A common question that every marathoner will hear at least once, either as a joke or if your lucky enough to be speedier than I am, they’re being serious.
The answer of course, regardless of your planned finish time is a resounding YES! Winning is relative, it is certainly personal and it means a whole lot of things to many different people. Sure, the podium has space for just 3 people but consider the journey you’ve made, the hurdles you’ve overcome, the emotions you’ve been through and I think it is safe to say that every one of the 19,500 people lining up in Merrion Sq next Sunday are all winners in their own way.
Bearing this in mind, I thought I’d take my experience and put down a couple of points I’ve learned to hopefully give some Dublin Marathon novices (and experienced runners perhaps) a few tips and tricks to get through the day. I’m not a coach, trainer or psychologist, I am a distinctly meodicre ‘mid pack’ athlete but I have started and finished 5 marathons and 2 half ironman triathlons and in each one of them I experienced the exact same thoughts and emotions you will invariably experience next Sunday.
1) Plan your day
Set your plan out in advance, write it down and don’t change it. Consider your planned marathon pace and as much as possible, stick to it. Follow one of the Dublin marathon pacing groups, the support from these experienced runners is just phenomenal. Consider your nutrition, don’t eat or drink anything new or unusual in the days before or especially during the race. Familiarise yourself with the water and gel stations on course, what are you drinking and when? DON’T DO OR WEAR ANYTHING NEW.
2) Organise your support crew (your personal cheering team!)
Arrange with your friends and family beforehand where they will be throughout the race. Spread them out along the route and maybe ask them to be just before or just after sections of the course you might find difficult. Make sure you know what side of the road they will be. Maybe you might like some jellies in Walkinstown or fig rolls on Merrion Road? Get your friends to carry them for you, make signs and shout until they’re hoarse.
3) Remember the reason you are there in the first place.
We do these things for a multitude of reasons but the main reason is that we enjoy it. Running is fun and given the fact that you’ve got this far in your training you have enjoyed running more than most people. You should be very proud of the fact that you have made the start line, lots of people don’t get this far.
4) Don’t let your nerves get the better of you.
You will be nervous on the start line. A huge amount of things will be running through your head before the gun then ‘BANG’ all of a sudden they’re gone and you’re off. The only pressure you feel is the pressure you put on yourself. Trust me, your family and friends are in awe of all your achievements to date and they still will be regardless of whether you finish in 3, 4 or 5 hours. You’ve got nothing to prove to anybody.
5) Control the marathon, don’t let the marathon control you.
This is a big one, trust your training. Whether you’ve followed a personalised plan, printed off the Irish Runner marathon schedule or
made things up as you went along (!) you need to trust your training. You have earned the right to be at the start line and you have done the work to get you to the finish. Whatever happens through the race you are strong enough to manage it. If the pace is too fast, then slow down, if you’re thirsty then carry a bottle from the next water station.
The marathon is 26.2 miles, you’ve trained for it and built up your mileage close to or over 20miles. You’ve probably done 20 or 30 times that in your training. A marathon is just 2 half marathons, 4 x 10k runs (and a bit) or how about just 8 parkruns? You wouldn’t consider a parkrun difficult at this stage in your training would you? 26.2 miles is not a lot in the greater scheme of things, break up the larger goal into smaller chunks to make it manageable and tick them off as you glide along.
6) Don’t think you can run faster than you’ve trained for, you probably can’t.
You’re going to think you are a superhuman for the first few miles. 30seconds faster than race pace will feel very easy but be careful, you will pay for it later in the race. Stick to your plan, tuck into the pack and run within your limits. By the time you reach Terenure you will be passing out everyone that took off too fast, that’s a great motivator.
If its windy or the weather is bad adjust your strategy accordingly. Tuck in behind your pacers or another runner, let them fight the conditions and you can run your race.
7) Embrace the crowd.
Not literally, you’ll never finish! The Dublin Marathon is world-renowned for its great support. There is not one road on the course that wont have people cheering you on, and they are cheering you, remember that. I’d recommend putting your name on your shirt, hearing your name being called out by the crowd is the best feeling, it personalises the race. Get your shirt printed professionally or just use a permanent marker, big letters front & back. If you’re feeling the pressure during the day then find a face in the crowd, any person will do and look them straight in the eye. They’ll know you need help and will shout, scream & cheer to encourage you. It is quite emotional but works every time, you wont regret it.
Castleknock village, Walkinstown, Terenure – They’re all stuffed to the gills with supporters, be ready! The kids with their ‘Terenure Jellies’ sign (& free bags of sweets) outside Terenure College is a favourite of mine. Remember though, the best finishing straight in any marathon anywhere is Merrion Road through to Merrion Square, that’s what you’re working towards. All of these points and more will make this your best run ever.
8) Be thankful.
Remember to thank the volunteers, they’ve given up their time so you can have a great race. It’s a long day and they need the encouragement too! Thank the crowd, if someone went to the effort to call out your name a quick shout or wave will let them know you appreciate the effort – they’ll be much more likely to do it for your fellow runners if you let them know it works.
9) Enjoy the day.
This is the most important thing to remember, if this is your first marathon then whatever time you get will be a personal best. You will never get an opportunity to run your first marathon again. Smile and laugh with your fellow runners, ‘high 5’ the kids, read and laugh at the signs, thank the volunteers and if someone calls your name always raise a hand in thanks or acknowledge it. The Marathon is a magnificent event that embraces all parts and all the people of Dublin. For the first time in its history it is full and you are lucky have a starting place.
The marathon is a tough race, there is no getting over that fact. If it was easy everyone would be running it. You will find some sections of the course difficult and some will be painful but remember, you get to run this because you’ve trained hard. Trust in your ability to get through it. If the race goes bad, no one will be mad or disappointed. If you want to cry then cry away. There’s not one marathon runner that hasn’t shed a tear at some stage. Be proud of your achievement, you deserve it.
I asked on twitter for some tips from those that have run a marathon before – here are some real nuggets of wisdom…
- Remember the race may not go to plan, that’s OK. Don’t have a set time in mind, just finish it and relax – @conor_lavery
- Take out the headphones & savour the atmosphere – @conor_lavery
- If you think you’ve put on enough vaseline, you haven’t! – @garetho81
- Don’t do anything new on race day – @hubic_1985
- Stick to your pace, no matter how good you feel. Your body will thank you at 32k – @hubic_1985
- Know where your supporters will be. It breaks up the race nicely – @Dervhynes
- Smile, it is amazing how it can keep you feeling positive even during times when its a fake smile!! – @dervhynes
- Bring a bin bag to wear at the start. It’ll keep you warm – @mccann_joanne
- Don’t walk too much on Saturday. Even though the expo will be inviting – @mccann_joanne
- Thank Everyone who cheers for you and you will probably get a bigger cheer! – @aljaroo1874
- Get plenty of sleep all week. You’re unlikely to sleep the night before – @20euro
- Get your name printed on your top, hearing the crowd call your name is a great motivator – @dervhynes
- Make sure you pee before the start – @RHMusik
- Enjoy the experience, soak up the atmosphere. Envision crossing the finish line and how you will feel when you get your medal – @annesolley