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|
|Time to go!!|
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|
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|
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
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|