Photo: Assumpta Feeney, Michelle Tooher, Anne Hunter.

By Michelle Tooher

I’m not normally one for writing race reports – I love reading them though.  However, post-marathon, I have been reflecting a lot on the weeks, months and years that led up to Marathon-Monday and I figured why not. 

I joined the club, as part of the Fit4Life programme almost 5 years ago.  I was new to Athenry and thought it would be a great way to meet people with the added bonus of getting fit.  It has been some journey from jogging up one side of Ard Aoibhinn and walking down the other to running 26.2 miles around Dublin.  The marathon is certainly up there as one of the most personally rewarding achievements of my life to date, but I genuinely think even more rewarding are the friendships I have built up over the years through the club.  Without them, there is no way I would have run the marathon last Monday.  In fact, the likelihood is I probably wouldn’t have continued running past the first few months at all.  The level of support and encouragement that the members give each other is truly inspiring and I think we should be so proud of ourselves. 

I have family members who think it is hilarious that I chat to people as I run.  They have visions of me with a pair of knitting needles or a cup of tea in my hands as I jolly around the roads.  A non-member(!) recently said to one of my running mates, ‘it’s a running club not a social club you know!’.  I hope our club never changes from what it is now.  The race results and times, for me, are the icing on the cake to go with my nice cup of tea. 

I have really enjoyed the last few months training.  Anne, Assumpta, Kellie and I decided if we were going to do it, it would need to be based on a 3-day running week and anything else we could manage was a bonus.  We ran our plan past a couple of the more experienced in the club, thanks guys, and away off with us. The plan changed from week to week and even day to day, which I know wouldn’t necessarily be best practice, but this was the way it had to be.  We did our long runs, our Tuesday speed sessions and a tempo each week and whatever else we could manage.  I laugh so much when I am running with these girls, there were no core classes needed.  Like the pied-piper we gathered other runners along the way and had a varied and great long-run social club near the end, including Peadar, Maire Treasa, Maria L, Elaine, Edel, Gráinne, and the highly entertaining duo of Liam and Frank N.  Some of them weren’t even doing the marathon!  Thanks for the company guys.

And now to the marathon itself.  To be honest, I’m not great for remembering the twists, turns, lumps and bumps in the road.  I know it was cold on Monday morning and I was delighted to get going at 9:10, just to warm up.  I wonder if someone will start making fleece-lined bin bags for us – they’d be great, wouldn’t they?   Anyway, we got going and from the second I crossed the start line I had the burning desire to, yes that’s it, use the loo. So, that kept me occupied for the first 6 miles.  ‘Will I stop at the portaloo’s at the 3-mile mark? Hmmm, no, there’ll be a huge queue.  I’ll run down an alleyway.  No, I’ll wait. Maybe I could run behind a tree in the Phoenix Park. No, there are children there… not a good idea.  Wait, Eoin (Madden) will be at the 5 mile mark, I’ll get him to protect the innocence of the supporters by shielding me with his coat.  No, he’ll have Aoife with him, that won’t work.’  My internal dialogue went like this until mile 6, when I copped myself on and used the Portaloo. Ah…, relief!!  It started up again. ‘Eoin wasn’t at mile 5. Did I miss him? Oh God, Aoife’s in hospital.  That fall she had the other day, caused a blood clot and she collapsed and now she’s in hospital. Or maybe they’ve been knocked off the bike and they’re both in hospital. They’d hardly not send someone out to let me know that they’re in hospital, would they? I think JaneAnn is going to be at mile 10, I’ll use her phone to call them.’  This went on until mile 7, when thankfully, alive and well, there they were ready to hand me drinks, gels, etc, and give me mental boost, phew!  A fairly comfortable 2 miles passed, helped by the downhill run to Chapelizod gate.  JaneAnn was up on the wall cheering, and it was great to see her.  I just spent the next 2 miles, worrying she would fall in to the river.  I was happy at this stage that I was in to a steady pace and would be well able to maintain it.  Around mile 13 though, I started to feel a bit tired and weary.  At mile 14, Maire Treasa and Peadar appeared at my side looking strong and fresh.  MT gave me much needed words of encouragement and a gel and I started to feel like I could do this again.  Pearse Hunter was at mile 15 with a goodie bag of gels and a drink and I was happy again.  All good, for a mile, when pain set in down my left side.  From here on in, the internal dialogue flipped between ‘ow, that’s sore, why now? I’ve managed 20 before without this happening ’, to Peadar’s advice ‘just keep lifting your feet and they’ll fall themselves’, to ‘not long now, just count the miles off’ to ‘don’t pants your poop, don’t pants your poop’, from a YouTube clip Assumpta had shown me the previous day.  And as we approached mile 20, there she was in distance.  I decided if I could keep her in my sights, I’d be doing ok.  I settled into a steady pace again, which meant that I ended up passing Assumpta at mile 20 and from there I focussed on the fact that Floyd Feeney would be at 22 with more goodies for me.  I had a dizzy speed wobble at the top of the hill at mile 21, but knew at that point I was turning for home and so just allowed the voices in my head to settle back in to their little routine.   Hitting Ballsbridge, the crowds thickened and the support was just amazing.  The 4:15 pacers came up behind me and said ‘oh, here’s another one, if we hear one more ‘come on Athenry’, we’re wearing Athenry tops next year.’  And what did we hear?  ‘Come on Athenry!’  The fact that the pacers were commenting on the amount of supporters out there for Athenry is fairly telling I think.  It may have looked like I barely acknowledged the calls for Athenry with a weak hand wave, but internally I was doing a Mexican wave to thank them.  I kept with the pacers for a while, but couldn’t maintain it. I also felt a little claustrophobic in the group that were sticking close to their shoulders.  So, I let them off, happy that I would still be in under 4:30, having started at the back of wave 2 and would probably manage 4:20. From there, I just focused on the finish line and Eoin waiting for me.  The emotion and relief on crossing that finish line were fairly powerful and I shed a girly tear, turned around and greeted Peadar, Maire Treasa and not long after them Assumpta, followed by a few more girly tears.  Eoin was waiting to whisk me back to his brother’s place, mop up the remaining tears and catch me every time my legs gave in.

So there you have it.  Done now and into retirement on a pension of purple snacks, I think!  Without a doubt I would never have gotten to the other side of a marathon without the support of my very good friends Anne and Assumpta, Kellie and of course the rest of Athenry AC.  And I wouldn’t have those very good friends without Athenry AC.  We’re a great social, I mean running club; the best in my opinion.