Tired and happy at the end of my 2021 Waterford Viking Virtual Marathon run.
“You’re running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You’re delirious. But you keep running because there’s no way out of this hell you’re in because there’s no way you’re not crossing the finish line. It’s a misery that non-runners don’t understand.” – Martine Costello
NEVER AGAIN. Two words most marathon runners are readily familiar with. When I hauled my frame over the white line at Musselburgh Racecourse outside Edinburgh in 2011, I genuinely felt I’d never again subject myself to covering 26 miles and 385 yards by foot.
That was until last year when, despite being a decade older and many kilos heavier, I drew up a schedule and persuaded myself to take part in the virtual Waterford Viking Marathon.
Covid had relegated a great many of us to the four walls of our homes as remote working became part of the ‘new normal’. Great and all as it is to have a job and welcome as it was to escape the illness prior to the development of vaccines, the novelty of the home office, five days a week and sometimes longer, soon wore off.
What didn’t prove in any way tedious was taking to the local roads for either a walk with the dogs or, when the mood struck, a jog or even a lengthier run.
Living on a three-mile loop taking in the Williamstown Road, the Bishopscourt Road and back onto the Williamstown Road via Ballygunner GAA Club and the local schools, the unevenly aligned triangle of tarmac was relatively benign.
Whatever ascents were on it were minimal compared to the hills outside Portlaw where I developed my middle distance running stamina as a teenager, cultivating a 60-miles-a-week habit when at my most competitive.
Running now in my 40s is not about being faster, stronger, better, etc. I’m generally just glad that I can still lace up my trainers, hit the road, enjoy it while recognising when I need to stop before cranking up the engine again.
So once I’d sat down at the kitchen table and worked out my schedule some 15 months ago, I wholeheartedly committed to my programme and knew that I’d complete the distance for the third time. Quite how ‘quickly’ I’d run was another matter entirely.
My training had gone well and three days prior to the marathon, I felt good about taking on the almost nine laps of the loop I needed to negotiate to earn my WVM medal. Then, disaster struck.
A meal I should never have ordered at the hour I ordered it ended up being the meal I should never have eaten at all. The following morning, my stomach clicked into an unhelpful spin cycle and for the next two days, I saw far too much of my ensuite bathroom. And let’s leave it at that.
Intaking water at appropriate levels, my experience as a runner, built up over four decades, meant I knew I’d be adequately hydrated by the time I clicked my stopwatch. Yet my discomfort during the days prior to the marathon had forced me to drink more to compensate for my, shall I say, episodes.
Sunday morning. The forecast predicted a scorcher on marathon day so I was out of bed by 6am, slowly eating a banana before taking in a regular glass of water, stretching as best I could and then hitting the road at 7.
With my support team on hand with jellies, water and good humour, their encouragement proved invaluable, all the more so when an unexpectedly early and near debilitating loo break had to be faced.
One of the benefits of the virtual marathon was knowing you could trust the bathroom you were entering – I kid you not! Having stopped six kilometres earlier than I’d expected, I got back out onto the loop and kept plugging away, saluting early morning walkers out with their dogs, sensibly enjoying their Sunday.
The final half mile of a marathon provides a distinctive level of agony. It’s only two laps of an athletics track – nothing in the greater scheme of things – but when you’ve been on your feet for four hours and 40-odd minutes, it’s like running uphill with a sack of coal bundled across one’s shoulders.
But to see my supportive duo out on the Williamstown Road, complete with jellies, water and my medal, I pumped my aching legs as best I could to reach them – and I did. I’d done it again. I’d completed my third marathon in four hours and 45 minutes. My fastest yet!
Relief and pain, all through a blender infused by lactic acid and the saltiest of tears. I’m sitting out this year’s event yet I realise saying ‘never again’ feels somewhat hollow. The marathon truly represents a misery that non-runners don’t understand. The strangest kind of glory I know. Best of luck to everyone on the roads of Waterford next weekend!