‘How can you tell if someone has run a marathon?….Don’t worry they’ll tell you.’ , is a joke I enjoy and can shamefully admit to. How I got into marathon running, I cannot say. It always held a certain allure for me. Perhaps it’s the photo of my father crossing the finish line in the eighties, pain etched across his brow. Perhaps that penchant to suffer in training drew me to it as it did The Galway Cycle. Either way I’m now hooked.
I first attempted it in 2012, well kinda. I pitched the idea to Eric and he was all for it. He excelled and applied himself furiously to his training, I did not, being more talk than action. Working full time in the bar had left my legs brittle and late nights had my body clock all over, excuses excuses… When I did get going I went too far too soon and inevitably hurt myself, that was the end of that.
Nonetheless, I got to savour the day in the capital as myself and Trish went in to cheer Eric on. I was the epitome of a proud brother that day. He was brilliant that day, and although I somehow missed him storm by I got to meet him at the finish and furnish him with our childhood staple; a can of coke and a mars bar. A few pints to toast his achievements put the cherry on top.
I was hooked on the atmosphere in our capital on marathon day. It is an enriching experience for crowd and runner alike. To see these people plumb their depths to get to the line is humbling to say the least. The colour and noise of encouragement was unreal. Runner upon runner streamed past, all striving towards their personal goal, some almost broken as they pushed beyond their limits. Blood, sweat and tears were literally on show!
The people there to cheer them on were euphoric. What is it about the marathon that holds so much awe for people? Every year I went to cheer pals on, determined that’d be me next year. Easy to get caught up in, hard to apply.
Getting going finally
In 2015 I bit the bullet, being fortunate enough to have friends who knew what they were doing. We had a great summer training and pushing each other to the limits. It was a colossal commitment. I was also in the colossal commitment of teacher training, surely the two could not go together?
It turns out they can, completely. I found the training I was doing was providing the much needed stress release from something as intense as teacher training. When I was out running I couldn’t bring the books so there was no point worrying about work I had to do. I was able to park it and simply run. No worry of inspections and the like, just music in my ears and the rhythmic sound of shuffling feet. Much needed.
My first marathon was some trek, physically and emotionally. Mam and the lads arrived up and Trish was there too of course. I ran like the clappers; surprising myself. My buddy Ken, an experienced runner, suggested at the start line I join the 310 group. Caught up with the nervous yet electric atmosphere, I duly did. I was concerned for most of it and hit the wall with three k to go.
The wall is a surreal experience. I got through it though, thanks to many in depth conversations with some dead relatives. I never felt my father so close since his death, before or after. He got me through, I certainly feel that. I came home in a time of 311. I was lucky it was raining as my tears were hidden as I passed my dedicated supporters. What a feeling.
If I was hooked before as a supporter, it had me hook, line and sinker now as a participant. The support from everyone that day will stay with me forever. The steaks and pints that evening compounded this view:)
Since then I’ve taken part in four more marathons, so I’ve ran five in total (4 Dublin, 1 virtual Munich marathon). I’ve finally found a sport that suits being small and scrawny. Whilst the day itself is unreal as a spectator and a participant, the complexion is different. As a spectator saying I’ll do it next year, was a comfort. I enjoyed the revelry yet knew I hadn’t earned that satisfaction written on the runner’s faces. What a delight to be on the other side of it.
The day itself is what you train for, and it is so special. yet some of the most special moments I’ve had in my marathon journey has been on my own. There is something unquantifiable about how satisfying it is to come through a hard session on your own. Being bashed by the weather and nobody to spur you on but your inner fire is nourishing beyond measure. In life, the down moments make the up ones all the more special, the same goes for running; the moments fighting hard on your own make it easier to plumb your depths when being cheered on by thousands.
Coming of Age
Running suits someone like myself, mid thirties with many commitments. It gives you that space for yourself, but also allows you to take control of your physical and mental health on your own terms. Like life, you have good days and bad. Some days you could stay out there all day, others; you could lie down on the pavement and call it quits. Running has given me the power to know you have more good days than bad, especially the more you try.
Last year I aimed for the elusive sub-three. I was borderline ready for it. I ran as well as I could and am very proud of that day. Yet I blew up with a k to go; coming home in three hours and six seconds. Many things went for and against me that day. Being too out of it to stop my music and hear Trish cheer me home may have cost me those seconds, who knows? A time to be very proud of, yet it is the human condition to unearth a downside….six seconds, what the hell?!
Again, like life, running always affords the opportunity to try again. This year I would give it another go. When all races were cancelled I was more haunted by those six seconds than ever. Different times require a different response however. Sure isn’t grand to have something to train for?
Lockdown’s were coming thick and fast. We trained as best we could at the club and continued to push each other. When the new level five came in, our rough plans were further scuppered. Resilience came to the fore. I decided to go through with it to hell, as did my club-mates. I was lucky to have some club-mates to pace me (one at a time, at a safe social distance of course!) as whilst running may be an individual sport, to think you can do it alone would be folly.
With the support of the lads, coach Martin (with his essential negative coaching), some great friends who kept me going for the last few ks and Trish nourishing me throughout, I got there by the skin of my teeth. 2;59;52. What. A. Feeling.
I’ve been in shock since, such a feeling of coming of age has overridden me. The training had again paid off. Running is a double edged sword though, what drives you on doesn’t go away when you reach a finish line, onwards is all you think. This is a uniquely positive thing; to look forward with fervour but also with confidence is a nice feeling I could get used to.
When it comes to running the important thing to remember is we are all only running against ourselves. An important mantra we can take to all aspects of our lives. So, get out and run, we all have a marathon in us. Sure aren’t we running one as we speak, if you think about it?!