Saturday, July 10, 2010

Almost A Walk In The Park

Marathon Day started in highly unusual fashion – by waking up in my own bed. I had set the alarm, but of course I did not need it. By 6:30 I was wide awake, by 7 I had my breakfast, by 8 I was out on the bike, cycling the 5 miles to Killorglin from where I would catch the bus to Killarney. The fact that there was a public transport option available at just the right time was nothing short of a miracle and an opportunity too good to miss, which saved Niamh from putting our entire brood into the car early in the morning and hanging around Killarney for 5 hours with 4 increasingly cranky children.

It had been dry early on but it started raining just as I got to Killarney. Oh dear. I signed up at the Brehon hotel and then the 32-marathon guys themselves, Ken and Gerry, made an appearance and had a chat with every one of us. Gerry even recognised me (“you are that guy with that web site!”), which was a nice start. Just as we were leaving the hotel to get to the start line, who would show up to start the race but Colm “Gooch” Cooper, holder of 4 All-Ireland medals and 5 All Stars, at which point I turned into drooling fanboi and had my picture taken with him. The day was alway going to be great after that. The only disappointment was the low turn-out. There were only 6 marathon runners, including Ken and Gerry, and maybe 10 for the half, though that included the Boston Rose for next month's Rose of Tralee festival, so at least we definitely had our fair share of celebrities.

The course was to be 6 loops in Killarney National Park with on out-and-back spur at the start to make up the miles, 3 loops for the half marathon. One guy took off at sub-7 minute mile pace and I was rather surprised to see him wearing a full marathon number. I followed behind, jogging easily, or so it seemed, but when I checked my Garmin it said 7:15, so I put the breaks on. I knew I was in for the wrath of Mike if I would finish below 3:30 and settled into 8:00 pace. For the first 3 or 4 miles I struggled to find my pace. Every time I checked the Garmin it was way out of whack, either too slow or (usually) too fast. Eventually I figured that the present pace displayed seemed to be a bit off. While the distance and the average pace seemed to be spot on as far as I could tell, the present pace seemed to fluctuate half a minute per mile in either direction. Maybe the trees or the thick clouds interfered with the GPS signal, because I felt I was running far more evenly than the figures on the Garmin suggested. Eventually I managed to wean myself off the display and tuned into The Zone. Running became a lot easier from that point.

I was not sure what it would feel like to run 6 loops. Before the start I had chatted to Nora, who had come up with the course, and she told me she had gotten the idea from the Portumna marathon and Ultra two weeks ago. While it would obviously not be suited for a race with loads of runners, for a small crowd like today it was perfect. Running short loops of just over 4 miles meant you always had a mini-target shortly ahead of you and it helped cutting the marathon distance into smaller, much more manageable chunks. The main problem, as far as writing a race report is concerned, is that everything tends to melt together and it's difficult to remember on which loop any particular occurrence happened.

Most of the lap was completely flat but there was a hill towards the end where we had to climb about 150 feet over half a mile. Easy enough to do once, but after 6 loops this would be tiring.

I was wearing my glasses because I had been worried about missing a turn but it was easy enough, especially since I'm familiar with Killarney National Park. In the heavy rain they were a complete pain so I took them off and put them into my bag after the first lap, losing maybe a minute in the process.

I was carrying two gels and one container with salt tablets in my shorts pocket, and it was rather cramped in there. When I picked up my first salt tablet I had real troubles putting everything back into place. It was impossible while running and I had to walk for a while trying to sort things out. It didn't feel quite right, but everything seemed to be back in place.

After each lap I pressed the lap button on my Garmin, but shortly after starting the third lap I realised I had just hit the stop button rather than the lap one. Luckily I had noticed it in time – I had covered less than 0.1 miles without recording, about half a minute, and the distance displayed was still reasonably accurate.

I noticed that my cruising speed that I had fallen into was close to 8:30 pace. This was a bit surprising, I had expected it to be closer to 8:00, considering how slow that pace had felt in Connemara early on. But I was happy enough cruising along at that pace. This was a training run for me with Dingle the target and I sure was not going to jeopardise that by running too fast today.

With so few of us on the course, I was running completely on my own and after completing the first lap I could not see anyone either in front or the back of me. This re-enforced the feeling of this as a training run. It sure did not feel like a race, comfortably jogging through the park on my own as I was.

Halfway through the third lap I tried to take my second salt tablet but noticed that the cover of my container had come off and my salt tablets had pretty much dissolved in the rain. I took whatever was left, but sorting out the mess took a while; I even had to stop for a while. When I resumed running I noticed that the average pace for that lap had dropped to all the way to 9:10. I must have messed around for well over a minute when I should have been running. It's a lesson I'll definitely take on-board: either get shorts with two pockets, carry a waist pack, or take less stuff with me on my run, but stop cramping stuff into too small a space. By the end of the lap the pace had gone back to 8:53, but it was to be by far the slowest lap of the day.

For the rest of the day I resolved to run and forget about anything else. This worked remarkably well and I spent the next few hours tuned into The Zone running like a machine.

The fourth lap went by in a flash. I was a bit worried about getting tired. The last 2 weeks I had done 2 runs of 15 miles and both times I had gotten really tired after about 13 and then was really glad to be done after 15. Today this would not do. But I passed 13 miles feeling perfectly fresh, 15 miles came and went, and by the end of the fourth lap I was on 17 miles already and still no real sign of fatigue. Someone else must have felt just that though, because as soon as I started lap 5 I saw the runner that had stormed off at the start right on front of me. Within a quarter mile we were level and started chatting. His story was quite remarkable. Cork, 5 weeks ago had been his first marathon. One week ago he had run in Longford, the first marathon of the 32-marathon series, and now was his third ever marathon, just 5 weeks after the first one (and he was planning two more over the next 2 weeks). I told him he would make life a lot easier on himself by starting slower rather than taking off at sub-3 pace, but he insisted he liked putting time into the bank early on so that he would be able to slow down at mile 20. Ok then. Anyway, we shared the road for the next 3 miles, doing about 8:25 pace, which was probably a good bit faster than what he had been doing in the miles before, otherwise I would not have caught up. I did notice that he was breathing a lot harder than I was, though. When we reached the hill towards the end of the loop he told me to go ahead, and I was on my own again.

I could hardly believe I was on my last lap already and I was marveling how well I felt. It also helped that I caught up with two other runners, who of course were still on their fifth lap and they both looked to be suffering a bit, having covered more than 20 miles at that stage. Welcome to the marathon, I suppose.

I should mention a bit about Gerry and Ken, the two real heroes who were on their mission to run 32 consecutive marathons, completing the 9th one that day. Gerry was looking good and fit, but Ken had developed knee pains halfway through the seventh day and had to walk the second half. Yesterday had been worse and he had to walk basically all of the Cork stage. Today, in Kerry, he had hoped for better things but sadly that turned out not to be the case. I first lapped him walking towards the end of my second lap, then again at the fourth and once more not even halfway through my last lap, at which stage he was not even halfway through. What was amazing was that he still had a big smile on his face each time we met, even though he must have been going through a very tough patch. It got worse, he required a physio session after his third lap and he later soldiered on, taking over nine hours to slowly hobble his way through the entire course. He certainly was very determined to keep going.

As for myself, I must have accelerated on my last lap because the pace dropped under 8:00 all of a sudden. I was not even aware I was doing this; I guess I could smell the barn. But there was one thing on my mind. If the half marathon distance had required 3 laps and one extra spur, who come the full marathon would be 6 laps and one spur? This did not make sense, and one look at the Garmin plus a small calculation made it clear that a second spur was needed for the whole distance. Indeed, when I finished the last lap the Garmin showed 25.22 miles and even though I had missed out a short bit when I had inadvertently stopped the watch after 2 laps, this was well short. I had a short discussion with two guys helping out with the organisation, and eventually we all agreed that one extra mile was required, so I did exactly that. By the time I was back again I had done 26.35 miles in 3:39:43. The exact time isn't important; I had run about half a minute with the clock turned off earlier on, but then again I had spent at least as much talking to the guys after lap 6, when the clock kept ticking, so we called that my final time. The official timing device had sadly given up its ghost a long time ago, apparently recharging the battery last night had not worked properly.

Lap 1: 8:08 pace
Lap 2: 8:34 pace
Lap 3: 8:53 pace
Lap 4: 8:31 pace
Lap 5: 8:27 pace
Lap 6: 7:50 pace
Extra: 7:38 pace

I changed my top, and then informed the next runner, Tomas, that he should complete the spur for a second time to cover the whole marathon distance, which he agreed because it had been playing on his mind as well. Then I headed out back on the loop until I came across Gerry and we finished his marathon running in together. He also had spent the last hour thinking about how the distance could not be right after only 6 laps (funny how we all had the same thing on our minds when there was not much else to think about for hours), and he had his own Garmin to confirm that, so he did the final out-and-back section as well. We had a good chat; I told him my backstory on how I had come to live in Ireland and about the upcoming Dingle race, which he might do as well. After all, he will be well trained for an Ultra after all that. I also told him about my cousin who is autistic, which obviously was close to our hearts, the whole 32-marathon trip being a fund raiser for Irish Autism Action. When I mentioned Ken's troubles he told me how they had spent an entire year preparing for this project; after all that work neither of them were going to give up without a really good fight.

Eventually we were done and Niamh and the kids just happened to be there. I told the kids that I had come first; Lola was delighted, the boys were more like “finally he's won a marathon, it has taken more than enough attempts”. I didn't tell them that it might have been the slowest winning time for a marathon in history. Some things are better left untold.

It was a true honour to share one marathon with those amazing guys attempting a great feat. They even had a goody bag with a medal, t-shirt and certificate, showing how much thought they had put into this, trying to have every one of the 32 marathons just like a real race. I had not expected any of this and it was a really nice touch. Then they went far beyond what you could expect at your average marathon by organising a massage as well as a shower. Sadly I did not have time for the first because family duty called but the latter was gratefully received, and I was fresh for the rest of the day, which was very much a family affair and included cinema and Fun Fair, and a much lighter wallet on the way home.

With the marathon and my subsequent miles together with Gerry I had covered just over 29.5 miles today, and very much enjoyed every single one of them. This was the easiest and most enjoyable marathon I have ever run, and I am now looking forward to Dingle more than ever.
9 Jul
5 miles, 41:48, 8:21 pace, HR 137
10 Jul
29.5+ miles, including:
Kerry section of the 32-marathons challenge 3:39:43, 8:21 pace, HR 149
11 Jul
5 miles, 41:46, 8:21 pace, HR 137


  1. Nice that you could be a part of that Thomas

  2. A win is a win, congratulations, well done! Nice write-up.

  3. I'm almost in shock that you ran a marathon for fun and actually had an easy and enjoyable time! Well done and not going pedal to the medal and recharging the competitive batteries!

  4. Nice job, Thomas! Sounds like it was a lot of fun.

  5. Thomas the Champion!
    That's amazing stuff and something to tell the grand kinds in future years to come :]
    Yeah the Garmin can be a bit anoying when set to display current speed, I tend to use average pace or set it to the virtual partner when I'm racing.

  6. Sounds like you had an enjoyable training run/race Thomas. You should kick on well from that.

    On the need for extra pockets, I highly recommend Race Ready. I have the LD Easy - plenty of room for gels, credit cards, keys, spare socks, kitchen sink... They're made from a nice fabric too.

  7. Thomas - Another fine run. You've come a long way...

  8. good stuff thomas (and gerry and ken). must have been nice to participate in this.

  9. Nice job. Neat that you could run with those guys and their cause.

    I like the video - you have the best crew. :)

  10. Well done on the win Thomas. Reassuringly easy for you which bodes well for Dingle.

    I couldn't help but notice the tone of Niamh's "Finally" in response to your proclaimed victory - well done I never doubted you.