On October 27, I ran the Dublin Marathon in Ireland. This was my seventh trip to Europe, and they’ve all included at least one marathon. I even managed to squeeze in a marathon on a business trip in 2012. Because I’ve done several international marathons, I’m often asked how many continents I have. I’ve run marathons on four continents, but doing all seven isn’t currently a goal. I could always change my mind, but for now I’m simply doing whichever international races sound interesting. So far, over half of my foreign races have been in Europe. When I’m asked if I’m going to run on every continent, I sometimes say, “I’m not done with Europe yet.”
There aren’t any direct flights from Minneapolis to Dublin, so I had to make connections in Atlanta. It would have been more direct to connect in New York, but the flight times worked better for an Atlanta connection. I left Minneapolis Thursday afternoon, arriving in Atlanta in the late afternoon. I had three hours in Atlanta, but I’m able to use the Delta SkyClub on international trips, so I was able to make myself comfortable. Free Wi-Fi makes it easy to pass the time.
I had an overnight flight from Atlanta to Dublin, which was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 Friday morning. Because of a mechanical delay, we didn’t arrive until 10:00. It didn’t take long to get out of the airport, so I was still able to arrive at my hotel around 10:30. I wasn’t able to sleep at all during the flight, so I was tired.
I took a cab from the airport to my hotel. Once there, I got around by walking. Most of the attractions in Dublin are within a fairly compact area, so it’s not hard to walk from one to the next.
The marathon starts and finishes on the eastern edge of the downtown area. I stayed at a Doubletree which was just outside of downtown. It was walking distance to the race, and it was also walking distance to the expo. Doubletree is a familiar brand, and I usually get good service there. I was able to get a room right away, even though I was much earlier than the normal check-in time.
After dropping off my bags at the hotel, I started acquainting myself with the neighborhood. I strolled over to Merrion Square, where the marathon would finish on Monday.
Then I walked along the south bank of the River Liffey.
My next order of business was lunch. I was tired after the overnight flight, and getting some food in my stomach always helps. I found a local bistro, where I had fish & chips with a bottle of Guinness.
After lunch, I started sightseeing in earnest. I started with Trinity College, which was close to the restaurant.
From there, it wasn’t far to Dublin Castle. I wanted to take a guided tour, but the next tour didn’t start for another hour and a half. Instead, I did a self-guided tour.
Next, I stopped at Christ Church Cathedral, which was Dublin’s first church.
From there, it was only a few blocks to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was built on the site of a well that St. Patrick used for baptisms.
When I left St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it was starting to rain, so I hurried back to the hotel. I was staying awake by keeping busy and spending time outside. Once I took a break, I started getting sleepy. It stopped raining, and I eventually had dinner at an Italian restaurant that I had noticed earlier in the day. I forced myself to stay awake until evening, so I could get in sync with the local time zone. After going so long without sleep, I had no trouble getting to sleep, and I slept well all night. Usually, that goes a long way toward helping me adjust to a different time zone. After sleeping in on Saturday, I enjoyed a large leisurely breakfast at the hotel.
The expo was held at the RDS in Ballsbridge. It was about a 30 minute walk. It wasn’t hard to find the RDS grounds, but there were at least two other events going on, so it took a while to find the right building. I arrived shortly after the expo started, which may have been a mistake. The line for packet pickup was long. After the expo, I took a different route back to the hotel. I apparently discovered embassy row. I saw the embassies of the United States, Ukraine, Mexico, Tunisia, Germany and Kenya, among others.
Next, I went for a run. The downtown streets and sidewalks are crowded, but I had noticed places in Ballsbridge where I could run without having to cope with as much traffic. I also included some paved paths through Herbert Park and alongside Dublin’s Grand Canal. It wasn’t a strenuous workout – just a few easy miles.
After my run, I visited two branches of the National Museum or Ireland and I toured the National Gallery or Ireland. Then I made my way to Temple Bar, which is a neighborhood of pedestrian-only streets lined with shops, bars, restaurants and a few street performers.
While I was there I had dinner. There were so many restaurants, that it was hard to choose. Some had live music, but they were also crowded. I found one where I could get seated right away, and I discovered that if you arrive before 6:00, you can order off the lunch menu. It’s the same food, but less expensive. Wanting to try another local dish, I had beef & Guinness stew. After dinner, I strolled down Grafton Street, another pedestrian-only street with lots of stores.
When I got back to Doubletree, I saw a sign reminding us to set our clocks back an hour. In Europe, daylight savings time ends on the last Sunday in October. This is the third time I’ve been in Europe on that weekend. The first two times, I was doing a marathon that Sunday.
Jet lag caught up to me Saturday night. It took me hours to get to sleep, so I only slept half the night. Sunday was the day I had the most time for sight-seeing, so I was going to see the things that were furthest from the hotel. I was counting on lots of walking and fresh air to keep me energized.
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, I started the 45 minute walk across town to Guinness Storehouse. Along the way, I took a short detour through St. Stephen’s Green.
At Guinness Storehouse I took a self-guided tour that goes through the brewing process and the history of Guinness stout. At the end of the tour, you get a pint of Guinness in the gravity bar on the top level. From there, you get excellent views of the city center. I could also see Phoenix Park and the Wiklow Mountains.
After that, I walked for another 20 minutes to reach Kilmainham Gaol, where I took a 45 minute guided tour. There was a long line to get in, and I had to wait about an hour for the next available tour. While I was waiting, I visited the museum.
On the long walk back to the hotel, I took a different route, so I could see different parts of the city. After recharging at the hotel, I went back to Temple Bar for an early dinner.
Sunday night was another rough night for me. It didn’t take as long to get to sleep, but I only slept for four hours before waking up again. I eventually got up at 6:00. That gave me time to eat a light breakfast before the race. The race didn’t start until 9:00, so I had some time to digest. This race had Energade sports drink, but it was only available at four of the aid stations. The rest just had water. Knowing that, it was more important than usual to have something to eat before the race.
Monday was the warmest morning of the weekend. It was 60 degrees, but it wasn’t forecast to get much warmer. My concern was the wind. It had been windy both Saturday and Sunday, and the wind kept up through the night. I was worried that the wind would be both tiring and cold. I left the hotel at 8:15, so I had time to walk to Merrion Square to check a gear bag before walking to the start. It would be a 15 minute walk back to the hotel after the race, so I wanted to have warm clothes at the finish. It was crowded all the way from gear check to the starting area. With so many runners around me, I was sheltered from the wind. Even after removing my warm-up clothes, I was comfortable.
My goal was 3:30. I saw a 3:30 pace group, so I lined up next to them. It’s tough to gauge your pace in a large race because of all the congestion. When the race started, I followed the 3:30 pacers and let them worry about the pace.
The first two miles were on downtown streets that I had walked during my sightseeing. We hit the two mile mark in 15:59. The pacers were doing their job perfectly. Midway through the third mile, we reached an aid station. Like most European races, they handed out water in small bottles. I was pleased to see that they used the same style of bottle as the London Marathon. Those bottles are easy to drink from on the run, so I wouldn’t lose any time at aid stations.
After the aid station, I inadvertently got in front of the 3:30 group. When I reached the three mile mark, I saw that I had sped up. I eased up a little and looked around to make sure I didn’t get too far ahead of the pacers.
In the next mile, we crossed the Liffey and entered Phoenix Park. This was the only Dublin attraction on my must-see list that I had not yet visited. I didn’t need to see it on my own, because the race included a few miles through the park.
As we entered the park, we began a long gradual hill. We were also going straight into the wind. In the first few miles, the runners around me sheltered me from the wind. Now I could feel it. That was a disadvantage of getting ahead of the 3:30 group. For the first time in the race, I didn’t have a thick pack of runners right in front of me.
Running through Phoenix Park, I could tell I was working harder, but I wasn’t slowing down at all. I still had fresh legs, so it felt fairly easy. We ran through the park for about three miles. After leaving the park, we ran through residential neighborhoods, but we were still going uphill until roughly seven miles. Then we started a long downhill. I used the downhill to relax and recover from the long uphill section. Before long, we entered a different section of Phoenix Park, but continued downhill.
As we left the park, we reached the fourth aid station. I was pretty sure this was the first one with Energade, so I skipped the first few water tables. When I reached the last water table, I still didn’t see any tables with Energade. Not wanting to miss the aid station, I grabbed a bottle and drank. It was only after drinking the water that I noticed more tables farther ahead that had Energade. Since I already drank my fill of water, I reluctantly skipped the Energade. At this point, I was really glad I had two slices of bread with jam at breakfast. I was going to need those Calories later in the race.
Next, we crossed the Liffey again. I realized we were at the lowest elevation, so the long gentle downhill was over. Next, we started a rolling section as we ran through Kilmainham. When we ran past Kilmainham Gaol, I recognized where we were. The next mile would be on more streets that I had seen during my sightseeing.
Just before the halfway mark, we ran through an ethnic neighborhood that seemed to be an eastern European mix. Within a block, I saw a Lithuanian/Polish store, a Balkan store, and a Bulgarian food store. That made me start noticing where some of the other runners were from. In the next mile, I noticed runners from Tunisia, Sweden and Denmark.
I reached the halfway mark in 1:42:43. I was more than two minutes ahead of schedule, but the 3:30 pace group was right behind me. Evidently, they weren’t too concerned about running the first half two minutes too fast.
The first half of the race was all within central Dublin. Then we crossed the Grand Canal. The second half of the race was mostly in the outlying neighborhoods. I was going to see new sights, but I also wouldn’t have any idea where we were until the last two miles of the race.
I was no longer as concerned about the wind. Except for Phoenix Park, I hadn’t noticed it much. I was increasingly concerned that I didn’t take in any Calories in the first half of the race. I was afraid I would “hit the wall” in the late miles. I was also concerned about my pace. I felt like I worked way too hard in the first half of the race. I was concerned because I felt the same way in the Quad Cities and Mankato Marathons. In both of those races, I fell apart in the last six miles.
Just past the halfway mark, we reached another aid station with Energade. It was a big bottle, so I couldn’t drink it all. I drank as much as I could handle. That slowed me down a little.
At this point, there were three things on my mind. First, I wanted to keep running eight minute miles. Second, I didn’t want to tire myself out doing it. Finally, each mile I put behind me would increase my confidence that I could hold the pace the rest of the way.
Mile 14 took 8:08, but that included slowing down to drink a lot at the aid station. My pace felt sustainable, so I was OK with the time. Mile 15 also took 8:08. That mile included a hill, so I was also OK with that. I still had a cushion of roughly two minutes. I could actually afford to run 8:08’s the rest of the way. I wanted to preserve that cushion, however, because I was expecting another long hill later in the race.
The next mile felt easier. Either it was downhill or we had a tailwind. I ran it in 8:01. I was OK with that. I started passing other runners. Most runners slow down in the second half, so I needed to pass a few runners to stay on pace.
As I clicked off the miles, I got more confident. The next several miles were flat, and I got into a good rhythm. I kept running miles that were under eight minutes, and I was feeling OK. I wasn’t familiar with this part of the course, but there were several areas with great crowd support. At the 20 mile mark, I realized that I could afford to slow down to 8:25 the rest of the way. I wasn’t going to. I was determined to run eight minute miles the rest of the way. I wanted to finish strong.
Before the 21 mile mark, we started a long gradual hill. This was the hill I was expecting. I didn’t slow down in that mile, but the hill continued all the way through the next mile as well. Then it got steeper, and I realized I was slowing down. I could afford to slow down on the hill, but I was worried I wouldn’t recover and regain my previous pace.
When we started running downhill, I regained my composure and picked up my pace. As the hill leveled out, I couldn’t tell if I was still running the same pace as before. I was anxiously awaiting the 22 mile marker. Then I realized I had missed it. I would have to wait until 23 before I could check my pace again.
About that time, one of the 3:30 pacers flew by me like I was standing still. The last time I had seen this pace group, they were at least two minutes ahead of their goal pace. I had every reason to believe that they still were, but I still didn’t want to get dropped by them. That lit a fire under me to dig deep and speed up enough to stay ahead of them. I was able to do it, but I really had to work. I could check my pace at 23 miles, but until then, I needed to stay in front of the 3:30 group.
There are three types of runners who get lots of shout outs from the crowd: runners in colorful outfits, runners with their names on their shirts, and pace groups. I could tell the 3:30 group was right on my heels, because I kept hearing people encouraging them.
Then I heard a spectator say, “Stay in front of that flag.” It was a reference to the tall “3:30” banner attached to the pacer’s back. I heard another spectator say, “Stay ahead of that pacer.” Sometimes spectators, despite the best of intentions, don’t know what to say to motivate a runner. These guys did. It’s like they were reading my mind.
Before long, I glanced at my watch and realized I must have also missed the 23 mile sign. I had to wait another mile before I would have any idea how fast I was running. Until then, I had to stay ahead of the 3:30 group at all costs.
I kept pushing myself until another glance at my watch revealed that I must have missed the 24 mile sign as well. Then I told myself that my pace didn’t matter that much. I was still in front of the pace group, and I only had two miles to go. With two miles to go, I should be able to run hard the rest of the way. Now I wasn’t just trying to keep ahead of the 3:30 group – I was racing them. I wanted to get as much separation as I could.
I knew roughly how the race finished. We would return to the city center through Ballsbridge. Before long, I should start to recognize my surroundings. I eventually saw the main RDS hall, where I had picked up my race packet. Then I saw the 40K sign. I knew the 25 mile sign wouldn’t be far away. I looked down the block and saw the 25 mile sign. I was so excited, I picked up my pace. Then I had to remind myself that it wasn’t the finish line.
When I got there, I was astonished to see that I had run the last four miles in 31:28. That’s an average of 7:52, even though one of those miles was all uphill. At this point, I knew 3:30 was in the bag. I had a comfortable margin, but I still wanted to finish well.
When we made the final turn, there was a sign saying 800 meters to go. That’s about half a mile. Then we crossed the Grand Canal. I knew Merrion Square wasn’t much further. Then I could see the trees in Merrion Square. Finally, I passed the 400 meters to go sign and the 26 mile sign. Then I could see the finish line banner.
I was still running hard, but several runners passed me in last two blocks. These were guys who were putting on a finishing kick. I didn’t have a kick. I had spread my effort out over the last few miles. I crossed the line in 3:26:23. The first thing I received was my finisher medal.
Next, I received a goody bag filled with food and beverages. That’s more efficient than picking up snacks individually. As I ate a candy bar, I walked toward the tables with T-shirts. One of the things I like about European races is that they’re “old school.” The shirts are “finisher” shirts. You don’t get your shirt until you cross the finish line. I can remember when races in the US did that. A few still do, but most hand out shirts at the expo, because it’s more convenient.
I didn’t feel the wind that much during the race, but I felt it after finishing. I was glad I checked a bag with warm clothes. After I slowly worked my way around Merrion Square, a volunteer retrieved my gear bag, and I pulled on my warm-ups. Then I walked back to the hotel. I took my time bathing, stretching and getting dressed.
I was done sightseeing, but there was still one thing I wanted to do in Dublin. It was time to hang out in a pub. I celebrated with a pint of Guinness while talking to some local runners who also did the race. When I was ready to move on, I started walking toward Temple Bar to find a place to eat dinner. Before I got that far, I saw an Italian restaurant where I could have a post-race pizza.
I flew home this morning. This time I had a more direct route, changing planes in New York. When you’re flying to the United States from Dublin, you go through U.S. customs in the Dublin airport. I didn’t have to worry about long lines in New York. I also didn’t need to retrieve my bags. They were checked through to Minneapolis.
The Dublin Marathon was my eighth European marathon, and I’ve qualified for Boston in all eight of them. There’s something about large international races that makes me bring my best effort.