NB: Long post, no pictures, a bit of self-indulgence.
Something just led me to look up my August 2008 blog on this matter and, guess what? There wasn’t a blog post at all. It seems like there was a nine-month hiatus in my blogging after I moved to Ireland in early 2008. So, almost 12 years later, here’s what I recall of my very first marathon finish.
You’ll note it wasn’t actually my first marathon, or even my second. Just the first I finished. So I’ll deal with those bad ones first. In 2006 or 2007 I entered my first full marathon, in Cork. I ran badly, didn’t get much beyond half way. I was puzzled and disappointed, but put it down to inexperience. Then, in June 2008, I entered Cork again. This time I’d trained like a demon with training runs up to 20 miles and beyond. Inexplicably I failed again, worse than the previous occasion. There seemed to be no reason for this abject failure – I’d run plenty of half-marathons at this stage so to not get beyond 13 – 14 miles was inexplicable.
What was I to do? I couldn’t just give up on marathons. What I did was enter another one, seven or eight weeks later, at Longford in the Irish Midlands. Instead of training even harder I cut back my mileage and added in a bit of gym work – resistance, lifting, rowing machine. I headed down to Longford on the evening before the race. A good start to race weekend – the hotel couldn’t find my booking so I had to head out miles into the countryside to find a room. However, the next morning, it was cool, breezy and damp. Just the conditions I like. Off we went.
Even at the outset I felt better, more confident that this was to be my day. I took it steady as we headed out of town, into the country. I passed a couple of chaps with ‘100 Marathon Club’ on their vests and started to feel even more confident.
Then, suddenly the half-marathoners who had started at the same time split off to the right and the race took on a different complexion. Into the lovely Longford lanes we went, not many of us. At times it seemed that I was running alone. There were very few marshals and only the occasional sign to assure me I was still on course. And then, a bit of fun with a wheelchair competitor. I’d trot by him on the little climbs as he toiled, pushing his wheels around. Then a little later, on the downs, he’d come flying by me, ‘Wheee!’
17, 18 miles, way further than I’d managed in Cork, and feeling relatively comfortable. 20 miles, and I found what they say is true. The last six miles is where a marathon starts. Out now on the hard shoulder of the N5, the Longford bypass. Remember those two ‘100 Club’ runners? They trotted by me, still chatting away together. When your resources are gone, your body has nothing left to give, you have to find ways and means of continuing. Unlike in Cork though I could sniff the finish – so much of endurance running is mental. I tried a trick – for each of those last six miles, concentrate on a person special to you and they’ll get you home. Whether or not it was that, I somehow found myself on the outskirts of Longford Town, still virtually alone. And then, like a vision, the finishing line on Main Street. Sunday lunchtime and a couple of dear old ladies kindly clapped me over the line. Someone handed me a medal.
Happily the nearby Longford Arms had made room for me on this Sunday evening and I tottered up to my room, collapsed on the bed, legs and everything quivering and cramping. I finally found the strength to get to the shower…it wasn’t working. The hotel agreed to change my room to one with a working shower, but this was further pain. Finally I showered and managed a somewhat tortured rest.
But by 7pm I was right as rain. Medal around my neck I headed off on a pub crawl, gleefully downing a pint at each and moving on to the next on that quiet Sunday evening. After about seven pubs and seven pints, waving my medal at disinterested bar staff at each one, I happily weaved my way back to my hotel.
I won’t forget that day anyway, but now it’s recorded here. Thank you for reading.