Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dublin Marathon 2011

This time last week I had resiged myself to not being able to race Dublin this year, having picked up an injury the week after the Cork to Cobh 15 miler. It had completely halted my running for a full 2 weeks and when I finally did try to run seven days out from the race, I noticed that the original problem was still causing discomfort. To make matters worse I had now caused  pain other in my other leg by doing other forms of training in an attempt to maintain soe fitness. I had been generally struggling to string together any consistent training since the Lakeland 100 for a host of different reasons and my body was clearly now telling me I needed a break. However I was travelling to Dublin anyway to cheer on my brother, Eoin who was tackling his first marathon and I packed my gear with the intention of hitting the hills of Dublin and Wicklow at some stage over the weekend.

I called to Eoin's place on Sunday afternoon to take him over to the Expo and Registration in the RDS, and to collect race packs for Ray, my boss and his friend. So I said to myself I may as well collect my own nmber and some of the useless stuff they throw in race packs. As soon as I walked in to the RDS and saw so many excited and anxious runners, my mood began to change. I began to convince myself that one ore race this year couldn't hurt and I could start my break from the 1st of November. Never have I chopped and changed my mind so many times in the space of 24 hours in my life. But the Expo had now made my mind up for me and I decided to give it a las and pick up the peces afterwards.

I cycled in to Pearse Street early on Monday morning and met up with 200 other GardaĆ­ all running in matching singlets and black ribbons in memory of the late Garda Ciaran Jones who tragically lost his life in the flooding the previous week, while trying to help stranded motorists. It was a poignant moment as we paused in silence to remember him before we set off for the start line.

The weather was strangely mild and the rain had somehow held off for the moment at least. I knew it was going to be a difficult day but I was just glad to be able to line up, especially with the company of so many colleagues at the front of a huge group of over 14,000 runners. I had hoped to get over the line in 2.45 befoe I picked up the injury but I now decided to run as I felt at a particular moment and forget about pacing and I think it was a wise decision. When I felt god I tried to run at a decent pace and when I no longer felt good I ran as fast as I could. After 5 miles my calves had begun tightening and I knew that whatever else happened during the race, I was going to be walking funny for a few days after this one.

I went through halfway in 1.25 and was feeling ok. It was a strange feeling running along and not really caring about the time on the clock, as the priority became just finishing and still being able to walk afterwards. The support along the way great, considering the weather, and every so often we would turn a corner and be met by large crowds shouting encouragement. This helped to take my mind off the pain, as did the various halloween costumes on view by other runners and supporters alike. By mile 18 I noticed that I didnt seem to breathing too hard and I felt I should be able to up the pace. But for some reason my legs just didn't want to do it. They refused to go any quicker and I just had satisfy myself with keeping them moving. The last 2 miles are always really enjoyable in Dublin as the crowds grow in strength and the streets narrow, creating a great buzz of excitement and it serves to push you on for the final few hundred yards.

I crossed the line in 2.52.36 and immediately the Rigor Mortis set in. I hobbled through the finish area and met up with some of the lads who had all run really well and were buzzing with excitement. I then caught a glimpse of Grellan being wheeled in to the medical tent. He looked to be pretty shot and it was then that it dawned on me that he was wearing the Eagle club singlet instead of the pacer's gear and must have been in close to the 3 hour mark. So I figured he must have gone for the Sub 3 afterall. Great stuff!! I asked one of te medics if I could go in and check on him but she politely told me where to go. Anyway he was fine and probably fancied a free ride through the finish area!!

After I collected my gear, I made my way back to where my parents, cousin and my brother's girlfriend were standing. We were ready to cheer Eoin on for his run in to the finish. And he didn't disappoint as he came in under the 4 and a half hour mark to cap a very enjoyable day out in the Capital.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Montane Lakeland 100 Race Report

Distance: 105 miles
    Ascent: 6800 metres
    Time: 24.34

Warning: This Post is way too longwinded!!

The Lakeland 100 was my main goal race for the year so when the time came and I was standing on the start line at 5.29pm on the 29th of July last, it only then really hit me that it was finally here and I was about to run a 105 mile circuit of one of the most beautifully scenic places in the world. Looking back now I think the World Trail championships race three weeks previously was a blessing in disguise, because it meant I had to rest up if I wanted to be right for the Lakes. So while a hard race of such importance so close to my goal race may not have seemed like a good idea on paper, in hindsight I wouldn't have done things any differently.

I arrived at the John Ruskin School in Coniston, the race headquarters on Thursday afternoon and had a look around. There wasnt too much happening at this stage as Registration didnt open until Friday morning. I did recognise one or two faces around the village though and my mind was put at ease by finally getting here. We went from here to Ambleside, a short drive away where we were staying at the local YHA. The place was buzzing with people of all nationalities, many there to walk the  famous fells of the Lake District, a fact evidenced by the many sets of hiking boots on show. After settling in to our shoebox (room), myself and Laura took a walk down the town and I managed to carry out a recce of approximately 500 metres of the course from checkpoint 12 at the Lakesrunner shop, down through a small lane beside the hotel to the road that led to Rothay Park. So at least I now only had another 104.7ish miles which I wasn't familiar with. EASY!!

I headed to Coniston early on Friday and got registered and had my kit checked. Each competitor was weighed here too as a precaution. We would be weighed again immediately after the race as a way of guarding against the effects of hyponatraemia(somethingI suffered from after Ironman UK in 2007. It was not a nice experience but is easily prevented by making sure to manage fluid and electrolyte intake). After this I headed back to the youth hostel for a lie down. The 5.30 race start meant that my routine was a little out of kilter and I had a bit of time to kill before heading back to the race start.

On my return to Coniston, it had become really warm and and the sun was beaming. Personally I was delighted. The night would be clear and navigation would be made easier. The scenery wasn't going to be spoiled by lowlying cloud which was also a positive. What better way to see the Lake District than to basically run a big loop around it! Another treat was in store at the race briefing where the legendary Joss Naylor imparted some of his fell running wisdom on his captive audience. To put that in perspective for those that may not be familiar with this legend of fell running, it was probably the equivalent of Haile Gebrselassi giving the briefing at your next local road race (apart from the fact that Joss lives in the lake District and didn't have to travel from Ethiopia). I had to stop my starstruck self from doing something stupid like asking for his autograph on my chest.

After the briefing I had another hour to kill so I headed out to the car and made sure I had all the gear packed and was ready for action.
Chatting with Stuart Mills before the start, last minute panicking about route changes

It was quite warm now and had turned in to a cracking evening. As we were being corralled in to position for the start I spotted Barry, my Irish teammate from the World Trail Champs and made my way over. It was good to see a familiar face and chat to calm the nerves. I then spotted Terry Conway, the eventual winner just to my right. I had not met Terry before but knew of him from reading his blog and exchanging the odd email. It was good to finally meet Terry, as reading his account of the previous years race, along with his journey from being an orthotics and heavily cushioned shoe wearing runner to Eventually running in minimalist shoes, seemed to be very similar in a lot of ways to what I had been doing in the previous 6 months. His account helped me to finally believe that I did not need heavily cushioned shoes and orthotics to run, and if anything they were inhibiting my performance. The fact that I ran the full 105 mile route over some of the most unforgiving of rocky trails in a pair of Inov8 F-Lite 230's, a shoe which isn't much more than a slipper in comparison to the average pair, has convinced me fully of the merits of a minimalist approach. I could go on eulogising about the merits of barefoot/minimalist running but that is probably best saved for a separate post on the topic. So back to finally meeting Terry. He introduced me to his training buddy, Ian Bishop and we had a quick chat about how we were all feeling and what lay ahead. It was easy to see straight away they were both sound lads and I was thinking in my head that these were the lads to stick pretty close to, with their in depth knowledge of the course and undoubted ability as runners.

Que Joss with the air horn to get us all going and it was time to go! I wanted to go out with the leaders at the start and stay there as long as I could. The problem for me was no matter how good I felt I knew I was probably going to have to rely on following someone who knew the route. I had a GPS with the route downloaded on to it for backup and I had also invested in the Lake District 1:250000 mapping card which proved later on to be well worth the price. It was so accurate when needed but having never used it I was just happy to follow the leaders early on. A group at the front quickly established itself and myself, Terry and Ian were leading it out followed very closely by Barry, Jeff McQueen and John Tims.
Terry, Ian and myself enjoying the evening sun at the 2.5 mile mark on Walna Scar Road

I had not met Adam Perry yet but I would get to know him pretty well over the course of the next 101 miles or so when he caught up to us on the long descent in to Seathwaite. I didn't hang around too long at the First checkpoint, only stopping to dib and fill my bottle but I was left for dead by Terry and Ian, both of whom I was eager to stay with. Myself and Barry left together and were soon followed by Adam and John. Just after the checkpoint I pulled out the GPS for the first time when we came to a fork in the trail. Barry was pretty sure about the route we should take but I interjected with my tuppence worth and said we should be going in the opposite direction. Luckily for us Barry had reccied this section and he overruled my "brilliant" GPS. It must have just been warming up because it didn't let me down again. We continued on over some pretty boggy sections. Nothing like wet feet for a full 23 hours! On the descent just before the road section to Boot we caught back up to Terry and Ian and so our group was 5 strong again as we were greeted by a small crowd enjoying the evening sunshine and local ale outside the pub. Stuart Mills was here ready with his camera and Barry's Dad was shouting encouragement alongside His good friend Mark. A short distance beyond here and we were at the checkpoint. There was a TV camera here filming and loads of friendly staff milling around. This all made it feel quite hectic around here and I was glad to get moving again after a quick bottle refill.
Arriving at the second checkpoint. Barry out in front with John, Terry Ian and myself in tow

Quick refill at the checkpoint
The climb out of Boot checkpoint

Myself, Terry and Adam seemed to pull away from the rest of the lads here, although not very far. This next section brought us down to Burnmoor Tarn and more soggy underfoot conditions. The pace still felt fine and I was really enjoying the banter getting to know Terry and Adam. It was around this time that I learned that Adam had already completed a successful Bob Graham round and had done numerous other ultra races, finishing 2nd to none other than Jez Bragg at this years Fellsman. I was highly impressed given his youthful 22 years and knew I was in good company. My only worry at this stage was a tight calf I had been nursing for the previous couple of weeks. It was around this time that I had begun to worry about whether it would hold up, especially given how early in the race it was. I said nothing and just hoped it would ease out.

The scenery along here was awesome and the lads pointed out the mountains of note in the area including England's highest peak Scafell Pike,  and Great Gable. Now this is what I came here for. The views were worth the wait and it dawned on me how lucky we were with the weather. We landed in to Wasdale where I decided to sample the soup from some of the very helpful and enthusiastic checkpoint staff. I also grabbed a handful of dried fruit and nuts and went on my way again. Terry was gone ahead again and so began my partnership with Adam as we began the long ascent over Black Sail Pass. This was probably my favourite part of the whole course with the vast expanse of some of the lake District's finest scenery opening up in front of us as we came over Black Sail. The descent was pretty technical and I was glad to be doing this while it was still relatively bright. We made our way down to the very cosy looking Black Sail hostel where a couple of it's residents were sitting outside soaking up the last of a stunning evening's light.  I imagined coming back here on holiday and being able to stop and soak up the surroundings at my leisure. We continued on and were soon descending again, this time past the lake to Buttermere. It was along this flat stretch that I felt my calf and Achilles become quite painful again but I resigned myself to the fact that if that's how sore it got then great! There would be 101 other painful bits later to take my mind off it! Stuart was here again with the camera and Terry wad just leaving as we came in to the checkpoint.
Bottle refill for Terry
Looking happy with ourselves at 26.3 miles, Buttermere

I can't remember what I ate here but I do remember Adam grabbing an apple from the table and thinking to myself "that's a first, apples in a race".
Adam's apple :)
Barry and John arriving at Buttermere
The following group, with Kevin Perry and Stuart Walker refuelling

It was here that the headtorch had to go on for the first time as we left Buttermere and headed up a dark trail. I was still wearing just a singlet and shorts and found it hard to believe we were enjoying such mild and calm conditions.
Onward to Braithwaite

The next Section felt like a bit of a slog from what I can remember (note to self: don't wait almost 3 weeks before writing a bloody race report). It was difficult to find the right path given the predominance of thick vegetation and it was now well and truly dark. Still, we were going in the right direction and the conversation was still flowing. The valley finally opened up in front of us and the bright lights of Braithwaite came in to view. It wasn't long before we were running along the deserted road to the checkpoint at the church hall. Once again Stuart was here but this time he was joined by Ian who had unfortunately had to drop out. He had been suffering with sickness during the week and it was obviously still affecting him. He will no doubt be back to make up for it next year but was still full of encouragement for us, which is just typical of so many within the ultrarunning fraternity, and typical of runners in general. I had some rice pudding at the checkpoint and a little coke. Adam continued to munch anything that moved in an attempt to stay well fuelled.

The next section to Blencathra began with a long flat road section, the only place along the whole route that I remember being absolutely pancake flat and straight. It wasn't long before we were hopping the road barrier and taking a right turn through a wooded section. After another short road section we were heading for Spoony Green lane which eventually brought us to The Cumbrian Way and a long out and back section around the valley. As we approached the Blencathra Centre we noticed there was balloons tied to gate posts and I thought we might get to gate grash someone's birthday party but it was the checkpoint staff simply exhibiting their creativity for us and we had arrived at the centre. It was here I got a nice, and totally unexpected boost when I recognised one of the voices at the checkpoint. It was my girlfriend, Laura. Bearing in mind it was now around 2am in the morning and she struggles at the best of times without sleep, not to mention how the hell she found this place in the dark, I was completely taken aback but obviously very happy to see her. It turns out when she had gone back to the hostel in Ambleside earlier in the evening, she had been on the Internet tracking my progress, when some of the staff asked what was happening. They kindly offered to go on a mini road trip when their shift finished and ended up here. She had great craic with them and I was also very grateful for how well they treated her. Needless to say I recommend the Ambleside YHA for anyone planning a visit to the Lakes!

From here we were heading for The Old Coach Road. This section of the route had a couple of tricky bits of navigation and we took a couple of wrong turns, but luckily we realised our mistake and managed to get back on track and not lose too much time. My stomach was starting to give me a little trouble by now, which is something that always seems to occur after 7+ hours of activity. I have come to realise though that it is usually trying to tell me something, like I have eaten too much too quickly or I need to change the type of food I'm eating, or possibly I need to take on more electrolytes. I was using saltstick tablets and I think they were responsible for finally settling my stomach much later in the race, combined with just eating less during the second 50 miles. I never really got completely sick of sweet foods, which normally happens to me during these events, and this allowed me to just eat very small amounts of sugary foods to keep the calories going in. I would agree with what Stuart Mills has talked about in the past regarding how much one needs to eat in an event like this. When operating at an aerobic level, it seems (for me anyway) that I don't need to eat an awful lot and my stomach tends to act up if I do overeat. Adam on the other hand seemed to be the exact opposite and would eat whatever was on offer at the checkpoints! They could have put buckets of raw sheep testicles on the table and he would have given them a try! It seemed to work though and just goes to show everyone is different. Anyway I would just have to put up with a little stomach discomfort for the time being.

Once on the Coach Road I noticed that it seemed to be getting ever so slightly brighter and I began to think about Dalmaine and the official halfway point (actually 59 miles). But before that there was some really nice trail to enjoy. At Dockray we were met by the checkpoint staff who were all wrapped up and looked to be suffering a little in the cool early morning air. It was then I realised that it probably wouldn't be that warm at all if we were not running. And I did feel a little chilly leaving the checkpoint armed with a small bag of jellybeans.

After Dockray we made our way passed Ullswater Lake. It had now brightened significantly and we were treated to some stunning views across the lake. It helped to take my mind off feeling tired and sore, although I was feeling pretty good, relatively speaking. A long road section brought us to Dalmaine Estate and to the Checkpoint on the grounds of the Castle. I decided a change of socks would be nice here and without asking my drop bag was placed in front of me by one of the lads at the checkpoint. I also put on a pair of compressport calf yokies, I'm not sure what the proper name for them is. I dont normally wear them but thought they might help the calf. The checkpoint staff really went above and beyond to make sure the runners only needed to worry about running. It was also here that I had my first and probably only taste of Rolly Poley, a swiss roll type cake with custard on top. I don't know why I accepted a bowl of it because I certainly didnt fancy eating cake for breakfast, but I dont eat pasta and that was the other dish on offer. I had a couple of spoonfuls of cake and left it. I probably would have appreciated this delicacy under different circumstances but at the time, couldn't stomach it. Andy Mouncey arrived at the checkpoint as we were readying ourselves for the off and he looked to be going well. I knew we would do well to stay ahead of him but at the same time I felt we could.

By now it was well and truly bright and the day had dawned dry and sunny.  By the time we had passed through Pooley Bridge Andy had closed the gap to within a couple of hundered metres of us. We managed to increase the gap a bit on the descent into the Howtown checkpoint. Again Andy arrived as we were about to leave for what I was assured was one of the toughest legs of the race with a tough slog over Wether Hill and High Kop and Low Kop. It was here that Andy passed us using his walking poles which I remember looking at enviously! As we approached the top of the climb, we had caught Andy again. If you read Andy's blog, you can get his version of what happened next. My take on it was slightly different. Myself and Adam moved ahead of Andy on the flatter section after Low Kop and I noticed Andy stop and fiddle with his shoe.  He seemed to be taking an awful long time to tie his lace! I thought to myself  "there's something strange going on here" and sure enough when I glanced across to my right, I caught a glimpse of Andy thundering down the steep slope, chopping a little chunk off the course in the process and taking over in second place. By the time we made it to the path along the lake, Andy was out of sight and that was the last we saw of him untill the finish line. Still, its not as if the time Andy made on us couldn't be made back up in the last 30 miles. So we cracked on to the checkpoint at Mardale head. Again the scenery along here was stunning but I could say that about almost every inch of the course. As I drank some coffee at the checkpoint I noticed a runner come in who I had not seen yet during the race. "Alright Dad", Adam said matter of factly as Kevin approached the table. I thought this was the best thing ever at the time. No fuss, no surprise, just a normal run of the mill thing, meeting your old man 75 miles into a race like this. So I now had two generations of Perrys to share the trail with.

The next climb up to Gategarths pass seemed to go on for ages (probably because it did go on for ages), but I was feeling strong and was just really enjoying the whole experience now. My feet were now starting to hurt and I kept getting small stones in my shoe adding to the pain. The skin on the soles of my feet felt like they were burning but thats the price I was paying for my footwear choice. I think its good to have a bit of pain like this to take your mind off the thought of having another x amount of hours to run. It wasn't excrutiating or anything and I actually think it probably helps in many ways, so I didnt let it get to me.

 Going down the other side of the pass, I was glad of the dry conditions, given the prevalence of smoothe, Tour of flanders like, cobbles. Recceing this section in the depth of winter would have been fun! After a long stretch of rocky, foot crushing path, we arrived in Kentmere and the 82 mile mark. I remember drinking a lot at this checkpoint as it had gotten quite warm by now and my urine resembled the original flavour Lucozade (I know people really want to know that kind of gorey stuff). The climb out of Kentmere was another slog but once over the initial part, it was easy to establish a rythm and just keep moving. Kevin was falling a little behind on the climbs while I was a little ahead of Adam, but never too far ahead. Halfway up I met a mountain biker who told me Terry was aready gone through Ambleside but that Andy wasn't too far ahead, maybe 15 minutes or so and he looked tired. I was just concentrating on moving in the right direction and if that was good enough to catch Andy, then so be it. I was really looking forward to getting to Ambleside now, as I knew Laura and my parents would be there for a bit of support. It was great to finally arrive in to the town having run along the hills and throught the forests above the town for what seemed like ages.
Ambleside - 89.4 miles

Lakesrunner Shop - should have brought the Lazer card!

This is where we left Kevin who seemed to be going through a short rough patch. I dont remember much about the next section except of course the 500 metres I had recced on the Thursday evening and the last mile into Chapel Stile where we met Stuart Mill's other half, Francis, shouting encouragement. We missed the turn for the checkpoint as I had the old route downloaded on the GPS and there had been a few very slight changes made in the interim. We quickly found our way though after reading the roadbook. At the checkpoint we were met by two elderly women who seemed to really be enjoying the occasion and were full of encouragement. I think they must have been living there. There was now just 2 sections left to tackle and my feet felt like I had hot coals in my shoes.I had given up removing the small bits of pebble and grit from inside them and consigned myself to extracting them from my feet when I had a proper sit down at the finish. This section was quite tough mentally, given that we were now 94.4 miles in to the race and there was only 11 or so left. 11 miles is nothing in real terms but throw in weary limbs, tired brains, hot sun, sore feet, and a challenging section to Tiberthwaite, and things weren't as simple as they seemed. Adam was really struggling with blisters on his feet and they were making every step excrutiating. We continued to run (or shuffle) along passing Great Langdale Beck, which I felt the urge to take a dip in. We forked left and headed towards Blea Tarn. We were given a quick break from the rocky paths and treated to less rocky marshy conditions as we made our way to the short road section near Castle Howe. It was around now that I began again to wonder if we could catch Andy before the finish. I had heard earlier that he was looking and feeling pretty rough. I actually felt pretty good mentally, and apart from sore feet, physically too. At this stage though I was happy in the knowledge that I was going to finish in the time I thought it would take me. This year was all about the 100 mile experience. The route dragged on over some more punishing rock strewn paths down to the checkpoint at Tiberthwaite where we were met by Mr. Motivator himself, Stuart Mills. He reckoned Andy was 10 minutes ahead and we had a real chance of catching him as he wasn't in great shape. Right, time to empty the tank on the last 3.5 mile section.
Arriving at Tiberthwaite
Tough Old Station, eh Lads?
Another first for food at a checkpoint was a box of cherry tomatoes! They must have known Adam was coming and he didnt disappoint by sampling the produce again. The last sting in the tail was the climb out of Tiberthwaite which started with a steep set of granite steps. I actually felt ok here and was probably bouyed by Stuart's words. We made short work of the steps and continued on up to the high point above Coniston.
Who's idea was this 101.5 miles into the race?
It was at the top of the climb that we almost took the wrong line across to the path to begin the descent. We lost a couple of minutes but thankfully managed to twig the mistake in time. The descent to Miner's Bridge would have been really challenging even at the start of the race. It was so hard to build up a rythm with the rockiest section of trail in the whole race and really steep spots thrown in for good measure. Looking at our split for this section later we actually pulled back 8 minutes on Andy but he was closer to 15 minutes ahead at the last checkpoint, not the ten that Stuart thought it might be. We had decided on this section that we would cross the line together which I think was fitting given we had run more than 100 miles side by side and helped each other through the odd rough patch. And so we hit the short road section back in to Coniston. Down past the Black Bull pub where the local ales were being enjoyed in the evening sunshine by those sitting out front. Left turn towards the school and we were there, just 200 metres left to run. Now bearing in mind the terrain for this race, and that a good section was run in the dark and while we we were tired, it would be reasonable to assume that one might have the odd fall or trip along the way. Well I had managed to avoid this completely which I was quite happy about. But my subconcious must have been thinking otherwise because with no less than 10 metres to run as we turned in to the school entrance, I just completely lost my footing and went straight down. I remember the few cheers as we entered the school and then the "oooohhhh". I was quickly back on my feet with my pride a little dented and feeling rather sheepish. Bloody hell, I picked some place to fall! I dont think anyone was quick enough with their camera though so I have been spared that embarrassment of seeing it again. So the clock read 24.34 as we crossed the line in joint third place. A pretty good first stab at the course without having any recce done.

Happy Feet!

I made my way inside to be weighed, where I was told I had lost 6kgs. Hmmm, Lose a stone in 24 hours. I wonder could I market this thing! I had a lie down then and a quick word with Terry who had been finished for more than 2 hours. He had an amazing race and proved all his hard work and specific training paid off big time. Kevin Perry came in a short time later, obviously sorting out that rough patch pretty well. Barry wasn't long after that and had a really good race too so all was well with the world.

Barry looking strong at the finish

After a while we headed back to Ambleside to get a bite to eat. I rarely eat any meat but had a craving for pizza with meat, meat and more meat on top. So what better place than an italian restaurant. I should have looked more closely at the name though as we picked a vegetarian one! Oh well, the meat could wait until tomorrow.

The next day we headed back to Coniston for the prize giving and a couple of pints in The Black Bull Inn. Terry, his father in law( pressure TERRY!!), Barry and his dad, Karl and Mark, myself and Laura all enjoyed the banter and local ale for an hour or TWO to round off a great weekend
Andy, Adam, myself and Terry at the prizegiving. There must have been a sale on those shorts!!!
Looking back at the race, it took all of half a day to realise that I really want to do this race again. I have learned quite a lot from this experience and think I could give it a better crack on the back of what I now know. The race organisers have developed this race in to a top class event that cannot be faulted. Obviously this didn't happen by accident and they must have time for nothing else! They deserve massive credit for providing us all with a great experience. The same goes for everyone who volunteered and made the event what it was. The lake District is a unique place and is now my number one favourite place to run. I hope I'll be able to return in the not too distant future. I must also thank Laura and my parents for the support at the various points along the course. Its a great boost during an event like this when you see them, even if you don't really seem that appreciative at the time!!

I have been trying to recover over the last three weeks and have only been doing short runs in an effort to clear up the niggles in my legs. I have combined this with some mountain biking and some great circuit classes at Fitnessworx

Next up is the Dublin Marathon on the Holloween bank holiday weekend, where hopefully I can improve on my marathon time. The speed work at Lakeland 100 will stand to me I'm sure :)

Ps: Thanks to Stuart Mills for some of the photos. Great job

Thursday, July 14, 2011

IAU Trail World Championships 2011 Race Report

USA runner - "In the States we dont call this a trail.... This is a Goddamm field"
Me - "You're in Ireland now buddy!!"

The course for Saturdays race was challenging to say the least, and perhaps not to everyones liking (if one is more used to nice pine covered, manicured trails) but I know I certainly enjoyed it and would not have changed any one of the 70 or so Kilometres that made up the route. The above conversation took place on the first boggy section just after the second loop of Diamond Hill. It was by far the tamest of these unrelenting sections so I think its fair to say that this particular runner wasn't one of the route's fans.

Just to clarify for those that are not familiar with the area, the race started at Kylemore Abbey and ran through the grounds and on to the road to Letterfrack. Diamond hill then had to be summited twice before heading off on the out and back section which included long sections of energy sapping bog, old dirt road, forest fire road and of course Benbaun Mountain and its surrounding foothills.

I met with the rest of the Irish team on Friday at our accomodation for the weekend, The Old Monestery Hostel. I hadnt met John O'Regan, John Byrne or Tony Brennan before and had only met Barry Murray a couple of hours earlier when I picked him up in Galway so there was plenty of introductions and chatting to be done before the race. I also met Jarlath Hynes, a clubmate of Tony and John's who was running in the open race and was also staying with us. So le Cheile AC were out in force. John Collins was the final member of the group and was detailed for Aid Station 1 and 5 where he would no doubt have to listen put up with us throwing the toys out of the pram if he didnt arrange our gels in a proper colour co-ordinated manner or keep our drinks at a temperature of 4.73 degrees! A brave man to take on the job, but he proved more than capable and was only caught out when I asked him at the last stop for some salt tabs, which I hadn't even bothered to put in my drop bag so that was probably pushing it a bit.

Anyway, back to the race. It was a 7am start on Saturday morning so not wanting to get up to early to eat a big bowl of porridge, I kept it light and just had a banana and a Meridian peanut butter and oat bar, which I love and are easy enough on the stomach. A couple of large mugs of coffee helped wash this down and there was very little else to do, but get the bus with the rest of the lads from the Hostel in Letterfrack to the nearby Kylemore abbey
Kylemore Abbey in all its splendor
Team Ireland before the start minus Barry who was going through his pre race ritual at the time
The atmosphere at the start was one of excitement, anticipation, trepidation and and probably a little bit of fear all rolled up togethe and waiting to explode before the start. This was added to by the Helicoptor overhead which was to be a regular feature of the day, as they hovered over the course getting some footage for the highlights programme that Eurosport, Channel 4 and Setanta Sports are due to broadcast in the next few weeks. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and it seemed like we all just wanted to get moving and tackle what we knew was going to be a long, hard day of running. So on the stroke of 7am, Richard Donovan, the Race Director, gave the countdown and sounded the horn to get the large group of wirey looking athletes underway.
Time to go!!
I knew the race was going to start fast, as it was virtually flat along the road the whole way to Letterfrack, so I made sure not to let the excitement get the better of me and go off too fast. I opted instead to keep the back of the front bunch in eyeshot. It felt pretty warm, even for this early in the morning and I had a feeling fuelling properly was going to play a big part as the day wore on. On arrival at Letterfrack we took a sharp left and started uphill towards the Diamond Hill trail, passing our weekend lodgings along the way. There were a number of supporters along the trail, 2 in particular standing out with their French coloured afro wig, A quick "Bonjour" and I continued on. Dan, Keith, Barry and John Byrne had maintained contact with the main bunch while the rest of the lads weren't far behind me. As we neared the Top of Diamond Hill the trail changed to granite slabs and steps and it steepened a little. This made descending difficult as the slabs were wet and the combination of this and the gradient was definately going to cause a few casualties. That fact was confirmed when chatting about the race afterwards, as some of the lads had witnessed some bone crunching falls. It was too early in the day to be taking unneccessary risks so I kept it steady. Eventually we were back on the trail and making our way back around to Letterfrack, and our first opportunity to make use of the aid stations. I had started with a handheld bottle and swigged the last of it as I entered the checkpoint. Tony Brennan was on hand to give me a new bottle with a Nuun tab and I grabbed a couple of GU gels as well for the next 16K of the route. Familiarity breeds confidence and I felt a little more comfortable heading back up Diamond Hill for the second time. I also managed to make up a few places here, noting that there was certainly a few bodies who got carried away with the fast start. I caught up with Barry as we reached the start of the slabs again and chatted briefly with him before pushing on. On the way back down the other side I could hear some short fast footsteps catching up with me, as I was caught behind the lone Polish competitor who didn't seem too willing to give way to following traffic!! Anyway the short fast footsteps saw their chance and skipped past both of us. They were those of the eventual second place female, Cecilia Mora. Being the sexist pig that I am, I told myself there was no way I was letting her get away so I didnt let the gap grow. The trail branched off and away from Letterfrack this time and this signalled the start of the real fun. The underfoot conditions deteriorated dramatically as we entered the first boggy section and immediately I noticed myself gaining ground on some of the runners ahead of me, and passing Cecilia, who was probably getting her first introduction to an "Irish trail". It was a little further on at the first river crossing, that I had the brief chat with one of the US competitors. This only served to boost my confidence about the rest of the day because if guys were getting negative this early in the day about the conditions (which overall weren't that bad. Sure it wasn't even raining, which is practically a default setting for the weather dial in this neck of the woods) then what were they going to be like when they realised there was a lot more of this to come.

Back on the firmer underfoot conditions, we were able to make quicker progress. We were now heading for the second checkpoint at the entrance to the forest, which was esentially the gateway to the 12 Bens, and everyones nemesis for the day, Benbaun mountain. Not before negotiating an even boggier section of ground though, where I again managed to pull away from some other runners and catch a few up ahead.

Reaching Checkpoint 2 at the 28k mark, I made my way to the table where John Collins had everything laid out and ready. I grabbed a new bottle again and this time took a peanut butter and oat bar and one of Jeff's homemade Rice cakes just in case I started to feel hungry. I continued on up the trail a little until I was out of sight. I pulled in for a quick p$*& stop, and as I was heading off again, Thomas arrived and we shared a few words about how the race was going so far. He reckoned we may have gone off a little quick but only time would tell. He was great all weekend, imparting his indepth knowledge of the course and experience of an ultrarunner on the rest of the team. We joked over the weekend that Thomas should write a book on his alternative approach to nutrition. His approach certainly gives the 2 fingers to conventional wisdom, and just adds to the respect I have for him. Actually I think his autobiography would be a bestseller! Anyway He had been out helping to mark the course and had also built some timber crossings for some of the streams, so everything was fresh in his mind, and he knew exactly where and where not to step on some of the softer sections. Craig Stewart of the GB team was also with us on this section but the last I saw of him was when we hit the boggy foothills of Benbaun and began making our way across to the start of the real climbing.
I had been exchanging places with him for the previous 90 minutes or so but this was the last I saw of him. Stuart Mills remarked afterwards that perhaps being such a tall, and probably as a consequence, heavier guy, the bogs probably slowed him more than most.

The climb to the top of Benbaun was slow going and towards the top required the use of all fours as we neared the top. Thats where the scree became plentiful and eventually the gradient became runnable again as we made our way to the true summit just after a small cairn which I initially thought spelled the end of the climbing. Over the top and then the hazard became finding the best place to put your foot between the loose, jagged rocks as we ran along the ridge to softer underfoot conditions. There was a nice array of nationalities chugging along now and I spotted Dutch, Spanish, British, Greek and US countrymen to name a few. As we swung right to begin the descent of Benbaun I spotted that Eoin Keith had made up good ground on our little group and I remarked to myself that he was going to have a fine race, seeing how he had paced the first half of the race and didn't seem to be hindered by the layoff with a broken leg earlier in the year. Experience is certainly a big factor in the sport of ultrarunning and Eoin was proving this fact with gusto.

The descent looked hair raising from the top and after my initial attempts to run it I decided to myself that there was ground to be gained on the faint hearted here, and I decided to make as much use of my backside as my feet and proceeded to half slide half run down. A few nasty bumps and gashes were my reward along with gaining a few extra positions in the overall standings. It was a little risky with some rocks half hidden behind the long grass but it seemed to pay off. As the slope evened out a little again, it was back to tip toeing around to find the best, most solid footing. The course seemed to undulate along here until we were directed by one of the Army lads over a fence towards an old dirt path which would bring us down to checkpoint 3. The support here was great with different nationalities cheering runners whether they were their own or not and it all just served to enhance the good feeling out on the course.
Heading in to Checkpoint 3
It was along this stretch that I met my parents who had walked up the track a little and this brightened my mood further as I headed for the checkpoint. And I got a further boost as I met laura at the checkpoint. She was full of encouragement as I tried to decide what I needed. Jeff's other half, Aoibheann was also there along with John Byrne's girlfriend who was actually the official Irish checkpoint person. All shouted support as I got out of there to continue a further 4k down the path before I would have to turn around and basically retrace my steps all the way back to the finish line in letterfrack. It seemed a little daunting to think of it like that so I concentrated on just getting back to the checkpoint, then to the foot of Benbaun and then over it, by which time the back would be broken out of the thing and it would be relatively  plain sailing to the finish, in theory at least. The leaders looked strong as they came against me on their way back from the turnaround, and I longed to feel as fresh as they looked but overall I had probably paced the race pretty well so far and I knew there had to be others feeling much worse. It was at this point I think I learned that Keith had had to pull out with a bad case of dehydration. It was a real shame and I was gutted for him because I knew from the time of our recce that he would have been capable of having a great race, even given his lack of off road running experience. He has obviously proved himself as a serious runner on the road, but from what I saw on our recce, he would be equally good on this type of course. Dan, however was flying at this stage and I shared a high five with him as he passed, looking strong. I met Stuart Mills from the GB team around this time too and he too looked to be going strong. He had gone out hard, in keeping with his mantra of  "race as fast as you can, while you can". I have to say from talking to him this weekend and from brief email conversations and reading his blog, I think he is on the ball with his different theories on performance. So much is dictated by one's own self expectations and it can be a major weapon in one's racing arsenal. I didnt stay long on my return to the aid station and just grabbed a handful of various bits of food and kept moving. The place was a hive of activity with runners coming from both directions. The climb back over Benbaun was just as difficult the second time round and I resolved to just gring int out one step at a time. Jeff was descending the mountain as I was heading up and I couldn't help but notice how fresh he looked. Maybe he should have chatted to Stuart before the race about going out harder! Eoin caught up to me again half way up the climb and we chatted for a while about what a great course this was, and joked at how there were some competitors who were not it's biggest fans.  On the descent I pulled away from Eoin again, as he is still slightly constrained on the descents by the leg break he sustained earlier in the year.

The next undulating boggy section saw me fall flat at least 4 times, at one stage going straight in to a head over heels roll twice in quick succession. One of the Army boys must have been wondering if there was a points competition for acrobatics, running concurrently with the race. However once back onthe forest trail it was easier to maintain a good rythm and I managed to make up another place.

The last checkpoint came and went without too much difficulty. I just refilled my bottle here and grabbed a gel and kept moving. John Collins was still doing great work and Laura andmy parents had made it around from the other side of Benbaun which I didnt expect so that wasa nice boost too. I continued up the next road section to the entrance to the boggiest section of the coursr which this time had the sting of being uphill for the last kilometre. I had a few bodies out ahead of me which provided something to chase. I managed to catch up with one of them just before we got back on the long road section to Letterfrack. I had thought that we would be on this road the whole way back to the village but with 2k to go there was a right turn to bring us back through the fist bog we encountered earlier in the morning. This was a nice surprise as it was going to provide a more scenic finish and at this stage it was easier on the legs than the road. As I neared the 1k to go sign I could see one of the Italian runners just up ahead and he looked to be suffering. I had no idea what position I was in but decided that an extra jump up the table could be good for the team results and that I had to get passed him. It wasvirtually all downhill to the finish as I met Tony with his camera where the ground went from bog to fire road so it was just a matter of letting gravity do the work and taking me in  to the finish line in the village
Last 1k, sneaking past Daniele
There was a great atmoshphere at the finish line with athletes and spectators alike mingling and the locals shouting encouragement. Dan was there after his storming run and we shared congratulations and stories from the course. I knew Eoin wouldnt be far behind so I was keeping an eye out for him too, which there really wasn't any need to do since we had the most enthusiastic announcer on a loudspeaker letting us know as each runner neared the finish. Eoin came in next and I congratulated him and thanked him for his company during the Benbaun climb. I think his performance was one of the best of the day, given where he was 4 months ago
I then bumped in to Stuart Mills who had been in a while and had come back over to the finish chute to wait for his teammates. We had a good chat about the course and how he ran the race. He also gave me someinteresting advice for the Lakeland 100 in 2 weeks time, which has got me thinking about my strategy for that race. Whobetter to get advice from than last year's race winner and I'll certainly be putting in to practice some of the advice he gave
Thomas, Barry and John O'Regan weren't far behind and that made up the finishing Irish contingent. John Byrne was thrown in at the deep end with this race and had to pull out around the halfway point. Although he is a class runner, he had never run any type of mountain race before and the fact he had dislocated his shoulder many times in the past meant the risk for him continuing was too great, especially with the World 100k championships on the horizon, an event that is probably his forte and one that should see him at the business end of the standings at the end. Keith had suffered big time with dehydration and it would have been dangerous for him to continue. Thankfully he was ok and will also be gunning for the 100k race in the Netherlands in September.

So all that was left to do was enjoy the rest of the evening in the company of some great people. The Guinness flowed and the banter bounced around between us all. Some of the GB lads joined us for some "rehydration" too even though they had a 5.30am start the next morning to get a flight back to the UK. Thats commitment lads!

Finally I just want to say thank you to the Irish squad, both runners and management for making me feel welcome, imparting ye're own experience and finally for giving me the opportunity to be a part of a great experience. It was a proud day!!

Next up is the Lakeland 100 in 2 weeks. I can't wait to get over to that spectacular part of the world and soak up the experience. And of course I cant wait to give a right lash and see where it takes me.

Here is some photos of thelads in action
Thomas coming into the finish
Dan looking strong on approach to checkpoint 3
John O'Regan in a South African sandwich!!
John Byrne passing the 1k to go sign....More like 55k unfortunately!
Teamwork demo by Thomas and Eoin
Keith still battling even with a bad case of dehydration
Barry with his game face on
Jarlath and Jeff at checkpoint 1

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

World Trail Champs Recce

On Saturday last I met up with some of my new teammates to run some of the course for this race which takes place in 3 weeks time in Connemara National Park. I'm certainly glad I made the trip because it acted as a bit of an eye opener as to what to expect on the day and allows me to plan how to tackle what will be a tough day's running.

Myself, Eoin, Dan and Keith set off from the disused farmers road that links Diamond Hill to the section on part of The 12 Bens. Being a 2 lap course I began imagining how this section might feel quite tiring the second time round. But with such variation throughout the course and some very high quality runners taking part (and that's just my own teammates, not to mention the competitors from overseas) there is a sense of excitement building about the race already. Dan took some quality snaps which can be viewed on his blog which I will post a link to later

Roll on the 9th of July

Friday, June 10, 2011

Malcolm McLoughlin Running Mizen to Malin

On the 3rd of July next, Malcolm McLoughlin will attempt to run from Mizen, the southernmost part of Ireland, to Malin at the other end all in the name of Autism. Pearl, Malcolm's daughter suffers from Autism and this is one of the ways Malcolm aims to raise awareness and funds to help sufferers of autism and their families. This is a journey of more than 580kms over 6 days passing through many towns and villages along the way so there is an opportunity for people to get out and join Malcolm and run some of the route with him. He will need all the help he can get on this epic journey and would certainly appreciate the company.
Details of his run can be seen on his website The site also documents his family's journey so far and really gives an insight in to what this cause means to him. No doubt with this kind of motivation behind him, he will achieve this amazing feat of endurance.
Hopefully I will be able to join Malcolm for a few miles as he makes his way through County Cork in the initial days of the run

Good luck Malcolm!!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Carrauntoohil Mountain Race

Distance - 12.5km
Ascent - 1137 metres
Summit time - 56.53
Finish time - 1.29.44

This was my first time on this famous peak and it was well worth the wait. The day dawned quite overcast and murky outside and I could see from my bedroom window at the B&B that Carrauntoohil's peak was obscured by a thick vail of cloud. I had thought earlier in the week that we were going to be baked under a hot sun but there was no such luck.

Jeff, Mick and winner of this year's race, Jason Kehoe all stayed here too so there was a nice little posse making it's way along the windy backroads to find the farmer's yard that today was acting as a car park for participants. On arrival two things were clear. Firstly, there was going to be a strong field of runners taking part and secondly, this was probably going to be the toughest race I would have the pleasure of running on the IMRA calendar this year. That was pretty clear from the jagged, rugged walls of granite and grass that seemed to surround us as we readied ourselves for the off.

The race started on the Kerry way and followed this route on a number of switch backs before veering off to the right and continuing up and up and up. A quick little briefing was given by Vivian before we started and without warning we were given the off. I didn't even have time to start my watch. Straight away we were snaking along the track upwards and jostling for places. I settled in towards the front of the group. Barry Minnock set a ferocious pace on the ascent and had made a considerable lead for himself as the route veered away from the fence and towards a very narrow and rocky ridge. I had a few hairy moments here as it became very technical and dangerous underfoot. I lost a few places, having been third or fourth earlier on. My legs were also screaming for a break from the continuous uphill so the change in elevation profile, when it came, was welcome. Arriving at the summit it was hard to catch your breath with the gale blowing across the mountain. A happy band of hikers were up there savouring the amazing views but sadly we couldn't do the same. Whatever muscles were doing all the work on the way up were now getting the chance to recover (or at least that's what it felt like) and it felt great to be moving at pace again. There was some more uphill to be negotiated but the bulk of it was now behind us and it was just a matter of staying upright which at times I failed to do. I managed to make up a place on the way back only to be passed in turn by Tom Blackburn near the finish.

By all accounts it was a very exciting climax to the race up at the front with Jason Kehoe managing to overhaul the deficit between himself and Barry to take the win. Only 50 seconds seperated the top 5 runners with storming performances from Bernard Fortune, the Cleary brothers Rob and Stephen and last years winner Brian Furey. 

We got lucky with the weather too because the thick cloud that was sitting on top of Carrauntoohil from the previous evening, lifted to reveal the full extent of it's size and it stayed this way until we departed the scene. We refuelled in Cookie monsters cafe on the road just below the start line, which was badly needed after the effort.

Results and pictures are up on IMRA now

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Carrauntoohil and plans for the Summer

On Sunday the 5th of June the the race up Ireland's highest peak takes place, starting from the south side of the mountain on the Kerry Way and taking in the peaks of Curraghmore and Caher on the way. It is an IMRA Irish championship race and, given the history and lore of the mountain, is probably one of the biggest days on the mountain running calendar. The weather has been promised very favourable, which is a big plus for people like me who could manage to get themselves lost in their own back garden. Details and a map of the course can be seen here. I'm looking forward to some proper open mountain running in a lovely part of the world. I'll post a report on. ow things go next week.

I had planned on going up north next weekend for the Mourne Way Ultra but I have decided against this for a couple of reasons. The first being that I dont think I have fully recovered from The Wicklow Way run and secondly and probably more importantly, I want to be ready and not all raced out for the World Trail Championships  which I have been selected to run in. I am very grateful for the opportunity and hope I can prove I was worth selecting. The one downside to doing this race is that it is just 3 weeks before the Lakeland 100 which means that preparation for the latter may suffer. Still I wont get the opportunity too often so I better grab it when its there and as a consequence  the World Trail will definately take priority

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wicklow Way Attempt

I am in the middle of writing a report on how things went last Saturday but in the meantime I just thought I would update the blog and say that the day went well and I managed to break the old record of 13.46.01 by 7 minutes in a time of 13.38.51. I had great help along the way from my mini crew of Rob and Jeff who were joined along the way by my parents and girlfriend and also fellow IMRA runner Caroline and a heavily pregnant Jo and her brother. I owe them all a big thanks for doing everything they possibly could to keep me running along to the end. I'll post again soon once I finish the report but in the meantime I need to recover. I've gone for a run the last 3 days and feel pretty ok but I just need to mind a few niggles I still have in the legs. With Carrauntoohill on the horizon I'm already looking forward to getting stuck in again

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon report

This was a really enjoyable training run and was well worth the trip to Kilfinnane outdoor adventure centre where the organised walk was due to start. There was a very relaxed atmosphere in evidence with the walkers and runners mingling at the start. The day looked like it was going to get very warm so I decided to travel light with just a bottle and a small pouch for a few gels, hoping that I would be able to get water from one of the marshals somewhere along the route if I needed it. This was my last long run before my Wicklow Way attempt and I wanted to see if the gel belt would be ok as I want to travel light and only bring the bare minimum with me and pick up food and water along the way from Robbie and Jeff who have kindly offered to help me. I quickly settled in to a nice pace with Paul saltat the front of the group, with Robbie and John close behind. There was only a handful of people running the route and this served to make it feel even more like a training session as opposed to a race. The route wound it's way along the road out of kilfinnane until we hit the start of the trail through the first forested area. It basically followed this pattern for the rest of the morning with short road sections linking nice forest tracks and open mountain tracks. There was lots of ascent and descent to cope with so combined with the mix of terrain it worked perfectly as a last long run. 4 hours and 12 minutes after we set off, we arrived back at kilfinnane and signed in. The organisers had dinner laid on for all participants so we had a nice munch before we set off back for cork. A well run event that could work really well as a race if it was advertised as one

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ballyhoura Walking Festival Mountain Marathon (Running the route obviously)

This event is organised by the Ballyhoura bears walking club and Ballyhoura Country. Its part of a weekend long walking festival and is along a marked route of trail, open mountain and river bank through the surrounding Ballyhoura countryside. It starts in Kilfinnane in Limerick and should be a nice training run. There are 4 of us that I know of who are running it but there could be a handy few more  on the start line tomorrow, beside the bears themselves. This will probably be the last long run I do before the Wicklow Way attempt in 2 weeks time. I'll report on how tomorrow goes in the coming days.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wicklow Way Attempt - 132km Marley Park, Dublin to Clonegal, Co. Carlow

I have been thinking about having a go at running this for quite a while now, but wasnt sure whether I should try it before or after the Lakeland 100 race in July. Well I decided that if I was going to do it at all I might as well give it my best shot and get the best possible time I'm capable of. So I reasoned that I'm pretty fit for purpose at the moment so why not  now, instead of on tired legs later in the year. May 14th is the date I have set and I have managed to rope a couple of people in to helping with support so it should be all systems go on the day.  Hopefully I will be setting off at 4am from the Wicklow Way Start board inside the walls of Marley that morning
The current record stands at 13 hours 46 minutes and 1 second set by Eoin Keith in september 2008. You can read his detailed account here
Eoin's record knocked a huge chunk off Simon  Walters' old record set in 1998 which is here
It would be great to get anywhere near Eoin's time but he didn't leave too much room for improvement (thank's Eoin). Anyway its a great route and I'm really looking forward to a long run in the hills.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Claragh Mountain IMRA Race, Millstreet, Co. Cork, Sunday 17th of April

Distance 4.32 miles
Elevation Gain 340m

Result - 1st in 31.18

This was a real ball breaker of a race right from the word go. Thats the difference when its a short and sharp blast I suppose. Its a real shock to the system at this stage whenever I do this type of race because of my usual much more leisurely pace over longer distances. The race starts at a crossroad in the town and heads out the Claragh road for about 800 metres before taking a sharp left onto a narrow lane to start the long uphill to the summit. The route then goes through a stile on the right to begin its steep ascent up through the forest. The surface here was nice and soft but also laden with roots and small rocks so I was already thinking about the fun I was going to have negotiating this on the way down at the speed the gradient was bound to allow.  Anyway the pace was a little hot for my liking on the initial road stage and I had to make do with chasing the main bunch of 9 or 10 eager runners. Once the route started on the long pull upwards, I was able to start pulling back a few places and by the time we had exited the forest and on to the open mountain, there was just James Doran and Donal Coffey ahead of me. The gradient then increased and I could feel the burning in my quads as the effort increased. It was now a real struggle to take in enough air to keep the legs working and I decided not to waste any extra effort by rubbing the flailing spittle from my mouth and face (I know, very classy!). As we neared the summit I made up another place and only had Donal in front of me to chase. However I took a bad line,resulting in losing back that place to Rob Cleary who was motoring well. At the summit we had to go around the cross and retrace our steps back to the start. It was quite a technical descent back down and myself and Rob both passed Donal. Rob had now opened up a bit of a gap. This descent was the best I have felt in any downward portion of a mountain race and it's probably a lot to do with just relaxing and throwing yourself in to it and hope nothing goes SNAP!! There was some shimmying to be done around the now strung out line of bodies on their way to the cross. I managed to close the gap a bit by the time we were back at the forest, and then it was time to start the fancy footwork through the uneven forest floor. At this stage Mike Cunningham had made up a lot of ground and had moved in to third. So I kept pushing hard knowing that he wasn't giving up the chase. As we exited through the stile and back on to the lane, I was 15 or 20 metres back. The long downhill section on the lane felt better than expected as I was worried about how my legs would feel on the harder ground, especially as I had done 9 and a half miles in the forest at home earlier in the morning, just in case I decided not to race that evening. Perhaps not the best preperation before a race!
Turning to get back on the main road, I had made up the additional few metres and I was now side by side with Rob. The last 300 metres are on a nice little pull up the road to the crossroads and thats where I decided to throw in a burst and hope that he wouldn't be able to respond. And to my relief I opened up a little gap. I could still hear Rob suffering just behind so therewasno relaxing in the last few metres. This was definately the closest I've come to gawking at any finish line!!

This is a lovely course and has a nice mix of forest, mountain track and elevation. Once again IMRA show that money is not what matters when putting on a good event. The relaxed atmosphere at the start is a refreshing difference from the sometimes intense concentration exhibited by some at the bigger road races.
It was back to the Community hall afterwards for tea, scones, fruit bread and biscuits and the prizegiving. I am now the proud owner of a new coffee plunger. Thaks to all the lads who helped put on a great evenings entertainment.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Long Run (Marley Park to Glenmalure 40.57miles)

I took for days off running after the Wicklow Way Ultra and jst did easy mountain biking to loosen out the legs but got back in to it the following thrsday as the soreness dissipated. I had been sort of planning doing something long on the Wicklow Way as I have been thinking for a while now of giving this a go in the very very near future. Im not 100% on the exact date yet but it will probably have to be early to mid May or June. I will be posting when I have decided properly.
Back to my run on the 9th of April. The weather was just perfect for this and after scaling the wall of Marley park at 7am, I made my way to the info board which marks the start of the Way. I had parked my car at the Glenmalure lodge the previous night and got a lift to Dublin off my cousin so I had a very short journey to make to the start point.The route winds  its way through the park for the first mile or so and before I was met with the back wall of the Park, which again had to be negotiated. Once safely over I continued on down the road under the M50 underpass and up Kilmashogue lane towards the forest. At the time I was thinking about the contrast of passing one of the  busiest roads in the country with what was  to come along the rest of the route and I couldnt wait to get away from there. I really enjoyed this run and the peacefulness of the area at that time of theday.By the time I reached Djouce I think I had only met one man and his dog. Here though I started to encounter the odd hiker,or person camping. This was naturally going to change during the course of the day and by the time I reached Glendaough I had to weave around all the tourists and sightseers that the area inevitably brings. Still it didnt take from my enjoyment.
I only encountered 1 detour along the route between Ballinfunshogue wood and Oldbridge where coillte were doing their thing. But it was a minor detour and probably added slightly to the distance. I availed of the farmers tap after Oldbridge after that short road section. This was very handy as I was running low on water at this stage.
All in all the run took 6 hours and 59 minutes which I was happy with that considering the stops to take some pictures on my phone. I also took a wrong turn just before Glenmalure as it wasnt quite clear which way the little yellow man was pointing (the prick!!). A welcome soak in the river afterwards helped to take some of the soreness from the legs and by Monday I felt quite good apart from a little bit of pain in my foot which I think I picked up from stepping on a stone.
So I'll update when I'm going to have a crack at the full route when I know.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wicklow Way Ultra Race Report ( 51km, 1940m ascent)

As the Result suggests this race went well.

Pre Race
I drove up from Cork the night before and stayed with my cousin so I would have a shortened spin to the start line at Johnny Foxes pub in Glencullen. The weather had been relatively warm and sunny for this time of year and more of the same was promised for Saturday, if a little cooler. I was up at about 6.30 in an attempt to cook some porridge and brew some strong coffee, sumatran i believe. I barely finished the porridge,then filled a few 500ml bottles for the race, one of which i would start the race with and the others hopefully being deposited for me by the organisers at the halfway point in Ballinastoe and the 40k mark in Crone wood. I taped a couple of GU gels to the halfway bottle and carried 4 with me, just in case.
I arrived at the pub's car park to be greeted by Martin Francis directing cars to various spots. I would end up running alongside Martin for a good chunk of the first half of the race and his positivity was very welcome during that time. I met John and Paul in the queue for registration, both of whom are racing again at the Connemara Ultra in 2 weeks. They both looked eager and up for a scenic run in the hills and having not done the course before, I assured them they were in for a treat. I spoke with last years winner, Eoin Keith who was helping with registration. He was unable to race after breaking his leg at the Annagh Hill race earlier in the year and was disappointed not to be towing the line to defend his title. But the cast was due to come off in the following couple of days and he was hoping to be back racing in the coming months. He has a date with Mont Blanc and its surrounding peaks to look forward to in August.
The time passed quickly after this and following some more chatting, I went to the car to get togged off. Dermot called everyone together for the briefing outside the pub and we were ready for the off. I took my place beside Martin and Adrian Tucker (who I ran the Art O'Neill challenge with in January) at the front of a hardy bunch of 60 runners

The Race
The first mile of the race is along the road to a sharp left turn which brought us to the point where we meet the official Wicklow Way so it was relatively flat and we settled in to a nice pace, with myself, Martin and Dale leading out the bunch. At the turn we had a quick downhill, over a bridge to the start of the trailhead where we had to negotiate a gate. Safely through here it was time for the first climb of the day all the way to the top of Prince Williams seat. About half way up the climb, Tony Keely came up on my shoulder and then edged past me and took up the lead. He had certainly injected an extra little bit of pace and the bunch was really starting to string out along the climb. As we reached the top of Prince William's seat, Tony pulled away and while i thought about following him, I reminded myself that it was a long race and he may not be feeling so sprightly later on. Im not the best decender and I think he would have pulled away anyway as we hit the long downhill to Curtlestown wood. The granite stones made it feel like a game of hop scotch and this slowed my progress a little. But its these little variations that make it such a brilliant place to run and why I will always pick an off road race over a road one. As I neared the bottom of the downhill. I could hear footsteps behind me and then the friendly voice of Martin Francis. He reckoned we were going along at a nice pace and would do well to maintain it. We speculated as to whether Tony had gone out too fast and wondered when we would see him again. We kept a nice brisk pace up along the road section as far as the entrance to the next trail section, where we were met by the shell of a burnt out car. Martin joked that they had burnt out his spin back to the finish. This is a really nice section of the course and there is some nice single track downhill to enjoy on the way to the bank of the Dargle river. We arrived in to Crone around the hour mark with a few bodies close behind. There was no hanging around here as we were only 11km in to the race and about to start a steady climb out of the woods to Djouce. It was on this climb that I started to pull away a little from Martin and also where I spotted Tony walking up one of the bigger climbs. I reckoned he looked tired and felt I could  make time on him here. And so it prooved. It was a pity to be running hard and not enjoy the view of Powerscourt off to the left of the trail, but I reasoned that there would be more relaxed runs up arond these parts later in the year where I could do that. AsI reached the felled wood section and tip toed round all the old roots, I was now 20 or 30 metres behind Tony heading down the slope to start the long climb up Djouce. It was at the bottom as we negotiated the style that  Tony informed me he may have gone too hard and was suffering a little. I decided a mix of running and fast walking would be best here and thats what I did. Over the next style and the gradient eased a little giving me a chance to breath a little easier. I jumped the third style and felt that the worst was over and it wasnt too far to the turn around. In reality there was still some way to go but the rest of the climb was a little softer underfoot and all runnable. The higher I went, the mistyer (if thats even a word) it got and it became quite cool as well. I was thankful for throwing on a base layer under my singlet. As I hit the boardwalk I was reliably informed by 2 kids -  out with their mum for a hike - that if I stopped running I would get cold. I thanked him for his incredible observation and told him I had no intention of stopping. I chopped and changed between running on the Boardwalk and the softer track beside it when it wasn't too boggy. I was met along this section by one or 2 early starters in the trail race and exchanged pleasantries. I love meeting people during these races and exchanging encouragement as it acts as a little lift at low times. Disappointingly the view of Lough Tay was obscured by the fog and I thought back to a run I did up here with  Jeff Fitz ( currently sunning himself in Spain and racking up mileage for his West Highland Way race in June) and Robbie Williams (who had a flying run in the trail race).That day the pace was leisurely and we were able to soak up the views. Today however, it was probably a blessing in disguise as there was nothing to distract my attention from the ground underfoot which demanded my full concentration. As I turned in to Ballinastoe Woods I was met by a steward who pointed me left. I thought to myself "how I could have done with you last year", when I went right instead and added a considerable amount of time to my run. This long decent down the fireroad is a tough one on the feet and legs and seems to go on forever, probably because you know that at the end, you have to turn around and come back up again. As I reached the end I could hear breathing behind me and turned to find Martin again hot on my heels. He was running a good race and I thought to myself, I hope he is tiring because I cant go much quicker. At the turnaround I grabbed my bottle and gels from the pile of goodies on the ground and quickly set off back up the hill. I took a gel here and put another in the pouch on my bottle holder. I couldn't get the empty gel packet into the pouch so as I passed a mountain biker, I asked him would he mind taking it as I didn't want to be littering. He looked a little bemused but agreed and I thanked my fellow green friend and kept moving. It was slow progress up this climb but I kept up a steady trot. There was now a  stream of Ultra runners coming against me and more opportunities to shout encouragement. Adrian, Paul, a fellow Eagle clubmate, and John all passed looking very fresh and I could see they were enjoying themselves. I hit the boardwalk and began the long, windswept run back to Djouce.

 Eagle clubmate paul Daly on his way up From the turnaround at Ballinastoe. This shot gives an idea of the slog ahead.

I actually became a little chilly here as the wind whipped up and it probably helped to keep me running to try and warm up. At this stage I couldn't see any of the other ultra runners behind me and as I hit the downhill after the boardwalk I was starting to feel a little confident. This new found confidence was short lived however,when, as I hopped the first gate I took a quick look back while eating another gel, to see Dale hot on my heels, and I realised the race was still very much on. I picked up the pace to the valley floor where I asked a kind hiker if he would mind hanging on to my empty gel packet. He duly obliged and wished me luck. I hit the climb back up to Powerscourt with Dale about 50 metres back. I power walked hard up the slope, putting a little more breathing space between the two of us. On then down the long downhill section to the Crone woods entrance. It was on this descent that I decided to shed a layer. In true Cork fashion I must have looked like a right "Langer" as I struggled to get my singlet back over my head, after removing my base layer, all the while trying to keep the pace up and not fall over. I eventually managed the task and settled in to my stride again for the rest of the run in to the checkpoint in Crone, all the while trying to lose Dale. I had drained my bottle at this stage, so I quickly grabbed my last one at the checkpoint. I was so intent on getting out of there that I didnt even respond to race organiser Dermot Murphy's offer of a few jelly babies. I must have seemed pretty ignorant but I did apologise afterwards at the finish line. It was as I hit the banks of the Dargle that I started to feel the strain and I had to start the talking to myself to keep pushing hard. I was now a couple of hundred metres in front of Dale and felt I would have to hammer the remaining climbs to put enough space between us before the last long descent near the finish. He seemed to be a little quicker than me going downhill so I put myself under pressure to keep pressing hard as I hit the long climb up from the river.  The road section back to Curtlestown was uneventful and I didn't see any sign of Dale behind me. As I got to the forest entrance I met Mary  O'Colmain who had volunteered to set up another water station which I had not expected to need but my third bottle was not cooperating and most of the water had spilled out through a leaky cap.
The turn in to Curtlestown with 8k to go with said water bottle cap in hand ready for refill

I quickly refilled the bottle and this time partook in some jellies. I didn't hang about here and I started the last long slog up through Curtlestown. My plan was that if Dale came in to view I would be sure to push harder in the faint hope that he would think I was feeling good and that he might throw in the towel. It sounded good in my own head and at least kept me thinking positive. I would ease off then as I rounded the next corner and was out of view.
Dale on the climb through Curtlestown wood

As I reached the top of the climb and tip toed back around the granite slabs I knew that the worst was now over and all I had to do was push hard the couple of miles back to the finish
Granite slabs at the top of Prince William's seat. All downhillish from here!

This proved easier said than done of course and every downhill step was now hurting my feet (probably something to do with the racing flats I was wearing). I passed another few hikers who must have been thinking to themselves whats this guys hurry, slow down and enjoy the scenery? As I neared the end of the trail there was still no sign of Dale and I was starting to think that maybe I had built up a sufficient lead. I slipped through the gate and back on to the road and over the bridge, where I began the steep pull back to the main road. I kept looking back up the trail, which I now had a good view of and still could see no one. This made me wonder was there someone going to pop around the corner at full tilt so I wasn't able to relax. I reached the main road and tried to pick up the pace a little again. The finish was just outside the GAA club which was about 500 metres short of last  year's finish line and as I rounded a slight bend in the road, I could see the table set up at the finish and Dermot and Eoin standing there waiting to record finishing times. I crossed the line in 4hrs 11minutes and 26 seconds and immediately sat down on the road. Eoin advised me that I might be better off sitting elsewhere as my current level of agility might not have allowed me to get out of the way of passing traffic. I took his advice and got back up again. After a short chat about the race Dale came along to grab second place. I was starting to stiffen up and get cold by now so I said my goodbyes and headed back to the car park to get in to some warmer gear. I was starting to think of how nice a pint of guinness and bowl of chowder would be in Johnny Foxes,when Robbie suggested it, but knew I wouldn't get the chance to sample these because of a need to be back in Cork early. Chicken cuppa soup was all I could manage from a petrol station.
This is one of the best races in the country and to think that entry was only €15, it goes to show what can be achieved on a tight budget and calls in to question some of the ridiculous entry fees charged by other event organisers. Here here for IMRA! A big thanks to Dermot, Eoin, Richard, Mick Hanney and all those who helped to put on a cracking race.