Pride comes not before a fall but before a cramp


MY MARATHON:I desperately want to run all the way in, but am still moving to a rhythm of cramping muscles in both legs

AT 8.55AM yesterday on Fitzwilliam Street, the most arresting sight was not the 14,000 people gathered at the Dublin Marathon start line, but what was going on over their heads. Tops, gloves, hats, jackets, bin bags fashioned into makeshift jackets, and water bottles were being flung up and out from the crowd.

This was my first marathon, and I had discovered the impromptu mass striptease is the unofficial sign that the race is about to begin. New arrivals dodge bottles like they are under mortar fire.

Then, from far up the front where the elite athletes are coiled for action, comes the crack of a starter’s pistol.

There is no turning back now. The crowds are too thick for that.

Mile 1

It’s amazing how many men need to go to the toilet already. At every laneway, gap, tree, they stand in lines, dignity left behind with the clothes.

Mile 6

The worst smell we will experience today: the portable loos in the Phoenix Park.

A low groan is emitted by everyone who passes. More men urinate along the zoo’s fence. It seems risky. One swipe of a tiger’s paw . . .

Mile 8

The support is brilliant. From here, there will be stretches of music, cowbells, banners, kids high-fiving runners, people handing out jellies and drinks. This is the enjoyable bit.

Mile 13

I hit halfway in 1:56, well inside my goal time. I feel great pride. I have temporarily forgotten what pride comes before.

Mile 17

Is that cramp?

Mile 18

Yes, that’s cramp.

Mile 20

A sudden burst of energy and optimism. I think I am through the worst.

Mile 20.5

No, this is worse.

Mile 21-25

It’s now walk, run, walk, to an internal monologue of recrimination: should have trained more in the recent months; should have had more water today.

Spectators keep shouting that we’re nearly there; I’m working out early-exit strategies.

Mile 26

The crowds are wonderful in the city centre. I desperately want to run all the way in, but am still moving to a rhythm of cramping muscles in both legs.

On Nassau Street, maybe 300m from the finish, I pass a man bent over vomiting; another being carried. I summon the energy for a last shuffle and cross the line in 4hrs 13mins. I smile broadly for the cameras and raise my arms high, a regular Mo Farah.

I get talking to a Belgian man. He is happy with his race. “Did you enjoy it?” he asks. My muscles are spasming. I am limping. My tummy doesn’t feel so good. I am beginning to shiver. I’m way off my goal time. But here I am, with a medal around my neck. “Yes,” I say. Surprisingly, I mean it.

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