Phew, what a weekend, batman!
My brother performs late at the wedding. Two days later in Dublin that would unfortunately not be the case.
Two of my oldest friends. Dom strikes a familiar pose.
So my brother and I arrived in Dublin mid-afternoon and headed straight to the expo to take care of bib numbers and such like before heading back and checking into our downtown hotel - or what we had reserved as our hotel. The guy on the front desk had other ideas telling us he had given our room to someone in a large group of people that could not be separated.
"Ahmm, excuse me, we booked this room months ago and secured it with a credit card.""Not to worry, lads," explains front-desk man, "we have you in a hotel down the road at no extra charge."
How decent of him to be looking out for us like that! Turns out the new hotel was much nicer, but still...
We were up at six for the 9am start and as we were making our way over to the race start location, joining a growing stream of runners, I began to remember how much I actually enjoy these big marathon races and the old nervous tingle started growing in the pit of my stomach. It has been three years since the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. - my last big-city marathon - and I was really looking forward to getting in among the runners and soaking up the buzz. Don't get me wrong, I'm most assuredly a low-key trail guy these days, but big marathon weekends are still a ton of fun.
Matt posing by the Liffy pre-race.
So after taking care of pre-race business I get to the packed sub-3:30 starting corral and elbow my way to the front. I'm about three deep as the announcer gets the crowd of 10,000+ singing a chorus of Cockles and Mussels. I check out the elite runners and make the decision that I'm going to try and find some top women to pace with. I know the winning time for the women will be low 2:30s, but figure that most of the other elites will likely be running about my pace, and I'm sure they'll be much more adept at keeping pace than this mountain dirtbag. Chatting with my brother the night before, I realize that a 2:39 is probably a fool's errand, so I set my sights on 2:42/43.
The assembled runners get done with their drinking song and with zero warning the gun goes off. Boom.
Through the first few meters there's a bit of jostling, but it's thankfully short-lived. At least 200 people must already be ahead of me as I settle into my pace, which feels very comfortable. The sea-level air is oxygen-rich and I can feel it filling my lungs to capacity. The legs feel good and the crowd is roaring through the streets of downtown Dublin. Game on.
After no more than a half mile, I notice that I'm on pace with a wee lass with a Scottish Athletics top, and make the decision to let her pace me through the early going. We pass mile marker one in no time and I get the split off my watch: 5:34. I do the double take and my 5k/10k pace is confirmed. Suicide, I think to myself. However, the running feels so supremely easy that I'm either running at an entirely different level on rested legs at sea level or that mile marker is short. I stay on my pacer's shoulder as we cross the River Liffy and wait for the second split: 6:38. What? I'm feeling a bit discombobulated at this point, as I know I've eased off the gas a bit, but I'm also certain that I haven't eased off it that much. I put it down to misplaced mile markers and get on with the task at hand.
As we make our way out of the downtown area towards Phoenix Park, I feel like I'm getting into a better rhythm and hope that I'm finding the 6:10 pace that I'm looking for. Mile three comes in at 6:17 and the pace continues to feel good and comfortable, as it should this early in the race. The mile four marker comes just after we enter the park, where we are greeted by hooping and hollering from the gibbons at the zoo, and I take a look at the mile-four split: 6:27. My erratic pacing through the early miles is really beginning to annoy me and I just don't seem to be able to hit consistent miles. I begin to worry that it will come back to bite me late in the game. In addition, as we roll from hill to hill, I'm beginning to realize that the organizers have used something of a poetic license in describing the course as "largely flat." Rolling would definitely be a more accurate description.
We continue through the park and my wee bonnie pacing partner sparks up a conversation, saying that she's gunning for a 2:40 and that we should work together through the half and reassess from there. At this point, we're running with a group of six or seven other guys, but it feels like we've slowed to stay with them so I make a conscious decision to break off the front and bridge to another group of six or seven guys who have been running a fairly consistent 20-30 meters ahead. Nobody comes with me. After the race I look for Scottish females in the results but find nothing sub-3:10, so figure she must have dropped.
Miles five, six, seven and eight through the park come in at 5:55, 6:20, 6:12, 6:12. I still don't feel like I've hit a proper rhythm, so break off the front of the pack I've caught up to and been running with to try and up the tempo a bit and slot into a sub-6:10 pace. One guy comes with me. He has a Limerick Athletic Club vest on and gets continual support from the crowd. We bridge up to another top runner in the women's race and soon learn from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd that she's a local favorite and currently running as top Irish female. We continue our pace, which finally feels right: hard, but not painfully so and I am really encouraged with how easy the pace feels for me aerobically. However, from his breathing, it sounds like my current pacing partner might be working a bit too hard for this early in the race. Contrary to my lungs, my legs are beginning to feel the pace although they still feel like they have plenty left.
Before the race, I made the decision to race in my new Brooks T6 running flats, despite having put less than 30 miles on them. In the few test runs I had in them I had gotten early signs of blisters in the heel. I figured I'd tape up and be okay. Unfortunately, the tape was beginning to clump and was itself rubbing. Pain was just now starting to ensue, but there was nothing to do but grin and bear it.
Out of the park, we work through some subtle mile-long ups and downs and knock off some steady splits to the half (6:02, 6:01, 6:04, 6:13, 6:16), which we go through in just over 1:21. All systems seem to be functioning well, despite the growing pain in my feet, and I feel good about the second half. We continue to pass a few runners while getting passed by none. Most let us go, but one guy sticks with us and we pace as a group of three, hitting splits of 6:04, 6:11, 6:04 & 6:06 through miles 14, 15, 16 & 17. Somewhere in here we pass a couple more elite females, but drop the guy from Limerick. I sense that my new pacing partner has plenty left in the tank, but we don't say a word to each other as we run stride for stride. I burp and bring up a bit of bile. Good, working hard.
Coming up to mile 18, the legs are starting to rebel a bit. I can sense that I'm on a short tether and begin the self-doubt process. This is classic marathon stuff. I summon my inner Brandon (check out his linked Denver Marathon report for the reference) and push on despite a few wobbles in the hammies. The next two splits come in steady despite the sense that I'm slowing (6:04, 6:08). Race carnage is becoming increasingly evident and there are a few guys off to the side with full-on cramps, a couple of guys who are now walk/running and as we come into the miles around University College Dublin, we pass our first casualty from the elite men's race. Looks like a Kenyan.
So I hit mile 20 with 2:03 on the clock. I do the math and realize that I've got to go 39 minutes over the last 10k for a 2:42. I think it's a tall order as my legs are now burning. I re-summon my inner Brandon and push on with my partner who is still on board. Mile 21 comes in at 6:15 and I somehow manage to drop a 5:55 through mile 22. I am now sensing, however, that trouble-proper is brewing. I clutch for straws and gobble two gels. Mile 23 splits at 6:09. How I am keeping pace at this point I have no idea, but pretty much as soon as I pass the 23-mile point and begin to think about the last 5k, the bonk finally arrives and I am powerless.
We're back in town now and I lose my pacing partner. I watch him drift off into the distance. I berate myself for being so weak. I try to draw on the fact that I have been through this pain many, many times before. "It's just three miles; you ran 100 in one go earlier this year." My legs are not fooled and I breathlessly slip into survival mode. Miles 24 & 25 both hit at 6:45. I'm in a state of disbelief that they are even sub-7. The raucous crowd can do nothing for me now as runners begin to pass me through the last mile. Marker 26 takes an eternity to materialize. I hit the split at 7:02. I get a visual on the finish-line clock as it ticks onto 2:43. Oh well, still respectable. I finish, feeling beaten and savaged in 2:43:35.
After the race, I make my way to the baggage area and pick up my bag before quickly slipping back around to watch finishers come home in hopes of catching my brother go under three hours. The clock ticks onto 3:01 as I get there. I hope he's already done, but see him come in five minutes later looking pretty rough. I go to our pre-arranged meeting point and lie down on a park bench. I wouldn't be surprised if a few people mistook me for one of Dublin's many homeless.