My coach is not a big fan of racing. Sometimes, I think he believes that racing is little more than a distraction, taking away valuable time in which I could be training. For me, racing is the part of running that provides the most enjoyment. Or perhaps, I should say, it is the build up to racing that excites me. Nowhere else in my day to day existence do I get a feeling like the one I do in the days leading up to a competition. The nervous excitement about how well I might perform. The inevitable worry that everything may go wrong. What if I embarrass myself in front of all the spectators? As I have progressed in my running, the worry of failing has subsided. I have come to trust in my coach and his training. At the Commonwealth Games last year, in Hampden Park stadium there were close to forty six thousand spectators watching me run. Forty six thousand! Considering it was going to be only my second 10,000m race and I was carrying an injury, the nerves should have been unbearable. I was afraid I would have to drop out with my injury. I was afraid I would come last and not even break thirty minutes. However, as race day came closer, I told myself to enjoy it, that it would be an experience that I could carry with me for the rest of my life. And so it turned out to be. I did not medal, in fact it was the first time that I have ever been lapped in a race. But the roar of the crowd, the deafening cry of thousands of people is one that I will indeed remember for a long time to come.
I am unsure why that memory has come to me right now. Maybe it is the fact that with fifty days to go until Berlin, already I am becoming nervous. Nervous about failing, yet even more nervous about succeeding. Berlin has the potential to be the best race of my career. It will be my fourth marathon and first one as a full time runner. Yesterday evening, I was at a friend’s thirtieth birthday party. Socialising amongst new people, the same old questions always pop up. ‘Oh you are a runner, what time can you do for the marathon?’ My answer is always the same. ‘Well I have done 2.16 but I hope to break 2.10 in my next one’. I always feel the need to justify myself. 2.16 is a time that the majority of people will never come close to running. It should be good enough in its own right. But for me, if I never run quicker, it will be a massive disappointment. Undoubtedly, I have not even come close to reaching my potential. Berlin is not my last opportunity to run quick, far from it. However, it is an opportunity. An opportunity to race, over the fastest course in the world, with the fastest runners in the world. That is why I am excited. Last week, I sat down to find a video of the marathon course. The only one I could find was of the 2014 race with German commentary. As I turned my laptop to mute, I watched on with anticipation. I visualised what this year’s start would be like and the route that I would take as I traversed the city centre of Berlin. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see myself rounding the corner onto Leipziger Street at the twenty three mile point. I am on for a shockingly quick time, feeling strong. In my mind, I push on towards the finish, passing and leaving Africans in my wake. In reality, I know I will be in severe pain, contemplating whether I should drop out and already searching for the still distant finishing line.
For the first time, I decided, in conjunction with my coach, to begin a sixteen week build up phase for this marathon. While it begun at the start of June, it feels like only yesterday that we were discussing how much time we had until race day. I remember Andy’s manic laugh whenever he was telling me of the sessions that he wanted me to complete. He is quite sadistic at times. However, the time has flown by, with training progressing relatively smoothly, broken only by a small niggle here and there. In the sixteen weeks, there was room for only one race in the training plan. Looking at the calendar, for me the decision was obvious. I wanted to do the Dublin half marathon, which doubled up as the Irish half marathon championships. My training partner, and fellow marathon runner, Kevin Seaward booked our flights over to Dublin. We decided that this would be a chance to say to the Irish running community ‘Yes, we might be training in England, but don’t forget about us. We are getting ready.’
Having not raced in two months, I doubt anyone really had an idea of what kind of shape Kevin and I were in. For me though, I was in the shape of my life. Eight weeks of marathon training and regular twenty mile days had made me stronger than ever before. With a personal best of 62.10 to my name over the half distance, I knew that given my recent sessions, I was in much better shape. The Dublin half was not about winning. I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to go there and lead from the front and show that I was ready to take on the marathon challenge. Waking up on the Friday morning, two days before the race, my throat had different ideas. My voice was hoarse and my nostrils blocked. I was hopeful that it might clear quickly, aided by overdosing on vitamin c and honey. Sadly it was not to be, and I spent most of the night before the race at the side of my bed trying to stop the persistent flow of fluid from my nose. I phoned my coach at seven on the morning of the race. I was doubtful I would make the startline, never mind the finish. After discussing with the coach however, we agreed to at least try and run. All thoughts of showing my good form had gone. Finishing was the aim, anything beyond that a bonus. Kevin had also had a rough night of sleep thanks to a severe migraine. It felt like after all the hard work, we were both destined to fail.
On the warm up together, little was said. I was concentrating too much on trying to breathe through my mouth and Kevin trying to contain his headache. As the start gun went off, I immediately sat at the back of the lead group of eight or so athletes. For the first six miles, I played with the demons in my head, shouting at me to stop. I was still coughing up phlegm as we went along. I managed to stay in contact, more through sheer determination than anything else. I spent most of the first nine miles staring straight at the back of Kevin’s vest. I knew, headache or not, he would not be far from the leaders. As we rounded into Phoenix Park, with four miles to go, we encountered a short climb. Surprisingly, by the time we had reached the top, the group had whittled down to just four athletes. I sat in second place, keen to do as minimal work as possible. Kevin sitting in third began to tie up. It soon, became a two horse race between me and Mick Clohisey, the long time leader of the race. Having sat in for so long, I was confident that I had enough to win. I made my break with half a mile to go, and crossed the line first in 65.09, with Mick close behind. It was only my second time contesting the Irish championships, having also won it at my first attempt three years previously. Kevin finished soon after in third position. Considering we were both well below par, to return with two Irish championship medals, has reinforced our belief in Andy’s training. We both came into the race feeling poorly. Add to that we were on a one hundred and twenty mile week, having done a thirty four mile double session day only five days before the race. Berlin may be fifty days away, but for me and Kevin, each day is a day for us to get stronger, to get fitter and hopefully with luck, it brings both of us a step closer to smashing that Olympic marathon qualifying time. Only time will tell.