I had already suffered at the hands of Tom (head pacer) the night before over a pint, warning me that I better not collapse on the course from malnutrition or bonk and come in a few seconds over 3:30 (that's a mortal sin apparently, punishable by 4 penalty points and regulation to the second division - the graveyard of "standby" pacers - only right too if you ask me - fair play Tom, it pays to have high standards in sport ;-)
It was the perfect morning for running, just above freezing but getting warmer as the sun rose revealing clear blue skies with the snow capped Mount Brandon clearly visible off to the west at the end of the Dingle Peninsula - this was going to be a great day for Tralee. The town had changed a lot since I worked here 20 years ago, learning to dive off the Magherees, long before I took an interest in running. My memory of the course, or what I knew of it (patchy as it turned out), being that from the perspective of looking over a steering wheel - relatively flat with a few undulations. I had heard there were a few hills, but coming off the Clon B2B's , I wasn't worried.
There was a good buzz at the start line, next to the Aquadome, with about 600 lined up for the marathon start at 9 and at least the same for the half marathon start, 20 minutes later. Irish International ultrarunner, Keith Whyte was the sole 3 hour pacer, with John and I at 3:30, Denis (whom I travelled down with the night before) and Tom at 4:00, Eamon at 4:30 and Pat & ?? taking up the rear at 5 hours (a nice tidy crew - the A-Team). Denis, John and I had manned the Pacer stand at the expo for 20 minutes the night before, with the only enquiry coming from fellow Pacer Eamon asking where he could get some food and a pint.
I met clubmates Annemarie (going for her second sub 3) and her sister Colette (running the half) and wished them well, along with Thomas (also going for his second sub 3). After the wheelchair start (Gerry Forde) and a group of local charity runners the main field was off, through the streets of Tralee, to great cheers from onlookers.
We settled into a steady pace with a good crew of runners, including clubmate Ann, heading out towards Ardfert with road undulating, but generally up for the first four miles. Great support at Ardfert (Mile 6) as we turn left along quiter country roads towards Barrow. The locals in the group were warning everyone about the short steep hill around the 10 mile mark and the long drag at Mile 21 as the worst of the hills. We pick up the pace a little on the downhills to make up for the slower uphills. Mile 9.5 to 11.5 is an out and back, where we spot Thomas, working hard on his own ploughing a lonely furrow, well ahead of the Keith's 3-hour group (including Annemarie), which pass a minute or two later. We slow the pace for the quarter mile steep hill at Mile 10 - certainly a challenging climb as the 50 second cushion is whittled down to 5 seconds by the time we hit the 11 mile mark on the return leg, passing Tom's and Denis's 4 hour group heading out. C'mon the 3:30's - still a good crew with us.
We now turn south passing the halfway mark with a 20 second cushion and heading for Fenit, a few ups and downs challenging us along the way. The next out and back from Mile 14 to 16, takes us through Fenit and out to the end of the pier with music and fantastic crowd support to keep everyone motivated. After the turn, we notice Ann has fallen off the pace a little. The cushion turns to a 37 second deficit as we pass the 16 mile mark - it must be in the wrong place as our pace over the last few miles has been around the required 8 minute mile mark. We can't take any chances though - what if the earlier markers had been wrong and out cushion was never there - unlikely perhaps but we up the pace to the 7:30's over the next downhill mile, passing the 17 mile mark with a 10 second deficit. The next mile is the shortest as our 7:4x pace takes us to the 18 mile mark with a miraculous 90 second cushion - back on track.
The road in from Fenit, through Kilfenora and Spa is busy with traffic, but marshalls ensure there are no issues and most motorists slow down and offer support as we pass. There's still a good group of 8 to 10 runners with us as we pass the 20 miles mark and turn right heading south through the Kerries with the 90 second cushion still intact. We lose some of this on the long rise between mile 21 and 22 as we enter Tralee. A right turn takes us west away from the town towards Lohercannon and Blennerville with the cushion now down to 50 seconds. Most of the group we had been pacing are about 100 yards ahead with us picking up one or two in their wake, including Mike, who is suffering - aren't we all at this stage in a marathon. It seems to take forever to reach the end of the road before we're heading back east along the canal path towards Tralee.
For the last two miles we have a group of 4 or 5 running along the tow-path and pick up one or two more (Russel from Maidstone Harriers and Nick, running for Cork Simon who had been with us from the start and had gone ahead at mile 22), offering encouragement to keep with us over the last 10 minutes - no time to quit now, so close to the finish - Mile 25 passes with a 45 second cushion. Soon we are off the path and heading through the streets of Tralee. Mike who had miraculously hung on over the last 3 miles has gone ahead . We pass Mile 26, turning left past the Brandon as the crowd support thickens (great turnout), shouting back to "Maidstone" (Russel) and "Cork Simon" (Nick) who have fallen off the pace, using the cushion to slow down so that they can bridge the gap to us - left into the town park for the last 200 yards, great finishing chute, turning to encourage two final runners to cross the line in front of us, with about 15 seconds left on the clock before the 3:30 bell rings.
You couldn't have asked for a better day to run in the inaugural Tralee Marathon - beautiful cool sunshine, scenic course, excellent crowd support all along the route, with plenty of water stations and attentive marshalls and a great finishing experience in the town park to cap it all off. Well worth it.
Well done to Thomas and Annemarie on their second sub-3 hour marathons and 1st place finishes (M40 & Female), great acheivement to you both. As for me, i'm very happy with my 3:29:44 95th place finish, which should keep the pacing gaffer happy, for the moment. I'm sure he'll acknowledge it in due course ;-)
I've spent the rest of the day pigging out and am feeling pretty bloated so it's time to come off the glucose high and return to the slow fat-burning monastic diet tomorrow. It was good while it lasted.
Have a great Paddy's Weekend.