Turtle or hare, a marathon is more than just a run
A visit to a local running group was the start of a journey of discovery
Four months ago I walked into a clubhouse on the outskirts of the small town of Dunleer and stepped into a whole new world - the world of marathon running.
I went there on a whim, or rather on the random advice of a friend who knew I'd taken up running. He told me there was a 'guru' in Dunleer I should meet. "He'll sort you out," my friend promised.
On that first Wednesday night I was like a fish out of water as the 'guru' put a large group of men and women through a fun-filled warm-up before dividing them into two groups: turtles and hares.
"Turtle or hare?" he asked me.
"Hare?" I said.
He looked me over and said: "OK, off you go with that group. Six miles, just follow them."
And that's how my marathon journey began - a six-mile loop around peaceful country roads at a leisurely pace. That was my introduction to Team Carrie and its inspirational leader, David Carrie. Today I am one of 19,500 people taking part in the Dublin City Marathon. It's the 37th staging of this iconic event, and with a record entry it has grown to become Europe's fourth largest marathon.
Running a marathon was not on my immediate horizon. In fact, the truth is that, like many people, I found the idea of running with others intimidating, afraid that I wouldn't keep up with them and fearful I wasn't able for it.
As I was to discover, these concerns have no place in Team Carrie. Everybody has their level and we were all encouraged to run free and be comfortable at our own pace. "There's no times posted here," David would say. "Run your own race."
The Wednesday gatherings in Dunleer quickly became central to my week, and the idea that I might actually run the marathon took hold. Whatever happens today I will look back proudly at the last few months and my accomplishments along the way: the half-marathon, the first 15-mile run, the 20-milers and the feeling of just tipping along on those long runs and saying to myself, 'I'm really enjoying this'. I have got so much more out of this experience than just preparing for a marathon.
Yes, there were times when I pulled into the car park on a Wednesday evening when I just wanted to turn around and go home. But I never did, and I look back now and know for certain I would forever have regretted it if I had. When the Wednesday runs were finished, we all gathered for tea and cake and swapped stories before David and others would offer that week's advice. The atmosphere was always electric. It's difficult to describe the depth of the positive energy in that room every week - all I can say is that it has had a hugely positive impact on me and my life. I fed off that energy for the rest of the week.
"That's why Wednesday is so important," says Aileen Carrie, David's wife. "Getting there, and being with everybody and listening to everybody. You're not on your own. When you drive in and you're after having a shitty day, it's not all to do with you in that shitty day because it's work or whatever else, but you go in there and you're doing something 100 per cent for you. Everybody else is going in there with that same attitude too, so suddenly it's different."
All of us who line up this morning at the start on Fitzwilliam Square are doing it for our own reasons. Some, like David Carrie, have lost count of the number of marathons they have run. Many, like me, are running the 26.2 miles for the first time. After today, some will never run another marathon; others will kick on and do one more, or many more. I don't know yet which category I will be in, I just know that it has been a great journey so far, one which I think has brought out the best in me.
"It's the one thing on the bucket list for an awful lot of people, running the marathon," says David Carrie. "I think in layman's terms, when it comes to athletics, there's the 100 metres, the mile and the marathon. What have you done for 100? What have you done for a mile? And did you ever run a marathon? They're the three questions you'll always be asked. It doesn't matter about 5k or 10k."
Carrie, a former international athlete and national marathon champion, admits he didn't always appreciate this side of running.
"I actually couldn't understand why people were just running or jogging," he says. "For me, you had to be pushing yourself to get something out of it. That all changed in 2009 when he was asked to be one of the pacers for the Dublin marathon.
"I've been running all my life and that was the first time I wasn't competing, I was pacing. I never enjoyed a race as much. I wasn't running for a time . . . there was 25 or 30 of us and they were all chatting away. It was a different side of running than I'd seen before.
"It was the first time that I could see that for an awful lot of people it's about taking part and that they all have their own goals. I realised then that it's not just about winning - you can only have one winner, but everyone can take part.
"I got so much satisfaction at the finish from all in the group being so happy. The following year I decided that I'd set up my own marathon group, train them up from the same programmes and plans that I'd been doing, design the schedules and see how it goes.
"The first night we went up there, there was 18. I wondered, 'What are we going to do with them? That's a football team'.
"So we pressed ahead, and within three or four weeks we had 25-30 people. In that first year 38 ran the marathon."
The furthest Aileen had ever run was a half-marathon but she was one of the 38 in that first year of Team Carrie, despite having vowed never to do it. "I couldn't see how you could put two half-marathons together," she says.
"I was the elite runner," says David, "and Aileen was the runner just taking part. So I think that was a good combination for the group."
In the second year, there were enough runners to fill a double-decker bus. As the group prepared to leave Dunleer on the morning of the race, a passer-by asked Carrie where they were going. He shook his head in disbelief when told they were going to run a marathon. "And what's more," said Carrie, "we'll fill two double-deckers next year."
The man bet €100 and, the following year, Carrie collected on the bet, which he added to that year's charity collection.
That's another side to what Team Carrie is about, raising money for charity; so far over €240,000 has been gathered in six years, and Team Carrie is now the largest training group running the Dublin marathon.
Over 130 of us will be scattered through the field today. In the last few weeks, as the day drew ever closer, we got our final preparations in as a group, but also as individuals.
I have taken all the advice on offer every Wednesday night and tailored it to my own needs. I suspect we all ultimately do the same. In the process, I've learned a lot about myself; I've learned to enjoy pushing my boundaries.
In the last few days I've thought of that great quote about running: If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.
Last Wednesday night we gathered at the track in Dunleer one last time - at least for the class of 2016 - and ran a mile as a team. The atmosphere was electric, charged with nervous anticipation. I wasn't the only one smiling as we did our laps.
"We started together and we'll finish together," roared David into his megaphone. Today, in the true spirit of Team Carrie, I will put my heart and soul into it.
I will finish the job.
Sunday Indo Sport