Part 1: No Bed at The INN
“Give me your documents or there will be no bed for you here tonight and you must sleep on the cold October streets,” is the reception I get when I arrive at my accommodation in The Ritz the night before the Dublin Marathon. Except that it’s not actually The Ritz and that’s not exactly what the receptionist said. But while the €56 for a bunk bed in a room shared with strangers could hardly be described as The Ritz, the reality is I am literally going to be turned out onto the streets as the identification I have, even though it is photo ID and has been accepted everywhere else I’ve ever used it, does not come in the form of a passport or driving licence. Lovely.
“I stayed here last year,” I explain, “perhaps you have my details on your system from then?” I reason.
“You have to have a passport or driving licence,” he says robotically.
“I don’t have either,” I say, feeling my blood rise since I have stayed in far superior accommodation without the request for any ID.
“I can’t check you in then,” he says and turns his head back to the computer in front of him as if he was blanking someone harassing him for change in the street.
And that’s when I get the idea of phoning home and getting my Mum to photograph my passport with her tablet and send it to me, which is a bit like trying to instruct someone who has never flown a plane on how to land it as the pilot spontaneously had a heart attack and died in the cockpit. But we get there in the end, all the people are saved, and I get to enjoy my night of luxury in The Ritz along with an African, an Italian, and a Brazilian who share my room.
After a bit of banter with the African and the Italian they ask me if I’d like to join them in the pub for a drink.
“While that seems a lot more sensible than having paid to run down a road I can run down any day of the year for free, I must regretfully decline,” I say. And as they leave I tell them I hope they meet some nice women in the pub. But when the door clicks shut behind them I realise I am being wildly presumptuous since for all I know they could be gay.
Part 2: Tactics
Many would be Romeos employ a tactic to snare their respective Juliets by hitting on their friend who is desperate for A-man-ta-hug-and-kiss, who we shall here, for convenience, call Amanda. The psychology is that the oh-so-fair Juliet is used to men hitting on her and by hitting on Amanda, Romeo brings Juliet’s shields down and makes her question herself, activating her receptiveness to his charms.(Every Amanda I have ever met has been attractive but I couldn’t resist adding this joke which I robbed from The Simpsons cartoon).
In the interest of gender balance, which one must be very conscious of these days, I believe there are also Juliets who have also employed this tactic when trying to snare their desired Romeos. While such a tactic, in love, is something many might find despicable, and one I have personally never employed romantically, I find myself thinking that it might be a great one to use when running this year’s Dublin Marathon.
Part 3: Start and Journey
The race is about to start, and, unlike last year, I am in Wave 1, standing in the middle of a tightly packed group of mainly men. It stinks of Toxic Masculinity, or perhaps just fart smells, deep heat, and Brut aftershave, it’s hard to tell the difference really. I take off my throwaway top and thrust it over half a dozen heads and it very nearly makes the footpath before donking another runner in the head. And so I guiltily grit my teeth and look at the ground. Looking down, I notice a lot of people in this wave seem to be some kind of Mo Farah wannabes because every second one of them is wearing green €300 Nike Vaporfly trainers.
Since I have done shag all training, I decide to tag along with the 3:10 pacer as per tactics outlined in part 2. I figure it’s a good idea to tip along with the aim of hitting last year’s pace rather than, like last year, going out too fast and feeling bloody awful by mile 3. Then, if later on, I feel the magic, I can increase my pace and maybe, just maybe run a smidge better than last year.
Relying on the pacers, I don’t bother looking at my Garmin and at mile 3 realise I forgot to start the shagging thing. Oopsie daisies. Starting it then, it’s not long before I get confused by the mile markers not matching my watch and so I resolve to restart it at the halfway mark.
People tend to cluster behind pacers and as a result of this I end up getting a gob of someone else’s spit in my face. Many runners tend to snort, growl up phlegm, and spit when they run, and it can be unfortunate if you happen to stand in the wrong place behind them. When this happens I decide to run a bit ahead of the pacer rather than behind.
The streets of Dublin are thronged with onlookers who are making a cacophony of clapping sounds with hand clackers and cheering us all on. DJ’s are blasting out music along the way and, while I often like to wear headphones when running, there really is no need in the Dublin Marathon. The ambience is great, and it would be disrespectful to the hordes that came out to cheer me on. One must show love to one’s fans.
Passing through the halfway point at around 1:30 I start my Garmin and simultaneously realise I have pretty much hit the same halfway pace as I did last year, which I am slightly amazed by since I do not feel as terrible as I did then and am also carrying roughly 9lbs more weight than then.
At mile 16 I spot one of my first cousins and just like last year my mind has gone completely blank as to his name even though I ordinarily would know it instantly. I guess some neurological deficiency happens when one forces oneself through time and space at a rate that is more intense than usual. Many runners have reported the same thing.
The miles go by one at a time and I’m totally in the zone and am glad I didn’t pollute my ears with music. “A wild animal on the hunt does not dull any of his five senses if he wishes to succeed,” I think, “every sound or smell could signal danger, or dinner”.
I genuinely believe that man’s ability to run was a crucial part of evolutionary success in terms of hunting and that the reason one feels so euphoric afterwards is because the body is wired in such a way as to need such prolonged intense exercise to be able to function optimally.
Right and left of me are scattered casualties of the battle to get to the finish line. Some are stretched, some vomiting, some being carried along, presumably to medical tents or maybe ambulances. I even spot a few casualties that are wearing the €300 Nike Vaporflys. “Perhaps the Lamborghini power of such shoes is too much for mere mortals,” I think wryly.
Part 4: End and Final Thoughts.
I can feel my blood pulsing around my body. I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes, blood is pumping all around me, and some are no longer on their toes. Yes, yes I am paraphrasing Wet, Wet, Wet. You know, that song from Four Weddings And A Funeral with Hugh Grant who had great hair in his day.
Speaking of funerals, I often have it in my head that I might drop dead at a marathon. As many of you know, I’ve been on a rather unconventional diet for the last year. One that is mostly devoid of carbohydrates and even fruit and vegetables. The idea of such a low carb diet is that you deprive your body of glucose so that it is left with no choice but to burn its own fat for energy. I once read that the body is only capable of storing glucose for about 90 minutes of intense exercise. On the other hand, it can store enough fat to keep a body alive for weeks, even months, so that it seems logical to me that fat burning should be our primary fuel source.
Since adopting an often almost zero carb diet I have done the best running of my life. And I seem to keep getting even better*.
In the past, a big part of my training was simply fighting carbohydrate bloat. But no matter how much I trained I could not get my weight where I wanted it. The problem, I believe, being that exercise increases hunger and so that one simply eats more and so no weight is lost.
On a very low/often zero carb diet my natural tendency is to eat only when hungry and so my weight is maintained whether I exercise or not. I do not calorie count, I do not eat at set times, and I always eat till I feel full. And my weight stays at a steady 12 stone 7 naturally. The only way to go below this, for me, is to fast. Last year at the marathon I was 12 stone but was incorporating one 24 hour fast per week. Two years ago I was a fat and fatigued 15 1/2 stone and feeling like death. But that’s enough about that. Have a look at Tim Noakes’ lectures on YouTube to learn more.
Having restarted my Garmin at the halfway mark I see that it has gone beyond 13.1 miles which means the race should really be finished and yet I hear a commentator shout “well done, just under a mile left”. Now, either my watch is very off or I have taken the scenic route. And that last mile is hell. It feels like climbing a mountain, thinking you are at the top, and then, once you poke your head over what you perceive as the top you realise there’s another big ascent ahead of you.
I keep going anyway. It’s too late to quit now. Like a heart patient getting their chest paddled in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital I have to hold on…to cling to life….just….a….little…..longer….
I cross the line in 3:04 which is over six minutes faster than last year. But I can’t stop. Blood is still pounding around my body and I fear my head might explode and my body hit the tarmac if I stop dead. And so I, instead of hitting the brakes, let my engine drift to a stop in a natural way.
Today, unlike last year, I was unconcerned about times, and started the race at a pace which felt like a bit less than what I was able for. I was not racing to beat anybody nor concerned about achieving anything. I had a vague idea that maybe I could do better than last year since I felt much better today than the skinnier, overtrained version of myself a year previously. My aim was simply to hope I could be a little bit better than the person I was yesterday, not to push beyond my limits. I aimed lower and hit higher, as per the title of this post.
Striving to be better versions of ourselves with each passing day is all any of us can hope to do. Maybe we will not manage it. But we must try. We must have hope. After all, what else is there?
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*I suck down a handful of gels on race days once I am about 5 miles in but do not “carb load”. Glucose is higher octane but low carb diets force the body to be less reliant on having to consume calories, since body fat is readily available on even the leanest athletes, and so one can run much more miles with much more stamina. That is the theory anyway. Indeed, Irish 24 Hour Ultra Running Champion, Eoin Keith, says he has competed and set records in 24 hour races on almost no food.