Today I did a marathon
The Dublin Marathon took place today with a record entry of 12,000, amongst them myself and Ambarish . I was hoping to get below 3:10 and generally avoid a repeat of my marathon experience two months ago where I was basically running in slow motion from mile 21 onwards. My two brothers, Colm and Aidan, grabbed their djembes (African drums) and went to different parts of the course to give moral support to the runners, plus take a few photos...
The race started by going around Trinity College and heading across the river Liffey towards the Northside of Dublin. I started off trying to dodge the slower runners ahead of me and feeling like I was being held up; it wasn't the case at all, I came throught the first mile in six and a half minutes, much too fast. For the next few miles I tried to find some kind of steady pace; however each mile after mile I would arrive at the marker to find I had run below seven minutes. But I felt great, and for the first time in a race, I was able to latch on the the back of some runners and feel like they were doing some of my work for me. We entered into the Phoenix Park to enjoy a four-mile stretch through tranquil parkland.
Colm and Aidan were positioned there with the drums, this picture and the one above was taken as I went past.
On my way out of the park I was feeling the first aches and pains, much too early for my liking. Was I going out too fast? Well the damage was done now, and I would feel it at the 20 mile mark. I began to feel this great inner resistance gather in the pit of my stomach, and my mind began casting itself forward to the horrors that lay ahead. Where the mind goes, the body will follow, and already my running seemed much more of a labour. At one of the water stations, I made a mockery of my boast at last night's meditation that I didn't need gels to finish a marathon and started helping myself to the Gatorade.
All this started inwardly and it had to be stemmed inwardly. It all seemed so different last August, where I was determinedly telling myself not to let any thoughts of what was going to happen at mile 20 ruin the joy I was getting right now. Now as I was running, I started chanting mantras to myself, and tried to just feel grateful for the opportunity to be out there and transcend my capacities. And it started working. I had had a very good meditation this morning; something of that meditations began to visit me now, so that I was running not from the body, but from the heart and the soul. A hip strain and a stitch threatened them selves one after another, only to disappeaar in the wake of my newfound enthusiasm. The half-marathon stage was crossed at 1:31, and after my slow patch I now seemed to be running at the same pace as everyone else.
At times during my training runs I had the very nice experience of feeling that whilst outwardly I was all dynamism and movement, inside everything was so completely still that a pindrop would have sounded like an earthquake; runnng down the tree-lined roads to Terenure, I had the same felling....I think it's an amazing equivalent to what we're trying to achieve in everyday life.
After the Phoenix Park, Colm and Aidan had made their way across to Rathgar to entertain all the runners at the 17-mile stage; their efforts were met with much appreciation and gratitude from the runners and they enjoyed themselves immensely. Colm found time to grab this not so elegant photo.
Ambarish came along shortly afterwards; Mangala was waiting to stock him up with refreshments, and Colm took this very nice photo of husband and wife running together.
Things started to get a little sticky on the running front; I could feel the beginning of that tingling sensation in my hands and legs when my body is starting to run out of energy, and I had to concentrate to stay in my rhythm. I got a temporary reprieve with another infusion of Gatorade, but I was well aware that once I started seriously going down the Gatorade route it was only a matter of time before the muscles would cramp, and I hoped it would be at around the 27-mile mark (in a 26.2 mile race :) ). And then the uphill section began, a 2 mile stretch from 19 miles to 21 miles. At this stage, I was splitting up the race into stages, telling myself that if I got to 21 miles, I was as good as finished the race. But that uphill was hard, I tell you. And the wind was blowing so hard against me, it felt I was running to stand still.
At this stage I should point out one of the wonderful things about the Dublin Marathon, and Dublin people in general; the crowds. They were out there in their tens of thousands today; at strategic junctions they would be gathered there in groups of a hundred or more, clapping and shouting themselves hoarse in support of total strangers. To me it was worth more than all the Gatorade in the world. When I began racing I must admit that I had rather a cynical attitude to such support and actually preferred to shut it out. But when you start meditating, not only can you feel your heart open out more and more in goodwill to everybody, you are also better able to recieve the goodwill of others, and feel more and more tangibly that goodwill has an indescribable power all of its own.
Passing one of these crowds, I saw a woman holding out what looked like sweets. Thinking they were for everbody, I grabbed one as I was going passed only to see a rather confused look on her face. Are they for me? I hollered back. They are now, a bemused runner exclaimed behind me. So, removing any remaining trace of professionalism to my run, I happily spent the next three miles chewing on Maynards Wine Gums.
Mile 21 passed and surprise, surprise, I wasn't dead yet. But at this stage I was breaking the race down into one mile sections instead of two. Just get to mile 22. I was running head tilted back looking at the sky, which is my wont when things get rough during a race, and its vast expanse seemed such a contrast to my infinitesmal huffling and shuffling. I was running down the side of the Stillorgan dual carriageway, cars whizzing up and down, but inside was all silence. And in that silence, my awareness fell on the inner connection I have with my meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy , the inner connection that over the past few years has served as a source of inspiration and guidance infinitely more effective than any outer instruction. Mine and my teacher's physical frames may lie an ocean's width apart, but in the vastness of the sky I could unmistakeably feel his presence, and realise that the power of empathy and oneness, lying untapped inside most of us, laughs at such silly notions as distance and location.
Mile 22 was ok, but mile 23 and 24 were a different story. When were those accursed mile markers ever going to appear? (It never occured to me that perhaps I was slowing down). Part of me still didn't think I had it in me to finish the race out. More mantras; I told myself that if I just kept saying mantras for 20 minutes, I could look up and there would be the finish line. For many races, my body senses the end coming and gets a fresh burst of energy, like an opportunistic politician jumping on the bandwagon at the last minute; that moment still wasn't in sight.
However, shortly after mile 24, I turned onto Grand Canal Street; I had run that street millions of times and knew exactly how long it was now to finish, and so the opportunistic politician duly jumped aboard. Onwards I went over the canal bridge, to be met by a ferocious wind funneled down the street, the last thing I needed. I know you're busy God, but can you not get onto your people and sort this out?I demanded testily. Perhaps I should try similar CEO-style orders in future, because the same wind did a hundred and eighty degree turn and started blowing at my back.
At mile 25, the crowds really started thickening, it reminded me of a scene from the Tour De France where the crowd encroach on the road so that only a narrow path is left for the cyclists. I passed the 25 mile mark at exactly three hours; one last spurt needed to get me under 3:10. The last mile took me around my old alma mater, Trinity College. Of course I was going to finish now, I could just enjoy myself. I rounded the final corner and tried to make a spring to get under 3:09, narrowly failing be a couple of seconds (It worked for the Dublin Half-Marathon and the London 10k run, so I cant complain).
Immediately the much anticipated cramping set in. My legs felt like steel. But I found Colm and Aidan at the finish and asked them to massage me. I set up an impromptu massage table in a dooreay, and they both went to work one one each leg. (Colm had to take this photo, that's why he's not in the picture.)
Then putting my feet up to let the blood flow back down....after that, I could manage something approximating walking.
Ambarish arrived, having done an amazing time of 3:28, considering he had only one 16-mile run under his belt.
Chatting with my fellow finishers:
"Every marathon you could write a whole novel about..." True, as Ive demonstrated above....
"If you could only shut them doors in your head..." Mentioning that this was actually one of my primary life goals might have expended more energy than I had at the time, so I just nodded sagely.