What a great weekend for the city of Cork. With the fabulous weather and the annual Ocean to City and Marathon there was a great buzz round the city.
To be honest, I feel a bit of a sham writing a piece for the Runner’s Diary, for I’m not a runner, as many of you will well know. But I do have a passion to support, help and encourage those that do, anything to make the lead up to and race day more relaxed, easier or comfortable for the participants.
This year my marathon preparation started mid last week, when I offered to help the organizers in the City Hall. With no discrete roll or task, I was there to just help, which ranged from moving boxes; constructing displays; sorting hi-viz vests and t-shirts; preparing staff boxes for water station volunteers; guiding people round; helping exhibitors setup; preparing various lanyards and eating the odd Lindt chocolate!
As the doors opened for registration at noon on Friday, keen athletes queued to collect numbers and browse the Expo, making the initial hour or two very busy.
The work became more personal, meeting those that were actually participating, the part that I look forward to, the reason I wanted to be there. Directing athletes to the correct registration desks, asking a question about their race plan and sensing their excitement, pride, anticipation and nervousness to be this close to the day they have trained for so hard, and the reality of getting their number and T-shirt [or tree!] making it all so real.
I had to be firm to so many when I heard them say I’M ONLY doing the 10K or Half, which ever it was. Almost apologetic that they weren’t good enough to compete in the 26.2. Participation in any distance is an achievement and one to be proud of. There’s only one person can win the race, does that mean nobody else should line up and put in the effort. This is where my passion lays, encouraging EVERYBODY, no matter what ability, to PARTICIPATE. Progress not Perfection, and taking just one step in the right direction is Progress. While finishing a marathon in last place years ago, I apologised for keeping him so late and he quickly replied… “you’re not last, all those that didn’t bother starting are still behind”. From then I realised everybody does have a place in race, and try to spread that mentality to all, and no better place than parkrun and the brilliant parkwalk initiative.
Amongst the thousands collecting over Friday and Saturday it was great to glimpse familiar faces and chaperon them through the system and discussing final preparations etc, and of course catching the odd photo… and the odder the better 😉 That photo wall at the entrance was great!
There was a great atmosphere in the main hall as 96FM provided a few tunes. The race talks by the race director, pacers, course measurer, participants and exhibitors were great to listen to. Provided both sound advice to newbies to the running world, and additional reassurance to those who have pounded the streets for years. Until finally, the last number was issued and doors closed. All that was left was to run or walk the race ahead.
Arriving into the city very early the morning of, it was eerily quiet as I cycled the streets, knowing what throngs would soon be arriving to run, help and cheer. Had my infamous arrange bag, loaded with the usual essentials, suncream, Vaseline, wipes, plasters, gels, water, salt, sugar, Taytos and of course the most important .. toilet paper, thankfully none of the items had to be used in anger, but the Taytos were enjoyed at the finish! Pana was empty, bar the occasional athlete having a gander. Met and chatted to an Australian who had come over specially for the event, and his first 26.2 distance, hope he got on OK, I forgot to get his bib number! The crews were erecting the finish gantry and setting up barriers, everybody had a job to do and was getting on with it quietly.
The City Hall had transformed from the Expo setup to bag-drop and meeting place. Little huddles formed with friends and clubs members preparing. Suncream on the shoulders and foreheads, Vaseline on the nipples and groin, gels in the waist band… all the usual pre-race preparations. All I can say is… no double dipping in the Vaseline 😉 !!
As time went on, everywhere got busier, and you can tell the nerves are active when the queues to the porta-loos started to grow!!
The pacers were in their little backroom, away from the masses, making their final preparations and collecting their balloons. Twas like a child’s party with the balloons, but there was a different type of chatter and excitement.
Back to Patrick Street and it was transformed, now full with runners from all three distances, soaking up the atmosphere of race day.
Some of the elites were gathering at Elvery’s on Maylor Street, allowing them access to toilets etc. Mike Dooley was there snapping away, after which they casually walked and joined the front of the race. I’m still humbled when elite athletes stop and chat and even know my name, a man who’s never run a step in his life!
I was provided with a VIP pass on Saturday by Julie… Thank you SO SO much, and was able to go through the barriers as well and be at the starting tape. Listening to the Lord Mayor as she gave a talk. Allowing me wish Jerry Forde all the best as he started yet another marathon [prob 515th or so], and yet duck straight back out to my bike to allow me head over to the Mall to see the race. From there it was over to Christy Ring bridge to wait for the marathoners to come back from their leg out to Blackpool. Onto Washington Street to watch the 10k and then back to Cork Arts Centre to catch more of the 10K runners. Using the tracking app, I timed my departure to coincide with the lead athletes pass the water station by Brownlows. Got waylaid talking to a few finished 10k-ers in the Mall so missed the forerunners and had to feverously peddle up the South Link to grab a photo of the trio of Viv, Andy and Donal. Boy can they run fast uphill!! Got a smile, wave and shout out from them, so knew all was good as they effortlessly made their way up the link.
Freewheeled down the link to Albert Street where I awaited the masses of the full and half.
Started to lose my voice at this stage, shouting out for friends, fellow Eagles and other club vests as they passed. I do think having names on the race bibs is a great advantage, as it allows supporters to make eye-contact and call individuals by name and provide that little boast that can so often be needed mid-race.
My final relocation was back to Patrick Street, and thanks to the VIP pass, I was able to nip straight into the finish line and shout for and greet runners as they crossed the line. I huddled in behind John Quigley’s tripod so as not be in the way [too much, but then I’m only a small chap!!]. The elation of those as they finished was obvious, especially after competing in the extreme conditions on race day. It was fabulous to be able to meet and congratulate Jane and Sean, two parkrun buddies and friends, who completed their first 26.2 event on Sunday, well done guys.
And a special moment for me was being there to welcome the Legendry Mary Sweeney cross the line for her 50th Marathon, in a fabulous time may I add! Coming close to the five hours on the marathon clock, I decided it was time to move on.
From there it was onto Deep South, and surprisingly I was allowed in, even without a finisher’s medal!! Ed was in flying form, belting the tunes out, while Brian and Damien did a great job with interviews and the occasional dancing comp… I have videos if ye want to see the carnage of the dance floor.
A few of the Ballincollig parkruners wanted to acknowledge Mary’s achievement and celebrate her birthday, so we snuck off to Market Lane to refuel, rehydrate, celebrate, analyse the race performances and review the thousands of photos I had taken over the previous few hours.
Returning to Patrick Street to collect my bike, I met up with Eamon, the race director, who had just welcomed the last participant over the line and the street’s riggings were starting to be de-constructed. A shout out to the medics and crews all along the course and at the medical tent on Patrick Street, they did a mammoth task.. well done guys, without ye the show couldn’t go on.
Sunday evening a few of us met at a beach to engage in a bit of cold-water therapy and enjoy a coffee with the flasks prepared earlier, and reflect on the efforts and performances of the day.
From a personal point of view, I enjoyed the weekend immensely, and days leading up to it. I was in my element supporting and sharing in the day with those that have spent months preparing, and the access-all-areas pass made it even easier, no wangling or sweet-talking needed.
I always see it as a success when we all go home safe and healthy, and a bonus if we all finish the race. Thankfully, all my gang achieved both, so in my eyes, Sunday evening was the successful culmination of a long road of training, preparation and sacrifice. There were some completed their first marathon, some achieved PB’s but all seem to enjoy it, if that’s possible in 20 plus temperatures. Of course, the discussion is now… Dublin, or will we sneak in another one beforehand, and by ‘we’ I really mean them!!!
I have my orange bag re-stocked, so roll-on the running calendar, won’t be as big as this weekend, but still looking forward to it – BHAA on Wednesday, Donoughmore on Thursday and Dunmanway on Sunday, and of course parkruns in between.
Congrats to all who participated.