Six weeks out from the Berlin Marathon I’m told by my trusty training plan that I should be running for 90 minutes or entering a half marathon event so I choose the half marathon. I’m already running for 90 minutes so I know a half marathon will give me more time on the road (plus I like the bling!) so I start looking for one that happens to fall on the weekend I need to run it. I looked at Dublin to begin with. I’d heard good things about the Rock and Roll event and I would get a trip to see my family out of it (they live in Cork). I asked Mum if she fancied it and this is when I found out about the East Cork Harbour Marathon.
Taking place in a small, scenic town called Aghada, the East Cork Marathon is a not-for-profit community event (proceeds go towards local initiatives and the official event charity partner, Marymount Hospice). Run for the most part by members of their local Gaelic Athletic Association and supported by the Aghada Running Club, 2017 would be their second year and, with a sell out first event in 2016, it promised to be a good one! Entirely voluntary they provide a fun filled day out with a community event where families can wait for their loved ones that are running, while being entertained with a brass band, games for the kids and catering tents where you can get a hot cup of tea.
At this point in my marathon training plan, I was a little nervous about completing a half marathon event as my training had been a bit hit and miss in recent weeks. One training run was awful. It felt like it was taking a lifetime when in reality I was only out for an hour and a half. My next long run was a dream where I even managed to beat my best 10k time. And after that I was right back to a run where I had to keep stopping and walking. I certainly didn’t feel confident that I could run this event well but I decided to just take the course one step at a time (pardon the pun!). I’d run a half marathon before and I could do it again. This was just another training run on the way to Berlin. I started the day with a tried and tested True Start Coffee and a jammy bagel and left for Aghada.
It turned out that any nerves I did have were unnecessary as the organisation of the event was incredible and put me totally at ease. From the very start to the very end everything was perfect. The sign posting on the way into the village was impecable with everything from event signs, signs that warned traffic that it was race day and to be careful of runners, car parks signs and signs that told you where the start and finish lines were.
We drove into the event area (much too early … we got there at 7.30am for a 10am start!) to see everything being set up and a bank of volunteers overseeing the parking area which was right next to the finish line. An area full of mats and foam rollers was being set up by one of the race sponsors which is a brilliant idea and one I knew I’d be using! I even got a taste of what the medal would look like when we saw hundreds of them being carried across the field into the finish tent where we would later collect our goody bags and t-shirts.
Each distance had it’s own start line so, when it was go time, I left Mum who made her way to the 10k area and walked past a few fields full of cows to wait with my fellow 13.1 mile runners. It was standing here waiting for the countdown that my nerves seemed non-existent. I felt strangely calm about running and ready to just start and get into my running rhythm. The first couple of miles took me back past the entrance to the event and across the bridge into the countryside. Where I was immediately greeted by hills. So many hills … I was a bit silly and hadn’t really studied the course elevation. Whoops!
The hills were made a bit easier by the breathtaking views and the awesome support on the course. There were plenty of water stations and super friendly marshalls as well as families who had come out to offer some high fives and cheers. One young supporter was holding out a plate full of Jaffa Cakes. FYI, if you already have a dry mouth while running, Jaffa Cakes aren’t the best snack!
The motivational signs dotted around the course were also a highlight (‘You’re running better than the government’ was a particular favourite of mine). Knowing someone had been out on the road putting them all out to amuse us added to the support! It was the little touches like this that made the event what it was. Those thoughtful things that show that a lot of attention and love goes into the planning.
I knew the hills would flatten out at mile 10 which is where we would join the 10k course, so I counted down to the moment we would emerge out onto the harbour. At mile 9 a marshall informed me that it was, ‘all down hill from here’. Yeah right, that old chestnut! I was in for a surprise was it was in fact all down hill until we cleared the trees and saw the water. I got chatting to a lady at this point who I was secretly using as a pacer (we’ve all done this right?!) and I told her that Berlin was looming. I hadn’t thought about Berlin until this point so it was a reminder that this was all preparation for something bigger.
The 3 miles along the seafront gave me something to look at which took my mind off my tired legs and I could hear the loud speaker at event base so I knew I was close to the end of race day. I ran back across the bridge where I’d passed my first mile two and a half hours earlier and, as I turned the corner and saw the finish line in front of me, I heard my name being announced. I crossed the line with my arms in the air knowing (and shouting!) that I had a PB in the bag and I was absolutely over the moon! It came two weeks after my 10k PB and 4 years after my last half marathon PB. Over that hilly course too!
I collected my medal, my goody bag and my t-shirt and was offered free burgers and drinks vouchers to refuel. The goody bag was pretty epic, the t-shirt great quality and the medal heavy so to be offered free food and drink was an amazing bonus! I decided to queue for a massage and take advantage of all that was on offer (massages come as part of your entry too).
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better day here in this small, beautiful corner of Cork, Ireland. Before we headed home I saw the lady that I had chatted to on the course and she wished me good luck for Berlin reaffirming what a friendly event this was. I can’t tell you enough good things about it and I’d go as far as to say that this was one of the best events I’ve ever had the chance to take part in. If you’re in the area or thinking of taking a running holiday (I can’t be the only one that does this can I?!) then I urge you to give the East Cork Harbour Marathon a go. You won’t regret it!
I for one would love to go back to this event again. Maybe I’ll be back to do the full marathon …