Yesterday, Monday 26 October 2009, this blog ran (and completed) its very first Marathon. It was a day of extreme highs and lows and one that I'll probably never forget. I know for sure that my right knee won't let me forget anytime soon.
As I reached the start line at 8.30, the air was heavy with the smell of fear and deep heat. Nervous pleasantries were exchanged between competitors amidst final stretches and photographs. Everyone wanted to know what time everyone else wanted to achieve. If I could do it in less that 4 hours, 30 minutes, I'd be very happy. If I could somehow find the adrenalin to do it in less than four then I'd be ecstatic! As the 9.00 start time approached, my emotions began to get the better of me, not because of the 26 miles, 385 yards ahead of me, but because of the hundreds of miles I'd put in beforehand and, of course, the very reason I was doing this in the first place, in memory of my Father-in-law, Alan Smyth.
However, once the starting gun went all nerves quickly disappeared and I settled in to a nice pace of 9.30-9.45 minute miles for the first 5 miles. It was hard not to think about the difference between the first time I attempted 5 miles, when I was sure I'd have to call some sort of cardiac ambulance, and today. Indeed, miles 4-8, through the Phoenix Park, are perhaps the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on. The colours of the trees, the enthusiastic crowds, the fact that I was, without very much effort, on course for possibly a 4 hour marathon added a spring to my step that made me feel like the greatest distance runner in the world.
That being said, as good as I felt exiting the Chapelizod Gate, I realised that I wasn't sweating very much and so I took some time to load up on water and energy drinks at the next water station. Mile 8 to 9, which included the impossibly steep St. Laurence Road, was by far the toughest of the race so far but as I made my way through miles 9-13 I seemed to get a second wind. I was now running a pretty good pace and still had the 4 hour pace balloons in sight.
However, as I crossed the half way mark in 2 hours, 1 minute and 14 seconds, and began to dream of upping the pace and overtaking the pacemakers between miles 13-18 (and before I hit the dreaded wall), I heard what can only be described as a loud snap in my head and almost immediately came to a shuddering halt given the pain that was now emanating from my right knee. I couldn't believe it. This was the same knee I suffered a grade 2 ACL tear in during training (causing me to miss 8 weeks in total) but which hadn't caused me any real trouble for over 6 weeks.
I made my way as quickly as I could to the nearest first aid area where I was strongly advised to call it a day. That was NEVER going to happen, not after coming this far. The first aid guys applied as much deep freeze as they could before advising me one more time to consider leaving the race. Stubbornly, I still refused, saying that I'd give it another couple of miles and see where it took me. All in all, I spent over 21 minutes getting treatment and stretching and so any hope of a sub four hour marathon were well any truly gone.
Indeed, after about a mile of very light jogging I relalised that time was no longer an issue. It was now all about ignoring the pain in my right knee (akin to replacing your knee joint with a testicle and running on it for 12 or so miles), and just finishing the race. To be honest, I wasn't sure I could but as mile after mile passed by I could sense the finish line and that, plus a brilliantly supportive crowd, kept me going, even through miles 18-24 when I seemed to spend most of the time trying not to cry, both from the pain and the feeling that I'd let myself and others down because of this injury.
Somehow, and from somewhere, I picked up the courage to run, as fast as I could, the last 2 miles, 285 yards in the hope of finishing in less than 5 & a half hours. Seeing Mrs Key Notes, her mum and my own Mum and Dad, as I struggled through the last mile, gave me a huge emotional and physical boost and as I crossed the line I was so overcome with the emotion of the whole experience that I almost, almost, forgot about the pain for a moment. Officially, my time was 5.46.14 but, as I took 21 minutes out for treatment, I'm giving myself an unofficial time of 5.25.14.
Not that it matters, of course, I finished a marathon, essentially on one leg, and that, as everyone has since told me, is all that really matters. That and getting to the doctor today!
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