The plan at the start of 2016 was to aim for Newry Marathon with maybe a couple of races in the build-up. As it turned out, I only managed to run in the Omagh HM but that was a huge success and the rest of my training went to plan, so no real complaints.
OMAGH HALF MARATHON
Saturday 26th March: Good to see the organisers had listened to feedback from last year with regards the start and set the walkers and 5k runners off after the HM; this made the start a lot less congested and easier to find the pacers.
Mt finish time was 1:41:19 and was 1 minute quicker than last year (not quite a PB) and nothing negative to say about the whole event (oh, it rained and it was windy). I love the route out into the Co Tyrone countryside, which made me feel like it was just one of my regular long runs back home. The run itself went so smoothly; no flat spots, a negative split and pure enjoyment from start to finish...and yes I wore the yellow tutu. Almost, caught a fellow Dromore runner (Andrea) on the line; although my chip-time was a few seconds quicker than her. so that was a win for me! Big thank-you to the organisers, marshalls and volunteers for running such a brilliant event and the food at the end was amazing. Disappointed that I didn't get a finish-line photo (finished at the same time as a runner from Lifford and he blocked me out completely!) but got a photo at the start with Patricia from NCR.
NEWRY MARATHON - Sunday 29th May - my 10th marathon
So my 20 weeks or so of training leading up to the marathon, went smoothly with a great run at Omagh HM and a mixed schedule of club sessions, LSR, tempo's and hills. With a couple of months of training to go, I bought a new pair of Brooks (Vapor as opposed to Ravenna) and started to build up the mileage in them; all was going fine until I ran my first 20 miler in them and ended up with a very bruised and purple left big toe nail. I took a few days off and reverted back to my Ravenna's and whilst the nail remained purple, there was no lasting damage and I completed my training without any further problems. I was feeling confident of a running a good time with a goal of sub 3:45; many of my runs had been at marathon pace (8:30) and such a pace didn't faze me.
Lovely, bright sunny morning as I parked up in Newry to prepare for the marathon but I'd only gone and forgotten my iPod which meant I would be running my first marathon without music. My iPod also acted as my stopwatch and as I don't own a Garmin (or similar), how was I going to know my splits? I had no choice really but run with 3:45 pacer group and see how that worked out. With around 200 runners it was easy enough to find a decent spot on the start line and catch the 3:45 pacer within the first mile. The route had slightly changed this year with a straight run out of Newry to Scarva without a detour along the tow-path and some steep hills; this was well received! There was a group of 10 us running with the pacer and I found the pace very comfortable, which filled me with confidence. The negative thing was the weather as it was getting warmer by the minute and the route didn't really have much cover. Thankfully, there were plenty of water stations and I carried my own bottle; so I made sure I sipped at regular intervals. I kept to my plan of fuelling every 4 miles (jelly beans mainly) and making regular checks of my form whilst at the same time taking in the scenes around me. The pacer kept us updated on projected finish time and around mile 8 he said that we were on for a 3:43 finish.
A couple of small inclines took us closer to halfway and then around mile 11, I started to feel a twinge in my right knee; nothing major but enough of a twinge to set alarm bells off. By now one or two runners had dropped off the pace and even the pacer stopped for a few moments to stretch. I got to halfway (1:51:23) at exactly 8:30 pace but was still ahead of the pacer. Thankfully, he soon caught me up but the group had dwindled to just myself and one other runner. The heat was really beginning to affect people and even though the last 13.1 miles were on flat tow-path, it was going to be tough. The knee was getting worse and although my pace hadn't dropped dramatically, I found myself about 30 paces behind the pacer at mile 17. My stride pattern had become more pitter-patter style and a couple of times the knee almost went from under me - this is what happened at Belfast Marathon in 2011 - I didn't want to do any lasting damage so when I got to mile 20, I put aside sub 3:45 finish and concentrated on looking after myself and finishing in one piece somewhere around the 4 hour mark.
I had plenty of opportunity along the tow-path to take in the wildlife - 2 swans and 9 cygnets, swallows overhead, mooing cows, chickens clucking and even at one point a pussy cat crossed my path!
The camaraderie over the last 6 miles was amazing, I caught up with a couple of running friends - Colm (& Team Kerr) and James whilst the support at the final 3 water stations was brilliant. Although, my pace dropped significantly, I never walked (aside from at the water stations) and by leaning forward slightly and not bending the right knee too much, the pain was easing. A fellow runner passed me a jelly baby which I ate (as a vegetarian, this was a sin as it probably contained gelatine) and there were marshalls on bikes coming towards us offering water and gels. The last few miles weren't as lonely this year and despite the knee, I didn't actually feel like I was sapped of all energy. The crowds had filled the streets of Newry and with less than a mile to go, I was determined to finish with a flourish, the crowds cheered as I headed towards the line and yes the clock had gone past 4 hours but I was pleased as anything to cross the line and receive my medal. OK, 4:01:58 was what I had hoped for but in light of my knee and the heat, I was very pleased and actually felt that this was one of my best executed marathons and on another day I would have got the sub 3:45 time I know I am capable of. Felt a little dizzy and the knee was pretty sore but I looked up and saw the smiling faces of Patricia and SJ from NCR who congratulated me on a job well done.
HUGE THANKS must go to the organisers, marshalls, volunteers at the water stations, the cyclists with water/gels and the crowds for a fantastic event.
Big shout-out to the 3:45 pacer who got me to mile 17 and made me realise that 8:30 pace is certainly achievable. Not sure if he finished though...
On the way to the finish line...
So, I finished with a sore knee and some sunburn but I am very proud to have finished my 10th marathon and will be back in Newry in 2017 as I feel I have some unfinished business.
ONE WEEK LATER...
My recovery went really well; I had a few aches and pains on the Monday but with plenty of walking and work with the band (crab-walks), felt good enough to run 2 recovery miles. The knee? Well, it's as if nothing actually happened. Here's to my next marathon down in Monaghan in 17 weeks.