Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Dublin...The Story

In the few days before Dublin I read the Pfitz-Douglas advice on "Race-Day Strategy" (Chapter 7). They split the race into three sections:- The first half in which the opening pace should be a little less than race pace and the job is to cruise to 13.1 miles without expending too much mental energy. If you're not cruising over this section then you're in trouble for the second half. On to 20 miles - the no-man's-land of the marathon where mental discipline & focus is required to maintain pace which tends to drift due to lapses in concentration more than anything else. Bad patches can be expected but they should pass. The final 6 miles and 385 yards - The key is to push as hard as you can without having disaster strike in the form of cramps. This assumes that you have something left in the tank. If not then it can be a very painful experience. My race experience in Dublin fits nicely into these three sections but not necessarily for the reasons outlined above. But first things first.................... Preparation Pat and I rose about six and after a hearty breakfast (porridge, muesli, bagels/peanut/banana) we loaded up with every conceivable thing we could possibly think we might need (in duplicate) and after numerous trips to the toilet left for the 10 mile+ drive into town shortly before 0730. On arrival we hung around the toilets on Merrion Square for a half an hour, resting on the steps of one of the georgian buildings fronting the square as we did our pre-race preparation - greasing, plastering nipples, loading up gels, stretching ........until we handed in our bags and headed for the start line with about 40 minutes to go. We met up with Pat Twomey and Tadhg Og Lynch and were joined by Derek O'Keeffe, Denis Looney, Denis Carroll and Thomas. No sign of John Desmond and Paul Daly who also had arranged to meet us. Conditions were perfect - mild, no wind and sunny. We were about 30 yards back from the front. This was the first time that pacers were being used in Dublin with pacing balloons for 3:00, 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30 I think. There was a big cheer when one of the two yellow 3:30 balloons escaped from its minder and floated skywards. "How do they expect us to follow that". I took a Go gel 5 minutes before the start. My belt was loaded with 8 gels and 3 Salt Caps and I still had a further gel in my pocket. My number was hanging from my belt also - which turned out to be a bad idea as I found out in the opening 100 yards. The First Half Finally the gun went off and we trotted for a 100 yards before the pace gradually picked up. It was evident early on that the first mile would not be at target race pace, due to the congestion. The first thing I noticed was the weight of my gel belt when running felt far more uncomfortable (particularly as over half my gels were the large 60ml Go gels) that I would have expected. While I thought the belt was tight when stationary it now felt loose and started rising and falling with every step and rotating around my waist. My number folded up and was no longer visible but as long as it stayed on my belt and the belt stayed on me I was ok (the timing chip was on the number). So the first half mile was spent transferring the heavy gels from my belt to my pockets as I tried to redistribute my payload. Thomas's reference to being like a pack mule certainly rang true.
I lost Thomas momentarily during the first mile and the two Pats had gone out in front - repeat of Cork to Cobh. Mile 1 went by in 7:33 (139 HR) (although we passed a 1 mile sign at 7:03 - The Garmin was set to manual laps). We caught up with the two Pats halfway up O'Connell Street and for a spell we were all together. Mile 2 in 7:04 and Mile 3 in 7:08 (152 & 157 HR) - we were on target pace or thereabouts but my HR's were higher than expected). I'm not too sure who was with me at this stage other than Pat Twomey who exchanged the lead with me from time to time up to about mile 5 or 6 in the Phoenix Park. I hadn't seen Thomas or Pat for some time and while I had assumed they were close behind this assumption faded the longer I couldn't see them. Pat told me later that, as he was pacing off Pat Twomey, he stopped to use the loo in the Phoenix Park when Pat Twomey did, but when he emerged he was on his own and ran on his own until the 8 mile mark when he was joined by Paul Daly, who paced him most of the way to the finish. I missed the split for the 4 mile mark. Shortly before the 5 mile mark I bumped into Paudie Birmingham as I rounded the corner onto Chesterfield Avenue. I don't know how he spotted me as I came from behind - He introduced himself by saying "Solo Run?" - I guessed who he was from his Mallow AC singlet. He certainly looked comfortable. We wished each other well as I went on my way chasing Pat Twomey through the Phoenix Park. Miles 4 & 5 in 14:06 (07:03 average @ 157 HR). Miles 1 to 5 in 35:51 (51 seconds off 7:00 target pace). For most of the race I only ever concentrated on current mile pace (which is what the Garmin was set to - that and heart rate) as opposed to overall pace. If you look after each mile the race will take care of itself. Pat and I were running on the shoulder of another well known Cork runner, Mary Sweeney, between miles 4 and 6. It was at the 6 mile mark that I lost contact with Pat and was largely on my own for the rest of the race. Mile 6 in 7:10 (160 HR) - 43:01 total I passed over the 10k timing mat in 44:52 clock time (44:28 chip time) . Mile 7 and 8 went by in 14:04 (07:02 pace @ 163HR - 57:05 total) despite being a net downhill (two years ago I recorded a 6:45 pace for mile 8 and had anticipated a faster pace this time out). This was the first period in the race where I felt things might be getting a bit tough and my HR was already above 160. My fueling strategy of taking a gel every 3 miles or so was working so far.
The 9th mile took us out of the Phoenix Park to Chapelizod. While I thought I was under a bit of pressure my time for miles 9 to 11 of 20:51 (06:57 pace @ 162 HR - 1:17:56) suggested I was doing fine. Miles 6 to 10 in 35:08 approx (8 seconds off target 7:00 pace - 59 seconds off target in total) As I was concentrating on mile splits i was neither aware of or concerned about the overall time deficit.
The long drag out the Crumlin Road, while easier that previous years as there was no headwind, still slowed my pace giving Mile 12 in 7:14 (159 HR) The reduced HR suggests I was slacking or taking a mid-race breather. From about mile 11 to the halfway mark I was tracking 3 guys from Slaney Olympic running club with their distinctive Wexford Colours. They helped drag me up the Crumlin Road and after the 12th mile rest Mile 13 came in at 7:03 (still 159 HR though). As I crossed the halfway timing mat with 1:33:35 on the clock (1:33:11 chip time) I heard the 3 guys checking with each other that they were ok for what I thought was an increase in pace and that they should make it under 3:10. I said that 3:10 and under was certainly achievable. On to 20 miles Once the halfway point was crossed I felt I had crossed a threshold as there was less left to run that I had run. Over the next few miles I felt very comfortable in my pace. I had passed the three guys from Slaney Olympic and there was no one to pace off as no one was running at my pace. I was picking off runners in front and passing them out - certainly a new experience for me at this stage in the race. Miles 14 & 15 came in at 14:08 (07:04 pace @ 160HR) - 15 miles in 1:46:21 (81 seconds off 7:00 pace avg) Miles 11 to 15 in 35:22 approx (22 seconds off target pace) This section of the race was my most comfortable. I began engaging with the crowds of spectators at each junction encouraging them to cheer which gave me a great boost - for about 100 yards after which my pace fell back to normal. I continued to pour gels into me every 3 miles and had taken an S-cap at mile 9 (another due at mile 18) and while I was less inclined to take them as the race wore on I took them "whether I liked them or not" and suffered no ill effect (other than my pace dropped while taking them which was more noticeable towards the end). I only took water at the stations refusing offers of gels and sports drinks - and water was all I wanted. Mile 16 in 7:01 (160 HR) and 17 in 7:08 (162HR) went by uneventfully but all the time dropping seconds off my original 7:00 target. My primary goal, however, was to keep going at the same effort level and get over the rise up to Fosters Avenue and the 20 mile mark fairly intact - no heroics. From mile 16 I was counting down the final 10 miles. Mile 18 and 19 came in at 14:24 (07:12 avg @ 161 HR) as the long drag from Clonskeagh to the Roebuck Road commenced. This is usually the section where you begin to see a noticeable increase in the number of runners reduced to run/walking. Shortly before the 20 mile mark I heard a scream from a runner lying at the side of the road as an elderly lady tried to stretch his hamstring. My pace had reduced to 7:30 - 7:40 pace along this section as the road rose to Fosters Avenue and fell again towards the Stillorgan Road. I missed the 20 miles mark but recorded a slow 14:56 for Miles 20 & 21 (07:28 pace @ 163 HR)
Miles 16 to 20 in 36:01 approx (61 seconds off target pace - 142 seconds in total) The final 6 miles and 385 yards From about mile 18 my left glute and hip was giving pain and my right calf was tightening up. While I felt reasonably comfortable at mile 20 I was not willing to push myself too much particularly as I was not chasing a specific time goal and the risk of disaster if my right calf began to cramp was too much. Having said that Mile 22 came in at 7:03 (161 HR) but that was my last sub 7:10 mile. Shortly after the 22 mile mark I came up on Denis Carroll, which surprised me as he is a consistently even paced runner who finishes ahead of me in local races in Cork. I suspected that he must have went out at a pace that he could not maintain and had suffered as a result (on checking the results later he passed the halfway mark close to 1:30 suggesting that he was chasing the elusive 3 hour barrier - i'm glad I wasn't chasing the same goal as I would have suffered more than Denis).
Mile 23 in 7:14 was respectable (162HR) but Mile 24 slowed to 7:41 (164HR) while the effort felt the same. Still I felt reasonably comfortable compared to my typical mile 24 of previous marathons. John Quigley from Eagle was taking photos at mile 24.5 but somehow managed to miss me despite my Eagle singlet. The last 2 miles were more of a struggle as the effort level increased just to keep the pace from dropping. Still it was quite manageable and I was still able to raise my arms to the crowds lining the streets encouraging cheers, although it was much more of a chore than it had been at mile 16. Mile 25 in 7:40 (163HR) Mile 21 to 25 in 37:06 approx (126 seconds off target pace, 266 seconds in total) My finishing pace over the last 1.2 miles around Trinity College and down Nassau Street remained below 8 minute pace and raising my arms approaching the finish line cost me another few seconds as I was passed with 10 yards to go. The first time I was aware of the overall time was the 3:08:xx on the clock about 200 yards before the finish - I suspect this clock is there to spur on runners that may be tight for a specific time goal - I might have put in a supreme effort if the clock had showed 2:59:09 - but 3:08:xx didn't inspire the same urgency. I crossed the line with 3:09:22 on the clock and a chip time of 3:08:58 which will do me nicely. 472nd overall and 77th M40. So a top 500 position in Dublin for the first time out of 10,413 finishers and a PB by 8 minutes & 7 seconds. Pat came in just over a minute later to record an 11 minute PB of 1:10:15 and Paul Daly a minute later again to record a 22+ minute PB of 3:11:11. We limped our away around Merrion Square to the physio tent and met John Desmond and Derek O'Keeffe who both had beaten the 3 hour barrier by a minute or 2, Derek in his first marathon, which is a fantastic achievement.
Recovery The post race physio was the best I ever got after a marathon and no one touched my legs. Instead we were taken through our paces as we did a series of whole body stretches from the neck down and warmdown exercises under the guidance of a nice looking girl with a headset all to the sound of music. You can imagine it is the last thing someone would want after running 26.2 miles but I walked out of there with my legs relatively intact and in working order and while I expected to cease up during the 3 hour plus drive back to Cork later in the day I was no worse and Pat an I headed for a pint of the black stuff at the local before heading home. Following a thrall through hundreds of photos on line at (thanks Darren) This was the only photo I could find... coming in with just under a mile to the finish line and 1 gel still hanging from my belt and another in the zipped pouch.
My recovery continues and while my legs have never felt better after a marathon ( some tenderness in my quads) I will not run for a few more days. An easy 500m swim today and a bike ride before the weekend will do me for now.


  1. Congratulations on a fantastic PB... great post too. Enjoy the recovery, it is well earned.

    Do you think that the book you mentioned is worth reading/buying?


  2. An excellent effort, you managed to stay on pace until about 23 miles, and the slowdown over the last few miles was not too telling. That was one to treasure!

    If you look after each mile the race will take care of itself - I'll keep that in mind.

    No wonder you can't find any photos with your number being invisible. Having said that, I only found one of myself!

  3. Good report Grellan. You executed the plan well, that's for sure. Not much time lost in the last 6 miles. No cramping too, so the S-caps doing their job.

    Being so close to the magical 3 hours, I'm wondering what changes you'll make to your preparations for the next one?

  4. Congratulations Grellan.

    An excellent run and a well written report.

    I was interested to read about the post race stretches. I'm always amazed how you can finish strong and then within a few minutes can hardly walk!

    Rest well and set your goals for next year.


  5. That picture shows no bib number. BANDIT!!! AUTHORITIES! SEIZE!

    Great report, and great effort! I'm always amazed at the detail you remember for each mile...I tend to simply remember Miles 18-25 as "I was hurting and they sucked."

    Again, Grellan, congrats!

  6. You didn't make it easy to find...

    A clearer one

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  9. Grellan you sound surprised by your high heart rate to pace in the marathon compared to when you are training at the same pace. Two factors can play apart in this; Adrenaline and in the later stages of the race; Dehydration, both can spike your heart rate up by as much as 10 BPM.

  10. Michael, The book "Advanced Marathoning" is certainly worth a read, although I have not followed any of the programmes in it - yet.

    Thomas/Nic/Private, yeah the lack of a visible number was a bit of a bummer - although it was still attached to me somewhere.

    Ewen, I've been thinking of that myself and don't really know yet. I could certainly do with some more speed or perhaps speed/endurance (longer tempo runs)and keep building strength through hill work. Maybe I coming close to the limit of my ability.

    John, I was surprised by the sudden onset of musle soreness the second I crossed the finish line and equally surprised at how good the post race stretching really helped - now I know how important it is to keep moving after crossing the finish line. Is it similar for an ultra (or probably worse)?

    Rick, I was a bit concerned for a while by the early heart rate but not too concerned especially as it remained pertty steady thereafter. While I understand the early adrenaline induced rise, my concern was that it would continue to rise after thee initial "buzz".

  11. Thanks Grellan. I think the limit if your ability is faster. Maybe it's 3:03? Maybe it's 2:57. Anyway, it's worth pursuing if you have the time and inclination. I wish now that I'd done so when I had the ability to run such times.

  12. With only 3 years running behind you I think you have a way to go before you peak out!
    I read somewhere that you have 10 years to improve!
    It was correct for me starting at 33 years old and having my best year at 43. Train smart and you can go a long way!