Archive for the ‘Races 2012’ Category

Seeing as my complete lack of preparation for Dublin City Marathon had paid off so well I thought I’d head into Clonakilty by doing even less. And having the greasiest chips known to man and a manky chicken burger as my pre-race, night before  meal. Not that I was really worrying about anything but one thing I certainly didn’t have to worry about was the weather. Despite being filthy and wet driving down last night this morning it was just as the forecast had predicted – crispy cold and without a cloud in the sky, which made for a pretty nice view on the walk up to Inchadonny House where the race was starting from.

Over There Somewhere

Inchadonny Strand 3

Inchadonny Strand 1

In fact the view was pretty spectacular.

Don't Want To Pull A Hammy

As usual I was as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning waiting to start the race, so giddy in fact that I hadn’t noticed I was back among the half-marathon runners until just before the off and I had to almost fight my way to the front.

Too busy posing to notice where I should have been starting.

Too busy posing to notice where I should have been starting.

After only about 50 metres of flat ground I got a hint of just what the Clonakilty marathon is all about as I encountered the first of the many, many hills on the course. I also saw one of the most unusual sights of the day – a young lady wearing just a bikini and a Santa hat helping to push a wheelchair competitor up the ridiculously steep hill. The narrow road was already quite congested and she almost caused a huge pile up with guys turning, and in some cases stopping altogether, to get a better look at her.

We ran past the beautiful Inchadonny Strand for a bit before heading out into the countryside, with the four hour pacers setting a fairly brisk pace. Despite my lack of preparation I decided just before the start that I’d go with the four hour group, but unlike in Dublin I’d stick religiously with them. However, unlike in Dublin these guys were motoring, generally hovering about the 5 mins/km mark, a bit slower on the uphills, a bit quicker on the downs. After about forty five minutes of this I asked the guys, jokingly, if they were aiming for 3:59:59 (we were on pace for about 3:40 if we kept up the early pace). They explained to me they were putting a bit of time in the bank as the second half of the race was “a bastard”. That was all well and good but my “easy from the start, wind it on a bit at the end” plan was completely out the window at this point, as was my heart rate. I was averaging about 165bpm, way above what I’d intended (about 150-155bpm), which meant I was burning energy/glycogen/stamina that I wasn’t sure I had.

It was such a beautiful day though, and such an amazing course, that I just tried to forget about it and thought I’d deal with the pain later.

We hit some really big hills then and I actually felt fantastic and began to drop the group I was with. Marquee Moon was playing on my mp3 player, building to a crescendo as I approached the brow of the hill and as I crested it I caught sight of the most beautiful white beach, the sun was a shimmering, white hazy ball filling the sky and the sea a glistening mass of crystal waves. At that point in time there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather have been, and nothing else I’d rather have been doing. It was a staggering, breath taking, wonderful scene. I honestly didn’t know this little island of ours was capable of such beauty. I practically crawled down the other side of the hill, looking out to sea, my jaw still on the floor, just taking it all in.

Not long after that we hit another hill, this time a much longer drag, but just in case I needed any inspiration my mp3 player flicked on to Freebird and I knew I had about six minutes to get to the top just before the really big solo kicked in. I got there just in time and came over the top of the hill just as the Allman boys went crazy, another amazing coastal view  and visions of  The Devil’s Rejects playing in my mind.

Going tearing down the other side of that hill might have used up just about the last bit of fuel in my tank though as suddenly my wheels just came off. For twelve miles I’d been with or just ahead of the four hour pacers, now it was beginning to be a real struggle even to stick with them. I managed to do it for another couple of miles but any sort of an incline, never mind proper hill, was really starting to wear on me. I tried to get my second gel into me but my stomach was doing somersaults and all I could bear was some water. I laboured on to the next water station at the fifteen mile mark where I planned to get a fresh bottle, really water down my gel and walk for a minute or so. As soon as I stopped to do that my calf muscles on both sides really tightened so I stopped to stretch them out. I tried to start running again after that and there was just nothing there. Absolutely nothing. There was still eleven miles to go and my tank was completely empty. Oh balls.

I eventually got going again but only shuffling. Mile twenty two or three shuffling, at just past the half way point. The next hour or two were not going to be fun.

I tried to forget about how early in the race it was, and ow slowly I was going, and tried to figure out just what was wrong. I know I hadn’t exactly prepared in a professional manner but I hadn’t done for Dublin either and that had gone fine. Maybe there was only so much winging it you could do when it came to marathons? Had I learned something earlier in the year about winging it? Obviously not. Well, if I hadn’t learned my lesson by now I was going to have plenty of time to think about it as I spent a couple of hours trudging around the West Cork countryside. To be honest though I was having a lot of trouble thinking about anything other than my churning guts. I wasn’t quite at the point where my lovely Race to Glory buff (pictured below) was going to be called into action as emergency toilet roll but only because the contents of my stomach were up around my epigolottis. How the hell was my stomach in such a heap when (a) I’d only had a couple of gels and (b) I was barely moving?

R2G

Trying to figure this out at least took my mind off the fact that the beautiful early morning sun was dissipating and it was now looking far more like a regular Irish December day, though thankfully at least there wasn’t a hint of rain. After quite a length by myself I spotted another sorry soul trudging along, so I decided misery might as well have company, and slowed my shuffle  to walk along with him. We walked the next four kilometres, a horrible, wet, dirty, shitty, cold four kilometres, together and even though we were walking it I didn’t feel too guilty as we were pretty much managing the same pace as the one or two others that were attempting to run up this horrible hill. Admittedly one of those others might have been in his sixties but still, he was barely quicker than us. I could take no more though when some white trustafarian type, who’s legs not only had less muscle content than the average kitten but were never seemingly moving in the same direction, overtook us. I bade goodbye to my shuffling chum and, churning guts bedamned, set off running.

For a bit. Minutes later I was in the hedge, heaving and desperately trying to empty my guts. Via my mouth I meant. Sorry, I just read that back and it sounded like I meant something else and it conjured up a horrible mental image. Anyway, I’d had enough lollygagging and loafing, and a marathon is meant to hurt after all, so I cranked up the death march and tried to pick off the few straggles that were left on the road with me. First the lady, then the guy from West Cork Tri Club who looked to be cramping horribly, then as I finally approached the finish the guy who was shuffling horribly, weaving a little and who looked like, even with only about half a mile to go, he was in danger of not finishing.

Perfect. As terrible and all as the last couple of hours had been, I could still overtake someone as I approached the finish and it would look like, at least to my wife and anyone else who might be hanging around the finish line, that I was finishing ‘strong’. I was gaining on him, only about a hundred metres or so back and with that last horrendous hill I knew he was mine, right up until I saw these two rosy cheeked little girls jumping up and down and cheering “Daddy, Daddy!”. His stooped, twisted frame straightened a little immediately but he still didn’t look as though he had it in him to go any faster. I picked up my pace just a smidgeon and was gaining on him, byt the tiniest margins, but gaining on him all the same, when some interfering goodie two shoes on the other side of the road shouted at the two little girls “run to your daddy, go on down to him”. Before I knew it those little bundles of joy were on him, jumping and prancing like a little pink My Little Pony that had been hewn in two and taken adorable, laughing, loving human form.

It would have been callous and underhand of me to rush past and steal his glory while he was so enraptured by his little ladies so I hung back a little, let him and his girls cross the finish line and have their moment in the sun, before skulking across a moment or two later, completely and utterly shattered.

It took some time, a foil blanket and the kind words of one of the many lovely Clonakilty ladies who volunteered on the day before I started to feel even remotely human. My wife, who’d turned in a magnificent effort in the half marathon and had a far more pleasant day than I, poured some sort of burger/sausage hybrid down my throat and after that, a large handful of jellies and a Lidl’s best ‘Snackers’ or two I started to come back to life. I wandered over to the finish line and spent some time cheering in the few hardy souls who were still out on the course, not to mention the chap in the wheelchair who I’d seen at the start, now sadly missing his bikini clad sidekick, who was dragging himself, inch by inch, up the last horrible incline to cross the finish line. Any element of still feeling a little sorry for myself quickly disappeared, and I remembered, as is the case with everything really, that you get out what you put in.

I heard a great analogy on the Marathon Talk from Australian marathon runner and multiple Olympian, Lee Troop – running is like a bank account. In training you make your deposits, and then when it comes to race day, you make withdrawals. Since about August onwards I’d been making withdrawls and today I finally went overdrawn. Sure there were other contributing factors but the fact of the matter is I didn’t respect the distance, I didn’t respect the race and I though, been there, done that, what were you worried about? When it came down to it though Clonakilty well and truly kicked my arse, so despite me cursing it for at least half it’s distance, and swearing never, ever to go back there, there’s now way I can leave it like that. I’m going to have to go back and give, what is possibly Ireland’s toughest, but definitely friendliest, marathon another go.

Trevor  Post-Race 1

 

Brid Post-Race

 

 

Anyway, how can you not love a race where the transport to the start is a model railway?

Race Transport

 

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Despite my abysmal preparation for the marathon I was still in a positive frame of mind heading up this morning. I wasn’t racing, I didn’t really have a target time in mind, all I had to do was go out there and enjoy it. I knew I could run the distance, and injury notwithstanding I would finish the race, so there was nothing to worry about. On the subject of target times, the question I had been asked most in the week leading up to the race was “what time do you want to do it in?” In training leading up to London to Brighton I was pretty confident that I’d go under four hours, maybe down around 3:50 if everything went well on the day. With how the last few weeks have gone I long ago resigned myself to the fact that there would be no 3:anything in my time but I was perfectly happy with that. You only get out what you put in and all I’d put in lately tequila and fried chilli pizza. Once I was quicker than my 4:15:54 from Belfast I’d be happy.

Looking As Excited As Ever

Despite everything I just said there when I lined up at the start I did so right beside the four hour pacers and was soon visualising a heroic final sprint to the line to sneak in at 3:59:59

Lining up at the start I suddenly realised I was part of something quite special, and far bigger than I’d thought. I’d approached all aspects of the marathon with quite a blasé attitude, despite not having run the Dublin Marathon before, and only having run two previous marathons (three if you count London to Brighton). I hadn’t looked at the route, I hadn’t read any race reports or looked up anything about the race at all. I was really surprised then when I arrived at the expo yesterday evening to find that there were almost 15,000 entries in the race. Belfast only had about 3,500 and a large number of them were doing various relays. Half of Dublin seemed to be packed into the streets around Merrion Square and half of those seemed to be wearing runners and race numbers. Standing in my pen there seemed to be an endless throng of runners ahead of me and almost the same again behind me.

The race announcer talked about how there were runners taking part from every county in Ireland, from 64 countries around the world, people of all shapes and sizes, people from every sort of background and every walk of life and we were getting a city, my, our capital city shut down for a few hours so we could run around it. When the national anthem was sung I could hardly believe that I was standing there, about to take part in a national sporting event, the biggest sporting even in the country today (despite what RTE might think). I was reminded of something Gerry Duffy* posted on Facebook recently: “I don’t have to run a marathon, I get to run a marathon”. To be fit and healthy enough to do something like this, and then to get the opportunity to do it is a privilege. It’s something I thought of quite a few times while out on the course, particularly coming into Chapelizod and Milltown, where crowds of people thronged the streets, four or five deep on each side of the road, cheering like crazy for us, the ordinary Joe, just as much as they were cheering for the elite guys going round in half the time. I’d heard before that the crowds at the Dublin Marathon were fantastic, and it’s something that always gets mentioned in relation to Dublin, but it still amazed time after time. You’d kind of get used to it after a bit, but then you’d turn a corner only to be hit by a wall of noise and be blown away by it yet again.

I haven’t really talked much about the race itself, or at least the running part of it, because to tell you the truth I can’t really remember too much of the first three hours. The running itself was going really well, after about 10k or so I was loosening up from muscular hibernation of the last month and pushed on ahead of the 4:00 group. I knew full well that I was probably going to pay for it later but I convinced myself that it was time in the bank, and anyway, I had got on to the Slayer portion of my playlist and Slayer don’t allow you to slow down. My overriding memory of the race, for the first three hours at least, was the crowds (especially the kids who cheered and high 5’d every runner they could going past).

Running In Formation

That all changed at the three hour mark though. I’d hit 32km at that point, which meant that if I could do the last ten (and a bit) kilometres in under an hour I’d go sub four. The problem though was this was also the point where my lack of (recent) training was starting to kick in and I was starting to slow down. Still, 10k in an hour, that was definitely doable. Or so I thought. I tried and tried to make my legs go a bit faster but at this point they were really grumbling. To be fair they had a point, they’d practically been in a coma for a month and now I was asking them to actually run. With about 8km to go I slowed to take my last gel when I was consumed by a wave of runners from behind me. Instantly I knew that was the 4:00 group and they were going past me like I was standing still. My heart dropped at that point as I saw my hopes of a sub four finish disappear up the road, a little purple flag of disappointment bobbing away from me.

I spent the next two or three kilometres arguing and bitching with myself, convinced I couldn’t make it, convincing myself I could make it. Unlike previous marathons though I didn’t stop, or even pay any serious consideration to stopping. One thing I learned from London to Brighton is that carrying on, even if it’s just shuffling along, is far preferrable to stopping. With about 5k to go I’d had enough of the whining. Five kilometres is a paltry distance, nothing really in the greater scheme of things, half an hour of hurting and it would be over. If I could manage to do the 5k in 28 minutes I might just about squeak under the four hours, but there and then I just wanted to finish in the best time I could do. I gritted my teeth at that point, literally and figuratively, and tried to focus on just catching one person in front of me, then the next, then the next. I couldn’t tell you how many people were out supporting at that point, what streets I ran through or where I was. All I saw were the heels of the people in front of me.

With about a mile to go I spotted an older chap a distance in front of me. I had passed this same gentleman quite a while back (while I was still running reasonably well) and I’d thought to myself I’d love to be like him some day. He was probably in his early sixties, short and not particularly athletic looking, but he was proudly wearing his Donore Harriers singlet which identified him as a founding member of the group, so he’d definitely put in his miles over the years. When I passed him he was definitely working hard but moving well, checking his Garmin, and probably bang on target. He’d obviously stayed rolling along right on pace, and my erratic pace and an (almost disastrously delayed) toilet stop had seen him roll right past me. As much as I admired him however  he was now my target.

I figured we must be closing on the finish line and as I saw my target about to round a corner I visualised myself running quicker and quicker, firing off the bend, passing my target and sprinting triumphantly up to and over the finishing line. The first part of my vision actually came to pass, I made myself speed up, taking an outside line around the ever more congested road, came around the corner, passed my target and looked up to see once more only a horde of runners as far as the eye could see. Where was the finish line? I could see straight ahead for what looked like miles but no finish line. I tried to maintain speed as much as I could but I was really, really hurting at this point. I couldn’t slow down now as (a) finally the finish line had appeared and (b) I’d just noticed again quite how packed the street was. There was thousands of people crammed along Nassau Street and I was essentially running down a tunnel with all of them looking at me. This is Ireland, there’s bound to be someone watching who knows me or would recognise me. Can’t. Slow. Down.

I hate to not be able muster some sort of sprint finish to a race but I was done. I’d given everything I had and it was all I could do to stay running to the line. The second I stopped my left hip stopped working properly, my IT band on the same side curled into a ball and my right calf felt right on the verge of popping. I staggered around for a bit in a complete daze, just shuffling where I was pointed by the race staff. I was completely and utterly spent. I checked my Garmin to see a time of 4:01**, which a little bit later when I started to come to, I was absolutely delighted with. Yes it would have been great to sneak in under the four hour mark but I’d given everything I had and come up a little bit short. One thing I promised myself starting the race was that I’d leave everything out there. I had no definite target in mind but I was still going to run as hard as I could, and I did. I can’t do anything more than that (apart from prepare properly obviously).

* Gerry Duffy – 32 marathons in 32 counties in 32 days, Decaman champion, author of Who Dares, Runs and all round inspirational character.

** Official time 4:01:26

I just wanted to do a short post script about the nutrition and gear I used for London to Brighton. On both these fronts I was ultra (if you’ll pardon the pun) prepared, bringing three sets of clothes/runners and buying a whole heap of food (that I never used).

 Starting with gear, I went with my Brooks Cascadia trail runners as my footwear of choice. I’ve had these for some time now and found them to be perfect for mixed terrain running – I’ve done plenty of miles in them on the road as well as trails, bogs, fields, mountains, rivers. You name it, I’ve probably ran on it in these. The only area where they come up short is on rocks where they lack a little grip, especially in the wet. Apart from that though they’re fantastic, a real Jack of all trades. As the weather in England had seen a whole lot of rain in the week leading up to London to Brighton I brought two other pairs of runners in case my Cascadias were completely soaked, or in case there was a lot of climbing/rocky stuff (Salomon XT-Wings Advanced) or smoother surfaces (Brooks Glycerines). In the end though my Cascadias and trusty Hilly Twin Skin socks saw me through the entire day.

Moving upwards from there I went with my old reliable Under Armor compression shorts with Nike Dri-Fit shorts over the top, while on top I went with Nike Pro-Combat compression top and New Balance high-viz long sleeved top. Once again I had multiple changes ready to go but the first set I went with worked perfectly for the day, from the very chilly start in pitch darkness, through the beautiful sunny day right up to the blustery grey finish (for me at least) in the afternoon. I had a Nike Dri-Fit jacket tucked away in my bag in case of any downpours but never had cause to crack it out.

 Speaking of bags, my Camelbak Octane 3l turned out to be absolutely perfect for the job. I’d been really hanging out for a Salomon S-Lab Advanced, but they’re really tricky to track down (in human sizes anyway), and not exactly cheap at roughly €160. Whilst in shopping for a bike with my wife I happened across some Camelbaks that could possibly do the job, and after a bit of further snooping managed to find the Octane 3l. With Brid’s discount in the shop the bag worked out at less than €80, though with my ‘Fantastic Husband’ discount it worked out at €0 for me. In the bag I had my map, my compass, my jacket, gels, small amount of food, my mp3 player and usually carried about 1l of water (I only refilled once).

Apart from that I wore my Innov-8 hat throughout and somehow managed to get 10.5 hours out of my Garmin 305, which are apparently notorious for dying at about eight hours.

Having experienced what it felt like to have both nowhere near enough fuel on board for a race (Race to Glory 2011) and way too much fuel on board (Race to Glory 2012), I wanted to make sure I got my fuelling for my first ever ultra as close to correct as possible. This wasn’t helped however by the nasty stomach bug which I’d had during the week. Friday was the first day I’d eaten properly but it was Saturday (the day before the race) before my appetite returned. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to have a big breakfast before the race due to the early start (6am, so up at 4am) so I had a really big dinner (chorizo, patatas bravas, penne with vegetables and salad) about 8pm on Saturday night and then had a tub of pasta with spinach and pine nuts at about half ten that night while lying in bed, watching the mighty Liverpool FC crush Delia’s Canaries.

 As expected, I could barely eat when I woke up, just about managing to shove down some yoghurt and muesli as well as some sugar covered fruit cake thing. I was a bit reticent about eating too much carbs, especially sugars, before, and early in, the race as I wanted my body to burn fat rather than dipping into its glycogen stores but I hadn’t done enough testing to go carb free before the start of such a long race. I had a banana before the off and that was that in terms of breakfast.

I’d brought 14 gels with me, Powerbar apple (with caffeine) and had eight in my Camelbak, the rest were with Brid. I had bought practically every calorie/nutrient dense item I could find in Marks & Spencer the night before – Jaffa Cakes, muffins, flapjacks, dried fruit & nuts, bananas – and had the amazing baked cheesecake topped chocolate brownie my mother had made and gave me for the trip.

I had almost all of them left over when I finished the race though as I’d used far, far less than I’d envisioned. I’d used nothing until the first checkpoint, and just ate a couple of Jaffa Cakes there. After that I just had the occasional gel and a banana at one of the checkpoints, with the flapjack keeping me going for a couple of stages. I did have a couple of biscuits while I was moping around at CP 3, and of course one of Chris’ mini sausage rolls.

From a hydration standpoint I used, at most, 2.5l of water. I barely used any at first, I’d to make three emergency stops in various London lanes/side streets, and didn’t want to get left any further behind with interminable piss stops. After that I was just drinking whenever I was thirsty, but got a bit of a shock when I rubbed the side of my face and noticed my fingers were covered in salt. I had a tube of Nuun hydration/electrolyte tablets with Brid but she wasn’t due to meet me until CP4. There was supposed to be electrolyte drinks at some of the checkpoints but I never saw any, presumably the runners going through before us had polished it all of (potatoes too as I never saw any of them either). It didn’t seem to affect me though other than having a real hankering for an ice cold can of coke for the last 30km or so.

My nutrition/hydration requirements seemed to really fall away on the last stage, unsurprisingly as I was barely moving by that point. Even later that evening I wasn’t particularly hungry as I think my body was, not quite shutting down, but definitely slowing down. In total for the day I consumed five gels, two bananas, about half a dozen biscuits, a flapjack, about 2.5l of water and of course one mini sausage roll.

I’m not sure whether it was the aforementioned nerves, the hideously early start to the day (4am) or the fact that I’d eaten a ton the evening before, including a late night bowl of pasta and pine nuts while watching Liverpool thrash hapless Norwich on Match of the Day, but I really wasn’t able to eat anything this morning. I had some yoghurt and muesli but even that was a struggle. In possibly the only sensible bit of preparation I managed this week Brid and I had located the registration and start area for the race last night, meaning at least there was no rushing around in the dark this morning. It was only a five minute drive from the hotel so we were there and registered by just after 5am, giving me loads of time to stretch, get loose and wonder just what the hell I’d gotten myself into.

The enormity of what I’d signed up for had really begun to hit home over the last few days. 90km. 90 bloody kilometres. That’s one marathon, then another, then another 6km on the end of that. And that’s only if by some miracle I managed to go the right way, all the way. Otherwise it’s extra distance, or as the organisers like to call it “bonus miles”. The longest I’ve ever done before is 42.2km, i.e. a marathon, and all I had to do then was just keep plodding along and follow the crowds in front of me. Here I had to manage the distance, the ever changing terrain and of course the dastardly navigation. Still, at this stage there was nothing to do but get on with it so at just before 6am, so I and about 200 other foolhardy souls toed the start line and set off on our own little adventure through the English countryside.

What Lies Ahead

Here We Go

 

I’d planned on a pace of roughly 6:30 – 7:00 mins/km for the first part of the race, which gave me a bit of wriggle room for the latter stages and would still bring me in just under the 13 hour cut-off. Hopefully. Now what I needed to do was not go tearing off at the start and burn myself out too early. Unfortunately as a large part of my race was predicated on sticking with people who knew the way I couldn’t really stick to my own pace, so I decided I’d rather be tired and knowing where I was/going than (slightly) fresher and completely lost. I made a concerted effort to stay with the main bunch, at least while still in London, which was a good call on my part as the route, even then, was quite convoluted. The pace was a lot brisker than I imagined, getting up to low 5 mins/km at points, but but it felt great (at that point anyway) so I just went with it.

I really enjoyed the running at that point, through the still dark streets of London with a couple of hundred lunatics. I always enjoy the early part of marathons, lots of people out running a route that they wouldn’t normally be able to and hours and hours of running ahead, and this was no different. I’m not normally a chatty person, and definitely not with people I don’t know, but part of the whole experience of running an ultra is meeting the other people taking part and sharing the peaks and troughs of the journey with them. I was going to be out on the course for approaching thirteen hours so I might as well get to know the people I’d be out there with, plus I was in a large part going to be dependent on the kindness of others so the least I could do was make with the chat.

For a couple of miles of the early going I was chatting with a guy named Paul, who was taking part in his first trail ultra, but who had run Comrades four times. Comrades is a race that’s definitely on my list to do so it was great getting to talk to someone who’d experienced it firsthand.

After only about five or six miles the entire group of about thirty or forty all came to a halt at a junction and we had our first navigational issue. After a quick conference the route was decided and off we went again. I was still following my “make like a sheep” policy so all I really had to concern myself with was finding lanes or alleyways for my all too frequent pit stops.

I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever get out of London but eventually we reached the very outskirts and though we hadn’t quite hit any trails yet we were definitely heading in that direction. Just before we did though we reached checkpoint 1 at about the 19km mark.

Rolling in to the first checkpoint I felt fantastic. We’d covered the first 18.5 km in under two hours and everything was going swimmingly. Much like the first half of a marathon, or the ones I’d done at least, the first stage felt almost effortless, just good running and enjoying the atmosphere. I’d brought my mp3 player with me and had it well stocked for the day but after a few minutes running at the start I made a decision not to use it. In a regular marathon it’s fine as the route is marked and everyone is doing their own thing but out here, with all the navigation required and the much smaller group taking part it felt like everyone was part of the same experience and for once I didn’t want to isolate myself from that.

Normally I’m not much of a one for striking up conversations with people but shortly after starting the race this morning I decided to make a concerted effort to chat with some of my fellow runners, and funnily enough every single person was not only extremely pleasant to talk to but we all had plenty in common and no end of things to talk about. Initially I’d been chatting to a guy called Paul who I found out had run Comrades ultra in South Africa four times. Comrades is one that’s definitely on my list to do so it was a great opportunity to talk to someone with that much experience of doing it. I chatted on and off with a few different people for the remainder of the first stage but found myself having to nip off a few times for covert wee’s. The chilly morning was playing havoc with my fully hydrated bladder.

My wife (Brid) was waiting for me at CP1 so I stopped for a quick chat, photo opportunity and some Jaffa cakes. I barely felt like eating or drinking at that stage so just arranged our next meeting point and was then off again.

 

We were properly out of London at this stage, and now set about some lovely rolling hills and farmland. Not long after starting the stage I fell into step with a chap called Dave who was to be my run buddy (and navigator) for the next ten miles or so. Dave was from Shoreham, near Brighton, like most of the guys I was talking to today doing his first trail ultra, and was training towards doing the Marathon des Sables (another one that’s on my list) next year. The terrain remained mostly open fields and some narrow patches but still easily runable for the most part. The weather too was fantastic which was a relief as England had endured some horrendous conditions for the week leading up to London to Brighton, leaving me looking in horror at the weather forecast and reports all week. We stuck together almost as far as checkpoint 2 where I lost Dave, having got a little bit lost myself just before the checkpoint, but picked up a new buddy in Paul (II).

Ah stage 2. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Coming out of checkpoint 2 I linked up again with Paul II (from Leicester) who seemed to know where he was going and was moving along at roughly my pace. Stage 2 was mostly open countryside, farm land, fields, gently rolling hills, occasional short stretches on country roads, so it was one of the nicer stretches to run. We were still running and moving quite well for the most part which I’d hoped would be the case. We’d just gone past the 30km mark, which under most circumstances would make for quite a long run, but today that meant we were only 1/3 of the way there. The kilometres were ticking away and I was really enjoying the day, chatting away with Paul II (who again was a really sound chap) and just following his lead.

There was a larger bunch of about twenty guys who were all roughly in the same area, all roughly moving at the same pace, and we kept splintering into smaller groups of between two and five, each having one navigator leading the way and another one or more guys following. We kept on criss-crossing with each other, traversing fields and golf courses, circumventing little villages and towns, constantly bumping into each other from different angles but eventually heading in the same direction. The pace started to slow a little around the 40km mark and funnily enough that’s when I started to struggle. The constant stopping and starting made it impossible to get into any sort of a rhythm and I found it harder and harder to start running again each time.

We passed the marathon point (42.2km) at about the five hour mark, leaving us with just one and a bit more marathons to go. I tried to tell myself it was ‘just’ another marathon and a bit to go but already some negativity was starting to seep in. Because I wasn’t doing any navigation I was doing a fair amount of standing round feeling useless, giving me time to focus on all my little aches and pains. My left hip, which had been sore coming into the race, was really starting to hurt. My knees, my hamstrings and my feet were also aching. Worst though was my stomach, which flitted between achingly empty and fit to burst (well, moreso that something a little further along the digestive tract was going to burst). I was feeling more and more removed from our little group and getting further caught up in my own world of misery and was soon enough lagging behind. After ten or fifteen minutes solving our latest directional conundrum I made a very stupid decision to play the cannon fodder sidekick and insisted that Paul went on without me. It’s not like the group were moving really any quicker than I was, all I had to do was stick with them for another few kilometres and then pull myself together at the next checkpoint. By that point though I was fairly well immersed in the mire of my own misery and making excuses left and right.

I’d come to regret my decision almost immediately as I clambered over a fence and followed roughly in the direction the other guys had gone, travelled a couple of minutes down a narrow path through some trees before appearing at an actual, proper tarmacced road. My choice at this point in time was very clear, left or right, but seeing as I’d been moping round the field some time earlier while the rest of the group had been huddled round the map trying to make sense of it I wasn’t privy to their decision. I had quite literally no clue where to go, I didn’t even know what page of the map book we were on, and there was no one in sight. I did then what I always do, just pick a direction and start running, before stopping myself after a couple of minutes and slapping some sense into myself. This wasn’t like getting lost at home, or even up in Wicklow. I had no bloody idea where I was. Not a clue. Even if I stopped a passing car and asked them where ‘this’ was it would be of very little use to me, so I went back to where I had come out onto the road and tried to figure it out.

After a few minutes deliberation I figured out what I hoped would be my route. After a minute or two on the road (to the left) a gap in the hedge appeared and a small path, similar to ones we’d been running on already, headed in what I thought was the right direction. I trudged off down this path, barely looking where I was going as I was so caught up with feeling sorry for myself. I hurt, I ached, I hadn’t done enough training, I’d been sick with a stomach bug during the week, my feet, my legs, my back, my belly, ooh eeh ooh eeh fucking ooh. The excuse making was in full effect and as I crawled towards checkpoint three I decided I’d had enough. This was a stupid challenge to take on, it was too far, too hard  and what the hell did I think I was doing picking an ultra with navigation? Even with GPS I manage to go wrong on a regular basis, so what exactly did I think was going to happen when I was supposed to find my way through pre-GPS Ye Olde England with only a stupid book with some silly colours and squiggles in it?

I’d been paying serious heed to giving up at as the miles had racked up. The last 10km or so were very tough but the last two or three while I was on my own were horrible. My already low spirits were now as low as they’d ever been on any sort of expedition or endeavour, lower even than my most miserable Croagh Patrick moments and all I wanted to do was get Brid to come and pick me up and finish all this nonsense. When I finally got to the checkpoint there were some people who had pulled out sitting around, and I told the organisers present that I too was out. I then got my phone out to ring Brid and break the news to her. The sympathy I was looking for was not forthcoming though – why are you pulling out? Are you injured? No, then why? Don’t you dare stop. I’ll spare you any more details but essentially she told me to stop being a massive girl’s blouse and just carry on. I wasn’t really in the mood for a pep talk or any kind of discussion really so I just hung up and carried on feeling sorry for myself. There was no point in carrying on by myself as even if I could handle the physical side of things, how the hell was I supposed to find my way there with the whole map and navigation nonsense? I was stuck here and that’s all there was to it. Brid sent me a, what I’m sure was supposed to be, motivational Dean Karnazes related text but I barely even looked at it. I moped around, had a couple of biscuits and tried to figure out why exactly I wasn’t carrying on. She then sent me another text which I actually looked at this time. I’m sure this one was also meant to be motivational but all I saw was the spelling mistake in it (pucked rather than puked), which actually cheered me up far more than any of the so called motivational stuff did.

I managed a laugh, well a smile really, at Brid’s famously atrocious spelling and my mood and everything else seemed to pick up a little. I sat there a little while longer and finally asked myself the crucial question “What am I going to tell my boys?”. Was I supposed to tell them that I’d just given up as soon as it got hard? Is that what they’re supposed to do? “That’s it boys, just give it a shot but if it doesn’t work out, or at the first sign of things getting difficult, just give up”. I know they don’t really admit it, well my eldest son doesn’t anyway, but I know my boys are proud of me and what I’ve done since I dragged myself off the couch. I didn’t want them to have to listen to any of my bullshit excuses or see what a quitter I was.

Around about this time another group of guys came shuffling down the path, one or two of whom were dropping out but the rest were carrying on. The organisers had been talking about this bunch, who were just about scraping under the cut-off time, and decided that they were going to give them the opportunity to make the next checkpoint. The cut-off time was supposed to be 14:30, but they said as long as the bunch made it by 14:45 they’d be ok. I’d said (jokingly) before the race that I’d be on the lookout for guys with glasses and giving off a navigational air and one of the guys in the group, Chris, fit the description perfectly. Things got better and better than as not only did Chris have glasses, but he also had M&S mini sausage rolls, which were a blessed relief after nothing but sugar for the last six hours. To top it off then, as if the ultra Gods were finally smiling on me, when I asked Chris if he knew where he was going he replied that he’d actually recce’d some of the route. Hallelujah and praise be to whoever. I was back in the game.

It was now approaching 13:00, and we had to be at checkpoint 4 at 14:45, which gave us close to two hours to do 16km. A small group of four of us set off with renewed vigour, confident of reaching the next checkpoint in time. We managed to run for all of a couple of hundred metres before the maps had to come out and we ground to a halt. Chris and one of the other guys, Lee, lead the way with the navigation and the other chap in the group Andy and myself followed. It was slow going but at least we were confident at all times (well, most of the time anyway) that we were going the right way. After a while it dawned on us, or me at least, that we were going reeeeeeeeeaaaalllllly slowly, and we were in serious danger of making the next checkpoint. We’d been running, or moving at least, for half an hour or so and we were only about three quarters way down one page on the map book. With each page equating to about 4km that meant it had taken us roughly 30 minutes to do 3km. That meant we were on schedule to make it to the next checkpoint at about 15:30. I knew if we made it there at that point there was no way we’d be let continue as the organisers had said 14:45 would be the absolute latest anyone would be allowed carry on from CP4. Any later and there would be people wandering around the South Downs in the dark and that could be very sketchy indeed.

Lee must have made a similar calculation as he said to me it’s just taken us 22 minutes to do the first mile, that’s the end of me busting a gut to make the next CP. Although we didn’t expressly say it as a group I think we all realised that we were probably going to be finished at the next CP, so let’s just get through this thing. The remainder of the stage was horrendously slow, but possibly the most fun I had during the entire race. We picked up another two guys somewhere along the way, Scott and Steve, and we all stuck together, trudging our way through the English countryside. When the terrain allowed it we tried to break into a run but the constant changes, the navigation, the uncertainty was all very wearing and everyone was breaking down. If I had been on my own it would have been a truly horrendous experience but with the other guys there it was great. We hiked through fields, past farms, through forests, I fell into quite a lot of muck and thorns and nettles, I got to chat for ages with some really sound guys, it was fantastic. We were like a (slightly less photogenic) Band of Brothers. Sure my legs (in particular) were sore, and almost all of me ached in some way or another, but being in a group that just gave us something to laugh about. Andy and I were particularly amused by our attempts to run when we did get on to some flat ground – it took a good couple of minutes for our knees to bend sufficiently to shuffle along and when we did we looked like guys who didn’t make the cut for the Craggy Island All Priests Over 75’s Five a Side football team.

The one thing that seemed to be moving more slowly than our legs was the time. I kept on looking at my watch, feeling like an eternity had passed since the last time I checked only to find barely five minutes had passed. It felt at times like we were in a cabin in the woods, with a demon in the cellar and a big rapey tree outside and we were trying to hang on until the morning but the clock refused to go any faster, seconds crawling by like hours. 14:00 passed, then 14:30, 14:45, 15:00 and still we were nowhere near the checkpoint. I tried to stop looking at my watch, or even where we were on the map, and just shuffled/walked/ran when the rest of the guys did. The last few kilometres became a real battle of attrition but the thing that kept us all going was the group. As tough and all as it was the fact that there a few of us in it together, all in the same boat, made it all bearable. I’d remarked on it a few times during the day but I really do think, unsurprisingly enough giving our proximity and all that we have in common, that the English and Irish are far more similar than we (the Irish anyway) like to let on. I know it’s the default setting for a lot of us anyway but almost the entire group, despite a determination to carry on and finish, employed fantastically self-deprecating, very black, gallows style humour to survive the final stage and rise above the misery of it. We were physically in tatters and moving glacially slow yet having a great laugh doing it.

Eventually we reached the page on the map with CP4, though it still took us the guts of an hour to reach it. It almost felt at that stage that we’d never reach the checkpoint when all of a sudden our little forested world opened up like we were the Narnia kids and spat us back into the real world. There was a road, cars, buildings and a little figure in red and black sitting outside a pub straight across the road from us. Was this it? Were we finished? I trotted across the road and stopped briefly to chat with Brid before remembering there was a checkpoint to hit. I asked her where it was and she pointed round the back to the car park, where I found the other guys already waiting. When I got round there to be told by a smiling Lee that we were done I was absolutely delighted. I’d done enough by this stage. I’d accepted the fact long ago that we wouldn’t be carrying on after CP4, in fact I was banking on it, but it was a full stage after where I thought I was done. I didn’t mind being pulled from the race by the organisers, I’d done as much as I could and I hadn’t quit (well, I had but I carried on so I didn’t really if you know what I mean). It was possible a little anticlimactic but I was just so relieved to be finished that I didn’t care.

We hung around for a little longer, chatting with the guys before hitting the road back to Brighton. We gave Chris and his girlfriend Theresa a lift back to Brighton, as well as Andy. Along the way we saw some of the competitors in the race making their way across the South Downs, still running strong eleven hours into the race. I have a huge amount of respect for everyone that took part in that race though, not just the finishers. It was far, far harder than I’d thought it was going to be, but at least I wasn’t alone in that.  Lee had done the Marathon des Sables and a couple of 24 hour races, Chris the Thames 50 miler and Andy numerous thirty plus mile training runs around the South Downs, and yet everyone was destroyed physically. I had been a little disappointed in how much the race was beating me up and breaking me down but when I heard the races the other guys had done, and yet they were all in exactly the same boat as me, I felt considerably better.  I learned a huge amount about myself doing this race, learned that what I’m capable of is far, far greater than what I think I’m capable of. I hopefully learned how to overcome dark moments and how to motivate myself to carry on (maybe in the future without the motivation/nagging of my better half) and I also learned that I’m a far more outgoing and gregarious person than I perhaps allow myself to be. I learned about the kindness and openness of other people, about how different, yet how much in common, people who undertake this sort of endeavour have. Most of all though I learned three very important things:

1.       You cannot wing an ultra marathon.

2.       You really, really cannot wing an off road ultra marathon.

3.       You absolutely, positively, definitely cannot wing an off road ultra marathon that requires you to navigate every step of the way.

 

Total: 66.17km in 10:17

 

Brid Forgot to Take a Picture of Any Runners at the End, But Here’s a Pub and Some Weird Ornament/Statue Thing

 

I was down at the start point of the race about two hours before we were due to go off, just hanging around, stretching, warming up and chatting to some of the other competitors. One of the things I loved about Race to Glory last year was the atmosphere, how friendly everyone was despite the fact that there was some serious racing going on, and the incredible support from seemingly everyone in the town and surrounding countryside. At a lot of races you see so many of the ‘top guys’ and they’re so po faced and serious, here everyone’s mingling and mixing and there’s absolutely no airs and graces.

After bonking so badly at Race to Glory last year I wanted to make sure I had sufficient energy stores this time round. To that end I spent most of yesterday shovelling an assortment of carbs down my throat, topiing it off this morning with a huge bowl of meusli and four slices of toast with jam. An hour before the race I followed that with a banana and a bottle of Lucozade Sport and I was quite literally full to the brim. After a quick trip to rid myself of some excess carbs (I wasn’t joking when I said I was literally full to the brim) it was time to make my way to the start line. Then it was time for a few quick words from Race Director and organiser Brendan Mooney and we were off.

Whereas last year I was trying to just make it to the finish, this year I had some definite goals in mind. Last year’s time was 2:57:28, with splits of 1:03:30 (run 1), 1:11:49 (cycle) and 42:10 (run 2). The target for this year was 2:30, which broke down roughly as 52 (run 1), 58 (cycle) and 35 (run 2), which left me with a minute or so contingency for each stage and a minute for each transition. It was a pretty optimistic schedule, but one that I felt was just about achievable (plus I really like nice, round numbers).

Asshole Shades

I figured that I should be able to average 5mins/km for the first run, it was only a 10k after all, even if it did have a bit of a hill, and some bog to navigate in it. The first 2km were going exactly to plan, running about 4:30/km and feeling really strong. The field had split up quite a lot, with the really strong guys (and girls) disappearing off into the distance, and quite a lot of the rest of the field behind me. Even at this early stage of the race there wasn’t a very big crowd around me though. Maybe they could sense an imminent explosion from my churning guts?

Unlike last year when I thought that my laps around Moore Abbey woods had prepared me for Spankers’ Hill this time round I knew exactly what was in store. Take it easy going up the first part of the hill, that’s not the real climb at all, then once you get round the corner and the properly steep part starts just get into your rhythm, nice short strides, quick turnover, keep chugging away, oh shit I’m stopping again aren’t I? Despite spending months running up and down every hill in Tramore, managing a half marathon through the Gap of Dunloe and just two weeks ago managing 1250m of climbing in the Wicklow mountains this bastard of a hill had once again bested me. Admittedly it was getting pretty warm by this stage, and I was about seven months pregnant with a 10lb carbohydrate baby, but I was still a bit miffed that I’d stopped running. I translated this annoyance into effort though and set about hiking as quick as I possibly could up the hill and getting it over with. It probably wasn’t such a bad plan of attack as I managed to maintain a pretty decent pace and was passing most of the people going up at the same time.

Once I got to the top and it was time to start running again I had to deal with some minor protestation from my legs. However, I wasn’t about to let all the people I’d just passed on the way up overtake me again so I pressed them into action and tried to get back to the kind of pace I was doing back at the start line. Once I did manage to start running again I had to deal with the carb bloated stomach, which was now way, way worse than before and (I felt) possibly approaching crisis point. One of three things was going to happen (1) my stomach was going to settle itself eventually (2) the excess material churning around my stomach was going to make its way out the way it had entered or (3) food that had finished its journey through the digestive process was going to make its own, more natural way out. At this point I was actually hoping that number 2 was going to happen, so I could just puke and get this over with, but despite some forceful belches it was still some distance from happening. Thankfully I was about to hit the next part of the run, the bog, which would serve a dual purpose of slowing me down enough to stop the churning, and also give me something to focus on other than the state of my insides.

Last year almost as soon as I hit the bog section I was walking, but this year I managed to run the entire section, despite some very sticky moments. When I got out though as well as having sopping wet, peat caked runners, my legs felt so, so heavy from having to drag them up and out of the soggy bog over and over again. There was no respite though as almost immediately I had to start into a very steep descent, 100% designed to smash  whatever life and feeling was left out of my poor aching legs. Padraig Marrey, who designed this course, may well be a very nice man, but there’s surely a large sadistic streak in anyone who would have you run that climb, followed by the bog, followed by that descent. Every single part of your legs are punished and tortured before you’re spat back out onto the main road and you’re heading back into transition to pick up your bike.

I was really making up for lost time on the descent at first. I’d got some life back in my legs and was able to just concentrate on keeping good form, picking my feet up and landing nice and light, as opposed to crashing and thudding my way down and burning out my quads. I had a lot of time to make up after the first part of the run and was doing a good job of it when I started to over think things, thinking about how much time I needed to make up got me thinking about how quick I needed to go got me thinking about how quick I was actually going which for whatever reason slowed me right down. A couple of people came back past me, seemingly just by throwing caution to the wind, so I stopped being such a little bitch and set off after them. Not long after the road leveled off (for almost a kilometre!) and then it was back in to T1 to pick my bike.

One of the ways I was hoping to make up a decent chunk of time this year was on the bike. Last year I wore bike shoes, which due to the separate transitions meant I had to carry my runners, plus there was the inevitable faffing round changing them. On top of that as soon as the road ramped up I, like almost everyone else around me, was off the bike and pushing it up the hill. In cleats. It was so bad that I stopped to put my runners back on, then thought better of it. Basically I had a bit of a mare on the bike. This time I was into T1, on with my helmet and asshole glasses, and heading back out on the course with minimal fuss.

Still conscious of bonking last year as soon as I was pedalling I started to guzzle Powerade. Just a few minutes ago my guts had been churning and I had thought there was no way I was going to use the gel I’d bought this morning but as soon as I started cycling everything settled down, so I decided to go for it. I’d only eaten/drank/slurped a gel once before, and that was a bit of an emergency measure during the Belfast Marathon, but I remember it being not unlike concentrated cough syrup. This one, though the flavour might have been slightly different, had the same consistency and was just as gank. I washed it down with some Powerade though and then set about getting a wiggle on.

The first 7km of the bike leg was relatively flat and on the main road so the plan was to go pretty steady and maintain around a 30km/h average, which I just about managed to do. After that there was Bastard Hill before 10km or so of rolling country lanes (and when I say country, I mean country, as in ‘grass down the middle of the lane and barely wide enough for one car country’). Last year I got a hell of a shock when I turned up the lane and started the climb but this year I was ready for it and going to….

Oh for God’s sake. Off the bike again. OK, well if I’m going to walk it there’s to be no dilly-dallying, so I set about pushing my bike up the hill as quick as I possibly could. I felt a little better when I saw the only two people who were still pedalling weren’t actually going any quicker than I was walking and before I knew it I was at the top of the hill, or at least where it levelled out. Last year it seemed to go on forever. Back on the bike then and it was time to make up some places. One by one I passed the few guys in front of me over the next few kilometres, even managing to pass one guy downhill while he was pedalling and I was freewheeling (some Tour de France style descending coming in handy). I did get passed by one guy (who I noted was on a full carbon Kuota tri bike) who I managed to stick with for quite a while, gaining on the climbs, then losing ground on the descents, until we got to the last of the really big descents, at which point I lost him.

King of the Mountain (In a Way)

Coming back on to the main road the route then differed slightly from last years, going straight ahead through a junction rather than turning left. I got passed by someone going through the junction, though I blame my wife who was standing there distracting me. That at least gave me someone to chase for the last few kilometres, all the way up to T2, which this year was a field, where we dumped our bikes.

Coming out of the gate at the end of the field I’d managed to catch the guy who’d passed me on the bike. I said hi to him passing and he mentioned that his legs felt like jelly. I was expecting mine to be similar but I wanted to look strong going past him so pushed on as soon as I hit the road and found to my surprise that they actually felt fine. I was running at a decent pace and just getting into a rhythm when I recognised the house on the river bank from last year. I didn’t remember it being quite so early in the run leg last year but here we were, about to jump into the river and wade a couple of hundred metres. The water wasn’t quite so deep at the spot where I entered, but as soon as I waded out into the middle it plunged to waist deep, and I couldn’t stifle my shriek of “my balls”, which I think was picked up by more than one or two of the watching audience on the river bank.

Last year I was thoroughly miserable slogging through the river, managing to fall twice and gash both knees. This time round I was able to have a bit of a laugh with some of the spectators before dragging myself out and hitting the road again. The good pace that I’d managed to set before entering the river was now but a distant dream, as it felt like I was wearing concrete boots. I know the theory is that the river is supposed to refresh your legs, or at least that’s what they tell you, but each time I’ve got out of the water I’ve really struggled to get running again. After  running on some filthy rutted lanes for a bit, where I managed to pass a couple of people that had been ahead of me, it was out on to the back roads heading back towards Kiltimagh. It was at this point last year where I really began to struggle, but I knew I was much, much fitter this time round, and kept on telling myself that. Just like last year almost every house I passed had people outside, cheering you on and encouraging you, or in a lot of cases with their own water stations set up. I’ve never seen another race where there’s so much local support, and I was delighted that this time round I was actually able to recognise and appreciate it, and I could say hello or wave to the supporters.

Looking at my Garmin I knew I was touch and go as to whether I’d crack 2:30 so tried to up the pace for the last few kilometres. Unfortunately just at that point the route took us back on to the main road, which was just straight ahead and with no supporters to liven things up. My pace flagged for a minute until I noticed a guy about a kilometre ahead who was walking, and then stopped. He turned around to look back down the road, and whether it was because he saw me or not I’m not sure, but he started to run again. And then stopped. Game on. Someone to hunt down over the last stretch. I started to push again, repeating a little mantra to myself and putting my game face on. By the time we were entering the town he was only a few hundred metres ahead of me and had picked up a companion. I was definitely going to catch him before the line. Or at least I was until I hit the hay bale and tyre section, at which point I executed the least athletic run through of an obstacle course since Private Hucks in Police Academy. Somewhat embarrassed by my ineptitude, and by the fact that I was passed immediately after by a guy (who was doing his first adventure race, and doing a damn fine job of it) I’d been chatting to just after Spanker’s Hill, I braced myself for one last long drag up through the town.

I started to run hard and managed to pass the two guys I’d been tracking, but far sooner than I expected heard the noises and saw the barriers suggesting the finish line was just ahead. I started to sprint and rounded the corner to see the line just ahead, with the clock still reading 2:28. One last push and I was done, crossing the line in 2:28:54

I was absolutely shattered when I finished, but in a good way. Last year it took me almost half an hour before I could even talk, and even then I didn’t know whether I was going to laugh or cry. I was absolutely destroyed, physically and emotionally. This time round I was absolutely ecstatic. This was the first time I’d really gone into a race with a definite, calculated target in mind, and I’d done it. For once I wasn’t looking back at the race thinking “well I could have pushed harder there” or “I should have done this there”, I had done what I had set out to do and now I could sit back, relax and enjoy the BBQ, massage and all the hospitality that Brendan  and the good people of Kiltimagh had laid on for us.

 

In a desparate attempt to steal some of my thunder, former F1 world champion turned up to race the Olympic distance triathlon at TriAthy. Personally I wasn’t really interested but someone, em, stole my phone and took some pictures.

This morning I was back in registration at six am for more t-shirt related shenanigans, and with the roads being closed from about eight onwards for the races, I’d brought everything I needed for the race with me. The giant mug of insane Brazillian espresso I had on my way over, combined with the mug of ‘Trucker’ strength coffee from the garage across the road, meant my plan of getting a bit of sleep in my car went out the window. Instead I spent most of the afternoon mooching around, chatting to Benny (who’d graciously agreed to help out with the marshalling this weekend, out of the goodness of his heart, with absolutely no thoughts about hordes of lycra clad ladies) and trying to stretch out my still tight hamstring and calf.

My race started at 5pm, with a briefing beforehand at 4:30, but I planned on heading down there as soon as transition opened around 2pm so I wouldn’t be rushing around. One small, son related, mechanical bike mishap and I had my bike checked in and was ready to go.

 

I never get nervous before races at all, and apart from some brief flutters yesterday when I saw the Olympic guys doing their swim, I was pretty relaxed and sanguine about the whole affair. Particularly for someone who’s previous longest non-stop swim was 50m. In my head though all was calm and composed, safe in the knowledge that it was all going to come together on the day. Once I had all the transition logistics sorted it was time to get rubbered up.

Once race briefing was out of the way it was time to make our way towards the entry point in the river. To get us there we were walked up through the town, with a pipe band leading the way, and traffic stopped for us. It was a pretty surreal walk, but it was over sooner than I would have liked as before you know it we were on the river bank with wave one being ushered into the water. I was in wave two so I edged closer to get a good look at exactly how things were going to go. There was roughly sixty in each wave, counted into the water in groups of five, ushered down a ramp where they made their way into the murk and then tried their best to hold station until everyone was in. After a few false starts the whistle went and wave one was off.

Five minutes after that it was time for wave two so I made my way towards the ramp. I wanted to get in the water nice and early to give myself a few minutes to get comfortable and acclimatised, remembering how long it took me the other evening in the canal before I could even draw a breath. Before I knew it though I heard “Ready, Steady, Go” from the bank and in a whirl of arms, legs and pink swim caps we were off. All day long I’d been going over startegy in my head, reminding myself to stay calm, one, two, breathe, one, two, breathe, nice and relaxed and take my time and oh shit, is that someone’s foot, someone’s swimming under me? I’m just getting in the way here so hang back a little, remember now, nice and easy, oh shit, oh shit, can’t breathe, can’t move my arms, doggy paddle, doggy paddle, breaststroke, breaststroke, head for the far side of the river where the exit is (and the sighting line and all those nice people in canoes who’ll save me).

I forgot literally every single thing I’d been taught about swimming over the last six months and reverted back to what I learned first, the horrible, inefficient, doggy paddle come breaststroke that I ‘learned’ in the canal across from my house when I was young. Pretty soon not only had almost all of my wave disappeared up the river from me, but my arms were really starting to ache too. Eventually I had to take a rest and reached tentatively for the bottom with my toes, thankfully managing to find it with my head (just about) over water. This went on for the next few minutes, with ocassional calls from the canoe people and marshalls on the side to see if I was going to survive. There was just over a hundred metres to go at this point, with the bridge up ahead and just after that the exit point, which was where most of the spectators had gathered. I paused briefly to gather myself for one last effort (there was no way I was going to stop once I was on the far side of the bridge and everyone could see me) and then pushed off.

Approaching the bridge my shoulders and arms were really starting to ache and the circular motion of my stroke was getting smaller and smaller. I could hear my wife, son and Benny all cheering from the river bank which helped to block out the burning feeling in my arms. I think it was at about that point that I remembered I had legs too so I stuck my face down in the water and just kicked as hard as I could. A few seconds later I was grabbing the side of the railing, was out of the water and had completed the swim part of my first triathlon. An enormous wave of relief washed over me, followed by delight, then the realisation that I was going to be just about the slowest swimmer in the whole triathlon, and finally determination that I was going to make up every single second I could now that I was out of the water.

First I had to find my bike though. In my rush to get out of the water and on to my bike I misremembered my number and ran the whole way along one rack looking for a bike that was actually one row over. Once I spotted it I clambered out of my wetsuit, got my helmet and runners on and headed for the road.

The bike route for the race was two lengths out of town and back, so four legs, each somewhere between 3.5 and 4km (I’m not entirely sure as I didn’t wear my Garmin for some stupid reason). As soon as I hopped on the bike my only thought was to pass the person in front of me, and then the next person, and then the person after that. Which was exactly what I did. For the first leg I just put the hammer down and pushed as hard as I possibly could, passing somewhere between ten to fifteen people along the way. The return leg into town was harder work as the wind was now blowing straight in our faces. If it was slowing me down though it had to be slowing everyone else down too. Any time there was a bit of an incline or I saw someone slow for just a second I picked up the pace and pushed even harder.

Coming back into Emily Square for the turnaround I’d passed another ten to fifteen people and still no one had passed me. Just as I slowed to turn around though a guy shot up my inside and made the turn harder than I did. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that pissed me off. I dragged my bike around and stamped down on the pedals as hard as I could, pulling the front wheel up for a second before I got my weight over the front and set off after my (now) mortal enemy. I could hear my wife and son cheering but I couldn’t take my eyes off the road, even for a split second. I honestly can’t recall the last time I was ever doing something where I was so focused, so intent on what I was doing. I’m not sure if it hurt, or if I was enjoying it, or if I really felt anything at all at the time. I didn’t have time to think at all, which for me was fantastic.

I never managed to retake the lead over my nemesis (which I naturally attribute purely to him having an all carbon bike worth approximately three times what mine cost and weighing in at least a couple of kgs less), but maintain my pace and over the next set of out and back legs pass another ten to fifteen on each, with no one else coming past me. It’s on the final leg back into town that I remembered I still had to do the run leg after this, and it was probably time to think about getting my heart rate down and my breathing in check.

Off the bike, runners on, out of transition and straight away my left leg was hurting. I knew my leg was going to hurt for the run but it was only 4km so I tried to stop being such a bitch about it and just got on with it. There was a guy about fifty metres up the road from me so I just focused on getting past him to start with and then trying to settle into a decent pace. Up and on to the main road and my running felt like crap. My legs were like jelly from the bike but I knew that would pass after a kilometre or two.  More importantly though I knew everyone else was feeling the same so if I just kept pushing I could make some more time back.

At the halfway point the route turned off the road, down a side road and towards the canal. I passed a guy at that point who I knew must have been really struggling. He was about my height (182cm) but easily had 30-35kg on me. I clapped him on the shoulder as I went past and just said to keep it up, only a couple of km to go. He gave me the thumbs up and then, as my legs were finally starting to loosen up a bit, I set about catching a few people in front of me. We were on the canal bank on the way back into town and I knew there couldn’t be far to go so adopted the same startegy as on the bike – just keep passing the person in front of me. I managed to pick a few off and then I saw the bridge just ahead which meant there was less than a kilometre to go. It was time to zip up the mansuit and go for it then and I managed to pass a couple more before seeing a sign for 200m to go. There was one last guy ahead of me but he was passing the 150m sign as I was going past 200m and I thought for a second that there was no way I could catch him. Thankfully I only allowed myself to think for a second, before just saying “fuck it” and giving it everything I could. I sailed past the last guy with about 50m to go, a few seconds later crossing the line to finish my first ever triathlon.

In the last year and a half I’ve done all sorts of races, from 5k to marathon, duathlons, adventure races of all sorts, some of them up to 70km long with mountains stuck in the middle of them, but nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the feeling I had when I finished this race. Whether it was relief at having survived the swim, or the thrill of pushing so hard on the bike and passing so many people, the elation of a sprint finish, maybe it was the satisfaction of having stuck at something when on more than one occassion I just wanted to give up, or most likely it was a wonderful combination of all those things, but I felt so high after I finished that I could barely contain myself. I felt like running around and just screaming. Obviously I didn’t, but I was on the verge of it, and for me that’s something. I’m going to save that for two years time when I do my first Ironman.

Results: 67th out of 246

Out of top 100: 35th bike, 46th run, 100th swim

Six days removed from Belfast Marathon, and one day from the Darkness Into Light 5k, I lined up this morning to do the Kildare Half Marathon. I probably wouldn’t have done them all in such quick succession but I’d deferred the Half from last year when I was injured. Next year if I’m looking for an early season marathon I’ll definitely do Kildare seeing as it’s (a) right on my doorstep and (b) really well organised, especially in relation to Belfast. Also doing the Half today was my wife Brid, who was attempting the distance for the first time. She’s been consistent in her training though, gradually building her long run up to a longest of 18km, so I know she’ll get round fine. She had however rejected my offer of pacing her round, which I think she may have gathered to be at least half a ruse on my part to get round at a more relaxed pace. She also, for some reason, doesn’t like me shouting (encouragement) at her when we run, which may also have played into the decision.

The weather this morning was thankfully a lot more pleasant than in Belfast last weekend – sunny, clear skies overhead and temperatures just about reaching ‘warm’. It didn’t really feel like that when we got out of the car on the Curragh though as there was a really strong breeze blowing. Actually, I think breeze may be doing it a disservice as when we opened the car door it was nearly pulled off by the wind. We had very little time to think about it, or indeed anything else, as due to the proximity of the race to home I had naturally left it to the last minute to leave. In fact we had so little time my poor wife, who had been so conscientous in her hydration, was now at bursting point, and faced with massive queues, approximately five minutes before race start. I on the other hand, being a man, can piss just about anywhere, and after a short trot over to a fence on the way to the start line, and was then good to go.

Just before we started I spotted a couple of lads from town I knew (Paddy Hyland and Johnny Dunphy), so stopped for a chat. Paddy was running his first half, and was hoping to get round in under two hours. Although I didn’t have a particular target in mind, especially off the back of the marathon, I was hoping to get round in about 1:50. As the race started I suddenly decided to push that and try for 1:45, so set off at around 5 mins/km. The first couple of kilometres were across the Curragh, and though it was still really windy being in such a large group meant it rarely bothered me too much. Well, that and some crafty drafting.

The Curragh, and Kildare in general, is well known for being flat, and the only slight hill on the course was dispensed with at around the six kilometre mark. By that stage the wind had really dropped and we got to feel the full effects of the mid-day sun. I grabbed a bottle at the first water station which was at the top of the hill and held on to that bottle of cold, wet goodness for as long as it lasted. I had been quite relaxed about my buildup to the half, and probably could have done without the couple of beers the night before, and could possibly have gone to bed earlier. I knew that the water and feed stations on the course were frequent and really well stocked though, and would help ease my passage around.

I was really enjoying the run, and the conditions, still maintaining my pace without too much hassle, when at about the ten kilometre mark Paddy and Johnny came flying past me. I checked my Garmin to make sure I wasn’t crawling, did some quick calculations in my head and confirmed I was on about 1:45 pace. The lads were just way, way ahead of theirs. I said nothing and just let them past though as I had my music on, was doing my own pace and didn’t want to be dragged along doing anybody elses race.

I slowed for a second at the water station at 15km to grab a bottle and like someone had flicked a switch, everything after that just became a struggle. My pace dropped to about 5:20/km, which wasn’t a huge difference, but it was so much more of a struggle to maintain. We were just coming into Kildare town then and the lovely, flat, green countryside running switched to slightly up and down and around and crossing the road nadgery horrible running. The wonderful music that I’d so carefully selected this morning became loud and harsh and grating and I just stopped enjoying everything. It felt at the time like I was barely crawling along, but looking back at the data from my Garmin my pace really didn’t drop that much.

It wobbled a bit for a couple of kilometres as I had the usual little squabbles with myself, and my heavy, dead, aching legs, but I forgot about my own woes as I noticed someone on the road ahead really struggling. There was a guy ahead who was really wobbling and wavering from side to side, despite being supported by another couple of guys, one on each arm. He was trying to drink some water at the same time, but started to stagger, and then was helped onto the ground at the ide of the road by the two runners with him. A couple of spectators who were there ran to offer their help, and as I came alongside there was already five or six people there, calling for help and trying to look after him. He looked to be suffering in the heat, burning up and really dehydrated. I didn’t stop as there was already enough people there offering help, and realistically what could I have done only stand there getting in the way, so I kept going. Momentarily.

For whatever reason, seeing him like that, coupled with the struggling in my head and my legs over the last couple of kilometres, caused me to grind to a halt. I just stopped running and walked for ten or fifteen metres. Thankfully I saw sense almost as soon as I started walking and shook off whatever self pitying malaise had crept over me. I started to run again, then tried to run faster, and then a little bit faster again. There was less than two kilometres to go, I could even see the finish, so the sooner I got this out of the way the sooner I could relax. A few minutes, and quite a few grimaces, later, it was done and dusted and my third race of the week was out of the way and my third PB posted. The finish time of 1:50:28 was a little bit slower than I’d have liked but it was as much as I could do under the circumstances.

After the race I bumped into a ton of people that I hadn’t seen in ages, which meant a load of time spent standing round chatting, which then meant my planned stroll to my car to get Brid’s gear turned into a run that was probably as quick as parts of the race. I managed to make it back in time to see her finish in a very respectable 2:29, and then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, we got goodie bags from the race’s main sponsor, Woodies, which included paint brushes, gardening gloves, and the piece de resistance, duct tape.

What a day!

 

I woke up this morning, even before my alarms went off, and went straight over to have a look out the window. What greeted me was some filthy wet greyness and teeming rain, way worse than what we’d experienced yesterday. I have to admit that my heart sank a bit at seeing this as, even though the forecast was bad, I still half expected it to be ok. At worst I thought we might have some showers at some stage during the race but this was proper, grey, down for the day, not letting up rain. Thankfully I’d brought a few different sets of gear with me to (hopefully) deal with any eventuality. After twenty minutes or so of me pacing around the room, stretching and throwing occasional glances out the window (where nothing had changed), my alarms went off and just a little bit later my wife got up.

The hotel that we were staying in, The Premier Inn, was the assigned hotel for the marathon, so they were starting breakfast from six am. I’d planned on heading down for about 6:45 but my wife, evil woman that she is, dragged our boys out of bed too so they could come down with us. Twelve and fourteen year old boys want little enough to be dragged all over the country to stand at the side of various roads while their father puts himself through hardship (of his own choosing), but throw in a pre-seven am start and you’re going to see some real sulking going on. I on the other hand was more than a little excited.

Like a giddy child on Christmas morning. The breakfast area in the hotel was jammed with skinny people in shorts and lycra and rain jackets, mostly tucking into huge bowls of porridge (apart from the odd mentalist who was having a big fry). I on the other hand  tried to have almost the same breakfast as I did at the Amsterdam marathon as that seemed to work out nutrition wise. I had a quadruple espresso, a massive bowl of muesli and fruit and some toast with jam. Normally I would have had some wholegrain bread with peanut butter and banana rather than the (white) toast and jam but with my stomach still being a little iffy I was avoiding anything with too much fibre in it.

After breakfast it was back upstairs and the big decision of the day – what to wear? Normally for races I tend to wear as little as possible, but I remembered how miserable I was on my last long run in the rain, even with my jacket on. I hummed and hahed about it for a while longer before giving myself a little slap in the face and telling myself to man up. I was here to race, not out for an easy jog. No jacket, sleeves off, guns out, that’s how I roll. I got all my gear together, got my Garmin, my HRM and my Clip on and walked down towards the start line with my wife and son no. 2 (son no. 1 had jumped straight back into bed as apparently sleep was more important than seeing his father off, and to be fair, to a fourteen year old it is).

Walking down to the start line, which was only about two minutes walk from the hotel, the weather didn’t actually seem too bad. Sure it was wet and cold and any glimmer of sunlight seemed a faint and distant memory but at least it wasn’t windy. Or rather where we were standing, blocked by buildings all round wasn’t. As soon as we moved out into the street the wind appeared and the temperature dropped significantly. By that point though I really wasn’t bothered about the weather. I just wanted to get my warmup done and get the race started. We still had about forty minutes or so to kill though so there was a lot of jogging on the spot, short runs up and down the street and stretching.

Eventually though it was time to shed the extra layers of clothing and line up. There was no separate pens or start points for the various expected finish times, just some boards with times, so everyone was kind of jammed in together. There didn’t seem to be any pacers either which was a bit strange. I’ve been at relatively small half marathons which had pacers at them, and at Amsterdam there was pacers for every time from 3:00 up to 5:00

One of the most important things in a marathon, for me anyway, is the music I’m listening to. You’re going to be out there for a long time, or I am at least anyway, and some good music can really help the time fly by. In Amsterdam I went with two essential mixes (Fake Blood and Felix Da Housecat) and then some Rocky soundtrack stuff to get me across the line. This time though I wanted to use my own selection so had spent about an hour yesterday putting together a rock/metal-centric playlist, with some dance and hip-hop thrown in, as well as the obligatory Rocky 4 montage stuff and Gonna Fly Now.

The combination of brilliant song after brilliant song popping up to surprise me and just the thrill of running a marathon had me grinning like a loon for the first half of the race. I’m not quite sure what it is about them but I just kept on thinking over and over in my head “I love running marathons”. I know it’s easy to say that at the start of one, and to be fair I’ve only run two so far, but there’s just something about them that I love. For all that I love running trails there’s something to be said for running through the streets of a city, with everything closed off and diverted for you. Running with that many people, with crowds lining the streets, is something that I don’t think is going to get old in a hurry either. As well as that I love that you’re out there running for half an hour, an hour, ninety minutes, clocking up five, ten, fifteen, twenty kilometres, and you’re still not even at the halfway point. It’s a bit silly and ludicrous but it always makes me laugh.

The first part of the race was very uneventful. I was running at a nice steady pace, feeling really good and just enjoying the run and the music I’d picked. My only real concern actually was keeping my pace down when certain songs came on. I was hoping to maintain a pace of around 6:10 mins/km, which would have brought me in at 4:20, but Queens of the Stone Age or Faith No More or something similar would come on my playlist and I’d find myself running at around 5:30. I knew I’d pay for it later but I was enjoying it so what the hell.

At about the 10km mark things became a little more memorable however as the route took us down the Falls Road. It was a bit surreal to be running past houses with the various murals that I’d only ever seen on the news before. It was particularly surreal to be looking up at the famous Bobby Sands mural as I had Eye of the Tiger blasting on my Clip. Not long after that, at the 12km mark, the route started to climb, and continued to do so for the next 12 kilometres. It wasn’t particuarly steep, just a slow, steady climb, and I love running uphill anyway, so I was able to keep my pace ticking over at around 6mins/km. I hit the halfway point at 2:05:37, which was well ahead of schedule and meant that not only was a negative split out of the question, but as I thought earlier on, I was definitely going to pay for it in the second half of the race.

When I passed the halfway marker of the race it was as if someone had flicked a switch and my legs were replaced by ones about two stone heavier. Where before everything had been effortless now the last couple of kilometres of climbing became a little bit of a grind. What really didn’t help matters was the weather really deteriorating. As I said earlier, it had been wet and cold all morning, but thankfully not too windy (for the most part). The wind had begun to really pick up, which meant that it felt far colder, and the rain which had also gotten considerably heavier, was now being blown into my face.

I’d passed a water station not long beforehand that was also giving out cups of Powerade (blue, my favourite!) but noticed that the ground was scattered with nearly full bottles of it. No one was giving out bottles when I was going past, just poxy paper cups, and I was dying for a bottle of it. I’ve bonked or slowed right down in plenty of races before, and knew I’d be absolutely craving some calories towards the end, and it felt like all these almost full bottles of my favourite energy drink were calling out to me, so I just thought fuck it, and grabbed the fullest one I saw off the road.

At the 23km mark there was two kilometres of pretty steep downhill which had my quads absolutely burning. The burning in my quads though was soon the least of my concerns as the route took a turn out of the city and spat us out on to a path running along Belfast Lough. There was a collective groan from almost everyone as the sight that greeted us was massive grey waves, crashing off rocks just to our left and the spray from those combined with the increasingly heavy, icy sharp rain which was now being blown horizontally at us. I couldn’t even see how far I was going to have to run along this path as it was impossible to look up or straight ahead with the rain and spray in my eyes. For the first time I was beginning to regret my choice of sleeveless top as my left arm was being frozen solid. My left hand was clenched in a fist and I wasn’t even able to open it out. There was no point getting down about it though, and all around me people seemed to be even more miserable and suffering more than I was, so I just put my head down and tried to push on as quick as I could and get off this sodden, godforsaken path.

Eventually the route turned back into town once more but my efforts along the path, as well as the cumulative efforts of the race were really starting to take their toll by this point. Since I passed the halfway point in 2:05 I’d reappraised my initial target of 4:20. There was a slight, slight chance of cracking four hours, but I knew if I was to do that I needed to get to the 32km mark at three hours, which would leave me an hour to do ten kilometres, which I knew I’d be able to do no matter how much I was hurting, if I had the carrot of a sub four hour finish in front of me anyway. The thought of that, and my desire to get away from the lough path, was what had been driving me on for the last seven or eight kilometres. I was scared to look at my Garmin though, just in case I wasn’t quite close enough, and so I waited until I got to the 20 mile marker (32km).

When I did I saw that I was at 3:05, and the disappointment coursed through me, draining what little energy I had left. Now I had no real target, nothing to aim for, my legs ached and burned, my stomach felt like crap and all I could think about was getting this over with. I still had ten kilometres to go though and what not long ago felt like “ten kilometres? That’s a 10k, that’s a piece of piss, you never run as short as 10k any more, you’ll do that in your sleep” turned into “forty two kilometres, thats how long it really is, and you’ve only done thirty two. There’s at least an hour to go and you can barely move. How the hell are you going to keep going for another hour?”. I tried to forget about time and distance and just keep plodding along but just about every thought in my mind now was a negative one. I kept on looking for an excuse to stop, looking for a building or something that I could go behind for a toilet break, water stations, just any reason to stop running.

For the next three or four kilometres I just zoned out, trying to clear my mind, not thinking about anything, not looking at anything, just one foot in front of the other and keeping going. I was snapped out of it however by someone shouting my name, and when I looked back I saw one of the guys I work with, who’s wife was running the marathon too. I just about managed to give him a thumbs up and then returned to my plodding. We were right back into the city now and the route was constantly zig-zagging, turning through junctions and different streets so it was hard to settle into a rhythm and zone out. It’s also hard to really remember too much about it now, even though just a few days have passed. Your mind has an amazing ability to wipe out horrible memories and the really tough parts of things like this, which is definitely a good thing, otherwise you’d never go back to do them again. I just remember miles 21 – 24 being among the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Physically I was really hurting and I had a whole host of voices in my head shouting at me to stop and try as much as I did to continue a couple of times I did stop to walk for a hundred metres or so.

After stopping to walk just after the 24 mile I’d finally had enough of my nonsense and gave myself a bit of a talking to. Everyone, absolutely everyone, around me was hurting. Everyone was going through their own shit and I was not a unique and individual snowflake who was experiencing some sort of pain unheard of unknown to anyone else. I was running a fucking marathon, or at least was supposed to be running one, and if I pulled my finger out and stopped being such a little bitch I was going to do it in a far better time than I’d done before. There was a guy in front of me who’d joined a group of his friends who were running the marathon, all of whom seemed to be suffering at least as much as me, and he was coaxing and cajoling them and encouraging them to start running again. It might sound a bit silly but I really didn’t want him to have to encourage me so I started to run again, slowly at first, more a loping hobble than a run really, and as I did my left hamstring started to spasm. This was a new one to me but it wasn’t stopping me run so I just kept going.

After about half a kilometre or so I was getting back to something approaching a normal pace and had overtaken the group in front of me. I kept picking up the pace and all of a sudden the yards that had been crawling by were now really ticking along (funny how that can happen as you go quicker eh?). Before I knew it I’d passed the 25 mile marker, and then I only had a kilometre to go. Every negative thought that had been crowding my mind for the previous hour was now banished and I just kept pushing harder and harder. My legs were still burning, my lungs were now burning too and I was gasping for air but there was now way I was slowing down. I still couldn’t see the finish line but I knew it couldn’t be far and unlike numerous races I’ve run before after the inital adrenaline surge dissipated I didn’t slow down, I didn’t slow down, I just kept running faster and faster. Finally I could see the finish line a couple of hundred metres away and I put in one final kick and came over the line in 4:15:58, nineteen minutes quicker than I’d done in Amsterdam.

 

It’s hot out there today. Damn hot. I’m reminded of this when I see Rory, one of the guys from my triathlon club, slathering sun cream all over his head. Considering Rory and myself look like slightly less butch Fairbrass brothers it occurs to me that I really should be doing the same but unfortunately sun cream is one thing I didn’t think to bring.  I got here early so as to register and also to make sure I had time for an extensive warmup. I know everything went fine yesterday but it’s still in the back of my mind that both calfs are still a little tight, not to mention my right hamstring.


I hopped on my bike for a quick spin around the car park where everyone is getting ready, checking to make sure brakes and gears were working correctly and tyres were at the right pressure, then spent around twenty minutes jogging and stretching. After stopping for photos with some fans* it was time to make my way down for the race briefing. The course consisted of one lap around the perimeter of the race course, a cycle to Blessing ton and back, before finishing with another lap of the race course. The race directors also detailed the rules around drafting, ie there was none allowed. You had to leave a box of 3m x 10m around the rider in front of you and if you were passed the onus was on you to drop back and leave that much space to the rider in front.

After that it was time to make our way to the start line and prepare for the off. As I usually do in this situation I look around at the other competitors, or the guys at the front at least, and notice how lithe and lean they all look, far more than me anyway, and how much faster they’re inevitably going to be. I was standing at the start with Rory and Alan, another guy from our club and another guy I know is a quicker runner than me (Dave, our club chairperson is there too but he’s one of those superfast guys right at the front) and the plan is to go off at a pace slightly slower than them. The race starts however and instantly everyone shoots off and as usual I’m torn between haring off with everyone else and running at my own pace. I had planned to do the first run at 5mins/km pace but right now that feels way too slow so I tried to ignore my Garmin and run at a pace that felt comfortable.

By the time we got around to the back of the course, just under two kilometres in, the field had thinned out quite a bit. The only slight hill on the run course was there too and I tried to do what I usually do with hills, which is speed up a bit. It doesn’t really do much in the overall scheme of things but people generally slow down a bit going up hills and it feels nice getting to overtake a few people. I don’t get a huge amount of opportunities to do that so I’ll take it whenever I can get it. I finished the first run in 14:18, an average pace of 4:25/km and was confident that all my preparation and practice would stand me in good stead for transition.

I ran in following the marshal’s instructions and kept repeating to myself “helmet on before you touch bike” so stuck on my sunglasses and then put my helmet on. Or at least tried to, but the bloody thing didn’t seem to fit. I tried to close the buckle but it wasn’t close to closing. In a bit of a panic I took my helmet off and looked inside it, seeing if there was anything on the inside or something had changed on it before telling myself to cop on and reminding myself I’d put it on and taken it off half a dozen time already today. I put it on again, pulled the straps and of course it closed properly. Putting the delay out of my mind I ran to the end of the transition area before hopping on my bike and beginning the cycle to Blessington.

Out on the course I was again very conscious of the race director’s instructions regarding drafting. As well as leaving the ‘box’ around other cyclists you had just fifteen seconds to pass someone, otherwise you had to drop back outside of the area behind them. For the first five or six kilometres I found myself skipping back and forth a few positions, avoiding getting too close to anyone and easing off when anyone passed me. I realised after a while of doing this though that it meant I was going pretty slowly, so I forgot about giving people quite so much room and instead concentrated on getting a wiggle on. After we turned around at the halfway point I realised that at least one benefit of the relatively leisurely first leg of the cycle was that I had plenty of energy left, so the remainder of the way back I just went as hard as I could. Normally in races as short as this there’s not to many opportunities to take stock of things and really enjoy what you’re doing (for me at least) but there was a definite moment on the return leg of the cycle where I was on a bit of a downhill, pedalling as fast as I could to reach the guy in the distance ahead of me, and I was just loving being where I was, doing what I was doing.

I finished the 18km in 38:50 and for some reason decided to try to head into transition like all the fast guys, ie slip my foot out of the bike shoes while still cycling, leaving the shoes still attached to the pedals and then run the bike in in my socks rather than cleated shoes. One of the cardinal rules of racing is never try anything in a race that you haven’t tried in training, but thankfully I managed to avoid making a complete balls of this. I did however have to try to avoid looking like a complete blouse as I almost let out a little “ow” when I trod on a little pebble on the way in. That aside T2 passed without a hitch and then it was out on to the road around the racecourse for the second run.

I dread to think what would have happened if I hadn’t been out for a trial run yesterday as the first kilometre of the second run was just horrendous. It was really hot at this point, I was sweating buckets and someone, somewhere was holding a small doll that roughly resembled me over a naked flame. My legs, though I could barely feel them, felt like they were on fire and some horrible little bastard inside my head kept on trying to persuade me to stop. I really had to remind myself of yesterday’s run and the fact that the feeling would come back to my legs. I looked at my Garmin and although it felt like I was barely moving I was actually doing just over 5mins/km, plus all the people around me were running even slower than me so I knew I was doing fine.

There was a small incline at the one kilometre mark where the two people I was running with slowed down quite a bit but right at that point, almost as if by magic, my legs suddenly began to feel like my legs and I began to run. I kept my pace steady for the next kilometre and then pushed on as hard as I could. I’ve finished races in the past still with plenty in the tank and it’s not the way to go. I wanted to feel completely spent, knowing I gave everything I could for the duration of the race. After just a kilometre of hard running though I was really beginning to feel it. Every breath I took felt hot and miserly and nowhere near sufficient to fill my burning lungs. The visions of a magnificent, Chariots of Fire/Rocky III style sprint finish that had been coursing through my mind just a kilometre ago were now replaced by thoughts of Cartman in the 100m just going backwards. I tried, and managed, to pick off a few people in front of me over the last few hundred metres but got passed myself about one hundred metres from the line. I could hear the guy coming, and he passed me going only marginally quicker, but I had absolutely nothing left to respond with.

I finished the second run in 16:25, 2:07 slower than the first, which wasn’t too bad. Overall my time was 1:12:23, which was ok. You always want to go quicker, and I definitely can, but considering the lack of running over the last six weeks, and the slightly ill advised mini-duathlon yesterday, I should be satisfied. Of the other guys from the club both Dave and Alan won their respective age groups, however Rory was incredibly unfortunate to see a puncture ruin his race. He did however finish the race, thanks in no small part to a good Samaritan out for his own Sunday cycle who stopped to repair Rory’s puncture.

All told I was really happy with the way the day went. It was a beautiful day, I was back racing again, I had given my sexy new gear from McLoughlins Cycles it’s maiden voyage and I had a slice of cheesecake from my niece’s Confirmation party yesterday sitting in the fridge at home waiting for me.

 

*Actually my wife and eldest son.