The red-eye from JFK, driving on the "wrong" side of the road, (stick shift mind you), damp and more often than not wet air to greet you. It was going to be all part of the experience as I traveled back "home" to run the 40th Anniversary Dublin Marathon.
I landed three days prior to try and adjust to the time zone and climate, and prepare for the big day where 22,500 runners were expected to line up for the start around Fitzwilliam Square.
What to wear, what to eat, what to carry? Was I prepared enough? I had just broken my right foot less than three months before. Had I run too many races? I was feeling a little out of sorts, and fatigued.
Numbers and packages were picked up the day before at the RDS Expo. The latest in shoes, running gear and so much more were on display. A picture station, comment wall, a sea of sweets, plates of protein bar samples, face painting, balloon making, and displays filled the arena.
Multilayers of clothing, cut bananas, homemade vegetable juice, and plenty of water accompanied me at the start. Pacers, people, porta-potties.....AND we're off!
We were carried along by the stream of runners surrounding us on every side. No rain, the sun rising, and the crowds cheering, it was going to be a record-breaker for me. Through the Phoenix Park twice, sloping hills, historic landmarks, and winding roads. The first two hours were so easy. On target and too good to be true.
Mile sixteen I am not exactly sure what happened. My left foot began to cramp. My left knee was tingling, my stomach was cramping, and I felt like I wanted to throw up. What was happening? I was falling apart. My quads began to ache and my body temperature quickly dropped dramatically. A fleeting thought "you can always quit".
I had to find a coping strategy quickly. I would run to the next mile marker, walk for a minute, and repeat.
Easier said than done. Continuous aching, chills, pain...."YOU" have to persevere and dig deep for the reserve. You have to redirect your mind and thoughts to succeed, to finish. You have to try and find "hope" in the midst.
I started to look to the crowd of spectators along the way. The waves, gestures, the smiles. They called my name. "Come on Gráinne, you can do it." (Only in Ireland would they know how to correctly pronounce my name). The candy (sweets), cookies (biscuits), water, and energy drinks. The signs, and boost posters. The music bands and microphone. As I walked, I petted the dogs and received high fives from smiling and cheering children.
My family was supposed to be there. The last mile, looking from left to right as my body screamed "stop". That wasn't going to happen. I had come too far. Finally, I hear a familiar voice. My brother cheers and takes a quick picture as I continue to the FINISH LINE.
Did I meet the time I wanted? NO.
It's not always about the start or the time that it takes for you to do the race. It's about the experience AND actually crossing the finish line.
Make sure you don't miss out on the journey along the way.