Report from Dublin (Ireland)
I’ve never taken a trip overseas primarily to run a race before, but it is appropriate that the first would be to Ireland. Running-related incidents have stuck with me ever since I started visiting the Emerald Isle. On my first trip, I was in Cork City and, talking with friends of a friend, I mentioned that I was a runner. One of them cheerfully informed me that there was a half marathon scheduled for the next morning. I replied that I wasn’t in shape to run a half, whereupon an immediate, unspoken response formed on their faces “What a poser.” Turned out, the most common race distance here was 10 miles, a far cry from our ubiquitous 5k. The second instance was my very next trip, where I had pre-registered for a 10k in Waterford. There were about 200 runners and it was a low key event (the elite runners were in Belfast that day for a 10k featuring Zola Budd). I thought my time of 46:15 was respectable; however, I only managed to finish ahead of maybe 10 other runners. So it seemed not many “joggers” entered races here. One year’s report on the Dublin Marathon related how they’d had a slow runner–a lady who took almost six hours to finish but apologized to the Garda (Irish police) and promised to train next year.
Well, nothing lasts forever–Ireland grew prosperous, people bought cars and ate fast food and the Dublin Marathon openly welcomed everyone (for a price) to participate. After a long drought of no foreign travel, in May I came home from a trip to Spain with several extra pounds and an itch to use my passport again. I went to marathonguide.com and started looking for a fall marathon; I clicked on “International”, saw Dublin City scheduled for October 26th and my decision was made.
My body is not made for marathons–I tend to break down with relatively minor increases in mileage or pace–but I gambled on answering the Sirens’ call one more time (this is my last … I mean it!).. My two previous marathons had been at Oprah time (circa 4:30) and I hoped to modestly change that in Dublin. With some actual preparation and some Irish luck in staying healthy, I thought it reasonable to expect some improvement in my time. I paid my 97 euros (ouch!) and signed up for the 3:30-4:15 section, hoping to squeeze into the upper limit.
But even with the focus I found from the monetary commitment to this race, the weekly mileage never seemed to grow much, with one thing or another consistently cropping up. But I was on the Tallahassee summer 3-H program: hills, heat and humidity–wouldn’t that make up for a lack of mileage?
My last marathon (Spokane) had been a torturous, solitary venture (113 finishers) with human interaction limited to the water stops. Dublin was going to be different, my first big city marathon. With a Friday arrival for the Monday morning race, I was somewhat apprehensive about facing various sausages at breakfast and pints of a dark, magical elixir the rest of the time. However, when I looked at my logbook and realized that I had adequately trained for a 21.1 kilometer race (and signed up for a 42.2 kilometer one), I decided that diet was the least of my worries.
This is the 30th annual Dublin City Marathon, which has ebbed and flowed in numbers but this year sported a record 12,500 plus entrants. The Expo was well-organized, but a disappointment in the swag department. Seeing the design of the current year’s t-shirt (for finishers, not starters), I felt fortunate to be motivated to run for food, not clothing.
Race day: Monday, 6:30 a.m., breakfast–I’m tempted to go for the full Irish breakfast (a description here really wouldn’t do it justice) but instead opt for porridge, bacon, and toast. Walked about a mile and a half to the start of “the friendly marathon” and was pleased with my timing on the port-a-let queues. We were directed to our corrals and then were expected to chime in on several songs–it must be the Molly Malone (the tart with the cart) sesquicentennial or something because I’d already heard her song twice. But it made for a festive, relaxed atmosphere and everyone was soon over the start line.
The first bit was quite slow with some sharp turns (note to self: don’t try to run the tangents in a crowded field) but soon we crossed the Liffey and were running down O’Connell Street, passed the G.P.O. (sort of the Irish version of the Alamo), and out toward Phoenix Park, the largest public park in Europe. The early miles passed easily and I was dead on my goal pace at 20km but knew that I hadn’t done enough running on asphalt for my feet not to feel the effects–at least our route avoided any cobblestones.
At the halfway mark, we proceeded west to east across the southern part of Dublin, through some very pleasant neighborhoods and I couldn’t believe I was enjoying the shade–there may have been massive sunburn amongst the locals on this surprisingly sunny late October day. I might have been a bit aggressive on my pace–my longest training run had been 16 miles–but my strategy was to finish before my legs realized they should be protesting. The crowds were sparse in some areas, but very positive and enthusiastic and in some spots the course narrowed down to one lane and had a bit of a Tour de France feel. There were lots of offers of jelly babies and cries of “good going lads” although there should be some sort of instructions for spectators not to say “you’re almost there.”
Unusual for me, I was really looking forward to the water stops and guzzling some Ballygowan (Irish spring water), although handing out 1/2 liter bottles every three miles seemed wasteful to me. At about 19 miles I realized I had switched from running to shuffling and by mile 21 the wheels had fallen off. Fortunately, I have prior experience in not being prepared to run 26.2 and went into “gut it out” mode. By the way, this doesn’t get easier with the passage of time.
I managed to pull it together towards the end and crossed in under 4:17, having slowed by about four minutes over the second half of the race, and I was toast. I hobbled over to the massage tent, where I found only five “physios” at work, with a gatekeeper explaining that only injured runners could get worked on and everyone else should join a stretching class going on next door. Well, while she was explaining this, I decided that the inability to lift either foot two inches off the ground constituted an injury and I caught the eye of a very nice lady whose gentle technique left me wishing for Kim Ortloff and some serious hurt. Still, I was at least now able to ambulate back to my hotel, only to realize I was in such a bad way I didn’t even want a Guinness! So, to quote the Raven, “Never More” (until next time).