[UPDATED November 13th, 2017 at 11:04 pm]
As I lined up in the starting zone and reviewed my pacing plan, hydration, nutrition etc. for the tenth time, I paused to breathe deeply and remind myself of my goal. It has taken three years to get here. I had a great run at the Beachy Head marathon in 2011, finishing in 11th place, and after chatting to a few of the guys I’d been racing that morning I realised they were all “sub 3” runners on the road. At the time my road PB was 3:13:59, and I preferred trails. However, I was now convinced I could go faster, so I entered a spring road marathon and started training again.
A combination of injuries, illness and idiocy meant that almost three years to the day I was still chasing the same goal. However I knew it would be different this time. I felt as fit as I had at London in April, where I had cruised to 23 miles at target pace before my own stupidity ran me into the wall and onto my arse. That was a painful lesson, but fast marathons are not the same as ultras and need a different strategy.
The race got underway with the usual fanfare, and after a small hold up at the first tight right hand turn I was settling into a comfortable pace. I’d chosen to run the first couple of miles a little slow and build into the race so although I could see the 3 hour pace runners pulling away I tried to relax and run my own race. After 4 miles or so the route turns onto a long straight road through Phoenix Park, and I was now up to race pace and steadily catching the pace team and small mob of runners following them.
This section, and indeed the first seven or eight miles were all really well supported, but as the race ran on into some of the Dublin suburbs things quieted down, and I found this gave me time to take stock and ensure I was taking enough water and gels and managing my pace. I even had time to chat to another runner about Tunbridge Wells.
As I ran towards the half way point I saw my family cheering me on and gave them what I hoped was a reassuring wave. I think after three failed attempts to run under 3 hours they were far more nervous that me! I crossed the half way timing mat in almost exactly 1:29 and still felt I was running comfortably.
At 18 miles I still felt fine. There was a slight incline and I felt myself slowing, but relaxed and picked up the pace as I got to the top. The mental doubts were starting to creep in now, but I kept telling myself ‘it’s normal to feel tired after 18 miles’ and remembered Steve Way’s mantra “Don’t be sh*t”.
Somewhere around the 20 mile mark there was a huge arch to run under, emblazoned with “You’ve run through the Wall” slogans. The road narrowed here as everyone went through the arch, and the noise from the crowd was deafening, but really uplifting too. There was one more hill at 22 miles, but again not very long or steep; certainly nothing to fear for a Tunbridge Wells runner fed on a diet of Sausage Factory Hill and Spring Hill.
My final worry was the 24 mile mark where I crashed at London, but I ran through in just under 2:45 and knew I was almost home. I saw Sarah and the children again, and gave them another thumbs up and grin, and tried to relax and enjoy the last mile or so. There is a fairly long finishing straight at Dublin. It’s longer than London, and too far to sprint when you first see it, so I waited and waited, and in the end never bothered with a final sprint. I was too busy staring at the clock over the finish line and smiling; 2:59:37 as I crossed under it, so a 2:59:29 chip time and 302nd place.
It was worth it. It’s been hard work, and not just for me, but for my whole family who had to endure a few grumpy David days when I’ve been injured or a race has not gone to plan.
Now I think I can target a few other race ambitions… Anyone fancy UTMB in a couple of years?
Congratulations to Matthew and Lesley for their fine runs at Dublin. It’s not the flattest route, and was quite warm and windy on the day, but 3 PBs and a lot of fun! I’d recommend it to anyone and not just for the Guinness.