Monday, June 03, 2013

Shock Therapy

Photo by Niall O Crualaoich
Contrary to my prediction I was not thinking I was going to do something really stupid when I was standing at the start of the Cork City Marathon even though I was still recovering from a cold. No, I was far too pre-occupied with the seriously dodgy feeling from my stomach to be thinking anything, really. I did not mention it to anyone, certainly not to my prospective pacees, because they were expecting me to be the expert who would pull them around the course in the allocated time of 3:15, and whining and whinging before we even started would not have made the best impression, I think.
The pacers - Photo by Anne Lucey Murphy

The gun went on time and me and fellow pacer Alan quickly settled into the right pace. I have run Cork plenty of times before and know that the course always measures long on the Garmin, usually around 26.5 miles, and that has to be taken into account. A 3:15 marathon is 7:26 pace (minutes per mile, obviously, as always), we want to come home 30 seconds early, that's 7:25 pace on the official mile markers, and the Garmin should show 7:19/7:20. Once you know it, it's easy.

Unfortunately, during the early miles I was far too busy feeling sorry for myself to either take in the atmosphere or keep the pacees informed on our progress. I never even noticed the first 4 mile markers, that would have required looking elsewhere than the spot just ahead of my feet, which is where I had fixed my gaze because it seemed the best way to keep the nausea in check. Initially I felt absolutely parched and grabbed a small water bottle at the mile 2.5 water station, but even the first gulp almost made me throw up, so I proceeded to drink tiny sips for the next few miles (I still had half the bottle left by mile 10 where I exchanged it for a fresh one, half of which lasted to mile 16 - and those were small bottles, 250 ml/8.5oz).

With the pace band's help I did notice that we were 10 seconds behind target at mile 5, 10 seconds ahead of target at mile 6 and slightly behind again at 7, which was definitely down to some misplaced mile signs because the other pacers told similar stories. But after going through the tunnel at mile 8 we were definitely a few seconds behind because at that point the average pace on the Garmin had deteriorated to 7:23. For the first time today I wasn't just hanging on but injected a little pace into the proceedings. Alan was totally switched on and reacted immediately, which was good because the next wave of nausea hit me soon after and then I was once again pre-occupied with not having to make a quick side stop. He did enquire once about how I was feeling but regretted it immediately when I let slip that my stomach was feeling awful and I wasn't sure which direction its contents were eventually going to leave by.

I had been feeling like that before and knew that eventually it had to settle down. My initial guess was 10 miles, and I was reasonably sure I could hang on until then, and when we went through the relay changeover stations or the half-marathon start I could put on a fake smile and wave.

I hadn't said much up to that point, even by my own standards, but when we turned into the walkway off Blackrock Castle around mile 11 I inquired if anyone remembered running here in the Hurricane of 2010 when the conditions had been absolutely awful with the rain coming in horizontally. I realised that I must be feeling better because up to then I was afraid opening my mouth and inviting the nausea in. I wasn't completely out of the woods yet, I still had a few of waves to fight off over the next couple of hours, but I knew that the worst was behind me, and I might even finish that marathon, and maybe even on time.

2 pints at the finish, please - photo by Mark McManus / Power For Sport
We were back on target pace as well, the Garmin averaged 7:19 again and we went through halfway in 1:37 flat, just where I wanted to be. There was a bit of a surprise at mile 15 when the full and half marathon courses merged and with this year's new start time I had expected to hit them in the middle of the field but there was no sign of them. The idea that we might have miscalculated and we would catch them later on was quickly proven wrong and we soon enough twigged that their start must have gotten delayed (There was an organisational glitch. I have heard no complaints yet, but that's just a matter of time). We also had caught up to my friend Seamus, who as a sub-3 marathoner should have been much further down the road but didn't seem to have the best of days. For now he managed to hang on to us, though.

I looked around as the hilly section started at mile 17, and we had a sizeable group of lads with us, though sadly no lady. Unfortunately that group melted away like snow in the sun over the next few miles. The hills, while not bad at all, did not help but I think a lot of runners started suffering with the humidity and the higher temperatures. 20C/68F might not sound much to anyone outside Ireland, but for anyone who had trained here (i.e. just about everyone) this would have been significantly warmer than what they were used to, and the high humidity made things worse. Before the start I had been bitching about how I did not like the pacing gear because I can't stand zippers in my shirt, and since we were in Ireland it would never be hot enough to require opening it, but half a race later I was proven wrong and opening the zipper did indeed help (I still don't like the material, but I am perfectly aware that bitching about free running gear is pathetic).

By mile 21 there were just 2 pacees left with us 2 pacers, but at least both of them looked comfortable and the hills were now behind us. For the only time in the race I pulled rank as the more experienced pacer when we turned into the Straight Road and told Alan to ease up a bit, we were about 50 seconds ahead of time and there was no point racing into the headwind. The Straight Road (Carrigrohane Road to non-locals) is a bit of a mental test as the Cork County Hall can be seen all the way in the distance yet it never seems to be getting any closer, but at least it's slightly downhill (initially at least), though that advantage was being negated by the headwind which, just like the temperatures, could have been a lot worse but still, it wasn't ideal.

My legs were getting heavy at that stage as well. A pacer is supposed to feel comfortable all the way round and I was under more pressure than I should have been, even though me dropping off the pace was never under consideration, and certainly would not have happened so late in the race. While this was still short of race effort, it was a bit closer to my limits than I would have liked.

The top half marathon runners eventually caught us, three of them towards the end of the Straight Road and two or three more before the finish. One of our pacees felt good enough to inject some serious pace himself and we managed to pick up two more who managed to hang on with us. We certainly milked the crowd when the roads finally became crowded over the last half mile, which was great fun. The pacees all sprinted ahead to squeeze a few more seconds out of their time and we went over the finish line with a big smile on our faces in 3:14:31 on both our watches, excellent pacing if I may say so myself. Most of the credit has to go to Alan because for the first 8 miles I myself was merely hanging on and even afterwards he mostly set the pace himself. My Garmin displayed 26.51 miles at the end, just as predicted - at least I got that one right, it made the actual pacing much easier because we were bang on the correct pace right from the start.

I kinda hoped that running a reasonably fast marathon would provide sufficient shock therapy to knock the cold out of my system. The drawback of that strategy is that it's a rather painful way to treat yourself, and I don't know yet if it worked. I guess I'll find out.

Finally, big congratulations to Grellan who found an even more unusual way to dump a pacer and his group on the way to a 2:56 marathon than I had done 2 weeks ago.
2 Jun
8 miles, 59:44, 7:28 pace, HR 148
3 Jun
26.22 miles, 3;14:31, 7:25 pace, HR 148
   3:15 pacer, Garmin distance 26.51 miles (which would have been 7:20 pace)


  1. Hey Thomas
    Not sure how I stumbled across your blog but I'm glad I did. You write very well. Congratulations on an amazing journey. I wonder after finishing that marathon in Belfast (4.36) you could have ever imagined you'd one day run a sub 3. I'll continue to follow your progress.

  2. Good to hear you made the start OK, even if you struggled with a dodgy tummy for the first half. Good pacing gig. Next one your pacees will be closely checking to make sure your pace sign isn't velcroed on ;-)

  3. Glad to see you got some good running done. Well done on another awesome pacing job!

  4. Running a 3:15 pace while nauseous is pretty impressive, I say.

  5. 3:15 on a bad day, you indeed have come along way, well done for holding it together.

  6. Good work Thomas. Who could forget the Blackrock Castle turn in 2010. easily the worst conditions I have ever raced in