Always a fantastic experience, this year the Cork marathon heralded the prospect of my first sub-3 hour time. My preparation had been good, if not exhaustive, and my positive mental frame was absolute. I knew that I would break 3 hours. Not arrogance – just a pure, unqualified belief. It would be my first attempt at the time.
Conditions were perfect. It was sunny at the start but it clouded over about half way through the race, and the temperature never ventured much above the mid-teens. Dry, mild, calm. I wore my racers – recently purchased with a view to improving my 5k times, though I noticed them here much more than at the shorter distance. After many miles of running, I actually noticed that my feet felt light. It was a great feeling – a feeling that there were no excuses, no reasons not to run a good time, no questions or doubts.
I started with Mick Rice’s 3-hour pace group. Alongside for the first mile, wedged into the middle of the pack for the second, and a few metres ahead for the third. I felt really comfortable, and after the 3rd mile marker I figured I would tail a lady just ahead who seemed to be going just a fraction faster than the pace group. I think it was Helen Leonard… she finished 5th, just outside 3 hours. ;-( Then from about the 4th mile marker, a male runner pulled me along as we ran stride for stride through the first relay station and along the dual-carriageway at Tivoli towards the Glanmire roundabout. My cousin Monique, husband George and children Alex and Nadia were out to give me a high-five as I passed – local support always helps!
I felt so strong. Thundered down into the Jack Lynch tunnel and stayed steady coming back up and out the far side. Powered through Mahon. As I approached the 10 mile marker I found myself running alongside Ann-Marie Holland, the eventual 4th placed lady. The women were easy to identify as they were obviously high up the female field and so were getting loads of cheers. There were myriad “Come on Ann-Marie!!” shouts. :-) I almost made a quip to her that I should have changed my name to Ann-Marie to get a bit more support myself, but decided against it in the end – she looked too serious.
I kept chugging along through the second relay changeover, out the Lough Mahon walkway and back in to the 15 mile marker on the marina. I tried picking holes in how I was feeling, but found nothing of significance. The third relay station was phenomenal. I was well up the field of course, and spectators are still enthusiastic in their support when they have only seen a few handfuls of runners go past. I blasted through, getting a few direct shouts of support from Gerry Carthy of GCH and from Iain, who was down photographing, as always.
I ran with a couple of relay runners for a while – down the south link, past Turners cross and out to Togher – but dropped them both by the time we reached the Lough. The support at the Lough was brilliant. Around the 18 mile marker I had started to feel just a little jaded, but I toughed it out mentally, kept the pace steady and after passing through the 19 mile marker, and then the Lough, I felt a new release of energy hit me. (This might also have been the 3rd gel – caffeinated – that I took at the 18 mile water station!) As I loped down Glasheen road I picked off another female runner – 2nd placed Anne Curley. Not sure where I passed the 3rd placed Mary O’Leary. It felt like Anne would run alongside me for a while, but it was wishful thinking. All these runners were running a one or two-minute positive split, whereas I ran a negative split of about one and a half minutes. I was accelerating; they were hanging on.
I let out a guttural growl after climbing strongly up the short incline at Liam Lynch park (just before the right-turn onto Wilton road). The small crowd that was gathered there appreciated it. ;-) The downhill stretch to Dennehy’s Cross was wonderful – just like in 2011, this had been my best ever first 20 miles of a marathon, and I honestly felt amazing. The adrenaline was surging, but I still remained utterly focused. The Model Farm road is a tough slog at the start, so I put the head down and just kept the legs ticking over. Again, the relay station was mesmerising. There weren’t actually that many people there – still too early for most of the final-stage team members I guess. I flung up my arms, gesturing to the crowd, and received an extra cheer for my efforts.
The 1st place lady was in my sights for most of the length of the Model Farm road. I knew she was in 1st place, because I’d heard a marshall murmur at Anne Curley “2nd woman” at the end of the Glasheen road. I was catching her. I lost sight as we turned down by the old Tennis Village and then right onto Inchigaggin lane. Then shortly after I hit the Carrigrohane straight I got this awful feeling of tightness at the back of my right knee. “Ah no” I thought, not now. I ran-hobbled for a couple of hundred metres and thankfully the discomfort subsided. 1st lady back in my sights. I passed the 24 mile marker feeling fine. Really, really tired, but still strong. Focused. Just two more miles, and the possibility of beating the 1st lady.
I gunned it for the remaining distance. Or at least as much as I could… my final few splits weren’t quite supreme, more like ‘steady’. But still, I really dug in mentally. Go for it, just go! Am I about to vomit from the effort? No – so push harder. Just do it, come on, go! Smash out the fastest time possible. This is the race. Doesn’t matter how my legs would feel later that afternoon. Or the next day. Or the next week. This is everything, so do it justice and give everything. I could see 1st lady in the distance as I pounded along the Mardyke, passing the few other marathon runners and relay runners in my vicinity. Catching seemed unlikely in fairness – she was slowing very gradually, and was generally steady.
The last mile of the Cork marathon is wonderful. The 25th mile marker is just on the south side of the river and then the route crosses a pedestrian bridge before following a shaded walkway along by the old distillery. This path emerges onto the north quays for the second half of the 26th mile before making a sharp right-turn across Patrick’s bridge and down Patrick’s street for the final 385 yards. The quays were dotted with spectators and again I received a few direct shouts from relations and friends. Absolutely humming along now, just giving everything to try and catch the first lady. She managed to stay ahead, however, by about 20 seconds. Probably a good thing really – I got my own cheer at the finish, separate to hers. As I crossed the bridge and entered the race finale, the pulsating energy that I felt from the crowd was just amazing. I was absolutely pumped with adrenaline which manifested itself as an angry delight. I remember roaring ‘COME ON’ and punching the air after crossing the finish line. Iain was possibly left with a sore palm after he went for a congratulatory handshake but received a mixture of a handshake, a high-five and a punch to the palm. :-) Two hours, fifty-three minutes and eleven seconds. It was a brilliant feeling. Writing this a month on, I can truthfully say that I’ve never felt like that after any other race. Or maybe ever.
Some friends were there to greet me – much appreciated Cashy and Pawd. I wandered around the finish area for a while, and applauded the other sub-3 hour runners as they came in, especially the lad who made it by seconds and almost fell over the line as his wobbling legs gave way. Ah, I love seeing that. He wasn’t a comfortable sub-3 at all, but he made it. Think about what had been going through his head at 20 miles, when the race began, or at 23 miles on the mind-numbing Carrigrohane straight. Or at the 25 mile marker, when the time was so tantalisingly within reach but still potentially so elusive. I shook hands with everyone, tried to stretch a little and then hobbled away to recover at home before the drive back to Galway.
- Mile 1+2: 13:23
- Mile 3: 6:57
- Mile 4+5: 13:13
- Mile 6: 6:24
- Mile 7: 6:26
- Mile 8: 6:53
- Mile 9: 6:37
- Mile 10: 6:37
- Mile 11: 6:32
- Mile 12: 6:46
- Mile 13: 6:42
- Mile 14: 6:42 (Half in 1:27:16)
- Mile 15: 6:27
- Mile 16: 6:25
- Mile 17: 6:11 – this mile at 2h42m pace, boom!
- Mile 18: 6:47
- Mile 19: 6:42
- Mile 20: 6:30
- Mile 21+22: 12:59
- Mile 23: 6:20
- Mile 24: 6:48
- Mile 25: 6:46
- Mile 26: 6:47
- Finish: 1:18 (Half in 1:25:55)
It’s one month on now and I quite happily haven’t run a mile since. :-) Back in action soon though… Dingle marathon looms.