In 2011 I ran my first ever race. The Athenry Fit4Life 5k in just under 36 minutes. On Saturday I ran my third marathon in 3 hours and 33 minutes. It wasn't my A goal but I can't be disappointed in a 21 minute PB!
So the details....
The lead-up to race day went fairly smoothly. Had a bit of a sniffle the week before but due to judicious use of hot whiskeys, vitamin C and lemsip it never really developed into a proper cold. I slept poorly the night before but then who gets a full night sleep before a marathon?
Saturday morning was cool and perfectly calm - great race conditions! Myself and the SO got up around 6......it was great to not have to get up at stupid o'clock for this race! We were out the door for 7:15 and parked at the Cathedral car park for 8am. Five minutes later we were at the race start area so we were there in loads of time. Plenty of portaloos for the small numbers meant no queueing...yay!
There was some mild panic just after we arrived when there was an announcement that the marathon was about to start.......I was still in my long tights and a few layers...WTF!!! Anyway it turns out that was for those aiming to finish over 4:30 so they could take advantage of the road closure.
The main event
About 5 minutes before the start we all moved over to the start area and the pacers arrived. There were two 3:30 pacers and it was easy to line up right behind them. Again the small numbers a major advantage here! We started off bang on time and headed off on our first two small laps before our 4 big laps out through Salthill and back. The first mile was right on pace.....just under 8min/miles. I did notice that when we hit the first marker (this was for 1.1 miles) that my watch said 1.13 but didn't take much notice at the time. In retrospect this was a mistake!!!
The next 12 miles or so went by very uneventfully. I took my gels on schedule and the pace felt easy. Each mile split on my watch was just under the pace so around about 7:55min/miles. As there weren't markers for each mile I wasn't aware of any discrepancy at this point....I was just chugging along happily with the pacers, chatting occasionally with the group. I saw the SO all over the place.....he kept popping up offering gels or water.
At 13.1 miles on my watch I noticed how far away we still were from the 13.1 mile sign. Oh dear! I think the pacers realised about this time too as all of a sudden the pacers I had been almost clipping the heels of set off like bats out of hell. I though for a while I had just hit some kind of wall as I felt like I was going backwards but I looked at my watch at the time and it was steadily in the 7:40s - looking back on the mile splits, the next 3 miles were way too fast and this and losing the pacers put me a dark place. It was the third lap and all that kept going through my mind was "I can't believe I have to do this bulls*** again after this!"
The next time we came through the start area was at the 20 mile mark and I had stopped looking at the watch at this stage. This is where I saw the parents so I made an attempt to not look too much like I was dying. Shortly after that I passed the SO again. He was carrying my backpack with all my clothes, money, phone, keys etc and was wearing about three layers but I told him I wanted him to run with me and he did. We had talked about this in advance so he was ready to jump in for that last lap if necessary. It did run through my mind to tell him my parents were close and to drop the bag with them but saying all those words seemed like a lot of energy so I didn't. I feel pretty bad about that now! On the other hand if he was trying to prove himself then 6 miles with multiple layers and a pink backpack will do it every time.
The next few miles were off the pace but I really didn't care at this stage. None of the miles were slower than 8:30 pace and that was as all I had at the time. These last few miles were quite congested with the faster half marathon crew coming through and lots of walkers on their first lap. I found this quite difficult as there was limited room on the course and the last thing I wanted to be thinking about was how I was going to get past a line of people or a dog walker! The last mile in particular was so hard. I know I was in pain but the amount of times I had to step off the path to get past people was ridiculous and in the last 100 meters I had to stop and ask people in a big group on their first lap to please allow me to get past. I gave up and ran through grass in the end to reach the finish area. So annoying!
What wasn't annoying was crossing that finish line with 3:33 on the clock. I hadn't been looking at my watch since about 18 miles so I hadn't a clue what my time was. I thought I had lost way more time! I was and still am ecstatic about my time!
My thoughts on the race
This was the first year a full marathon was available along with the more established 10k and half marathon. Numbers were kept to 200 and to be honest in the format the race is right now I don't think they could have had many more. The course was simply too congested in the second half once the half marathon started and can have only gotten worse as the majority of the field were still out on the course.
All of the volunteers and marshals that I came across were fantastic but there just weren't enough of them. More people along the course making sure there was a relatively clear path for runners would have made a lot of difference. I know in Limerick they have the three events together and I don't remember there being as much of a problem but then that's a much larger course so not the same space issues. Also good luck with stopping Galway people from walking their dog or cycling along the prom while a race is going on........not going to happen!
So was the course long? I don't know and it doesn't really matter. Whether it was or not my watch says we rock steady on the pace until about half way and then something happened so the next few miles were super fast so something was up and it wasn't just me. More and clearer signs would have allowed us all to be more aware of any difference sooner and made the later miles less painful!
The race T-shirt is excellent. It is properly sized, technical fabric and ladies fit so it will get loads of wear. The medal is grand. I don't really care about medals so I'm not the one to ask about this! There was pasta, crackers, biscuits etc available after the race which was good.........I bypassed this though and went to the Salthouse for two pints of Erdinger and a bag of crisps followed by pizza from Monroes for the car home :)