Run the Gauntlet – 20/11/11

Posted: January 8, 2012 in Races 2011

A group of about one hundred and fifty runners, including some every serious looking Italian mountain runner dudes, found themselves on a very narrow mountain road in the middle of nowhere in Kerry yesterday gearing up to run ‘The Gauntlet’. The organisers had billed this as Ireland’s toughest half marathon due to the elevation changes on the course. After about two miles there’s a pretty steep climb of about two hundred metres on a very narrow road cutting between two mountains, then a long descent of about four hundred metres. The initial climb seemed to catch some people unaware as even some people in the leading group, which I’d just about managed to latch on to the very back of, ground to a halt and walked bits of it.

Thankfully the first aid station was at the top of the climb and it was really well stocked – water, isotonic drinks, gels, power bars, flapjacks, everything. A quick glug of some pissy looking liquid and I was off on the descent, roughly four miles of damp, rutted lane with lots of hairpin bends and switchbacks along the way. I tried to get some time in the bank for later by getting down this section as fast as I could, it doesn’t require a whole lot of energy anyway so I just let gravity do it’s work.

I got down the (almost) flat section at the bottom before seeing the leader coming back past me which reminded me of the horrible fact that I’d put out of my mind while I was flying downhill – the race was a there and back jobbie so we were going to have to turn around at the bottom and go all the way back up. I’d been hoping to maybe make it in under two hours but once I made it to the halfway point at the bottom in 53 minutes I amended my target and set myself a new goal of beating my half marathon PB of 1:53:15.

The uphill section was bloody tough, four miles of a relentless climb, but I just kept grinding and trying not to lose too much time. I made it to the aid station at the top at 1:23 which gave me half an hour to do just over four miles. That’s well outside my normal pace but I hoped the 200 metre descent in it would be enough to get me home in time. Every time we got to a little downhill section I’d hammer it as fast as my burning feet would allow me, then try to maintain the momentum as long as I could on the flat but with about two km to go I almost ground to a halt.

I was completely knackered and almost moving at walking pace but I still had fifteen minutes before the two hour mark so I was really tempted to just trundle along and make that. Thankfully I decided to stop being a massive pussy and pushed as hard as I could for the last 2k, got to about five hundred metres to go and knew I could do it with a sprint finish and managed to cross the line in 1:52:57. I was absolutely bollocksed afterwards but the elation meant I barely felt it (until about half an hour afterwards). That’s definitely the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself in a race but easily the happiest I’ve ever been with a result.

A really good race overall, just the type of running I like. The scenery was amazing, it looked like the kind of mountains Brian Dennehy and David Carruso chased John Rambo around. The weather was perfect for the race – slightly cold, damp and a bit misty – it was well organised and there was just the right amount of people doing it. I’ll definitely be doing it again next year.

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