Monday, June 07, 2010

Plan for the worst and hope for the best

So said Mike, and who am I to question the voice of wisdom. I had a long list of excuses why this would not be a good marathon, especially the fact that I had been sick a week ago and still felt the effects of it on marathon day. I finally got excited about the race on Sunday night, but when I awoke on Monday morning my mood immediately nosedived when I saw the trees bending over in the wind and the roads covered in puddles from heavy rain.

I paid a fortune for the taxi to get me to City Hall, and then assembled with the rest of the field on St. Patrick's Street. I could see the balloon for the 3:00 group not far ahead of me (and presumably Mick Rice at the other end of the tether) and had to resist the temptation of walking up to him and starting out at suicidal pace. Instead I stayed put and by pure coincidence ended up right beside Marty, so we exchanged a few words and wished each other well. Then we were off, and about 10 seconds later I crossed the line and my race began.

I did not have a fixed time goal, so I ran purely by feel. Not wishing to wear myself out within the first miles I started at what felt like rather leisurely pace, though it really was a bit faster than that. I thought I might see the leading runners at the initial almost-out-and-back section, but I must have been too far ahead in the field for that, the road was still empty coming down the other way. I saw Seamus ahead of me who I had raced with a lot of times in Kerry over the recent months. He seemed to be doing exactly my pace, just 10 steps ahead of me. Somewhere close to the 2-mile marker I finally caught up with him. I reminded him that we were in the same age group when he called me a young man and after a bit of banter I got ahead of him.

Right at the 3-mile sign we were back beside the river and on our way eastwards out of the city. The wind hit us immediately and I tried to tuck behind other runners as much as possible, but it was very hard going and I spent a lot of energy. Of course the conditions were the same for everyone else, but the combination of wind and rain is nasty, especially for a specs-wearer like me. I felt like flying blind, and I lost count of the occasions when I had to adjust or even wipe my glasses because my sight was severely curtailed.

Miles 1-5: 7:11, 7:06, 7:25, 7:13, 7:17

The Cork marathon also features a relay, and the relay stations are all a bit more than 5 miles apart. This makes it easy to divide the course into 5 much more manageable chunks and the relay runners provide a great atmosphere at the changeover points. You just have to careful not to get carried away there, and not to mind being overtaken by a few runners with fresh legs after each station. It was towards the end of the first station that I realised that Seamus was right behind me when someone called his name. The cheeky rascal had stuck to my coattails for the last 3 miles, letting me do all the work in the wind! We headed the same direction for about 2 more miles until we got off the dual carriageway and after a set of slip roads (short steep hills for us runners) we entered the most unusual stretch of any marathon course I have ever experienced, the Jack Lynch tunnel. The road is fairly steep, first in our favour on the way in, but of course we had to pay for that on our way out. I very much appreciated the break in the wind, but it did not last long enough. Seamus must have felt really guilty about using me as a wind shield earlier on because he went ahead to do the work himself for a while. Another set of hills finally got us out of the Link Road, and for a couple of miles the wind was at our back, which explains the 2 fast miles 10 and 11 (7:09 and 6:55 pace).

Miles 6-10: 7:18, 7:21, 7:21, 7:18, 7:09

Just before Blackrock Castle we basically turned around onto a path right beside the water. As I said at the time, on a lovely day this would have been a lovely stretch, but today was not that day. Instead it turned into a few miles of hell as we ran right into a miniature hurricane. Seamus was tucked behind me once more, but I found a little group, mostly lead by two guys in white singlets and for a change hitched a lift myself. Even though the pace felt rather strong, the slowest mile of the day came on that stretch and the fact that the path was entirely flat apart from two overpasses was totally negated by being blown backward with each step. Finally we turned westwards and I knew that for a few miles we did not have to worry about it any more. We re-joined last year's course and passed the halfway point in 1:35:22 on my watch, still in the same group with the 2 white singlets, Seamus, and a couple of others. The pace picked up a bit, but I still felt entirely comfortable.

Miles 11-15: 6:55, 7:19, 7:37, 7:21, 7:12

In fact I felt so comfortable that at mile 15 that I decided to inject some pace. I passed the white singlets and left Seamus behind, having earlier agreed that it's every man for himself. The next 2 miles were pretty good, but I knew that the hilly part of the race was yet to come, so maybe I was just trying to bank some time. The average pace on the Garmin so far had mostly shown 7:14, then dropped back to 7:17 on the windy path and we recovered to 7:15 by halfway. My surge at that point got me back to 7:14. I also passed a tattooed runner in a black singlet after a little chat. However, as soon as the hills started I started to struggle. I have never been the strongest of uphill runners and it showed. The runner in the black singlet went ahead again looking very strong, but I think he was the only marathon runner to pass me (plus a couple of relay runners). On my previous run here, 2 years ago, I had struggled on that stretch as well but found my legs again for a very strong finish and obviously I was hoping for the same again. However, I was starting to cough at that point, and each cough would produce some phlegm from deep within my lungs (sorry for that description). It was a clear sign that not all was hunky dory, but there was nothing I could do about it apart from hoping that I would manage to hold things together for the final 8 or 9 miles.

My left hamstring had started hurting by mile 10, but that was entirely manageable, if slightly worrying. From miles 18 to 20 this turned into agony, but the drop in pace was more down to the hills on that stretch. It was my experience that got me through that stretch. I have been there plenty of times and knew there was a chance that I would recover eventually. It took a while and felt even longer, but by the time I passed the Lough I started feeling better again and I was kind of looking forward to the last few miles. Would I be able to repeat my performance from 2 years ago and have a good finish?

Miles 16-20: 7:06, 6:57, 7:07, 7:20, 7:22

There were a few more hills to cover, but I could tell that I was doing better by the fact that I managed to catch up with the black singlet again, and somewhere around the last relay station I passed him again, this time for good. I'm pretty sure that by re-passing him I had overtaken the only marathon runner to have passed me since mile 10. I, on the other hand, starting catching runners by the dozen, but it was difficult to tell if they were marathon or relay runners, because plenty of relay runners ignored the rules of wearing a number both on the front and the back, not that it really matters in the end. But it's always a boost to gain one more place in your own race.

I am a bit disappointed now with the numbers on the Garmin, which really do not seem to reflect the massive effort I put into those miles. They might have been slower than 7:20 but were a lot harder than the ones closer to 7:00 pace earlier on. It did not help that we first had to deal with the hills, and when we turned onto the straight road that would bring us back into the city we were heading straight into the wind again. My timing was particularly bad; I had just passed a fairly big group and now there was a massive gap ahead of me; no runners, just wind. It took me half the road, but finally I gained a few more places. Mile 24 might only have been 7:24 pace but I must have passed a dozen runners.

Miles 20-25: 7:09, 7:30, 7:18, 7:27, 7:24

Of course all those mile times are from my Garmin, which never quite matches the real numbers. Normally it shows about 26.4 miles at the end of a marathon, but it had long ago become apparent that this time the discrepancy would be higher, even though I had been careful following the race line for most of the race. However, on quite a few occasions we all had to take a wider turn because of the massive and deep puddles on the road, especially on some corners that we ideally would have cut much finer. But looking at my figures and remembering the lines many of the other races took, some runners must have gone a long way more than the normal 26.22 miles at the end.

Anyway, the 25 mile marker was my sign to push the effort even further and I red-lined. My heart rate would eventually reach 180, which I had never managed in a marathon before, I'm sure. I was still passing runners, though I had no real idea of my pace or time and I did not waste effort looking at the Garmin, just pushed with all I had. The last mile really seemed to drag out a lot and the pain was immense.

Miles 26 + rest: 7:05, 6:48 pace for the final 0.5

Eventually we crossed the river again to head into the finish. For the last few seconds I finally saw the timer and at first was quite disappointed to see it at 3:12. All that hard work and suffering for a mere 3:12 marathon? But considering the circumstances, my sickness (I was still coughing up the content of my lungs), the wind, my less-than-ideal training since Connemara, this was pretty good. I guess the lesson is that if I want to run faster than that, I have to train specifically for a fast marathon.

I waited for a few minutes in the finish area and shook hands with a few runners I remembered from the course, and gave some stick to John D for missing his 3:15 pacing target (sorry John. I know you looked shattered). I was just starting to worry about Seamus when he crossed the line in 3:19, having suffered from cramps over the last 10 miles but happy with his effort.

Thinking back, I'm happy enough with mine as well. This was my 4th fastest marathon to date, and considering the circumstances I had done well enough. The first half had felt easy enough to wonder if I had started too conservatively, but considering that I had not managed to run negative splits despite the massive rise in effort during the second half, this is questionable. I easily managed to run another Boston Qualifier (not that I will run Boston next year), and I'm sure I managed to get they marathon racing fever out of my system. Now I can start training for Dingle. After all, that's only 3 months away.

Blurry race photo by Paudie.

2010 Cork City Marathon
3:12:10, 7:19 pace, HR 162
93rd out of 1427 finishers


  1. I really hate the wind and rain and going into marathons with a lurgy of some kind. But it is all part of it and your right to take the good out of this experience.

    When you run a marathon and all things come together you will appreciate just how well you did at Cork. I mean your fastest marathon will be your easiest effort wise but it won't come until after a few horror runs and a lot of pain and suffering.

    Have a good recovery Thomas.

  2. And heres this old biddy aiming for 4.30 at Rutland Water in November! I was thinking about you yesterday and wondering how you would do having read your long list of ailments - is thsi it until the Dingle?

  3. good effort and your time gets you in London with good for age!

  4. That's a solid result Thomas. Go into the next one with the Rick-style devil-may-care attitude and you'll run a PB for sure!

  5. good to say hi at the race start yesterday. you ran a great race in at times harsh conditions. congratulations

  6. Well done Thomas.

    A really good run in the circumstances.

    This will give you confidence for the next one coming soon.

  7. As I said yesterday a good solid run for a man with a dozen excuses. I reckon each excuse cost you a minute.

  8. Congratulations on sticking it out under tough conditions, all the while being less than 100%. When you put things in perspective, i.e., your fourth fastest ‘thon, your performance wasn’t all that bad.

    You mentioned in your earlier post ‘reasons’ why you might be off the mark, prior to even toeing the line. The one that bothers me the most, and I quote “I can’t get excited about the race”.

    This coupled with a few others are symptoms of overtraining. Now, I’m not suggesting you’re overtraining, but given your recent ultra, this marathon, and the fact that you plan to run another run another in a few short months, well... I think it’s crucial that you recover properly.

    There are plenty of books/programs that lend advice when doing two marathons in short order. But what I’d suggest, as an opener, is ‘no’ running for one week, then, start with a 20’ run, and increase that by 10’ every other day, i.e., one day running, followed by one day rest. Build that up to 60’... then start your training. You want to make sure you’re chomping at the bit before beginning to train for another marathon.

    Just my two cents. Regardless, all the best and I look forward to your reports.

  9. Are you doing the ultra in dingle