“I had flu after the semi-finals,” said Kiprop, coughing intermittently, shortly after taking gold in the men’s 1500m final on Sunday evening. “Before the race I told the Kenyans to work extra hard because I was not reliable.” (from here)
And I was not even going to race, just jog along for a training run. On the other hand, mine was a marathon and a tough one at that. A friend of mine advised me to skip it but told me afterwards that at the same time he made a bet with himself that I would run nevertheless. He won that bet.
I had felt pretty crappy on Friday morning and cut my run short. I could clearly see the effects on the HRM and the marathon was definitely thrown into question. However, I felt better the longer the day went on and decided to get up on Saturday and assess how I felt. Turns out I felt just fine. Off to Dingle I went.
Obviously this was not a goal race. I had missed most of the summer due to injury, had run a 39 mile race a week earlier and then gotten a cold during the week, nothing of which promised a decent race. Since there was a half marathon on at the same time there was always the option of pulling out at halfway, but to be honest I never even contemplated that possibility.
The weather was pretty much ideal and the stunning scenery of the Dingle peninsula can do wonders to take your mind off the pain. I started far back in the field, much further back than I can remember in recent years, a bit behind the 3:45 pace balloons. It took a while to cross the start line and I took it really easy over the first couple of miles, even by training-run standards. I slowly caught up with Fozzy, the 3:45 pacer, and had a bit of a chat with him before pulling slightly ahead. When asked what I had planned for today I had always vaguely answered with "something between 3:30 and 3:45", but I was just going to run this entirely by feel and adapt accordingly with no consideration for the final time.
There was no 3:30 marathon pacer but my friend and near-neighbour Chris Grayson was employed as 1:45 half pacer, which was of course the same pace. After 3 or so miles I noticed that I was gradually getting closer to his balloon and eventually caught up. We had a little chat as well and he introduced the runner beside him as Mike, "a Man United supporter", so we obviously had a few digs at each other while running along the road. Eventually my legs felt better than 3:30 pace and I pulled away again. Mike caught up again after a bit, we had a few more (friendly) words and then he tore off towards the finish - he was only doing the half (typical U****d, can't last the distance).
There is a long drag up to mile 8 and while I felt pretty good on the upwards gradient itself, the effort seemed to start to get to me once on top and for the next few miles I actually wondered if I had just stupidly overcooked myself. Nevertheless I caught up to Tony, who was running his 7th Dingle marathon today, never having missed a single one (I was only on my sixth, having taken a break in 2013 after the Connamara 100 miler). Once more we chatted as we cruised along the road but on one of the many little climbs towards Dunquin he fell behind.
I had overtaken a lot of runners from mile 3 to 8 but noticed that by now there were a few runners passing me again. I wondered if I had slowed down or if most of them were half marathon runners who started to to smell the finish and gave it a final push. I did recognise a German marathon runner, however, who I had overtaken a mile or two earlier and figured that at least some of them were doing the full distance. I didn't feel particularly bad but I did wonder if that was a sign that I was about to hit the wall.
In previous years it had always gotten very lonely immediately after the half marathon finish in Dunquin so I was surprised to see at least a dozen marathon runners ahead of me heading up the long climb out of the village. Then I realised that I had been going through Dunquin more than an hour earlier than usual because this year I was running the marathon, not the (sadly now discontinued) ultra. For some reason, once I started the climb I immediately started to feel better and stronger and started to make my way through the field once more. The climb is misleadingly long, it does flatten out a bit once out of Dunquin but it keeps going uphill for close to 2 miles. To make it tougher than usual, the wind was blowing right into our faces - quite a difference to the normal wind direction that would have given us a helping hand on the way home (after battling it for the first 10 miles, obviously). However, I seemed to get loads of energy out of nowhere and felt better and better. I did wonder how long that would last but since every step got me closer to the finish I reckoned even if I blew up at some point it would be close enough to the end to be able to cope.
The legs never felt particularly fresh, I could clearly feel last week's effort in Achill in the hamstrings but apart from that base fatigue, that I could easily handle, I felt surprisingly good. For the next few miles I kept passing runner after runner. Every time I went past one there was another target not too far ahead. I must have passed at least 2 dozen runners over the next few miles and I was still gaining on those ahead. Going through Ballyferriter I remembered last year when I had caught up to James Whitty in the ultra here but then he started pulling away again when he could hear my steps. This year I felt a lot fresher with the benefit of 25 fewer miles in the legs at that point. A mile later I passed Alan Gorksi who was having a much tougher time today but of course he made it to the finish as well.
By then we could see the big final hill looming ahead of us, the one that Dingle is (in)famous for. Before that we had to go on an out-and-back section where you get a good look at runners ahead and behind you. The out section was once more straight into the wind but obviously we got the benefits on the way back. I also saw the leading lady on that section who wasn't too far ahead of me (I didn't know at the time she was the leading lady, of course).
After about 21.5 miles we hit the hill, and steep it was. I have exceptionally good memories of that section, however, because that's where I caught James last year to secure a podium finish. Maybe that's why I quipped to a runner "this is the fun bit" as I passed him, but I think he saw the humour in it. I even repeated that line when Ken, the RD, passed me in his car and had a couple of words. By now I knew I wasn't going to blow up, it was too close to the finish. After a mile or so the hill was bit less fun than it had been but it was just a matter of taking just one more step, and one more step, and one more step, until we were at the top. Once there, I gradually let the legs spin on the downhill section. Usually I'm too tired at this point and the quads too ripped to shreds to get much joy out of that downhill but today was a good day and I just went with the flow. It doesn't take much effort to run down that hill if you're still able to take the pounding and once more I blew past runner after runner, which this time also included the leading lady. Then you go round a bend and stare at over 2 miles of completely straight road, which can be rather soul-destroying as the end never seems to get any closer.
Rather than looking at that far-away target I just looked at the runner ahead of me as I gradually caught up and then repeated the process with the next one. I must have caught another half dozen runners on those last 3 miles until I passed the 25 mile marker and the next runner seemed about a quarter mile ahead of me, probably too far ahead and I guessed I had reached my finishing position.
Despite passing all those runner, I still was not running at full race effort. I was just having fun, and with the legs feeling as good as they did I figured I might as well make some use of it. It's not that often that you run a marathon where you feel better with each mile, even at mile 25! I got into Dingle and sped down the road, almost saddened that the fun was about to end but very happy with how the race had gone. I finished in 3:24, having run the second half a bit faster than the first one (7:52 pace vs 7:46 on strava) and almost feeling like I could go round again (then again, the left calf had started to spasm a couple of times, so maybe not).
I used to think of Dingle as the toughest road marathon in Ireland but after running Achill last week I'd say that mantle has been passed on (and I've heard reports of the quadrathon in Donegal). The question which is the most scenic, on the other hand, is not so easy to settle. Both areas are stunningly scenic and both are well worth a visit - do yourself a favour and see them for yourself.
As for myself, I am really glad I ran this. Whatever physiological gains I might have gained from that run, it's the psychological boost I take from here. To be able to run 26 miles so easily a week after the Achill Ultra tells me that the legs are definitely coming round and Sparta seems a lot more doable all of a sudden.
- 3 Sep
- 5 miles, 42:27, 8:29 pace, HR 37
- 4 Sep
- 4 miles, 43:32, 8:37 pace, HR 140
- 5 Sep
- Dingle marathon, 26th place
- 3:24:25, 7:48 pace, HR 153
- 6 Sep
- 5 miles, 43:44, 8:44 pace, HR 136