The Rocky Road to Dublin
Oliver Clare has completed 18 marathons since March 2012 as part of the 'Running for Reachout' campaign.
It's all in aid of ReachOut Ireland; you can follow his progress online at facebook.com/runningforreachout
My last article detailed the descent into madness that was the Connemara 100-miler; I had no experience of ultra-marathons, sub-par training and until the day before the race, none of the required supplies. What I did have was stubbornness and an unbelievable support-crew. But finishing that race took a very steep toll on my body; Pat O' Keefe (who has run over 80 marathons at this stage) had said to me that he took six weeks off after he ran the same race a few years back. That would have been the sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, I had a schedule, and that schedule would be fulfilled come hell or high water. The next marathon would be two weeks later in Longford.
1. Surviving Ireland's Friendliest Marathon
Billed as the 'friendly marathon in the heart of Ireland,' the event attracted a large crowd of about 800 competitors to Dublin Street in Longford for the half, full and ultra marathons, as well as a full marathon relay. After picking up the race-pack at St. Mel's College, I had a few hours to spare. So naturally, I endeavored to use that time productively to prepare myself mentally for the race ahead...
Fast-forward to 11am and the start of the race. We began with a lap of the town, rendered somewhat more difficult by the fact that I already had a seven-minute mile under my belt before the start; I'd forgotten my timing-chip and had to leg it to the car-park and back to the start-line again (I guess the preparation wasn't so great after all...).
Lacking a plan for this race, I decided to attempt running consistent sub 9-minute miles throughout. Everything was going to plan for the first 14 miles - then, as usual, an equipment failure scuppered me. This time it was the Garmin, which decided to stop working just after the 2 hour mark. So I was running blind, without a watch or heart-rate monitor, for most of the second half. Needless to say, this really wasn't helping my cause.
Nonetheless, it was still looking reasonably good until late on; three hours hadn't passed by the time we hit the 18-mile marker. But in the end, everything caught up with me. My legs weren't properly recovered from the Connemara 100, and it was so hot that I had to run topless for most of the race, which was embarrassing for just about everybody. After about 20 miles, we hit a long hill on the way back into the last village before Longford, and the game was up. From then on, it was just about survival; I met up with a fellow Madventure alumnus called Tom along the way, as well as an American lady who had decided on a whim that she wanted to run a marathon while on holiday in Ireland (as you do) and Graham Whittaker, who ran a fantastic race to finish in the top 10 of the ultra-marathon event. Together, we helped each other on through the final stages. Finally, I ran the last mile into Longford town centre with Larry Rigney, and just for fun, decided to sprint to the finish.
2. Running in the Kingdom
Being the lazy hack of a writer that I am, I don't have any functioning segues, but I do have more crazy running stories, so I'm just going to gracefully move from one to the other. The next race was in the one of the most spectacular corners of the country, in Dingle, Co. Kerry It seems that whenever I go to Kerry, it's exclusively for crazy purposes. For me, getting there requires a five-hour drive and my last visit was nearly a year ago, to climb Carauntoohill. Fast-forward to this year and despite the travel requirements, a huge international crowd descended on Dingle for the marathon. Although I haven't been able to find official reports, I've been told that somewhere around 2,300 people lined out for the half, full and ultra-marathon events - the 50-mile ultra alone attracted 60 hardy competitors. All of which made for a festive atmosphere at the start-line.
Dingle is what my Drogheda club-mate Gerard Fay calls a "real" marathon - lots of elevation (gaining roughly 1500 feet), unbelievable scenery and a great atmosphere. It takes place right at the edge of the peninsula, and the course passes bays, historic sites, famine cottages and goes up plenty of hills! About 15 miles into the race, I met up with a runner from Cork named Barry Galvin, who was running his first marathon. (Doesn't anybody just do a nice easy course for their first marathon anymore?) Barry was running in aid of a cancer charity and had set a goal for himself of finishing in under 4hrs30min while his friend had set a goal of 5 hours. As I hadn't any particular plan in mind other than finishing, I decided to hang around. By Mile 20, it was just myself and Barry, at which point the course took a rather arbitrary turn, requiring runners to hang a left down the Emlagh East road towards Gallarus, before reaching a traffic cone, turning around and coming back up the way we came, and continuing on. This little head-trip is immediately followed by the monster hill that everyone was telling each other about before the race (about 320 feet of a climb), followed in turn by a mile-long straight section back into Dingle, which appears to stretch out forever. Barry was in a great deal of pain with cramping but managed to put in a massive effort. By the end, he was moving really well and we both ended up sprinting into Dingle, crossing the line at the same time and beating his target by about a minute. His friend crossed the line shortly afterwards, beating his own target by about twenty minutes. It was a really extraordinary display of willpower on Barry's part and a fantastic result, especially considering it was his first marathon. For my own part, I've rarely gotten as much satisfaction from a race, and was very pleased with the result.
3. Disaster Strikes in Sligo
Then two weeks later in Sligo, the walls finally came tumbling down.
It all started so well. My mate Frank McDermott was pacing 4.30 at the inaugural Sligo marathon and had gotten me a free entry. We'd left at a nice handy pace (about 10.15 minutes a mile) and it looked like I was in for a relative doddle of a race. With Frank practically acting as my personal pacer, 4.30 hours would be a lot easier than it had been in Dingle, or so I hoped. I was trying out a strategy of focusing on my heart-rate (which I never normally do) and planned to keep it below 150bpm for the first 18 miles. This would hopefully leave something in the tank for the home stretch.
The plan was going swimmingly until I had to pull a Paula Radcliffe (runner's slang for a bathroom break) and Frank went on ahead. Continuing on, I picked up the pace, figuring I could catch him after maybe five miles. But despite busting myself trying to catch up with him, Frank was nowhere to be seen. Then I took a fall.
I was tearing down a hill about 16 miles in, and slipped on a loose stone on the road, coming down hard on my knees and elbows. I was up again almost straightaway but after a few steps it was pretty clear that I couldn't continue to run. Pat O'Keefe caught up with me after a while and walked the rest of the way with me; he'd hurt his ankle further back. Then after two miles of this, Frank caught up with us! Turned out that he'd taken a wrong turn back at a village crossroads further back and wandered five miles off the course! So the whole race to catch up had been a fool's errand from the beginning. But by that stage, the damage was done. I never saw my official time but I have it at 5:53:23
No lasting damage was done to my knees but Iwas badly bruised, battered and generally feeling quite sorry for myself. Both hamstrings were pulled and my body wasn't recovering like normal. Back home in Dunleer, I was having difficulty just shuffling across the street for days afterwards. So it was with a heavy heart that I decided not to run in the Mooathon or the October 'West of Ireland' series run, both of which I was really looking forward to. A new plan was needed. With the Dublin Marathon coming up at the end of August, I decided to take a few weeks off eventing and do some quality training. So I decided to slot in with the Drogheda & District AC marathon group and follow Fran Egan's sub 3.30 plan, or at least the last few weeks of it.
4. Back to Basics & A Change of Pace
And so the new training plan began. The first week saw some tough tempo and recovery runs, including a long Saturday run with the DDAC guys in Termonfeckin, for a week's total of just under 40 miles (64km).
The worrying thing was that the training plan referred to all of this as a "recovery week" and it still destroyed me! We had two more peak effort weeks before tapering, and the best night was a 12 mile run around Drogheda, finishing in 1 hour and 32 minutes, or roughly 7:36 minutes per mile. With the existing injuries I was carrying, I doubted whether I'd be able to sustain that effort, on marathon-day but just finishing the speed sessions alongside the sub 3:30 guys was a huge confidence booster. Of course, as has been the case all year, nothing was simple. As the weeks without a race went by, my body must have thought that its work was done and began unravelling accordingly. After that great speed session, the wheels began to come off the wagon again at a pyramid session. Our pyramid sessions usually consist of a ten minute warm-up, followed by flat-out sequences of one, two, three, four, three, two and one kilometers, with 90 second jogging breaks in between. Four miles in, I bumped heels with another runner, stepped in a hole in the track and aggravated my shin splints. I tried running on but it was useless, every step sent a feeling like an electric shock up my right leg.
That weekend saw a trip to the physiotherapist and the ice-baths in Nobber but there was no chance of a long run. However, the Louth Novice Cross Country championships were being held at the track in Drogheda, which would be a grand opportunity for another relatively short speed-session. Middle-distance running is definitely not my thing. The length of the race was 6k, or 3.7 miles. The first few laps actually went quite well and the first mile was my fastest ever, at 5 minutes & 48 seconds.
However after that first mile, I slowed up a lot, averaging 6:46 minutes per mile for the rest of the race. Another visit to the physiotherapist beckoned. There would be no long runs the next weekend either, as I was helping out at a summer camp in Barretstown. A week after I got back, I was struck down with ubermanflu, and only got in a single training session the week before the most important marathon of the year. Fantastic...
And so here it was; the day I'd been waiting for all year. I had only one goal in mind - to beat the PB set in Kildare last May (3:56:58) If it didn't happen today, with the rarity of a good night sleep beforehand and the support of a large crowd, it wouldn't happen at all this year. Nerves were in full swing as I joined a crowd making its way down towards Merrion Square. With the possible exception of Belfast, this was completely different to anything else I'd experienced all year. Far from the tight-knit crowd of crazy cats that I pal around with week-in-week-out, I found myself in the midst of a throng of people who had spent their whole year preparing meticulously for this day; the tension was palatable, with people elbowing their way forward to get near the pacers in their respective speed zones.This, I supposed, was what a real marathon was supposed to look like.
In the beginning, the extra training paid off handsomely. I managed to edge in beside the 3h45 pacers and stuck with them for the first twenty miles. Compared to what we'd done in the DDAC sessions, we were in cruise-mode, clocking in at between 8:10 and 8:30 minutes per mile. One of the most bizarre moments in the entire race was Ray D'arcy randomly popping up on a footpath near Heartbreak Hill. I think it was somewhere between the Dodder Bridge and Roebuck Rd. I even got a "well done" off the man himself, although in fairness everyone probably did! My favourite part of the entire day came somewhat further back however, when we were passing through the Phoenix Park and came upon this gang! That's the Drogheda & District AC support, out in force!
I hit the wall, for want of a better phrase, around the twenty-mile mark, losing about ten minutes on the pacers from that stage onwards, with the bulk of that time lost in the last three miles. From the beginning, I had hoped against hope that I'd be able to pull off a 3.45 run. But at moments like this, your mind is quick to make new promises. First it was 'Okay, let's try for 3h50', then when it looked like that wasn't going to happen, it was 'Okay, let's just keep moving forward and see what happens.' In the end, I just managed to shave a couple of minutes off the Kildare PB, arriving at the finish-line just behind the Irish Air Corps runners in a time of 3:54:44
With the Eddie Murphy double-marathon and a bunch of other races coming soon after, there wouldn't be much time for rest. Admittedly that one didn't go quite as well, but that is most definitely a story for another day. For more race-reports check out http://www.runningforreachout.ie