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Dublin: 0 °C Saturday 25 November, 2017
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Running scared through 26.2 painstaking miles all for one moment of fleeting glory

The42′s Ryan Bailey is one of 20,000 people running the Dublin City Marathon on Sunday, hoping all the training pays off on the most extraordinary sporting day in the capital.

‘It was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination.’ John Bingham.

A General view of runners Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT’S HARD — ALMOST impossible, in fact — not to visualise that moment.

That moment you see the signs on either side of the road; 1km, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m, 100m. The scores of people — as many as 10 deep on either side — lining the final approach, a cacophony of noise, of atmosphere, of pure bloody relief. The euphoria, the sense of fulfillment, of achievement, of empowerment. And the utter exhaustion and unimaginable depletion of every last sinew of strength.

For now, all of that is an intangible end-goal. It has been that way for the last four months. You can’t feel or touch it, only listen to those who have tread this well-worn path before, latching onto their every word, carefully processing their every passing piece of advice in the hope it will somehow make a difference on the day.

And then it’ll come and go. Months, weeks and days of preparation, of worry, of excitement, of unflinching, spine-chilling apprehension. Hours of watching the course video on loop or studying the map in the hope those reverberating doubts will disappear. The positive thoughts and the counter thoughts of negativity. Bordering on desperation, an endless search for validation that reminds you it’ll be okay on the day.

***

When you spend most of your time in or around sporting environments, critically analysing the performances of others and trying to understand the psyche of athletes, you can almost become part of them, detached from sport at a rudimentary level and enveloped by the intricacies of professionalism.

You’re immersed by it all, and there is a danger that, over time, you gradually lose sight of the basic values. Your outlook on sport can become skewed through the prism of rationalism, falling into the trap of neglecting to fully enjoy it for what it has always been worth.

And then a reminder will come. A reminder of why we love sport in the first place; an inspirational story or a heartwarming gesture. Or a moment of magic. Or simply being on the other side of the fence. Playing or participating instead of watching. Sunday’s Dublin City Marathon — a unique event in every way — is one of those days. A day when the power of sport, goodwill and unity is pronounced and a day when the overriding feeling is triumph and gratification.

***

I always considered myself to be a runner, even if running didn’t always agree with me. It was probably forced on me a little through adolescence, those Tuesday afternoon PE sessions invoking harrowing memories. But it changed me. The discipline, the commitment and feeling of gratification, it’s addictive and becomes a passion.

A view of runners as they go past St Patricks Cathedral Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But it never developed into anything serious. I’d run to keep fit and be active with no particular objective other than that I enjoyed it. Just throw on the runners every now and again and run. 10, 20, 30 minutes. That had been the extent of it until last May, when a work assignment at the launch of the Dublin City Marathon got me thinking.

I had no intention of running on Sunday, nor did I have any desire to run it in the next 10 years. It was always at the back of my mind — one of those things you’ll eventually tick off the bucket list — but I had no motivation to do it. At 24, why would you? I had nothing to achieve or gain from it. And that’s what I believed.

And then a switch flicks, something changes. One 10km race leads to another and suddenly you’re sitting in the company of two-time national champion Sean Hehir and Olympian Mick Clohisey at the official media launch and you’re certain in yourself — this is what I want to do. The bug is contagious, and suddenly you’re in. You’re one of the 20,000, and so it begins. A single-minded determination takes over.

***

It’s amazing how much you question yourself. Apparently it’s quite natural to flit between giddy excitement and sheer anxiety in the days leading up to the race, as you doubt whether you’ll have enough to get through the unknown miles on tired legs at the end. It consumes your thoughts, but there’s always some form of comfort blanket to fall back on, and in this case it’s the reassurance which comes with training.

Many of the 20,000 who line up on Fitzwilliam Street Upper on Sunday morning will have dedicated and sacrificed their entire summer for the cause. Pounding the pavements for months, gradually clocking up the miles and banking them in steady anticipation of this weekend. Then there’s the tapering phase, when heavy legs drag you towards D-Day.

The extent of my training has been three ‘long’ runs of 17km, 24km and 32km in distance since the start of September. Pretty much ignoring every piece of advice in every marathon article, book and magazine ever published, I squeezed months worth of training into two and leaped straight from 10km — my previous longest distance — to 32km in the space of a few weeks. It seems to have worked, I feel good and am raring to go to such an extent that I’ll probably come firing out of the blocks like a greyhound. Remember, the advice — don’t do that!

***

A conversation with Jim Aughney, the Dublin City Marathon race director, piqued my interest. He spoke about how the event had developed into the fifth-largest marathon in Europe and how, a few years ago, it was on its knees without a title sponsor and little or no direction.

A view of the Dublin Marathon as runners make there way down Fitzwilliam Street Upper Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Since then, it has evolved, grown and blossomed, playing an integral part in the running boom on this island and has helped changed the nation’s mindset towards healthy living.

On Sunday, a record 20,000 people will negotiate the route around the capital with thousands more lining the streets. The participants feed off the crowd, and vice versa. An event of the people, for the people, run by the people, is how Aughney describes it. And he had me convinced. I wanted to be involved in more than a work capacity.

And part of its appeal is the removal of any barriers. Professional athletes — including defending nationals champions Laura Graham and Sergiu Ciobanu — line up on the same start line as first-timers, everyone holding the same ambition of producing a personal best. There will be different reasons and motivations for doing so, but a common thread runs through the field — we are all runners, appreciating the joy of it. We’re lucky to be able to do so.

That moment, when Mount Street Lower becomes Merrion Square and the finish line eventually appears in sight, is inching closer. 26.2 miles to go, and then unconfined, unbridled satisfaction.

Before that, however, enjoy every moment of the journey. Even when your head and body is telling you you can’t.

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