I ran the Dublin City Marathon yesterday in approx. 3h 30m (more on that later) – that’s my first marathon, but I suspect not my last: to anyone even half-thinking of running 26.2 miles, you have to try it.

My motivation for running started several months back on a low note. The background was that I was increasingly working from home, with work being busy and having a desire to eat dinner with the family and be around to put the kids to bed, I was noticing that there were days where I wasn’t leaving the house at all. At the same time, the rumours started about Sun being in talks with various companies about a possible acquisition.

When the Oracle deal was announced it made things worse – what had previously just been rumours in the press became a lot more believable. Usually when something like this is going on, I’ll write my thoughts about it here: but doing so would have been unprofessional. The furthest I ever went was the occasional emoticon on my twitter feed.

The solution for both problems, I decided, was to get out in the mornings and run: exercise, and a little time to think.

As the months went by, I was running further and further, logging my progress to @timfoster as I went ,and generally having a whale of a time. One weekend, we had a few friends over for lunch – Kev, Nic, Mike & Maria. A bit of the conversation went something like this:

“That’s great running you’re doing Tim, you should do the marathon”

Well, that was it, I’d had vague thoughts of doing it one day, but hearing someone else say it out loud was enough to make me register that night – with some trepidation, I might add. The registration form grouped entrants into three categories in order of expected finishing time: 3h or less, 3:30-4:15, 4:15+. I had no clue where I belonged, so popped myself in the middle and got on with it – that was July 28th this year.

I figured I ought to be following some sort of formal training plan.
The athletics forum on boards.ie was a great resource, and were pointing newbies like me to Hal Higdon’s running site . I chose the Intermediate II schedule, as I figured I was already reasonably fit with the daily commute on bike from time to time, and all the running I’d done so far. I’d missed a few weeks at the beginning of the formal program, so worked out where I should be (which turned out to be a good place to start given the running I’d already done) and stuck to it.

As I got closer to the race, I was dutifully doing my Long Slow Runs each weekend and was coming up to running the last of the three 20 milers when I became anxious about what sort of pace I’d manage in the race – could I go fast over a long distance? I didn’t know. I didn’t want to risk burning myself out in the early stages of the race, and end up not finishing. I decided to push it, and do a Long Fast Run instead – you’re not supposed to do this during training, I found out why. Yes, I discovered that I actually could manage a 7:15 min/mile pace over 20 miles, but I also managed to injure my leg in the process. To make matters worse, I’d miscalculated where I was joining the schedule, and it left me with only 2 weeks to taper before the race rather than 3, and most of those 2 weeks were spent just resting my leg rather than doing the suggested mileage.

With that, race day was upon me. I was aiming for a 3h15m finish – but given the last few weeks, this was probably unrealistic.

The atmosphere around the start was tense, but an amazing experience – very very well organised I thought: a record turn-out of 12,500 people this year.

After a lot of limbering up, and shedding of bin-liners, the starting gun fired. We moved very slowly at first, eventually getting past the starting line. The race started gently: I was in the middle of the 3:30-4:15 pen and first few miles were depressingly slow, difficult to overtake slower runners and I was already well down on my target. They say one of the most common mistakes by new marathon runners is starting too fast, so I kept repeating that to myself, and tried to stay calm.

By mile 5, I’d escaped the crowds in Phoenix Park and picked up the pace, passing Kev & Nic at mile 10 who were out cheering for me (thanks!!) and managed to keep pretty much on target till about mile 16 where I started slowing down, only to slow down further on miles 20/21 (the dreaded Roebuck/Foster Avenue hill) The missus & the kids, and Mum & Dad were cheering for me there, and I spotted my friend Barry too, who was marshaling for the race: familiar faces making the run a lot easier.

In general, the support from the crowd on the day was phenomenal: I really hope the people who got up early on an October Bank Holiday Monday appreciate what a difference them cheering really makes to runners – and, to the lady watching the race who gave me a jelly baby around Kimmage to whom I forgot to say “thankyou” – many many thanks, it was yummy, and much needed!

Things took a turn for the worse though around mile 22 – going down Nutley Lane, I felt a twinge in my thighs that I’d felt once before during training: the onset of cramp. I had to stop stretch/shake out my legs periodically, eat more jelly babies and start again. My times were tumbling now, and I watched in dismay as the 3:30 pacer balloons passed me on Merrion Road. For the rest of the race, I kept going as fast as I could manage, but it wasn’t enough.

Rounding the final corner onto Pearse St. I went for it, eating my remaining sweeties and telling myself it’d soon be over. I crossed the line, and stopped my watch, which told me 3:30:46. I was tired but happy – I’d missed the 3:15 target, but there’s always the next marathon.

As for official timing, I’m still a wee bit confused – the timing service that was tied to the chip on my bib told me I’d finished in 3:32:04, yet when I visit the results page on the Dublin Marathon website and search for my number (4871), at the time of writing, it confirms that chip time of 3:34:04, but tells me my finish time is 3:30:34. I know there’s a difference between chip time and gun-time, but I’d always thought gun-time should be longer than chip-time (as it doesn’t account for the time it takes you to actually reach the starting line, whereas chip time is registered from the moment you cross the start-line) Perhaps they got the numbers mixed up – 3:30:34 is closer to what was on my stopwatch. Anyway – it doesn’t really matter.

I had a ball on my first marathon – I finished 1516th out of a field of 12,500, which I’m happy about. I’ve got memories I’ll never forget and a belief in myself that I never had before. Sure, I’m walking around like Boris Karloff today (legs rather sore) and am wishing our house didn’t have stairs, but I’m extremely proud of what I’ve achieved. I think I’ll keep running and would strongly recommend everyone to have a go at completing a marathon: it’s a truly unforgettable experience.

Here’s the route map, and the splits from my watch – I missed a few mile markers here & there, so just rolled up those times into a single row. As you can see, I lack consistency here – so that’s something to work on for next time.

Mile Time by my watch (min:sec)
1 8:02
2, 3, 4 26:12
5 7:55
6 7:40
7 7:21
8 7:06
9 7:02
10 7:10
11 7:06
12 7:36
13 7:33
14 7:16
15 7:33
16 7:50
17 7:40
18 7:47
19 8:02
20 8:31
21 8:41
22 7:57
23, 24 18:34 (yeah, cramps started about here)
25 9:33
26 8:33
0.2 1:52