It seems that 2013 has been the year for the number "4".......well certainly with respect to my running. I started off with a 4th place in the Barcelona marathon, next a 4th place in Comrades, and then....you guessed it....4th place in the World Trail Champs. Bearing this in mind, it seemed fitting to pop over to Cork for my 4th marathon of the year.
I was initially invited over by my friend John, who was hoping to run the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon in about 4 hours. I thought it would be nice to run with him, and provide support/encouragement en route. Unfortunately John had some problems with injury, which significantly interrupted his training. Bearing this in mind, he had to re-evaluate his goal, so it seemed more sensible for me to use the race as a long fast-paced run and then be there for him at the finish.
As I generally run alone, I thought that if I aimed for a time of about 3:00-3:15, then I would have some company all the way round. I got a shock when I checked out the course profile a couple of days before heading over there. There was about 1300foot of height to be gained over the course of the race (with concomitant steep descents), and most of the hills were in the second half. Looking at previous year's results, people generally ran significant positive splits (ie the second half several minutes slower than the first half). In order to get the maximum personal benefit from the run, I needed to be sensible and hold back in the first half, and build at the end if I was feeling good.
John picked me up at Cork airport on Friday night and we headed down to Clonakilty to register. Registration was quite funny, as I was told varying start times, and also different positions (and contents) of the 3 feed stations. When I seemed surprised at this, John just answered "This is Ireland"!
In order not to miss the start (which turned out to be 9:08am) we got down there nice and early..... The weather seemed ideal as it was about 9 degrees, the sun was just coming out (after a shower of rain as we jogged down) and there was little wind. The full and mini-marathoners (I learnt that a mini marathon is a 10k) mustered in a carpark while the half marathoners headed to their start line 800m down the road.
About 5 minutes after the half marathon started, we were off, winding out of the car park and down the road along the shoreline. I was trying to take it easy but found myself running alone about 10m behind a group of men, so I made the decision to catch them up for some company, as long as they weren't going too fast.
We started catching the half marathon tailenders after about a mile (half a mile into their race) and so the next mile passed really quickly as there were lots of people about. When the routes divided we settled into a nice bunch and clipped along at a steady pace chatting as we ran. I found myself not thinking about my running as I was concentrating hard on deciphering some of the stronger accents. One man said he thought he was in 3 hr shape on a flat course, and another was aiming for 3:05-3:10 so the group seemed to be a good one to stick with. We chatted about marathons, track running (one of the men - Gary -said he was a 1500m runner as I had noticed his distinctive "up on his toes" running style) and various ultras (another man had plans for his first ultra in the spring of 2014).
I was loving it, as the miles just seemed to tick by easily, with the company and the banter - it's just that I hadn't expected it to be at the head of the race. In fact, I actually led us up some of the inclines as I was trying to run a relatively constant pace. Although no cyclists were officially allowed on the course, the roads were open, and at least 2 of the men had their partners providing cycle-support. In a way, it was a relief when I realised this, as I had thought that the female voices I'd heard on my shoulder a few times were from other runners.
Not a flat profile then!
We crested a hill at about 12 miles, but must've looked quite funny going down the other side. It was a fairly steep descent and one of the guys just ran away from the group. I took it steadily (with my girlie arms) trying not to land too heavily on my right heel, as the fat pad is still not happy, and Gary also dropped back as he had a hamstring niggle. Soon afterwards we started a 2mile steady ascent, and we bunched back up again, passing through the halfway point in about 1:25.
The second half of the course was much more testing but, as always, I preferred the ascents to the descents - and we were rewarded with amazing coastal views. Some small rain showers led to some amazing rainbows, and luckily the breeze wasn't strong enough to cause much of a chill factor (I'd even taken my gloves off by halfway). As one of the lads cheerily told me that we'd reached the highest point at the 17mile marker, another brought us back to earth by saying that we had the hill "from Lord of the Rings (the "hill to end all hills")" still to come........eeeeeek!
In fact, it wasn't that this hill was much steeper (though there was a kick-up at the end) or longer than any previous one, it's just that it came after you'd already run 20miles, and so it whittled away our group to just 4. We had now started to pass the back runners of the half marathon, but after we'd descended again, the Garda helped the marathoners cross the traffic round a sharp corner to the left, while the half runners headed straight on towards the finish.
2 miles to go - go on Rory!
With only 4 miles of relatively flat running left, the guys turned on the gas. The front two ran away at a fair lick, while myself and another guy (Rory) stayed together for another couple of miles. We started to increase the pace but were still able to converse. He had finished 7th the previous year, and told me that his aim was to finish in the top 5 in a sub 2:50 time. With two miles to go, the Garda helped us cross another main road and we were back overtaking the same half marathoner runners again. I urged Rory to push on ahead of me, as I felt I was probably slowing him down and didn't want him to miss out on his goals. The sun was shining as we wound along the coast road that we'd started on, and my last few miles were my quickest of the day.
With Gary at the finish!
I was over the moon to run the tougher second half in about 1:23 for a big negative split, finishing (yes, you guessed it) in 4th place overall in a time of 2:48:41. I was rewarded by a big hug from a friend from Kerry (who'd run the 10k with his daughter, had a second breakfast and then watched his partner finish the half), and then later on, saw John finish strongly with no recurrence of his injury.
A great day all round - and for those of you wondering, Gary won in 2:46:06, Rory made the podium with 2:48:36 (just in front of me), the guy aiming for sub-3 was 5th man home in 2:52:37, and the man aiming for 3:05-3:10 finished in 3:08:57.