It has been a busy spring / summer for me.  After each marathon I promised I would write a race report but did not get around to it.  So I decided after Cork I would do just one.  This is it.

 1st March 2009  - Malta Madness

How did I ever think that as I was going to Malta with John, my husband, for a few days, that while I was there it was a good idea to run the marathon?  It felt all wrong.  The staying in the pub too late the night before (only drinking water) not enough carbo loading, I didn’t even have he porridge sorted for the early start the next morning.

I slept really badly and when the alarmed finally went off at 5.30am I asked John would it take more courage (courage being a big part of my life!) for me to stay in the bed.  John replied that that was way to deep at that time of the morning.  Could I walk away from the run and I still would have a fantastic weekend with my lovely husband.  But no, I could not walk away!  Once I got up and put on the gear that was it, but this time I was alone.  No running buddies to support me.

Thankfully I met an English couple in the restaurant of the hotel and I asked could I tag along with them to the bus.  The bus left from Silema out to the old town for an 8.00am start.  Wheelchair athlete Gerry Forde from Blarney in Cork was sitting in front of me and a great guy Ian from the UK (35 Marathons) was sitting next to me on the journey out.

I realized that I was very much in the company of ‘100 marathon club’ runners.  Malta was a very small marathon; about 200 runners and a lot of people here were there to notch another one up.  I had met Michael and James at registration the night before with 300+ and 200+ marathons respectively.

It had been warm the day before and the expected heat did worry me a little.  The race start was very low key, Gerry was off followed a few minutes later by the runners.  We ran down out of the old town (great start to any race).  Little did I know I would be seeing a lot of that town on the hill during the race. 

My race strategy was very simple and it is much the same strategy for me at the start of any marathon.  Get the pace to 8.55 min/mile, lock it in and hold.   I have to at least aspire to the sub 4!  This I did do for at least the first 10 miles but aside from the heat it was very windy.  At mile 10 to 11 I had pushed so hard into a head wind and when I turned the corner I felt, “Wow that had taken a lot out of me”

For the first 16 miles the field was so spread out I was practically running alone.  That old town was to the left of me, to the right of me, and up ahead of me, at different times.  I realized that I was running in circles, Oh, there is the Maltese football stadium again from a different direction.  Well Malta is only 8 miles by 5 miles what did I expect!

In the marathon you use lots of different strategies to keep going.  In Malta I promised myself I could put my son Sean’s Ipod on at 16 miles.  That was going to be interesting as I had never used an Ipod in a marathon before and I did not have a clue what music he had on it.  Thankfully also at the 16-mile mark the marathon joined with the half-marathon runners.  People at last!  Okay I was now down to single figures left and the music wasn’t bad either.  I must say from miles 16 to 22 I did alright.  I knew the sub 4 was gone, it was now 24 degrees C but I was managing to cope.

The last 4 miles I was running totally within myself.  It is that part of the race where I am digging deep.  The end of a race is always a welcome sight and in that last mile I kept saying to myself you will see John soon.  And sure enough I easily spotted John.  It was over! I crossed the line in 4.09, totally exhausted and elated.

It was my first trip to Malta.  I think I expected the French Rivera but found the island quite dilapidated and run down.  The roads were very bad, full of pot-holes (much worse than Irish roads – I know, I thought that was not possible).  I would find it a difficult one to recommend, the  running was difficult on the roads at time, the route was not particularly scenic and it was so lonely.

The rest of the weekend was pure magic!!!!

19th April 2009   -  Vienna

This was my official spring marathon with my running buddies Dervilla D’Arcy and Ann Moloney.  The flight to Vienna was at 7.15am on the Friday morning, which involved a very early start.  No worries though, I still had 2 nights in the bed before the race. 

 I had organized for the hotel to pick us up at the airport and the driver agreed to take us straight to race registration.  That was fantastic because getting the race numbers is always the priority when we arrive in a new city.  We dropped our bags off at our hotel and headed out for some sight-seeing. 

 I totally enjoyed the two days sightseeing before the race.  On Saturday it was a hop on hop off bus tour, there was going to be no unnecessary walking for me.  We saw all the fantastic sights in Vienna from the Schonbrann Palace to the world famous Vienna Opera House on Ringstrasse.  We even checked out the race finish and where we would meet afterwards in the family meeting area.  (Always under ‘I’ for Ireland)

 Sunday morning dawned, unfortunately for us sunny and cloudless.  It was going to be a hot one!  We were staying at the Park Inn Hotel on Wagramer Strasse.  When I say that literally we had to walk out of our hotel on to the race start that is what we did.  It was right in front of the hotel.

 24,000 people start this race but the majority of these are there for the half marathon or the relay. At 9.00AM the race started. We headed in towards the city.  My race plan was again to get the pace under 9 minute mileing and lock it in.  This I did. But it was very warm and getting hotter. I knew the race strategy was going yo have to change. At the 9 mile mark I remember thinking “Bloody hell, this is tough going!”.   I always know the temperature is getting too high for me when I am seeking out the shaded parts of the road and especially hot when I start cooling the body from outside as well as inside i.e. water over my head!!  At 10 miles I decided I would have to change my race strategy and this was going to be a marathon I would just have to get through. 

The atmosphere was fantastic all the way along the route.  I had another opportunity to experience Vienna’s magnificent sights.  The runners were entertained with Vienna’s unique music while running.  The music of Strauss and Mozart motivated us to keep going.  And motivation was what I needed.  Vienna marathon was  a tough one for me.  I had to dig very deep to finish this one.  I found the temperatures (25C) too hot to run in.  From kilometer 27 to 39 the course was out and back.  This was pure torture as the runners on the other side of the road to me were 12 kms ahead of me!!

 The marathon finished in Heldenplaz on the Ringstrasse with its magnificent buildings, and oh what a finish!!  It was fantastic.  The crowd support that had been incredible all the way along the route just exploded here.  The cheering, the atmosphere and the music – it had all been worth it.  I finished the marathon in 4.09.  It was more than I hoped for on the day.

 Would I recommend the Vienna City Marathon, without doubt!  The Vienna City Marathon offers the classic opportunity to experience Vienna and everything it as to offer.  For many of the 24,000 runners it is comparable to a visit to a museum in shorts.

 1st June 2009 – Cork

 This marathon was definitely a bit of madness. The week after Vienna, Maura and I had been sitting out the back on my house one morning contemplating our next challenge and I said “What about Cork?” And Maura said I would fancy that one!  So that was it.  We were off to Cork!

 I always struggle with how to train between marathons that are so close together.  I needed to recover form Vienna but still needed to be running long for Cork.  I took the first week off – no running.  The following week my long run was 10 miles and the week after that I did a 20 miler with Maura, which went extremely well.  I felt pretty confident.  Then I was tapering again. 

 The crew going to Cork was Maura, my friend Chris Burke (my Iron Woman), Dervilla and Ann had decided, (it turn out to be a great decision), to run a relay marathon (Running buddies was their team name). I have to say a quick word about a relay marathon.  For those of you who think 26.2 miles are too much to run all in one go, this is a fantastic way to experience the buzz of a marathon.  This was my third time to be in a marathon when a relay was being run as well.  The relay can have from 2 – 5 runners who pass a bracelet band at specific changeover points. The final runner wears the timing chip. Most importantly there is a medal for every member of the team. And it is all about the medal!!! The relays definitely swell the numbers in the race.  In Cork and Vienna the atmosphere and support at the change over points was incredible.  Really appreciated by the marathon runners. I did not ever feel as a marathon runner obstructed  by the relay runners.

 Bank holiday Monday dawned Hot Hot Hot.  I had been feeling confident of the sub 4 after the 20 mile run and why not! Wouldn’t I have Maura and Chris on either side of me, and Dervilla for the first half.

 I have run a couple of marathons in heat.  I knew even before I started the race that the heat and PB’s do not go together.  The race strategy here was to get down to 8.50 min/mile and then lock the pace.  But at 6 miles I was still running 8.54 min/mile (I usually have race pace locked in between mile 3 – 4).  I was struggling to run faster.  Then I just switched my thinking and knew I would be lucky to finish this marathon at all. I was going to run for as long as I could under 9 min/miles.  Maura pushed on, so Dervilla, Chris and I stayed together.  The heat was unrelenting, I was glad of the shade the Jack Lynch tunnel afforded, who cared about the hill out of it. 

 The next 3 miles through Mahon and Blackrock were shadeless.  As I have said in previous reports I know I am under pressure when I have to cool my body from the outside.  I was throwing water over my head and running through spectator’s gardens hoses at every opportunity.

 I always love running up the Marina in Cork harbor; it’s a beautiful part of Cork.  I especially loved it today as it was completely covered in trees.  We were half-way.  Oh, my God, I had to do this again for another 13 miles.  We were close to Devilla's change over point to Ann at 13.9 miles (I know race not split 50/50).  I could tell that Dervilla was pleased her part was over.

 On Chris and I went.  I remember feeling ok from miles 14 -1 7.  It was especially great to meet an old friend Geraldine Curtin marshaling at mile 15.  Thanks Ger for the encouragement.

 The second half of the Cork marathon I think is tougher.  It is hillier and although the ‘straight’ road has been shortened it is hard going.  Chris and I wound our way through the suburbs of the south side.  We are two Cork women on home turf.  On the Model Farm road, between miles 19 – 20 I was digging very deep within myself.  My Mum and dad were going to be just beyond the 20 miles mark to support us.  I wanted to look strong passing them.  They had never seen me run in a marathon before.  When we met them both Chris’s and my parents were together.  I could have cried when I saw them.  I ran over to them.  My Mum said ‘How are you Val” I replied ‘Mum I am F*****” (I must have been bad to curse).

 At mile 21, I told Chris to go on, I had to walk.  Walking is always a tough blow.  I needed now to be by myself, every part of me was screaming to stop this madness.  I was screaming back at myself to cop on, push on, “Strong Arms, Strong Legs, Strong head”  I kept repeating it.  Knowing all the time it was the head I needed to be strong now, that was going to get me to finish.

 I walked a further 2 times and at mile 23 I decided there was only a 5 km in it and then this torture would be over.  Push on Val,  that is what I did.

 It would be hard for a lot of runners to believe that some races are not about time.  I had decided very early on I didn’t care about the time, I was a much greater person for just finishing this.  It would have been easy to stop.  The courage was in carrying on.  So carry on I did. 

 I have had some amazing race finishes in some amazing cities in the world but Cork is home and that support on Patrick St. (Pana if you are local) was fantastic.  I loved every step I ran down ‘Pana” My son Kelan ran out of the crowd and grabbed my hand.  The tears were running down my cheeks.  Life did not get much better than this.  We crossed the line together, it was the best finish I have ever had in a marathon. And oh, the time was 4.14…

 I let some very inspirational people lead me to success on Bank holiday Monday – Maura for encouraging me to go for it in the first place. Chris Burke for being by my side for 21 miles, you are a true friend! The woman pouring 2 water bottles over me on the straight road, the drumming band at mile 23, the Cork woman who told us she was not here to see Sonia she was here to see us, John Buckley of Buckley sports at mile 26, Chris’s Mum and Dad at mile 18 and 20.  My own Mum & Dad at mile 20. (Hope I didn’t scare you too much Mum). My great friend Dervilla D’Arcy who helped me in that last half mile.  I owe you one!  The fantastic crowd on Patrick St.  Andrea Keanneally shouting at me with 100 meters to go.  John and my boys for waiting in the heat for me.  My son Kelan for holding my hand crossing the line.   My friend Ann Moloney with a welcome hug when I crossed the line, tears flooding down my cheeks.  Ok so I did not get the sub 4.  All these people lifted me up and showed me what was possible.  I achieved much more!

Thursday the 5th. .