Thursday, November 17, 2016

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Dublin Half Marathon

Delays.  Sigh...
My trip to Ireland was going to be a QUICK one.  Direct flight out of JFK straight to Dublin on Friday, with a return on Sunday.  We had a bit of a delay leaving JFK (not surprising, considering it was Friday evening) and arrived the following morning at around 8:00am. With the 5K happening at 11, I wanted to get into town as quick as possible, knowing my public transportation option (the Aircoach 700 route) would take thirty minutes and ran every fifteen.  And then I encountered customs and passport control.  Holy geez, the line was long.  Even as I ran down the terminal to make it to the queue, I was clear in the back, and the line had snaked around several stanchions.  Thankfully, despite the length of the line, I got through in about 25 minutes, and made it into town to bring my bags to my friend Zach's room at the Westin with enough time to spare for us to take a taxi to Phoenix Park.  The taxi took us down Chesterfield Avenue in the park, and dropped us off at the circle drive at the monument in the middle of the park, where the road closure started.  We walked past the startline all the way to the finish festival (a small distance away which seemed like forever of a walk!) and retrieved my bib, and then met up with the rest of the Black Sheep Run folks who were in town for the weekend to run the race with about ten to fifteen minutes of time before the start of the race.
Startline selfies!
5K startline
The entirety of the 5k was run inside the confines of Phoenix Park, one of the largest, if not the largest walled urban park in Europe. It's 1,750 acres includes large areas of grassland and tree-lined avenues, and since the 17th century has been home to a herd of wild fallow deer.  I was a little worried about how this would feel as it was my first run since the ultra marathon, but thankfully as a 5K, I wouldn't be putting too much pressure on my legs for too long of a time to test things out.  We took off down Chesterfield Avenue under the cloudy sky, immediately turning left down Furze Road, then left again onto Upper Glen Road, where we got to run downhill for a bit of a distance.  I took my first walk break at about the 1 mile mark, just about nine minutes into the run.  We made super sharp right turn as we continued downhill on a windy path that then gradually went back uphill at about the halfway point of this 5k.  We turned right onto Knockmaroon Road, which took us on a pretty treelined street that nearly met back up with the intersection of Furze Road and Upper Glen Road.  It was around here where the sky started to open up a bit and we had a little rain, but it was barely a drip as we headed up Ordnance Survey Road, taking us back toward Chesterfield Avenue where we turned right and headed straight to the finish line.

Running the 5K through Dublin's Phoenix Park
Packet Pickup at Trinity College
I completed the 5K in just over 30 minutes, which was great, considering it was my first run back, and I met up with the group shortly thereafter.  With the limited amount of time I had to tour around town, I was rushing to figure out a way out of the park because of the street closures.  I followed the group on a route through the north side of the park that would take us through a tall grassy area, seemingly a bit out of our way, but ultimately we ended up at a bar called Hole in the Wall, a pub that claims to have the longest bar counter in Ireland, located in an old coach house that dates back to the 1600's.  Much of the group was going to head out to Howth, northeast of Dublin, but I had an agenda for the day to attend to.  I failed to find an Uber (turns out, it's not very popular in Ireland), especially with all the road closings for the 5K in and around the park, but it turns out the app Hail-O has caught on further; with crappy Irish 3G, I was able to get a cab that got me, John, and Zach back to the Westin, and after a quick change of clothes, I was off to explore for the remainder of the day, the first stop being the packet pick-up at Trinity College.  Thankfully, Trinity was practically next door to the Westin, so I popped on over to pick up my bib for the half marathon the following day, as well as purchase a fun 3/4 sleeve jersey tee proudly announcing my motto for the weekend... "Run. Beer. Repeat."

Entrance to Trinity College
Ran into my Swiss and German friends Johannes and Jens at the packet pickup!
The Guinness Storehouse
After a quick walk around the courtyard at Trinity, I rushed out to find a cab to take me to my first stop of the day, where I had a reserved tour at the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate.  The storehouse is one of the most popular attractions in Dublin, an exhibition showcasing the 250-year history of Guinness beer, brewed exclusively at this location, originally the western entrance to the city in the Middle Ages.  It became the largest brewery in Ireland in 1838, and the largest in the world by 1886, with an annual output of 1.2 million barrels. Although no longer the largest brewery in the world, it is still the largest brewer of stout in the world. And friends that know me know that I LOVE MY DARK BEERS, especially my stout.  Guinness has never been my top choice of beer, but there was something just completely different, completely fresh about the Guinness brewed here compared to the stuff I would drink back home in America.

I poured the perfect pint!
The Storehouse tour is massive.  It's pretty much self-led through the seven floors of the facility - a glass atrium shaped like a pint of Guinness, with restaurants and bars located on several floors in addition to exhibitions featuring the brewing process as well as how the beer is marketed the world over.  Notable during my tour was a large open room that served samples of different kinds of Guinness while Irish step dancers danced to a live band playing traditional Irish music; a room where one can learn how to pour the perfect pint; and the pièce de résistance, the Gravity Bar on the top floor, with sweeping views of Dublin from above.  I left slightly tipsy, having drank maybe three pints of Guinness by the time I finished my tour and shopping through the extensive gift shop.  In addition to a Guinness polo (on sale, yay!) and various types of fudge made with Guinness for the office, I purchased a rather stylish limited edition tankard glass that I was able to get personalized with the details of the Rock 'n' Roll Dublin Half Marathon, which happened to be my 75th lifetime half marathon, a nice milestone to celebrate in this special locale.
360 degree views from the top of the storehouse at the Gravity Bar
A memento to take home, commemorating my 75th half marathon!
Entrance to Kilmainham Gaol

After I had my fill of beer, I decided to take on some Irish history at an attraction Trip Advisor has noted as being the top destination in Dublin for tourists - the Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison turned into a museum where many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, were imprisoned and executed by the British.  It's known as one of the most important Irish monuments of the modern period, in relation to the narrative of the struggle for Irish independence. In the period of time extending from its opening in 1796 until its decommissioning in 1924 it has been a site of incarceration of every significant Irish nationalist leader, therefore making its history linked with the story of Irish nationalism.  For those coming to Ireland for the first time, this is a MUST see stop - note that they limit each guided tour (which lasts approximately an hour; tours book up fast and are available every fifteen minutes) to a maximum 35 visitors, so, as it says on their website, "prebooking of tickets is essential to gain access at your chosen day and time."

Touring the jail
The prison of course has a dark history, linked intrinsically with struggle.  Over its history as an operating prison, it experienced times of severe overcrowding, especially during the potato famine of the 1840s, when civilians committed petty crimes so they would be convicted and incarcerated as the only sure way to get regular food.  At one point in time, it held up to 9,000 prisoners held in only 400 cells. The entrance to the jail sets the tone. Public hangings were performed here in the early days. Before you even enter the building you get a hint of its macabre past. The balcony over the front door entrance was used as a gibbet for public hangings.

the Main Hall at Kilmainham
One of the highlights of the tour is visiting the stunning main hall, a three-story high atrium flooded by natural light. Symmetrical in design with a network of iron galleries and catwalks, it seems comparatively spacious despite its caged staircases. These are elements that had not been seen in many previous jail designs and were quite revolutionary at the time. The main concept of the design was for constant surveillance of prisoners from any point within its confines.  This part of the prison also has been featured in scenes of several movies, including "In the Name of the Father," "Michael Collins" and "The Italian Job."

The plaque in Stonebreaker's Yard
The last part of the tour took us outside to the courtyard surrounding the jail.  This area, known as the "Stonebreakers' Yard," was mainly used by men who had been sentenced to hard labor, and they would spend their time manually breaking up stones.  However, it is most notable for being the site that the fourteen leaders responsible for the Easter Rising of 1916 that helped to plant the seeds toward Irish independence were executed.  Today, it is commemorated by a plaque and two crosses, flanking the flag of Ireland.

Gaelic football in an Irish pub!
After I finished my tour, I headed back toward the city centre, as I was able to get in touch with some friends from London who were in town for Dublin Comic Con.  I was introduced virtually to Afy and Sandira through my New York based running buddies Donna and Hema, and met them officially in New Orleans last year when we ran Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans.  They were finishing up their day and had me meet them at a popular restaurant called Bruxelles, right across the way from one of Dublin's oldest watering holes, McDaid's.  Located right off of the popular shopping district of Grafton Street, I stopped in for yet another pint of Guinness, but this time taking in one of Ireland's most iconic sports - Gaelic football.  And it just happened to be one of the biggest games of the year, Dublin vs. Donegal at Croke Park, Ireland's largest stadium located a mere three miles away.  Needless to say, traffic was AWFUL on Saturday on the streets of Ireland's capital.  It was interesting watching the scene at McDaid's, as it seemed very similar to the fiery dedication of American football sports fans back at home.  Defending All-Ireland champions Dublin ended up winning the game that day, moving on the semifinals in late August with Kerry (which they also won), and eventually making it to the finals in September against Mayo, which they won, retaining the Sam Maguire Cup.  When Afy and Sandira arrived, I met them across the street, and we reminisced and caught up after a year and a half had transpired between last seeing each other - having yet another pint of Guinness and devouring the most amazing salmon dinner I've had... Irish salmon 3-ways - a selection of smoked and BBQ salmon, served with a homemade crispy salmon cake, tossed rocket leaves, capers and red onion, served with tartar sauce. Mmm!!

This meal. Best salmon I've ever eaten.

With Afy and Sandira at Temple Bar
After dinner, we walked around the Grafton Street area, making our way toward Temple Bar, a popular cultural quarter and lively nightlife area with its quintessential and highly tourist-trap laden namesake bar at its center.  The time change began to catch up with me, and soon enough the sun began to go down. I made my way back to the Westin, where Zach and a sound-asleep John had returned, and packed everything up for a quick trip out the following day after the race, and to get my clothes ready for the half marathon the following morning.  After watching a bit of the Rio Olympics from the Irish sports networks (interesting how they cover the games from another country's point of view!)  I took to the sheets and comforter that I had laid out in the hallway to sleep the night away before waking up in the morning for the main event of the weekend.

Walking down Grafton Street
Half marathon startline!
Early the next morning we left the Westin, walking eastward along the north side of the River Liffey 1.5 miles to the Dublin Docklands area.  We lined up on the North Wall Quay, around the corner from the 3Arena, where baggage trucks were lined up to take gear check bags from runners and transport them to the finish area in Phoenix Park.  Black Sheepers assembled together for our customary pre-race photos and at 8:30, we took off (me with my portable UE roll speaker in tow) down the North Wall Quay heading westward, past the modern Samuel Beckett Bridge; the Convention Centre Dublin (where Comic Con was being held over the weekend); the Seán O'Casey Bridge, a pedestrian sway bridge; and past the International Financial Services Centre.  We turned left onto the Talbot Memorial Bridge, just before the 18th century neoclassical Custom House, which houses the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, then followed George's Quay on the southern banks of the River Liffey, which changed names various times along the way.  We continued past various bridges (old and new) along the River - the Butt Bridge, the Rosie Hackett Bridge, the O'Connell Bridge, the historic and iconic Ha'penny Bridge, Millennium Bridge, and Grattan Bridge.

Pre-half start photo!
With Sherry, running to Bruno Mars, along the North Wall Quay

Dublin's Customs House in the distance
The Samuel Beckett Bridge across the River Liffey
Running up Winetavern Street
We turned left onto Winetavern Street, making our way up a steep hill under the stone bridge connecting the west end of Christ Church Cathedral across the street to the former synod hall that houses Dublinia, a museum and visitor attraction focusing on the Viking and Medieval history of the city. The course then turned right onto High Street, and right again on Cook Street, before returning to Winetavern Street, where we could encounter other runners making their way up the hill.  Back on the road alongside the river, we continued westward finally turning left at the 5K mark passing by the massive 50+ acre Guinness Brewery complex, onto St. John's Road West, passing by the Heuston railway station.

At Royal Hospital Kilmainham
We would turn left onto Military Road, which took us the "back way" to the the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, one of Dublin's finest 17th-century buildings, and used as a home for retired soldiers for over 250 years.  In 1984, it was restored by the Irish government and reopened as the Irish Museum of Modern Art.  The course took us around the north side of the building, and then down the long treelined formal avenue past the former public cemetery known as Bully's Acre, culminating at the gateway to the hospital, Richmond Tower, at mile 4 of the course. After crossing the street, we continued down Inchicore Road, passing by Kilmainham Gaol, continuing on through the residential suburb of Kilmainham. This is probably the part of the race for the next couple miles that were the least interesting. We veered onto Sarsfield Road past Longmeadows Park, and eventually onto St. Laurence's Road, where we were took a narrow road between two high stone walls through the village of Chapelizod.  We eventually turned right, and then followed Chapelizod Road making our way right along the southern wall of Phoenix Park for just under two miles. It was a bit monotonous during this section of the course, so having my music playing definitely helped to pump up the spirits of the people around me.  Eventually, we got to the "entrance" to the park, and made our way up Chesterfield Avenue clear up to the Phoenix Park Monument.

Chesterfield Avenue in Phoenix Park
Deer stampede!
As soon as we got into the park, it was quite evident that the wind had picked up. The run up Chesterfield Avenue was a SLOG, and it felt like we were running into the wind.  It was a mile and a half down this long avenue before we made a left turn onto Acres Road.  Acres Road was a gradual climb, going from roughly 40' in elevation to a crest of 153' in elevation.  Along the way, we were treated to beautiful wooded views.  The highlight - and maybe the most memorable part of the race - was seeing a pack of the fallow deer (which I mentioned at the beginning of this report) stampede down a hill to the left... and across the course, into the trees.  It seemed like a pack of twenty deer, but they were moving FAST.  And they were big.  I kind of freaked out seeing them, and worried about runners getting caught in the middle of that stampede, but it seemed that people were ok.  I was able to capture a picture of the last of the deer running into the trees.
Two roads, diverged in a [green] wood...

So windy!
We made our way further down the road and then took a right turn onto Military Road, past Magazine Fort, a bastion and fort magazine built in 1735.  I started to feel a little pain in my achilles at this point, where we were at about 10.5 miles into the race, and happened upon my friend Lynne, who gave me an Advil to help me mask the pain.  Thankfully, there was a slight downhill as we went through a winding area, but then we encountered a really strong wind.  Definitely not like what the Old Irish Blessing says - "May the road rise to meet you/May the wind be always at your back."  That wind was definitely blowing in our faces!

The wind continued as we ran down Military Road, then transferred onto Upper Glen Road as we passed St. Mary's Hospital inside the park, now a senior living facility.  We then found ourselves on Ordnance Survey Road, and then finished the race like the 5K, turning right onto Chesterfield Avenue, and finishing along Phoenix Park's main thoroughfare.  I crossed the finish line in 2:27:56.

Victory Headstand!
Bling Haul!
A few other members of the Black Sheep crew finished within a few minutes ahead or behind me, so we were easily able to meet up with each other. We were treated to some interesting post race treats, including Haribo gummies, and then opted to skip out on the post-race beer because it was Erdinger's Alcohol-free beer.  Ew.  Several of us went to retrieve our additional medals, and then soon we were back in corrals along Chesterfield Avenue to participate in the 1 1/2 mile fun run.  The juice in my UE Boom speaker became nearly depleted, but I was able to recharge it a bit thanks to Jennifer.  After a late start (I was a bit miffed since I had to rush back to the Westin immediately to shower, grab my stuff, and then head to the airport), the Black Sheep crew walked the fun run to some fun beats.  As soon as I got my last medal of the weekend, I was able to grab another friend, do my headstand with all my medals, and then cab it back to the city centre.  I was able to get a bus back to the airport quickly, and get through security pretty efficiently.  I even had enough time to grab a bite to eat with Pete, who was also at the airport for his flight back to London.  I was flying to London on Irish national carrier Aer Lingus, too - taking a flight to Heathrow, and then connecting from there back home to JFK on British Airways.  It was a very quick trip out, and it was definitely too short - I want to come back and spend more time in Ireland and explore outside of Dublin one day!

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