• sgaffney3000

Debut Marathon


Bricking it. I was standing there absolutely bricking it. I had been to the toilet 3 times and I was sure I could’ve squeezed out another going by my nerves. This was my first ever marathon. I had always objected to the distance with a negative attitude and always told myself I wouldn’t ever be able to do a marathon.

When I started running at 15, I was always introduced to speed sessions and intervals that lasted no longer 500 metres. After a while, being coached by Lawrie Spence, I transitioned into a much harder training schedule. Again, with more speed work. My longest effort on the track would be 1000m efforts. Back then I though 1000m was a huge distance for an effort. How little did I know when I made the move up to marathon training.

Standing on that start was a major achievement for myself. When I was 17 years old my heart started going out of rhythm randomly one day when I was coaching kids for an athletics summer camp. I started feeling very dizzy and breathless. I know this sounds like the symptoms of a paedophile in front of children but I was genuinely struggling to operate.

I took a seat at the side of the massive outdoor football pitch and took a pule reading. This football pitch was in Port Glasgow so I had to make sure there was no needles on the ground as I lowered my arse onto it.

My heart was going crazy! There was no rhythm there at all. It would give out one beat, miss a beat then rattle out a few beats at a rapid pace. I was proper worried now. Maybe drinking red bull most days wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t drink alcohol so I thought drinking red bull would be a safer substitute.

How wrong I was. As the children were running about with the other coaches playing games. I phoned the head coach, Janice Hendrie, and told her I was buggering off to the hospital.

As soon as I got there the doctor had a feel. He had a feel of my pulse you dirty bugger! Immediately he sent me for an ECG. An ECG is basically a machine that measures the rhythm of your heart rate. It involves a rough nurse putting very sticky electrodes on various parts of your body. If you’ve got hairy legs then this would be very painful when removing them.

Luckily for me at the age of 17 I hadn’t hit puberty yet so my body and legs were as smooth as silk. The nurse actually wanted to send me to the doctor to ask why I hadn’t hit puberty yet but I told her to fuck off.

The doctor could see straight away that something wasn’t right. But I just told him:

“look some people hit puberty later on in life…”

Then he said “No Mr Gaffney your heart. You’re in atrial fibrillation. Your heart is out of rhythm. We need to admit to keep an eye on you. This is dangerous as it may throw off clots and you could suffer a stroke”


The worry crept over me like John Leslie creeping over a girl in a night club. I phoned my mum and dad straight away. I phoned my mum and dad straight away and explained what was happening.

I got into the Inverclyde Royal Hospital with my mum. My dad was on nightshift so he stayed home. The IRH is a proper massive brown building that doesn’t look attractive at all. It also has that mad hospital. The smell of sickness and pain that I don’t like. There are people outside in wheelchairs, crutches, holding on to their IV drips, all so they can have a wee cigarette.

They all give me a look that says “mmmmmmmmm fresh meat”

This is like a first day of prison. What if I need to stay in overnight? Will be attacked by an old man with dementia because I’m the fresh meat? Will I need to join a gang to get protection whilst I’m doing time in the ward? Will my family visit? Will I become someone’s bitch?

These are the kind of things that ran through my mind.

I spent 5 days in a ward with 5 old guys with dementia telling me the same story over and over again. One guy had very good patter. He kept telling a nurse he was going to pump her. That kept me going for a few days.

After the 5 days I was released, giving medication to keep my heart in rhythm and told I may not be able to compete again. Running was only to be done at a leisurely pace with no exertion.

However, I remember them telling me I can exercise as long as it’s aerobic. So, after that day I decided to concentrate on the longer distances. You can still run hard but, aerobically right??

Which brings us on to the lovely German Sunday morning in Frankfurt. It was a cloudy day but very calm no wind or rain. The conditions were just right.

My girlfriend woke me up around 6:30am and I immediately woke up with excitement and dread. I had been training for months. Smashed my 10km and half marathon pbs in the build up to this. Now was the time to make it a treble: break 2:45 on my debut marathon.

For the months leading up to this I was given a training by my very good friend, and outstanding runner, Craig Ruddy. Also, I did every session with another good friend Neil McLaughlin. Neil is 43 years and was going for the same target as I was. The auld bastard.

We trained through the heat of the summer 6 days a week to get to this start line. We were in the greatest shape of our lives.

About 2 months before the marathon another local runner and friend David Henderson had decided he was going to do it with us. David has only just turned 40, however, has ran a multitude of marathons and has a PB of 2:38.

Davie started to do sessions with us and taught us a lot about the marathon for our first time. It was actually quite galling for me because here’s these 2 guys training with me, a good few year older than me and they have full heads of great hair. I’m bald with a ginger beard. My genetics literally screwed me over.

Maybe it’s because I was the 4th and last child they just couldn’t be bothered. When they made me, I must’ve been like a table walking into restaurant 5 minutes before they close. I got half the service from the genetics team. However, they made me a not bad runner.

So, there we were on the start line. Neil looking as cool as ever not flinching. Me standing there looking my heart rate on my new Garmin watch. I bought it a couple of weeks before the marathon before my other one kept cutting out during sessions.

My heart rate, standing there, was up at 110 beats per minute. I wasn’t joking I was bricking it. I look down and see Davie with his cock slightly out of his shorts doing a pish.

I look back at my heart rate. 130 beats per minute. Am I just nervous because of the countdown or was it the sight of Davie’s penis on display?

Who knows because I’ve got time to think because a very aggressive is shouting one in German and fires the starting gun.

We’re trying to get through but there’s so many people in front of us. A lot of people have lied about their predicted time because there’s people dressed up as Mario and Luigi next to us running whilst doing Facebook live feed. They can hear me in background shouting:

“Mario oot the way ya prick!! Luigi fuck you!”

I’m getting annoyed because we’re going at 4:10/km. I should be going at 3:50/km.

Davie assures me that it’s ok and we’ll get the pace back.

Running along in our black and white vests I felt amazing and scared. My first marathon and I’ve not got a clue what could happen.

We pass a small drinks station and David grabs water to pour over himself. After he pours his last cup over himself, he immediately turned to me and said:

“That wasn’t water!!”

Turns out David had poured orange Gatorade over himself! His wee eye lashes looked all sparkly.

We could through the first 5km in just over 20 mins. It’s off pace however there’s still 37km to go. It’s round about now that we settle into 3:50/km for the rest of the way.

Frankfurt is a great city for a marathon. There were people everywhere. Bands playing music at the side, spectators shouting stuff in German, children trying to high five all the runners. Was such a great atmosphere. Around 14km of the course is in and around the city and then you head out of the city via a lovely green bridge.

Every drinks station we take on water. I’m conscious of being tripped up at these parts but my fellows are very understanding we actually help guide each other into the station. It’s quite a skill to grab the water whilst running. However, trying to drink water when you’re running close to six minutes a mile requires co-ordination.

The first couple of times it splashed over me or went down my throat too quick resulting in me coughing some of it again. By the time I got to 15km, I got the hang of it. I would squeeze the cup and funnel the water into my mouth in small sips. Look at me! Inventing shit during a marathon. In your face Einstein.

Just as were leaving the city, myself, Neil and Davie were asked by an English guy what pace we were going at. We shouted back: “3:48/km”. He replied:

“Thanks! My watch is going crazy! My pace isn’t showing!” and then he took off into the distance.

I was wondering why out of all the hundreds of runners around he decided to ask us.

We were running really well as a group. Because we started off slow, we were working our way through the groups of runners. One by one we caught a group and moved on. Before we knew it there was a massive train of runners behind us and we were fronting it.

It dawned on me right there and then. I now understood why the English asked us for the pace. Everyone thought we were pace makers!! Every time we caught a group, they would sit right behind us letting us do the pace.

The truth is we were running our own race with our own plan.

Getting to the half way point in 1:22 I was feeling slightly tired but nowhere near the same level of tiredness I felt in training. I put it to the back of my mind and focused.

As the km splits came in, I was growing in confidence. We were averaging 3:47/km and were on for a 2:42 marathon. What a debut that would be.

Then 32km came along. I could feel it started to take me. The pain was setting in, the fatigue was getting to critical point. By 35km Neil had started to get away. He was running very strong. Mentally I was ok but physically I knew it was starting to go.

And no wonder. From 30-35km we averaged 3:43/km.

And bang!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 38km had arrived.

I felt my legs go. They filled with fatigue. My lungs were burning. Davie came up beside me and said “just break 4 minutes/km”.

I tried to however the slower I went the worse it felt. All of sudden I started feeling very dizzy and the lights started to go out. That tunnel vision before you faint was here.


I stopped and shouted “You’re fine!!!! You’re fine!!!”

Some of the spectators looked at me funnily but I just growled at them and they started cheering. I was dire need of some sugar. I slowed down that km to 4:30! 3km to go I was still on for sub 2:45.

The pain was getting worse now. With every breath I was sounding more and more like a wounded otter. That was until I seen it….

Bizl Cola! It’s German soda drink company and cola is one of their flavours. They had a stand at the 40km point. This was heaven to me!! I grabbed 2 cups and forced them down my gullet. Almost immediately my pace went from 4:10km to 3:55km. If I could hold this pace, I might just break the 2:45.

41km and I’m sounding like a walrus giving birth with every stride. The Festhalle, which is where the finish is just now 1km away. I’m charging forth. I don’t care how I look or sound I want that time. There were friends and family tracking me via the app. Most importantly my girlfriend, Jade, was waiting at the finish line.

With 200 metres to go I could see the big monument of the man with the hammer this gave me the motivation to really sprint for it. With 100m to go there was a runner with one arm beating me. I thought “I can’t have that” and charged forward again. I got him just before the line and guess what????

My legs gave me from behind me. Both hamstrings cramped up and I was looking at the roof of the Festhalle. What a finish to a marathon. It an indoor finish with lights, audience, music, carpet. It’s a great feeling.

As I’m lying there in agony 2 Germans are rubbing my hamstrings aggressively telling me to get up. I felt like I was at German swingers’ party.

I eventually get up and stagger over to Jade. Neil and Davie have gone away somewhere. They beat me by 2 minutes! They both ran 2:42. Davie just 1 second ahead of Neil.


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