I woke at 6:46am on Marathon Day and for 4 beautiful minutes I lay in bed thinking about what the day October 28th, 2013 would bring. I lay in the warm comfy bed of the hotel and thought how today would be a day that I would push myself and do something new. I've had that quote: When was the last time you did something for the first time? floating around in my head for some time and today it seems to resonate loudly in my skull. At 6:50am, hotel reception rang through with my wake-up call.
The first photo I took on the day of the Marathon
I got up, ate my muesli (which I had snuck into the room), had a coffee and showered in preparation for the day ahead. We had agreed to meet Brad and Rob in the foyer at 8.15am and make our way up to Merrion Square (the start line). Just before we left the room, I went to tie the band on my shorts (it keeps them up with the weight of my phone in one pocket and jelly babies in the other) only to hear it rip. Yep, typical! I ripped my shorts the morning of the marathon. Luckily I had brought a second pair of shorts with me but imagine, just imagine the absolute stress if I hadn't.
In the lift on the way down to the lobby, I met two other fellow marathoners in their race gear ready for the day ahead. We chatted about the storm which was currently pulling up trees and cancelling flights over in London and how we hoped the weather here would stay ok for the morning at least. We wished each other well and went off on our nervous, happy way. We met up with Brad and Rob in the hotel lobby and made our way up to Merrion Square. It was crazy to see so many people out and about at 8:15am on a Bank Holiday Monday morning.
On route to the start line, we passed the sign for Mile 26
Once we got to Merrion Square, I had an emotional 'See you on the other side' hug and kiss with my other half before filtering through the gates for runners only. Once beyond the gate, everything became very real all off a sudden - there were hundreds of people filtering left right and centre into their respective waves either putting on extra layers to keep warm, queueing for the porta-loos, or nibbling on pre-marathon snacks. I gave Brad a big proper 'I'm proud of us' type hug as I went off into the Green Wave and Brad headed for the Blue Wave.
Phil and the guys from Maree AC
Myself and Brad - 10 minutes before kick off
As I waited with all the other Green runners, we could hear the marshall countdown and kick-off the 2013 Dublin Marathon with the first wave of runners heading off. Everyone in Blue (Second wave) cheered and applauded while you could almost taste the tension and nerves in the air. I loved the energy from everyone. No one could stay still. Once the first wave had cleared the start line, we moved up to the front and watched the clock head towards 10:00 as our wave was starting ten minutes after the Yellow Wave.
The Second Wave waiting for 9:10am
At 9:10am on the nose, we were off. The first time I welled up was crossing the start line. Hello like, who starts crying before they've even notched up a single step of a race?! I think it was at that point I knew that regardless of how the marathon went, I would be a different person. I knew in my head that even if I had to crawl over the finish line, I was going to finish. I knew that at this exact moment in time I was starting out on the part of my journey that everything up to this moment seems to have been leading to.
Surrounded by thousands of other people, I took off on my own 26.2 mile journey that I can hand on my heart say has changed me. I just remember repeating to myself as I took off: This is my story, this is my life and it's my choice how this story ends. I'm going to give it my best. Of every single person I know, previously I would have always said that I was the least likely one to run a marathon, yet here I am now. There was something about this thought that sent a happy shiver down my spine.
I had read something in the lead up to the marathon which stuck with me throughout the race: You only get one first time to run a marathon, so enjoy it! and that is exactly what I did. I loved running around by Trinity, across the O'Connell Street bridge and up by the Spire. The streets were thronged with spectators screaming and cheering us on. I laughed at some signs, started to well up again at other signs (like the little girl who had a sign that read 'You are my hero Dad').
We entered Phoenix Park around Mile 4 and I was feeling quite confident. I had found a suitable pace and found a clearing in between the 3:40 and 3:50 pacers so I was quite happy. I had set myself 3 time based goals last week: Super Fantastic was 3:45, Fantastic was Sub-4:00 and Really Good was just to finish. I figured being ahead of the 3:50 pacers gave me enough room that if I started to fall back, I would keep up with the 3:50's and still finish under 4 hours.
Phoenix Park (Pic from Irish Runner Magazine's FB)
Half way around Phoenix Park I saw the first spectator in the crowd that I knew. Susan had a giant wave and 'GO JQ' for me from the sidelines. With that little boost in the tank, I kept my head up and with one foot in front of the other continued out of Phoenix Park and along by Chapelizod. As I crossed the canal at Dolphins Barn (Mile 11) I heard 'GWAN JQ' from Stephen this time which really added an extra pep in my step for the next while.
Up until that point, the course had followed much of the Half Marathon I had done earlier this year in Dublin so from Mile 11 on, I didn't really know where I was going. I felt a certain kind of elation crossing the half way point that was quickly replaced with a 'OMG I've another 21kms to go' pained-wince which I'm sure everyone could read on my face.
I kept trundling along happy out until around Mile 15 when before I knew it, the 3:50 pacers were right beside me. This hadn't been part of the plan (in my head) so I pushed on probably a bit harder than I should have to keep them behind me but lo and behold, around Mile 20 (just after the Lucozade Wall), the pacers passed me out and I never saw them again. That being said, I did see my friend Sarah in the crowd who had a big cheer for me which kept me going.
Once we re-joined the Stillorgan Road, I knew where I was. This helped me hugely as with every step, I knew I was heading towards the city centre and therefore the finish line. It was around Mile 22 as I was heading down Nutley Lane that I cried again. As we ran past the hospital (St. Vincent's), a woman dressed in pink pjs and wrapped in a pink blanket, was applauding us from her wheelchair. I just can't fathom what must have been going through that woman's head. However tired or sore I was at that point, there was a end to what I was doing - I knew I was about half an hour away from relief. I knew I'd have people waiting for me at the finish line. I knew I'd be happy once this was over, and yet here was a woman, who is clearly unwell, out smiling and applauding us as we ran past.
I'm getting emotional just thinking about her now.
As I ran in Merrion Road, I knew I had hit some form of 'The Wall'. The muscles in my legs were sore, hot, and tired. I could tell by the feedback from my Nike App that my pacing had slowed down considerably but I refused to stop and walk. This was the first point in the entire race that I could feel a completely different energy from my fellow runners. People were drained and you could almost taste it in the air. When people in front of you are stopping to walk for a bit and your legs are screaming out for some form of relief, it is really hard to keep going.
It was at this point I had the realisation which carried me over the finish line: Imagine how much harder this would have been IF I was still smoking? With that single thought in mind, I kept ploughing on. I'd even convinced myself that I was going to treat myself to a single cigarette as a reward as soon as I crossed the finish line. I'm ashamed to admit it, but yes, it was the thought of smoking a single cigarette as I lay on the ground relishing in finishing that kept me fueled for the last few kilometres.
Similar to what I imagine running straight into a wall is like, I was overcome from the second I saw the sign that said 'Mile 25'. This was the third and final time I cried (and I never cry). It was at this exact moment that I really truly believed in ME. I knew that no matter what, I was going to cross the finish line and I was going to cross it in under 4 hours. Everything that I had been hoping for was about to come to fruition. There was a strange peace in knowing that I hadn't let myself or anyone else down - not like anyone would have been disappointed in me but just that like Ronseal, I had done exactly what I had set out to do.
The last mile did feel like the longest running around by Pearse St (where I got another 'GWAN GALWAY, GWAN JOHN' from my brother's friend Amy who was applauding from the sideline. As I ran towards Trinity, I knew how far around the corner the 'Mile 26' sign was as myself and Brad had our photo taken with it earlier. Brad had been on my mind a lot during the race. I had wondered where he was, what he was feeling, how he was getting on. A lot of people had been on my mind during the race. Spending 4 hours running leaves not a lot to do but think. I thought about work, I thought about my sister who is expecting in the next two weeks. I thought about my brother who was on holidays in Spain and how much I'd prefer to be lying on a beach in the sun.
With each passing thought and each progressive 'one foot in front of the other' I found myself closer and closer to the finish line. It was in the very last stretch as I ran up Nassau St that I heard my other half roaring from behind the barrier at the side of the road. That was it. It was his face I had spent the past 26 miles scanning the crowds for, it was his voice I had imagined I'd heard when others cheered and called out their support. His face was the last thing I saw before I fixed my gaze on the finish line which was just appearing on the horizon and off I took.
I wish I remembered what the last 2 minutes of the race was like. I wish I had high-5'd some of the kids waiting by the sides. I wish I had smiled more. I didn't care. I had just finished my first marathon with 3 hours 52 minutes on the clock.
The Walking Dead
As I made my way from the finish line around Merrion Square to where my Mum & other half were waiting, I felt like an extra from The Walking Dead. I became very cold, very tired and very stiff all of a sudden. I hobbled out of the runner's area and straight into the arms of my other half. After a kiss from him and a giant big hug from my Mam, I felt 110% refreshed (but still had to sit on the path while I drank a hot cup of sugary tea!). By the way, once I had crossed the finish line, I never thought about that cigarette I had promised myself.
Brad soon finished with a time of 4:30. After a million sweaty man-hugs, post race analysis and experience sharing, myself and Brad are forevermore bound by the fact that October 28th 2013 will be the date we popped our marathon cherries!
I was Runner 7797.
I had just run a sub 4:00 marathon.
3 months ago I was a smoker.
10 months ago I had never run before.
15 months ago I weighed over 19st.
Never in a million years had I ever thought I would run a marathon.
It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
It was one of the proudest moments I've ever felt.