Completed a marathon? Give yourself a pat on the back

If only we could bottle this marathon emotion, we would save ourselves many miles of marathon training

First-time marathoner Helyn Gilna recognises a familiar face at mile 25 of the Dublin City Marathon.

I was exhausted and I wasn’t even running. I spent last Sunday – along with thousands of others – encouraging friends and strangers around the 26.2-mile course of the Dublin Marathon.

The city feels different on Marathon Day.

The combination of nerves, anticipation and jitters builds an electric atmosphere long before the athletes even cross the start line. Everyone wants the marathon to be a success and there is friendly camaraderie along the streets as the city comes alive on a bank holiday morning.

The Faces of the Marathon

No matter what role you played on marathon Sunday, give yourself a pat on the back. You were part of an incredible day and a wonderful team in Dublin city. The sun shone, the long autumnal shadows led the runners along the streets and the enthusiasm of volunteers, supporters, organisers and general well-wishers gave the athletes a day to remember and an extra pep in their step.

A Kildare spectator watches on as runners make their way past Kilmainham Jail during the marathon. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The Experienced Runner

For the athlete, marathon day is the pinnacle of the season. All the miles of training are focused on this one day.  Many sacrifices have been made over the months and pressure looms large as all eyes are on the clock. Even with an ideal summer of training behind them, the experienced marathoner knows that there is always a possibility that an unexpected stomach issue or cramp could come between them and their race goal. This uncertainty is etched in the faces of these runners as they limber up.

The First Timer

Never having completed the distance before, the marathon virgin wonders what the final six miles might bring. Generally cautious, anxious, yet quietly optimistic, the first-timer is more likely than the experienced marathoner to get absorbed and distracted by the sights, sounds and support along the route. There is more time to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the support of friends and family as there is generally less pressure on the clock as there is no previous marathon time to beat.

The Cheerleader

Lining the pavements are nervous parents, siblings, and children who are anxious to see their beloved cross the finishing line in one piece. With posters, balloons and supplies of jelly babies and bananas, many first-time cheerleaders are mesmerised by the endless flow of runners. They have limited time for distractions however as they take serious their responsibility of making sure their athlete is spotted in good time amidst a sea of colourful runners.

A spectator shouts her encouragement as runners make their way through Chapelizod. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The Coach

As a coach there is a different sense of apprehension on marathon day. We know the effort and dedication athletes have invested but also are well aware of the unpredictability of marathon day.

We know each of our athletes’ personal stories, their fears, their niggles and what the marathon means to them. We carry the weight of their marathon on your shoulders until they cross the finish line. Sometimes you share their disappointment, other times it’s tears of joy.

The Volunteers

Keeping everything calm and controlled behind the scenes are hundreds of volunteers. An incredible amount of time and effort goes into the event to make it look seamless.

Runners on the finish line during the SSE Airtricity Marathon in Dublin's city centre. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

So many generous people give up their time to help make the day as special as it can be for the athletes and the city. Many volunteers have their own running history while others are friends and family of runners who want to be part of this extraordinary day.

Addictive Viewing

All these players in the marathon combine to create an event that is mesmerising for the runner and non-runner alike. From the pace of the front runners to the novelty of the fancy dress and charity T-shirts further back, there is something addictive about watching the marathon.

We are enthralled by the colours, the sound of the feet, the facial expressions, and the variety in build, age and technique of the athletes. Strangers inspire each other to keep moving, sending encouragement and belief to tired legs and minds. We feel a kinship with the athletes and want everyone to succeed.

The bag drop area on Merrion Square for the SSE Airtricity Dublin City Marathon 2017. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Bottle the feeling

Nothing beats the feeling for an athlete of seeing their family and friends en route. When you spot your supporters on the pavement ahead, scanning the crowd for you, the emotion can be overwhelming. We run faster, smile wider but most often our throat tightens, our breathing struggles and tears well up. It may sound a little dramatic to a non-runner, but it is a feeling indescribable in words. A combination of pride, awe and general excitement leads to many a scream or tear of joy on the marathon course. If only we could bottle this marathon emotion, we would save ourselves many miles of training.

Take it all in

It’s very easy to get carried away by the emotion of the day. As an athlete, whether your day was a success or if you felt the marathon didn’t go as well as planned, give your head and the body time to process what has happened. Don’t rush into any more races or retire from running just yet.

Your body needs time to digest all it has been though. As a supporter, if you are inspired by the athletes, start by building your mileage gradually and sensibly. There are many running milestones to achieve before a marathon and each should be respected. One day you can be the runner with the race number and the marathon medal in sight but don’t rush into long distance without a sensible training plan.

Competitors at the start during the Dublin SSE Airtricity marathon,yesterday Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Emotional Rollercoaster

The whole event is an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Memories have been made which will last a lifetime and will dictate future running plans. Athletes will forget the tough miles, tired legs and blisters in time but the atmosphere and energy of the day will stay with us all for much longer. It’s a truly a day to remember. Thank you to everyone who helped make it so special.  See you all next year, I certainly won’t miss it.

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