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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 13 November, 2018
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26.2 miles later: 'You started something, played the long game and you finished it. Job done.'

“And after 4 hours, 14 minutes, and 18 seconds, I’m a finisher” – Sarah Geraghty reflects on the relief, disbelief and quiet pride of taking on the Dublin City Marathon.

Sarah Geraghty

LAST WEEK, WRITER Sarah Geraghty shared why she signed up to the SSE Dublin City Marathon for the first time. Here’s how Sunday unfolded…

The day before the marathon, picking my cousin up at the airport, a week-long cloud of doubt had lifted. I was excited, giddy, on a ‘let’s do this’ buzz.

Is that how you’re supposed to feel? I had no idea.

The giddiness wavered at the RDS where we collected our registration packs. A fake finish line was set up. Giddy people were having their photos taken at it.

“Why would you tempt fate like that? Will we get a photo at it? Oh god no, stop.”

Seventeen hours to go, said the countdown clock.

Back home, I gave my left calf a lash with one of those rollers for some reason.

At 9.15pm, my sister hits pause on the TV and says, “Right, bedtime, girls.”

The most pertinent advice for this stage came from the free magazine in our registration pack:

You may have trouble sleeping the night before. Don’t worry…if you’ve done the training you’ll go the distance with or without sleep.

I wake up at 5am, lie awake for 45 minutes and get up. Back on the excited buzz.

My dad appears, on it with the porridge and coffee. By 7.30am, cousin and I are already 20 minutes behind schedule – having photos taken outside with our marathon numbers.

It’s the autumn morning of dreams as my mum drives us into Dublin, passing the motivational signs around Bushy Park. We are raring to go.

In town and a tide of marathoners, our people, is surging towards Fitzwilliam Square.

“Niall, d’ya want a banana?”

Never had a banana before a run before, I won’t have one now.”

Dead right. Never try anything for the first time on the day itself, they say. Like, forget your earphones.

scg Sarah, Niall and cousin Dorothy on the start line. Source: Instagram

We run into a hotel, smothered in a glorious changing-room scent of Deep Heat, to use the bathroom and the vibes are electric and happy.

“Any tips?” I ask a woman doing her make-up beside me in the mirror (my take: wear makeup if you want to. There’s no shame. And you’ll be having your photo taken all day.)

Take it really, really slow at the start. Have fun, you’ll love it.

After handing your bag of stuff over a fence to the first of many kind, smiling Dublin Marathon volunteers, one last selfie, a few stretches and you’ve crossed the start-line.

You’re doing this.

Onto Leeson Street, cut through Camden Street, up the hill at St Patrick’s Cathedral, and down onto the quays.

It’s not even 10am and the pavements are alive with smiling, cheering, waving, high-fiving supporters. And you’re only hitting your first mile.

At times, a team sport

At Stoneybatter, Niall announces we did the first stretch in 10 minutes. Fears about rocketing off too fast are put to rest. We relax and fall into a comfortable pace.

He goes ahead – no hard feelings – and I spot some of my best friends, huddled together, holding up posters, shouting our names.

‘Is it going to be this emotional for another 24.2 miles?,’ I wonder.

Coming through the Phoenix Park, the replacement earphones are malfunctioning. The band and the crowds along Chesterfield Avenue are more uplifting than the laboriously assembled playlist.

For the first and last time, I take out my phone (catch sight of a message, “By the time you read this, you’ll have run a marathon. Isn’t that cool?” So cool, if this all works out) and issue a plea: “If anyone sees me, can I get some earphones?”

The network of communications between our cheer-squad is tight. Inside the gates at Castleknock, a friend throws a pair my way, with a hug and push.

sg Source: Lynne Andrews

At 10 miles, my cousin and I are still up for a giggle or, “look at the deer” or “ah Jesus, that’s lovely” as a dad hands over gels to his son.

Seasoned marathoners who advise against music may have a point.

On to Chapelizod and then the South Circular (11 miles), there are unexpected sightings of loved ones and with a rush of excitement every time, I leg it over for hugs.

At 12 miles (Dolphin’s Barn), my body is telling me to conserve the energy levels and tone down the love buzz.

It’s a new phase when the people lining the route mean even more. At 14 miles, my cousin and I part ways.

With no team-mate, a smile or a thumbs up or “you’re doing great, love” from a stranger is a mighty push forward.

Families clapping outside their houses, holding out bags of jellies, bowls of oranges and sliced up bananas, little ones lining up with their hands out for high fives, gardaí clapping us along.

Staggering acts of kindness, raising a smile, sometimes even a laugh. Home-made posters: “Go Mammy, if you could look after us three you can do this”; “Remember, you paid to do this”; “No more training runs after today”.

The way is now sticky underfoot, like a nightclub at 2am, from frantic draughts of energy gels.

At 17 miles, we’re at Bushy Park. I deny the existence of The Wall. On the other hand,  I have no idea what time it is, or how long this is taking me. My hips are grinding into their joints.

I remember the person who told me, “Your legs will never give up on you.” I’m pretty sure my legs are about to do just that. If I stop running, jogging, or whatever I’m doing with my body at that point, I will never start again. And that would make for a truly miserable hobble to the finish.

Just when this internal struggle begins – ‘Would it matter if I stopped? Who’d even know? Sure wouldn’t everyone say you’re great anyway?’ – another great roar comes up from the crowd. And you’re back.

Past waving flags in Milltown – Munster, Leinster, Mayo (for Sam, of course) – and you’re pushing yourself up that Everest of a hill.

At 21 miles. I’m counting on my fingers now. Five to go.

Grand. Totally do-able. Just tell your legs – your hips – that.

Rounding onto Clonskeagh Road, two more friends are there, reminding all around of the nearby finish line. The husband-and-wife team who saw me flying it way back at 10 miles are with me again, following the route on their Dublin Bikes.

She runs alongside me as we approach Roebuck, spurring me on, making me laugh until energy levels start flashing red again, warning me to cop on.

lynn Sarah with one member of the cheerleading squad. Source: Tom Lyons

A man sucking energy gels wants to small talk. Takes all sorts.

“You’re nearly there,” goes a communal roar at the UCD flyover – never more needed.

At RTÉ, the Stoneybatter cheer-squad is back in full force, joined by more friends and family. Less refined now, they’re screaming, running alongside with water, saying how they’ve tracked you the whole way around, knew you’d be here at this time.

“Look how far you’ve come, just keep going!”  

Along Merrion Road, through Ballsbridge, the crowds explode. I don’t know how you’d get this far without them.

For the first time ever during a run of any length, I start to feel dangerously queasy.

“For the love of God, don’t get sick here,” I plead with myself.

Another friend appears. This one on the bridge at Northumberland Road:

Come ON Sarah, I’ll run you to the finish line.

But we’re closing in on 26 miles and my body is resisting a heroic sprint finish.

On Mount Street, the street widens, the running crowd has thinned out and there’s a clear run at that line. Carried the last few metres by the faces and cheers of loved ones on either side.

And after 4 hours, 14 minutes, and 18 seconds, I’m a finisher.

The crowds are behind you now. It’s just you in this quiet space. But it’s not an anti-climax, more a quiet, dazed moment of relief, disbelief and pride. A still moment to savour.

You started something, played the long game, and you finished it. Job done.

T-shirt and medal in hand, I hobble around Merrion Square through the barriers before braving the crush in Meeting Area 1. And there’s Dad.

pat Sarah with her dad, Pat, at the finish line Source: Mary Kate Geraghty

A couple of days on, I feel like I have a small-to-medium sized hangover. The stairs are my nemesis.

“Well, what’s the next project?”

“Let’s give it a week, Dad”.

Sarah Geraghty is a writer, a Kildare woman, a dog-owner, a daughter and, since Sunday, a marathon runner. You can find her on Twitter @SarahCGeraghty

More: ‘I’ve been imagining my dad at the finish line, ready to swaddle me in a tricolour’

Read: This has to be the best sign spotted at the Dublin marathon

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