Ray O'Connor - A Year of Six Marathons

Published in Reports on 10th November 2005

You know, I haven't really written a proper race report in ages, and I'm not sure if this rambling will end up to be a long or short account of my latest marathon adventures, but here goes anyway. I'll keep this as short as possible. (I'm typing this after writing the full report to apologise for the length)

A look back first to fill you in on the background here.
I started running in April 2000 after giving up 30-40 fags a day and a stressful life. First marathon in November that year - New York in 5 hours 15 minutes! I've done a few since and the intention at the start of this year was to finally have a shot at a 3:30 having posted a PB of
3:42 in Dublin last year.

LONDON April 2005
London was the chosen destination for this endeavor but, be it the crowded streets or simply that I always fail to string 18 weeks uninterrupted training together, I ended up happy enough with a 3:48 although the now regular run/walk-walk/run-walk strategy kicked in at mile 22. I quickly reassessed my goals for the year ahead and since I had another sub 4 behind me I decided to try to do my next five marathons in 2006 under four hours each and forget PB's for the moment.
Looking at what was on the cards for the year Dublin and New York with six days apart would be the biggest challenge.

BELFAST May 2005
Two weeks after London I found myself on the starting line of the Belfast marathon on the first weekend in May. Let's skip to the important parts. No watch strategy employed and I posted a PB half marathon of something like 1:44. I say 'something like' because the guys in Belfast like to surprise us with a mile marker every now and then. I absolutely fell to bits at mile 20 and really struggled home, walking, limping and doing a kind of shuffle thing I've developed which resembles running, but it's really moving at around 12 mins per mile without looking like walking! I crossed the line in 3:56 and found out that because of a bomb scare we actually did an ultra (about one mile longer is the general consensus).

EDINBURGH June 2005
On then to Edinburgh in mid June as a bit of a club outing. Absolutely no gory details to report no watch at all, no crumble and no walking - a perfect 3:58.

LONGFORD August 2005
8 weeks later - Longford late August. I had the longest gap between marathons so far this year and felt in good shape and very confident of breaking the 4 again. Hold back strategy employed to good effect and with a lot of help from Máire Tarpey at mile 22 I easily paced a very good and consistent run and got a 3:45 for my efforts.

4 down, two to go.

The training that was working for me was the Tuesday night 10 milers, which I got to maybe half the time and the hard Wednesday night track sessions which I also probably made every other week. I would throw a couple more runs in here and there, but concentrated a lot on getting decent long runs in between marathons, and not taking any break.

So in my run up to the Dublin/New York double I was in good shape except for a niggling groin strain that wasn't slowing my training but was just there. 5 weeks out it popped! Sore knee, thigh, and hip. The Physio helped clear up the whole 'men don't understand the pain of childbirth' thing, and set me on my way to the National Marathon Championships with a slight niggle and only two training runs in 5 weeks.

Having just secured Sponsorship for the Connemarathon, we decided to exhibit at both Dublin and New York, which should put enough stress on my body to really prepare for an effort that I once described as complete madness when I heard that Mick Rice was running the Longofrd/Connemara double in Sept 2002... but then again he was/is a complete nutter. At that time the notion of someone taking on two marathons in a week seemed to be as far away as landing on the moon. In fact I didn't even know it was humanly possible, but Mick showed me that it was. Mind you, his times on those two marathons would be enough to send me happily into marathon retirement.

DUBLIN October 2005
The week went like this. Drove to Dublin on Saturday morning at 6am and basically stood all day at the stand talking, meeting, greeting, and generally being Mr nice guy to everyone. Sunday was the same and we took the stand down at 6pm and headed off on our weary way. I felt fine on the start line and having an elite number really made a difference as we avoided the rain.

Let's breeze through the Dublin marathon then. Goal sub 4 - strategies employed, take it handy and no watch - (there were clocks on the road).
Despite the distraction of being passed by about 5,000 people in the first half hour I got to 10K in 50 minutes was a nice indication that I was going steady at about 8's and by the time I hit half way point in
1:47 all was going swimmingly well. Yes we were swimming. It bucketed rain - absolutely p*ssed down. I tucked in behind an unsuspecting pacer from mile 9 to 15 and found this great as I didn't even notice the miles going by. His legs fell out of their sockets at the 15 mile mark
- he literally stopped in the middle of the road and I had to swerve to avoid a major incident, but this gave me a real boost and I started to pass out hundreds over the next few miles.

Mile 20 whizzed by in 2:47 and my calculations indicated that a pb was possible if I ran my fastest last 10K in a marathon ever. I needed something like 8:30's to get me home, but I wasn't sure... and then again, it always takes me an hour and a half to do the last 6! Just then Andrew Talbot jumped in beside me. He was spectating but was now running along with me checking my progress. I instantly perked up and started flying by literally hundreds on the road. Andrew was keeping an eye on the watch and he knew that my PB was in sight although he didn't say much. We started knocking the miles 8:20, 8:10, 8:30 (by memory) and I felt great. The first weary mile was up to the 25 mile mark but that was still under 9 minutes. Andrew paced me to about a mile to go and shouted at me to get stuck in... I almost crumbled but kept it going and amazed myself with a very comfortable 3:40 PB - I owe andrew
26.2 pints.

My assessment of this run is that I finally accept that running a marathon is hugely dependent on a good psychological approach.

NEW YORK November 2005
Flew to New York the following day and spent the week talking to yanks at the stand. All indications were that it was going to be hot, but I felt fine and relatively confident of my final sub 4. Let's cut to the chase then. Half way in about 1:54 was nice and steady, mile 20 in 3 hours (ish) and I was ok. BUT mile 23 fell on me... Psychological warfare kicked in and I lost - in fact I think it was a sky-scraper that fell on me. I went from doing really well sub 8's to an 11:35 mile and I was instantly beaten up, picked up again, thrown down and spat at by what is probably the longest 3 mile stretch of any marathon in the world. Getting from mile 21 in the Bronx to 24 at Central Park is like going from Dublin to Galway on a bad train with no toilets. It was horrendous! I had to re adjust my finish times about five times in the last two miles and when I saw that I only had 12 minutes to do the last mile I panicked and tried to run... no, shuffle again. 3:59 on the clock at the finish and 3:58 on the watch - I was in a heap. This was the toughest marathon I've run to date and boy was I sick.

I recovered enough to jog down to the finish line the following morning which is a tradition of mine - a slow 4 mile warm down after a long year with many highs, the biggest being my reward of a PB and also the reflection that I had achieved a long term goal - 6 sub 4's. Oh and I must book an appointment with a shrink!

Ray
The most experienced marathoner in the club (except Mick)
20 down 80 to go.