The diary of an endurance enthusiast: Gillian Cordner (Seapark AC)

Gillian Cordner (Seapark AC) shares her Clonakilty Back2Back Marathon experience:
It was Friday 15th February 2013, the day before our back to back marathon challenge; Gary Connolly (Seapark AC) and I arrived in Clonakilty, Cork (Ireland) around 5pm after a six hour drive.

My legs seriously needed stretching!  Luckily, the race pack collection was at the hotel where we were staying, so we didn’t have to venture out too far.  This was also a good opportunity to chat with the race organisers and other runners competing.  We knew beforehand that a fellow Northern Ireland runner and friend Gerard Rowe (Murlough AC) was competing on both days.  We met him and his wife Jane (Gerard and Jane along with Carol McMenamin are founders of ‘Born2Run’ events) and had a good chat about race plans/pacing etc.

After that, it was carb loading with pasta (and a sneaky pint), before preparing my race day kit and getting an early night as we had an early start on the Saturday morning, with the marathon starting at 9am.  Gerard and Jane offered us a lift to the start, this was really the start of a developing friendship over the weekend, there was great camaraderie between runners all the way!


There were a lot of runners staying at our hotel (the Quality Hotel), so it was nice being able to have a quick chat with everyone at breakfast, there were more than a few nervous faces over the tables!  This was most people’s first multi-day event, so no-one really knew what to expect.  Breakfast was porridge and a bagel, I always bring my own as you never know what hidden ingredients are in the porridge made in a hotel and I always have a fear of needing to make a pit-stop; a ‘la Paula Radcliffe at the edge of the road!

After a good breakfast, we headed off to the start at Incydoney Hotel.  I have to say the event was extremely well organised, with no hanging around, apart from at the bag drop and the marshall’s and organisers were the most cheerful I’ve ever seen.  Although, the Incydoney Hotel actually kicked us out on the Saturday and refused to let us use the toilet, which was a pain, but the organisers sorted this for Sunday and we were allowed in.  The start is beside a blue flag beach and is the most gorgeous and inspiring start to a marathon ever, it just made me want to run to enjoy the scenery!

Not having done an event like this before, I have to say that I was quite nervous standing on the start line.  However, I was more excited; I knew the training had been completed (including 80mile weeks) and knew I could run 26.2 miles no worries, but to get up and do it again on the Sunday?  I wasn’t so sure!

The marathon course was amazing and given that we had run it previously; on 8th December 2012 I was still familiar with it, so knew where the upcoming hills and even worse, the steep downhills were and had prepared for these.  We (Gary and I) had also been careful to work out strict pacing, with an aim to finish Day 1 around 4:10 and Day 2 around 4:30 – this didn’t quite go to plan however! Our training before the event had gone really well, with the only difficulty having been running at a much slower pace.  As I normally run 8 minute miles and we had been practising reducing this, with the aim of running around 9-9:30 minute miles in Clonakilty.  We certainly reduced it on Day 1 but not quite as much as planned.  Gary (Connelly) and I ran together and as we’ve trained together, this worked well.  We know when the other is struggling a bit and know what works to perk them other up! I have to say we both found the other a real strength and support during the event.

I felt really strong on Day 1 and could have pushed on harder but was expecting Day 2 to be really difficult, so I held back in an attempt to keep some energy. We ran a steady pace until about mile 23 and then I pushed on; it was a nice feeling to have kept some reserve in the tank and to be able to have a sprint finish at the end of a marathon.  I loved it! I did try to overtake a girl just in front of me but I literally couldn’t get past as the finish was on a footpath, so she finished a couple seconds in front of me.  I was not impressed! (However, I managed to get about thirty minutes on her on Day 2, so it was all good!).  I finished Saturday’s marathon in 3:52:40, with Gary Connolly following in 3:56:20.  This was faster than planned but we both felt great and had plenty of energy left so were very happy campers!

Gary, Gerard and I all met up at the finish line (I was first home, wahey for the girls!) and agreed that the course had again proved to be challenging (especially the tight hill at mile 25.5) but very enjoyable.  We all felt happy with our run but were already getting anxious about doing it again the next day!  We headed back to the hotel, quickly changed, had some food and went a short walk to stretch the legs.  I had then planned to sleep for a couple hours before heading to the Jacuzzi for a bit of pummelling of the legs but I was so excited/anxious about the whole thing that I couldn’t sleep,  so ended up just chilling out reading for a while. The Jacuzzi worked wonders on the legs though, I couldn’t have faced a massage and this was definitely the next best thing.  A late dinner of you guessed it yet; another bowl of pasta and another early night rounded off Day 1, with the first of two (hopefully) medals proudly displayed on the mirror bedroom wall.  It was strange to be going to bed sober the night of a marathon (not to sound like I have a drinking problem, but I am fond of a few to celebrate!).

Waking up on Day 2 was an odd experience.  I’ve gotten used to waking up the day after a marathon and giving myself a pat on the back…. “well done, now you can chill out today and bask in your own glory” etc etc …. Not this time, I got up, had breakfast and headed to the start line again!  Breakfast was the same again (I’m a creature of habit) and again Gerard and Jane gave us a lift to the start.

Just like Day 1, the organisation was fantastic; no hanging about, the event started dead on 9am and away we went for round two.  The marshalls around the course were awesome and there was some great spectator support as well, despite the rural course.  Plenty of locals came out to help, handing out sweets and drinks to the passing runners.  There were also guys riding bikes (part of the event team) carrying massive bags of drinks, gels, energy bars etc) and this just summed the whole event up for me.  They were so encouraging and so helpful, and it really brought a smile to the runners’ faces!  The chat between the runners was great and it was turning into one of the best marathons I had run, even though it was becoming more challenging as the course went on!

The course was the same both days, so for those runners who had run Day 1 it was a bit more familiar.  This was now the third time over the course for me, after having completed the marathon last year and also on the Saturday, so I felt at home.  I had expected to be in agony from about mile 13 but I have to say, I felt strong the whole way around.  Again, Gary and I were careful with our pacing, probably more careful than on Day 1 and kept to about 9:15-9:30 minute mile pace.  Although I felt strong, this pace felt realistic and I don’t think I could have gone much faster until the mid-way point.  It felt like my legs were taking a long time to get stretched out!  The support from Murlough AC was great, with Jane and her daughter cheering us on at several points.  I genuinely think that familiar voices and support from home always makes a difference!  I also spent time chatting to fellow runners that we’d been talking to on facebook about the event beforehand, so it was good to put a face to a name.  I found this a more sociable event than the typical marathon.

Come mile 15, mile 20 and the legs were still feeling great although the whole way round I had the feeling I’d get to mile 24 and the wheels would come off.  I noticed that a lot of runners took off at the start, at the same pace they had run on Day 1 and while it was tempting to do the same, our slower pacing proved the right thing, as from mile 13 we were passing all those runners who had just been a bit too quick off the mark.  While it was great to feel so energetic to do this, I did feel for them as there was still a long way to go!

The downhills proved trickier on Day 2, Gary had a recurring leg injury which caused him some difficulty running down hill and I’d injured my toe on Day 1 and this caused a lot of pain when going downhill.  Luckily there were only three steep downhill sections and as we both enjoy uphills, the course definitely worked in our favour.  The weather was perfect on both days, just a good temperature with a bit of rain to cool us down.  The course also has a bit of trail and the scenery was just breath-taking, so that spurred me on the whole way around.

Water stations were provided at regular intervals and the support at this was fantastic also, it really felt that everyone understood the commitment each runner had put in to this.  I reached mile 20 and felt great, it was then that I realised I was actually going to do this.  I had remarked to Gary on Day 1 that I would be so proud of myself if I completed the event, given that I only started running in March 2011 and from about mile 22 I found the experience quite emotional, which is totally out of character for me when I’m running!

The craic was great the whole way round, and Gary was a fantastic pacemaker as I have a tendency to run on and forget about pacing.  He kept us in check and again this paid off as from about mile 23 I felt that we could then push on and we did, again overtaking many runners.  This was such a good feeling, to be overtaking with strength at the end of a marathon as opposed to feeling wretched!  Several runners commented that they couldn’t believe we were so strong given we had run Day 1 also, not that we were running quick but we were finishing well.  This is not me blowing my own trumpet but is testament to the training and planning we had done for the event.

I crossed the finish line in 4:05:25 and Gary ran 4:05:54, resulting in combined times of 7:58:05 (Gillian) and 8:02:17 (Gary).  I/We were well chuffed!  As I mentioned previously, I had found the last few miles quite emotional, I felt on a real high but approaching that finish line I did have a wee tear in my eye.  I was so chuffed to have done it and felt great to have my training partner just behind, Gerard then followed closely after and we had a great celebration with his wife and daughter.  Actually, when we were congratulating each other the organisers announced that they were considering a triple marathon event next year and the three of us just turned to each other with a huge grin and agreed that we’d be up for that!

There was a lot of mingling at the finish line and the organisers congratulated everyone individually.  They were so personal and supportive at the end, it was a lovely touch.  First Aid was on hand and administered where needed and energy drinks and snacks were provided as well as tin foil blankets.  All runners finishing knew how hard the other had worked and a great chat was had by all!  We exchanged stories on the way back to the hotel; this brought a feeling of satisfaction and pride!

At the hotel, I have to be honest and say that the great plans of hitting the bar did not go quite to plan! Several pints were had during the afternoon, as we exchanged more success stories.  However, by 8pm that night my head was bouncing off the table, I was absolutely exhausted! I hadn’t, in all my planning, actually anticipated how tired I would be afterwards.   Lots of food throughout the day and an early night rounded off the day nicely.

We reflected the next day while travelling back home and felt really positive about the while event; no injuries, legs not particularly sore, but what a sense of achievement! This totally beat the feeling after running a marathon; it’s just something else altogether.  I think I’m hooked!

About a week later I was well chuffed to get a note form the organisers advising me that I had been 3rd lady home overall (the results had originally stated I finished in 4th place).  Now, I am a very proud runner who no longer feels like a newbie and plans are already underway to run Hadrian’s Wall in June 2013, another 2 day event.  I can’t wait!  I would just like to add a huge thanks to Gary for the training (especially listening to my madcap ideas about the latest event I’ve entered us for) and for the terrific pacing on both days.  He did us proud!