With less than four weeks to go until the Airtricity Dublin Marathon, champion runner Maria McCambridge is in the final push of her training as the big day fast approaches.
Having raced to victory in the Airtricity Dublin Half-Marathon nearly two weeks ago, Maria is in good form.
The Letterkenny athlete also managed to win all of the Airtricity Dublin Marathon Race Series events this summer, including the five-mile, Fingal 10k and the Frank Duffy 10-mile, which meant she landed her fourth Dublin Race Series title.
"I set winning the series as a goal, and was delighted to achieve it. It was harder than I would have liked as I was sick and on antibiotics for the half-marathon but I couldn't resist running it," said Maria, who completed her first Dublin Marathon in 2008.
Maria is currently the Irish marathon champion having been the first Irish female across the finish line at the 2012 Dublin Marathon, but unfortunately lost out on winning the title to Kenyan runner Magdalene Mukunza, who ran a time of 2:30.46.
"Last year, I set a personal best of 2:35.28 and I was the first Irish back, and after not being selected for the Olympics, it made up for a heartbreaking summer."
Maria has had a heavy schedule lately in the run-up to the marathon, with the Lakes 10k in Blessington in early September and then the Athlone Half-Marathon a week later. Surely this can be tiring and taxing on the body?
"I wanted to race longer races in the build-up to Dublin. I have not been overly happy with my times in these results although winning, but I have been a bit sick and trained through them, so it is tougher than going into them fresh."
The 38-year-old started pounding the pavements seriously for this year's 34th Dublin Marathon 10 weeks out from the race, running up to a gruelling 105 miles per week
"I train twice a day most days. I do a lot of training with my husband Gary Crossan (former marathon champion), who is also running Dublin this year. He is finally fit and healthy after a really tough few years for him. I also do a lot of training with the Raheny boys who are also all coached by my coach, three-time Dublin Marathon winner Dick Hooper. It is great meeting up with them. I am a very loyal Dundrum South Dublin Athletics Club member, but at the moment I do not train with the club on a weekly basis."
Two weeks before the marathon, Maria will reduce her mileage in preparation for race day, having an astonishing eight weeks of more than 100 miles each under her belt.
"I will probably do just one light workout the week before the marathon to shake the legs and run about 40-45 miles or so in that. I like to keep as much of my normal routine as possible while reducing the volume."
To help fuel the long distances, Maria likes to bulk up on a healthy diet of pasta, rice and chicken along with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
The combination of firstly being left out of the Irish squad for the London Olympic Games in the summer of 2012, despite making the qualifying time, and then in August having being forced to pull out of the marathon event after just 7k at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, is spurring her on to win her first hometown marathon.
"I am coming off a very disappointing summer after a DNF (did not finish) at the World Championships. I honestly could not cope with the heat and my whole body was on fire, from my head to my feet.
"I have watched my husband race Dublin and become four-time national marathon champion and he always got so excited about Dublin, and his energy has definitely rubbed off. It would just be amazing to win a marathon, and to win your home city marathon would be fantastic."
However, success is all down to logistics on the day. "While I want to win Dublin – and running fast and making personal bests are a bonus – you never know what the weather will be like and how the race unfolds, but I will have a race plan and I hope that I will be able to get into a nice group of men."
On the morning of the race, Maria hopes to have eight hours' sleep behind her and she will follow a simple dietary routine.
"This year, the race starts at 9am, so I will probably get up at 6am and drink a pint of water. I'll eat a bowl of cornflakes, two pieces of white toast with a banana and a cup of coffee. I will take a power bar about an hour before the race to top up and then I will be sipping an electrolyte drink right up to the race."
Support for the runner, formerly of Letterkenny Athletics Club, will be at an all-time high around the streets of the capital city. "Last year, I felt there was people supporting me the whole way around; it was incredible. Rathgar village, which is my home village and between 16-17 miles on the route, is where most of my family will be. A huge crowd gathers there as well and I always get such an adrenaline rush that I actually have to remind myself that there are still nine-plus miles to go, so hold back.
"Lots of my nieces and nephews run along the footpath shouting at me, which is great. This year, I will have my husband, Gary, around at the start line so he will keep my nerves in check. My three-year-old son is going to be looked after by my best friend, Sharon Bradley, who is coming down from Donegal, so she will make sure he is at the finish line for me, which is a great bonus. My coach Dick will be everywhere on the course, so seeing his bright green Raheny jacket up the road always helps keep me focused."
As an elite athlete, Maria gets specific tables on the route where she can leave her drinks.
"These tables are about 5k apart and I will make sure I take these drinks on board. I will usually take three performance gels along the way and if I feel like it, I might take some water from the water stations as well."
Being a marathon champion can be very pressurising on big race days, but Maria feels this comes mostly from within and not from those around you.
"Pressure, I feel, is only what you put on yourself. Winning the Dublin Marathon is my goal and I want it badly, and I will do all that I can to reach it, but I also know that my coach has invested a lot of time and work into me, so I know he wants it for me too. And Gary is always encouraging me and often pushing me to run harder."
Worrying about injuries is something that can play havoc on an athlete's mind but Maria does her best to deal with this.
"Injuries are part and parcel of training. I do worry and I have been dealing with a very sore knee for the last couple of months, which has not been fun. I try to do the work I can by foam-rolling and core and massage."
At age 38, Maria still feels very strong and shows excellent dedication.
'Age is only a number and I honestly don't feel it. I love what I do and I am still hungry to succeed, but I need Dublin to go well for me, from a marathon perspective that is. It is a tough distance and there are so many factors that go into getting it right on the day."
Combining training, which involves muscle soreness, blisters and dehydration, along with looking after her son, Dylan, can be difficult at times for the athlete but she makes it work.
"Dylan is in a little play group three mornings a week since September, which is great as I'm able to get my longer training done while he's there, and it's nice to just do five or six miles in the evening. We often take him out on our easy six-mile runs where Gary pushes Dylan in the pram. It's great family time and we usually have a bit of play time after."
If Maria is victorious at this year's Dublin Marathon, she will be the first Irish winner of the race since Sonia O'Sullivan took the crown on October 30, 2000, in her debut marathon in a time of 2:35.42. No pressure now Maria!
The Airtricity Dublin Marathon is seeking 2013 Lord Mayor medal recipient nominations for those deemed to have either overcome incredible odds or have an unusual marathon story to tell. The deadline for nominations is Wednesday, October 16, to be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.dublinmarathon.ie