The great thing about running is that eventually, unless you’re really unlucky, it gives you back what you put in and more. Sunday 27th October, the occasion of the 40th Dublin Marathon, was absolutely one of those days with PBs (personal bests) all over the place. The weather for the last week of October was almost as perfect as it can be for marathon running, cold at the start, only 4C, but sunny, not a cloud on the sky, and a light north-westerly – so ok it wasn’t flat calm, but given the conditions we experience in this part of the world, it was as good as.
Merrion Square in Dublin is like you never ever see on this weekend over the year. It is thronged by people with one thing on their mind – excitement, trepidation, torture, the pain? It’s the marathon, there’s no easy way, whether you’re on your feet for less than 2 and a half hours or over 5 hours… it’s a challenge for every single participant. Then there’s the hundreds of marshals and officials and helpers with thousands of spectators, the well-wishers along the way. It is a celebration of humanity…
Eoghan Totten is 26 – it’s as if he was waiting for this moment for all his life. He started running at school – “I’ll never be better than those guys – couldn’t make the top ten’. Long runs the fox. Over the 12 years since he started he improved. He was a slow developer, maybe among the slowest, but slowly and surely, one by one he left them all behind. Currently in the final year of his 4-year PhD modelling earthquakes (or something like that) at the University of Oxford, he runs on average across the year 95 miles a week. His day starts with a 6am alarm call, running by seven, 10miles in by eight and at work by nine. A second run at 6pm, fed and watered and a good night’s sleep – the cycle is mind-numbing and it might be said that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. That’s at least 3,650 days.
In February 18 he ran 66 minutes and 15 seconds at the Barcelona Marathon and a few weeks later he ran his marathon debut at London with 2:26:32 and 10th overall – he was inside 69 minutes at half way but the heat destroyed his pace – it was officially 24.9C in the shade on the Mall, meaning that it was approaching 30C on the road in the crowds, not a cloud in the sky and not a breath, the warmest London Marathon on record. Making the mistake of many athletes, he didn’t recover properly after that and ran a poor 2nd marathon in Frankfurt in October 18 in 2 hours 40minutes jogging home. After a sensible 2 month break he got back to work in January 19.
Running outside 15 and a half minutes at the Armagh 5k showed that he was recovering from a long way back. However, he had 10 years of work behind him and it was only a matter of awakening all that hard work and building on it. In May he ran a big PB of 14:18 for 5k in Ipswich in the English Champs and followed this up a fortnight later with a road PB 30:11 in the Vitality London 10k. In early July he ran a track 10k PB of 30:21.5 in the Highgate Night of PBs. Then 3 weeks later he was out kicked for the bronze medal finishing 4th at the Irish Track 10000m Champs in Dublin in 30:25.5. So things were on track for a ‘big’ autumn marathon and he prepared well with a 66:53 at the Copenhagen Half-Marathon in mid-September. Whilst 38 seconds outside his PB from 18 months earlier, conditions were very windy and he knew he was rounding into lifetime PB marathon shape.
The final piece of the jigsaw was a commitment to his coach that for the first time in his life he would run the 2nd half of the race in Dublin faster than the first half. Let’s guess that maybe in approaching 100 races in his young lifetime that he had never managed this – would he be able to change the habit of a lifetime? Up the hill from the Liffey into Phoenix Park and out to Castleknock provides the best opportunity to do this and sure enough, he went through 10k in 33:22 (5:23 mile pace). HIs target was a consistent 5:18 pace that would take him home in just under 2 hours and 19, over 7 minutes inside his PB. Was he feeling the pace already? No, it turned out that nature called and he had stepped to the side of Chesterfield Avenue in Phoenix Park to dehydrate a little. The second 10k is natural quicker as it is a net descent to the Liffey and Grand Canal just past Dolphin’s Barn. His 2nd 10k was covered in 32:18 (5:12 pace) and he reached half-distance in 69 minutes and 10 seconds, inside his 69:27 target but ‘feeling good’ and ready to go to work.
His next 10k to 30k was covered in an equally swift 32:06 (5:10 pace) and he was literally scything through the field now. The 4th 10k of the race is where many an old sweat will tell you that the ‘race really starts’ and in Dublin, it is an undulating 10k with the first bit being kind of favourable then the is the mile ‘climb’ to top of Foster’s Road at 22 miles and then the steady descent to 24 miles. Totten was flying now and feeling stronger than he had ever done in his life and he ran a brilliant 31:11 (5:02 pace) for the 4th 10k taking him through to 11th overall in the marathon and 5th Irishman. To put this section in perspective, he ran two times 5k between 19 and 25 miles in the marathon at a pace faster than he had managed for a one-off 5k in Armagh (in the fastest road 5k in Ireland each year) only 8 months earlier. He put the icing on the cake by demonstrating that he had ‘emptied himself’ in the second half of the race by finished hard but wrecked (5:17 pace for the last 1.4miles) to come home in a massive 11 minutes PB in 2:16:08 – a big club record and a tremendous achievement. His second half at was times at 66:58, only 5 seconds slower than his Copenhagen Half 5 weeks earlier and only 43 seconds outside his Half PB. He knows now that respecting the marathon distance to half way is the key to unlocking success.
What next for Totten? Well, recovering well is first and after that? His big goal is to reach the Olympics and that probably means that Paris 2024 and running inside 2:11 to get there – after his 2:16 that’s not much more than 10 seconds per mile. He has the ability, there’s no doubt and along the way he will have the support of the people who matter. The ‘wee boy from Greenhill Park in Newcastle’ has a lot more to give and will not be found wanting in his work ethic.
Irish Championship Team Bronze
The club is now over 38 years old this year and along the way has had many championships to celebrate. On the mountains there’s been Robbie Bryson, one of the best race climbers on his day in the world back in the late 80s and early 90s, and Dermy McGonigle, twice Scottish Mountain Running Champion. Today there’s Seamy Lynch current Irish mountain running champion and of course Zak Hanna, only 23, and a brilliant 6th place in this year’s mountain world cup series. In cross-country there was the toughest of the them all 7 times NI Champion and sub-29 10k runner Deon McNeilly and Kerry O’Flaherty 6 times Irish representative at the European Cross-country Champs – with the pinnacle of her career being at the Rio Olympics in the Steeplechase – plus nearly 30 times representing Ireland including at the World Champs in Beijing and European Individual and Team Track Championships. And there’s been many more titles and medals along the way.
There have been dozens of brilliant achievements and at Irish Senior level many individual medals but never a senior team medal. This year in Dublin though, this was ‘put to right’ by the brilliant showing of Totten, Higgins and Gartland. Patrick Higgins had run a massive PB in Berlin on 29 September of 2:32:27, 4 minutes inside his best and now only 4 weeks later he was back on the line in Dublin. He set out with intent on bettering his Berlin time but early stomach cramps were maybe a blessing in disguise and he eased back a little and instead focused on the two City of Derry Spartan vests alongside him, knowing that they might be the biggest rivals for team bronze. It was all about survival and he produced another brilliant performance of 2:37:57 (6:02 mile pace) digging deep knowing the every second would count. He was delighted to complete his sixth Dublin Marathon in a row.
Then there was JP Gartland – a masters runner who belies the fact that he is over 40 years of age, he is going from strength to strength. He ran London Marathon in April in 2:45:29 – ‘devastated’ he said, all that work and no reward – it was still a quick time but he promised to come back and ‘right the wrong’. After 2:38:18 he crossed the finish line at Dublin to record a massive PB of more than 7 minus and indeed ‘right the wrong’ and get the reward all his hard work deserved. He now has his attention focused on produced a ’sub 6:00’ marathon PB (2:37:25) and after Dublin that’s a real possibility.
So had Totten, Higgins and Gartland (THG) reached the podium of the Irish Marathon Championships? The powerhouses of Irish Marathon running are the North Dublin clubs of Raheny Shamrocks and Clonliffe, however, the 3rd place is an almighty scrap from the four corners of the island. The biggest rivals to the Red & Yellow came in the form of the City of Derry Spartans who were led home by the 2:22:22 from Kyle Doherty. Sat in the traditional rendezvous-vous spot of O’Donoghues Pub in Merrion Row, legal eagle Higgins was avidly scouring the results on the Dublin Marathon app on his phone trying to ‘do the maths’. It looked more than likely that THG had done it but frustratingly it was another 24 hours before the abacus of the race organisers produced the result and yes it was a stunning bronze for the Red & Yellows ahead of the Spartans and another chapter in the history of the club written.
Top Secret Training
Having spent large parts of the summer training on his own this year Aidan Brown had followed a ‘top secret’ training programme attempting to obtain the time that had eluded him for so many years. A 2:56 best in the London Marathon in 2016 was his best before now. Brown went through the first half comfortably in 1:22:30 and all supporters hoped that finally this would be his year. Running a negative split of 1:22:22 he smashed his PB by 12 minutes and came in fourth club man in an extremely impressive 2:44:52 obtaining ‘championship status’ in the process for the London Marathon next year. Earlier in the week he had declared that there would be no marathons in 2020, inside 48 hours post-Dublin he had already booked the Berlin Marathon for September next year.
Mountains, Water Coolers & Get Out Hard
Next club man home was Luke McMullan (in his Dublin club Rathfarnham colours) in 2:53:48 for another PB (it helps that it was also his first marathon). Mountain specialist was just off his best ever season on the hills where he secured the Leinster League title with some great victories along the way. Doubtless he has faster marathon times in him if he is able to deal with the lack of undulation.
Making his marathon debut James King went out with every intention of breaking the three hour barrier. King is only a recent convert to running. Working for the local council, King met the local Hilltown club stalwart at the water cooler one morning and mentioned that he was going to ‘do a park run’. Early the following week he revealed to the startled Mussen that he has subbed 20 minutes in the Castlewellan ParkRun – now that’s talent for someone only starting. After touring every road between Rathfriland and Ballykinlar this summer, King is testament to the fact that hard work and determination (and sometimes a degree of not knowing how hard it’s going to be) does truly pay off. King ran an extremely impressive 2:54:16 debut comfortably finishing well within the three hour barrier, setting himself up for a bright future with youth on this side.
Frank Cunningham is also young but by now a veteran of many marathons. He finally broke the 3-hour barrier in Dublin last year (2:57:07) and all guns blazing went out at breakneck speed in Berlin in September this year. However, he had a tough second half and was a little disappointed to come home in 3:01:05, ‘but I learned a lot’. He learned so much that he stepped onto the start line of the Dublin Marathon only 4 weeks later. Going out hard again, Cunningham went through the first 10 km in a time of 39:57, a time he would have been proud of in a 10k race only a few years ago. He was through half way in 84:33 with the effects of Berlin starting to tell in his legs. Nonetheless he finished strongly to take a minute off his PB with an impressive 2:56:05. There is no doubt he is capable of sub 2:50.
Sean Russell finished 10th overall in the Hill & Dale series but wanted to give this marathon lark a go too. So he made his marathon debut in Dublin, switching to a road focus this summer. Juggling training sessions and child care duties with his wife Orla, who was also training for Dublin, certainly made for a busy summer in the Russell household as they prepared for their romantic weekend getaway. Going through halfway in 85:46 Russell was still on schedule to break three hours with two miles to go. Unfortunately cramps over the last 2 miles set in and there was little he could do but watch the clock tick by. He still came home in a respectable debut time of 3:02:03 and Russell has already started planning his training for London in the spring when he will undoubtedly break the three hour barrier with his positive attitude and hard work ethic (congrats also to Orla on coming home in 4:47 for a sub 11:00 pace clocking).
A 3-hour Obsession, Five in a Row, the Sandwich King, the Butcher and the Photographer
Noel Gallagher (WonderWall WW) was next home in 3:10:45. Suffering from chronic achilles tendinopathy no one except himself expected him to be on the start line. “I just wanted to be there for the craic” he said. so he turned up and set off at a ‘craic’ pace? No absolutely not. Despite a long held ambition of getting inside 3 hours, surely today would not be the day he would do it? He had trained, to say the least, sporadically, more on than off. So WW set off at 6:50 pace (42:25 to 10k) and then 1:24:10 at 20k (6:47 average) crossing halfway inside 1:29 and well inside 3 hour pace… oops. Inevitably it would be a tortuous second half and by 20 miles he had drifted overall outside 3-hour pace. At least he had learned in previous marathons and he eased back sensibly over the final 6 miles and didn’t need the wheelchair at the finish this time. 3:10:45 – 2020 will be his year of the sub 3:00 providing he gets himself a half-decent coach and listens.
Running his 9th Dublin in a row Niall King continued his annual pilgrimage down to Dublin. Whilst some runners in the camp get nervous beforehand King always manages to settle the nerves of team mates and put everyone at ease. King had earlier this year ‘enjoyed’ the Boston Marathon where he came home in 3:25:25. In Dublin he went through halfway in a time of 1:33:56 and continued on for an impressive 3:11:16 and a big PB. This was his 5th PB in a row, or better known as his drive for five and talks have already switched to how King might make the ‘Amen for Ten’ and some point in the future.
Drumaness’ finest Franky McGivern only took up running relatively recently having given up ball sports. He turned to guru Joseph McCann for training advice and what can only be described as a rapid increase in performance output followed. McGivern stormed home in the Belfast marathon in May in 3:26:23 and felt so good that he approached Coach to ‘get going again’ in preparation for Dublin. Coach’s daytime profession afford him a lot of time ‘out of the country’ during the summer months so McGivern turn to Logistics Consultant Lorna Cunningham to plan every detail of the long Sunday runs in preparation for the last Sunday in October. Race day came and Coach McCann had set the metronome at 3:17 pace and off McGivern want – 1:38:30 at halfway he showed that consistent hard work and planning pays off with a 1:38:23 second half to register 3:16:53 and a massive 10-minute PB.
John ‘Butcher’ Kelly ran an amazing 2:57:49 marathon in London in 2015 at the age of 55 and these days runs more for fun and less for pain. He came home in 3:14:58 in Dublin and enjoyed every step of the way (almost) and is threatening to ‘come out of retirement’ to set an ‘age 60’ best in 2020.
Honourable mention also goes to Paul Fegan, better know these days for his photography skills in all of the club promotions and more. Fegan was required to stop running some years back but has been able to get back to some long-distance walking. He got round the Dublin course in an official 6:08:31 – congrats.
Race Report by BOGBOY