The run started on the prom across the road from the Galway Bay Hotel, went out the coast road for 13.1 miles, and back again. The previous Sunday I had run the Cork-Cobh 15 mile race in 1:42:45. Mid-week I completed just one training run – 10 miles around Dangan on Thursday evening. I felt good after that, and my dodgy Achilles’ also felt good all week. Saturday morning… I felt pretty good! I hadn’t really thought about the run during the week, being pre-occupied with badminton clubs and teams and registrations and all the usual bickering and controversy that surrounds the sport locally. So when I walked into the hotel to collect my number at 9:40am I didn’t really know what sort of time I was targeting. “Two weeks to Dublin” was in the back of my mind and I wanted to save myself for an attempt at a sub 3:30 there. But in the bathroom about 10 minutes before the start, a fellow Summer-Series runner named Conor told me I should be “well capable” of going sub 3:30 on the day. We had both run the first of this marathon series back in July where I passed him with a few miles to go while running close to a 10 minute negative split on my way to a new PB of 3:38. Mmmmm… I told him I hadn’t covered enough miles, that I didn’t have the distance done in training, that I’d been going badly the last few weeks (all true!). He rubbished it all. So was a sub 3:30 on the cards?
Ray thanked the hotel for their support during the series and there were a few photos taken. Down to the prom and off to a steady pace. It’s been a long time since I started a race running at 8 minutes per mile, so I wasn’t certain of the pace, but a handful of us made it to Barna with Conor’s Garmin indicating this pace exactly. Shortly after this Conor and John (sorry I don’t know surnames!) dropped back as Dave and I surged forth. Dave set the pace for a couple of miles. I ran beside him through Furbo and we chatted a bit. I took my first gel at the top of the hill out of Furbo – thanks to Bid for once again riding bike support and supplying me during the run! By Spiddal I had gone a few strides ahead while maintaining a very steady pace. Dave stayed with me until probably mile 11 or so when I started to pull ahead. Some more solid running brought the half-way point into view – a jeep parked on the side of the road. :-) I took my second gel and grabbed water from the sole supply station on the course. I was about two or three minutes behind the two leaders – Denis and Aaron (winner of last week’s Galway Bay marathon with a 3:05, he went on to win this race also with a 3:16). Dave was another minute or so behind me.
My half way split was 1:45:24 – spot on for a 3:30 finish. I was particularly happy with it because I felt like I had been running to 8:00 minute pace the whole time, but with the lack of mile markers I had no way of confirming this. I was, however, slightly concerned about my legs. From around mile 10 or 11 they had started to feel just a little tired. No real problem yet of course, but I remember experiencing a similar feeling at the 12 mile point in the Cork marathon earlier this year. In that race, I maintained a solid pace until 19 miles, after which my legs died a death and I slowed to 10+ minutes per mile. I fought to put such negative thoughts out of my mind and ploughed on at what I thought was a steady pace.
Soon enough I was back into Spiddal with about 17 miles completed. The tiredness was edging to the fore but Spiddal marked what I consider to be the key point in the marathon. I took another gel from Bid and washed it down over the next four miles with 500ml of Lucozade Sport. These four miles were tough. I passed Denis around mile 19 but we could offer little encouragement to each other – both were struggling. I kept going, the legs kept churning out a steady pace and the miles ticked over. I gave Bid instructions for the next pit-stop. Gel at the Connemara Coast hotel and the final water bottle as soon as she could catch me up thereafter. She cycled ahead as I went through Furbo village (about 6.5 to go). By now I was glancing at my watch, wondering if the 3:30 was still on. The legs felt poor enough but I was going steady and the gel/energy drink had picked me up. A good time at the Coast (approx 5.2 miles to go) would lift me no end. I snatched the gel from Bid’s outstretched hand while trying to do some calculations in my head. 5.2 times 8 was never so hard… but my total time was only 2:46. Surely I couldn’t be going faster now than in the first half?
The last five miles were unpleasant. I’ll be very clear – my stomach got queasy. I’m not sure if it was the gels or the lucozade (and I’ve used this exact supply strategy before with no problems) but I almost considered stopping a couple of times. But Peter Ferris I am not and I kept going through the discomfort. I saw the sign for Barna as I started on the long straight into the village. On the way out earlier, Conor had mentioned that we’d covered 3.2 miles going through the crossroads in Barna village. Three more feckin miles, but just as I was approaching the lights I got a surge of energy – I looked at my watch and saw 3:02. This was it. It was happening. I could all but collapse for the last three miles and still come in under 3:30. My stomach was a mess, my legs were tired, every gentle uphill elicited a curse or a groan, but there was no way I was collapsing now. I struggled along with a jumbled mass of “positive-thought” clichés doing the rounds inside my head. I couldn’t really think straight and was just longing for that last and only junction of the course that would signal a mile to go. It came, my watch showed 3:18 or so and I grunted with relief. Teeth gritted, I climbed the last hill up to the camping park. Half a mile to go and it was all downhill and flat. Running the final stretch along the prom was surreal. It felt like I was sprinting. My breath was loud and ragged. To the dozens of walkers ambling along I must have been a strange sight. I was gasping for air as the finish line appeared. With my right hand in a fist I punched the air a couple of times. Watch stopped. 3:26:45.
A huge PB by over 11 minutes!
Tea, soup and a sandwich in the hotel were very welcome.
First half: 1:45:24
Second half: 1:41:21
Official time: 3:26:42
Today, two days later, I feel grand. No stiffness. No pain. I was absolutely shattered on Saturday, and fairly tired all of Sunday, but that was it. Mission accomplished, and the pressure is off for Dublin… though I guess I’ll have to run another 3:30 to be happy now.