The lead up to the marathon had been trouble-free but then a week before summer arrived early and the sun was out most days and the humidity was rising. This set alarm bells off...I had trained in the cold, damp, wind, snow and ice; yet marathon day could be a scorcher! OK I couldn't control the weather but I knew fitness wise I was in good shape and confident of a good run.
So, the day before was quiet and relaxed and the only important thing to do was collect my race number...thanks Patricia for being on hand at the registration desk.
My wife and I had stayed overnight in Newry and I probably went overboard with breakfast; porridge, yoghurt and fruit but it was 2 hours before the start so I was hopeful I wouldn't have any stomach issues. The rain had stayed away, there was little wind and it was overcast BUT there was a muggy feeling to the air.
The marathon is only one element to the running festival and most people enter the HM or 10k; so on the start line there was probably around 200 of us; including Andrea, a running buddy from Dromore AC.
I had trained with 8:30 pace in mind and a 3:45 finish BUT on the start line I had no definitive plan; I just wanted to run by feel and see how the race panned out.
9am as the gun sounded and I latched onto the group following the 3:45 pacer but after a mile I felt confident enough to move ahead and run the way I wanted to. At the first water station, I got a huge cheer and I noticed that a friend of mine was helping pass out the water; that cheer gave me a real lift as we headed out onto the road. Oddly, the runners ahead of me had moved over to the far side when typically we would stay running into the traffic; of course I followed suit. Miles 6 - 12 were fairly uneventful except for the undulations which were quite testing in the warming conditions. High point was the herd of cows leaning over a wall and mooing as we passed...of course I mooed back!
Nearing halfway I was still ahead of the 3:45 pacer, although by this point Andrea had passed me...maybe I should have kept pace with her? Now at this point last year, my knee started to play up and my marathon started to fall apart but this year I was still running a sub 8:30 pace and feeling good. The only thing that was concerning me was my inability to take on my jelly beans and energy bar - I was trying to fuel every 4 miles but even my jelly beans weren't agreeing with me; to make up for this I made sure I took on plenty of water.
My first time check was at halfway - approx. 1:51 and this meant I was on target for a sub 3:45 time. The second half in theory is easier as it is along the flat towpath but there was now the added problem of the sun coming out and the rising temperature. I like the long stretches down by the canal as it allows you to relax, take in the scenery and get into a good rhythm . Whilst I was feeling confident, I didn't get ahead of myself and ran the next few miles at roughly the same pace BUT the heat and lack of solid fuel was beginning to take its toll; I was stopping at each water station so I could fill up my water bottle and throw cold water down the back of my neck.
More runners were passing me and Andrea was getting further ahead of me BUT no sign of the 3:45 pacer; physically I still felt good but mentally I was beginning to fall apart - loads of negative thoughts were going through my head - but at mile 20, my time of 2:50 showed I was still on target but my pace really started to slow at this point and whilst I accepted that I was unlikely to get a sub 3:45 time; I did start to doubt myself and whether all the effort of training for a marathon was worth it. The hammer blow was the 3:45 pacer passing me with ease...BUT then all the negativity seemed to fall away and I was filled with happiness and a desire to get to the finish was the only emotion I felt. The last 5 miles whilst not particularly quick were enjoyable as I didn't put any unnecessary pressure on myself. Of course, i was still smiling for the cameras...
Should I have paced myself better and tried to run a negative split?
Should I have stayed with the 3:45 pacer?
Could I have kept with pace with Andrea from halfway?
Was I over-confident?
BUT in the clear light of day, I was really pleased with what I had achieved and I still believe a 3.45 time is achievable. It was the most mentally challenging race I have run and never before had I taken on so much water during a marathon.
Huge thank-you to all the organisers and the volunteers and I will see you in 2018.