I had done all the training and more this time. All I had to do now on September 27th 2008 was run the sub 4 hour marathon……There was six of us in our group heading to Berlin, Dervilla D’Arcy, Chris Burke(my Ironwomen friend), my friend Ann Moloney from Cork, Peter Strange, Chris’s mammy Mary (not running) and myself (definitely running). We arrived to our hotel late on Friday night. Tired but excited.
The plan for Saturday was a quick trip to the Expo to pick up our numbers and maybe do a little sightseeing then back to the hotel to rest. I had assumed, having heard so much about German efficiency, that the Expo would be so well organised that it would equate to a military operation. Not so!
I know 40,000 people were running but come on guys this was your 35th time running the event. The registration hall was right at the back of the Expo. As we made our way up the stairs to pick up the numbers and chips a German girl asked me had I my white slip of paper with all my details. What white slip of paper? The one you were sent in the post. None of us received anything, so we had to join a help desk queue with the couple of hundred others who had no white slip of paper either. Having queued for half an hour or so an official was asking runners if they knew their race numbers. If you had your race number and your passport you could now proceed upstairs. Thankfully I had mine. I could not believe it had been so disorganised.
Race day dawned bright and sunny, a little too sunny. Our hotel was walking distance to the start so we left at about 7.45am (race start 9.00am) to be in plenty of time. Again it proved a little chaotic because there were big distances from the baggage truck to my corral start at F. What was worse, all of our baggage trucks were in different locations. Needless to say only 3 of our group managed to stay together at the start line. Corral F ( 3.30 – 4.00 hour predicted finish) was jammed packed with people. I was physically helping people over the barriers to get in. Okay Val stay calm!
The gun went off and I eventually started running at 9.20am. My God there were just so many people. I felt I settled into the run quite quickly but the pace was slower then I wanted. My plan was to keep the pace below 9.09 minutes, but I had not factored in my 40,000 closest friends wanting to run with me. At 5 miles I remember thinking ‘shit this is a lot hotter than I thought it would be’! At this stage it was just Dervilla and I together. At the 8 mile mark I spotted an Athenry AC singlet. I said to Dervilla that we had to go over and have a chat. Thank you Peter Lowney for the miles together. Peter joined us and the three of us ploughed through the crowds together. I lost Peter at a frantic water station only to meet him later before the half way.I decided at 12 miles to push on by myself.
I went thought the half-way mark at 2.00.27. I remember turning to Peter and saying forgive me if I am a bit upset but my husband John and my boys have just been sent an SMS text with my time at half-way. I had told John that if I wasn’t under 2 hours at halfway I had blown the sub 4 hour. I don’t know if it was that thought or the mad idea that I could do a negative split in a marathon that spurred me to pick up the pace, but I felt strong in my legs, I had to keep the head strong.At 18 miles I felt great. Ok Val you are down to single figures now. I must say that the weaving in and around people was a part of the run I did not train for. At 20 miles I joined in with a German girl called Prinella. After a brief conversation she said she was pushing for 3.50 (her first marathon) and I said I was looking for a sub 4, so she said stick with me and you will get it!
I stayed with Prinella for the next 4 miles. If she got a gap in the crowd she beckoned me to follow her and if I got a gap I pulled her with me. At this stage I was running 9 minute miles. At 24 miles Prinella pulled away. I remember feeling tired but I did not slow the pace.
I found the last two miles tough. When I eventually came into the home straight I could not believe I was cutting this so close. Coming in the last 200 metres I was willing the watch not to change. I had to sprint, where that came from I do not know. The clock stopped at 3.59.43 and an average pace of 8.59. Complete disbelief! I had been especially nervous before the race in Berlin, more than normal for me. But as a good friend text me the day before the race, “nerves were a good thing because you know you are about to embark on something special”. And special it was.