Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Yes I DO

Running the Cork marathon this year required a bit more logistics than usual. It used to be one of the more local marathons for me but that's no longer the case. It required a long drive from Dublin home to Kerry on Friday evening, another drive to Castlecove on Saturday and a very early start on Sunday to get to Cork in time. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours in the car just to get there!

I had put my name down as one of the pacers, volunteering for any spot from 3:15 upwards, but somehow thing got messed up along the way and five days before the race I had resigned myself to not running it this year. I'm very grateful to Gina form the organising team to come up with a late number for me.

When I had finally made it to the start line, against all odds it felt, I wasn't 100% sure how this would go, with a few issues from the last couple of months clearly having an impact on training and subsequent form. I was actually slightly relieved not to carry a 3:15 pacer balloon because I wasn't 100% confident I would be able to run 3:15 - on the other hand, I have never taken that balloon with 100% confidence in the past either and I've always managed to come through. However, I lined up several lines behind the 3:15 pacers on purpose, to not to block anyone trying to run with that group in case I wasn't able to get up to speed myself.

Very fresh at mile 3. Photo by John Desmond
At least that proved to be unfounded, as soon as we started running I was off at just that pace and I settled within. I had tried to run with a pace group once before, the 3-hour group in Manchester last year, and found it much too crowded, so it was a relief to find a lot more space around me here in Cork. The first few miles felt easy enough, though I was surprised to see an average pace of as fast as 7:15 on the clock - pacer Chris's Garmin was at 7:22 at the time. It goes to show how inaccurate GPS watches can be.

Against the forecast it was a warm, sunny morning, with the temperature much higher than anticipated. In addition to that, it was quite windy - and we had the wind at our back in the early miles. It did mean that those miles felt surprisingly easy but it also meant I could not get any convective cooling and I felt quite hot at times  - so hot that I eventually took off my top for a bit to cool down, though as soon as I did that a cloud appeared - how typical is that - and the shirt went back on soon enough.

Over the years of running the Cork marathon I have always felt the climb out of the tunnel was the hardest climb of the day but with only 8 miles on the legs it always feels perfectly doable. It was when we got out of there that we felt the headwind for the first time and I knew this would become a problem sooner or later - there were an awful lot of miles against that headwind in front of us.

Mile 7, still easy. Photo by Chris Grayson.
My effort levels seemed to oscillate a lot. At times the pace felt so pretty damn hard that I wondered if I was about to drop off the group and 2 minute later I seemed to be jogging along at a sedate pace. Around the 10 or 11 mile mark I think I gradually drifted ahead of the pacers, not on purpose. A look at my watch showed that I was still doing the same pace but somehow there were three of us (Hi Kevin! Hi Stephen!) with a bit of a gap ahead of the rest of the pace group. I decided to just keep going at the same effort level, which really was the same pace as the 3:15 group and we can never have been more than a few seconds ahead of those balloons. We reached the halfway mark in 1:37, which is exactly when I would have wanted to get there for a 3:15 marathon - so far so good. There were about 2 more nice and slightly sheltered miles left on the old railway line, until we got back into town where the real work was about to start.

Once you pass the noise and excitement of the third relay station and the gathered crowds behind, the hilly section starts. With the move to Sunday, they had to make a few changes to that section of the course. There had been some talk of this making the marathon harder, which I had dismissed to be honest; I did not expect it to make any real difference. Be it that my legs were not in the same shape as usual or that the additional dips and drags really made a difference but after a few miles of constant ups and downs I started to falter a bit. The hills were just never ending, and each one started to feel steeper than the previous one. I think the real problem was the relentless headwind, with the section from 11 to 22 miles heading steadily westwards and each step into that direction just took that extra bit of energy to fight the wind.

I kept going, and somehow I was still ahead of the pacers, though my 2 running buddies had gotten separated at some point. Things came finally crashing down around mile 21 when my legs just wouldn't get me up another one of those blasted hill, and, more worryingly, I could sense the early signs of a cramp building up. "Come on Thomas", one of the pacers shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer. "Come on Thomas", the other pacer shouted.  (expletive deleted) came the answer.  "Come on Thomas", someone shouted. (expletive deleted) came the answer once more, and then they were gone, over the hills and far away. Not good.

At first I completely lost heart and felt like jogging it in easily until the end but once I had finally gotten over that hill I recovered once more and cranked up the pace a bit. By that point there was only one more climb left, which was another struggle, but then we finally turned right and right again and from then on it felt remarkably and substantially easier again. I passed Richie from BMOH, ran with him and his club mate (one of my earlier companions) for a bit but eventually took off again, feeling sufficiently recovered to get back on pace and try to salvage a little bit over the last 4 miles.

Mile 24. Recovered from the worst.
Photo by Joe Murphy
I didn't feel any tailwind but there is no doubt it was there and there is no doubt that it helped. Looking at the mile splits now, only miles 21 and 22 stand out as 7:50 miles, after that I got right back on 7:20 pace. Going faster wasn't really an option, there was a limit to what I dared to do, so the balloons never came any closer but at least they stopped moving away. I passed quite a few runners along that stretch, looking at the results now I moved from 146th at the halfway point to 106th, which seems extraordinary seeing as I didn't exactly have a stellar second half myself. Looking back now the last few miles seemed to pass reasonably quickly though I sure would have denied that notion at the time. A few new extra turns left me a bit disoriented at the end and I wasn't sure how far away I was from the finish until I finally spotted it.

I passed the line in 3:15:14 on my own watch, 3:15:07 official time, so not a total disaster. I wonder what would have happened if I had carried a 3:15 pacer balloon today; I do suspect that it would have given me enough incentive to push just that tiny little bit harder to make sure I was home in time, though we will never know for sure. As for how I felt over the last few miles, I think I could have gone a good bit further, but not faster. This was a training run but it sure felt tougher than that from miles 18 to 22, though the effort got back to more appropriate levels on the home stretch (yes, I know about the wind direction). There are positive signs as well: the HR was surprisingly low at 154, which compares exceptionally well to 157 for a 3:26 marathon in Killarney 3 weeks earlier, so at least my cardiovascular system is in very good shape. My leg muscles on the other hand could do with some improvement, they are definitely still feeling the aftermath of my 2016 misfortunes.

I could not hang around at all afterwards and had to get away straight away - I had to get back to Castlecove where I had a wedding to attend. No, not mine.

1 Jun
6.2 miles, 49:21, 8:01 pace, HR 144
2 Jun
7 miles, 58:58, 8:25 pace, HR 135
3 Jun
4 miles, 33:28, 8:22 pace, HR 137
4 Jun
Cork City marathon
   3:15:14, 7:27 pace, HR 154
5 Jun
5.8 miles, 55:29, 9:34 pace, HR 132
   Staigue Fort, very hilly for a recovery run


  1. Well done on keeping things together at Cork. Lower HR and faster pace than Kilarney confirms that training response is going in the right direction.

    I find big hill ascents/descents a good way of toughening up my legs. Are there any near Dublin?

  2. Nice run and salvage there. As I was reading, was expecting a 3:20 not 3:15. Sounds like a tough course - a bit like Canberra with all the hills in the second half.