Monday, May 14, 2012

What A Beautiful Day

As you can imagine, Sunday was a wonderful day. It could have been oh so different. At the crucial time, I was sitting on a train, unable to get wifi working and wondering how the match went on, but still highly confident. I was absolutely stunned when Niamh rang me with 15 minutes to go and we were 1-2 down. That sick feeling in your stomach is all too familiar to a City supporter. Then she rang again. I spent the last few minutes of the match glued to the phone while she held the other one against the telly. I tried not to get too mental when Aguero scored the winner (it was a packed train); one guy gave me the evil eye, the rest of the passengers seemed reasonably pleased for me. I even heard my kids screaming excitedly - up to now they had never given a hoot about City. Glory hunters! Still, somehow it's good to know that even after spending a billion quid or so, we STILL have to do things the City way.

Oh, sorry, I forgot. This is a running blog. That reminds me. I ran a marathon as well.

I had been a bit nervous about pacing 2 marathons on consecutive weekends, especially when I got bumped up to 3:15 in Limerick. But I recovered very quickly and on Thursday I knew I would not have any difficulties with the 3:30 pace in Kildare.

It was a lovely, sunny day but very windy. It became clear very early on that the blustery conditions would have some influence today. The pacers got special treatment with a big changing room and secure storage, and we were able to have showers afterwards. Great stuff. I felt almost like an elite athlete. Someone who would be much more used to that treatment was John O'Regan, who asked me if there was a marathon I wasn't doing these days. It was pure flattery on John's behalf, of course, but still nice.

Gathering at the start was slightly chaotic, but by the time the gun sounded somehow we were all lining up correctly. My pacing buddy was John, and since we both had those screaming orange pacing uniforms we were easy enough to spot. John's balloon popped with a loud bang less than half a mile into it, and I could see two red balloons rising up to the sky - I guess the 3-hour lads decided they were not going to bother with balloons in such windy conditions.

We settled into pace quickly and hit all the early mile markers spot on. They had affixed the signs to the nearest lamp posts, but they took that notion a bit too far because sometimes the nearest lamp post was a bit too far off the correct mark and they should have used some other means of fixing up the markers. It would have made pacing a little bit less tricky.

We had a good group going, well over a dozen runners. Mo was fooling around at mile 5, sprinting past us. When he drifted back to us a mile later I pointed out to him that by now he should know how to run a marathon, he really has enough of them under his belt by now, but he was having none of it.

The wind was really strong, and we were grateful enough for the high hedges. A few of our group kept getting whacked by my balloon, which also threatened to strangle me on a couple of occasions. I could have let it go but wanted to keep my 100% record of bringing the pacing balloon to the finish line going.

There was some sideline support passing through Newbridge and Athgarvan but for most of it it was very quiet. The banter in our group died soon enough as fighting the wind was taking enough energy. We kept our pace very well, always a little bit ahead at the mile markers. We were about 20 seconds up at the halfway mark, just where I would want it to be.

I didn't realise that the biggest climb of the day was awaiting us just here, and a few runners were definitely struggling with the combined forces of the fairly steep gradient and the blustery headwind. We hoovered up a couple of runners who had been in front of us to that point, which kept the overall size of our group reasonably constant.

Mile marker 14 was the odd one out, my Garmin showed 14.6 miles as we passed it, but that was followed by mile marker 15 at 15.05. We joked that we must have been close to setting a new world record, but apart from that one, all the other markers were reasonably ok.

I probably made one guy's day when we passed him around mile 16 and he thought we were the 3:45 group. He lightened up when we told him we were the 3:30s, though I do wonder how his timing/pacing could have been out by so much.

I can only talk for myself of course, but the miles were ticking away very quickly. John, my pacing partner felt the same, but it was clear that some in our group really started suffering. As always happens in a pacing group, the numbers started dwindling, and quickly. I started giving a few pep talks, encouraging the guys and telling them we were about a minute ahead of pace at the mile markers, and things like "only a 10k to go" at the 20 mile mark. I have no idea if that kind of thing helps to be honest, but at least nobody told me to shut up.

At one point I noticed a new runner in our group, Dipak Vala, who was running his 100th marathon today. That is quite some number. I still have a long way to go. He ran with us for a couple of miles but then pushed on for a strong finish. Respect!

We passed through Kildare around mile 23. One boy begged be for my balloon, but as it was tied to my wrist I wasn't able to get it off while running 8-minute miles at the same time.

Photo by Peter Mooney
With a couple of miles to go we encouraged our last remaining 5 runners to push ahead while we kept on pace, and to my surprise they all took us up on the offer. One guy was struggling with his hamstring and had to stop and stretch every half mile, but he managed to catch up again every time and made it in the end. As a result, John and me ran the last mile on our own. We were both still in good shape. I enjoyed the run so much that I was almost sorry for it to end, but it had to end eventually. We tried to get one more runner to come with us but his legs had completely seized up and he had to walk it in, a couple of minutes behind us. We crossed the finish line in 3:29:37, pretty much spot on. I like to think we did a pretty good job. I got a very nice compliment from one of our pacees, which felt particularly good.

I told Anto, who had organised the pacers, about the mile 14 marker and he thought we must have taken a wrong turn. If that's the case then a lot of people took a wrong turn as everyone within sight had followed the same route. To be honest, I cannot imagine that happening, there were signposts and marshals all along the course and my Garmin showed 26.47 miles at the end, exactly what I would expect to see. If we had left the course we would have by some coincidence still run the right distance; it seems rather unlikely. 

There was an incident where two runners did indeed take one wrong turn - the 2 front runners had not been directed onto the right path with only a quarter of a mile to go and ran past the finish line (and apparently continued on for 2 more miles), because one single marshal had not done his job. It shows how one otherwise very well organised event can suddenly turn sour with one single detail. From what I gather, the organisers handled the fallout pretty well, giving winners' cheques to both the original front runner and the guy who had broken the tape, admitting their mistake as well as apologising for it. I guess that's as good as they could have done, once the error had happened. I saw the guys in the winners enclosure afterwards and they seemed happy enough,

My own special thanks have to go to Anto, who organised the pacers, and Joe Cawley, one of the 3-hour pacers, who gave me a lift from and to Dublin. I would have been stranded without you guys. And congratulations to my friend Gary Condon for a 4th place marathon finish, just 4 weeks after running Boston. Not bad for a clown.

11 May
6.1 miles, 47:28, 7:47 pace, HR 142
12 May
5 miles, 39:01, 7:48 pace, HR 140
13 May
26.2 miles, 3:29:37, 8:00 pace, HR 149
   Kildare Marathon, 3:30 pacer
14 May
5 miles, 39:55, 7:59 pace, HR 142
   incessantly whistling "You are my City" all along the way ;-)


  1. Writhing in pain after seeing the picture, be careful with the heel strike-overstriding!

  2. Super job Thomas! Your pacing is always spot on.

  3. Results says something like Thomas Benindorfer from Star of the Luanda!!

  4. I know. It's one of the more adventurous spellings of my name, though not the worst by any means. I'm still claiming the marathon finish, though.

  5. Nice job there Thomas

  6. 2 marathons in a week? Be careful of burning out, not a very wise thing to overtrain like that!

  7. Hi Thomas, I know you from the 1000 mile challenge on Boards. your name stands out a bit, as you know. I came in just ahead of you at 3.27 in Kildare. The 3.15 guys carried me along for about 10 miles before I dropped off a bit. Just to say, that photographer Peter Mooney is a gent and will send you a high-res non-watermarked pic; you can contact him through his flickr, you can click through to it from the racepix site, which I assume is where you got it from. Cheers. Dave Meehan