Surviving Ireland’s Friendliest Marathon
It’s coming to that time of year, when exhaustion and leg-pain give way to… more exhaustion and leg-pain, actually. September is going to be all about survival. August began with the Connemara 100-miler, followed by the Longford Marathon last Sunday (I’ll get back to that in a minute) and there are three more marathons on the cards for September – Dingle on the 1st, Sligo on the 15th and the Mooathon on the 30th. I’m not expecting to set any land-speed records on those three given the lack of recovery time. The plan, such as it is, is to get through September injury-free and then take a few weeks off before attempting to beat my PB in Dublin at the end of October. Which would be pretty sweet if it works! Incidentally I have gotten my cow costume for the Mooathon and am currently looking for someone to be the back end.
Moving swiftly on, the Longford Marathon was on last weekend. Billed as the ‘friendly marathon in the heart of Ireland,’ the event attracted a large crowd of about 800 competitors to Dublin Street for the half, full and ultra marathons, as well as a full marathon relay. It’s one of the older marathons in Ireland, initially organized in 2002 by Fr. Ciaran McGovern and Liam Fenelon – first man in Ireland to run 200 marathons and our new honorary president in the Marathon Club of Ireland. Back then, it attracted 275 runners and raised €25,000 for St. Christopher’s services. That figure has increased to €150,000 in the years since then.
Last Sunday saw yet another early start (I’m starting to think I might have a better chance of breaking 4 hours more often if I didn’t have to get up at 5am for most of these marathons!) After picking up the race-pack at St. Mel’s College, I had a few hours to spare. So naturally, I endeavored to use that time productively to prepare myself mentally for the race ahead…
Fast-forward to 11am and the start of the race. We began with a lap of the town, rendered somewhat more difficult by the fact that I already had a seven-minute mile under my belt before the start; I’d forgotten my timing-chip and had to leg it to the car-park and back to the start-line again (I guess the preparation wasn’t so great after all…).
Although in hindsight it might seem just a tad foolish, I decided to take another shot at breaking 4 hours, on the dubious basis that I usually run well the week after doing something really stupid. So after doing some quick mental arithmetic (4 hours = 240 minutes … 26.2 miles in a marathon … 240/26.2 = 9.16), I decided to attempt running consistent sub 9-minute miles for the whole thing. As you can see here, everything was going to plan for the first 14 miles. Then, as usual, an equipment failure scuppered me. This time it was the watch, which decided to stop working just after the 2 hour mark. So I was running blind, without a watch or heart-rate monitor, for most of the second half. Needless to say, this really wasn’t helping my cause.
Nonetheless, it was still looking good until late on; three hours hadn’t passed by the time we hit the 18-mile marker. But in the end, everything caught up with me. My legs weren’t properly recovered from the Connemara 100, and it was so hot that I had to run topless for most of the race, which was embarrassing for just about everybody. After about 20 miles, we hit a long hill on the way back into the last village before Longford, and the game was up. From then on, it was just about survival; I met up with a fellow Madventure alumnus called Tom along the way, as well as an American lady who had decided on a whim that she wanted to run a marathon while on holiday in Ireland (as you do) and Graham Whittaker, who ran a fantastic race to finish in the top 10 of the ultra-marathon event. Together, we helped each other on through the final stages. Finally, I ran the last mile into Longford town centre with Larry Rigney, and just for fun, decided to sprint to the finish.
So to sum up, it was an educational race; normally 4:22:39 wouldn’t be an especially difficult time for me, especially on a flat course, but I really had to work hard for it on this occasion. For the rest of the marathons in September, I’ll be happy if I can maintain my times around this sort of level, before taking a few weeks off and really pushing to beat my PB (3:56:59) in Dublin at the end of October. Of course, the best-laid plans can come undone but I’ll give myself a fighting chance. In the meantime, check another one off the list!
Finally, a big thanks to everyone in Drogheda & District AC who sponsored me over the last few weeks, much appreciated and as always, it’s all going to an amazing cause.