TDS 2019

Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie” (the footprints of the Dukes of Savoie) TDS

A 145 kilometre ultramarathon, the second longest in the UTMB series, from Courmayeur in Italy around Mont Blanc to Chamonix in France. A mere 9100 metres of climbing and descending on some of the most technical of trails in the world. What had I gotten myself into!

After completing the seven sisters in Donegal, I trained for three weeks, keeping things short and sharp and really just minding myself, staying healthy and strong. This involved plenty core work and a focus on balance and strength. I hoped to run a pain free race, in comparison to carrying injury throughout in 2018.

I ate as normal and stayed away, as much as possible from sugar and very little beer or crappy food. Arriving at that start line feeling healthy was my number one goal, everything after that I will explain in my summary of what turned out to be one hell of a race in so many ways! It is impossible to remember it all well and I hope I can give you a small insight into running in the Alps.

Arriving in the gorgeous Chamonix on Sunday I met up with my crew for the event. It is impossible to stress, for me anyhow, how important a crew is. This event would prove me right in this regard. Sinead and Kieron once again joining to help, and spend the week in one of their favourite places (chamonix during UTMB week!). My parents were on holidays in France again in the campervan and drove all the way to Chamonix to support me, and my sister Lisa arrived on Tuesday before the race started at 4am on Wednesday. Absolute legends all 5 of you, and boy did I feel lucky to have one of the biggest crews in the race!

Monday was a rest, sleep and eat day and Tuesday, registration, meeting some of the other Irish athletes and getting the head ready for what lay ahead. I met up with our lead Tailwind ambassador Ryan Hogben and it was great to meet him in person after a long time talking online. I got to bed around 8pm and was up again at 1.30am to get ready for a 2.15am bus to Courmayeur for the start. Around 1750 runners made their way to the start line, over 900 of whom wouldn’t make the finish. Let the war of attrition start !

Kit. I ran in my Salomon s-labs, wore Salomon bag with mandatory kit and 2 x 500ml soft flasks filled with Tailwind,  a singlet (better in a t-shirt in future) and of course my Black Diamond poles on my hip belt. Keep the kit simple and as light as possible. Mandatory kit includes the waterproofs and thermal gear so it isn’t a super light pack but I don’t really notice it anymore.

The nerves weren’t close to as bad as last year and I soaked it all up as Dee and Lisa hung out along the barrier by my side. Runners from all corners of the world gathered in the dark in Cormayeur We had decided that Dee and Lisa would crew at the first big aid station, Bourg Saint Maurice at 50km, and from there Sinead and Kieron would take over for the 90 km Beaufort stop and the 121 km Les Contamines stop. This would give the crews time to rest and make their days a little easier. The route can be seen below, giving you some idea of the map and the types of climbs involved.

The Route
Profile, Checkpoints and Aid Stations

So as I begin to tell this story, almost 2 weeks after the race, it is very hard to explain how I have felt since this race. It was the hardest race of my life, no doubt, and the fact that it has taken me two full weeks to get my head around things in order to write a little, says it all. Most races I am itching to write, this one had me thinking about myself and my future in the sport, leaving me with some very confused feelings that I will try to portray to you in the following paragraphs.

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Almost ready to go.

The gun went off in Courmayeur at 4.01am and I squeezed my way into the top 200 runners, or thereabouts. We ran down the street of  Courmayeur where supporters lined up in their hundreds. From here we turned towards the mountains and the climbing began almost instantly. I had the poles out after about 10 minutes and settled into a steady climb. It was dark for the first few hours and we basically climbed in a massive chain to the first checkpoint at Checrouit and from here we kept climbing to about 2500 metres. There was a sharp downhill from here down into a valley and up to the checkpoint at Lac Combal, where I realised I was already ahead of time but hadn’t pushed hard at all. The daylight had arrived and the sunrise around the steep peaks surrounding the valley were spectacular. I heard my first sound of cow bells in the valley below. This would become a familiar sound as the day went by. At Lac Combal I stopped for a toilet break and managed to eat some fruit and a few bits of cake. In hindsight, I probably should of eaten more early on..

The next section saw a sharp climb to 2600 metres at Col Chavannes. The views here were possibly the most amazing of the entire course with mountains rising into the sky and the valleys below glistening in the early sunshine, which was already heating up a bit. After Col Chavannes I tucked away the poles and got myself ready for a long downhill. It went on and on and on for almost 20 km. Not steep but relentless. I held back as much as I could. I found myself still passing a good few people while one or two runners flew by me, going way to fast for this early on in a race of such magnitude. I would see most of these runners in some format or another later on. I began to recognise maybe 10 runners that would mix and match for about 60 km or so. It began to feel lonely already at 35 km as I realised that very few of the runners spoke english or were up for much chat. This was turning into the pointy end of the race, as I found out as I arrived at Bourg Saint Maurice at 51 km. I had enjoyed the majority of the first 50km, apart from that very long downhill section. I was climbing well, my stomach was good, but it had started heating up alot and the downhills were fast, meaning the body was taking a beating. The mental battle had begun, one third of the way into the race. Physically I was in super shape, but the thoughts of another 100km crept in. I know myself how to deal with tough mental battles but something was taking over in my head and I knew I had a mission ahead!

Dee and Lisa were super in Bourg Saint Maurice and after a mandatory kit check, I left the aid station in good spirits, although roasted!

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I really enjoyed my ginger cake and the fact Lisa informed me I was currently in 153rd position gave me a morale boost. The crowds of supporters and atmosphere here were amazing also.

The next section from 51 to about 72 km included a few absolutely brutal climbs and it was getting warm. I knew the make or break section of the race was basically from 50 to 90 km. This included 2 climbs totalling about 1500 metres and a long descent to Col de Roselend. Lisa and Dee were there to see me and I was flying on this descent, feeling really good. Dee ran over the hill beside me towards the aid station and my heart was in my mouth thinking she could have a fall watching me while trying to sprint over the hill! The climbs were really tough but I was going well and eating as much as I could. I was drinking like a fish and just about staying hydrated. The climb from Bourg Saint Maurice for 6km was over 1300 metres of up and had been the toughest so far but I had taken it reasonably easy and being at 70 km or half way in just over 10 hours and lying in 122 position, you could say all was going to plan.

After Col de Roselend there was yet another mammoth climb and the day was warm at this point. Another 10 km and roughly 2 hours later I was at about 80 km and was beginning to feel crap. As you can see I was averaging 5 km/hr and I was exhausted, a little dizzy, unable to eat, and the climbing was getting slower by the minute. I felt ok on the downhills but the minute I went above 2000 metres I was out of breath and my heart was pounding in my chest. That 10 km had taken me to La Gittaz where a few runners were lying and sitting trying to recover a little. I kept moving as I realised another 10 km and I would be at Beaufort, it would be about 7pm and the night would bring cool air and maybe a new me.

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Leaving Col de Roselend, 10 hours on the go.

The following 11km included a climb from 1664 metres to 2236 metres and then a descent of 8 km to 739 metres in Beaufort. A descent of over 1500 metres was an absolute head melter. I reckon looking back on it, that the pounding the body gets on these downhills was what upset my system and was the main reason I felt so poorly on arrival at Beaufort. I wanted to eat but couldn’t. The fact that you are going up and down to altitude probably has a bearing but all in all I think it’s the pounding and the amount of concentration involved in the sheer technicality of these descents. Boulders, loose rock, gravel, sand, trees and roots from the trees. All this for every descent, most of which were 6km plus. It takes a toll and at 91 km I thought I was beaten. I stayed in the aid station for 50 minutes and in this time I only ate, two small pots of sorbet (kindly found by Kieron) and a bowl of soup with noodles. I ran into the bathroom, overheating for a mini puke and got a full medical check over by the doctor a little after that. To my amazement in the 50 minutes I was sitting down I jumped from something like 105th position to 96th. Runners were dropping like flies. They were asleep in the corners, on beds, getting medical checks and hopping on buses back to Chamonix.

I can honestly say that in my few years ultrarunning this was the closest I have come to a DNF. I felt awful. But Sinead talked to me and told me once medics were happy, I was ok. Having someone there at this point was crucial. The fact that Sinead had Ultra experience and I trusted her judgement was huge. I said I would try and get to the next checkpoint and see how things were then. This after a little ly down with my legs in the air to try feel a little bit better!

A 500 metre climb and about 8 km of distance would get me to Hauteluce. I bumped into a Bulgarian guy on the way and he was suffering from the exact same symptoms as me. We hiked slowly on the uphills, sitting down a few times to try and breath. He was falling asleep while running but we kept each other moving and ran the downhill sections really well. I normally pick things up well at night but the 8 km took two hours and my pace had slowed significantly. I met Sinead down the road from Hautleluce and she said I looked better. I told her I would stick with my new friend and we would help eachother knock out the next big climb to Col de Very and from there up to Col du Joly. At Col de Very I had to say goodbye to my new friend, who had been running in the top 50 earlier in the race, as he hopped into the aid station van for a 20 minute nap. It had gotten dangerous on the descent to this checkpoint as he was falling asleep while running beside a cliff!

On I went, alone again, but I started to run well. The climbs were slow but I felt a little better and even though the humidity of the night meant I was sweating all the time, I felt a little bit of energy returning. The night was clear with stars as bright as I’ve ever seen and the dots of headlights on far away hills showed me that I was still running in a super position and I needed to keep those positive thoughts flowing.  I thought Col du Joly would never arrive but at 20.41 I arrived and would mostly descend from there to Les Contamines Montjoie. Over 11km of a descending. Once again this  felt rough on the body , but I had no muscle pains. At the end of the descent there was a long, long flat section along by a river that wound its way around the town before arriving at Les Contamines Montjoie. I actually opened up the legs a bit and ran this section well, realising I was turning a corner at this point and the bad feelings were starting to disappear.

Sinead was happy to see me in better spirits and after eating and a quick toilet break I decided to move quickly and start the next climb. “I’m not stopping you, I’m actually asking you to get up and leave, you have this”. were Sineads words.  There were two sections to the next climb. A huge steep section that must of taken 40 minutes to ascend followed by an even steeper climb up to the Col de Tricot at 2105 metres. This was an absolute killer climb. I sat down twice to try and get my breathing down and eat something. I failed but managed to keep drinking coke and water and at the top I knew that was my last really big one in the bag. Nine or so Carrauntoohill Mountains under the belt in one sitting, most of which started at the same height as the top of this very mountain! I looked back into the night and down the vast steep trail of switchbacks I had just climbed. The headlights dotted the landscape, all moving at my slow pace at this point. I was passed by a few and I managed to overtake a few runners throughout the last few hours, but I wasn’t too concerned about placing, it was all about surviving. That last climb was probably my slowest ever with my pace around 2.96km/hr. But I was at the top in about 2 hours and 30 minutes from Les Contamines and it was 4.30 in the morning. I had just bagged a PB for my longest over run, over 130 km and with a 9km descent to Bellevue and then Les Houches, I was on the home stretch. At this point I just wanted to keep the legs moving and a top 100 finish would be a super bonus. I ran the downhill well again and had the privilege of high fiving two mailboxes as I arrived into Les Houches, convinced they were two kids out on the course. Yep I was tiring! I arrived in Les Houches in 26 hours and 9 minutes and would turn the corner after a reasonably flat 8 km along the river in Chamonix just over an hour later. This section was probably the most enjoyment I had all day. That was after I tried to eat some cake in Les Houches and ended up vomiting under a tree for a minute or two as the system rejected food once more!

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I ran a steady pace into Chamonix and the streets were quiet as I arrived. Some runners were out for a morning stroll and clapped me on. I saw the finishing street and there was Lisa, Sinead, Kieron, Dee and Pat all waiting to cheer me in. I grabbed the Irish Flag from Lisa, a tradition in UTMB to show where you are from and ran across the line to what was more a massive relief that anything. You are so tired it is hard to say how amazing it feels but knowing I came so close to not finishing was what gave me this relief. I was in 92nd out of 1091 finishers, 81st Senior male and in a time of 27.11.

Results

Not too shabby for one hell of an adventure, not only for the body but most definitely for the mind.

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As I mentioned earlier in the post, I was confused as to what this race did to me as a runner. I realise now how far I can go and maybe even further. I realise the mental battle often talked about and how it is hell to be as low as you get but is bliss when you pull yourself out of these lows and finish. I feel now like I am more motivated than ever to trail run, I feel it is a bigger part of my life in so many ways than it was even a year ago, I feel so lucky to be able to compete and complete such events as TDS and lets hope I can stay healthy and fit for years to come to enjoy it this much. Thanks to everyone that encouraged me and followed the progress throughout. I know a few of you were glued to it. Hopefully there will be plenty more to come.

The biggest thanks obviously goes to the crew. Ye were what made this one possible.

 

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The best crew and Kieron still at work on the camera! Pat didn’t sleep a wink and nodded off for the photo! 

 

 

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Seven Sisters Skyline 2019

Last weekend hosted the second year of the Seven Sisters Skyline races which took place in Donegal and it was the first year of the Ultra distance of 50km. The 26km race took place on Saturday. I decided to enter the 50km, mainly due to the fact that it involved 4000 metres of elevation gain, but also because it is now 4 weeks out from TDS and this would be the perfect training. Now as mentioned before the fact that a 50km race in the mountains of Donegal is now a training session, is kinda worrying, but it is what it is!

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Some training ground of late! 

My last 8 weeks since Wicklow Way Race have been crazy busy with long shifts through the night and early starts, meaning I have trained when I can, but all in all I have managed it reasonably well. I concentrated almost solely on climbing and descending, going up Nephin mountain 5 times one week and doing repeats on the mountain on numerous occasions. No major distance running due to the fact that I have most of that training done, but relentless climbs are the key.

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I have tried to mimic the Alps in my little Mayo mountains and hopefully this training will improve my climbing abilities.

So myself and Donegal have a definite connection. I always enjoy my trips north and I’ve had some good races up there. The Seven Sisters wasn’t a goal race where I had hoped to do too well, knowing there were many UK and international runners coming for the Skyline series. At the same time I was hoping to be in top 10 throughout and with some endurance in the legs hopefully claw myself into the top 5. So here’s how things turned out.

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The route

As you can see it is very much up and down all day. We set off from the base of the mighty Errigal mountain at 7am, around 90 runner’s introduced to one hell of a course by Eunan Quinn and Shaun Stewart. Shaun having won the race last year and helped with the course design, was unable to run this year with a broken collarbone. The course would immediately climb from the carpark, through the bog, skirting past Errigal on your left before climbing the first peak of Mackoght mountain.  Being a Skyrunning UK/Ireland national series race the lads looking for points took off up the hill, with myself just behind, doing my own thing. Shaun was marshal at the top of the first short climb and even though early in the race it was nice to see a familiar face.

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First climb and cruising. 

From here we ran some nice wet downhills, onto a grassy road section and picked up some good speed as the course wound it’s way all the way down to the ruins of the old Altan Castle on the shores of a gorgeous lake. The mist was starting to close in and drop down the mountains. I knew there was a wet day ahead but it wasn’t cold. Next up was the longest climb of the day to Aghla Mor mountain where we would reach a marshal and then do an out and back to the very top of the peak at a cairn. This was where the field began to split. There was the front 3 lads, already 5 minutes ahead, then myself and three guys on my tail before a bit of a gap to the next bunch. It was easy tell where people were as we passed on the out and back section in the mist.

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Muckish at the turning point

After Aghla Mor we descended along some nice technical bog and heather ground. Aghla Beag was next up and this included two peaks both divided by some steep descents. I was pushing hard on the ascents and using the poles to my advantage before slotting them away and letting myself go on the downhills. The terrain was so bad underfoot that huge concentration was needed on the downhill in particular. Stones hidden under the heather could be your end!

It was a super battle in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th place with a Polish guy passing me as we descended towards the base of Muckish. We would run a 1km section on the road before taking a right across ‘the bridge of tears’ and starting the incredible climb and scramble up the side of Muckish mountain. This was tough, demanding but bloody class at the same time. We ran along tiny ridges, scrambled up steep ridgelines with drops on either side. I looked up mostly, as I ‘m not hugely in favour of the massive drops below! We bumped into Ian corless, the photographer and ultra podcaster, not far from the top and I was impressed by his quality positioning on the trail. Here’s one of his shots below.

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Up the side of Muckish

At the top of Muckish we passed the mighty Cairn, which was the turn around point in The Race 2019, and from here took a left towards the Miner’s pass. You couldn’t see more than 20 metres ahead at this point and following the marker flags was tricky. We went wrong for 2 minutes at the top before finding our way to the path. The descent off Muckish is epic with rocks, sandy trails, boulders and scree thrown in for good measure. A pure trail runners dream!

At the bottom of Muckish we had 20km under the belts and we would turn around, do it all again and add in Errigal mountain and another 6km on some backroads and trails before the finish.

I was feeling good, not going into the red too much, eating jellies, drinking Tailwind and filling one of my bottles with coke for the return journey. The return trip came off Muckish on the same route as The Race, making it a pretty quick descent and we started the climb up onto Aghla Beag range in pretty good form. I was feeling strong and knew I could maintain this climbing speed for a few more hours. It was now a battle for 4th place between myself and Marek, the Polish guy stuck to my tail!

Marek was hard to shake, clearly a really strong competitor. We would be close for the majority of the return. I was running well on the downhills and hiking strongly uphill and enjoyed the crazy rain that fell at times. This was solely due to the 17 or more degrees temperatures.

The return climbs were very similar to the way out and after passing through CP3 where the always encouraging Fiona Nic Fhionnlaoich was marshal, I knew I had about 13km with only 2 big climbs left to conquer. Fiona was nice enough to send on a few photos at this point in the race.

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CP3

Back up to the top of Mackoght and a cool descent down to the North face of Errigal I went before looking up at the sheer climb ahead. This would be a scramble to over 700 metres but I absolutely loved it. I could see I had put a gap between myself and Marek at this point, but it was only a small one. I needed to push up Errigal and slingshot off the little mountain to try and secure 4th place. The climb was rocky and steep and the views down the valley soon disappeared into the mist. Up and up I climbed along some steep and crazy edges. And once at the top I paused for a few seconds to remember the last time I stood on top of Errigal. This was in 2017 when we broke the FKT for the 26 peaks, finishing on Errigal at sunset. This and other positive thoughts are what push you through tough races. Now it was time to sprint down off the mighty peak.

A little clip as I came off Errigal.

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From here the course wound it’s way down the road and descended down to a trail that brought us around the lake and over the dam before crossing the finish line in Dunlewy village at Errigal Hostel. I slowed up for the first time all day in the last few kilometres on the road. I didn’t push myself to speed up as I knew I had 4th place wrapped up and wanted an injury free race. I found the main road and crossed the line and as I did Eunan called out that I was 3rd place. I had passed a guy walking after Errigal and would then realise that he had been in 2nd but had fallen on Errigal. I felt happy to finish 4th but this was a nice little bonus all the same. The main thing was that the guy in question was ok and finished in 5th place in the end. Fair play Adam Quinn for finishing in those circumstances. This will stand to him in the future.

So 3rd place, a podium and a good long workout in the bag. 7 Hours 12 minutes in total. Fair play to the one and only Rachel Nolan for coming 2nd Female and putting in another great performance. A slog in the bog with 14 peaks thrown in is the best way I can describe this one. But I would say it is by far the toughest 50km you can do and one of the most spectacular in Ireland. Yes I will be back next year, all going well!

Next up, France and the TDS. Just 3 times the length of this one and over twice the climbing, 146.3km and 9100 metres up!!!

Results

No photo description available.

Check out Ian Corless summary below, nicely summed up.

Seven Sisters Skyline 2019 Summary

JuJu Jay film of the Seven Sisters 2019. This film really gives you a feel for the race!

The Wicklow Way Race 2019

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Smiling on the Wicklow Way!

There I am smiling away on the Wicklow Way, as I did for large portions of this epic race in the Wicklow hills. I will phrase that slightly differently, to say that this is a race, however for all but a few it is more of a challenge to reach the line. Starting in Marley Park and finishing about 127km south of the Wicklow hills in Clonegal Co. Carlow this is no run for the faint hearted.  Some of you may remember my horrible race report from 2017, when I finished but in some discomfort. I had mostly hated the yellow men markers and had really not remembered anything positive from my experience. With this in mind I decided to give Wicklow a second chance and boy did it pay off. 

The race started at 12am with approximately 90 runners lining up, about 30 of whom wouldn’t see the finish line for different reasons but all were in high spirits and ready for the night ahead.

My coach and good buddy Sinead would be my crew for the day at aid stations in Glendalough at 50k, Ironbridge at 80k and The Dying Cow at 101km. Knowing Sinead was there with her experience was key to my confidence in a good run.

Taking a few crazy months of work, lack of training properly and a few too many late nights the weekend before, my preparation wasn’t great, but I had slept well all week and felt ready for the challenge ahead. There was zero pressure on and my plan along with Sinead’s advice was to go steady and in comfort zone all day and if feeling poorly at any time I could pull out. Now you know me and the words pull out, DNF, and the fact that they don’t exist in my vocabulary, but I had decided that in this race I would drop if I was too sore. This is all training for the TDS.

I will keep this post as short as possible and really narrow it down to my thoughts on the day. I could go into fine detail but I feel you will enjoy a brief synopsis more. The gun went thanks to a countdown from Eoin Keith, one of the top endurance runners in Ireland. Robbie Britton and Gavin Byrne were due a showdown for the day. Robbie, basically being pro and Gavin, having come on leaps and bounds in the last 2 years was flying and in super form, expecting to both push the course record close. I, however, was not in the same league, nor was I planning to race anyone around me. I would run by feel and see where this led me. If in a position to nick into top 10 in the latter stages all good and well but this was a training race, full stop.

The night was nice to start but as we made our way into the hills the mist came down and following a brief stop at checkpoint 1 in Crone the weather closed in for an hour or two on the next few climbs. The early section has plenty climbing but some lovely technical stuff and downhills too which were fun in the dark.

A very quick transition in Crone and off up to climb Djouce mountain in the mist and rain and howling gales. You couldn’t see your hand, let alone the person on front of you. I spent some of the climb with eventual ladies winner, Aoife Mundow, who came to Dorset with us last year and she is becoming a top ultrarunner. Her partner Pol O Murchu was out on the course all night and day and his support was super. I was only minutes ahead of Aoife for the day so it helped me as much as her. The section from Crone to Glendalough is around 28km and feels long as the body tires between 3 and 6 in the morning. Long sections of slippy boardwalk didn’t help matters but did focus the mind. I was going steady and had planned a 5.45am arrival in Glendalough. I think I arrived at 5.40am so all good at this point. I changed my top and runners and had a quick bite to eat and glass of flat coke from Sinead. I had no niggles and was feeling tired but not sore so onwards and upwards was the call.

The views in Glendalough just as morning was coming alive were top notch. The lake, waterfall and the hills opening up down the valley. I was smiling as I left the checkpoint and enjoying myself. I really wondered how this was to be honest, over an ultramarathon in the bag already. Just 2 marathons to go now!

I stopped for a toilet break a few minutes out from Glendalough and to my surprise this didn’t knock me back as I began to catch an Italian guy, now known to me as Fabio, soon after my stop. He had been literally metres ahead of me now for hours and I was sort of pacing off him. I caught up with him and we chatted all the way to Ironbridge, the day warming up alot at this point and the sun beaming down. There were lots of long slow climbs on fire-roads with some steep sections off road mixed in, but to be honest I was just enjoying the chat and the realization that in a race like this you might be tired and hurting but everyone is in the same boat.

We reached Ironbridge at 79km in about 9 hours and I was feeling ridiculously good considering. I launched into some water melon, loads of flat coke and replaced my tailwind with water in one bottle and coke in the other. The Tailwind had been super for 9 hours, but I just needed a change for a while. Aoife cruised into transition just before we left and came out pretty much just as we left too! Delighted to see her going so well. I waited an extra minute or two for Fabio in transition knowing that a minute or two was no real issue to me at this point. Having a running buddy for the next 50km would mean a lot. We soon picked off two runners and then met another one in Gordon. Gordon would stick with us, so now we had three amigos! Anyone we would meet from now on could register for our gang we decided, as long as they were sound!

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The 3 amigos!

We would chat and moan as we transitioned from uphill to downhill to flat roads. The worst thing after 80km is the transitioning of the muscles. You feel grand as you go up but a pain runs through the legs as you change muscles to hit the downhills. I actually felt incredibly good and now that I had completed my real goal of 80km I could try enjoy the rest. I was taking it all in, making friends with the yellow men along the way. I said sorry to them for the way I had spoken badly of the Wicklow Way for 2 years. The views as we climbed up along farmland, wound our way down country roads, through farm gates, under falling trees, over fallen trees and along river banks were just amazing. It may not be the Alps but it has its own sort of beauty.

The 100km mark was huge for the lads as it was the longest either of them had ever ran. I felt privileged to be with them for this moment. I knew when they hit this that they would make the finish as well. Fabio went through a big low in this section but we helped each other through any low moments and for a few lads that met only hours before we became friends. This is ultarunning.

Sinead was at the Dying Cow and said we were making lots of time and moving better than they expected. I could see we were on for a good finishing time and had agreed with the lads not to sit down and that this transition was a refill/top change and nothing more. If you sit at this point it will slow you dramatically. I also had a small pain starting on the inside of my left leg but it wouldn’t stop me as long as I kept moving.

After the Dying Cow pub checkpoint it is basically mind games on fire-roads and digging deep for a few hours. There were a few heavy showers at this point and we all threw our jackets on for a while. Dragging each other up relentless long hills and trying to let the legs go on the downhills. We were actually flying on the downhill sections and I don’t think any of us could’ve moved as fast on our own over this last 26km. The final checkpoint was at Raheenakit, just after the steep climb up Coronary Hill. I was still loving the hills with the flats being my enemy. The final 15km flew by, in comparison to it feeling like days in 2017. It just goes to show how with miles and experience in the legs, 2 years can mean a lot.

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Cruising into Clonegal with Fabio and Gordon, smiling.

We finally left the last of the fireroad sections and met Pol on the road, for the 30th time! He said there was 5km to the finish and it was mostly downhill. Off we went. I think we did the last 5km in about 21 minutes. Not bad after 122km. It was mostly a gradual downhill with a few uphills, which we ran as well. Cruising into Clonegal and touching the sign at the finish all in unison in 15 hours and 44 minutes in joint 8th position. We had made a decision to do this at least 30km before the finish. Job really well done. I had taken 3 hours and 5 minutes off my time from 2 years ago by racing smart and using my head, as well as listening carefully to the legend that is Sinead Keogh. Thank you once again. Also a special thanks to my cousin Geoffrey  and his fiancee Cara who surprised me by showing up at the finish line! Was great to see them there.

I have to finish with a mention of Gavin Byrne and the fact that he gave it his all finishing in just over 13 hours. Staggering time. Robbie managed to smash Eoin Keith’s record, finishing in 12 hours and 11 minutes. Mind boggling stuff. Aoife Mundow managed to beat the women’s record and finish in just over 16 hours. Incredible Aoife, only running her first ultra in December of last year and having never ran 127 km in her life. It just goes to show what can be achieved with good training, focused mindset and a wee bit of talent thrown in the mix..

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Finito.

A couple of videos below to give you a little idea of the day!

Burren Marathon

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My tired frog face! Job done, kinda! 

Yup that’s me after a 3 hour 25 minute marathon in the Burren hills. What can I say! A cracking race, a stunning course, incredible volunteers and a strong field of runners, but for me not the most graceful of days. Taking into account that I really exerted myself in The Race and my longest run since March was 23km, taking on this marathon was more of a training session/build up to a big summer. All this planned out carefully I still decided to try pace the race, in a comfortable way, so that come the final 10km I would be in with a podium chance.

The race started by the sea in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. A huge crowd for a marathon, a half and a 10k, with walkers, joggers and runners mixed in. The run would be made up of basically 21km off road and 21km on the road. Not really suiting me but I would take it handy, ish, early on and see how I was feeling later.

The first 10km was basically up hill, a gradual climb into the hills, winding up into the rocky burren and off the road onto some pretty nasty ground underfoot. I was feeling well and staying out of the red, and somehow cruising along in 2nd place. The leader was a spanish dude I think, who was grinding out about a minute every 3k on me, so I decided not to chase today. At around the 12km mark I was passed out and I knew there were a few very steep off-road climbs ahead, so I let this guy go as well and let myself fall down a long downhill section on the road. The climbs started after passing some dried up riverbeds, a few lonely sheep and a donkey that looked at me as if I had 3 heads, probably right!

Up into the mist we went and by the top of the climb it was getting windy and cold but I knew the halfway point wasn’t far away. The climb topped out and the ground softened underfoot and I let my legs open up along a nice grassy trail, feeling good but I noticed my stomach wasn’t working as it usually does in a race and I felt very bloated. Too much sucking on the Tailwind? Maybe! Being an ultrarunner theses days, I’m used to a constant flow of fluids but I think pushing harder over a shorter race means less fluids are needed sloshing around in there. I had made a mistake and I was about to pay.

The trail wound it’s way down to Fanore and the Atlantic of Galway Bay spread out as far as I could see. I hit the road at the bottom of this long decent and the legs stopped moving, I slowed from a comfortable 4.20min/km pace to nearly 5.30. Off the road for a brief trail down to the edge of Fanore beach before more road to the Greenway which leads all the way back along the coast to Ballyvaughan. The stomach was aching and it was slowing me down. My legs were ok, not spent, but they were slowing all the same. I was passed by about 5 runners in a 20 minute spell near Fanore and I began to feel a bit crap to be honest. I hit the Greenway and had to stop briefly as my head was spinning and my stomach aching. Another runner skipped passed. I had about 9km to go when I met Sinead, who was out to support me and support every single runner in one of her favourite races of the year. I mean every runner knew her by the finish. I indicated as I passed that things were not too rosy and she said later that I was looking a wee bit rough at that point!

The trail carried on for 4km and then a 3.5km section on the road would lead to the finish. Another runner passed me as I hit the road and I began my shuffle home, gradually feeling a little better as I had stopped for a mini puke before I left the trail. The first time in 10 years racing that I got sick during a race. I don’t blame Tailwind, I blame bad race fueling. Even with experience we make mistakes and learn from them.

The run home was kinda fun, stopping at the aid stations along the road to throw water over myself and laughed with the volunteers saying that my stabilisers had come off around 30km and now the wheels were wobbling. The walkers were making their way to the finish at this point so there was lots of banter and craic with them as I bounced along to the finish.

All in all the first 30km was solid, the last 12 was awful, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I think I gave my body too much to do with too much fuel and then I overheated as a reaction. That’s my excuse anyhow. All in all a good top 10 finish in a decent time for any trail or off road marathon and miles in the tank too. I recovered quickly and even that night and the next day felt fresher than I ever had after a marathon.

As I write this it is almost a month after this race and last weekend was the 127km Wicklow Way Race. Race report to follow very soon. Ah yes the YELLOW men are back. How would Wicklow treat me this time??!

Very quickly, What’s up next?

The most common question in the world of running! What’s up next? Sometimes it is as if what you have just finished means little unless you have a plan ahead. Of course there is almost always another goal but the most important thing following an endurance event is rest and recovery. I actually felt good a week after The Race but sometimes the body can fool us and I realise that there is no way I’m ready for big training yet. I will slowly build up to full capacity training over the next few weeks, but slowly is the key.

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No pain, no finish! 

A win like The Race was incredible and these things don’t come around too often. It has to be something to savour and to remember forever. If I was to straight away start focusing on something else, I feel as if I’m losing some of the good feeling involved.

All this said I know anyone reading this is still asking, yeah yeah but What’s up next?!!

My previous plans for 2019 changed with changing countries and jobs a few times and I need a year with less travelling to races. The only real goal is TDS as part of the UTMB race series in Chamonix in August (see previous blog posts!). After this everything I do for the year will be with this goal in mind. I will train in blocks, race at the end of each block, but treat the races as long training sessions, trying to not break myself along the way!

A rough guide is train, run hills (lots of hills), race and repeat this for 20 weeks until race day! Easy! I hope to run the Burren Marathon in May, The Wicklow Way Race 127km, in June and the Seven Sisters Skyline 50km in July. These mostly trail races will be the perfect distances in the build up for TDS, all going well!

Check out the Wicklow way blog from 2017 here. Not my greatest hour but it really shows how you can improve in a short space of time. The Wicklow Way was the first time I ran more than 70km in one go. Even though I suffered all night and day it was still a confidence booster to finish and see what my body and mind could endure. I said never again but I have a point to prove with those little yellow men on the Wicklow Way.

The story of “The Race 2019”

At this stage most people that read about endurance distance racing have heard of ‘The Race’ in Donegal. My blog from two years ago gives a brief description of what it is like to take part. I still reckon that it is almost impossible to put into words what this race is really like. Some say spectacular, epic, gruelling, relentless, fun even, but for me it is no doubt Irelands toughest multisport race and this is how 2019 unfolded.

It all started at registration on Friday. It was a squally day with showers moving in fast from the west as I racked my bike in the car park near Rathmullan strand. This would be the starting point for the first cycle section after the kayak. I went for a short walk and had a coffee on the beach to stretch my legs. I had arrived up on Thursday. I decided that with The Race, the more rest in preparation the better and there would be no rushing. I literally had all day to register and to be honest I needed it. I will rewind a few weeks just for the background to training etc, but I’m not going to bore the hind legs off everyone, I promise.

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Rathmullan, beside the bike transition 2

So the two months before the race were made up of consistent but very short training sessions. I never got out on the road for more than 2.5hours and spent most trainings smashing out an hour on the turbo and maintaining fitness with plenty strength and mobility work. My running wasn’t great with a hip which had been giving issues but I still managed a few good trail and hill runs. I never ran more than 23km in the three months before this race, having finished the Dorset Ultra well on the 3rd of December, I decided that all the miles from 2018 would stand to me and at this stage over training would be my downfall. So it might come as a surprise to hear that after christmas I think about 9 hours was my peak weeks training. I was only a few weeks into a new job in the UK at the time and ended up coming back to Ireland at the beginning of March for another new job. All this piled in I knew I was in good shape but I also knew the mileage on the bike really wasn’t in the bag. You can never have it every way and now it was about turning up fit enough to be on the startline.

The bike racked in Rathmullan, check, registration complete in Garton at the startline, check, and boxes for transitions dropped off here too. Good stuff, now back to rest up and enjoy my last few hours before it all kicked off.

I woke up at 3am, ate some porridge, a pancake and a banana and Shaun gave me a lift to Garton for the start, which would kick off at 5am. Let the games begin!

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Startline with two of my three number one supporters. Lisa and Linsey.

I met my mum, Dee, and sisters Lisa and Linsey at the start. Fair play to them getting up at 4am to come see me off. The crowd gathered and the tension was real. I met Rachel Nolan and we went for a short jog. She could see the tension in the hall was getting to me a bit and reckoned a little jog would do us both good. We literally ran 100 metres and back to the startline. No point in doing a long warm up before a race of this multitude. So at 5am we were off, head torches dancing in the early morning as we set foot into the craziness of a race of 250km. The first leg would be a 23.5km run to Ramelton where we would head for the sea and out through Lough Swilly.

I decided to settle into my own rhythm and not hit the first run too hard, but at same time I knew the running was my strongest discipline so I wouldn’t be hanging around either. I ran at between 4.10 and 4.20 min/km and with the majority of the run on downhill or flat I remained comfortable throughout. The run winds its way along country roads, across the Leannon River and the Lurgy River, through Kilmacrenan village and as the light came into the day I sipped away on my tailwind and thought of my strategy for the day ahead.

Ah yes I had a plan this time! The last time I was here I had never taken part in an endurance event and really surprised myself in how well I did. This time I rocked up with a plan. My plan outlined was basically to knock out the first run in comfortable but fast pace, do a steady kayak and then try to get through the first hilly 96km without blowing up but in and around the 4 hours. From there I would hit my happy place on the mountain and this would catapult me around the next 65k on the bike before jumping off and running a marathon in less than 4 hours. Easy Peasy!!

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Top class supporters!! Thanks so much (a little Father Ted reference and all!)

I finished the run and transitioned onto the kayak in around 1 hour and 43 minutes, race results and splits at the bottom of the post, and turned the corner without breaking a paddle this year! The sun was just rising as I paddled out of Ramelton and the water was flat calm with a turning tide. There were kayak marshals all along the route and as the first relay team was already out of sight I had to pick my way from one kayak to the other most of the way in order to keep a good line. Thanks to all these kayakers and RIB safety crew for all their time on the water. Super support as well. I had a backrest, a nice light paddle and my buoyancy aid had a compartment for my bladder full of water and Tailwind. I sucked away on this for the entire paddle and felt pretty good throughout.

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I think the paddle took a little under an hour and a half with a few minutes lost close to the pier in rathmullan as a tide race caught me off guard and I had to battle as if paddling upstream to get under the pier and into transition. I was passed and lost about 9 minutes on a guy in a suspiciously long sea kayak not far from Rathmullan and he would head out on the bike with a good lead leaving me in second place in transition. Two legs down and next up probably the hardest cycle leg in any race of this distance.

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Who said it wasn’t fun?! 

Part of my race plan was to be fast in and out of transition and I pulled this off well on the day. I managed to eat overnight oats and a banana before the bike and had a few bottles of tailwind and sweets for the journey ahead. Lisa, Linsey, Dee and Shaun were at transition and they gave me info on who was ahead etc, as I put on my helmet and ran out of transition. Most importantly, Shaun advised to take it handy and not go too hard on the bike, as tempting as it might be, it’s a bloody long race yet. The Race organisers put markers at every 5km, which is some feat in itself, but I can’t say I was admiring these too much over the next few hours.

As I spun my legs and got going I soon realised, only two or three climbs into the cycle that the first run had taken more than I expected out of my legs, where were my bike legs?, they just wouldn’t kick into gear. The hills came one after the other as I made my way out towards Fanad Head and Port Salon. The roads were wet after a few earlier showers and my hands and feet were cold. It was time to start digging deep. I would meet Shaun pulled in his van, every 15 minutes or so with words of encouragement and Lisa and the gang were driving in a separate car. They would come past, music pumping and beeping the horn. I would see them at every transition and the odd time in between as they made their way around the course. You can’t beat a friendly face when you are digging deep. I continued to battle the hilly course to Fanad Head and with a brief rest from the hills spun the legs out a little and soaked up the coastal views working my way towards Downings and a loop out and around another peninsula.

I was about 40km into the first cycle and at my lowest point really in this section before Downings. My legs were feeling heavy and I wasn’t able to climb like I usually am. A competitor passed me not far from here and he asked how far ahead the leader was. I reckoned he wasn’t much more than 5 minutes. This guy absolutely bombed on but I would later meet him in a bad way. He had pushed too hard too soon. As I rounded the loop from downings into Carrikhart another cyclist went by and I was now down to 4th place. I decided not to think about it and just concentrate on trying to recover my race. I wasn’t in a good place at all and the hills just kept on coming. Next up was the relentless long and steep climb up to the famous Lough Salt, a windy climb in the real wilds of Donegal. I started to climb a little better and decided if I reached the top without dismounting it would have to be a psychological boost. So I dug deeper and deeper and screamed at the sheep in the bog as I climbed. I saw the final climb to the top ahead and could see it was split in 5 by minor flat pieces. I would climb each little piece, inhale and climb some more. I reached the top and started to descend and something in me started to switch back to race mode. I can’t quite explain it but this was a turning point. Had I hopped off the bike, even though I probably could of saved time, I would of been beaten! The traits of a stubborn endurance athlete, or any athlete really!!

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Clearly feeling the pain more than ever! 

The next 20km before leg 4 on Muckish mountain were a little easier with only one really long drag in the few kilometres before the transition. The wind, sorry I forgot to mention the headwind which had been in our faces all day, was really strong as I passed Glenveagh National Park gates and made my way towards Muckish. I passed the guy who had raced passed me earlier on the climb towards the transition and came into transition in 3rd place and very happy to have that 96km under my belt. A quick change of shoes, a banana and a bar, stuffed all the food in my backpack, grabbed a bottle of Tailwind and I was away. I spotted Shaun’s Dad and his brother in law Ronan at this point. Both super guys and once again great to see the support. Shaun pointed up the mountain and said the lads were about 8 minutes ahead but that I could see them. I looked up and thought to myself. GAME ON!!

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Coming off Muckish, the race is on.

Muckish is class, well mountains are class. I hiked at below top speed, to conserve a little but I started to reel in the two lads and before the base of the steepest part of the ascent I was chatting to them. This was my terrain and I was gonna make it count. The mountain was in bad nick so it wasn’t easy to make time. I just hiked to the gravel track where it evens out a bit and the jogged bits to the top. I drank a can of coke I had grabbed in transition at this point as well. Evil evil stuff, but bloody amazing mid race! I began to open up the legs on the descent and open up a gap on 2nd and 3rd as well. They were both working hard and I knew this was only the start of a really hard sprint for the finish. Yes I know a 100km sprint, no bother!

Everyone always says that the least memorable stage is the next 65km on the bike. This is mainly due to fatigue and a less amazing coastline to admire. In saying this there are some nice parts, however, I had a serious goal in mind at this stage. I was in poll position and I wasn’t planning on letting it slip. As far as I’m aware it was Michael Flood that was on my tail, a serious biker and he as well as John Whoriskey, Danny McLaughlin and Matt Casey had all shown how they can run earlier in the race. Any mistake or bad luck on my behalf would most likely cost me the race at this point. I had to focus and make sure I did everything in my power to avoid any mistakes. The cycle went from Muckish to Falcarragh then Gweedore, and Crolly,  before a nasty climb up some country roads and a descent to Dungloe before the final 10km towards Doochary. I was moving far better on the bike than earlier and any little niggles in my hamstrings seemed to be gone, for now at least. I threw on my jacket in one nasty shower but soon took it off again, sticking to just the tri suit and a light cycling jersey with arm warmers, as I had worn all day. No point in layering up, I wasn’t hanging about. Keep her lit, was all I heard as I cruised over the hill and descended into my final transition for the marathon.

In and out in about 2 minutes and now it was make or break. How would the legs react after another 2 hours 49 minutes on the bike. I was over 200km into the race and it was time to run a marathon, mostly on road I might add, not my thing really, but it was what it was. Lisa roared at me as she passed, that Michael flood was about 13 minutes back and moving well. I was struggling to get going and was running closer to 6 min/km over the first 6 or 7 k. Michael must of been around 2.5km behind and soon Shaun passed and said it looked like about 10 minutes and the gap was closing. There is a long drag at about 10k before what they call the Minor’s Pass. I had to get myself moving a bit more and it was now or never. I started the climb and really worked. I was pouring with sweat, both from nerves and working hard. I knew if I could climb well that the chances were this would be the difference. I got to the Minors pass and a long trail descent down to the lake began at this point. I just opened up the legs and let fly. I was running 4 min/km on downhill and smiling. I felt better and even strong on the downhill. I glanced to my left and a big herd of deer were roaming the hillside, the lake was flat as the wind had finally dropped a bit.

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On the trail heading out of Glenveagh! 

I scared a man and woman on the trail as I bounded past not far from the Castle on the shores of Lough Beagh. I ran through the castle grounds and another marshal was there to greet me. They seemed to be everywhere all day, many on their own, but in mighty spirits and encouraging all the way. I was tipping away at around 5 min/km on the flat sections and after the castle the trail turns right and up a long drag. I almost hiked in one or two sections of the steep trail but kept the hammer down as much as I could. As I turned one corner I came face to face, well almost, with a big red deer stag on the side of the trail. I could see the whites of his eyes and realised I was been greeted in Glenveagh National Park by one of the founding creatures. He was magnificent and in hindsight maybe an omen for me. It took a lot of willpower not to stop for a chat and a selfie!

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A light hail shower on top to cool me down.

I met the camera crew led by Paul Doherty as I topped out on the hill before descending towards the gates of the National Park. Shaun was at the gates and ran with me for a few minutes informing me that Michael was 16 minutes behind according to those at the Minors Pass and that I had it if I could maintain a steady pace. I was flying as I ran the descent out of the park and managed to keep a steady 5 min/km or less pace on the road as I started the last 10k of the run. This is a mostly flat section with a few nasty sharp hills to negotiate. I ran it all, shuffling up the hills, in quite a lot of pain, but managing to let the legs go and pick up speed on the descents. Funnily during this race my downhill running was nearly better than up, not normal for me! Who knows.

It was dark at this point and I had my Petzl headlight on. I had borrowed this and many words of wisdom from Sinead Keogh, who was caught up with work and couldn’t make The Race this year. She had told me how to race today and to be honest I had followed her plan almost exactly. I thought of her wisdom and lots of other things on this final 10km. I realised even though I was hurting that I could also soak this up a bit. I felt a load come off my shoulders as for the first time all day I knew I had a gap.

I thought of Emma and how proud she would be if I could pull of this final 10k without falling on my face, of all my family here to support and how they would get a kick out of it. My friends had supported me so well in the lead up to the race, telling me I had a great chance and I had the experience to do it. I would never of gained the confidence to pull it off without them. Most important on the day was Shaun Stewart as he had basically given up his day to follow the race and continually give me advice throughout. He had roared at me on a few occasions, “come on O Farrell, pick it up” and other nice things! !

So I passed the last set of marshals and began to climb a few mini hills over the last 2km of this epic event. A tiny part of me, and I mean tiny, wanted more but most of me wanted that finish line. This was my time and my chance to enjoy the sport I love. Not only was I about to finish but I was about to win the race. STOP those thoughts, Focus, Focus, Focus. I saw the light on the final direction sign, swung left and ran towards the line. I could hear the speakers call my name and as traditionally I do, I flashed my headlight on approach. See below what followed!

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A winning feeling I wasn’t sure I would ever have!! 

A nice added surprise at the finish line were my Aunt and Uncle, many people already know Greg for his fanatical approach to following the races. Thanks so much Greg and Deirdre, absolute legends.

Thanks to the organisers who helped me gain my bearings at the finish and who all day had put on an excellent show. The volunteers and the supporters are what makes this race. The scenery is second to none, the hills, well enough about the hills and the other competitors, well done to each and every one of you. Whether you finished or not, just taking on this event is a huge step. Be proud of it and don’t forget 2020 is another chance to let rip in Donegal.

Results 

 

 

A new beginning

I made it to Ireland and Foxford in Co. Mayo since my last post. Starting the new job,  a lack of time and wifi has curtailed my blogging of late, but for the rest of the year I hope to get back in the groove! Another new start and one we hope will be a good one. The Race is only 12 days away and my training has been a mixed bag with little time and less mileage than originally planned. In saying that I am mostly injury free, have trained most days and all in all am looking forward to what is a super event and one to challenge anyone.

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A recent run on Nephin, Co. Mayo

My new abode is set between the hills of the Ox mountains and the tallest stand alone mountain in Ireland of Nephin. I went for a brisk hike up and run down Nephin 2 weeks ago and no doubt with a big training year ahead it will be one for my vertically challenging plans!

 

So my lack of bike miles, miles on the legs and little time in the mountains leaves me where exactly for the big day?! 

A question I am finding it hard to get my head around but as always the only way forward is positivity. I look at the distances I raced in the last 2 years since I took on and raced The Race really well. At that time I had never ran further than 30km’s at once, I had never raced for anything like 15 hours on my own at once and I was coming off the back of an injury that meant I only really trained for 2 months pre race. So  with this all in mind I should be, even though untrained to an extent in the last few months, in a better place, certainly mentally than two years ago. That is what I am telling myself and I will also use this event as a slingshot for the year ahead where all roads lead back to Chamonix and the 145km in the Alps of the TDS. That is my ultimate 2019 goal and everything else race and training wise  in 2019 is linked to the TDS.

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Pretty much how I feel pre The Race 2019!

So have I answered the above question? Possibly not perfectly, but my mindset will be good, i’ve learnt a lot in two years, and I hope the weather will be kind. It has been one storm after the next the last week here and in March this kind of weather is hard to shake in Ireland. Fingers and toes crossed there folks as the weather can be the difference in this one!

I attach my report from The Race in 2017 here, just for the craic! Enjoy.

A funny 2019 so far

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The winter passed in one weekend! 

2019 has gotten off to a pretty hectic start. I have been up and down to Dorset with work and in the last week I have been offered a new post back in Ireland with Inland Fisheries Ireland in Ballina. This means another pack up and I move back to Ireland next Thursday. This has all been unexpected but in the long run I hope the right decision!

The Race‘, is just around the corner and I’ve been all over the place with training. I haven’t managed the mileage at all and am battling a sore hip again, this time the bike causing the issue. Another bike fit may be needed. I must be growing!!

I know my blogging has been abysmal of late and apologies for this. Especially to those at Tailwind and Uglowsport that I wish to plug more in 2019.  I have managed a few cycles around the 60km mark and some runs at weekends, but all in all it has been a one or two hour smash and grab in the gym between work, sleep and travel. It is important when tired and stressed over life not to overtrain and I think at this point it is more important to me to make the start line of The Race, than make it overtrained or injured. I know I have the endurance and my fitness is good. I may not have the miles, especially on the bike but I will dig deep on the day.

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On patrol with Southern IFCA in January 

I ran in all sorts of conditions in my training of late with snow, ice, rain and even sunshine and 13 degrees last weekend. All good prep for the next event, even if I only managed short sessions.

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One of the good runs this year so far! 

So with 34 days to go to The Race, I realise I have to move countries, start a new job and somehow keep up a decent level of fitness in between. This said I will ramp up my miles on the trails in the next three weeks and do some hard bike sessions as well. A lot can be achieved in three weeks if you put your mind to it.

All this said The Race is just a starter and a body check for 2019. Once I sit down post race I will weigh up my options for 2019 back in Ireland. I am really looking forward to meeting all the other participants before the event, some first timers and others returning like myself. There are some like Andrew Wallace and Couch to 250km that have put massive effort into the event both in their training and for charities. Ye will smash it no doubt.

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I will miss the Jurassic coast.

Check out the competitor list for The Race HERE !

My Summary of 2018

It wasn’t until I started to look back at my blog that I realised how busy a year it was in  2018. I raced in adventure races and ultras, did an incredible amount in training and managed to move countries, find a new job and move house three times, ending up living in my camper in Dorset in the South of England. It was one of the busiest years of my life, even though I only worked 5 months of the year!

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January 2018

The year started with a lovely camper trip around a few parts of Ireland and between hill runs and dips in freezing water we started the year in style. Little did I know the mileage the van would do in 2018 as well as the mileage my own legs would end up covering. I won’t go into the stats in a big way but I ran 5 Ultras from 50km to 100km, 3 marathons and an adventure race. My average training for the year was 10 hours a week both on the bike and running, with running winning out by a massive margin this year.

February 2018

My first ultra of the year in Donadea, a flat but fast 50km on the forset trail, finishing in 3 hours and 50 minutes. I was happy with my first ever looped and predominantly flat ultra. This was a great leveller and a super way to see where I was fitness wise after the winter. My plan in 2018 was to try to enjoy every race and training and smile whenever I had the energy on those trails. I think my photos tell their own story.

March 2018

The lads after Gaelforce Dublin. My first time doing this race and it was the week after Donadea. Maybe not the greatest race planning but I was happy with 4th place and again a good fitness session. I was starting to ramp things up.

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April 2018

The Maurice mullins 51km ultra over the Wicklow hills was a super out and back race. The weather was really kind on the day and I finished a very respectable 7th overall. I paced myself well throughout and used this as a training race. It was good to train in race scenarios and get used to my normal pace over these massive distances.

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May 2018

The first of 2 huge races this year was the Transvulcania Ultra, an absolutely epic race,. It was technical under foot, hot, with relentless climbs and a mixed bag of weather to put you in the pain cave. We had rain, wind and baking heat over the course of a 9 hour and 50 minute race where I hit the wall 5 km from home only to pick myself up, just in time to knock back a beer on the home straight thanks to some supporters. I finished well inside the top 100 in my first really big international ultra. The highs and lows of ultrarunning really came to the fore in this race.

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First big one of the year! Ouch!
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June 2018

From La Palma and the heat to the Exmoor trail marathon and my first podium of 2018. I cruised around this course and felt really good throughout finishing third in 4 hours and 1 minute. A very respectable marathon time with 2500 metres of ascent in the race.

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July 2018

In July it was back to Snowdonia for the marathon and another tough day. It might of been a little reminder that I needed to take things easy with the CCC around the corner. I suffered at times during this tough marathon over some really hard terrain. I managed to knock 2 minutes off my 2017 time but realised my body was in need of rest if I was to give the CCC a decent effort in just over a months time. A great holiday in Sweden in early August really helped get the body ready for what lay ahead.

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August 2018

Smiling at 55km into the CCC, the most amazing race of the year. I had highs and lows but the good times were certainly worth the wait. I will never forget running into Chamonix with Emma by my side on the camera and my folks at the finish line. Without Emma, my family, and friends such as Sinead Keogh, the race would of been much harder and lonelier and from there you don’t know how things will go. My finishing time of 16.01 was good enough for top 100 men in the race and really an incredible placing out of 1600 runners. I managed to make up close to 40 positions in the second half of the race. What a day and night it was.

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September 2018

Back to Ireland in the Autumn for a cross country and running with Castlegar is always a proud moment. We managed county medals again and every chance I get I like to run with the club. A PB of 17.10 in the 5km and a good 36.40 in a 10km were other highlights. Nice to keep up some speed considering I don’t train on the road often or do enough interval training .

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December 2018

To finish the monster of a year of ultra running a 10th place finish in the Dorset Ultra plus was a super result, one hampered by an extra 30 minutes on the trail with a wrong turn, but then maybe after a year with such mileage and effort on the trail this was inevitable! Mistakes happen both with tiredness and complacency. I finished this ultra really strong averaging 4 to 5 minutes per kilometre over the last 20km. Thanks to Adam Gamble for making it a super way to finish the year.

2019 looks interesting with a massive result in the UTMB draw this week. I was pulled from the hat for the TDS and will take on the new mammoth 145km course on the 28th of August all going well. Between that and the Lavaredo Ultra 125km, on the 28th of June, I will plan my year.

I am lucky enough to be a Trailblazer for 2019 with Tailwind nutrition and you will see me promote them even more this year. Without Tailwind the likes of the CCC would of been trickier both logistically and from a nutritional direction.

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The view heading west to my new training ground of West Dorset. 

I will also spend 2019 as an ambassador for Uglowsport and look forward to trying out their gear during the year. I apologise in advance for the constant tagging of both them and Tailwind in all posts!

Dorset Ultra Plus race report 2018

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The Jurassic coast as the rain leared.

The return to the Jurassic coast for the second outing in the Dorset Endurance Life Ultra race would be a different experience to last year. We knew this before the race even started, with a wet week and a very wet day forecast, this was going to be one of those outings. I knew that I have always been good racing in the rain, not suffering from the cold and actually I think I enjoy it more than most. I decided pre race that I would once again have a reasonably relaxed week in the lead up to the event and on the day a top 10 finish or even a push for the podium would be possible. Myself and Emma travelled down and met the Irish gang in Dorset. Nine of us would race from 10k to 74k races the following morning and an air of excitement as well as some nerves was evident as we sat around for a cuppa on Friday night.

I woke up around 6am Saturday and as forecasted the weather was horrendous. Wind and rain battered the house as we cooked the scrambled eggs. Bring it on!!

Myself, Sinead, Owen and Pol, all part of the Chamonix gang from August would give the ultraplus a rattle, with Emma, Noreen and Paschal ripping up the half marathon, Aoife giving the marathon a rattle and Sharon would run the 10km in a pair of walking boots. All serious feats in different ways. The main thing I hoped was that everyone would have fun and cross the line in one piece. It was going to be slippy and treacherous out there.

After registration the race would kick off some time just after 8. We huddled behind a tent and almost missed the start as they moved it from last year’s location to near  the registration tent. Of course in our relaxed state we were almost late on the morning and missed almost all the race briefing. We did get the idea in passing that the course would be altered due to the conditions. Not what I wanted to hear. It actually turned out that it was altered in a huge way and led to a very different race that expected. More of this later.

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A typical coastal shot.

We were off. I have to say I had looked forward to this race ever since the CCC and with my training going well I expected I could perform and dig deep for a decent time. I decided to bunker in somewhere in the top 20 and take on the first few climbs with a cool head, stay out of the red for as long as possible and feel my way into the race. This is becoming a theme in my ultra running! Only 5km into the race I began to realise that the course alterations were massive. We took on two early climbs but then the trail led to farmers fields, mud and puddles and worst of all, FLAT. I had basically spent the entire last two months doing hill repeats for these short sharp hills. Now I would have to run at least 55km’s of this 75km race on almost flat ground. A completely different turnover of the legs, a different style of running and not to mention the conditions underfoot. One thought came into my head, ‘forget it, you are here now, you are strong and racing’. I soon found myself running with a guy of very similar speed and we started up some great conversations. Adam Gamble was his name and a super runner he was. It turned out we ended up running the entire race together. Adam, like myself had expected more hills, he was a 17 minute 5k runner and around 36 minute 10k runner, had completed the CCC and had plenty notches in his ultra running belt. All similar levels to myself so we decided to work with each other, encouraging the other when things were low and see how the day went.

At around 15km the lead ladies in the ultra caught us. They were doing the 55km course and were motoring. Becky and Bonnie were there names and Becky would stay with myself and Adam for a good chunk of the race. Both of them bit by bit catching my accent and wondering if they would go home sounding a bit Irish!

We completed the first 20km in about 2 hours and realised we would do that loop later on as well as half of it again to finish the race. That was after tackling which looked like a much hillier 24km ahead. We descended into Lulworth, grabbed some water, filled bottles with Tailwind and away we went to start the next section. This 24km was much hillier, following a decent amount of the course from 2017. WE skipped the beach section and one section of the coastal path but would run a few of the big hills on the coast as well. I was dying for hills at this stage and it wasn’t until nearly 25km that we started to hit a few. Of course I felt myself here and powered up the hills, barely breaking a sweat on one or two of them. Adam and Becky were going well too and we started to get a nice pace between the three of us. We descended one of the final hills and took a left away from the coast and across some farmers fields. The mud was relentless. Sticky mud, caking to the bottom of your runners, making your feet as heavy as led but we continued to have fun and a good laugh in seeing who could gather the most mud on their runners! The ploughed field went on and on and up a nice incline before we hit a ridge trail and took a left to start the 10km or so back to Lulworth, most of which was on the cliff ridges with one long climb on the road mixed in. This is where it all went PEAR shaped!

As the 3 of us followed the markers along the ridge, joining the trail we had come up on we realised the trail was following the fence. This would be our downfall. We kept going and began to meet lots of the ultra plus, ultra, marathon and half marathon runners coming in the opposite direction. We hopped a stile and began to descend a long descent that we had come up earlier on. As I ran I was delighted to see Owen and Sinead and flew by as they said, ‘you sure your not gone wrong’. In my haste I thought they were joking and we continued to run. Almost at the bottom of the hill now and I started to wonder and look around, looking for arrow markers. We decided we had gone wrong. I let out an incredible amount of disgust, at myself, in the most gracious of language before gathering my thoughts a little. We could descend to the bottom of the hill and try rejoin the trail inland but we felt we should do the course properly and go back to find where we went wrong. After ascending the hill we eventually found the point where we went off route. There was a gate 30 metres to the right of the trail and an arrow further back on the trail we had missed due to following the fence. There was no X on the stile we had hopped and therefore we had kept on going. Definitely our own fault but the arrows on the course were poor and I have better proof of this a little later.

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Not far from the point of almost no return!

As you can see from the photo the conditions didn’t help our chances of seeing the small signs, no excuse for going wrong, but at the same time the strong winds led to moments where we all dropped the heads. The rain had eased at this stage and as you can see I had my jacket off and was enjoying the cooling effect that had.

So after rejoining the actual route we knew that for Becky her chance of top 3 ladies in the ultra was probably over and we knew that myself and Adam had been very much pushing the top 5 if not already in the top 5 before things went arie. As you can see from the next photo, we continued to have fun, this taken only 10 minutes after we rejoined the trail. We had met a group of little kids along the trail and all high fived us. Some of them so tiny we barely reached down to high five as we passed.

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Having the craic!

 

This photo was taken on the final climb before a roughly 6 kilometre run back to Lulworth. A quick refuel, grab some dry buffs from the drop bag and on we went. Becky was just ahead and stayed there until she turned for home on the ultra as myself and Adam continued to slide our way back around the 20km section of mostly flat but undulating course. The trails were now very wet and the mud was slippier and thicker than before with hundreds of athletes running in the different events all day. Both myself and Adam hit lows during this 20km, but as promised earlier on we talked each other through these lows. How incredible is a sport where you can meet someone for the first time and end up helping them through hard times and making a friendship all in an 8 hour period.

There was little to report on this section as we were a bit slow on the way out to the 10km turning point. It took us close to an hour and a half and the following 10k around an hour. This was of course still good running with 60km in the legs, including our 4.5km detour earlier on! The second 10km was particularly fast in parts (helped by my religious can of coke on ultra race day!) and we began to feel really strong again. During this particular section of the race there is a trail through the forest. At one point you come to a T junction and turn right. The sign here was telling us to turn left and head to the beach. I touched the sign and it spun around. The staples had come loose and a person or the wind had hit the sign. This just goes to show how easy it is to go wrong when you rely on course markers. I am not blaming the organisers as in these races the conditions/weather are the biggest issue and they did have to change the course at the last minute as well. My biggest worry in the long term is that these races lose popularity due to cutting corners on food, medals, tshirts and the likes. A lot of people come to enjoy the finish line banter, the soup or cake, together in celebration. There was little of this to be seen in Lulworth I’m afraid (rant over, now back to the race).

We arrived back to Lulworth for the penultimate time at about 3.45pm and decided we would really try to smash out the last 10km.  Back up the steep hill out of the cove for the last time we went, knowing the route like the back of our hands at this stage. We really began to move. The ground seemed to be drying in the wind and the mud began to harden a little. Let’s finish this in style. My legs started to come back to life and  I was flying the downhill sections again.

An hour later we were descending once again to the finish line. We crossed the line in unison and let a couple of goat like roars out while doing so! Emma was there, having finished the half and as always it was amazing to see her. That incredible finish line moment is always worth it, even if there was very little to see or do at this particular finish line. A protein bar and a photo and we were sent on our way.

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Yellow the colour of the day! 

On crossing the line we had no idea where we were placed. The computer print out soon saw us in 10th and 11th place, on the same time of course, but we were delighted. We added 30 minutes to the course with our route but still managed a top 10 time in 8 hours and 53 minutes. Taking our mistake out of the equation, we were very much in the mix for top 5. This was definitely a good example of a type of teamwork. It would of been a really really long day on this course alone. The views were limited to gaps in the mist and the ground was poor underfoot. The banter and craic made the day fun and I thank both Adam and Becky for this. Becky ended up fourth lady which was super considering the detour.

Lastly well done to the gang, everyone giving it their all on a day to remember. I’ll probably be back next year! Why not, I now work just up the road.

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Alpacas on tour!! 

Thanks again to Tailwind for their amazing fuel for the day and here are the results.