Jan's Marathon 2017!
Our second instalment of the GCH marathon story from 2017, via Jan Van den Bergh ! read on for more...
My marathon story starts in May 2016. After years of dreaming about doing one I finally decide it’s time to give it a go. For the previous 12 years I’d been playing 5 a side football twice a week mixed in with the very odd round the block 6k run. I tell the lads at football that I’m quitting to go and train for a marathon. ‘Are you mad in the head??’ was the most common reaction.
In August, I stop playing football and start running 30-40k a week on my own, race the odd parkrun but really have no clue how to train for a marathon. Mercifully, I’m too late to register for DCM 2016 as I wouldn’t have been ready. I then make my best decision yet; I join Galway City Harriers – it’s much more fun training with a group and makes it a bit easier to head out on cold and wet winter nights.
I decide to enter the Limerick marathon at the end of April 2017. I ask Jerome Debize, the GCH marathon coach to do up a training plan for me. Based on the only distance I’ve ever raced – 5k - he gives me an expected time of 3.18. I haven’t a clue if this is attainable at all.
Part of the plan involves running various shorter races so I enter my first 8k – Gorgeous Gort last February. I didn’t find it gorgeous at all. The race could have been run on a beach in the Maldives and I still wouldn’t have found it gorgeous. I turn up to see some familiar GCH faces – all with their club singlets on (looking very professional!!) and for the first time I wonder whether I should have stuck with the football. I get through it.
I do a couple of half marathons before Limerick and everything is going fine. Then disaster strikes!!! 3 weeks out I’m lifting a table and pop something in my back – I can hardly walk let alone run so I defer Limerick ‘til 2018. Absolutely gutted.
After a couple of weeks out, I start running again and do a few of the Galway 5k series races and the Streets of Galway in August. Decent times. Everything’s going great again.
At the end of August I pull up 10k into the Sunday cathedral run with acute pain in my right knee. It happens on a few more long runs and I mention it to Tara Whyte, another GCH runner who’s also training for Dublin. She gives me great advice about doing specific stretching exercises, seeing a physio and doing yoga. I make my first mistake – I ignore the advice.
It’s September now and I haven’t run longer than 21k and I’m concerned.
5 weeks out from DCM I do the Dublin half in 1.35.45 – pain free – happy days are back. I start planning my race strategy, I’ll start with the 3.20 pacers and see if I can stay with them.
I’m still concerned that I haven’t ran longer than 21k so the following Sunday I set out to do 28k. The pain comes on at 20k but I push on for another 4k. As soon as I stop the knee seizes up. As I limp back to the car, mumbling a word beginning with ‘F’ along the way, I wonder how the hell I’m going to run 42k when I can’t even get beyond 24.
The next 2 weeks aren’t great - longest run 16k. Then 2 weeks out and at a track session I pull up after 4k. That’s it. It’s gone I say. Tara again tells me to see a physio and this time I listen. I go and see Eimear Cradock in Liosban. She’s brilliant – explains what’s causing the pain and how to fix it but there’s very little time. She reckons that I’ll be able to get through the race but not pain free. I’m not so sure. She tells me to rest so I just do two 5k runs in the final 2 weeks.
In the last few days before the race I don’t feel any excitement. I’m very relaxed because I don’t think I’ll finish. The plan to start with the 3.20 pacers has long been ditched at this stage. On the morning of the race I take an anti-inflammatory and some paracetamol. I start behind the 3.30 pacers with money for the taxi in my pocket just in case I need one. I take it easy the first 3k and lose sight of the pacers. I then pick up the pace a bit and in the Phoenix park I start catching the pacers but at 8k the pain starts. For duck’s sake. I move over to the side of the road thinking ‘I can’t run with this for another 34k’. I then think of all the text messages I got wishing me well, especially those from my 2 daughters, Rebecca and Anna, and tell myself I can’t give up that easily. I keep running, but very slowly, for the next 4k and I find myself getting used to the pain. I then pick up the pace and cover the next 9k at an average of 4.47 per k and catch sight of the pacers again. At around 18k, Gillian Bogan, another GCH runner up as a supporter, hands me a gel. I use Clif Shot chews but I slurp the gel down anyway.
At 21k the left knee starts to give pain even worse than the right knee. Duck it. I ease off the pace again but I keep going. I take another ant-inflammatory. At 30k I have no interest any more in what pace I’m running at but I’m very happy as I know I’m going to finish the race. At 34k I slow dramatically but again I don’t care – I see plenty of other people walking now but I can’t do the same, partly out of pride but more so out of fear the knees will seize up. Towards the bottom of Fosters Avenue, David Glynn from GCH passes me and very kindly asks if I’m okay and if I want him to stay with me. I say no – ‘you keep going’. Close to RTE I spot another GCH member, John Moran cheering us on. As we turn onto the Merrion Road, I’m feeling very tired but still running. I then hear them before I see them. My wife Frances, the two girls and son Charlie are screaming like demented banshees. I even manage a smile. They tell me later that other people then ask them to scream for their runners – they were doing such a good job!!
Into the last couple of 2k – I spot GCH member Brian Bruton cheering us on in Donnybrook. I then start to feel a little sick – nothing to do with seeing Brian! The combination of paracetamol, anti inflammatories, 8 chews and the gel were kicking in. Never mind. I spot the finish line and start to speed up as if I’m in contention for the win.
I finish with a 3.40 – not the time I had been targeting back in August but I’m so happy to have just finished it. The left knee seizes up but the right knee which was the one giving me all the bother is absolutely fine. I think that maybe I’ve sorted that knee out now. Probably not.
As an elite athlete I know the importance of refuelling and rehydrating after a race so I head to Burger King for a Whopper with large fries and then O’Donoghues for 3 pints of Guinness, already looking forward to my next marathon.