Last Christmas I decided to run the Dublin marathon. I had never been much of a sporty kid and only took up running after I moved to Canada. I wanted to be able to race on home turf and to have my family and in particular, my dad, come watch the race. Trevor and I spent Christmas in Ireland and I announced to my family that I would be back home in October for the race.
Things took a real downturn in January when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I knew then it was even more important that I come home and race hard in October. I had a different, more important motivator now. The spring season came and went. I poured my heart and soul into it and finally got my BQ at Mississauga in May. I raced an Ultra in June and then in July, my attention turned to Dublin.
I found the training tough this summer. When I say I had given it everything in the spring, I do mean everything. It was now July, it was hotter than hell and I felt burnt out. My heart wasn’t in it. That being said, I persevered. I cut my mileage down and focused on nailing my speed workouts.I found my weight went down throughout the summer, no doubt due to the heat. I had two fantastic races in August (Shakespeare Runs the Night 30km) and in September (Ottawa Army Run half marathon). As October came round, I felt that strange mix of confidence and panic, that I am sure every marathoner knows all too well.
Before I knew it, it was October 24 and I landed in Dublin. We found out in August that my dad’s cancer was under control. I was so happy to see him and the rest of my family. It quickly became clear though that although he was on the mend, he still had a long way to go. The cancer treatment had really taken its toll on him. It had affected his kidney function badly (he only has one – story for another time) and he was completely devoid of any energy. I don’t know whether he was more disappointed to tell me, or if I was more disappointed to hear, but he wasn’t going to be able to come to the race. Yeah – that was a hard one to take, but I couldn’t be angry or upset with the man. I knew he would be sitting at home tracking my race and that I would see him a soon as I got home.
Race morning arrived and Trevor and I headed up to get the bus. A friend of ours from home was also racing and his run club was putting on a bus to the start line – convenient for us! It was a chilly, frosty morning, but I had one of my dad’s old sweaters as a throw away to keep me warm. For weeks I had been trying to decide on my goal pace. I had run 3:04 at Mississauga so 3:03 would be great. But my legs felt good and something inside of me was telling me I had more. When the gun went off, I knew it was sub 3:00 or bust.
I have never run a race with so many participants before. There were 20,000 people from all over the world packed into the start line. I was in wave 1 and at 9:00am we were off. As we headed into the first few km the atmosphere was jubilant. There were smiles all round and the streets were lined with cheering supporters – as a side – they call Dublin the friendly marathon due to all the support – a well deserved moniker. However, the streets of Dublin are narrow and it took maybe 12-15km for the pack to thin. I struggled to find my rhythm and told myself to relax and try not to get too frustrated.
The course itself is really quite picturesque. A lot of time is spent in Phoenix Park – the largest enclosed urban park in the world – and it is lovely. I felt a twinge in my back around 14km and tried not to worry too much about it – Jane W had been treating me for maybe three weeks before the race and I was taped to within an inch of my life. I kept an eye on the 3:00 hour pacers up ahead and asked myself how long I could hold on.
I tried to let my mind wander and successfully navigated km 14 through 18 in somewhat of a haze. I took the hills as they came and then suddenly I was at the half way mark. I was heading home. Everyone had said the second half was easier – flatter – so I was feeling optimistic. Around 24km or so, I suddenly felt a little less optimistic. The hills were starting to bother me. I could take the up – it was the down – pound pound pounding on my thighs. I reached 30km at 2:06 (a PB in itself) and told myself it was a measly 12km home. Dublin has its very own heartbreak hill at what I was told was 32km – it was 34km. I knew once I got over that it was a straight run home. 35km and Jesus Christ I asked, would this ever end. I found myself asking if I would be happy with 3:00 or 3:01 – no f’ing way, not at this point. I had Remy P in my head telling me I was as fit as anyone in the group and that all I lacked was confidence. I had Stan O in my head telling me that I would be in with a real shot at sub 3:00 at Dublin, were it not for all the hills and I heard Larry L – just keep running.
I hit 41km and like magic Stevie Nicks started to play in my ears.
A smile crept across my face. I picked it up and pushed past the 3:00 pacers. I blew past my family who were at 41km, oblivious to them as the screamed and roared at me. I watched the clock at the finish line tick from 2:58:59 to 2:59:00 and I pushed and pushed and pushed. 2:59:13 and I was home.
I had done it. It was a strange feeling because part of me thought there was no way I was going to hang on, but the other part of me never doubted for a second….I guess the good part won on the day. I limped back to the pub where the family were waiting, knowing there was a pint in my very near future.
I turned on my phone and read a text from my dad telling me how proud he was and I knew it had all been worth it.