Isle of Dogs. At mile 15, you went under Canary Wharf but at this point although I was aware of all the mile and km markers, I couldn't really place where I was. I was fuelling well, taking on jelly beans and natural energy bar every 3 miles. The midday heat was becoming a factor but I ensured I drank 250 ml of water every 6 miles or so.
I had heard that Canary Wharf was one of the more difficult parts of the course and I did find it quite tough between miles 18 and 20. There were a lot of twists and turns and the tall buildings made it quite claustrophobic. I was still feeling good within myself and tried to inject a bit of pace and did manage an 8:26 mile but I couldn't maintain this and slipped back to 9:20 pace but I certainly wasn't slowing down or feeling out of sorts. I can't really remember much about miles 20 - 22 but I knew the finish line wasn't that far away. Back on the Highway you could see those runners just getting to halfway and here there were a few people in fancy dress and a marching band.

The last 3 miles or so were certainly taking their toll on quite a number of the runners and there were more and more runners opting to walk. The heat had probably taken a lot of runners by surprise and it was very warm as the clock ticked towards 2pm. Surreal moment was at the Lucozade cheering point where you went through Blackfriars underpass and went from bright sunshine to darkness in a matter of seconds. I had my worst 5km at this stage (30 mins between 35km & 40km)and between miles 23 and 24, I lost focus for a few moments and slipped back to nearly 11:00 mile pace. I gathered myself, moved out from close to the barriers to avoid the walkers and got back into a rhythm and then managed an 8:07 mile! Along the Embankment, I had clear views of the Shard, the London Eye and Big Ben was looming up ahead. Not far to go now, just keep it together and enjoy the last 10 minutes of the marathon. Along Birdcage Walk, the countdown signs appeared, 600m to go, 385 yards to go and then turning right by Buckingham Palce there's the famous 200m to go sign. Crowds were roaring, the atmosphere was electric as I tried my best to sprint to the finish...

I raised my arms as I crossed the line, the clock showed 4:12 but with the 6 minute delay to my start, I knew my finish time was going to be around 4:06. I was ECSTATIC, I didn't collapse in a heap, I stretched and kept myself moving and was so proud of my achievement. Once my chip was removed, I had the pleasure of having my medal placed round my neck. Words can't come close to describing how I felt at this point.

London Marathon 2014 finisher:

I looked down at my Garmin and I had ran 26.5 miles in 4:05:43 with an average pace of 9:16. I was so pleased that although I had run slower than planned, I had run evenly and at around 75% fitness. It's not always about PB's and in light of my cold, the heat, the congestion and this being my first London Marathon, I was very happy indeed.
My official finish time was 4:05:46 - a course PB!!

What a brilliant experience the London Marathon was and I would run it again in a heartbeat. I have already entered the ballot for 2015 event.
On reflection, I have no regrets about resetting my goals and I think the fact that I took it steady helped my recovery and it has also filled me with confidence that at full fitness, a 3:45 marathon is achievable. Roll on Dublin at the end of October.

A huge thank-you to everyone who supported me on this journey, particularly my wife Louise who had to put up with 18 weeks of hell during my training. I have to mention CAUSE who I was raising vital funds for.
The volunteers, marshalls, St John's and the crowds along the route deserve a mention for making the London Marathon what it is.

Oh and here's a pic of the medal with my chicken mascot, a few moments after I crossed the line.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

16 weeks of London Marathon training

Way back in October 2013, when my London Marathon "NO" magazine arrived, I thought my chance of running the 2014 London Marathon had passed me by. Little did I know, that a month later I would be putting my name in a hat, in the hope of gaining a place through my running club (Dromore AC). Lo and behold, mine was the first name pulled out and I was overjoyed and almost speechless. My plan at this point had been to run the MK Marathon in early May 2014 but now in the blink of an eye, my focus was to run a marathon in mid-April 2014.
I soon realised that my 18 week's of training would begin in mid-December and other important arrangements needed to be made - booking flights to England and finding a hotel in London. Thankfully, there were still a few hotels taking bookings and managed to get 2 nights in Stratford; which I was told was close to both start and finish areas.
I decided to follow the same training plan (Hal Higdon) as I used for Dublin Marathon; with the intention of putting in 6 days of running, whilst at the same time being realistic and taking additional rest days when required. The first few weeks were fairly uneventful with the mileage being fairly low and then the Christmas holidays allowed me to take off a few extra rest days. Once 2013 turned into 2014, I made the concious decision to stay off the wine until after the marathon.
Heading into 2014, I already had a few goals in mind - the main one being to enjoy the whole experience of being part of the London Marathon. Time wise I suppose getting a sub 3:45 would be brilliant, which would mean a pace of around 8:30 per mile. My intention therefore was to ensure that some of my training runs be done at "pace" and my 800 repeats would be somewhere between 3:30 and 3:45.
January - the Sunday LSR's were creeping up and 13 miles on the 5th was my longest run since the marathon back in October and I was very happy to run this at 9:00 min/miles. I knew however that I could afford to run LSR's slightly slower, particularly as other runs would be done at a much quicker pace. My tempo run was at 7:35 pace and my 800's averaged at 3:36, so all was going well.
February - I tried to get to club as often as I could as I wanted to get some speed sessions under my belt. I ensured my recovery runs were done at an easy pace and I started throwing hills into the equation. I decided to get me legs massaged in anticipation of the very long runs on the horizon. My 19 miler was completed in 2:53, whilst my first 20 was completed in 3:09. All went well on these runs; I got the pacing right and had no problems taking on fuel. However, towards the end of the month I was beginning to get a small niggle in my right knee.
March - the niggle didn't turn into anything too serious, it was annoying but wasn't affecting the way I ran or my pace. I did however, start doing some knee strengthening exercises and stretched on my rest days. The other major decision I made was to cut back on my running and reduce my days from 6 to 4 and these extra rest days certainly made a difference. March 9th was the day I ran a brilliant 20; setting off very steadily and feeling good at halfway, I decided that I would pick up my pace over the last 5 and see how it felt to run on tired legs. I managed close to 8:00 pace for a couple of these miles and at the end of it, still felt quite fresh. My final 20 was a lot tougher as I had to deal with a strong headwind at around halfway and the last 4 miles seemed to go on forever. I still finished in 3:05 though. I missed quite a lot of sessions at club due to personal reasons but I made sure I still ran my tempo (7:46) and 800's.

So, as I write this on Saturday 30th March, I'm on taper and there's only 2 weeks until I line up at the London Marathon; even now, it still hasn't sunk in that I have a place at probably the biggest marathon in the world!
As this could be a once in a lifetime experience, I decided that I would run London Marathon for an organisation that has not only helped me but my wife too over the last few years. That organisation is CAUSE and I have set up a fundraising page -
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

So, wish me luck and if you feel like tracking me on the day my race number is 24082.