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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 20 May, 2019
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'I've been imagining my dad at the finish line, ready to swaddle me in a tricolour'

Before telling everyone, you need to be very honest with yourself about why you’re doing a marathon, writes Sarah Geraghty ahead of Sunday’s 26.2 mile run across Dublin city.

Sarah Geraghty

“173 DAYS? THERE’S no way I’d be fit enough. I’m here eating cake.”

My cousin knew that cake was no excuse. So I allowed her a few more feeble protests before she surrendered.

“Thank you for registering for the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon 2016.”

Then we were two.

My friend and partner in a Strictly Come Dancing fundraiser was less considered.

“No way,” said Niall.

He came back a few days later, agreeing we should rise to the challenge.

To seal the deal, I – hater of Whatsapp groups and all phone notifications – crossed a line and added them as ‘friends’ on the MapMyRun app.

All three of us could now benefit from an enraging alert every time one of us ran, how far we went, and how long it took.

I am a runner

Running was always there, faintly, in the background. Never anything more serious than a 10k. But I definitely had notions of being ‘a runner’.

On a flight in January, such notions were tested when I encountered an all-kayaking, all-cycling, ironman of a neighbour who suggested we do “an easy 10 miler” around our native area someday.

“Yeah, that’d be great,” I said quite convincingly. What I was thinking was:

*Don’t ever come looking for me at my home. I’m a fraud.*

Around the same time, my family was adjusting to a savage health diagnosis and what one nurse called the “new normal” in our house.

It’s textbook: You search for distraction, for mind and body, something – above all – that will help you sleep. A straight choice between “hitting the hard stuff hard”, as a colleague put it, or sweating it out.

We gave the first option a lash, deemed it unhelpful, and examined the second with resignation.

Eight weeks of Strictly came to an end in March, gym membership came up for renewal, the days were getting longer and it was time to start prepping in case that ironman of a neighbour came knocking.

By June, I was running… not pushing myself beyond a few kilometres (around 3.5km or so) and just stopping when I felt I’d earned a break.

So I set my sights on the marathon. No halves for me; straight to the big-time.

PastedImage-63235 Sarah with her dad Pat in the Aviva Stadium.

The big-time is a serious undertaking. Before you start telling everyone that you’re doing a marathon – which you will – you need to be very honest with yourself about why.

Mine began with the excitement of imagining my dad being there as I crossed the finish line, Jessica Ennis-style, to swaddle me in a tricolour.

With a love and respect for all sport (except Formula 1) and the people who play (except Conor McGregor), he takes it seriously.

“You had a good puck, could kick a ball, had a good seat on a horse, a decent hand at tennis, you’d have been a handy cross-country runner or basketball player.

“If you could only remain as enthusiastic as when you started…..”

Therein lies the reason.

It was less about the drama and more about declaring that I was embarking on something, sticking with it and getting the job done.

With that, I contacted an amateur runner turned performance coach I knew for advice, who said he’d be delighted to share his expertise. For €1,000.

Eh, no thanks. I’ll just google “training plan first marathon”.

“Mmmmh… This is grand, you just have to stick to the FREE plan,” I declared with the signature enthusiasm that made everyone nervous.

Firstly, I underestimated the difference between miles and kilometres.

My swagger was under threat during week one when I skipped out to do five miles. And extinct by the time I bounced off to complete that week’s requisite eight miles, not accounting for twilight and a long, straight, lonely, country road.

PastedImage-358 A WhatsApp communication to a friend while on that long, lonely road....

“I can’t actually do a marathon,” I squealed, knocking off my MapMyRun notifications.

“You have to be patient,” counselled my dad, with what might have been a wince.

Then, almost without noticing, you’re not giving yourself permission to stop when Beyonce stops End of Time (3.43 minutes). You don’t really want, or need, to stop. Queen Bey wouldn’t stop, would she?

Each week, another previously-unimaginable mile is ticked on the plan and by the time you’re doing 12 miles – MILES! – on a dark, drizzly, Saturday morning, you’re in a new phase. And, while you have your soldiers-in-arms on MapMyRun, you’re a one-woman team.

Hello again, old swagger.

I never got so cool that I didn’t sprint finish into the kitchen to shriek, “I DID IT, I RAN 14 MILES!” Then lie down for three hours with a hot water bottle hugging my left calf.

“Are there any old crutches lying around the house? I don’t think I can walk.”

“Did you do a warm-down?”

“Course I did, Dad. God.” Quick Google: *what is a warm-down?*

By now, you know if your favourite companions are music, podcasts or silence. What food you should not eat two hours beforehand. Bread is not your enemy. You cannot stick to the plan with a hangover and you’ll be really disappointed in yourself if that’s why you’re a week behind. You don’t need glossy running gear. There’s less elation at smashing 18 miles, more just quiet, tired relief. Some drivers hate runners and will slow down to tell you so. Loved ones will do things like drive out ahead of you and leave bottles of water along your route or cycle alongside to get you through the last two miles of 20 – 20 MILES! Or secretly assemble teams of cheerleaders with signs for the day itself.

PastedImage-55255 Sarah's Dad accompanying her on the last stretch of the big 20 miler.

Everyone has a marathon story and they’re mostly encouraging – except for the husband of the hairdresser who had an “ab-so-lute disaaaaaster”.

He was traumatised if you must know. It might have been his toes; they take a beating.

By now you know a lot about patience – with yourself, your body, your advisors, the plan – and what it is to play a long game.

The two incidents that threatened a Katie and Pete Taylor-type split between my dad and me sprang from my disregard for these old-fashioned, long-game notions.

“It’s not worth it, wait until you’re ready,” he advised when I was insisting on doing a half marathon while injured. (He was right, of course).

PastedImage-4922 Completing the longest run - 20 miles - before the big one on Sunday.

Now it’s the day before. I’m off to the airport to collect the cousin who thought cake would get her off the hook. You could paper the walls with headlines about hitting The Wall and we’re all afflicted by niggles of doubt.

A last-minute splurge on never-before-used energy gels, frantic googling of ‘what to eat before a marathon’, zero ability to visualise the finish-line as advised by Catherina McKiernan and her zen kind, a darting pain through my chest every time someone says where they’ll be gathered (UCD, Ballyfermot – god, it’s a very long route) to roar you on.

Will that glass of red wine last night affect my kidneys? What if I’m still running after 7 hours? Is that twinge in my knee career-ending? Did I do enough long runs?

What if my playlist runs out? I might add another three hours onto the playlist, just in case… keeping company with Queen Bey is Le Galaxie, Kanye, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Technotronic, New Order…

Then you remember it is meant to be fun. That you’re extraordinarily lucky to have a body that is able to do this. And check this – there’s a 1916 commemorative medal up for grabs.

Sarah Geraghty is a writer, a Kildare woman, a dog-owner, a daughter and, from tomorrow, a bona fide runner. You can find her on Twitter @SarahCGeraghty

More: The runner hoping to break a world record by soloing this weekend’s Dublin Marathon

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