2017 in one

As storm Eleanor howls in the chimney and I recover from a nasty cold I thought it time for a yearly recap. 

Nice to remember 2017

Race and training wise it really was a good year. My blog has detailed accounts of all the races so this is just a brief summary. I pushed myself to the limit, completing challenges and races I had never even consider a year or two ago. 2016 had been a year marked with injury and picking myself up after the disappointment of the Itera adventure race.

With this in mind I wanted 2017 to go well and started it off with two months of decent training before The Race in Donegal in March. A fourth place finish here in a time of 15 hours and 20 minutes really boosted my confidence to push on. 

David and I after Paris roubaix

A trip to France and Belgium to take on the Paris-Roubaix cycling challenge was next up. It was a bone shaker with an atmosphere. We really enjoyed the day out. 

Myself and Shaun on top of Errigal, the final peak.

Next up was the real high point of the year as myself and Shaun Stewart broke the Irish record for the Fastest Known Time over all 32 county peaks. This challenge really put me to the pin of my collar, running and hiking 160 km with over 10000 metres of vertical in 60 hours and 35minutes. It will be a hard one to follow in 2018 but we are scheming already! 

How i stood up for the photo I will never know!

With the thoughts of CCC qualification points I signed up to the Wicklow way race. 130km later I was lying on the ground unable to move after a painful almost 19 hours. My leg injury from 2016 flaring up badly and testing my mental side for at least half the event. If I ever see a yellow man again !!  

Jurassic coast here we come.

I finally secured my points in Dorset in December with a good 14th place finish in the Ultra. Thanks to my training buddie Sinead who was instrumental in finding a race for the points when my Kerry trip was cut short in a car accident. 
The summer was a mixed bag of training and enjoying trips to Sweden and the UK.  A high point was climbing Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise.  Before this myself and Emma ran in Snowdonia where I finished 14th in the trail marathon and have signed up for 2018 already. A cracking event to look forward to. 

Castlegar Cross Country team.

I started running cross country in the Autumn and ran a few races with the club. I think we medaled in nearly every event and there is no doubt the cross country is a serious way to improve your running strength. A county team medal as well as a bronze county medal topped it off nicely. It is just a shame it isn’t a longer season of cross country races. It has been such fun training and racing with the gang at Castlegar ac.

Gloomy, relentless Mourne Mountain’s.

The Mourne Skyline Marathon was an insane event to say the least. With little time in the hills in the weeks leading up to the race, it nearly did beat me. I had to strain every last bit of will power that day. This is not a race for the faint hearted. An incredible 3500 metres of ascent over only 35km.  Let’s be having ya next year! 

So it is was an incredible year, a successful one, with one first place on the Joyce country challenge, but it was a year to test myself and learn about endurance.

The distance raced in 2017 was 892km, 320 of which was on the bike. So all in all not crazy mileage in races but the training around these was intense with a marathon in training midweek one week and plenty long hours on the hills and roads of the West. I dont really have a yearly mileage as I changed technology a few times. I hope to have more accurate stats this year with my new Suunto Vertical ambit 3 watch. I know there are a few stat heads following the blog so watch this space!

Thanks to all that followed through my fun and pain this year and here’s to a healthy 2018 ahead.

Christmas in the West

I was home for Christmas this year and besides now having a dose of the flu and being pretty rattled by it, I did manage some fun training over the mini break. We completed our annual crossing of the Galtee Mountain range on the 23rd. We were so lucky with a cracking days weather, running more than half the 24km route and enjoying the company of friends along the way.



Galtee mountains. 

Eight of us took on the mountains and everyone enjoyed a ridiculously mild and sunny day for this time of year. The hike includes some steep little sections with a peak height of 909metres on top of Galtymore, one of our 26 peaks back in April! The last time I was there was around 2.30am in the morning. I must say the views and the legs felt a lot better this time. Thanks especially to Rachel Nolan for running the second half with me.
So with some decent training of late I took on the Fields of Athenry 10k on Stephens day. I could feel my throat wasn’t right and I had had sniffles since the Galtees but thought a good run might clear me out. In hindsight I was wrong. In saying this I equalled my pb with a 36.41 finishing time and was happy considering not feeling great. It was fantastic to see over 1000 people running on Boxing day. My last race of a busy year and glad to be able for it, just about.



Running in the club colours. 


Working together we snatched our top 50 jerseys! 

Myself and Sean McDermott paced it out together to the finish. Hopefully I will give this course a go feeling fully fit some day.

Only 12 sleeps to the UTMB draw date. This will define my training for 2018 in many ways. Hopefully some of you can cross those fingers and toes for me on the 11th!

A quick 2017 summary to follow around New Years. I’m not sure where to start and finish that one, but these few sick days will give me time to think.


Galtee’s in the sunshine. 

It’s not a bad spot when the sun shines.

 

Winter Training Continues

It is the 19th of December and at this stage, as far as racing is concerned it looks like most of 2018 will surround my luck in the draw for CCC on the 11th of January. Fingers and toes crossed. In the mean time it was time to enjoy some training and work hard as winter kicks into gear. I actually really enjoy getting a good run at training at this time of year. I think back to this time last year when I was resting up with hip issues and wondering when my training would start for The Race in March! It turned out to be quite the 2017 event wise. It just comes to show what you can achieve in a year, even if the one before wasn’t the success you had wished for. I hope to do a 2017 summary post over the Christmas and finish the year with a lash at a PB in the 10km in Athenry on the 26th as well as a duathlon on the 28th of December.

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Mountain Biking in the Burren.

My weekday training has been high intensity but boring in terms of writing here. Basically working a bit on speed and keeping strong through the winter. It has been a busy year and the legs don’t need crazy distance. The cross trainer is turning out to be a good mate, less impact on dodgy toes and great for full arm and leg workouts. The gym is a great tool all year, particularly in the winter but there is little substitute for the outdoors. I spent two weekends ago in the Burren trashing out some hilly mountain bike trails and then last Sunday I ran up and down Croagh Patrick twice. It is hard to beat the hills. I definately lacked hill training before the Mourne Marathon and paid the price. We all learn from our mistakes and I hope not to make that particular one again. As for training with friends in the hills or wherever your playground is, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It will clear the head and you make good friends along the way.

This time of year is busy for everyone and a costly time too. The best advice I can give is keep up some short high intensity type training during the break. This of course is if you plan on keeping fitness over the break or just having a total rest period. It is different for everyone and important to do what the body feels up to.  I had a little money saved during 2017 towards races in 2018. In the last few weeks the plans have started to come together and it looks like I have a long list of events already building up. I won’t get into the details but it looks like a start with the Donadea 50km on the 10th of February, followed by a return to multi sport racing with Gaelforce Dublin the following weekend. I plan on entering a few of the duathlon national series races to work on some speed coming into Gaelforce Dublin, depending on free time to enter.  This is my motivation for the winter and I would advise getting a race or two on that calender early, if you feel you need to motivate on these dark evenings.

A little trot and a wander across the Galtee Mountain range is in store for next weekend. We might as well make the most of the 8 hours of light we have. I hope I can get a few photos along the way and make up for the grey misty Croagh Patrick last weekend!

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Goofy on top of Croagh Patrick on Sunday!

The story of the Dorset Ultra 

The Jurassic Coast. 

The Jurassic coast was the location for my next adventure with the Dorset Ultra, one of a series of races in the coastal trail series in the UK. 

The weeks leading up to this 53km Ultra trail marathon had not been ideal. An extremely low mileage count since the Mourne Marathon and no real race based training meant the only thing I had in my locker was rest and good fitness from the bike and cross trainer. Would the long year of events catch up, was my toe possibly broken or would it flare up making this am impossibly long day. There was only one way to find out and that was putting myself in that start line. Times, racing and the usual pressures were off, I had zero race nerves, felt a little nervous about my toe, but stayed positive. Emma was with me and would do the half marathon and Sinead and Owen had travelled from Ireland to take part. Myself and Owen had big plans of 3 and 4 UTMB points needed while Sinead and Emma were happy to knuckle down and run for enjoyment, or madness, who knows! 

A slightly blurry one and a gang selfie near the start.

We arrived on Friday evening and by 8 Saturday we were all ready for the off. The start was in Lulworth Cove, a classic tourist hub on the southwest coast.  It was dry, chilly but not freezing and the course was dry as a bone.

As always I will tell my story of the race, speaking to everyone else there were many ways of looking on the event. The ultra would consist of a 20km loop to the West, a 23km loop to the East, followed by a final 10km loop along the same route as the first 20. This consisted basically of running out the coast in one direction, looping back through farmland and then doing this in the other direction, taking in some stunning scenery as we went. 

Not bad eh! 

We crossed the line at 8.07am. I had promised myself I would enjoy the race, play it very safe until 25km and if toe was still attached by then I would let rip and do some racing. This meant a start mid or almost back of the pack and a slow walk up the first hill. The first of many hills, rolling hills as Shaun Stewart informed me during the year! The first 4km consisted of a few juicy climbs and some nice downhill running in between. I really held back and concentrated on warming up slowly and not pressing over 5min/km on the flats.  I was smiling, breathing easy and soaking up the coastal scenery. It really was fabulous. small fishing amd shrimping boats were heading out for the days work and looked stunning on the flat seas. The terrain was almost all hard mud trail and grass, easy to run on and not too technical. After taking on the early hills the first 20km became alot flatter rolling through farmland. I was in a group of about ten others, constantly changing positions. The other athletes were very friendly but talking was kept to a minimum as we started to concentrate on a long race ahead. I felt extremely good over the first half marathon and spent only a few seconds at a water stop as we came back through Lulworth before heading out on the very hilly second loop to the East. This is when things started to heat up. I had managed to stay comfortably in a roughly yellow zone or there abouts but was soon hitting the orange zone with the hills starting to arrive thick and fast. After leaving Lulworth a real energy zapping stretch of gravel beach came next,  before climbing around a long headland and facing into a steep 180 metre climb just beyond this. The lungs were working, no restbites now. My lack of hill training of late started to catch up on the steep downhill sections as my quads took the brunt of the effort, still very much in pain as I sit here and write! At the 28km mark I knocked back some coke and jellies and this started to bring me out of my first low. My left quad was shouting and my toe gave the odd indication of something to come, but I was 25km from home, time to race.. I had been continuosly picking off runners all day. One or two mini bunches even stopped at aid stations giving me the chance to leap frog here. I was stocked up therefore I paused long enough to re fill water and press on again. I wasn’t counting but I must of passed up to 50 people since the start but really had no clue what position I was in. Top 20 would be kinda nice, whether here to race hard or not! 

I reckon most of the Ultra race competitors found the second loop the real make or break section of the race. If it were a marathon it would be one hell of a tough one. I arrived back into Lulworth for the second time in 4 hours and 40 minutes. As you can see not my fastest trail marathon but I did have a 10km hilly course and some points to sort out on this last 10km mini loop. 

I had a great boost meeting Emma on the course as she tackled the half marathon (26km). Yes it’s true in trail running that the distances are never really measured out! I later met Owen twice on the course as he slogged through 75km ultra plus. I never passed by Sinead which meant her race was going well. 

I set off up the same hill we started on after a minute or two at the marathon finish. A few glasses of flat coke, a banana and some jellies.  Let’s kick this ten kilometres out the gap. The uphills were slow hikes but I did manage to run the downhills, even with the pain increasing in the legs. I had nobody to chase and I couldn’t see anyone behind me over a vast stretch of grassy coastline,  so I kept a steady slow shuffle all the way to the final hill. I powered up the hill as my toe began to throb. “FEIC OFF TOE” I thought, your not gonna stop this now. I ran down to the finish and gave Owen a high five as he headed out with another 30km to put in the bag. It’s a mental battle out there but Owen is experienced. I finished exhausted, but I have been worse in 2017. I never smiled as much in a race and was rarely as nerve free before hand. A finish time of 5 hours and 53 minutes wasn’t bad and 14th place overall. After some real tough races this one has warmed me to Ultra’s once again.

Most importantly all four of us finished happy and safe. I saw Emma’s finish and we were all there for Owen a few hours later as he hammered down the final hill in the dark. There was a 33% drop out in the Ultra plus so Owen’s achievement was excellent. As with all the events I take part in it is the finish that is most rewarding for everyone. I hope to post some finish photos during the week. For now here is my race tracker, courtesy of my new Suunto ambit 3 vertical watch.. An early Christmas present. I missed the first 5 kilometres but it gives you most of the route. 

Next up? The draw for CCC in Chamonix, France next year. It will shape my year if I get in but we will see how it goes! 

Massive thanks again to Emma, Sinead and Owen who made Dorset a race to remember. The races with friends are easier, can’t beat having people to chat things through pre race and most importantly the big cheers with a few pints afterwards! 

Spin it Out and Suck it Up

You may be wondering what this strange title is about? The past couple of weeks have been a bit strange with some good training, some sickness and an unusual toe injury but after some stress and anger about the timing of my injury I decided to just hop on the cross trainer and the bike, work hard and suck it up. I am lucky to be able to train at all and a minor toe injury will pass, hopefully in time for the Dorset Ultra in 11 days!

I am currently working on some mini foam rolling of my toe as well as getting physio to try to work out the problem. It means lots of time spent in the gym. I think alot of people see injury as a rest period but very often we can work on our strength and endurance as long as we don’t activate the injury more. This is my theory at the moment anyhow. I am not saying rest is a bad thing during injury, it is definately needed, but apart from the fact that I am probably addicted to exercise, it also keeps my head in the right place to get through the injury.

The days are shorter all of a sudden and training gets harder at this time of year, but with good motivation alot can be achieved in the gym and out and about at weekends. I think everyone should have a winter goal to get them through the darker, wetter days and for me this goal, for now, is the Dorset Ultramarathon.  As I mentioned before if I finish I will have my 8 points to enter the draw for the CCC Mont Blanc next year. The 5 points gained in Wicklow Way race along with my possible 3 in Dorset give me this chance. Whether my toe will allow this to happen or not is another story yet to be told.

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A recent long run in Bristol by the Avon River.

I hope that the good year of injury free racing and training along with some good cross country races of late will give me the strength to finish and even enjoy myself in Dorset. The recent Mourne race was not my greatest day out but it should of helped me, if not physically, definately mentally.

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An uphill section towards the end of a recent cross country run. Great to wear the Castlegar AC singlet.

Running and especially my recent ultrarunning adventures can be a lonely sport. The cross country and team running events are very refreshing after long hours of running trails alone. The team and club spirit on a cold and wet morning at the weekend, running through ankle deep mud and falling across the line after 8km is just amazing. Thanks to all at Castlegar ac for introducing me to this new invigorating side to the sport.

I hope to do a pre Dorset race plan blog and blog to say that my toe is ready for the off. My only consolation at the moment is that i think the rest of me is ready and if I have to hop on one toe I hope to make that finish line!

 

Mourne Skyline MTR

Last weekend I had the chance to race in Northern Ireland as well as try out my new camper (photos on a later blog!). It would be an adventure no matter what happened in the race. The Mourne Skyline 35km mountain trail running race is one of the most difficult in Europe over this distance, with 3500metres or thereabouts of ascent and descent, it was going to be one tough event.

I arrived to an eerily quiet Newcastle in Co. Down, at the foothills of the Mourne mountain at around 6pm. Registration wasn’t until the following morning so I picked a nice sheltered corner of a carpark near the registration and start line. I cooked up some food and put the feet up for the evening. I was confident my fitness was good for this race but I knew my training had not been race specific. These would be relentless high gradient climbs on wet and tricky terrain, terrain I had not really trained on in a few months. In saying that I decided to think positively and give the race a good go.

Storm Brian was brewing down South as people made their way to the start line on the strand in Newcastle. Huge bundles of people huddled behind buildings to get some shelter ahead of a tough day. The wind was actually mild but it was strong and the rain lingered on the hills above. I knew that once above 400 to 500 metres we would be in the middle of rain, mist and low visibility.

The gun went off at 9am and very quickly little groups formed. I settled into a group just behind the leading one and felt comfortable here. Little did I know, despite plenty warnings what lay ahead of me!

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One of the many walls.

Walls, lots and lots of walls, going up and up and up and then down and down and down!! What more do you need to know about this race really? Now I am certain that this course is absolutely epic on a clear and dry day, but on a wet day with no visibility and treacherous terrain it is somewhat different.  Unfortunately my legs were refusing to enjoy going up. I was fine on the downhills and the flats but as slow as could be on the ascents. It was a strange feeling as usually this is where I excell. I don’t think I can explain this except to say that I had an off day. I thought maybe I went out too hard but in fairness I felt the heavy legs on the first, second and tenth climb in the same way. It just wasn’t in me on the day. It might be due to a busy year, a lack of specific training of late or maybe I just had a lack of something in my diet of late. Who knows, and to be honest who cares really? You cannot make excuses for a bad day. All you can do is give yourself a good kick in the arse and pick yourself up for the next day. Train harder or just hope that the next day you will feel like yourself again.

The first half of the race included about 4 big climbs and a long section of extremely technical trail, which I loved, in between. The ascents were gruelling as I explained, but the descents were nearing on the impossible at times. I wore my Salomon Speedcross 4’s for good grip and balance but even these were like ice skates. The mountain side was like a river, with rocks, mud and one inch blades of grass that were themselves hanging onto the mountainside for dear life! I was told in advance that the second half of the race would be the toughest. Now, as we all know the second half of most races is harder as we tire. However, this was the worst yet. At about 18km I blew up. I found the real wall among all the stony walls. I hit it hard and went from running up a gradual incline to walking on the flat to actually stopping and almost sitting down. I put on my waterproof pants thinking some warmth would rejuvenate the body. This worked momentarily but then I reached another climb in the Loughshanagh area and began to overheat. I had to stop and lose the wet gear. Between my massive bonk and the changing of clothes I lost over 10 places in the race and felt really bad. I was now almost crawling up the climbs and shouting at myself inside to keep on going. I actually shouted out loud a few times!

This was the process for the next few hours as I made my way home. The marshalls at every checkpoint were amazing, offering water and jellybabies that saved my life on a few occasions. On the rare occasion I was on a runnable downhill or flat I looked like this…

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A genious photographer caught me on a day I rarely smiled!

Yes I know everyone is thinking why do we do these events if we can’t smile throughout? In my opinion it is about enjoying yourself but you are challenging and pushing yourself to the limit, therefore it is not all fun and games. I kept telling myself that days like this will come about in your racing life, but the good ones will come along too and then you realise that without these awful days the good days would never be as sweet.

I crawled to the top of the last climb on Slieve Donard at over 800metres and found one last burst of energy to fly the downhill almost 6km to the finish. I even managed to gain two places and almost a third as I ran the downhill in 34 minutes. It was almost as quick as our descent during the 26 peaks challenge back in April of this year. I finished in 20th position, a good bit lower than my goal but no doubt I will be back to this race, one of the hardest of it’s kind.

View results here

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A small bit wet, dirty and tired.

So a second trip up the Mournes this year and I still haven’t seen the view. Better luck next time all round.

 

 

A little bit of reading

I have a attahced a few links below that are well worth a scan through, especially for the time of year thats in it. As the autumn turns into winter we all have different goals ahead and motivation can be hard. The thoughts of running around a field in mud over our ankles for the winter, or trying to train smart as an ultrarunner or even set goals like Mr. Graham Bushe below, all give me great motivation.

Cross Country

https://www.startfitness.co.uk/blog/importance-cross-country-running/

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Castlegar AC cross country team from last weekend. Some craic. County Gold for the lads!

As i have learnt the hard way, cross country races are exceptionally gruelling. It is hard to explain unless you have taken part in one. The winner on the day was Paul Giblin (number172), noticed above for being the cleanest person in Tuam on the day. He must of somehow glided across the mud. It was an incredible team effort with myself, Sean and Damian passing the men onfront of us all on the last lap to clinch the title. Well done all involved.

The article above gives a great account of the cross country scene, the chance to be out in the conditions in the winter and enjoy the fresh air. It is amazing for strengthening you as a runner, stabilising you and even improving your stride at a time of year many take to the gym or simply stop training.

Ultrarunners post season Guide.

http://trainright.com/ultimate-post-season-guide-for-ultrarunners/

I liked this article, keeping things simple in the off season. A common mistake focused on is working too much on one or two weaknesses. It outlines how more benefit is found in training to strengthen and improve all round. I made this mistake in the past, injuring an ankle and instead of strengthening both ankles I worked too much on one side. Of course the other weakens and there is a straight forward imbalance, leading to further injuries. Training smart is key.

 

The story of Graham Bushe.

http://www.outsider.ie/wicklow-way-race-back/

This man is a legend already, only taking up running 4 years ago. He is an inspiration to many. I understand that it won’t happen that every person that takes up running can suddenly run 130km and then go back the same way and do it all again but it just shows what can be achieved. There is no doubt his mentality is the key along with a natural ability to run. I have a good friend, I won’t name you here just now, (Pascal), that has taken to running, more seriously than ever before and yesterday he got a PB in a marthon only weeks after a PB in a half marathon. He has trained extremely smart, mixing speed, distance and good rest. Once again it is his mentality, stubborness and grit that have  leapfrogged him to this point, but now he goes out to every training with a smile on his face and he loves ever minute of it.