The Physio Running Coach - Road to Dublin Marathon 2023 - Week 12 - Race Day

October 30, 2023

**This is the final installment of a 12-part blog series detailing my training block for the Dublin City Marathon 2023. To read the previous 11 weeks, click HERE**

Week 12

The big one. Twelve weeks building to this day. Or that’s how this blog was supposed to work. In reality, as mentioned last week, the half marathon was actually the main aim of this training cycle, with the marathon added on later due to marathon FOMO. Given the exertion from Ljubljana, those post-race celebrations, and the lingering cold symptoms, the week leading into the Dublin Marathon was quite an underwhelming one compared to previous events. Take out those three factors, and I knew my 2:52 PB from Boston 2023 should be beaten after a solid six months of training. But when those issues were added in, the truth is I wasnt entirely convinced. The plan was still to set off at PB pace, but I expected to have to scale it back if things didnt feel good. The B-Goal was to get in under three hours.

I feel like I have the race nutrition aspect nailed down at this stage, and did the same as usual on race morning. Four slices of toast, lashings of jam and two bananas about three hours before the race. Then an SIS Beta fuel drink mix with 80g of carbs 60-90 minutes pre-race, followed by a one hour drink ban leading up to the start, to prevent an early toilet stop. Mid-race, I had x4 SIS Beta fuel gels containing 40g of carbs, and x2 Precision Hydration gels with 30g of carbs, taken every twenty-five minutes, for a total of 220g of carbs during the race, about 75g per hour. I still think I can train the gut to work to 90g per hour, to improve my performance further. For hydration, I grabbed two water bottles per hour, drinking over half of each, for about 350mls per hour. I know it is not as environmentally friendly as paper cups, but plastic bottles make a huge difference to getting enough hydration in. I normally grab, gulp and bin, but this time I carried each bottle for 5-10mins, sipping slowly, and not breaking stride as a result. That’s definitely the plan going forward once bottles are involved.

One advantage of the ‘free hit’ mentality for this race was that I opted for a slightly less conservative approach than usual. 99% of the time, it pays to take it easy in the first half of the marathon and do a quicker second half. But this time I decided to let the course guide the pace - anything flat would be run at goal pace (4:00 p/km), uphills would be slightly slower, and downhills are there to be attacked. And the weather worked almost perfectly for that plan - the rain was not ideal but the lack of winds were a Godsend.

My lack of complete focus on the task at hand can be easily summed up with three small events. First of all, getting into the car without my race shoes! Luckily I remembered before we set off! Then I forgot to set my watch to auto-lap at each mile marker, so I had to do this manually at every mile. That just adds a small bit of mental energy that doesnt need to be used. And lastly, I put the wrong gels in the wrong place in my waistband, and when fumbling to rearrange them mid-race, I dropped one. The time taken to stop and grab it from ten metres back on the ground was definitely worth it compared to the damage which that lack of 40g of carbs would have done in the final minutes.

All of the above does not correlate with what actually happened in the race. The start, even in Wave 1, was super busy. It began to spread out as we entered the Phoenix Park, where I anticipated the long drag up Chesterfield Avenue and needing to ease off the pace a little. But I maintained goal pace without my heart rate spiking. Interesting. Out the back of the Park I got to work on the downhills and flat, miles 8-10 coming in very hot. Mile 8 was actually just two seconds slower than half marathon pace! It felt good, and my heart rate wasnt elevated, but I had a nagging feeling that I would pay the price for this. That was reinforced at the halfway point, 1:24:11. Bang on for 2:48 with an even split, which was the absolute best time I would have predicted with a perfect build-up and race. After the Chapelizod hill, miles 13-20 are quite flat, so I keep a steady effort, but actually had to keep the reins on a little - I kept drifting to 3:55 p/km, and then dialled it back to 4:00 p/km, fearing what might happen in the home stretch. For those miles I worked with a group, who’s pace and cadence was even with mine. I had a couple of moments where I started to feel the pace around there, so just tagging onto those guys made a huge difference. Sticking with a group didnt help in Ljubljana, but certainly did here, so it pays to choose your friends wisely.

Heartbreak Hill, much like its Boston counterpart, is a bit more bark than bite. You’ll feel it if you’re struggling, but otherwise it is a minor inconvenience. After that, it is flat or downhill. But the final 8km of a marathon is never easy. So as the rain started to hammer, I put the head down and kicked on a fraction more each mile. Reaching Merrion Road I knew something special might be on, so rather than enjoy the home stretch, I gave it 100% and a bit more. I definitely didnt look to be enjoying myself to my family, who provided a much-needed cheer in that final mile.

The finish arch was a welcome sight, and a glance at the watch at that point showed 2:46:51. I knew it was too far away to reach before ticking over to 2:47, but it wouldnt go to 2:48 barring an absolute disaster, so I smiled, held my arms aloft, and cruised across the carpet. The watch stopped at 2:47:20. UN-BE-LIEVEABLE. I was soaked and cold but just stood there smiling, in shock. That wasnt supposed to happen. Dublin isn’t a big PB course. I didn’t have the textbook preparation week, and I ran a bit too aggressively. And yet it all worked out. One of the best post-race feelings I’ve ever had. Mission accomplished, with a significant bonus on top. Once I got dry and used a pub toilet as an ad-hoc changing room, the pint of Guinness never tasted better!

Dublin was my first marathon in 2017, and I haven’t ran it since. Marathons are big events, taking a lot of training time and resources. To aim for a PB, you can only do it once or twice a year, and I have a lot of them on the wishlist, so I’ve been working off the rule that there’s no point doing the same one twice. But as soon as I started yesterday, I remembered why Dublin is special. The city centre, the Phoenix Park, KCR and Crumlin Road, Milltown and Rathgar. Every inch of the road on both sides packed with spectators, cheering for hours. You don’t get that anywhere else. I’ll definitely be doing it again. And again. They wont be all PB attempts, but with an event like that on your doorstep, you’ll regret it if you dont take part.

This 12 week blog started with the aim to be a helpful resource for those new to the marathon game - what a training schedule looks like, realising that not everything goes smoothly, and helpful tips for training sessions, race day nutrition, pacing and more. But it is also a useful record for me of how it went, how I was feeling each week, and what learning points I can take to the next training cycle. Despite it being on the lower end of the weekly volume scale, reaching 60-65km most weeks, compared to previously aiming for 80-100km, it produced the best outcome. The main reason I can find for that is consistency. I hit four runs per week, every week, for twelve weeks. And by closely managing the intensity and volume, I didnt pick up an overuse injury. When you dont get injured, and you run consistently, good things happen. The lack of running volume was more than adequately replaced by some additional cycling and swimming. Too often we can obsess over weekly totals and brutal training sessions, without listening to the body or looking at the bigger picture. So whenever you plan to start your marathon journey, aim to start three months earlier. Really give yourself time to become accustomed to running and build a good aerobic base. Run consistently, at an easy pace, and then worry about adding the bells and whistles on top. If you are unsure about how to programme this yourself, seek the help of a coach. Marathons are not easy, so give yourself the best chance of success.

To work with The Physio Running Coach, visit or follow @thephysioruncoach and send a DM.

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