It was like the past 48 hours was all a dream…until I tried to get up to go to the toilet. Yeah definitely not a dream.
Beside the bed lay my Murlough jacket, the bright green finshers t-shirt and the coveted centenary medal. My first thought was “Oh my God, I actually done it, I ran a marathon.”
The double and triple checking of lists and making sure everything was packed, was well underway. The sun wasn’t shining down on Castlewellan but there was an element of feeling warm with pride inside. We were about to embark on what was to be the biggest challenge of our lives.
We left the kids at Grannys and knew the next time I would see them, it would all be over. Brendan and Aine pulled up at the house and at that point, there was no turning back. We were bound for Dublin.
Arriving at the Expo you could feel the excitement and anticipation building, thousands of participants walking around the stands and eyeing up new running gear, the latest Garmin and an array of fancy pieces of bling from races to entice you to sign up. And no joke, I need to remortgage and sell my kids to enter all the races I want to, to earn all the medals I want! Clonakilty and the Quadathalon in Donegal rated high on the list along with the Rock n Roll and 3 medals for 2 races.
I had a wee go in the recovery boots and hung out getting some love from the Born 2 Run crew where I was honoured to meet and finally hug all of Team Kerr who not only where taking to the start line but receiving the mayors medal to award their success in raising awareness of inclusion and promotion of wheel chair assisted running. Making running a more accessible and inclusive sport for everyone, breaking down barriers which where once there.
I enjoyed reading the mentions on the wall and adding our own mark to the collection. We spoke with the pacers who lets face it must be magnificent runners to be selected to do so. Also great to see a few women in the pacing line up given that the number of women doing to the marathon has steadily dropped over the past few years.
After a hectic few hours, it was time to find the hotel and go for a prerace recce to find out where we needed to go in the morning. Dublin is one of those cities that once you get your bearings it is easy enough to get around on foot. We were close by staying near St. Stephens Green so just a stones throw from the Start and Finish Area. We were able to see the Start line being erected and walk around the finish. I could feel excitement building but I was also starving so ate in a wee Italian place and surprisingly had pasta!
An early night was on the cards and after setting everything out and pinning on race numbers I was soon out like a light and that was me, it hadn’t even gone 10. According to Michael one minute I was awake and the next I was fast asleep. I actually thought I would find sleeping tough but I guess the 15k steps that day helped.
The next 24hours where huge. Not only was it Michaels Birthday and not only was it our 7 year wedding anniversary, we where going to run our first marathon. Definitely not something I would ever imagine being on the hit list of ways to spend this weekend.
I woke up and didn’t feel nervous. Actually I was strangely calm and collected. I tooted about with a cuppa, checked in with the world online and got ready. I swear though I never imagined I’d need so much Vaseline. But I have realised that you can never have too much Vaseline as I found out when I got into the shower afterwards. Words of encouragement from friends online where lovely. Some fab motivational quotes and I knew they were all rooting for me to go out there and do it.
We headed to a nearby café to have breakfast and 2 perfectly poached eggs, some bacon and a round of toast was just perfect. We met Clare, Eddie and not so wee Eddie to hand over his race pack. It was lovely to touch base and walk down the road towards the bag drop together. Clare and I have walked some long roads together in the past but I know its never lead to a marathon. Some hugs and good lucks and we left Eddie to get a bite to eat and we headed to the bag drop.
I have to admit what a smooth operation in place. From entering into the bag drop area to the start line. Smooth filtering from side streets onto the main starting straight and it was flawless. Exemplarily organisation from the DCM team.
As Michael, myself and Brendan waited in the wave 3 holding area, I still didn’t find the fear I was expecting. I had no tears of impending accomplishment, my heart rate was normal and I was very gathered considering what lay ahead. It wasn’t until I heard Amhrán na bhFiann that I welled up. Here was me, Siobhan Grant, ready to take on Dublin Marathon with a send off of the national anthem. Proud of how far I had come to get to this point, proud to be representing the club and proud to be Irish I guess.
We began to hear the waves moving through and began to move towards the start ourselves. Surround by thousands of people, the atmosphere was ridiculously upbeat and jokes about what else would you do with your Sunday emerged. Turned out many went to Mass the night before (only in Ireland) and really I felt that I should have went too but with an RE degree I was hoping I had a golden line direct to God or at least Granda had sorted something out with the big man on my behalf. After all he has been up there for 5 years!
With the start line in our sights there was only one thing left to do and that was to run 26.2 mile. A quick good luck kiss from Michael and a hug from Brendan and I watched the two of them head off together. And that’s it, me, myself and I for 26.2 mile. I had no idea what was ahead, I had no idea who I would meet, if anyone. I had a fear that maybe no one wanted to talk and I’d have to play all the games I had made up in my head to get me round. I knew though, that I had to keep following the people in front as I had no idea of the map or how I’d get back.
I had several plans of how to get around the course, so if one didn’t work I’d switch to another. Though all plans where built upon 1 single foundation. I was going to smile the whole way around. I may not be the fastest runner but boy I know how to smile.
So this is how it roughly went
Mile 1; Ok I’ll go with the crowd, after all within a few minutes we will break up and settle down more…oh look there’s Clare and not so wee Eddie. Nice wee starter boost to keep me going. Remember the plan Siobhan and stick to it.
Mile 2; oh that’s a wee hill, still going quite strong and out the side of my eye I catch the NCR colours and there’s Tara. I veer across the pack for a hug and run on. Ah ha! what goes up, must come down and heres the downhill. I’m still going a tad too quick though not overly beyond where I want to be. I’ll use this hill though as feeling ok.
Mile 3: Tap on the back and its Eddie, going great and water bottle in hand which I was glad to see. Making his way through the pack effortlessly as he works his way from wave 4. I swear though some of the wave 4 who got in by the lottery, where scary fast. That’ll teach them to leave entering to the last minute. I did feel a bit sorry for them as the energy they used to weave through the pack I’m sure was something they didn’t have to spare over the distance.
Mile 4: This is going quite well and I’ve a few minutes to spare in comparison to the 5.30hr wrist band I have on (they didn’t do any longer times). I hear shouting as we turn a corner and there’s Thomas flying by, I catch up with him to wish him good luck and to keep er lit. Ok the thought goes through my head, I’m not sure if I have anyone else due to come by, nope that’s it. Really on my own now. It’ll be a long 22 mile. By this stage I had barely exchanged pleasantries with the runners around me and started to doubt DCM as “the friendliest” marathon.
Mile 5; Into Phoenix Park now and being passed by a Minion. A bloody Minion! I guess I may just get used to this as you wouldn’t run a marathon in dress up unless you knew you had it in you to begin with, so go on ya good thing. In well under the hour and I can hear Selena telling me off (in my head obviously) that I am going way too fast and to remember my pace. However with the water bottles being green with yellow tops they blend into the grass and from a distance look like primroses lining the Avenue.
Mile 6; Lets face it if I keep this pace I will burn out before half way. If I was doing a 10k I’d be happy with this performance but as I cross the 10k mark I give myself a virtual slap as there is no way I can do this 4 times over. I rein her in and vow to stalk my watch. But 20 mile to go, I know I can do this distance, just looking at it as a 6 mile warm up.
Mile 7; Feeling a bit more confident that I’ve slowed back. Plenty of water on route and happy to carry a bottle along with me. Into Castleknock *I think* where the crowds where beyond fabulous! Between the music and support there was no way you couldn’t smile. Definitely the winners of the best support across the whole course.
Mile 8; And back into Phoenix Park, felt like I was back in Castlewellan at the lake. I was now in my head entering into lap 4 of the lake and feeling good. The weather was unseasonable mild but made for a lovely run through the woods so to speak. Pace has began to steady at my training pace thankfully.
Mile 9; You would have thought you where in Tollymore- flat course my ass. It was easy to spot the flat road runners and the trail runners a mile off. I remembered all my hill training and smile as I tooted up. I had fallen in with 2 Dubs and the craic was mighty. Strangely it was the first people I had talked with the whole race. And was to play cat and mouse with them the whole way to the finish line.
Mile 10; Came in on plan but knew I was capable of better. I wasn’t at all annoyed, I just knew that I have done better, but a few minutes wouldn’t kill me. I did know one thing, I needed to pee. That was a long mile after I decided to stop at the next portaloo.
Mile 11; Marathon Portaloo…oh sweet mother of God. It was minging. I was heaving but I had to go, so deep breath and emptied the bladder as I hoped not to throw up. Definitely the worst experience of the day. boke boke boke. Note to self, figure out exactly how much water I can take on board before I need to pee.
Mile 12; At this point I decided to play my ABC game. I was meant to be on letter L at this stage so a mile of what begins with the letter L, I knew I would hopefully be seeing some friendly faces by this point as Cheer Squad MAC was due on route and boy was I delighted as I spotted the banner high at the brow of the hill. It was 3 much needed hugs and support from Pat, Caitriona and Clare, who had been there a long time waiting on me as all the super speed MAC had passed long before me. But as I neared the half way point Caitriona was able to assure me I was on track and that I was going well. Stupid App tracking my every move.
Mile 13; Half way there. There was a sense of achievement and relief from the field, many, including myself, taking selfies and the sun shone down on the bright green makers. Encouragement from everyone saying we need to go and do the same again spread across the pack. I began employing more coping mechanisms. I was beginning to feel lonely so I checked in on the progress of everyone else on my tracker. Michael McKenna and Hugh where powering through and entering the last stage of the race. Michelle and Nicola right on point and a smile crossed my face as I wondered if Nicola had burst out crying on Joe yet. Eddie, Sean Looby and Sean Armstrong where putting in great times and there was Brendan and Michael at exactly the same point. The Bromance has made it to 18 mile together and I knew then that they would see each other through to the end of the race safely. I knew they wouldn’t leave each other in their final stretch. With everyone on point, I knew I didn’t have to check in again.
Mile 14; We passed by Crumlin Childrens Hospital. I was content in knowing everyone was doing well and that spurred me on. No need to sweep anyone up from the club but at this point I began to see more and more bodies at the side of the road. Between people stretching and those receiving medical attention I counted myself lucky that I was having a good day and sticking to pace and not busting myself (like I ever would anyway) nothing wrong with comfortable.
Mile 15; I met Sarah, we had passed each other a few times but it wasn’t until now that we realised that we where going to spend a huge proportion of the next 11 mile together. We watched a man in bare feet running by and between us laughed at the thought of him slipping in dog poo.
Mile 16; I hit here just outside the 4 hour mark. I knew once I broke 16 I was going to be ok. I don’t know why, but I knew I could always find 10 mile. I had hoped to hit nearer 18 mile in 4 hours to allow for a cushion of 15min miles all the way home but I knew it wasn’t to be and that was ok. A few gels popped in the belt for later and delighted to see Michael McKenna hadn’t cleared the station and lined his own pockets leaving a few for the mere mortals like myself.
Mile 17; Still plodding along with Sarah and I hear my name being called. It was Young Young. Kieran shouted from the side lines and I was never so excited to see someone. I wasn’t expecting him, but the MAC mountain goat had pulled out all the stops to make it to Dublin and be in the 1 place where I was fading. It was the worlds best hug, ok I mobbed him but I couldn’t do anything else. I smiled from ear to ear and with that boost I powered on for the next two mile.
Mile 18; by now I had resorted to conversing with the supporters on route, with DJ booths about, I was powered by music. I was out on my first run and first marathon without my headphones. So although I have been reducing my dependency on them, it was liberating to know I was running fuelled by the crowd. Though I felt like I was on some special liquid diet with the gels and my stomach was beginning to become wishy washy and I feared that I might throw up. Though it was here that I received a shock revelation. A man running passed me “Rocky Road to Dublin, its your fault I’m doing this” seems the blog had gave someone an idea that Dublin was a good idea and he signed up. Travelling from across the water. He must have recognised the club vest and then my smiley happy face.
Mile 19; Saved by a water station which had a few bananas. Solid food is what I needed and that banana was like a steak. So plain, not sugar laced and mopped up the gel filled belly. I was soon sweeping around the corner and heard the music of the Born 2 Run team. A huge hug from Gerard to power me up and then I was joined by Jane and Carol as they accompanied me for another half mile. Providing jelly beans, a run down on how everyone else with the club was going and positive encouragement. Again full marks for the club support.
Mile 20; Met a few wee hills and was waiting in anticipation for Heart Break Hill at the next mile. I celebrated with Sarah that I had broken the milestone of furthest run ever and now I knew I’d have to find anything I had left to finish that last 10k. By now I had resorted to “uh haha” to pass the mile as I needed some sort of distraction. So I done what Dermot had asked of me, I kept on smiling and I focused on my breathing.
Mile 21; The mile that I wish never happened. Well this and mile 22. I was powerwalking quicker than I was running. I wasn’t ashamed but I just couldn’t find momentum in my running so I channelled my inner Collette and I power walked like there was no tomorrow. I don’t think I hit the wall as I was still in the game in my head but for that half hour- lap 9 of the lake was getting the better of me. I actually ran Heartbreak hill as I was powered by Faithless “insomnia” which is a staple on my playlist and the DJ belted it out.
Mile 22; I’ll be honest I have no idea what happened in this mile I was just so focused on keeping going and getting to 23 mile so I’d only 5k left. Anyone can do 5k right?
Mile 23; Right 3 mile to go, just a wee 5k. yeah after doing 37k before it not as easy as I have imagined it. Also Heartbreak hill wasn’t as heart breaking as the slip road off the dual carriageway! Here I met the man with the Effil Tower (what a nut job) Rather him than me. But between us all, we knew the end was near and that we were going do it.
Mile 24; I’m looking for the RDS, I am looking for 2 strong miles. The sub 6 hours is possible if I pull out 2 10k race pace miles. However the reality is I am so buzzing that I was going to do it that I forgot about time and want to just finish strong in the home straight. I fall in with 2 Belfast lads and they keep me paced and focused.
Mile 25; the RDS, right now, come on Siobhan you can do this, its just a mile. Though I’m a lot more noticeable than I thought. One of the supports shouts “Murlough I recognise you, you finish strong, don’t stop now” I didn’t realise my finish was famous, so to speak. I see the 800m metre mark and pick up pace, I hear my name and there’s Pat and Caitriona, flag still flying. I just shouted to them “I’m about to finish a marathon, check me out” I was in disbelief.
Mile 26; I missed the 400m marker and I could see the line, the street lined with supporters, and runners as happy as can be. I see a marshall try to usher an imposter off the course and it was a bit distracting as it was right in front of me, but I focused my eyes on the finish line and went for a modest finish in the hope of a good finish line photo (not like me to be vein). I look up and see the time and just smile to myself and cross the line.I just completed a marathon! 26.2 mile. Mental!
I came across the line and walked towards the medal collection. I got a great hug off the medal man and held the bling in my hand. It was so much more than I had imagined. I was holding the medal I trained for, for 6 months. I, me, little old me, was in Dublin, had ran around it and earned it. There was no blood, but a lot of sweat and a hell of a lot of smiling. No tears. I collected my t-shirt and there at the exit, at the front was Michael and Brendan waiting for me. Such elation, I literally danced towards them. Oh my god it was just so unreal.
They had stuck together every step of the way and even waited for me together. As I heading into the baggage collection I had to stop and admire the medal. The Grant selfie happened and I motored on to collect my bag. As in my bag was the coveted Vodka and Diet Coke. I passed many of the participants I had ran with in the area and exchanged congratulations and hugs.
Though I spotted the legend who is Bootsy, about to get stuck into a can of beer and for once I was prepared to be part of some sort of gang and joined him for a drink in baggage. Probably a sign of what’s to come at Derry in June. Start as you mean to go on and all that.
Michael commented on how fresh I looked and how it took nearly an hour for him to come around afterwards whereas I was walking and talking as normal. But lets face it, I wanted to get to the pub and share the moment with everyone. We were met by Pat and Caitriona at the exit to the baggage and got proper hugs. I cant thank the two of them enough for giving up their day to travel to and around Dublin to support us all. Again I highlight how special it is to be apart of not just a club, but a part of Murlough AC.
I switched my phone on to see millions of messages and snapchats of support, even as everyone else in the club had finished, they continued to track me. As I walked into O’Donaghues I spotted Nicola and as we made eye contact you could see her eyes fill. After pulling out a fantastic PB she was visably moved by the occasion and I guess to see me, meant the Dublin 10 made it across the line alive. Surrounded by the MAC and neighbouring Newcastle AC crew, I stood proud with my medal and tshirt. The same medal and tshirt as those who came in under 3 hours, athletes who I stalk on race results to see how unreal they can put out times.
I couldn’t stop smiling. After a few drinks we headed back to get washed and fed. The usual post long run shower brought your attention to areas that needed more Vaseline. As small areas showed signs of chaffing but not on the same level as after Lisburn. So as I said earlier, you can never have too much Vaseline.
A quick change and we headed out for dinner. I should have been starving but my eyes where bigger than my belly. But we headed to Eddie Rockets and massacred buffalo wings, a burger and chip. Polished off with an immense strawberry milkshake. The thought though of going out after soon passed and by 9 oclock we where back at the hotel and in bed.
So I woke this morning a marathoner. In disbelief, pinching myself to ensure it wasn’t a dream. Am I proud, extremely. I stood at the GPO this morning with my medal, I thought about the struggle of 100 years ago and the events that unfolded over the years. I fought my own battle, ok it didn’t result in huge political upheaval, or impact on the countries history, but I came through one of the toughest things you can put your body and mind through in one piece and smiling, that’s got to stand for something. I thought about my Granda at length on the way round, which I do from time to time, and how he would have been so proud of me and would have loved the medal.
I was annoyed briefly that I didn’t make the sub 6 hours, but I know exactly what I need to change both in training and during the race. And its only 2 minutes, if I didn’t stop to pee I would have come in on point, with wet pants. But I loved nearly every minute of it. I never once faltered in my head or doubted that I wasn’t going to do it, I was just going to do it in my own time. Could I have dug deeper, of course I could have. But as the toll says on the road to Dublin, “Arrive Alive.” That was my main priority.
It gives me a bench mark. Will I come back, damn right I will. Am I scared to never run a marathon again, certainly not! I’ll not be turning them out every week but I may tackle one or two a year. A marathon is 90% mind and 10% physical fitness for sure. I have a plan now for the next 4 months after I recover from the marathon. But I will be quite content to run 10ks and halfs for a while.
But adding a disclaimer here as I know I might be a bit influential. Do not sign up to a marathon just because I made it seem fun. I didn’t find out about myself over the 26.2 mile, it was the training that built the relentlessness and I was born pure stubborn. I knew standing at the line that I had it, just didn’t have a sub 4 hour or anything like that. I knew mentally I had it, I just hoped and prayed that I my legs would have it too.
Tomorrow and everyday afterwards I will wake up a marathoner. A fantastic title that I can boast about forever. A quarter of a days work, for a lifetime of pride and achievement.
So next challenge has already been accepted. Derry Marathon in June. I am unbelievably honoured that Tony Barclay has asked me to be his guide for the event and lets face it I do think he is bonkers to think I’d get him around alive. So not one to pass up an opportunity, I will work on my guiding skills, after Running Blind turned out to be pretty iffy on the not letting someone get hit by branches front, I foresee a few 10ks and halfs spent with Tony in the coming months.
However for now, I am going to recover, I’ve been promised the week off from the gym and I’ll find a mile or 2 for a recovery run.
But I want you all to take away 1 thing from this round up. Believe in yourself and all that you are. Always know there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle, its just a matter of locating it and utilising it. And as I always told the kids in school…