Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Marathon debut... success or failure??

They say you'll always remember your first marathon.  Although it is really just another race (just a bit longer) I've come to think that this is certainly a fair statement.  The difference being that a marathon is more than just a race.  It is to many a goal and to others a major lifetime achievement.  Of course, because of its history there is a mystic surrounding the distance and the preparation for the task of completing it, regardless of any time goal, is usually the focus of a number (many) of months training.  During this preparation time there is the constant fear that a late injury may end the any chance of making the startline let alone making the finishline.  Just like what happened to me!

I know that the majority of the (very limited) readership of this blog have already completed their first and many subsequent marathons but last Monday 4th June was my first opportunity to complete the distance.  Being a failed track runner, in my youth, I had always viewed the marathon as a something that a runner matured into and many years ago I decided that when I was 40 I would be mature enough.

So 2012 was to be the year and 12 months ago I selected that the Cork City Marathon would be the one!  Being a local race it would certainly remove much of the complexity of having to travel away and my "long suffering" support crew could also join in on the occasion!  Also I was very familiar with all of the roads having run much of the route many many many times!

On race day my wife and kids dropped me at Cork City Hall (race HQ) early which gave me some time to change and go for a brief one mile warm up around the city centre - a good opportunity to savour the pre-race atmosphere (tension!).  The sun was shining, despite the weather forecasts, and it looked like it would be a nice day for a run.

I had a pre-race plan but after struggling with a groin injury for the preceding 5-6 weeks I decided not to be too upset if the plan didn't work out.  However, it was a race and I had some objectives....
  1. Finish (always good!)
  2. Run sub 3:15 (although a bit unrealistic it would be great for a first marathon!
  3. If the wheels came off run sub 3:30 (a more realistic and still a respectable time!)
So my optimistic plan was to head out at 7:15 and see how things went.  Probably a novice marathoners mistake but one that I'd personally prefer than heading out too conservatively and always wondering what might have been.

So I lined up between the 3:00 and 3:15 pace groups and headed out at a pace that felt comfortably easy.  I kept missing the mile markers (note these could be improved next year) and the first one that I saw was at mile 4 where I discovered that I had just run an average 7:07 min/mile pace - a bit fast but it was still feeling easy!  The huge cheers from my support crew at the 3 mile mark certainly helped to maintain the pace.

Miles 5 brought me up to the first relay changeover point at Tivoli and the pace had eased back to 7:25.  In the past when I've run the relay in this marathon I've run the second leg so for the next 5 miles I was on very familiar roads.  Mile 6, 7 and 8 out to the Dunkettle roundabout and through the Jack Lynch Tunnel averaged 7:12 pace (back on target!).  Once again my support crew appeared on the side of the road to encourage me.... it worked! :)

Miles 9, 10, 11 & 12 passed relatively easily in 7:12, 7:18, 7:16, 7:16.  At this stage all things seemed to be going well and I took on my first gel as an energy insurance policy!

Miles 13 and 14 along river and over the footbridge over the South Ring road took 7:11 and 7:23 min / mile.  

It was shortly after passing the 14 mile marker that the first signs of the wheels coming off occurred - left hamstring cramp!  What the..... this had never happened before and was surprising as the pace so far had felt easy!  Despite a short walking break I managed to cover Miles 15 & 16 at an average 7:25 pace.

Cramps in both hamstrings appeared at Mile 17 (8:06 pace) .... and the first thoughts of going home early crept in... but I was still ahead of the 3:15 pacer group so maybe I could walk out the cramp and salvage something.  So I took on my second gel and walked out the South Link road!. 

The remainder of the race was a series of running, stretching and walking.  The chart below tells the story. with mile splits ranging from 9:01 to 9:18 for miles 18, 19, 20, 12, 22, 23, 24 & 25.  Unfortunately the encouragement from the spectators (each mile I passed someone that I knew!!) couldn't help.  Aerobically I was as fresh as when I started the race but my legs just didn't listen!!
Downhills were the worst as the hamstrings and calf muscles went into spasm and I was in danger of falling over each time I was forced to stop!  Thomas and his 3:15 bus passed by at the 18mile mark and I decided not to hop on.  My focus now was to get to the finish and hopefully get there ahead of Grellan's  3:30 bus!!

Not even the bottle of Coke that my support crew had a mile 21 for me was enough to fully get me going!  The oranges and sweets kindly offered by Kevin Geary and the team from Eagle AC after the final relay change over point were welcome and helped a little but the sharp decent at Inchigaggin Bridge brought back yet more cramps!  However, just like smelling salts, the sight of a fellow runner lying on the pavement on the Straight Road receiving medical attention shortly after Mile 23 was a stark reminder that things could be a lot worse!

The smell of the finishline somehow kept the worst of the hamstring cramps at bay and brought me to the 26 mile mark at 7:48 pace.  And the added motivation from Fergus Wall, the 1:30 half marathon pacer, who shouted "run bricey run just like it says on the website" and the thought that my support crew (wife and kids) would be at the finishline was enough to bring me though the last quarter at 6:40 pace to finish just ahead of Grellan and his crew!

Here's the summary: 
  • 03:28:20 (gun)
  • 03:28:08 (chip)
  • 01:35:17 (1st half)
  • 01:53:04 (2nd half)
  • 07:53 min/mile (avg)
  • 217 (place) / 1406 (finishers)
Overall I'm content with how things went today.  I gave it a shot and I've learnt a few lessons.  My first marathon is now over, I know I'm mature enough to do it again so it's now time to plan my next attack on the hallowed distance.  Next time, with some proper training and a bit of luck I'll have a real target and it won't be just to finish and, if possible, run sub-3:30!

Some pictures that tell a story (thanks to the many photographers out on the course incl. Doug Minihane, Darren Spring, John Quigley, Gearoid O'Laoi & Joe Murphy)...
Mile 2...

Mile 3...

Mile 3...

Mile 10...

Mile 17...


Thomas said...

I would call it a qualified success. Your time is more than decent but still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

There is no doubt that you started a bit too fast, and of course the injury didn't help but injuries are part and parcel of the game.

3:15 next time!

Richard said...

3:28 is a very good time - you were 31 minutes faster than my first marathon. I'm sure inside you wonder about the difference in the splits but a bit more time over 20 miles in training will cure this as you work out how to remedy it. The aerobic comfort you felt means that once you crack the cramp issue you'll smoke it (as they'd say in America).

cathal said...

u did very well there brendan. i have to laugh when you call running 7.15 pace comfortable-what i wouldn't give to run a sub 3.30. u did very well and with proper rest and avoiding injury you will do better. As for cramps I always get a killer one on my left thigh-it only ever strikes on marathons!!!

Anonymous said...

very good debut, brendan. no doubt about it. many congrats.

bricey said...

Cheers guys!

@Thomas .. qualified success ... I like it!

@Richard .. yes more long runs needed .. I've only gone beyone 18miles 5 times in life!

@cathal .. sub 3.30 is just around the corner for you!

bricey said...

Thanks Marty! and thanks also for the Dailymile add!

Grellan said...

100% Success Brendan. No doubt.

Diarmaid said...

well done Bricey
I am very sad (not) that you did'nt beat my 3.22 !
but for cramps you would have hit a very good time

bricey said...

Diarmuid.... Next time!!! :)

Westley said...

Hard luck with the cramps, your running economy is probably decent enough and some more consistent long running will have you knocking quite a few minutes off the PB at your next one. Well done again.