Breaking one’s marathon virginity is painful and hard, but oh so satisfying.
Back in September, I wrote an article for a national online publication wondering if it was possible to run 26.2 miles with fairly limited training.
The response from readers was varied – comments ranged from messages of encouragement to claims that ‘posting an article professing it can be done with a months prep is folly and [a] downright dangerous precedent to set.’
Running a marathon was a bucket list entry for me and something I always knew I would do at some stage. A month before the Dublin Marathon this year, I decided to go for it – after all, I have a reasonable base level of fitness and I’m as stubborn as a Liverpool fan waxing lyrical about history.
Normal people build their training up for months and months before taking on the 42km route – my training consisted of light 5-6km runs in the preceding few weeks, a reasonably healthy diet, and no alcohol from 8 days before the race. Not exactly ideal but those were the cards I dealt myself.
The writing you can see on my left hand in the photo above was a quote from the great Forrest Gump – “I just… felt like running.” I figured that about summed up my own reasons for running the marathon – I just felt like doing it, and I figured every time I looked down at my hand I’d remember my reasons.
The ink washed off in the rain about an hour in, and by mile 13 my legs felt like melting into the tarmac and my brain couldn’t remember why I was doing what I was doing. To be perfectly honest, I felt like this:
Don’t get me wrong, I never underestimated the difficulty of completing a marathon, especially on a sparse training regime like mine. But there were moments dotted throughout the run when I recall feeling almost overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge that was finishing. They say a marathon is roughly 40% physical and 60% mental (whoever they are) but I would argue it is the other way around.
I distinctly remember one particularly nasty hill about 9 miles in that I simply could not get my legs to run up. I trudged up it in the end, all but carrying my legs in the process, and when I got to the top I was very worried of the prospect of more to come. In fact, ramps in the road seemed like mini-Kilimanjaro’s.
One runner alongside me (he must have been in his forties and it clearly wasn’t his first marathon) patted me on the back as I was walking just after the aforementioned hill and encouraged me to get back running. “You’re doing great lad, that hill would ruin anybody.”
The camaraderie between runners, complete strangers, is one of the greatest memories I will take away from my first marathon. The crowds along the route were absolutely fantastic. I had been advised to wear my name tag on my race bib at the Marathon Expo in the RDS the day before and during the race I realised why. People I hadn’t met cheering me and thousands of others on by name throughout made the excruciating pain that bit more bearable.
Children and adults alike handing out sugary sweets, energy gels and orange and banana slices. Volunteers at water and Lucozade stands. People holding signs of encouragement (my favourite was a blank sign that simply read ‘Motivational Sign.’ It made me laugh and I forgot about the act of running momentarily, so it worked a charm).
In the end I finished in 4 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds. I was reasonably happy with the time, and I now know I can do quite a bit better with a tad more training and dedication. My next marathon will certainly be within the next year, and a sub-4 will be my aim next time around.
Running a marathon is far from easy. If it was easy the 15,000 odd runners wouldn’t have bothered. Crossing that finish line is a feeling that is impossible to describe, only surpassed by the feeling four days later when my legs start working again without the stabbing pains.
I looked for advice before my first marathon, and the advice I would pass on having now done it is simple. If you have always wanted to run a marathon, then do. Perhaps a bit of solid training would be a good idea first though.
I think I’ll heed my own advice for the 2016 Dublin Marathon. It might help me not look like this afterwards…