The Journey that gave me much more than a 26.2 mile run…
They had all told me of the great feeling when you cross the finish line. Some had said it’s the greatest feeling you’ll ever have. As I crossed the finish line it wasn’t there. I had refused to let myself stop running over that last mile. Everything in my body was screaming at me to stop. My mental endurance was saying “no way, not until we’re over that line”. So when I crossed the line and slowed down to a walk the initial thoughts in my head were not about any great feelings. It was “I need water, my legs aren’t working, I can barely even walk now, I need to sit down”. I was physically and mentally shattered. I took a few minutes just standing still, waiting for the body to come back to life. People passing by congratulated me, I politely muttered “thanks” to everybody but honestly at that moment they may aswell have been talking to the metal barriers I was leaning on.
A few minutes later the body was starting to recover from the trauma of what it had just been through. The people congratulating me were getting conversation from me now. I started walking again and was led to the medal presentation area. This huge, heavy medal was placed around my neck. That was the moment for me. The magnitude of what I had just done sunk in. The realisation of months of hard work. Of endless hours of boredom on the roads. Of training the brain to run for hours at a time without the need for interaction with others. The culmination of blood, sweat and tears. It all came together in that one moment. I had achieved something for many years I never thought I would do.
My marathon journey actually began about 3 years ago. I was in Dublin for marathon day as a spectator. That day I said to a couple of friends “someday I’ll do this marathon”. I was met pretty quickly with “right, whatever” , “I’ll believe it when I see it” and so on. Running was never my strong point. Team sports and lifting weights were always what I loved. Still are. But that day a seed was sown. Fast forward to Dublin marathon 2016. The day after the event I was on Facebook and looking at pictures of all of these people who had taken part. Something clicked, I realised I don’t want to be that person who keeps saying “someday I’ll do this”. Someday is not a day. Right there and then I logged out of Facebook and went to the Dublin City Marathon website and registered myself for the 2017 event.
Taking action is so important, no matter what it is you want to achieve. Stop overthinking and start doing. When I registered for that marathon I didn’t know how I was going to get over the line. I just knew I needed to take the first step and commit. I’d figure everything else out later. By registering I was mentally committed. I went a step further and announced my registration to my social media following. Holding yourself accountable is key if you want to achieve a goal. Don’t give yourself a get out clause.
Many people have asked me why I chose to do a marathon. It was the challenge. If I was a good runner I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I wanted to do something that would get me out of my comfort zone, something that would be a genuine achievement. Mindset and psychology is something that fascinates me, and something that I believe is a fundamental factor in the attainment of any goal. For years I had told myself I’m not a runner. Self talk can make or break you. If you tell yourself a negative story often enough it becomes a self limiting belief. The words I AM are the two strongest words in the English language. Be careful what you follow them up with. I’m a huge advocate of the power of positivity. I knew I had to reframe my thinking. I had to believe that I could run a marathon. But I had to start small and build gradually. With each small milestone comes confidence. Getting to 10 miles, 12 miles, 15 miles. One step at a time. Those limiting beliefs began to disappear. Now it was all about I CAN and I WILL.
Having a strong WHY is important too. A couple of months out from the run something happened that changed things for me. One of my marathon team mates was diagnosed with Cancer and hence couldn’t take part. It affected me a lot but it brought out the best in me too. Once over the initial shock my outlook on marathon training and the whole event changed. What had started out as a challenge on a personal level now became the most important thing in the world to me. I wanted to get over that line for her, as much as for myself. It made me realise how lucky I was to be fit and healthy enough to do it. At the times when training was tough she’d pop into my head and knowing how much she’d love to be in that position gave me a lift every single time. She’ll be back fitter and stronger than ever and smashing the 2018 marathon, mark my words!
There’s a few things you need to know before deciding to do a marathon! Firstly if you have kids you’ll require a very understanding partner! Marathon training takes over your life for while. You’ll be going missing for hours on end. As the miles go up you’ll be losing the best part of 4-5 hours on the days you do your long run. From a training point of view, don’t expect a nice smooth journey. It rarely works out like that. There’ll be injury, illness and God know what inbetween. At times just life will get in the way.
I’ve had my share of injury problems on this journey. My hamstring caused a few problems, which initially limited my milage. When I couldn’t run I got In the gym and worked on maintaining strength levels. I’m a huge advocate of resistance training and without a shadow of a doubt it helped me get through the marathon itself. About 4 weeks out from the event I injured my ankle. I never got it officially diagnosed but probably a sprain. I was in a lot of pain but I had to stay positive. I knew it was getting better each day but it was a slow process. When people were asking me if I was all set I’d smile and say “yeah, I’m ready”. I suffered in silence because doubts were creeping in. I really was getting worried that it might not heal in time. But I couldn’t let any negativity into my world. So I convinced myself and everybody else that I was fine. There was no way I was letting anybody tell me I may not be able to take part!
Over that last month I didn’t run at all. I wrapped the body in cotton wool and protected the ankle. All I did was gym work. I knew it wasn’t ideal preparation but I was backing my fitness levels and mental strength to get me through the event. From 4 weeks out I literally didn’t run again until I was in Dublin. The positive attitude and taking care of the body saw me right as it always does, on marathon week the ankle felt perfect.
On to the marathon itself and I have to compliment the organisation. From the moment I arrived at the RDS for the marathon expo to the moment I finished the marathon everything ran so smoothly. They really did an amazing job. No mean feat for an event with 20,000 runners.
During the race itself I felt great. I breezed through the first 10 miles. I felt so fresh, most likely because I hadn’t run for a month! But it caught up with me. Around mile 22 the old dodgy hamstring starting causing problems again! This time it was cramping badly. Here was the down side of not running for a month. At one stage I couldn’t put weight on it. I was leaning against a pole trying to stretch it out. Then I’d walk it off, then start running again. A few minutes later it would cramp and the whole cycle repeats again. At that stage there was no way on earth I wasn’t finishing. The last few miles for me were physical torture. I was in pain. But what drove me on was thinking of all those who had supported me, of the charity I had raised money for, of bigger obstacles I’ve overcome in my career. I pride myself on being mentally strong and being a winner, it just wasn’t an option to let those last few miles get the better of me.
Before you do the DCM the one thing everybody says to you is that the crowds along the streets are amazing. They weren’t lying. Every town and village had hundreds of people out cheering and encouraging. Kids held out their hands for a high 5. Every second person held out buckets of sweets if you needed a sugar rush. They were very appreciated in the closing stages when energy levels are running low.
The buzz around the Dublin City marathon is incredible. I enjoyed the whole day so much, and it was going to take more than muscle cramps to prevent me getting over that line. You learn so much about yourself when you take on a journey like that. Not just on the day but in the months of training. One of my fondest memories of the whole thing is actually from a training run. It was a 20 mile run and the weather was awful. At about 18 miles I was running to Strandhill. The hills were horrible, absolute torture. The wind and rain were driving into my face. I just thought to myself “if I get through this last 2 miles, I can handle anything Dublin can throw at me”. Finishing that run was a buzz almost as great as the day itself.
I always say life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. If you want to achieve extraordinary things you’ve got to set big challenges for yourself. Believe that you can do things. Stop talking yourself out of it. Now is the time. For years I told myself I’m not a runner. Where’s the evidence to back that up? When I decided to do it I ran a marathon. Will I ever do another one? Never say never, but probably not. But I will say one thing… I AM a f**king runner! Whatever you want to achieve is there for you, it’s just up to you to go and get it.