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??!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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!!
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!!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Somy 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks again to Tailwind for their amazing fuel for the day and here are the results.
I recently travelled back to Ireland in ‘The Mueller’ for a few days and between this and a few weeks of constant interviewing and job applications, I haven’t mustered up the time to blog. This said, my training has been reasonably good in the lead up to Dorset UltraPlus, next Saturday week!
I spent time doing hill repeats around the Bristol trails and we spent a weekend trail running in the South of Wales along the coastal path in Gower. Another fabulous UK running destination. A 50km running weekend in Gower was the highlight of the past few weeks with some nice photos to tell the story.
So my training ramped up in the few busy weeks and I found myself a good job, starting in December, but more on this later.
I decided to really mix things up over the last few months. After a race like the CCC we have no idea how the body will react. Rest, good food and rehab seemed to bring me back pretty quickly and I decided to keep 2018 rolling. I don’t really believe in long breaks from training. We all need a week or a few weeks sometimes but as I said before, winter is for becoming stronger and focusing for the year ahead.
A cross country race, a 10k on the road, long hilly trail runs (a few up to 30km), hill repeat after hill repeat and then some turbo sessions thrown in the mix, kept me busy of late. With all this in the bag I am feeling good in preparation for Dorset. I was a little down on both my 10 kilometre and cross country times, but I put this down to maybe some season fatigue as well as holding back just a little for the bigger race. The only issue here is that in the past, when feeling good, I have been less successful. Therefore, I have decided to take Dorset in my stride, enjoy it as I did last year and hopefully make the finish of what is a gruelling 74 kilometres of hilly coastal trails. Sure if there is a podium place up for grabs I might give it a go as well! The massive boost this year is that a huge group are travelling from Ireland, pretty much all on the word from us second timers that this race is amazing! Fingers crossed for the weather.
I had some training plans for the last 12 weeks since the CCC all ready for off. As per usual I veered away pretty quickly from these as life wasn’t playing ball. So instead I trained when I could and I have logged everything in a spreadsheet which will be produced after Dorset. I will be able to explain whether it worked or not at this stage. The lack of mileage, increase in hill work and variety of training will confuse many, but it is my way of keeping things interesting. I have been using Tailwind in most of my training session, keeping the body used to a regular racing fuel. Lets hope it continues to serve me well. Check out Shaun Stewart’s seasonal report here on his amazing year and how Tailwind helped him in the final burst to the finish. My fond memories of Sea to Summit came flooding back as I watched the footage of him crossing the line in 1st place. The end of what was a phenomenal year. Lets hope I get to race with and against Shaun in 2019. Exciting times ahead.
Both myself and Shaun were lucky enough to recently get involved with Uglowsports as Ambassadors for 2019. Plenty to follow on this but for now check out their site here. There is something here for everyone running for the winter. Hopefully I will be kitted out by Uglowsport for races in 2019.
With only one race left in 2018 (Dorset Ultraplus, 74km, on the 1st of December), I see this winter as a great chance, not only to get fitter and stronger on the bike, but also a chance to correct some injury issues still hanging on from 2018. The main issue was my knee pain during the recent CCC, relating to IT band syndrome.
I have started a few different strength and stability routines such as this IT band Rehab.
There are days where rehab is boring and seems pointless when you don’t feel injured. Like so many of you I just want to go out and take on a good run or gym session, whatever gives you the buzz. A 20 minute session with a resistance band, a few weights or just a body weight session will stand to you in the long run. Figure out or let your physio figure out the issue and then focus on it. This is not to say that you let other things slip, it is just a matter of gaining from the winter ahead. Lots of people start their program in January. To me every month is as important. Why start something new in the darkest, wettest month, when you can start it right now.
I have been sticking, roughly to my training plan, while racing a really tough 8km Cross Country back home. It was a great feeling to be involved in a team silver medal at county level.
The next few weeks will be busy with interviews coming thick and fast. Given this schedule, I will train when I can, play some football and get a run or two in with the club. However, winter rehab and strength will be number.
Check out my little piece in Kayathlon.ie. (Page 48-61). A big thank you for the inclusion goes to Greg Dillon of Kayathlon. It is great to see an adventure magazine growing in strength.
Check out my latest workout music with Kastane on Spotify by Alan Walsh. I found it great for watt bike, cross trainer or threadmill sessions. Have a listen HERE.
I’m sitting here thinking about the winter ahead, as the sun shines, not a cloud in the sky and it is 17 degrees in the shade. I’m in Bristol 5 months already and I have only seen a few bad days of weather, but I’m sure there is plenty ahead. With plenty training to contemplate and a few goal races already lining up, it has been a nice few weeks since the CCC. I have met new people both at my new football club, The Retainer’s and also at my new running club Great Western Runners. I think it is so important to keep a social side to your training as well as a training plan to meet your own goals.
So what is happening this winter? A few cross country races, a little 74km ultra in Dorset and then a massive push to get my training in full swing for, well yes, for The Race 2019. Luckily this year it isn’t until the 23rd of March, meaning heaps of training time and maybe even an early season 50km somewhere to warm the blood. Oh and in the middle of all this I have to find a job.
I’m currently cycling around Bristol, feeding cats, looking for dogs to walk and will soon spend some of my time delivering food. Job applications, interviews etc are the most important thing this winter, but I won’t bore blog readers with these parts of life. Let’s stick to the fun bits!
I have been exploring Bristol on the bike a bit and started to bring my mileage up, slowly, in the last few weeks. The roads are busy so I am trying to find quieter routes. As for the hills, well it’s like as if they dropped Bristol on top of Donegal. Need I say anymore there!
I hope to join a gym and get back into some proper wattbike training soon, but for now I’ll stick to the roads and getting to know what lies in the Bristol countryside. I went for a trail run, only 20 minutes from the city with Emma, in Rowberrow, last Sunday, a gorgeous route along very technical trail and some hills thrown in. It was great to get the legs going on the trail, three weeks after the CCC. I went for a shorter mid week run on a trail near Bridgwater the week before. This was in the Quantock Hills. Again, some typical South West English farmland with rolling green hills and forestry here and there. Exploring the area little by little but it really has great running potential. My legs were still tired on this run but it was nice to get moving properly again.
So as the winter roles in and the temperatures start to drop, we have to drag ourselves out training at times. The body naturally feels more lethargic, with shorter days and needing more energy in the cold weather. However, as I mentioned before, I really see the winter as an excellent time to train, become stronger and if needed, a great time to work on injury or niggles. Treat it as a rehab, re-strengthen, learning period and come out the other side, fitter and stronger, mentally as well as physically. It is too easy drop all and blame the weather or the darkness. Stick on the headtorch, the hi-vis or scrape a few quid for the gym, whatever works for you and make the winter count.