Have you ever played the game ‘spot a marathoner’?

Mary Jennings: With six weeks to go until the Dublin Marathon, it’s peak training time for runners. Be sure to support them any way you can

As I drove through the Phoenix Park in Dublin last weekend I played a game with my son. It’s called “spot the marathon runner” and September is the best month to play. With six weeks to go until the Irish Life Dublin Marathon, it’s peak training time and the Phoenix Park is a marathoner’s playground.

Early morning starts

Weekend mornings are the best time to spot these dedicated marathon runners. If you are up early you can separate these marathoners-in-training from the regular early morning runners. The marathoners will have waistbelts or backpacks laden with drinks, gels and goodies. Some run solo, others chat in groups but almost all of them are keeping one eye on their watch so that they don’t start out too fast. With more than three hours of running ahead, pacing and fueling are key. There is a real buzz of nerves and excitement in the early morning park air as the runners fall into their early rhythm.

The buzz of the long run

As I drive past these runners, the memories come flooding back of many a September morning I spent driving into the park knowing I had an entire morning of running ahead of me. I too had those mixed emotions of apprehension and anticipation for what lay ahead. Had I ate the right breakfast and was I wearing the right socks?

We doubt everything before those long runs. But what I remember most is the beauty of the park at this time of year. The changing colours of the leaves, the nip in the morning air and the unexpected sightings of the deer signify marathon season to me. I try to explain to my son how long these runners will actually spend on their feet today. When you think about it, it is a pretty amazing way to spend a morning.

The last few miles

If you are not an early bird, you might catch these marathoners a few hours later as they have taken on board their mid-run picnic and are counting down the final minutes until they can stop the watch. After a few laps of the park their legs are now heavier, their posture has dropped and they might be feeling aches in places they weren’t expecting.

As a bystander, you can see the effort in the faces of some of these runners. Many look more tired and understandably less sprightly than three hours ago. While some runners make it look easy, for the majority there have been dips in energy and enthusiasm along the way. Most are delighted to just reach the finish now. It might make you wonder why they are doing it at all?

Why would you bother?

But there is something very addictive about this type of training. My favourite moment of marathon training is about 20 minutes after my long run is finished. I’m lazing on the grass with my post-run picnic, attempting to stretch but really just enjoying that wave of weary satisfaction that comes from my morning’s work. I replay the morning in my head, often with other members of my running group, noting the number of mini setbacks we overcame along the way. If you are still playing my marathon game, keep an eye out for marathon runners at this stage of their morning. They can generally be found near a cafe. They will be easy to spot as they hobble in with big smiles on their faces. Eavesdrop on their conversations and you will notice that there is real joy in their madness.

A shoulder to cry on

Marathon nostalgia is really hitting me now. Sharing marathon mornings with others I have always found incredibly special. We all start together and even when we drift into different paces, we have shared similar route, weather and emotions along the way. No two runs are ever the same. Some runs go great, other mornings can challenge us but each run teaches us lessons. Having others who can relate to how we are feeling and can understand the ups and downs of marathon training can help keep us on track despite the setbacks. Consider yourself very lucky if you have a coach, running buddy or encouraging family member or friend who is genuinely curious how your training is going. Some weeks they will celebrate with you, other weeks they will sympathise, but to share the journey with others can really make it easier and less lonely.

How’s marathon training going?

So if you know anyone training for an autumn marathon, be sure to ask them this week how their weekend long run went, even if you are not really that interested. The response might be a mile by mile monologue but please indulge them, just for these next few weeks. You will be supporting, encouraging and building their confidence. They have worked so hard to get this far. The last thing any marathoner needs now is new training tips, especially tips that contradict their training plan and plant seeds of doubt in their mind. So don’t be tempted to tell the marathoners what they should be doing unless they ask really do ask you for advice. With only two more long runs before they start to wind down their training, these weeks are key in building self-belief as well as endurance and any boost you can give them will be much appreciated.

Still playing the game?

So for the next few weeks, let me encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for this crazy breed of marathon runners. Be their cheerleader and give them a nod of encouragement and admiration as you enjoy your weekend coffee and stroll in the park. And if you are one of the lucky runners training right now, offer that same nod of camaraderie to other runners you see on your journey. They need a lift as much as you do. Be sure also to celebrate each of these final long runs now. There are just a few left and very soon you will be back drinking coffee in the park watching others train for their big marathon day out. So enjoy it now while you can.

These are the days you will remember long after that marathon medal is around your neck.

  • Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. She trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running.

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