I can thank Anne and Anne-Maria for this. Dingle half regulars, they sold it to me at the end of last September saying “it’s worth it for the nice tshirt”. And because far away races look shorter and I have ridiculous FOMO, we signed up. So we find ourselves on the long road to Dingle on Friday afternoon. Anne and Anne-Maria, alert to the no-singlet-equals-race-reporter rule, appear to have packed every piece of Sportsworld Merch they’ve ever owned. Alongside this, a lack of coordination has the boot loaded with 2 to 3 kilos of porridge (for just the 2 breakfasts) and a small suitcase of gels because some people are experimenting for the marathon.
Beyond food and fuel, there’s no real race plan between us. For Anne this is a stepping stone to see where she is at on her marathon build up. For Anne Maria, veteran of every Dingle Half in since it’s inception in 2009, it’s just part of a weekend home in the Kingdom doing her bit for the Kerry tourism board. Myself and Mary are bringing the camera phones and resolving not to squander the privilege of running in such a scenic location by chasing any particular time. That said, I’m using 2 hours as a guideline. It’s my 3rd half marathon (kind of) and I’m feeling a bit short on mileage, having done just one 18km long run since April, but I hope I can get around in one piece by breaking it into 5km blocks.
Race day dawns hotter than expected. 14 degrees forecast but in a singlet and shorts on the mile or so stroll to the start line it becomes apparent it’s more like 17 or 18 degrees and windless (a scheduled sailing regatta is cancelled). We gather on the sunny harbour, the brightly painted shopfronts of Dingle adding to the general good mood of the day. Anne and Anne-Maria, regulars at this race, seem to know everyone and are continually breaking off for warm exchanges with friends and acquaintances. Irene – heading for her 80th marathon today – emerges smiling from a Camper on the harbour and it’s all hugs and good lucks and photos. Martin, Tom and Paul come meandering by , the 7 pints of the night before hidden behind their sunglasses. Is anyone taking this thing seriously? Gareth pops up moments later, 7 pints too but no sunglasses, bouncing around after a 10k warm up – of all things, on such a day!
We find our rightful places in the corrals (the 2 hour bracket for me) and after much noise, and build-up it’s off we go, quickly out onto the fuschia laden ditches of the outskirts of town. Maybe the sunshine is impacting, but the people of Dingle are giving what feels like a genuinely warm welcome at every junction and house front. Its as if they don’t mind these nuisance runners closing their roads and tossing water containers and gel packets into their ditches. The elevation map has shown that the 2nd half of the race the hills, already apparent, will lose the run of themselves, so we start at what feels like a fairly conservative pace. We meet Irene again. I suppose she’s casual enough about the marathons at this stage because she has the time and generosity to suggest we sip from our water bottles every km or so in this heat. Simple enough idea but something that’s easy to forget as the heat and effort melt the brain. I drift on, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, the 2 hour pacers. The course is busy but not congested. At Ventry village they cheer us on “as gaelige” (I think they are cheering us on, they may be saying “get off our land”) . One of the runners says “go raibh maith agat” back so that’s a good sign. At random spots on the road we encounter box players, bongo drummers and darth vader (real, not just the heat on my brain saying that). Welcome to Kerry.
I’ve run with a litre of water and am congratulating myself on my “leave no trace” efforts for the first 2 water stops but then the enviro cred gets abandoned in favour of immediate self preservation and I’m taking the water cartons and pouring them onto my head to try and keep the temperature down.
By 16k the scenery is more rugged and more beautiful than before but my appreciation is dissolving in the waterfall of suncream and sweat. There’ll be better photos on the internet anyhow.
Just before Slea Head I fall into running alongside a lady in blue tshirt. I’m mad for a chat to distract from the effort and it emerges that we are both pleasantly surprised to find ourselves just ahead of the 2 hour pacers and now eager to hold onto that time. We run alongside for a bit, appreciating the brief cooling respite of Slea head cut into rock and the open vista into the Atlantic and what must be the Blaskets. Around 18k there’s a long and gruelling hill. The memory of the Khyber pass in the Phoenix Park national 10k* (*8.5k ) earlier this year seems to have built some resilience on this front and I adopt the same approach – gear down all you need to but don’t walk and don’t stop. It’s not clear there’s any physcial gain from this approach but i’m sure it’s character building. The newly built-character nonethless fails to withstand the tummy wobbles that take hold in the final 2km and a brief walk is required. Even as my wheels are wobbling I can sense the gathering energy of blue-tshirt-lady into the final push and I think, before my next half, I’ll deffo try and have the miles in my legs to be able to enjoy the last bit. Still no sign of the finish gantry, nor any congregation of finishers but then thankfully, finally, the signs and bollards splitting us from the mad yokes who have signed up for the full. I pick it up and this final downhill and see the clock turning to 1.57. I’m over the line and getting over a strong urge to throw up when Gareth and Tom emerge from the pub to say hi. Then it’s tshirt collection, mind regathering. I regroup with the quartet of Anne, AnneMaria and Mary. There’s a festival vibe with DJ Big Jim pumping out the tunes in the warm sun. Our cool down stretch routine includes enjoying a cider on ice on the grass and a bit of a boogie and a sing-along with Big Jim in the bus queue.
On the bus we grab the back seat so we can look out for Irene on the full marathon route. As we pass the marathoneers there’s a fair bit of pain going on. Many walkers and the rugged scenery has been replaced by more hills and high ditches. So there’s a cheer of triumph when we see Irene slugging it out, looking strong and faster than she was going some 3.5 hours ago as we met starting the race. I guess you know how to pace yourself by marathon 80, not to mention the Connemara 100 (MILES!) she completed less than 3 weeks ago. We are dropped off in perfect time to cheer her in over the last 50 metres. Considering the levels of my own head chatter I’ve had to endure on the half marathon my admiration for marathon runners – physically and perhaps more so mentally, grows every year. We hang around to soak up some reflected glory.
Within 10 minutes of finishing she’s chatting to a fellow endurance athlete and we hear the words “so, what’s next?” . Whatever response that prompts from an endurance athlete, what’s next for us is to stroll off into the sunshine and find ice-cream, our lovely blue tops on,(except Anne-Maria, who’s back in the red, not taking any chances on the race report front), fancy medals a-jangle, delighted to have been part of such a fabulous race on such a lovely day. Where’s sign up for next year?