I always believe that I might have a ‘dream’ marathon day. That everything will fall into place. The weather will be perfect, cool with a light breeze. I will get to halfway feeling comfortable and like I have yet to start running. I picture myself crossing the finish line, exhausted but looking back at the finishing clock knowing that I have just set a new Irish marathon record. That day has yet to happen. I still believe that one day it will. However, that is not to say, I have yet to experience a perfect marathon day. No, that happened little over two weeks ago, in the city of Dublin.
I did not envisage becoming a coach for other athletes. Indeed, if anyone ever trained with me when I was younger, I think I did almost everything contrary to what the books tell you. I was headstrong, running the first rep as hard as I possibly could. And GPS or heart rate monitors were not even a thing back then, in order to track how hard I was training. Yet, when I first discussed with Ryan Maxwell, founder of nirunning.co.uk, the idea behind setting up the DreamRun group, I was excited. I had already coached a small number of athletes, but never so publicly. Would anyone apply? Would the chosen athletes improve? What if it all, simply, did not work out? Thankfully the 2017 group, were a fantastic, talented bunch of individuals and as their coach, I was extremely proud of their improvements. Though with only three of the ten breaking the three hour barrier in Dublin 2017, I felt as if the project had ended on a disappointing note. I questioned the training in the lead up to the race or was it the starting pace for each of the athletes? For all the personal bests set throughout the project, and the friendships made, the 2017 project was not the success that it might have been. While there is no better feeling than having an athlete you coach run well, surpassing what even they believed possible, on the flip side, there is no worse feeling than have an athlete run poorly, far off their best, with the knowledge that you as their coach are at least partly responsible for the disappointment.
I was acutely aware in the lead up to the 2018 Dublin marathon, that this was the time when the 2017 group faltered. Whether it was their mentality, nerves, pressure, lack of belief, or perhaps my optimism as their coach, for some reason they did not perform as good as they should have done. For this year’s group, Dave Woods, sports psychologist and sub three hour marathoner himself, had spoken to the group. What he said was nothing extra-ordinary but it was effective. It made each of the group sit back and think about their mentality. How were they going to approach the marathon, what would they do when the inevitable pain set in? Dave had various mental tricks up his sleeve and to simply hear someone else discuss the toughness of running a marathon was, I believe, reassuring for the group in itself.
I woke up early on the day of the Dublin marathon this year. Not through nerves, but because I had the drive down from Belfast ahead of me. I had the ninety minutes of driving to ponder how each of the athletes might get on. For some, I knew it would be a hard day of running. With a fifteen mile Sunday run of my own to do, I had worked out a route to get my own training done, whilst seeing the group at various stages of the race. The first viewing point was mile ten. It would be a good gauge if things were going to plan. All nine of the group who were racing, were running strongly, but it was early days. As I got to the later viewing stages in the marathon, there were some painful faces being pulled and heads were dropping. I last saw them at the twenty four mile point, by which stage it was head down and grinding it out to the finish. The next ten minutes were spent staring at the tracker on my phone. The results filtered in. Wes had run 2.45, a 54minute personal best. And that was the start of some fantastic results. All nine of the group ran strong personal bests. Between them they collectively took 234 minutes off their pb times – an average of, quite suitably, 26minutes per runner. After the disappointment of what had happened with the 2017 group, as a coach, there is no other word to describe the feeling I felt other than pride. Yes, undoubtedly it came down to each athlete putting in the training and sacrificing all that they did, but to know I even played a small role in helping some of them achieve their goal, is a great feeling. I may not have experienced the perfect marathon day as an athlete quite yet, but I certainly have come close as a coach.
Thank you to everyone involved in this year’s project, from start to finish. A special thank you to Ryan Maxwell for his continued work and help with the project and making it what it is. To this year’s guest speakers, Ramey Adams (S+C) and Dave Woods (sports psychologist), I know the group really appreciated your expertise. To Jim Aughney and everyone involved with the organisation of the Dublin marathon, thank you for your help and support. To the Belfast Victoria Park Parkrun hosts for always being so welcoming and putting on such a great weekly event. Thanks to the ten athletes who put in all the hard work over the 25 weeks, with special congratulations to Wes, Adam, Michael, Conor and Peter on joining the Sub-3 club. And finally, thank you to the NI running community and further afield for supporting the athletes and following the group throughout the year.
For anyone who would like to get involved with the organisation of next year’s project (guest speakers, physios etc), please just get in touch via the Contact page. The DreamRun group is a completely voluntary process, so also, if there are any sponsors who would like to get involved, please get in touch too. Finally, for anyone who cannot wait until next year’s DreamRun group (applications open in April 2019), then feel free to contact me via the website, if you are interested in private coaching. Until next year, good luck with your training!