Archive for September, 2012

Have I Forgotten Anything?

I know, I know, I can’t wear all that gear at once but better to have it and not need it than not have it and need it.



Day 240 – Back To Work

Posted: September 18, 2012 in August
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Despite the best efforts of poxy weather and a dickhead bus driver it was still great to get back home last night. If nothing else now at least when I go out for a run now I’m not in danger of melting into the road. With London to Brighton fast approaching I had no time to waste so straight after work it was over to Emo for the club’s slow Monday evening run. 12km on trails at a nice, steady pace was just what I needed to get back into the swing of things.

12km – 1:05:35




Posted: September 18, 2012 in August
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Indulging My Inner Fattie

And this is how I spent the week post-GFW.

I woke up a little early this morning. Not “its Gaelforce West today and I have to be catching a bus to the start line in an hour” early, or even “its Gaelforce West today and I’m really excited and can’t wait to get going” early. No, I woke up “I’m sleeping in a camper van and the torrential downpour that’s just been unleashed and is pounding the crap out of the skylight has woke me up” early. In real terms it was 01:30. In the am. Normally I sleep like a log but after that woke me I just couldn’t get back to sleep. In part because I had made the decision yesterday to travel and race light so hadn’t bothered bringing any rain jacket or even a long sleeved top with me for the race, and considering the noise the rain, which was showing no signs of abating, was making this worried me slightly. The other thing putting a dampener on my attempts to get to sleep was my range of sleeping positions was severely diminished by Benny, my friend/neighbour/camper van owner/fellow GFW competitor, sleeping about two inches behind me. So I just lay there, on my side, listening to the rain, thinking about how miserable it was going to be running, cycling, kayaking, climbing Croagh Patrick for five to six hours in that weather, how wet and slippery the roads were going to be and envisioning multiple ways I could slip and crash and fall. That was a fun few hours. Eventually sometime after four am I drifted off, only to have my alarm go off roughly an hour later.

Our bus was due to leave from Westport at 6:30, so we got up around 5:30 and attempted to get some food into us. I couldn’t face building grade porridge at that hour so went for a giant bowl of muesli and a banana. I’d brought a new pack of Lavazza coffee with me but had stupidly forgotten to bring my aeropress, but I’d rather go without than drink the mild blend instant crap that was on offer so went without. I made a peanut butter and jam sandwich each for myself and Benny and after one final check we had everything we left the van and hit the road.

Thankfully the rain had stopped and, slight chill in the air aside, it was actually quite a nice morning. We warmed up pretty quickly on the way down to the bus stop though as we were running a bit late and had to leg it down there. Thankfully some other poor soul was being driven down there by his lovely wife, still wrapped up in her dressing gown, stopped to give us a lift, which meant we got down there with at least two minutes to spare. We managed to avoid the number Nazi and sneak Benny on to the same bus as me (he wasn’t meant to be leaving until the 8am bus) and then it was off for a nice tour of the Mayo countryside on the way to the start line of GFW 2012.

After disembarking from the bus everyone just milled around at the top of the road waiting for the wave before us (that were currently down at the beach) to start. While we were waiting there Benny bumped into his pilates instructor, and fellow Trilogy member, Lisa, who was back for another crack at GFW. Soon after the wave before us came running up the road towards us and then streamed past, which meant it was time for us to make our way down towards the beach, where we’d be starting from.

As we started our walk down a girl beside me said to me “sorry, are you the guy who did Race to Glory and wrote the blog about it?” to which I of course replied I was. Caroline, for that was the name of the inquiring young lady, was actually from Kiltimagh, and like I had done last year, having got Race To Glory under her belt was now preparing for her first attempt at GFW. We spent the next twenty minutes or so chatting to Caroline, Lisa and their various companions and before I knew it the race marshal was giving her final instructions and telling us to line up on the beach. It was about this time that I remembered that I hadn’t done a warm up (I usually do about 2km of a really slow jog, lots of dynamic stretching etc) but seeing as we were about to start there wasn’t much I could do about it now. Ah well, as long as I took it really easy for the first couple of kilometres I’d be fine.

Which of course is exactly what I didn’t do. As soon as the siren went I went tearing off, scrambling up off the beach and running with the front group of my wave. The first couple of kilometres of the first run leg in GFW is all uphill and I was running it like a moron. After a few minutes running I checked my Garmin only to see my heart rate was at 170bpm. This was so stupid. My plan had been to keep my heart rate at about 155bpm (where I knew I could run for as long as needed) and only stray north of 160bpm on the trickier climbs which were still to come. My whole strategy revolved around staying in the ‘fat burning zone’ for the early part of the race and not to be burning up my glycogen stores right from the outset, but I guess that was out the window now.

The other thing my over eager start had done was really burned up my (still cold) legs. When we hit the next climb they felt really heavy and lacking power, which had me worrying even more. I was less than 5km into a near 70km race and my legs already felt like crap. We turned onto the trail section not long after, a section I’d been really looking forward to, but rather than striding through it, skipping from rock to rock, I was plodding and leaden and all I could think about was how shitty I felt. Thanks to my head being completely gone I managed to misplace my foot and turn over on my left ankle, which was already weak and susceptible to twisting. I hobbled along for a minute before starting to run again but I really wasn’t having a good time of it.

Unlike that bastard Benny, who came skipping past me just then with a massive smile on his face. I was sure I’d put some distance between us on the first part of the run but apparently that wasn’t the case. Watching him glide serenely over the mud and rocks only made me feel worse, but we ran together for the remainder of the trail, with me forcing myself to go at his pace. We came back out onto the road for (almost) the last section of the first run leg, which I remembered having two not particularly pleasant climbs in it. Once we got past those I finally started to feel my legs come back to me a bit so I pushed on, knowing that I could afford to go hard hear as we’d be waiting around a bit at the start of the kayak leg and could recuperate there if need be.

After a quick break to fuel and stretch Benny and I clambered aboard one of the kayaks and set off for the other side of Killary fjord. Neither of us had bothered with any kayaking in training and I have to say it showed. We looked not unlike any scene in any Hollywood film ever where one man is trying to teach another man how to dance. That being said, we got to the other side without hitting any other vessels (unlike last year) and without falling in, so I suppose it could be considered a minor success.

Before I had even one foot out of the kayak Benny was out and off up the path to the bog. I was some distance behind for the entire duration of the bog section but when we got to the road my legs finally appeared to be coming back to me. Last year this section seemed to drag on and on and on, but this time round I would have loved if it was ten or fifteen kilometres longer. I passed Benny not long after getting on to the road and was running stronger and stronger all the way to the bike pick up, passing plenty of others along the way.

And now for Big Mistake of the Day 2. I came flying into transition, grabbed my bike, went running out and then spent a few minutes cocking around taking off my runners, getting them into my backpack, fiddling with bike shoes etc. After last year I bought my cyclocross bike specifically for GFW and had planned on doing the whole race in my runners, using the pedals with the plastic strap over the toes. Over the last couple of weeks though I’d been using my road bike almost exclusively and Benny had been using my cyclocross, so I thought that I’d go with the road bike and clip-in cycling shoes, thinking that I’d be quicker that way. That theory pretty much went out the window about 6km into the bike leg when, after travelling at a good pace for that long and passing a lot of people, I saw a familiar bike and wiry pilot. I was minutes ahead of him going into transition? How was I only passing him now? I must have lost so much time messing around changing shoes. When I realised that my heart absolutely sank.

For whatever reason I was feeling really emotionally delicate all day and every little problem or setback was really affecting me, causing my mood to darken immediately and really messing with my head. I’d then redouble my efforts, push on as hard as I could only to suffer for my efforts not long afterwards, which in this case happened on the big climb of the stage. I say big climb, but it’s only a fraction as long as The Cut, and only about as steep as the short climb that we’d tackled just after The Cut in both my recent trips up there, yet I still got off the bike just before the top. I was feeling sorry for myself, making pre-emptive excuses about not burning out my legs before Croagh Patrick, but really just being a massive blouse, which was only reinforced when I saw Benny coming past me just before I reached the crest of the hill. I was incredibly annoyed at myself, which of course only led to yet more negativity, which really didn’t make for a good descent on the other side of the hill, which of course meant I had to go hell for leather as soon as the road levelled out again to make up for lost time.

I passed Benny (again) a short while later and then tried to settle into a steady pace. I came out onto the main road not long after, just passing someone on the junction who then proceeded to sit on my wheel for the next couple of kilometres. I kept looking back, hoping that he’d take a turn in front, seeing as we were on a long straight road and working together could have been really beneficial to both of us, but he just kept slipping back right behind me when I did. I just thought “well fuck you so, if you want to stick with me you’re going to have to work for it” and upped the pace for the next couple of kilometres. I eventually lost my shadow but unfortunately not my own dark cloud which was resolutely sticking with me.

At about the twenty kilometre mark we turned on to a gravel bog road, a section I’d completely forgotten from last year’s race. Whereas I had been cycling on my own, at my own pace, now the field really grouped together and immediately the pace dropped, especially seeing as there was really only two narrow lines that could be taken on the road (if you could call it that). Once more my mood darkened and I was cursing myself for not remembering this, thinking over and over “well why do you think you wanted the cyclocross? It wasn’t just for the really short, really rough section later when the bike has to be carried you idiot”. And right on cue, as if to compound my error, here comes said cyclocross flying past me, a laughing Benny on board, shouting at people to get out of his way. I tucked in behind him and followed as best I could for a while but eventually he pulled away.

My thoughts then turned to Croagh Patrick. In planning for GFW I had thought I was going to be twenty to thirty minutes ahead of Benny starting the climb of Croagh Patrick, and here I was, still a few kilometres from the start of that particular sufferfest and I was behind him, and losing time. What exactly was I doing here? How had things gone so wrong? I’d started the day badly and it was just getting worse and worse. I was sure I was so much fitter and faster than last year, this should have been a breeze but instead it was turning out to be one of the worst races I’d ever done. I was at transition now, dumping my bike, about to start the climb of Croagh Patrick and I was feeling as low as I’d ever done in a race.

I set off across the field to the base of Croagh Patrick so laden with negativity and misery that I actually couldn’t run. When I started my climb I was happy just to stay behind whoever was in front of me, plodding grimly on, letting them pick the path while I struggled to find answers, or even a response, to the questions and thoughts that were going round and round in my head. Why are you doing this? You’re not enjoying this. You’re not cut out for this. You’re not able for this. Just give it up now, you’ll never be any good at this. You were only fooling yourself. Fuck all this running and cycling and messing round on mountains and stuff, just go back to the couch. You’ve trained all year for this and look where you are, exactly the same as last year. Stuck halfway up the side of some huge rock in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of muppets in stupid clothes.

I actually thought, on more than one occasion, about turning round and going back down, just giving up, but there were too many people in the way. Plus to get back to the van in Westport was essentially following the route of the remainder of the race, so I was as well off just to keep going.

I eventually made it to the top, but unfortunately experienced no epiphany, or miraculous change in mood or fortune. Instead the misery continued. In fact it worsened as I now had to make my way back down, and the descent on the loose rock at the top of Croagh Patrick is my least favourite part of the entire thing. I tip-tied my way down for some time like a complete and utter little bitch, consoling myself with the fact that I’d never have to do it again. My rationale was that I’d never do another mountain race or adventure race again, forget all about ever doing any trail ultras or UTMB or any of the things I’d dreamed about over the last year or so, this was the end of all that. My mood had lightened sufficiently to think that I wasn’t going to return completely to a sedentary life, but I was going to stick to triathlons, and in particular those on nice, smooth, tarmacced roads.

Maybe it was the fact that I let that one little flicker of light in, that one little ember of positivity, or maybe it was just the fact that I was so fucking sick of listening to the whinging going on in my head, but finally things started to pick up a little bit. I also looked at things pragmatically – I could either pick my way down the path like a little old lady, probably taking almost as long as it took me to come up, or I could, at the first available opportunity go off the side and go straight down. As soon I saw grass down the side of the mountain I thought to myself that this wasn’t any steeper or (probably) any trickier to descend than some of the ones in Wicklow I’d come down when I got lost up there. Plus if I did this there was still a chance to salvage the whole race. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a disaster after all. Before I got a chance to talk myself out of it I just went and within a matter of seconds, for the first time in probably a couple of hours, I actually started to feel good again.

I zig-zagged my way down as quick as I could manage (still a bit tentatively due to my dodgy ankle), and before I knew it I was down at the bottom and flying across the swampy field I’d barely been able to walk across an hour earlier. I decided then I wasn’t going to bother putting my bike shoes back on, as well as the faffing with the shoes there’s a few sections on the next bike leg that I’d have to get off and carry my bike for anyway, so just ran in, grabbed my bike and hit the road as quickly as I could.

There was a bit of slipping and sliding with my runners on the pedals (that are really meant for cleats) but it was actually pretty workable. I was off the bike again not long after for the really rough section, but a bit of walking and carrying later that was done and I was back out on to the road. Memories of my crash on this section last year came flooding back but I just took it easy and before I knew it that was over too and it was time for the main road.

For the first time that day I switched my Garmin over to total time elapsed and saw that it was 5:13. That gave me seventeen minutes to do roughly six kilometres of a cycle, dump the bike, and then run that last sneaky half kilometre or so to the finish if I wanted to finish inside my target time of 5:30. Despite the utter shitbox of a day I’d had this was still doable. Just. I got my head down and pushed so hard for the next fifteen minutes all the way into Westport, not holding anything back. As I came into town though there were a couple of Gardai and marshals waving to slow down as there was traffic on the road. Sorry folks but no slowing down possible, there was a time to be met. I barely had time to look at, or even acknowledge my parents, who were waiting there along with my wife and son no. 2 just before the finish.

I’d forgotten all about the last section of the cycle, which was narrow, little more than a bike wide, and cordoned off. As soon as I hit that I came almost to a halt, as did the four or five guys ahead of me, as there was one girl in front of all of us who had slowed to a crawl. Normally I’m extremely easy going and very mindful of other people and letting them do their own race, but I was so close to making it and didn’t want to miss out just because one person was dawdling along here, so shouted some (possibly not very) gentle encouragement. There was nothing that could be done though so I just sat there stewing for a couple of minutes, but thought to myself then at least it was a chance to catch my breath before what was sure to be a mad dash for the line.

Finally I was at the bike drop. I cycled my bike to the edge of the field closest to the exit for the run, dropped my helmet and backpack and then legged it. I didn’t even dare look at my Garmin for fear I was already outside my time, just ran as hard as I could. I was hurting at this stage – feet, legs, back – and my chest was burning with the effort but I knew it was only for a couple of minutes more. I skipped around a couple of people on the narrow trail and then as soon as it opened on to the field just pushed as hard as I could. I sprinted, or as close to it as I could manage, the last couple of hundred metres and just as I was about to collapse over the line remembered I had to dib my timer at the end so frantically scrambled it out from under my top. Absolutely exhausted, I went to the timing official, handed over my timer and then waited for my result. I was way more nervous waiting for this than I had been for my Leaving Cert results, and way, way happier when she handed me a slip of paper that said 5:29:26. I’d made it, by 36 seconds. Over a five and a half hour race, I’d managed to scrape under by less than half a minute. Oh sweet blessed relief.

Just About There

I staggered across to Benny (who’d finished in a sickeningly fantastic 5:08) and gave him a very manly hug, before attempting to make my way to meet my family. Just before I did though I had a mini breakdown, exhaustion, relief, delight, disappointment – a mass of conflicting feelings and emotions all hit me at once and stopped me dead in my tracks. I looked across to see my parents standing there and almost burst into tears. I put my head down, buried my face in my hands and tried to compose myself but with only limited success. My mother I think was a little bit worried, as I’m sure I looked on the verge of some sort of collapse, but my wife is used to this sort of thing now. I walked over to them, gave each of them a hug, and whispered to my wife “I hated every second of that”.

It was her turn to look at me a little bit strangely now, so I tried to explain what a horrible time I’d had out there. As she often does though she cut right through all my bullshit and said “but you did it. And finished inside your target time”. Again, as she so often is, she was right. Despite being entirely unhappy with the process, I was still delighted with the outcome. Despite making mistake upon mistake, and compounding it all massively with a terrible, negative mindset I was still able to pull it out in the end and make my target. There’s a huge amount I can take from this, a massive amount I can, and need to, learn from it, not least that so much of any race, and especially the longer ones, takes place in the mind. I’d made this race a particularly onerous one by focusing on the negative, by not being able to compartmentalise, not putting things behind me and moving on. This is something I just can’t afford to do at London to Brighton, which is going to be twice as long as GFW, twice as long with just my own thoughts for company, so I better make sure they’re bloody happy ones.

Happy and relieved