‘It must terrify and excite,
Ignite and incite,
Again and Again,
The work must
‘The Work’ by Stephen O’Leary
Above is the final verse of a poem that my youngest brother Stephen wrote called ‘The Work’ and to me it sums up what marathon training and marathon running is all about. It can be thrilling and terrifying, we can love it and hate it….but we always come back for more.
As the dust has settled on the Cork City Marathon 2023, the race is in the books and what a scorcher of a day it was. Personally I don’t think I have ever run in such heat before. To say that conditions were difficult would be a huge understatement, I’ve mentioned to a few people that I felt like I was running in an oven.
Heat aside, it was a great day. There was a great atmosphere around Cork all weekend. Even at the expo on Saturday, I could feel the buzz in the air. For me, the expo was like a mental warm-up for the race. I got to chat to people about their expectations and indeed my own and it helps me talk out some nervous energy. It was great to chat with Damian Kennally, Graham Meikle, John Quigley and my cousin Ursula Quinn and her husband Seamus. Ursula was running her first marathon and Seamus, who’s a very accomplished sub 3 hour marathon runner, was running the race with her.
On marathon morning, I had planned on getting the bus in from Carrigaline early, but after meeting Graham at the expo, he kindly offered to give me a lift in. We arrived into town at about 6.30am in plenty of time and I even got a sneaky picture of the medals at City Hall. I loved getting in early to soak up as much of the atmosphere as I could. There was a calmness about the city at that time of the morning, but that would all change in a mere few hours. After a stroll around to loosen the legs I was back to City Hall. I bumped into my work mate Catriona O Leary from Bandon AC. We had a quick chat about the day ahead and sent a quick selfie to the work gang.
I dropped my bag off, and was back on Pana before I knew it. After a few more photos with my Eagle AC team mates, I was on the start line ready to go. My plan for the race was to get in under 3 hours 30 minutes, if I could get in a few minutes under that I would be delighted. But with the heat so intense on the day, any chance of getting a PB of under 3 hours 27 minutes was out the window. I had my gels to take every 4 miles and a salt tablet every 5 miles. I had plenty of family members around the course who all had lucozade sport ready for me.
I settled into the starting area and had Siobhan Holland and Martin Lynch next to me for company. Soon after the race was underway. A buzz at the startline and for the first few miles was unbelievable, right from the start the crowd was superb, and passing by Merchants Quay with thousands waiting for the 10km race was incredible. My first real target was six miles and the Dunkettle Roundabout. My brother Vincent was there with a drink ready to go. He was wearing a distinctive orange baseball hat so he was easy to spot! Through the first 6 miles I felt good. I felt my pace was spot on and I got enough water on board.
My next target was mile 9, where Lorna, Jamie, Ella and her friend Kate were there with more drinks. Ella and Kate had made up a poster for me which I wasn’t expecting and that gave me a great boost for the next few miles. Onwards around the Mahon walkway and I was heading towards the Centre Park Road where my brother Stephen and his partner Celina were stationed. I was feeling good at this point, I had kept my pace fairly even and my body felt great. I try to do quick body checks when running marathons. I just go from my head down to my ankles and remind myself to relax everything, even my mind. I do it several times during a race to help keep me focused. The heat was vicious now but the crowds and atmosphere was electric.
Lorna and the gang were back at Albert quay again having dashed in from Mahon, a nice surprise to see them. Rounding the corner by the Elysian I was met by Derek, Majella, Aoife and Diarmuid who were roaring and shouting support! That stretch of road from the Elysian to Turners Cross is a section where I was dreading. In past Cork Marathons I must have had a bad period of the race there, and it’s still ingrained in my brain. For this race however it was fine and I motored on.
My brother Mark and his wife Daphne were at the end of the Tramore road. From here for the next few miles was the worst section of the marathon for me. My pace dropped significantly, and it was just a matter of digging deep and keeping going. I remembered training runs where I felt awful and how I had pulled through them. I remembered hard sessions where my lungs and legs felt like bursting. I fought on, and the crowd at the Lough gave me a big boost.
Mam, Dad and my sister Ursula were at mile 21. Dad had a drink and a bag of ice for me. The bag of ice was a godsend and helped cool me down. Grellan, lan and Finbarr were in this area also and were giving huge support as the official Eagle Fanzone, the cold Mr Freeze was again a welcome surprise!
Onto the Model Farm road and I spotted Cork Football legend Larry Tompkins walking his dog and offering support. Larry is one of my sporting heros and I often used to watch him train with Castlehaven in West Cork when spending time down there with my cousins. I’ve been shouting support for Larry so much over the years, and here he was telling me ‘Well done, keep going’. I mustered a ‘Thanks Larry’. And he looked at me and said ‘Fairplay Too Ya Boy’. Jesus marathon running is great, where else do your sporting heros come out to support you!
From here to the end of the Carrigrohane straight I felt ok. Mam, Dad and Ursula were here again with more drinks and ice and it was just a matter of getting home from here. I tried to push my pace but felt that I would cramp so I trudged on. I could hear the wall of sound coming from the finish line as I entered North Main Street, and soon I was back on Pana myself. The atmosphere was incredible. The 3 hour 30 pace group eased past me approaching the finish line, but I was home in 3 hours 29 minutes 11 seconds (chip time) and safely inside my goal time.
UI was a bit emotional crossing the line but my ultimate feeling was one of pure satisfaction. Satisfied with the difficult race I had just run and satisfied that all the work had paid off. I hugged any Eagle member I could find after crossing the line.Criostoir Grayson was also at the finish line after pacing the 3 hour 30 minutes group, all those pacers are absolute legends.
I found Lorna, Ella Jamie, Kate, Stephen and Celina for more sweaty embraces! Lorna has seen all my ups and downs as a person and as a runner and is always there for me. She offers constant encouragement and guidance and I could not have got through the marathon training without her.
My youngest brother Stephen has been helping me in the background with these blogs. He’s by far the most talented writer in the family. He is currently in the midst of studying the area in college, while also working full time. Going forward he will have a long and successful career in the industry.
To share the joy of finishing a marathon with close family were really special moments. After popping back to City Hall for a quick change it was off to Deep South for the Runner’s Diary after party. This was a fantastic event and it was great to meet with everyone post race to talk about the day’s adventures. It’s been wonderful sharing this journey with everyone. I’ve enjoyed the process of writing down my thoughts.
I hope that some of you have found this helpful in some little way but mainly I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. I’m not an expert on marathon running, far from it. I’m just an ordinary person who fell back in love with running and this blog allowed me to share my experience with you.
There are so many people to Thank as I finish up here. My family, Lorna, Ella, Sarah, Jack, Jamie and Vanessa, Mam and Dad and my siblings. Relatives, friends, and work colleagues. Everyone in Eagle AC for their support, advice and expertise. The other marathon leaders Ruairi, Joanne and Rachel, who all ran great races. Damian and Brian and all at the Runners Diary who allowed me to do this every week and for the advice and encouragement along the way. And to the Cork Running Community who are a special bunch of people and that was clearly on display on marathon day.
As for the future, down the line I hope to run the Charleville Half Marathon in September and the Dublin Marathon in October. I will probably run a few local races between then and now but at the moment I plan on playing a bit of golf, go on holidays and tip away with a few runs a week before I ramp up training for Dublin. The work must carry on.
Thanks again and Happy running!