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Dublin: 4°C Friday 5 March 2021

'Learn to run when feeling the pain - then push harder': Marathon training in the Irish heatwave

Painful lessons from last year are fuelling Ryan Bailey’s desire to train harder this year – even in the good weather.

Image: Shutterstock/baranq

IT HAPPENED AROUND six miles in. I could feel it coming, powerless to stop the pain, while also accepting it was inevitable. The weeks of build-up which had preceded this day had revolved around being best prepared to ensure everything went right. And here I was in the middle of the Phoenix Park with blood coming through both runners.

One of the primary concerns around my first marathon was simply being able to complete it. That I had enough in my legs to carry me through the 26.2 miles and I would be able to make it to the finish line in one piece. But, deep down, I knew I was fine. I knew I had the fitness levels required to go the distance, the concern was around the external factors which may have influenced that.

The outfit was the same one I wore for most of the races during the training block. Black t-shirt, grey shorts, lime-coloured runners. It never changed. Familiarity is key and, believe it or not, it works. One box ticked.

Then, there’s the psychological battle around refuelling. What do I need, how much do I need, and when? I didn’t drink or eat anything I hadn’t done so during my training, so the energy gels handed out a various markers during the Dublin Marathon were a no-go because I didn’t want anything to upset my stomach.

It was a bit excessive, but it was all part of the race mindset. Likewise with water. It was a certain amount, and that was it. Not too little, not too much. I allowed myself a drink of Lucozade near UCD, knowing I had already expended every last sinew. Then came the jellies, the banana, the nuts — and anything that was in my sight. I had nothing left to give.

At which point, I had hit the proverbial wall and all race tactics went out the window. It was just about putting one foot in front of the other, plodding along in distressing agony. Counting down the miles. My feet were bleeding, legs like jelly and everything else felt sore. It wasn’t enjoyable anymore.

John Farrington sums it up perfectly in this quote: “Marathoning is like cutting yourself unexpectedly. You dip into the pain so gradually that the damage is done before you are aware of it. Unfortunately, when the awareness comes, it is excruciating.”

It all changed at the 20-mile marker after Milltown. I had felt strong, well on track to cross in three-and-a-half hours on my marathon debut, but nothing prepares you for the moment your body says no.

I had obsessed around food, clothes and ensuring the blisters on my feet were adequately strapped, but none of that mattered down the home stretch. My right baby toe had been torn up in the heat of battle, the blood seeping through the front of my runner. How did this happen? The best-laid plans out the window.

I eventually crossed in three hours, 36 minutes — delighted with my time — but in the knowledge if I was to race again next year, I had to fine-tune every little detail with even more diligence than I had done.

It’s true that nothing can prepare you for those last few miles when your legs give way and your body shuts down, but if there’s one thing I learned from toiling through UCD, Ballsbridge and back into Merrion Square, it was that there is always something more you can do.

I will not make the same mistakes again. I will not miss a blister on my toe and let it become a crippling affliction so early in the race, nor will I presume my training will be sufficient enough to make me exempt from the realities, and harshness, of marathon running.

This year, I’m doing things differently. I’m already knee-deep in training, whereas last year I didn’t start until two months out from the race. There are more miles in my legs now than there was during the whole of last year. I’m committed to breaking the three-hour mark, infused with a steely determination to avoid the pain of last year.

I’m following a programme, and doing things by the law. Running four times a week, clocking up miles upon miles under the searing sun. It’s tough, there’s no two ways about it, but it feels good. It feels good to sit here at the end of June and already have ticked off various markers, some of which I didn’t even reach last year.

Training in this heat is not something we’re used to, nor will experience too often. Going for a 20 kilometre training run when the mercury has risen to 26/27 degrees is not ideal and certainly a lot less enjoyable than it should be. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I’m now fitter than I ever have been.

A winter gym programme has enabled me to hit the ground running and with two races already under my belt this season, the serious groundwork is now almost complete as we near the 100-day countdown to the 2018 Dublin Marathon.

Last week, I was reminded all about the agony of suffering a blister half-way through a run as the heat caused my feet to sweat excessively (apologies for the detail), and that in turn led to two deep cuts appearing.

It has meant I have had to take it easy in recent days and instead focus on some stretching, mobility work and weight sessions in the gym, but having worked hard on the roads over the previous two months, I’m not worried about losing training time at this stage.

With the weather being as good as it is, I’ve also enjoyed the chance to aid my muscles by using the Irish sea as a plunge pool, something I would have never dreamed about last year. It’s amazing what two minutes in the water can do for your body after a long run.

The plan for the next fortnight is to get two long training runs under my belt and hit a couple more markers before heading away to America for a couple of weeks. I’ll bring my runners and will look to get out to keep things ticking over, but part of the reason for training hard so early was to allow myself a bit of a break in the month of July.

I plan to race the Irish Runner 10 Mile on 14 July in the Phoenix Park and not run seriously again until the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in August, and then the Dublin Half Marathon in September. From there, it’ll be all systems go towards 28 October, and I should — all things going to plan — be in good stead.

I’m probably doing a lot of this wrong or going against what coaches or the manual says, but having done very little training last year, I am confident in what I’m doing this time around because I know what works best for me.

I learned some important lessons during those three hours and 36 minutes on the course last year and the hope is that I can use them to effectively train and prepare for a second shot at Dublin.

It’s still early days in this programme but things are starting to heat up now, and that’s the exciting part.

You can follow Ryan’s journey over the next 12 weeks right here:

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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