Thinking of running first marathon? At this time of year, people often feel it is a nice time to reflect on what was achieved or what they would like to achieve for next year. For many it may be taking up a new hobby, being more active or more present. Of course, there are those who aren’t bothered either way! For those of you thinking to run your first marathon in 2023, Blackrock A.C. gathered some insights from first-timers below. Some had done virtual ones preciously but nothing compares to the feeling of running an organised marathon race event. We do acknowledge there is nothing virtual about running 42.2km anyway!!
Special thanks to Ayse, Cristín, Gráinne, Janel, Mark, Melanie and Sarah for sharing with us! Any thoughts? Let us know in the comments below or on socials.
Ayse – My First Marathon Experience
I moved to Dublin in early 2019, and I joined Blackrock Athletic Club Fit4Life in November of the same year after a colleague suggested I join a running club to make new friends in a new country. It was definitely the best suggestion I had in a long time.
At that point, I was struggling to keep my weekly mileage steady in winter, and I was at a long performance plateau.
I joined just after the 2019 Dublin Marathon and so many of the club members had participated. There were many stories and at every run, this was the main topic of discussion. I was terrified of the distance but yet the seeds of running a marathon were sown.
After that came the pandemic and our lives changed. Rather than running, I supported the “Virtual Dublin Marathon” runners in 2020. In 2021, I was finally brave enough to run the Dublin Virtual Marathon with the support of Fit4Life. It was the first time I ran the actual distance. It was tougher than anything else I have done but it was fun. The support from the club was phenomenal and I made my mind up at that point that I would definitely run the real thing as soon as we were back to normal from the pandemic life.
Although I missed out on the 2 lotteries, I finally managed to get a place in 2022 for the Dublin Marathon. I trained hard and had a very successful training period with a new Half Marathon PB. I managed to taper well, carb load the last week, made sure I was hydrated and had my fueling plan ready for the race day. I was very excited and I was almost certain that I would be on my target if not surpass it.
Even With Great Preparation, Things Can Go Wrong
Come the race day, I started the race at my targets, and kept the 4 hour pacer balloons in sight while making sure I am not passed by the 4:10 pacers. Dublin city was full of supporters, cheering, waving, just the perfect environment for us runners. As I got past the halfway point, I noticed that my left calf was feeling a bit strange. I decided to slow down a bit, still thinking I would make it to the end with the 4:10 pacers.
When my watch buzzed for the 25k mark, I had a sharp pain in the back of my leg and I had to stop. I was still thinking it was temporary, a cramp maybe. It would be OK if I just stretched. I tried stretching, walking a bit and trying to run again but it didn’t work. I could walk, but running was not an option. Coming to terms with this reality, I lifted my head to see the street full of people cheering, shouting, clapping. I still had 17k to go, and I can see people pass me by. I tried again and again to run but just couldn’t do it. With every try, the pain was getting worse and worse and I was worried I was doing something that would lead to a long-term injury. By 28k, I knew this race wasn’t going to end the way that I hoped.
As I walked as fast as I could through the streets of South Dublin where I did all my training, I felt I didn’t deserve the cheers of the crowds, I felt ashamed and fake. I saw many friends from the club, either supporting or passing me by, telling me it’ll be alright but I was inconsolable.
For the last 5k I managed to keep a jog with a limp and finally crossed the finish line, got my medal and my tshirt.
No, I couldn’t have an uninterrupted 42.2k run, but I did complete the distance. No, it wasn’t the time I hoped for, but I was resilient, I battled the pain and finished the race regardless.
Now looking back at the race, all these emotions of shame, while I was walking, doesn’t even make sense, I now feel proud I didn’t quit. Even though I did everything by the book, training hard and giving it my all, it just wasn’t my day. I accept that there are things that are out of my control, and when these unexpected things happen, all I can do is adapt.
Today I am grateful that the injury wasn’t too bad to even stop me from walking so I was able to completed my very first marathon. 3 weeks after the race, I still couldn’t run and was nursing a stubborn calf strain, but I know I will be back. I will be back to my training routine, running with my friends again.
My first marathon wasn’t what I hoped for but I sure will keep trying until it is my day.
Cristín – My First Marathon in my Home City
I ran my first marathon in our home City, Dublin! I can honestly say I am still in complete shock, blown away by the sheer level of astronomical support the people of Dublin (and beyond) delivered on the day. A truly phenomenal experience with probably the most heart-warming surreal atmosphere I have ever encountered.
Having said that, the marathon of course is not just all about the race but the endurance built up over time to enable us to face the ever changing challenges that prop up during training. What I don’t talk about much, is how I suffered previously for years with an eating disorder, but running has always been my escapism.
It means so much more to me now after having it taken away from me for the majority of my teenage years.
It’s for that reason I initially wanted to run this marathon, as proof that you alone really can do whatever you want if you really put your mind to it! I will never take the privilege of running for granted, and this marathon training has actually enabled me to become far stronger and healthier…. Contrary to what most would assume so much running would do! But I mean….. it’s really not possible to run a marathon on empty!!!
Great Fun Training and Club Support
The training itself (apart from the Sunday long run slogs towards the end) I genuinely enjoyed, especially the Tuesday evening Tempo Sessions. The support from all of Blackrock A.C. is just out there in its own league. You couldn’t come across a kinder, more welcoming, friendly bunch of people. I had a knee injury a few weeks previously and received advice from members who are physios, or who have gone through similar issues. Then I (really really, unfortunately) contracted the flu 1.5 weeks before the marathon and spent a whole week in bed, the marathon written off. But the support and encouragement from Blackrock A.C made me confident enough to put the runners back on and give it a go after all.
On race day, I was extremely nervous (didn’t help taxi cancelled on me last minute and my family were all away, aunt to the rescue!) again, a perfect example of how uncontrollable a marathon is! Due to the flu and it being my first marathon, I had neglected any time goal, but Pat from the club said to me at the portaloos, “I still think you can break 3.30, go find those pacers”. If it wasn’t for that little push, I don’t think I would’ve believed I had a chance at that time!
Thank the Gels and the Crowds!
The marathon itself was just a surreal experience, I finally understand the ‘crowds carry you’ line, from the children to the grannies and grandads to the musicians and stewards, families and friends, almost every inch of those 26.2 miles was lined with supporters. I still believe I have the consumption of 5 gels to thank for my ability to keep smiling and continue to feel alright in the conditions…..until kilometre 37 onwards….. probably the longest 3.5km of my life until that final ‘Purple Mile’, where it was all worth it!
Overall, I would of course highly recommend the Dublin Marathon to absolutely everyone, no matter where you are in your life. It is an experience like no other and I would just love for everyone to discover the true power it has and its ability to transform your mindset.
For anyone doubting themselves, please do know you are far more capable than you think. Anyone can run a marathon, with a little prep and the right mindset. (I would recommend the Race Series Dublin Half Marathon as a little self confidence booster a few weeks out though!!)
Gráinne – Into the Unknown!
This is how I felt about the very daunting, voluntary (!), task of completing my first marathon! I joined Blackrock A.C. at the end of April this year and I’m only sorry I didn’t join sooner – it has been brilliant. This time last year I was recovering from a back injury. Running was difficult for me at the time so I gradually started to work on this but I was struggling with the motivation and consistency of training alone. I had recently moved to Blackrock and noticed the club in Carysfort Park so I signed up.
Hidden Benefits of Joining a Running Club
Related: Benefits of Joining a Running Club
My goal when I joined the club was to get fitter and stronger, not to do the Dublin marathon! From the get-go, I started to enjoy running more and more, especially the social aspect of running. The various chats had on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings during the runs made me forget about the actual running itself and progress with fitness, pace and distance soon followed. All the talk and stories about the different running experiences from fellow runners had rubbed off on me quite quickly so I started to enter races, starting with the Cork half marathon in June, the Frank Duffy 10 mile in August and the Dublin half marathon in September. Then came the big one, the marathon. The training with the group, led by Gerry, is and was so invaluable. I never would have been able to complete the marathon without it and notwithstanding the physical running practice, the advice, tips, knowledge, expertise and reassurance shared with me from fellow club members was really what got me through.
By the time the marathon day came, I felt as prepared as I could be (despite the nerves!) and I knew I had all the wisdom of the group to fall back on and use to my advantage to get me through the day. Seeing the familiar faces from the club volunteering around at the start of the race, the fellow club members running and then the club supporters along the route, made the experience feel (somewhat!) familiar and less daunting. I loved every moment of it – never would have thought I would say those words!
Don’t Feel You’re a Runner?
Before I joined the club, and even when listening to the amazing achievements of the club’s runners, I never saw myself as a runner and certainly never envisioned the day I would complete a marathon. I now understand what it means to be bitten by the running bug and I am so grateful to the Fit4Life gang and Gerry for being so welcoming and encouraging right from the start.
Related: Running for Beginners
Janel – One Step at a Time
I would find it very hard to sum up my first marathon experience. Except to say that running a marathon isn’t really about running a marathon. If that wasn’t vague enough, I’ll let you in on another secret. I actually don’t know what it was about.
When I entered the Dublin marathon lottery, I had been running for about a year with Blackrock A.C. and I had only completed one virtual half marathon. So there were 10 months of race experiences yet for me to gain. 10 months of riding a rollercoaster of emotions. 10 months of training with BAC.
Not a Natural?
I’ll be honest, it was a bumpy ride for me. Besides being 46 years old and new to running, I am not naturally inclined to run. I have no genetic advantages to speak of. And I have the inclination to take easy things and make them hard for myself mentally. And take hard things and make them miserable sometimes.
Did running a marathon fix any of this? Nope. Was it the best day of my life? Nope. Did I love running it on the day? Nope.
Would I do it again? Already signed up. Why? Well, because the experience was made of up so many tiny moments of sheer beauty along the way.
Moments of generosity. Moments of support. Moments of laughter and encouragement. Moments of relief (that usually came when I stopped running). Moments of pride. Moments of camaraderie. And many, many moments of accountability (3 times a week, baby). And those moments were found within my family, within Blackrock Athletic Club and within the community. And also within myself. To someone contemplating running a marathon, I would say that your moments will be your own and are yet to be discovered. But they will be there and it is worth the ride.
Melanie and Mark – Home to Germany for My First Marathon
I signed up for my first marathon with my partner in 2020 in Bremen: my hometown. However, the cursed Covid postponed the race for two years, giving us plenty of time “to train”. We eventually found ourselves at the starting line in October 2022. With 600 participants the Bremen Marathon is on the smaller side, but this did not impact the atmosphere and buzz around the city. Starting in the UNESCO medieval centre of town, the route followed along the river Weser, through the botanical gardens and the suburb I grew up in. The support along the route was amazing, especially of family and friends at the 30km mark where it was sorely needed. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed every kilometre of the race. The legs reached their limit at kilometre 35, but we got a final spurt of motivation when the route led us through the football stadium and our names were announced over the speakers.
I had missed a month of training ahead of the race due to injury and felt insecure about my ability to actually be able to complete the 42.2km, but if I have learned one thing, it is that you will never feel fully prepared and just need to bite the bullet and do it. The support of the club and the training runs leading up to the race were invaluable and I’m incredibly grateful for all the support and encouragement in the months leading up to the race. I remember one long run along the Dodder: I had three weeks to go and managed my longest-ever run with 31km giving me the courage and confidence needed.
I would have struggled to complete the distance by myself and am extremely grateful for the company of the club, the great chats and advice on how to use gels and what to do for tapering. It also shouldn’t stay unmentioned that Gerry stopped off along the route the night before this long run to deposit water bottles in a hedge for us. An absolute legend!
The marathon in Bremen was an amazing experience, and after being spectators and cheering on our fellow club mates at the Dublin Marathon, we decided to do it all over and join the lottery for Dublin 2023. Fingers crossed we get a place and can go through the ups and down of training, the excitement, anxiety, but most of all absolute joy of completing 42.2km for a second time.
Sarah – Little Steps, Huge Results
In 2018, I went down to the Blackrock A.C. post-marathon dinner as my husband Ted’s plus one. He had been encouraging me to take up running for a while, but I couldn’t seem to make the time. That evening, several club members such as Gerry, Patricia, Dermot, Jamie and Niamh convinced me to come to training the following week and see what I thought. I remember how welcoming the group was. Ted gave me a Christmas present of membership (at my request) and I did some – but not enough – running in 2019. I was determined to become consistent in 2020 and I did.
If you had told me three years ago that I would be running while holidaying in Greece I would not have believed you, but come August 2022 that’s what I found myself doing. Training for my first marathon meant that I needed to stick to the plan. I wasn’t confident that I was fit enough to take a few weeks off with the marathon looming at the end of October. I went out at sunrise to avoid the Greek summer heat and jumped straight into the sea after every run to cool down.
All in all, training was going pretty smoothly. Then one day in September – having been so careful not to injure myself while running – I went on a long hike, went over on my ankle and started getting some problems.
Consulting with Gerry Flaherty, the Fit4Life coach, he advised me to adjust my goal and let it be to get to the start line and then get to the finish line. He also advised pulling back on doing too much training. Another club member, Gráinne, who I met down at Seapoint encouraged me to increase my swimming, which was a great suggestion. When I successfully completed my 30km training run (followed by a lengthy soak in the sea) it was a real confidence boost – but I still couldn’t picture how I could run another 12.2km for the first time on marathon day. Several other runners reassured me that the atmosphere, supporters and buzz would power me through the last kms on the day.
One of the Best Days of my Life
They were right. It was one of the best days of my life and I was so proud to be a Dubliner running the streets and enjoying the support from the crowd (special thanks to Róisín, Imelda and Katherine from the club, and Ted, family and friends).
Marathon training requires commitment, but I can honestly say I only had one run that I didn’t enjoy in the whole training schedule. One of the benefits of being in a club is that runs are in the company of running pals. I loved having Imelda join me for some of my long runs and two years after Natalie suggested it, the three of us began meeting for weekly ‘speed’ play sessions. A consistent addition to my weekly mileage was Parkrun, which is such a good habit to be in; Run, drink coffee and socialise – the perfect start to every Saturday. Signing up for various races and chatting to other members en route or at the start line is a great way to calm the nerves (thanks Valeria!) and make marathon day itself feel way less intimidating.
To arrive to the Blackrock A.C. post-marathon dinner in 2022 wearing a finisher’s medal and having the whole restaurant clap and cheer when we arrived still makes me smile and well up as I type this. I’ll never forget the morning of the marathon, chatting to other club members – some experienced marathoners, others such as Janel and Gráinne who were first-timers like me. It was so reassuring to be part of something with others. To anyone thinking about taking up running or considering running further than 5km, I say do it because you may end up running a marathon. I’m lucky that running is a very big focus in my home because of Ted but both of our lives have been so enriched by the Blackrock A.C. running community. It is a community you want to be part of. I am extra thrilled to be part of the marathoner’s club (I do love the ring of that, Pat!) and yes of course I signed up for next year two days later.