The Dublin Marathon

2015 – 2019


One thing that the current period of lockdown and social distancing has given us as runners is a cause to reflect on previous events that we have taken part in and appreciate them all the more in the competitive void that we now find ourselves in. Huge races worldwide that were the main focus and motivation for so many people to simply put on a pair of runners and get out the door have suddenly become very dispensable and not that important in the greater scheme of things.

Looking back at my running journey over the last 5 years, my minds eye automatically zones in on the Dublin marathon. I have taken part in each of the last 5 races and it’s a brilliant experience every time. We don’t always get everything right here in Ireland but our premier running event is certainly one that we can be proud of. It’s right up there with many of the worlds top marathons in terms of atmosphere and it really showcases both our capital city and our nations running supporters in a great light.

There have now been 40 editions of the 26.2 mile saunter through the Dublin streets since the very first staging of it back in 1980. There were 2100 history makers toeing the line on that October bank holiday morning of whom 1420 made it to the finish line in one piece. Taking on the magical distance really was a step into the unknown for many of the runners at that time. The first race was won by Dick Hooper of Raheny Shamrocks in an excellent time of 2 hours 16 minutes.

The race has grown and developed an identity all of its own over the years and has enjoyed a real surge in recent times with the current boom of running and fitness in general. The 2019 race saw the entry level grow to a record 22,500.

My own background in running really began at secondary school in St Eunans college where I competed in cross country and some track events. Any ability I had was basically a bit of natural endurance mixed with whatever fitness I had built up from playing football. I also joined Cranford Athletic Club after meeting coach Rose Gavaghan at a schools race and I ran mostly cross country races with them for a few years from the age of 14 up. I have some great memories from that time. I always enjoyed the longer races and the way you could sort of get into a rhythm without putting yourself into the red. I briefly dipped in and out of running through my 20s but never applied myself to it at all.

One running ambition I always had was to run a marathon in my lifetime. I didn’t know when or where but it was just something I wanted to experience and say that I had done it. There were very few people from my area that I knew of that had done one but I remember Columba Friel who was one of the coaches of our Gaelic football team talking about having ran one and this always stood out to me. Tommy McGinley was another man who I’d heard had also ticked off the challenge. My neighbour Shaun Stewart of course had ran Dublin more recently, running a fantastic sub 3 hour marathon in 2013.

I had done a bit of running in the summer of 2014 which culminated in taking part in the first Donegal half marathon that August. I did about 2 months of training from a base of absolute zero. I did a 12 mile run on the Sunday before the race which was the farthest I had ever ran. I completed it in 1 hour 35 minutes and really enjoyed it but once it was done I didn’t run another step until the following May.

My neighbour Noel had been doing a bit of running and had just completed that years North West 10k. We got chatting about running and he said he was thinking of training for the Dublin marathon in October and would I fancy doing it with him. I said I wasn’t really sure and would think about it. He said he was doing a 6 mile training run the next evening in Ards forest beside where we live and if I joined him he’d know I was in! I thought to myself if I didn’t do it then, when would I do it? I decided to go with it. I joined him the next evening and bearing in mind that I hadn’t ran a step from the previous August, 6 miles was a pretty big ask!

I’ll never forget that run. I was ok for the first 3 miles but for the last 3 I was really hanging on. If your familiar with Ards, when we got up as far as the bridge on the road from the park we turned up left which brings you to a real tight bit of climbing. I was completely gone and had to really dig in to keep going. I thought if I stop I’ll never get going again. Our first child was due that September and I actually had a conversation with my unborn son or daughter in my mind asking them to please help me up this hill! I somehow got it done and Noel said that was no bother to you!

After a few weeks I got into it and started to enjoy it and we were soon signed up for Dublin 2015. There was no turning back now! We built up our Sunday runs and we took in that years Donegal half marathon as a stepping stone. When I had finished there was no way I could imagine doing the same thing again without stopping. We followed a rough training guide that we had read which suggested building up to doing 20 miles 2 weeks in a row and then 22 miles 3 weeks before the race.

We were so green to it all though and made so many mistakes. For our first 20 mile run we went to Letterkenny and ran from the Aura out around Newmills a couple of times. We didn’t have a single bar or energy gel with us to refuel or even a drop of water. We just took off running! It was a very warm day too and when we went beyond 16 miles we started to suffer. At about 18 and a half miles Noel had a real hunger flat and we stopped to walk. Our bodies were crying out for fuel. Even the thought of walking back the mile and a half to the Aura was pretty daunting. We went around a corner and we saw an apple tree growing in a garden along the road. We still joke about whether it was really there or not. We picked an apple each from it and got them into us and this got us back to our car. We learned a lot that day!

Our first son Aaron was born that September so with all the excitement that came with it the marathon really crept up on us. Before we knew it, it was race weekend and we didn’t really know what to expect. It was great to be looking forward to it though. 2015 was the last year that the marathon was held on the traditional bank holiday Monday before it was switched to a Sunday race.

Aaron showing his support

We travelled up on the Sunday morning to give ourselves a chance to prepare and get to the expo in good time to pick up our race packs. Even though Aaron was just 6 weeks old at that stage and Sarah was torn about leaving him for a night, she came to Dublin with me which was brilliant. She didn’t want to miss what was going to be my one and only marathon! Noels wife Emma and his girls Eva and Chloe had travelled up as well so we had a great wee support team. Even going to the expo for the first time built the excitement levels and it gave you the feeling that you were taking part in a pretty big event.

Heading into the unknown!

We were fairly buzzing on race morning and were up at 6 am to have breakfast. Being in a hotel on the morning of a marathon gives you the feeling of being a professional athlete for a day as you are just there to focus on your performance. We tried to eat plenty for breakfast without over doing it as we watched all the other runners around us go through their little pre race routines. We shared a table with 2 runners from county Down and when hearing it was our first marathon they gave us loads of little tips for before and during the race which proved invaluable.

We got a few photos with Sarah and Emma and the girls and made our way to the start. Emma’s sister Marie who lives in Dublin was there as well and she took them all out on the course. She knew the best places for spectating and they got to see us at 3 different points of the race which was great going.

With Sarah before the start

We took our places in the throngs of people in Fitzwilliam square for the start as the atmosphere really started to build. The national anthem played and then the gun went off to set us on our way. We were far enough back so you start walking at first until a little bit of space opens up and you break into a jog. It took us a minute or two to pass under the official start line and that’s when your timing chip kicks in. I remember thinking to myself that “this is it, you’re running a marathon now!”

We didn’t have any time to aim for as such, we really just wanted to get to the finish and said anything under 4 hours would be a bonus. We said we would try to run together if we could and this really helped in the early miles. Pace was pretty hard to judge and we didn’t want to get carried away. We made sure to drink at every water station and we brought a protein bar in our pockets and took a few bites every so often. We changed to energy gels in future marathons though as the bars were quite chewy and not the easiest to take. Especially later in the race!

One thing about the Dublin marathon that blew me away in that first year and has not changed in the other 4 that I have done is the level of support on the course. Literally the whole 26.2 miles is lined with masses of people willing you on. There’s not too many sporting events that can match that level of goodwill from the side lines.

It was brilliant taking it all in as we entered Phoenix park near the zoo and travelled straight through for a couple of miles coming back out just before the 10k mark. We then came through Castleknock which had huge crowds with music blaring and it was pure class. It made you feel like sprinting! We saw our supporters for the first time shortly after here which also gave us a great lift. We then turned back into the Phoenix park for another couple of miles before coming back out through the Chapelizod gate and in a blink we had 10 miles reeled off. This marathon running is great fun!

The marathon course

Every mile starts to tell a little more on the body from this point on and everything becomes a bit more like hard work. Noels leg started to give him a bit of trouble and was causing him some discomfort. We settled our pace a bit to give it a chance but it wasn’t easing. We passed the halfway mark in 1 hour 48 minutes and began the long journey towards home. The atmosphere was still brilliant and I still couldn’t believe I was in the middle of the Dublin marathon.

Noels leg was still at him so we stopped to walk for a bit and this helped for a while as we punched in a couple of good miles after this. When we passed 16 miles he told me to push on so I carried on in my own wee world for a few miles.  I was flying along for a while passing loads of runners and loving the spin. I soon realised I was running much too hard though. I passed the girls again at around 20 miles which kept my momentum up and I saw Sarah’s aunt Elizabeth near where she then lived on Roebuck road after 21 miles.

Emma with Chloe & Eva

This is where I began to experience what running a marathon is all about. Everything began to tighten up and my legs began to scream at me to stop as I really went into concentration mode. Whereas early in the race I was looking around me taking it all in, now I had tunnel vision and was just focusing on the road in front of me and not interacting with the supporters at all. It was a real battle of will and the mind played a huge role. You summon everything you can to keep you going and I thought a lot about Sarah and Aaron in these few miles and how we had now become a family. I told him I would get to the finish line somehow!

We went out onto the motorway and past the UCD flyover which still felt so far from the finish. Just before 24 miles I saw the girls again and Marie ran out along side me with water and a handful of cola bottles. I just wished she could have ran the last 2 miles for me! Bit by bit though the noise of the supporters got louder and finally I was running up Mount Street towards the finish on Merrion square. I found a sprint in the last 50 metres and was thrilled to have made it. What an amazing experience!

I had finished in 3 hours 33 minutes so I was delighted with my time but was happy just to have finished. I got my medal and some food and water into me and came around. I was actually randomly interviewed on camera about my experience of the race which featured a bit on the official marathon highlights film so that was good craic. I began to get quite cold and as I wasn’t sure if me and Noel would spot each other in the crowds I made my way back towards the hotel. I went the wrong way for a bit though and had to backtrack so I was freezing and my legs were almost seized by the time I got there. Noel was sitting back looking quite relaxed after finishing in well under 4 hours despite the problems with his leg. It was brilliant to reflect on the race and bask in the glory of it for a while and it wasn’t too long before we both said we would definitely be back for another go next year!

So Dublin in October became the focal point of our running lives over the next few years. It really kept us going and helped keep the training ticking over. We took a good break after the marathon in 2015 and it was well into the new year before we were back out running. Soon though we had signed up for 2016 and had our hotel booked. We didn’t change a lot about our preparation and kept the whole thing fairly laid back. We were aiming for the Donegal half marathon again in August and I had subtly prompted Darren, who is married to Sarahs sister Valerie to do it with us. Once he had that much done I told him he would be as well joining us for Dublin as well so we soon had another man for our long training runs!

The marathon was changed to a Sunday in 2016 which was a great success. It meant we could stay in Dublin for the night after the race and really enjoy the aftermath of having it done. By the 2016 race our family of 3 had become 4 with the arrival of Caolan just over a year after Aaron. Marathon weekend was becoming as big an event for Sarah’s sister Janette as it was for us running it as she took the 2 boys off our hands which again allowed Sarah to come up for support. Darren’s wife Valerie was also added to the cheer leading team and it all added to the fun.

The race itself followed a similar path to the year before. Me and Noel ran together a little ahead of Darren for about 11 miles where I pushed on for a few miles on my own. I was feeling really strong all the way around until the final mile where my legs went completely. I had Caolan to help Aaron to cajole me on this year in my mind and I kept it going until the final corner where I suddenly stopped. I remember having a real dizzy spell for a moment and came to a halt automatically. There was a race announcer standing at the side of the road with a microphone and when he saw me walking he shouted for me to keep going and that I had 7 minutes to cover the last stretch of the race to finish under 3 hours 30. At that moment I couldn’t have cared less what my time was going to be but I quickly came around and coasted down over the line in a time of 3 hours 24 minutes. Noel took 20 minutes off his time from the year previous with a strong run and Darren finished in close to 4 hours which was great running on his limited training.

Places in the marathon were selling out more quickly each year so within a few weeks of 2016 the three of us had again signed up for 2017. Darren had actually rebooked the hotel for the following year when he was checking out he was that taken in by the whole experience!

We had upped our overall running a little bit and instead of the Donegal half marathon in August we signed up for the full race. This would mean 2 marathons in 10 weeks which would be a new experience. It all helped the general fitness and when Dublin came around I had a very steady race and stayed strong until the end, running a time of 3 hours 17 minutes. Darren had a super run in 3 hours 35 with Noel close behind in 3:38.

John McClafferty, Darren Murray and Noel McGarvey after completing this years Dublin Marathon

We didn’t even have to ask ourselves if we would be back in 2018. It was now becoming hard to imagine being at home that weekend with the race taking place. Running was now becoming a prominent part of our lives and it is such a positive outlet. We were now upping the ante another bit with the 3 of us also signing up for the Derry marathon in June and Darren and myself taking on the very first Wild Atlantic marathon in Killybegs in July. These were both great running experiences as well and just added to our story.

I had another wee supporter for Dublin in 2018 with our 3rd son Jamie being born 3 weeks before the race. Another major life experience and an excuse to ease back a little on the training. It would be great to be able to run with my 3 boys in the future. It was definitely too soon for Sarah to be travelling to Dublin this year so her and the boys stayed at home. Darren had just become a new father as well with the arrival of his daughter Caitlin just a week before Jamie so he also had a little extra motivation to get through the tough miles. Noels family were again there to cheer us on along with Marie and he had his own new supporter in tow with him as his son Matthew had been born the previous December. We’re bound to inspire one of them to run!

A good luck message from the boys

Darren and myself had travelled down to Dublin together on Saturday but I was feeling a bit under the weather having developed a bad head cold the day before. My legs felt like tonne weights and I didn’t know if I would make the finish line at all. Darren made me a few good hot honey and lemon mixtures and when I got up on race morning I felt surprisingly good. I started steadily to see how I went and I ended up running well finishing in 3 hours 15. You just never know what the marathon journey will bring. Noel had a very strong run finishing in a pb of 3:23 while Darren who had been tied up between a new house and a new baby before the race got around nicely in 3:48.

It didn’t seem long after the 2018 results had gone into the record books that we were signed up for 2019. The entries were now stretched to 22,500 but it was sure to sell out once more. We again signed up early and the 2019 map began to take shape. We had also entered our names in the lottery for places in the Berlin marathon in September and when the draw was made Darren and myself had secured a place. It would be only 4 weeks before Dublin but we decided to still to both. We just trained as we had for Dublin in previous years but went 4 weeks ahead of Schedule. We simply hoped we would have enough recovery time in between.

A few weeks before Berlin I had made the step up to becoming a club runner when I joined Milford AC. Darren had signed up the year before and he nudged me to take the plunge and join him. I have found it to be a very positive move. It is a very welcoming club with head coach James Gibbons passionate about helping runners of every level and proving to be an excellent motivator.

I had a strong run in Berlin finishing with a pb of 3:09 but I didn’t know how I would be for Dublin 4 weeks later. I didn’t do any long runs in between, just concentrating on my recovery and I also ran 1 cross country race for the club. I went to Dublin with no pressure other than to enjoy the race. Another friend of ours Michael Harkin was running Dublin for the first time and himself and I shared a hotel room the night before. I was really looking forward to seeing him experiencing the race for the first time and it was funny now being in a position to pass on a few little tips here and there. We also listened to a podcast by Stephen Scullion who won the Irish marathon title the next day and we actually met him in our hotel after the race for a photo.

Race morning brought the most perfect conditions for running and the crowds on the course seemed bigger than ever. The atmosphere was again top class and I had such an enjoyable run. I didn’t pay too much attention to pace I just ran as I felt while staying comfortable. I passed halfway in 1:33 and felt good. I knew it would get tougher but I was still going strong after 23 miles and was well on for another pb. In the last 2 miles though the wheels came off and I wobbled home. I had to really dig in to even keep moving. I still ran a time of 3:10 which I would have more than settled for before the race.

Darren had a storming run finishing in a time of 3 hours 20 and I was over the moon for him as he had really been putting in the work in training. Dublin definitely lived up to its billing for Michael and he had a ball, running a very strong 3:26 at his first attempt. Noel had been in very bad shape with the flu in the week before the race and had been on anti-biotics and probably shouldn’t have ran really. Its amazing what a bit of determination can do though as he somehow got himself around in 3 hours 32 which was some going in the circumstances.

With Darren, Noel & Michael

So all in all I’ve had five great experiences around the streets of our capital with each one a story in its own right. Its hard to believe I have now ran ten marathons in total from hoping to one day run just one. The marathon is such an amazing event and you never know how it will go. If it was 20 miles it would be a nice tough challenge but its that final 6.2 that gives it its mystique.

I hope my marathon journey has some way to go yet with plenty goals to aim for. I would love to run all 6 of the world marathon majors at some stage of my life. Hopefully someday. I have just got Berlin ticked off so far and have an entry for Chicago this year whether that will go ahead or not. Another big one on the bucket list is to try to get to run the Gold Coast marathon in the next couple of years, with Gerard McFadden having the master plan of making it a massive Creeslough ocassion. Now that would be something. Somewhere in there I hope to run a marathon in under 3 hours and with a bit of hard work and a clean run of training I think I could get close to it. No matter how my journey goes though Dublin will always be a special race and whenever I hear the words Dublin marathon it will automatically bring back memories of running and of life that are simply priceless.

131 Miles Through the Streets of Dublin over 5 years!

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