There must truly be a little of Irish in all of us – maybe that’s why I wanted to revisit Dublin after a 42 year hiatus. Of course, the marathon was my primary focus, but there are so many intriguing sights and activities in this small cosmopolitan city that a visit to Ireland was especially attractive.
Our red-eye flight arrived on Friday morning via Atlanta and JFK. Both my husband and I were exhausted since we both find it hard to sleep on planes (I managed to get about 2 minutes of deep sleep), but we were eager to start sightseeing. A friendly taxi driver drove us to the Dublin Hilton, a 30-minute drive, pointing out notable landmarks along the way. Since it was too early to check in, we left our luggage with the concierge, and looked for a place where we could get a hot drink. Marks & Spencer had a small café overlooking a main thoroughfare so we indulged in a large coffee and some pastries while watching shoppers, students, and business people stroll past.
The weather was cold with intermittent rain showers. After our infusion of caffeine, we made our way to nearby St. Stephen’s Green, a large park with trees, ponds, a playground, and plenty of waterfowl. We entered through Fusiliers’ Arch on Grafton Street and walked around taking pictures of statues of Irish patriots like Robert Emmet, writers like James Joyce, and philanthropist and brewer Sir Arthur Guinness. The rain didn’t bother us much at all so we wandered around to the tiny Huguenot Cemetery, by the Unitarian Church, and finally back to our hotel. We checked in and then had a leisurely lunch at the Barge Pub across the street. It was about 6 pm before we gave in to our fatigue and called it a day.
We woke late (for me) on Saturday and headed down to breakfast at 7 am. Our room came with breakfast every morning in the hotel restaurant so we woke early Saturday and treated ourselves to a full Irish buffet breakfast (free-range scrambled and fried eggs, fruit, baked beans, button mushrooms, cheeses, breads, and cereal – the works). My favorite item was the freshly baked oatmeal bread – I cut thick slices to eat with jam and cheese. We found that if we ate a hearty breakfast every day, we only needed one other meal that we would eat at about 3 or so in the afternoon.
Saturday was a very busy day. We walked to Kilmainham Gaol, on the west side of the city, and took a guided tour of the prison, learning a whole lot of Irish history in the process. The young docent was articulate and knowledgeable; he gave us fascinating insights into the stories behind the prisoners and their backgrounds. Then it was on to the Guinness Storehouse and Brewery, probably THE most visited attraction in Dublin. We had bought our tickets online at viator.com and that turned out to be a good idea, since we easily bypassed the long lines at the entrance and were quickly ushered into the array of exhibits and museums (and gift shop) that occupy the first of the seven floors of the brewery. The tour is self-guided and at the very top everyone is treated to a pint of the black gold (or a soft drink). The 7th floor also offers a magnificent view of the city of Dublin. It’s a very crowded, very touristy site, but worthwhile (if only to say to people, ‘yes, of course, I visited the Guinness Brewery’).
We also stopped at the Chester Beatty Library, a small but valuable collection of manuscripts, paintings, and costumes. It rained today too, and Darcy fell on his backside on the slippery cobblestones as we made our way to the Library (for a change it was not me who fell); he shattered a nail, hurt his knee, and got a bit bloody but quickly recovered with the help of the gentleman at the Library desk who provided some antiseptic gauze and band-aids (plasters). It was definitely time for a meal so we stopped to eat at The Hairy Lemon Pub (excellent fish and chips).
We had one more stop before we could return to the hotel. The race was on Monday (a bank holiday in Ireland) but the expo was held on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 pm at the Royal Dublin Society building. This turned out to be a long walk across town, especially since we had spent most of the day at the other end of the city. I wanted to get my bib and chip on Saturday to avoid any last minute crowds so we decided to just go ahead and do it. Once we arrived, it took only a few minutes to get my bib and chip. I asked about a tee shirt but was told that we would get one when we crossed the finish line – more about that in a minute. We stayed for a brief Q and A session and then headed home. It was a long walk back.
Sunday was more leisurely. We slept late and enjoyed a peaceful breakfast. Mid-morning we walked to the Irish-Jewish Museum and learned about the small but vibrant Jewish community in Dublin. Then it was on to the National Gallery and Trinity College where we viewed the Book of Kells. We had a good meal at the Duke Pub (the apple-rhubarb crisp was especially tasty) and then we walked to the race area so we could check out the start and finish lines for the race.
In-between all the sightseeing and meals, I should mention that I was on a shopping mission. My friend and neighbor loves to crochet and she had asked me to see if I could find some examples of Irish crochet for her. I thought this would be a relatively easy task – after all, where better to find Irish crochet (also known as Clones lace) than in Dublin. How naïve of me! We walked all over town, from one end to the other, across the Liffey and back again, following leads and suggestions from shopkeepers and citizens, but we could not turn up a single authentic Irish crocheted item – until on Wednesday (the day before we left), we found a small Clones lace necklace in The Constant Knitter shop on Francis Street.
Now for the race! There were several corrals, each set to begin the race 10 minutes apart, and mine was the last one. My race start time was 9:20 am on Monday. We arrived at the start around 8. It was very cold and windy, but the weather could have been much worse. In fact, England and Scotland were expecting a major storm, with wind gusts reaching over 90 miles per hour. Here in Ireland, rain was supposed to be the problem and in preparation I had worn my yellow rain slicker over my jacket and 3 shirts (and gloves and hand warmers, of course). We were lucky. We had not a bit of rain on Monday, though we faced a head wind for most of the course.
Only marathoners were allowed in the corrals so Darcy wished me luck as I entered my corral and found a shelter between buildings to huddle under until the race started. Excitement built as first the elites took off, followed by each succeeding corral, 14,000 racers total. There were lots of good things about this race:
• The course is relatively flat but has enough hills and descents to keep things interesting
• The scenery is varied – city streets, short bridges (we cross the River Liffey twice), several parks, the zoo, a golf course, University College Dublin, and lots of neighborhoods
• Spectators are plentiful except in the more isolated areas – and they are very vocal and supportive
• There are mile markers every mile with kilometers every 5k – which helps with my course strategy
• Tuesday’s newspaper, the Irish Independent, had every single finisher’s name and time listed
• Aid stations were approximately every 3 miles; I usually prefer more frequent water stops. However, instead of cups, runners and walkers were handed narrow easy-to-hold bottles of water and/or sports drink and this seemed to work well to keep me adequately hydrated
• There were 6 or so porta-potties at each aid station (often there are just one or two)
• Time limit for the race is 7 hours
You’d think that after 34 years, the race organizers would have everything worked out and running like clockwork. Unfortunately that was not the case, at least not for back-of-the-packers like me. There were several things that could stand improvement:
• By the time I crossed the finish line, the only shirts left were abysmally large. A volunteer handed me a men’s large – and when I protested that this was a MEN’s shirt and way too big, I was told that only men’s large and extra-large sizes were available. Since I had registered for this race in January of this year, 10 months ago, it is hard to believe that I would not get a shirt in my size (or even remotely close to my size). I was very disappointed since the shirt was an attractive blue long sleeved tech shirt, one I might actually wear.
• I also wondered about the curious lack of food at the finish line. Runners were given a ‘goodie’ bag with a sports drink, bottle of water, a small pack of mini-Oreo cookies, and a tiny package of jelly beans. Since there was no food on the course (except for some spectators who offered us hard candy), something high in protein and/or carbs would have been welcome. I hankered for a banana or some chocolate milk or yogurt or a bagel. But food would have to wait.
• There were almost 500 people behind me and yet the finisher’s area was in the process of being dismantled as I crossed the timing mat. That was annoying and somewhat demoralizing.
I crossed the finish line in 6:01:32. The medal is large and colorful, on an attractive green lanyard. I found there to be many positive things about the Dublin Marathon, and for walkers who have a desire to visit an attractive and vibrant city, this is a good destination race.