I love Cork, the city, the people, the accents, the English market – I’m surprised it has taken me this long to take part in the Cork Marathon. But here I am.
I have to be honest; it has been a while since I have been so unprepared for a marathon. I will be ok fitness wise, it is 6 weeks since Milan Marathon and I have 1 long run in my legs 3 weeks ago (21 miles), so I will get through it, but certainly won’t be looking to break any fast speeds. Where I am really unprepared is the race logistics/mentally. I haven’t looked up the route, the inclines, the water stations, what food/drinks available en route and the weather. (Clearly not following my own advice). However, it does mean that there is no pressure on me, I can go out and enjoy the run around the city, chat with some friends along the way, and make the most of a June Bank Holiday Monday.
Arriving into Cork on Sunday evening, I was hoping to feel the marathon buzz. So far, it hasn’t really hit me yet that there is a marathon in the morning. I see some of the mile markers on the roads as we get closer to the city, but I’m hoping the race expo will get me into the running zone. I’m sorry Cork, but the race expo didn’t fill us with any kind of emotion, enthusiasm or hype for what lay ahead in the morning. The ‘fear and excitement’ of an impending marathon normally hits me in the expo when you see the stands, your race number, and are tempted to buy unnecessary running gear. We did arrive late on Sunday afternoon, about 2 hours before it was due to close, but unfortunately there was no atmosphere in the place, no pins for race numbers, a little disappointing really. This is really only a very very minor thing, and I hugely appreciate the effort volunteers make. For me, this is not really a problem, but I did feel for anyone who was running their first marathon in Cork that excitement was just not there (but they probably didn’t notice). The expo did have the right size race tshirts and that I certainly one big positive – plenty other races can’t seem to get this right.
You can’t really judge a marathon by the race expo, so I was hoping there was going to be a bit more of a buzz on race morning. Thankfully, race day was a completely different atmosphere and a wonderful day.
Firstly, complements to Cork City Marathon on the cleanest toilets and quickest moving portaloo queues at a start line of a marathon. Excellent stuff. Saved us at least 20 minutes at the start line. For a big event, it was remarkably laid back and relaxed.
I was lucky enough to meet up with a group of the Dun Laoghaire Pier Runners who I had visited for a Chirunning Workshop earlier in the year. Their organiser Gloria was running her first marathon, and it was so great to see the others encouraging her, supporting her, and distracting her from what lay ahead. Not feeling 100%, naturally she had doubts and nerves but we assured her these would disappear once we started running. Originally from Seattle, her family had travelled over to be with her as she ran her first marathon. (Easy to spot the Americans on the route – the best cheerleaders out there).
Running with a ‘marathon virgin’ was one of the best bits of the marathon. When you have completed a good few marathons, it’s easy to forget all the things you take for granted. Firstly, you are pretty certain you will get through it, you know what it will feel like along the way, you know when you need to eat, drink, go to loo, get into shade, and most importantly you know how to pace it in the heat. You don’t have that anxiety or uncertainty of what lies ahead. It was a very good reminder for me of how big a deal a marathon is and how impossible it seems (until it is done).
So we ran together, 5 of us – Gloria and her two loyal club buddies (Lindsay and Clare), Anne (a fellow ForgettheGym coach) and myself for the first 13 miles. I’m sure the girls were frustrated with me keeping the pace back, but I have seen too many hot days running ruined by overdoing it in the first half.
From the excitement of the start on Patrick Street, there was plenty room to run and within 1km we were well spread out and able to relax into our pace. I’m not great on my Cork geography but the first few miles went through the city, around the back streets of Blackrock, and then down along the river up as far as the Jack Lynch tunnel for the first of the ‘hills’. It was hot – certainly hot for Cork! , so pacing was key. So was distraction – for a first timer Gloria was fantastic, appreciating the crowds, enjoying the chat and banter and soaking it all in. It is amazing how quickly the nerves leave you once running. The route was much less ‘city’ than I expected, and it was a joy you run along the river, through park and country ‘lanes’. In the second half, Anne and myself settled into our pace and chatted through another 9 miles, at which point I knew I she was feeling stronger and I was only holding her back. She wasn’t easy to shake off though. I just wanted her to kick on, so I could slow down. She wouldnt let me! Finally, I made my getaway at 22 miles and let her kick on. Her strength, or as she would say stubborness, helped her mentally focus on the last few miles and pick up her speed until she was a dot in the distance in front of me.
That is the most powerful lesson I did learn from Cork. I was mentally not prepared. I didn’t really care at that stage, I was happy to settle to be a few minutes slower, just to relax a bit more towards the end. I had not built up the race in my head, nor did I have the motivation or the time target to encourage me on when I was feeling physically fine, but mentally lazy. I had not visualised the race, I had not set myself a time target, or a strategy for the race day. All I knew I was doing was pacing the girls for the first half and then seeing what happened in 2nd half. My goal was to enjoy it and I certainly did that. It was a negative split marathon, (a rare occurrence for me), but certainly I was capable of running even faster in the 2nd half if only I could think with my legs and not the head. I felt fine in my legs, and strong – so why could I not tell myself just to stay with Anne? Those voices in the head really know how to drown out the positivity in a marathon.
Due to my lack of planning, I assumed we would be running through the centre again at 13 miles, but we kept right out (up and down more hills) and it was only at 23 miles we were heading back into the city along the hot and straight road for the final few miles before turning into the city, cheered on by Edel and John (albeit telling us there were less bridges to go to the end than was the case 😉 and right up to Patrick Street to a cheer that would make you feel like you had won the race.
As the lord mayor presented the medals and we dined on bananas, water and oreo biscuits, I was cautious for Gloria. It was a hot day, and I once again felt the nerves I feel for anyone I know running their first marathon. Would she keep the pace up, would she get injured, mentally tired and emotionally drained? Her family were fantastic support, but even with that, it is still a marathon.
I need not have worried, from across the street strolls Gloria and Lindsay. Even as I write this now I get emotional when I think of Gloria’s expression, the ‘ I have just run a marathon’ shocked look. It is priceless, and it is the reason I love to coach people. I can take no credit for Gloria’s marathon training and coaching. She worked hard with all her club, all I did was keep her company for a few miles on the day. Seeing her at the end, the relief and the emotion of it all brought back to me the power of the marathon – how crossing that finish line of your first marathon changes you forever. It’s easy to become complacent when you do something often enough it becomes ‘normal’. Thanks to Gloria, her crossing that finish line reignited in me that marathon feeling. We learn something from every race, and for me today I learnt from others.
What I learnt in Cork…
- Mental Training – you can’t expect to perform on the day if you have not got your head in the right space. It’s too easy to make excuses, and lower expectations as the race goes on.
- Belief – I’m much stronger than my head lets me think – I need to trust myself and let myself go –push on the last few miles rather than hold back and be cautious (or dare I say lazy). If I can feel strong and do my fastest 1km of the marathon being the last 1km, I probably have a lot more in me.
- Runners – Not sure how many more long runs I can get out of my trustee marathon runners. Only wearing them for marathons now, and nothing else, but they won’t last forever…
- The Buzz – Seeing someone you know finish a first marathon is one of the most emotional things EVER.
Well done Cork. Great day out. Top marks for a great event.