To be perfectly honest with you, Dublin marathon was something of an accident. As is so often the case with accidental life decisions though, it turned out to be a bloody brilliant one!
Let me give you some background. I was at work one sunny Monday in May, when my phone vibrated. ‘I’ve signed us up for Dublin marathon’ read the message. ‘What name is your passport in?’ These are the kind of friends that you should surround yourself with. The ones that are your kind of crazy!
The next few months saw, well, not a lot in truth. I pulled out of Chicago due to some health issues, and we swung from hot to cold on whether we would go to Dublin at all, or just slack the whole thing off. I think the decision to give it a try was made sometime on Thursday night. So, with one panicked 17 miler, and something of an inverse taper in the bag, we boarded our Ryanair flight (through different doors I hasten to add as choosing your seat costs more than the flight itself!)
Dublin marathon expo
Touching down, in a noticeably colder, but brighter, Dublin, we headed straight for the RDS to pick up our race numbers. I’ll skip over the controversy of the car hire company taking payment for a hire car that they failed to have. But needless to say, we arrived at the expo, later than planned, and by bus. Compared to London, Dublin marathon race expo was far friendlier. Everyone wished you good luck, shook your hand, and just generally made you feel like you were part of something special. Which of course, you were. The highlight of any expo is the free stuff, and we spend a fun hour testing multiple protein bars, taking pictures and generally getting nervous. So at that point, we donned our race beanies and made our exit.
As a side note, we were lucky to be staying with some of Debbie’s friends. Not only had they spent all day cooking pasta dishes for carb obsessed marathon runners, but they proceeded to lay out a hugely impressive breakfast station of porridge and ALL of the toppings for the morning too. With three of us running, the house was buzzing with marathon excitement and they were beyond generous all weekend. I genuinely feel that it it thanks to them removing all stresses from the weekend, that everyone ran so well. Maybe there’s a gap in the market for marathon experience weekends, and if this was something you could book alongside your race entry and flights, then this would certainly have been accompanied by five shining stars.
Dublin Marathon Start
There are two jobs on the ‘to do’ list at any marathon start. Bag drop, and the toilets! At Dublin, bag drop was a dream. Seamlessly organised and took mere seconds to complete in the standard, find your number and hand over your bag, fashion. The same cannot be said for the toilets. I actually think I was really unfortunate as I’ve spoken to lots of people since who didn’t have a problem. But, when I arrived, the toilet queues were 50 minutes! Yup, 5-0. The worst of any race, I’ve ever been too. So bad in fact, that I missed the green start altogether. What followed was the strangest start to any major marathon I think there will ever be.
Having finally completed my pre race panic wee, I sprinted off in search of the start line. It was probably a good 600m away and I was expected to bump into a mass of multicoloured runners at any minute. No such luck. When I eventually approached the start, it was totally deserted. Not a runner, or supporter in sight. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. It was how I imagine walking into a 24 hour Tesco at 3am would feel. How was the start line of a major marathon so desolate?? Anyway, there was a comedic moment where I shedded my tracksuit trousers and hoodie whilst still running, then I slowed slightly for one deep breath, before I crossed the timing chip and started. Or at least, I think I had! Talk about underwhelming!
- Don’t panic about toilet queues, or start times. It turns out that you can just begin whenever you feel the urge!
- Raid a charity shop for a jumper and trackie bottoms. The start is almost all in the shade, and was only 3 degrees. I might have accidentally picked up a maternity hoodie complete with easy access for feeding, but I was still very grateful for it! The race organisers pick up all discarded clothing and pass it on to charities to be reused so it wont be wasted.
The first 6 miles UP to the north side of Phoenix Park
After running the first 50m alone (and a bit like a headless chicken), I turned sharply right and thank goodness, there were people. By that I mean some walkers with poles, and batman, but people none the less. As underwhelming as this start was, I actually think it worked out in my favour. It felt just like going for a run at home, and without being hemmed in by other runners, I found my own pace much more quickly than usual. I started to catch the back of the green wave after around half a mile and gradually moving through the field over the first 10k was also a real confidence boost.
The first 7 miles are a gradual drag uphill. It’s the kind of incline that you don’t really notice, so you just think you’re working a little bit harder than you’d like to be, for the splits your watch is showing. At this point I was starting to think it was going to be a very long day. The crowd support through the city is great however. You cross the River Liffey via the James Joyce bridge lined with people cheering on both sides.
Shortly afterwards, you run through the gates to Phoenix Park, some of my favourite miles on the course. We were lucky enough to be blessed with a cold, but sunny day with brilliant blue skies, which really did show it in all its glory. On entering the park, you are greeted with the stale smell of poo. Just as I was starting to think that someone had a very severe case of the runners trots, I realised (thankfully) that we were passing the zoo!
- Don’t be disgruntled by your early mile splits. It might not feel much on fresh legs, but you are running constantly uphill. Be patient and don’t spike your heart rate too early, the downhill is coming.
- Look around you in the park. You run past the President’s house on the right hand side at about 4.5 miles.
Phoenix Park, over the Liffey and out to Kilmainham
As you leave the park at the north end, there are some seriously impressive houses to keep you company. Not only must they be worth millions, but because Ireland seems to do Halloween on a far more American scale than the UK, it’s a fun mile of witch and pumpkin hunting. The house that was entirely covered in cobweb with 8 giant black spiders was a particular highlight.
My other favourite part of this section, and not just because it’s significantly downhill were miles 7 to 9. The route weaves though what is, in my opinion, the prettiest bit of the park and feels far more ‘countryfied’. Definitely my comfort zone. The trees were gorgeous shades of red and orange, and on a cold, crisp day, you were really spoilt with the beauty of an autumn marathon.
- Use the downhill! I never understand people who pussy foot around here. Let your legs go, and enjoy coasting.
- This bit is fairly windy. Keep your head up and eyes on the next corner. The course isn’t too busy, so you can usually position yourself to run a reasonable tangent without cutting people up. This can really help to stop you clocking up that extra distance.
The bit around the suburbs
This is on par with the Canary Wharf bit of London. You make it too halfway and then head out to wind around some of the suburbs before heading back to the city. I actually went through halfway in 1.49.37. 4 minutes slower than in London, but feeling, oh so much better. These miles ticked by quickest of all. It honestly felt like one minute I was at 14 miles, and the next I was approaching 20.
There were some definite highlights too. I was lucky enough to be in the underpass when someone shouted ‘oggy oggy oggy’. This happened in London too, and the memory of the camaraderie of those moments, still gives me goosebumps. There were also a few Lucozade stations, decanted into plastic cups and available to grab. I already had my fuelling strategy sorted, so didn’t partake, but kudos to ANYONE who manages to drink successfully from a plastic cup at any pace, without either pouring it all over their face, or developing a spluttering case of ‘Lucozade lung’. What followed, was 400m of sticky tarmac. If you know, you know. Incidentally, all bar one of the 5k water stations had controversial, but really useful plastic bottles with flip lids.
- The crowds through this section are great. There’s almost never a quiet moment.
- The gradient settles down here, so use this section to drill in on your target pace and just keep clicking off mile splits as close to it as you can.
Heartbreak Hill and the long road to Ballsbridge and across the finish line
On the Saturday night before race day, there had been a lot of talk about heartbreak hill. I ran to 20 miles feeling surprisingly strong, but I did think the lack of long runs was probably coming for me, and the closer I got, the more I was dreading that hill. Until suddenly I was running passed the RDC at Ballsbridge with a mile to go. Had the course changed? Had I just missed it? Apparently I had! What a joyous anticlimax!
To keep myself entertained I’d been donating each mile to a different person in my life, listing the things I love most about them. I ran mile 25 for my husband. The slowest of the day, sorry love! But when I passed into the 26th and final mile marker, I realised that I’d run out of people! I live a quiet life! Then, someone shouted my name, and as cliched as it sounded, I knew that I was running that last mile for me. Too many times, I’ve just wanted a race to be finished and not basked in the glory of that final stretch, but when I hit the blue carpet, I even found an extra bit for a ‘sprint’ (it’s all relative!) finish, smiling the entire time of course.
- A friend suggested the donating miles to people you love thing, and it was hands down the best strategy I’ve ever used as a distraction technique. Just remember that near the end of a marathon, your emotions are all over the place, and it is a not a good time to start thinking about people you’ve lost. Getting a gigantic lump in your throat does not make breathing any easier. Just saying!
- The final mile of Dublin marathon is the best. Look around you, and take it all in. I wanted to go back and run it again.
- Heartbreak hill clearly isn’t that bad.
- The goodie bag is one of the best. Not only did we get beanies and a whole bag of treats at the expo, but a long sleeved finishers top and another bag at the finish line. The cookies and cream quest bar was the first thing to hit the spot post race.
Official time: 3:41:35
Pace: 8.27 min/ mile
Elevation: 697 feet
Overall position: 4241/17931
Women’s position: Unfortunately the results are based on gun times, not chip times, and as there are 12 minutes between mine it makes any positions really inaccurate. You can order the global results by chip time, but unfortunately this function isn’t available for category positions.
First man: Othmane El Goumri 2:08:06
First lady: Motu Gedefa 2.27.48
Listening too: Okay….. don’t judge me, but ‘For the Record’ by David Cameron.
A Final Word
Before Dublin, I was done with marathons. I don’t think I realised how much London had knocked my confidence. Dublin healed me though, and I will forever love it for that. In fact, I would challenge anyone not to love it. From the minute we stepped into the expo, people could not have been more friendly. Dublin marathon has a big city marathon feel with glimpses of a more rural route thanks to the early miles through Phoenix park. It’s also worth mentioning that the marathon takes part on the Sunday of bank holiday weekend in Dublin, so the whole city has a great buzz.
Although Dublin doesn’t sell itself as a fast course, the downhill faster miles felt like they made up for the longer slow drags. What I really learned from this marathon however, and I’m sure it won’t be for the last time, was that whilst training may be queen, pacing, is most definitely king. Not blowing up in the second half is a far less painful way of running a faster time.
Final thought: Everyone should run a marathon that finishes in a city where at 5pm on a Sunday, the pubs are full too bursting and alive with the the sound of a live fiddler.
Thanks Dublin, I really hope we’ll be back.