An exclusive from the North West by Mad Dog’s Mate!
Hill & Dale enthusiast, Dominic McGreevy, recently observed that the marathon fraternity within the club were having no luck with the weather. As a keen amateur meteorologist, he studies the forecast meticulously to ascertain the optimum time for effective and efficient running. Having trained in the late winter and early spring in the worst conditions in ‘Mad Dog’s’ long lifetime, the marathoners experienced unseasonal weather on race days and this has impacted adversely on performance. This was once again true as athletes assembled in Prehen for the Walled City Marathon. Several NAC runners took to the line as the sun shone and the humidity intensified, much to the disappointment of McGreevy, who had hoped that they would find conditions that would enable realisation of potential and reward for training.
Will they go under 3?
At the sharp end of the field, Higgins was on official pacing 3 hour pacing duty, with Aidan Brown aiming to run another marathon under 3 hours for a bit of craic, whilst Frank Cunningham was hoping to sub the three for the first time after 6 months of consistent marathon training. Both had availed of the opportunity after completing London in April in the searing heat and were hoping for less hostile conditions. However, they would be greeted with glorious sunshine and soaring temperatures as the morning unfolded.
He worked the crowd well
Brown and Higgins were consistent in the opening miles with Cunningham savouring the large crowds on the Craigavon Bridge, high fiving every supporter who had travelled up for the day.
Despite a long 3.5 mile haul from 6 miles out the Letterkenny Road the three men were part of a large pack who went through the half way mark in 89:20. It was at this stage the second official pacer told Higgins he was in trouble and was going to have to drop out. Normally this would cause great consternation, but NAC are an innovative and creative Motley Crue and there is always someone waiting in the wings, ready to do what is necessary for the populace.
Super sub Wonderwall
In a move of managerial genius, Higgins shouted to Newcastle’s very own super sub Noel Gallagher at 15 miles, who without prior notice emerged from the crowd, pulled on the others pacers vest and joined the sub 3 pack for the last 11 miles.
Unfortunately, as they climbed away from the Foyle out to the Limavady Road and another testing climb, Cunningham dropped back slightly and with great support from Mari Troeng and Niall King over the last few miles finished in a very respectful 3:12. With only a 5 day recovery period to his next marathon on Saturday (The Mourne Way!!!), Cunningham will no doubt break the three later this year as he becomes Newcastle’s Marathon Man.
Wonderwall was in his element as he paced the boys towards the finish. Squirting water bottles over other runners and proffering words of encouragement (most of which are not printable!); it was little wonder he was signing children’s t-shirts that afternoon as the pack maintained their 45 second margin and came in bang on the money. Super sub Wonderwall shouted and pulled running tops of slowing runners up the steep climb from Free Derry Corner to the Diamond. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat he crossed the line in a time of 2:59:39, a whole 21 seconds inside the magic three hours. Walking round the finish area with his finishers medal he was extremely proud to finally have broken three hours for the first time and was quickly declaring this to be the toughest marathon he had ever ran. Fellow runners couldn’t thank him enough for his sterling effort. Sleeping in his 3:00 pacers top that evening, he was seen in it on Monday morning running laps of Castlewellan Lake in preparation to win the parkrun this weekend, though Benoit has other ideas! Brown has brought the angle grinder home so that he can fashion a bespoke 11/26 medal for Wonderwall to proudly hang on his mantelpiece.
Higgins had enough at 24 miles, and, with his job done and unable to face the climb up to the Diamond he cut off his balloon and wished the remaining pack good luck. After thirty seconds of melancholy, he had a change of heart and decided to jog to the finish in a time of 3:04 as there was no point in not finishing. After all, a medal is a medal. This one was the size of a Frisbee and will be used by many as a coaster! A few athletes were moving away from the finish complaining of back pain die to the weight of their prize!
Brown continued on and despite throwing up in the closing miles, he soldiered on to finish in a respectful 3:02 and be in contention for the lightest man ever to complete a marathon. The Prophet, part of the touring entourage, commented, ‘he is the same weight as my right leg’!
Paddy tans and also rans
A little further back, a group of three NACs and a MAC were working at a more conservative pace, attempting to come home in just under 3 hours 45. McCann, Mathers and McGivern were joined by Aoife McVeigh from MAC and as all had trained together, they ran together – well that was the theory. McVeigh was first to feel the pressure of the conditions and despite finishing outside her goal in 3:57, she took over 20 minutes of her PB – no mean feat! McGivern, another with a previous PB well outside 4 hours was sticking to his task stoically and as the posse of three reached the Peace Bridge at just over 20 miles he was sent on by the coach. He finished magnificently and recorded a highly impressive 3:44. He was over the moon with his performance and vowed to offer a second salad for full price to all customers who paid full price for their first one! More importantly, he had the ‘paddy tan’ to remind him of his big day out with burnt shoulders and arms clearly visible on the removal of his vest. Mathers found the heat challenging in the closing stages, but kept her focus and with great resilience, perseverance and determination crossed the line in 3:48, though her watch said 3:47, (that is the time she is claiming!!!) and can be delighted to have performed so well on a day that was not conducive to fast times. McCann was ‘flying’, in a style asking to the Armagh 10, until the last four miles when he was literally at a standstill. The search party was sent out and subsequently called back in as he trundled to the line in less than emphatic style in 4:03.
Anyone fancy a pigeon?
The story of the race is only half the story of the weekend! It all began with a 6:30am departure on Saturday morning as many of the athletes had to get their parkrun fix, albeit in Derry!
Despite this being a one-night trip, there were suitcases galore packed into the back of the team car – one lady who will remain nameless brought three handbags and three pairs of shoes and used them all! The same athlete also bought a new wardrobe and will be dressing like a ‘Derry Girl’ this season.
Soon after the comfort break in Templepatrick, the convoy of two cars became one around Toome. The mystery of the disappearing car was cleared up when it was revealed that Brian McVeigh was releasing a pigeon that had strayed into his dad’s loft – apparently this does happen fairly regularly in this hitherto unknown world! Then, he met a boy close to the start of the parkrun and another bird was passed over. With the birds dispatched, McVeigh casually sauntered around the course and finished first in just over 19 minutes! The marathoners took things a lot easier and enjoyed the scenery of the peace Bridge, St. Columb’s Park and the Waterfront.
After some of the best date and walnut scones known to man, it was shopping time. Our intrepid shoppers were on the hunt for a product that has become quite difficult to source locally, cauliflower rice! Some was located in a well-known supermarket and all packets were quickly snaffled up by a single shopper. These were returned safely to the hotel and packed with the shoes and handbags!
Sure, I was in the area anyway!
After the mandatory carb loading on pasta (and who should arrive in the middle of this Italian feast – the Prophet who just happened to be passing by on his way from Castlewellan to Leitrim!), all returned for rest and relaxation in preparation for the big day. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Glenshane Pass plans were being hatched for the supporters’ road trip. Apparently there was much deep and meaningful philosophical debate between Ron and the Angels as they made their way up the road at first light on Sunday morning, armed with banners and balloons. A special word of thanks to the many supporters who made the trip and were a source of inspiration and encouragement to the runners on such a difficult day for marathon running.