A lot can happen in 26.2 miles

Found this little gem on boards.ie

Irish Times

23 October 2010


ATHLETICS: The National marathon has been incorporated into the Dublin marathon for the last few years. ANNETTE KEALY , National champion from last year, and who won the title in 2003 and was second in 2008, takes this year’s competitors through the course and the strategies that can help lead to success

Tread softly, because you

tread on my dreams

– WB Yeats

I CAN’T be there this year. The body said no, and that was that.

I still have the dream. The dream of running another Dublin marathon, the dream of running another Dublin marathon exactly right, the dream of running a personal best, the dream of breaking 2.40.

Too old? Maybe. But the great thing about the marathon is, you just never know. It’s unpredictable. Things happen. Constantita Dita won the Olympic marathon. She is a good athlete, a great athlete, and she made it happen. But the most coveted prize of all? Who would have predicted that?

It’s Monday, October 25th, 2010. It’s early. You look out the window. You have butterflies.

2003, as Ian O’Riordan said afterwards, was a day made in heaven for marathon running. Sunny. 12 degrees. No wind. The sun bouncing off leaves of every shade of yellow, orange and red in the Phoenix Park. Magnificent.

2008 was miserable. Windy. 8 degrees. Hands freezing on the line. Toes numb for two miles. A gale in your face all the way up Crumlin Road. Wretched.

2009 was somewhere in the middle. Bright. 10 degrees. A little breezy. Not bad.

Conditions might be any way. Kind, cruel or anywhere in between. Bring your gloves!

You have your breakfast.

I had my porridge two-and-a-half hours before the race last year. I don’t like being hungry on the line. That will be too late for some of you. I went back for a last little rest. Might as well. At 7.30, as I lay there, I said to myself, I can’t believe I’m still in the bed and running the marathon at nine.

You get up.

There’s not much to do now really. It’s just yourself and your gear and your drinks or gels – if you plan on bringing them. It’s nice to be glamorous, but it’s not the best idea to wear new gear. You’ll be disgusted if your shorts turn out to be a bit loose and keep slipping down and you spend the 26 miles having to hoist them up. Or your top turns out to be a bit tight and gives you a stitch or causes chaffing under your arms.

If you wear brand new runners or racing shoes, it is highly likely you will be injured after the race, which you might not be too concerned about at the moment but you will bitterly regret when you are laid up for six months with an Achilles’ injury or the like.

You should even be careful that shoes you have worn already are not too snug for marathon running. In my first marathon my feet swelled during the race and by 17 miles my toes were squashed. Agony and nine miles to go! Lost two toe nails afterwards.

You head into the course.

Your nerves might be playing tricks on you. You might feel tired or you might feel sick. You might be shaking. You think of the little garda on his motorbike on the Dublin Marathon website flying through the streets of Dublin and off into the suburbs and you feel dizzy. You are just getting yourself ready.

You are on the line.

It might be your first marathon and now you can’t wait to get going. To start the adventure. The journey into the unknown, to places never visited before. You are blissfully unaware of the highs and lows which await you.

Or it might not be your first marathon and memories of pain, pure pain, buried since you ran the last one, come flooding back. And there will be pain, and there will be drama, and there might be joy and there might be tears.

But you are there. You made it to the starting line and you have a lot of work done. So seize the moment. The wonderful moment.

And tie your laces!

You’re off.

The first part of the course is nice. Starting in Fitzwilliam Street, through old Georgian Dublin, it declines slightly down Leeson Street and Dawson Street onto Nassau Street and meanders around College Green out onto O’Connell Street. Historic Dublin. You pass the GPO and the enormity of the occasion might hit you now. You are on top of the world.

You will probably run your fastest marathon if you don’t go off too hard. The fastest times in the world have mostly been run at an even pace or a slightly quicker second half. Haile Gebrselassie broke his world best in Berlin in 2009 in two hours, three minutes and 59 seconds. He went through the half-way mark in 1:02.05. The absolute master. The shrewdest of tacticians.

So patience. Which is not easy, especially if you’re feeling that it is all very pedestrian at this stage.

The third mile graduates up into Parnell Square and up Berkeley Road. It turns onto the pretty, leafy North Circular Road. The first drinks station is along here. I think it is important to drink early, and drink often, even if you don’t feel like it.

You enter the Phoenix Park at four miles. The trees are beautifully uplifting at this time of year. You might have found a rhythm with somebody by now or, even better, a group. In my first marathon, I had found my group by three miles. We were to stay together until mile 18. Last year people came and people went, but I found my group at last at 16 miles, just when I thought I couldn’t take another step. And it was glorious. We were to stay together for another nine miles.


The last mile in the Phoenix Park, along Upper Glen Road, which brings you to eight miles, causes you to clatter downhill. You might enjoy the freedom of the drop, but it is definitely hard on the legs. You come out of the park, take a right along the Chapelizod Road, cross the canal and the guts of the next five miles is climbing. You climb significantly up St Lawrence Road and Sarsfield Road towards Kilmainham Gaol.

You are arriving at 10 miles now. A marathon guru I know says you should be feeling comfortable at 10 miles or else you are in trouble. I must say, I have not once felt comfortable at 10 miles in any of my three Dublin marathons.

You level off for a little while along South Circular Road and you twist around and cross up over Dolphin’s Barn bridge to face a long, two-mile drag up Crumlin Road, past Our Lady’s Hospital and left to the halfway point on Walkinstown Road. There are plenty of people clapping and cheering you on now, and all in great form, which is really helpful.

Memories of happenings on Crumlin Road abound. My parents and my sister were at the bottom of the hill the first year and that was a great boost. In 2008, I had a cold. I took the gamble and ran. Every runner near me seemed to dissipate up the hill and I was left floundering into the wind and rain. I looked for my parents all the way up the hill. They weren’t there. They had gone to some other point. Crisis! And 13-and-a-half miles to go. I was as bleak as the day.

2009 and I was nervous about that section. To my great relief, I had met two lads at the bottom of the hill and I was staying with them and we were working up the road together.

A Raheny supporter came along on his bike. Delighted to see us together, he started to call out, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh style: “Go Raheny. Go Rathfarnham. Raheny. Rathfarnham. One Raheny girl. Two Rathfarnham boys. Working together. Great stuff. Go on, yeah. Good on yis.” He was just about to move on, when he turned for a final glance. And then it dawned on him: “Willy Morris? Is that you?” he said. Peals of laughter. And us supposed to be running a marathon? It is hard to run and laugh at the same time. It got us up to halfway.

The lads moved on then.

It is tough when you are left behind. You suffer. You tread water for a while, but the marathon is ebbs and flows. They might come back to you.

The next few miles along Kimmage Road and Foxfield Road are pretty flat, and then there is a lovely section of the course which is slightly downhill along Templeogue Road, which brings you to 16 miles, and on into Terenure and the picturesque Orwell Road and Park.

All the same, there might come a point somewhere around now, maybe because there is still such a long way to go, where dark clouds descend and the demons surround you and you struggle with them, and then you say “I can’t do this”. And you really feel that this is the end. That you can’t go on. That the dream is shattered.

And it is exactly now that you need to put one foot in front of the other, to get to the next lamp-post or to the next tree or to look at the sweat patch on the singlet of the guy in front of you and not let it drift away.

The black thoughts happened between 14 and 16 miles last year. Not going to plan. Despair. And then a group came along. Pauline Curley was in the group. A critical moment. Do you say to hell with it, you don’t care and let them sweep on, or do you gather yourself and get back in the race? Somehow, I found myself in that group. I was looking at their backs, their bums, their shoes.

And I was not exhausted any more. There was revival and there was rhythm. The clouds had passed and there was brightness.

And then we were helping each other. Together. Side by side. In front, behind. Side by side again. And then Pauline and I were in a race and we were fighting. A small gap. A jostle. Together again. There was no 17, 18, 19, 20. There was the next 20 yards and the knowing now that a gap, any gap, meant winning or losing. We were to battle for eight miles. And we could.

There is a tough hill on Milltown Road around 18 miles. In my first marathon my group of three was still together. Now, on this hill, one of the lads said “I’m gone”. Shock. He had been grand. He was pushing earlier. Nearly dropped us twice. Had to scramble back to him twice. But that was a while ago. We were comrades by now. We shouted to him to stick with it. He couldn’t. We didn’t want to leave him.

You have to go. It’s a race.

Nineteen and 20 are rolling miles along Clonskeagh Road and Roebuck Road. I think you are in a dip in the road when you arrive at 20. This might be a monumental moment. 20 miles done. I haven’t really felt any elation or delight so far in arriving at 20. I’ve done what you’re not supposed to do and thought each time, not of the miles run but of the 10km still to go. 10km seems a long way. I don’t know why you convert it to kms.

You continue to undulate a little up and back down Foster’s Avenue. You are working hard, and then you turn out onto the Stillorgan Road. It’s only a little while later, but it is easier to feel positive now because its only a five-mile road race to go now or a lap of Malahide Castle. Five miles seems much more manageable than 10km. With the crowd there telling you that you are doing great and the drop down the Stillorgan Road, you might pick up speed. You might feel great. Up and over the UCD flyover.

Nutley Lane is slightly downhill, but your legs are getting tired. I made a half-hearted push here last year, but you have to mind yourself because you want to make it home without blowing up. Still nearly half an hour to go.

Merrion Road. Twenty-three. Anyone who is running their first marathon will never, ever have run this far before. It’s exciting. It’s torture. Your legs are getting tight. Nearly there and yet so far away. You might feel you have slowed terribly even though you haven’t. In 2008, there were tears here.

You might have to call on every faculty you have – physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual at this point. To keep it all going.

And then again, maybe not. You might have a nice momentum going now or a new bounce with the end in sight. Twenty-four. Shelbourne Road and a few hillocks. Getting up over the bridge at Grand Canal Street might feel like climbing Croagh Patrick. Along Grand Canal Street to Hogan Place. It was around here that I edged ahead of Pauline last year. It could easily have been the other way around. Twenty-five.

And then it’s an outside lap of Trinity College. And it’s a long old mile. And don’t let up now. A lot can happen in a mile. Spectators are cheering like mad down Westland Row. That lifts you again. Pearse Street is long. But you’re now rounding College Green again. One last push and the spectators all along Nassau Street bring you in.

26.2 miles. You are home. Pleased or disappointed, you will have given it everything.

A life achievement. Well done!

I wish I were running. I’ll be cheering instead this time. Cheering madly.

All the very best. Enjoy the ride.

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