Three days on, I'm still waiting for the comedown. On Monday, I ran my first marathon, beat my target by nine minutes and have now caught the bug. The high of crossing the finish line, after months of aching and training, is a feeling I want to experience again and again. But while I did my best to prepare physically, one thing I didn't bargain for were the tears. Every fibre of my being was screaming to stop this cruel punishment but the overwhelming sense of achievement at the end had a profound effect: for several minutes afterwards, I sat in a heap on a footpath and cried.
It may seem a tad dramatic to the uninitiated but the effort put in during months of training, including a failed attempt at making it to the start line in Paris due to niggling ITB pain, was all suddenly worthwhile. My eyes welled up, I couldn't help myself, but I was by no means the only one.
Building mileage up in the depths of winter, running into a harsh wind and horizontal rain along the Thames seemed miles away on the warm June morning in Cork. It helped that it was my hometown event, the course was familiar and I had family dotted around at various stages – but the satisfaction, that incredible sense of achievement at the end, is still sending a tingle up my spine.
Building-up to the race, I was tetchy, irritable and a right pain to be around, but once the starting gun went off and I began the journey, it didn't take long for me to get into my stride. In hindsight, I probably started off too slowly in an attempt to conserve energy – all part of the learning process. For a first-timer, the camaraderie was something to behold and perhaps added to the emotional impact. From the first mile on, there were people willing each other on. I trained alone from start to finish but there was a sense of convivial unity among fellow runners that made the experience all the more special.
Somehow, when a volunteer told me at mile 24 that I was on track for breaking four hours, my loosely set target, I summoned up one more burst of energy. Two miles previously, as my calves went from uncomfortable to full-on burn, the sole focus was on getting to the finish line. But then I started to believe, I had a second wind. Yes, I was in pain but there was a renewed mental strength.
Despite the physical agony, the final mile was the most enjoyable. The race organisers decided to put the first names of every runner on their bib this year. It meant that well-wishers, six or seven deep, were able to urge on runners heading for the finish. The memory of hundreds of people shouting my name, willing me across the line, will live on for a long time to come. Little wonder there were tears.
My blisters now have their own blisters and every movement is still painful enough to make me wince a little. And although I'm enjoying a rest at the moment, I'm already excited about the next challenge – getting closer to that 3:30 mark – and I've already pinpointed several ways I could improve.
I'm hooked and I want more – but will the emotional reaction be as strong next time? If I reach my targeted time, will I break into tears again? Or was my reaction due to it being my first? Either way, I can't wait.