Well initially even the thought of me doing a marathon was not a thought that I entertained even for a fleeting moment. I was one of those people that were too busy even to go for a walk. I would come home late at night, eat a big meal and then go to bed stuffed. I started last January (2006) to go for a walk after dinner to lose some weight and feel better. I started out doing a 2.2-mile walk, which circled my house. I would time this to give me an incentive. I even got shin splints. I did this for a month but my times were the same and it was starting to get monotonous.
I then started to run in short slow bursts. I took a new route in March 2007 up a hilly forest walk to a viewpoint 2.5 miles each way. I would run and then walk. This went on until June and I could then run it the whole way without stopping. I did this 3 or 4 times a week for 5 months but again I got bored and needed a goal and also a challenge. I started reading running magazines and in one of them called Running Fitness was an article looking for 1 person from every County in Ireland to represent the Country at the Atlanta Marathon on 25th March 2007. I sent Bob O' Sullivan (The brains and organizer behind this idea) an e-mail expressing my interest thinking nothing would come of it.
In November 06 Bob rang me and told me that I was the only person that had not run a marathon and for this reason I was chosen. I was delighted but also very apprehensive. What if I could not do it? Everybody else will be better than me and I can only run 8 miles and that is a struggle. We were raising money for a children's hospital in the process as well. I got a training schedule from the Internet and stuck to it rigidly.
On December 30, 2006 I did my long run and first 20-miler. I went out on new years day to do some speed work and pulled up after 100 yards with an injury at the top of my right thigh. I went to a sports osteopath 1 week later as it was getting no better. He told me that I had a shortened tendon and it would have to stretch. He fixed this and on my third run back my groin went. I rested it and went for weekly sessions with the osteopath. I took it slow on my return but my knee was very troublesome and would swell up and stiffen. I went back to the osteopath and he told me I had cartilage problems and told me to rest for 2 weeks. I did this but to no avail the knee was no better. I asked him could I still run on it. He advised me to not to and to look at another goal at a later date. I asked him would I do permanent damage if I ran on it? He told me that the body would shut down and the pain would be too great to continue. I told him I was going ahead with it and he told me he would work with me on it to get me through. I got tablets and gel that they use on horses to alleviate the pain.
I was fine until I went over the 13-mile mark and then the knee gave real problems. I got my 2nd and final 20-mile run done at the start of March at a real slow 3.40 and I was in agony. My knee was seized up and I could not move it. I could not even do a warm down. I thought in my mind that I would never finish it. I then got anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce the swelling and took them daily. This seemed to hold it at bay and I only trained on the treadmill to reduce the impact.
We all flew out to Atlanta on March 22, 2007 to very high temperatures. We were treated like VIPs the whole trip and had a great time. We went for a training run on the 23rd. It was very hot and the air very heavy. I thought to myself that this would be very difficult to run in. On the morning of the race we got up at 4am to prepare ourselves for the race at 7am. I was very nervous about not only the heat and the course, as it was very hilly especially from 17 onwards. It was 58 degrees at 7am with temperatures for the day rising to an all time record high of 87 degrees for that particular date.
I conserved my energy and started slow as I had been told to take it easy for the first 16/17 miles. The support was tremendous around the course and I was waving and clapping them and was feeling slightly better. I was still worried about my knee and the hills and heat.
There was no energy drinks after the third station, which did not help. I took the gels on offer at intervals but they nearly made me sick.
I felt good until mile 20 and then I started to hit my wall. The heat was getting intense, never had I run in such high temperatures. I put my head down and thought about going back home and saying I didn't complete it. This was not an option. I kept running. My knee was very sore so I took another couple of Tylenol that I had got from Paul. At mile 24 came the dreaded hill, up Peachtree just beside our hotel. I had walked this just yesterday but it was not the same hill that I effortlessly walked without noticing its gradient. I put my head down and refused to look at its never-ending summit. It just seemed to go on and on. It felt like 22 miles not 2.I couldn't reply or acknowledge the shouts of encouragement. All my energy was concentrating on running (if you could call it that) and putting one foot in front of the other.
I reached mile 25, nearly there I thought, a lot of people were walking and it sure looked a nice option but I had told myself all along I had to run a marathon not walk. It was just me personally that had to do it and I told myself that tomorrow I could rest but not now, this was a life achievement and I could not look back thinking I could have done better. My goal was to do this even though I doubted I really ever could achieve it. I got to 25.2 and the shouts told me I had only 1 mile left. They had to be wrong there was no way I had only ran .2 of a mile the pain felt like at least a mile. I kept my head down and looked up occasionally to see if I could see the finish line where I had started in the dark of the early morning hours beforehand but to no avail, it was not there. I struggled on hoping to see my holy grail.
I saw a gantry in the distance and I hoisted my Ireland flag that I had around my neck throughout above my head in triumph. The elation and relief was intense. My joy turned to devastation as I realized it was the camera and photographers gantry. I took my flag down in despair and kept running. I passed the gantry and then I saw it.
'FINISH' I could not believe it I got a burst of energy and was revitalized. It was like all my pain and tiredness were gone. The elation and exhilaration of seeing them 6 letters was amazing. I again hoisted the Irish flag with the Co Fermanagh crest in the middle of it above my head and raced towards the finish. I was drained but whatever I had left in my reserves came to the fore and my sense of achievement and pride took over. I had finished a marathon in 4hrs 20 minutes. I had not felt this good since the births of my children. I HAD RUN A MARATHON!
Nine years ago I had cancer and the chemotherapy damaged my lungs. I never thought that I could run 26.2 miles. I was on cloud nine. This was a life achievement. They say your first is your best. This has to be true because I could never feel this good again. Could I? We'll see with my next one as soon as I get my knee sorted. I cannot wait.