Twenty thousand entrants. Twenty six miles, three hundred and eighty five yards. The Dublin marathon, this Sunday, will bring ecstasy for some, and unfortunately, misery for others. Runners from across the globe are in their final preparations for the startline and undoubtedly the nerves are beginning to grow. The conditions look perfect, or as near perfect as could be hoped for an Irish marathon at the end of October. There can be no excuses on the day. With Stephen Scullion in excellent shape on the men’s side, and Laura Graham, in just as good shape on the females, this could be the first year that both of the first local finishers will be from the North. And that would be a fantastic boost for Northern Irish athletics.
This year, however, my main interest lies further back in the field. Anyone who has been following #DreamRunDublin17 on http://www.nirunning.co.uk (or BBC Newsline tonight), will know that Sunday is the culmination of this year’s project. Eight of the ten athletes that I have been coaching for the past twenty five weeks, will take to the startline in an attempt to do something that they have never done before. They will try and break the magical three hour barrier. The joking in the Whatsapp group began to dry up a week or so ago. The niggles began to creep in during the past ten days. My hamstring is tight, my toe hurts, I think I have done something to my calf. Out of nowhere, nearly every one of the eight began having an issue. The challenge was to ensure that the ‘injuries’ were nothing more than pre-race phantom pains. A condition that only soon-to-be marathon runners tend to suffer from. Is it a tapering body highlighting chronic pains? Is it a hyperawareness that in several days time, the body will have to go through immense pain? Or is it quite simply the nerves setting in?
Studying for my upcoming medical exam, I can tell you all sorts of things about nerves in the human body. Their anatomy, how they function, everything right down to their basic cellular level. What the books do not tell you however, is how you deal with nerves of the pre-race variety. The sort of nerves that can ruin your marathon before you have even begun. The nerves that make you not sleep the night before your race so that you wake up exhausted. The nerves that waste so much energy while waiting at the startline. Or, even worse, the nerves that mean that at five miles into the race, you have to stop to use the portaloos.
The Dublin marathon was the location of my first marathon in October, 2012. It was where my journey into road running really began and while I have not had the opportunity to compete in the race since, every year it holds a special place in my heart. One day soon, I hope to back racing through Phoenix Park again. Each marathon is an experience, regardless of the result. Back in 2012, I did not know what to expect. The pain, the atmosphere, the exhilaration at the finish line – all very unique feelings that I had never come across in the running world before. I do not remember feeling particularly nervous in the buildup. I wish I could say the same for the marathons I have competed in since.
I believe everybody suffers from nerves to some degree, regardless of what they might say. Nerves are necessary. They mean you care. I have always found my nerves to be greatest before races where I am in good shape. Where I might potentially run something special. Instead of blocking or ignoring them, the feeling should be embraced. This is what all the hard work, the months of effort and all the sacrifice has been for. Nerves should never be viewed as a negative feeling. This Sunday will come and go. Time will not end with a bad race. No, nerves should simply be viewed as the manifestation of the excitement of what might be. The dreaming of an answer to the question, what if?
So this Sunday, whether you are racing or viewing, enjoy the day. For thousands of people, this will be the one time in their life that they will be complete a marathon. For the runners in the Dream Run project, it will hopefully be the day that they become sub three hour marathon runners. By now, all the training has been done, there is nothing more to be gained. There are only things to be lost, by doing too much. Rest well, eat healthily and be prepared. The majority of physical preparation has been done. It is now time to be mentally strong. To acknowledge the pain that you will, most definitely, feel at some stage on Sunday. Now is the time to dream of what time you might run, regardless of how ridiculous or unrealistic it might be. Just dream, let the nerves sink in. And then wake up on Sunday, your pacing clear in your head, and be ready to race. This is the day that you have been preparing for. Good luck.