East and West

The last two weeks have been busy with a race in Wicklow last weekend and a more local adventure across the Maamturk mountains yesterday. I hoped to treat both events cautiously as I try to build up to Transvulcania. In saying that the Maurice Mullins ultra was a race and I would work hard without going totally into the red if possible. The Maamturk’s was more about a good training session and I decided to enjoy the day more with friends and not get into race mode for the day.

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Maurice Mullins 50km

The Maurice Mullins started at 9.30 and myself, Sinead Keogh and John Sherry travelled up early that morning from the West. The Wicklow Way was familiar to me from the 130km race last year. Anyone that has read that particular report, (The yellow men of the Wicklow Way) on this blog, will remember my hatred of those yellow men after nearly 19 hours on my feet. The Maurice Mullins, I hoped, would blow away those cobwebs and give me a new relationship with the Wicklow hills. A few years ago I ran the half or 26km version of this course so it was reasonably familiar terrain. That race had been my furthest ever run at the time and I came 6th place. It was my introduction to trail running. Little did I know back then how hooked I would become. Just shows how we can go from 26km in 2015 to ultramarathons in 2017!

Two hundred eager runners lined up and after a cattle like corral on the road near Jonnie Foxes pub, we were off. The different colours and styles on the start line really stood out. The bags and gear in the ultrarunning world make these mass starts a sight to behold. The run would take us along the road and then onto the Wicklow way trail. We ran at a decent pace. I decided to sit in and try stay with the top ten runners, without going into the red and hopefully running the majority of the first half of the race. I won’t bore you with the fine detail but the basics of the course meant we would cover grassy trail, boardwalk, gravel road, fireroad and some more technical trail. This variation of terrain was great and I enjoyed the technical stuff the most. We had a few decent climbs, around 1800meters, including Djouce Mountain before decending to the turnaround point. We would turn and run the course the same way home. This actually wasn’t as monotonous as I expected as at this stage I started meeting people running in the opposite direction. The comradory between runners on these events is second to none. High fives and constant encouragement for everyone. By the time I was around the 40km mark the 26km race started to pass. It was about here that my good pace began to slow and the rain came down in buckets, nice and cooling actually, but it did get very slippy underfoot. Shaun Stewart came bombing past on the 26km route, finishing 4th in a great display. Great to see a good buddie when your feeling fatigued. It picks the spirit up.

By the time I had turned at the 26km mark I was sittting in 7th position and I would stay here until the finish. I slowed considerably over the last 2 climbs and even though my downhill legs felt good my uphill ones began to tire. (This sounds like I carry the spare set of legs in the bag for up and downhill?!!) This loss in pace saw me drop off the front runners a little more than I hoped but all in all 7th place was a good day out. I wasn’t there to break records and I hope that this will stand to me in the coming months.

To conclude the Wicklow Way is now in the good books again. It’s always worth giving something a second or even third chance in this case!

Yesterday saw our return to the Maamturks Challenge in local Connemara.

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A typical turks view, fantastic!

It was a welcome day on the mountains after a week of recovery training. The weather was mostly fair with some mist and wind on the summits but all in all a real cracker of an event lay ahead as we set off around 6.40am. There is no doubt for a distance of 26 kilometres, this challenge is second to none. Relentless climbing, small running sections, nasty nasty ground underfoot, rock, bog, grass, mud, water, everything but snow. The hike starts at the base of Corcog in the East and follows several peaks all the way to Leenane in the west overlooking Killary harbour. Simlar to Wicklow almost 160 people took to the mountains today, none of which were mad enough to have taken part in an ultra race the weekend before, apart from myself, Sinead and John of course. We are quickly becoming the three amigos! A good adventure racing buddie, Mike O shea joined us after we met him at the start and it was great to catch up on the mountains. Mike is an experienced racer and always one for good advice.

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Misty tops with Sinead and John

We hiked the uphills and trotted on the downhills and slightly flat sections if possible, using the hiking poles alot. My kit of the salomon bag, carbon poles, salomon speedcross runners and of course the all important Tailwind as fuel is working a treat in 2018 so far. These days out are ideal tester days and the gear is all important during endurance events.

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Another climb?!

We used viewranger, Suunto GPS watches and maps to navigate, taking no chances in the low visibility. One after the other we summitted the Turk’s, my legs feeling great throughout, bar one ankle roll, which I seem to have come through safely. Around 13km we reached the first checkpoint at the top of Mamean. From here we climbed from 250metres back up to 700 and began another section of peaks and troughs. The rocky terrain on top was dangerous so we kept the running reasonably slow. We checked in at the next few checkpoints and with about 2 hours to go the clouds almost completely lifted and the vast mountains and expanse of views opened up. Once again blowing me away with how incredible this part of the world really is. I decided to bomb on and run the last 5km or so, which included the climb of Maamturk Mor and the Col of Dispondancy. They were two hard climbs but not particularly long and I was soon flying on the downhill back towards Leenane. A few big bowls of soup awaited at the hotel and this was what really pushed me on, having reluctantly left my friends to finish without me but I did want to run and push a little extra to make the most of that last hour. I’m sure they were ok with one of the amigos needing his lunch a bit sooner than the rest.

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The clouds decided to lift.

Two great weekends were had and I feel good, despite a bit of a sore hip and ankle. This are only niggles that a day or two will sort out and with the right food and hydration this week I will be building towards Transvulcania nicely.

It has been an absolute pleasure to spend these weekends with Sinead and John. They are both inspirational and and I think the 3 of us are improving at our own levels on a constant basis. Sinead and John took 30 minutes off their time on the Turks from 2017 this year. Incredible to see people constantly improve with pure grit and determination.

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Not a bad spot

Easter in the mountains

I spent 3 hours of my Easter weekend in the mountains of Connemara, The Ben’s once again were calling. I ran/hiked the Ben’s Horseshoe route on what was a cracker of a day. The route I took includes 6/7 peaks maxing out around 708metres. The Ben’s are for hiking rather than running with tricky rocky ground underfoot and some steep ascents and descents thrown in for fun. The foothills are slippy and boggy with bog drains and streams making the terrain difficult to run but still possible at times. My plan was to hike up hard, survive injury free downhills and soak up the views at every opportunity. This blog will be a photo op more than a story today as I think these photos tell a thousand stories.

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One of the Ben’s looking West

My lunch break was great around the half way mark. I calculated I was halfway at an hour and a half and it was time for a newly cooked ham sandwich. The view from my resting point wasn’t bad.

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My feet ruined this one but Inov 8 runners held up well.

A quick swing around in the other direction and well what can you say!

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Lough Inagh and the Turks in the background, our hunting ground last weekend on the MDC!

And then a look along the peaks I still had to knock out before the end of my afternoon..

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This believe it or not is the more runnable section!

I reached one of the peaks to hear a guy call my name and ask me where there was any good kayaking up here! It turned out to be the guy I recently sold my kayak to. There were only 6 people on the section of the Ben’s I was passing through and I happened to know one of them.

My day on Suunto Watch

It took me 3 hours to cover the 14.5km section of the Ben’s, good moving considering the terrain and 1500metres of ascent. The high point of the day was the sun and the views as well as lying back on the floor of the camper on my return, with the heat of the sun shining through the back doors. A little piece of bliss after some hard training.

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Couple of snow showers kept me company.

A good weeks training with around 13 hours of training and a couple of long runs, finishing off with 18km club run on Sunday. Lets hope this leads into a good run in the Maurice Mullins 50km next Saturday. An Irish Mountain Running Association race.

 

Marathon de Connemara (the MDC!)

The weekend was a cracker, and considering the busy schedule I was feeling reasonably ok at my two spinning classes tonight. The key to my training is always a big mix of activities and this has certainly been the story of the last week. Saturday was the turn of a little Marathon or 45km of running around the base of the Turks in Connemara, in the sunshine. Sinead Keogh had planned out a cracking route starting in Maam in a clockwise direction around the Western way to Leenane and back to Maam. I’ve nicknamed it Marathon de Connemara or the MDC. This could become big!  We had a group of 5 and planned to move slowly for time on the legs.

 

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Connemara

After a quick cup of coffee or tea, depending on preference, in The Mueller, we trotted off in the direction of the Turks. The first section of the run took us along a country road leading up to a trail section below Mamean. A quick change of shorts behind some trees was needed as I tested out my new shorts. Things were definately not comfortable so I went back to the old reliables. The climb up to Mamean was a nice little drag and we were all nicely warmed up by the top.

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Down from Mamean with the Ben’s mountain range in the background.

The technical running down off Mamean soon turned into road running on an undulating stretch before the Western way turns into trail once more. This boggy trail section, sometimes muddy but mostly firm under foot was my favourite section of the day. It included a section of the Western Way that I had never been on and this of course always makes things more interesting.

The craic was mighty throughout with Rachel Nolan telling us about her adventure racing craziness in Belize, a blog I will share as soon as she has it out there. This is going to be a great read for anyone. Snakes, scorpions and mosquitos only the start of the fun out there! Keep an eye on the link above for her post.

Next we met a forest trail and more familiar ground as we joined part of a Gaelforce route that would take us around to the Killary. This section was beautiful as we saw the sea for the first time and with mountains on our right, the sea on our left, some funny looking sheep and a farmer with his dog, there was always something for us to see and chat about. We ran alongside Killary Harbour on the trail and joined the road just before the village of Leenane.

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Killary Harbour from the Western Way
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Running the trail alongside Killary Harbour

A fuel stop here and we were into the last 13km of the 45. This would be all on road and tiring as the legs fatigued. The chat was still good, apart from a few minutes of silence as we tired a little. I was actually feeling so good compared to any marathon training efforts in the past and realising this long distance training is starting to pay off. Saturday felt like 4 hours and 40 minutes of fun with friends rather than tough training. This is real running.

We arrived back in Maam, walked into the river, briefly for some cold on the legs and feet and then into the pub for a big pot of tea and a toastie. Next up a small matter of a stag in Westport, which finished at about 3.30am before waking on Sunday with the plan of heading up the Reek or Croagh Patrick as I have always referred to it on the blog. As you can imagine the energy levels were a bit low but sometimes a little tired legged training is good. I power hiked up the mountain in 40 minutes and ran down, a little slower than usual in 25. The mountain seems to deteriorate with every visit, becoming harder to descend with large loose boulders and alot more people. All this said it is one hell of a view and always worth the effort.

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Clew Bay from The Reek

So that was a brief account of my weekend, feeling refreshed from the craziness and after some epic sleeping last night another week is underway. Only 5 weeks until Bristol now and looking forward to the move.

 

Olive goes to Bristol

Our cat, Olive, was next to emigrate and that meant a long journey to Bristol last week. I had a busy week prior to the trip, managing to train throughout, just about, and then Emma arrived over on the Thursday evening before we set off on a 16 hour journey for our new home in Bristol.

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Busy boat in March

The journey was a daunting one with a very sensitive cat that hates travel. She was very upset for the first few hours but soon calmed down and made it in one piece. It is always a big change when you move house and it was sad to leave a place we had made home for four years. This change is one I hope to embrace and hopefully I can add some nice adventures to the blog along the way. The Mueller was terrific for the trip, filling it with boxes of belongings and we sailed from Rosslare to Fishguard on the only weekend of decent weather in weeks.

I returned last Tuesday on another 15 hour trip to Galway to work for a few months before I move over in May, the week before Transvulcania Ultra. I have managed some long training runs, both with the club and in the hills, dragging myself out in the bitter cold on a number of occasions. The blog has taken a bit of a hit the last three weeks, but I hope to get back up and running now with lots of busy weekends ahead. We have a training marathon in Connemara next weekend, the Maurice Mullins 50km early April and the build up to La Palma in May.

It has been a cold winter, for our damp Irish bones, but nasty weather tests our ability to get out and train regardless. I enjoy that feeling of completing my training when challenged by the elements.

 

I recently purchased a pair of Inov 8 Mudclaw 230 trail runners. I will do a full review on these soon. I bought the Mudclaws for soft ground running, grip on slippy rocks and the big toe box that they have. This has already helped the problems I have had recently with my big toes and a change of shape in my foot due to the distance running. So far they are comfortable but I am undecided if I like them more than my usual Salomon’s. I will clock up more miles in them and decide a bit later. Shoe choice is an interesting issue, one that is really a personal option but I do believe in certain shoes for the suitable terrain.

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Mudclaw’s in action

Trail running in Doon this weekend, it was freezing in those bitter easterlies.

 

A recent run on Knockma, maxing out the heart rate on the steep hill.

 

Gaelforce Dublin Report

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Gaelforce Dublin start

It had been almost a year since ‘The Race’ in Donegal. Hard to believe it and even harder to believe, despite all the races and events I hadn’t taken part in a multi sport race since. My training certainly wasn’t race specific and with Donadea 50k still in the legs I knew I was in for a slog. There was no prior warning as to what the Dublin hills are like though! Nasty little buggers!

I knew the field of athletes was strong and that it would be quick from the off. This would be the case throughout. I arrived to registration with Lisa, my sister as support and met up with some more guys from the West as well as a few well known racers from the last few years. My friend Dave was taking part in his first ever multi sport race and had used a training plan of mine to train up. I had everything crossed for him in hope he would enjoy it and do well.

The start was at 9.30 on the dot, all extremely well organised by the gaelforce crew. They were excellent throughout. We sprinted around the first kilometre and I hoped to hang on to the lead group as we headed out on the bike. It was soon everyone for themselves as the hills came thick and fast. The hills turned into farm tracks and there was no option but to run with the bike or be certain of a puncture. I was sitting in about 6th at this point, only about 7k into the race but almost all at close to max heart rate. The hills continued with a brief fast downhill section after out second off-road section which was nicely flooded in parts. I realised now how much I missed these adventure type races. Mud from head to toe!

Following a fast downhill we turned into the entrance for the reservoir and reached the bike drop before a short kilometre run to the kayaks. I was up to fourth at this stage and sitting on thirds tail. Here I would stay around the loop on the reservoir before exiting the kayak with a completely numb ass. The water was an icy 2degrees and the sit on top kayaks take plenty on board. It must of been 2k into the run before I had any feeling back in the glutes!

Almost at the end of mountain run section.

I settled into the run, briefly moving into 3rd place but realising I had very little in the legs. I felt like I had about 30km ran and legs would only go one pace. I ran the uphill with Matt who was doing, The Race, in a few weeks and was keen to hear all about it, between breaths that was. We climbed for 2km running slowly but steadily as well. The leaders were about 3 minutes ahead by the time we turned to descend back towards the reservoir and the final bike stage. I felt better on the downhill and was delighted to see Dave was cruising around the top 40 and we high fived as I flaked down the hill. Matt was strong and left me for dead on the run, proving I had little in me. I managed to put in a decent effort on the final bike. It included a nasty long climb, literally lung busting all the way, in and out if the saddle the whole time. Following this was a wicked descent, which I was loving until I came into a bad bend too quickly. Slow motion took over as my back wheel lost traction. I ended up slowimg a bit but not enough and before I knew it myself and the bike were somewhere between a barb wire fence and a big tree. My right calf muscle instantly cramped and I let a roar of annoyance out of me. All very good language of course. I hopped back on knowing any ground I made up was now gone and it was a matter of holding 4th to the finish. I flew down into Tallaght and the finish, broke two red lights, clipped a guard that was marshalling a roundabout and bombed down the home straight happy to know the finish was close. I dropped the bike and ran around Shamrock Rovers home ground to finish the 49km course in 2 hours 31 minutes. A happy chappy.

Dave finished in 43rd overall, a phenomenal effort for a first timer and even though he wasn’t ready to hear it, I told him he had a future at this malarchy !!

Thanks to all involved in the organising of the event and to Lisa for her top support as always.

Next up is Transvulcania in May. There will be plenty challenges and training days before then!

Donadea 50km, round and round we go

I arrived in Donadea Forest Park at 8am on Saturday morning. There was a heavy mist but spirits were high. Sinead arrived shortly after but her chest infection meant she was a non runner today. I registered and met a few friendly faces along the way. This was once again a run into the unknown for me. The race consisted of 10 laps around a reasonably flat 5km course. The ground was wet but hard with mostly gravel through the forest walking trail.

There were approximately 230 runners signed up and thanks to the race director we had 5 hours to become a Donadea 50km finisher. Anyone after this goes down as dnf (did not finish). The race kicked off bang on ten o clock and straight away the pace was high. Irish champion Gary O Hanlon took off at 17 minute per 5km pace and would hold this throughout. Off with ya, but fair play to ya! I decided soon into the first lap that pacing was impossible due to the GPS dropping continuously in the forest. I would run the whole race on heart rate. Around 150 to 155 throughout, my max being 172. This method was a first as well.

My plan was to run 4.45 min per/km pace for as long as possible but as often happens I changed my plans a lap in. I had to run off feel and heart rate and decided to try run a reasonably fast marathon and then see what was left. Sinead was a terrific help waiting at the start of each loop with water containing Tailwind and a few bits of fruit.

The course started at Donadea castle and once through the finishing shoot, which we would run through 10 times, it looped it’s way around the small forest for 5km. The first kilometre brought us passed a small lake before turning right into the forest, jumping over or running through what became known as the water jump. Just before the 2km mark we had two small gradual hills to run up and over. These were my favourite part, even though they got harder every time around. The course from 2km on scurried it’s way through the forest with nothing too exciting to report. I soon got to know each marshall’s face and I used them as my markers rather than the kilometre marks. I looked forward to seeing them for the last time even though they were such friendly people throughout.

I ran the first 5 loops all in about 22 minutes a piece. This was a nice pace but way faster than I had intended. I decided that this wasn’t really a ‘goal’ race but more a fact finding mission. Could I run on the flat? How long could I maintain this pace following no specific training? Was I mentally prepared for a looped course for the first time ever?

I think I found all my answers and realise I have potential to be good at this but am undecided if it floats my boat like the mountains do!

As the race progressed I slowed down, in fairness I knew this would happen. At about 33km, in my 7th loop I started to feel it. The backs of my legs tightened and my toe issues were annoying me on and off. This all said I went through the marathon in 3 hours and 15 minutes or there abouts. The 5 kilometres after the marathon were horrendous as I dropped a good few positions and slowed to a crap pace. I ran through to start my last lap and said to myself to suck things up and finish strong. To blow up at that stage would of been a sickener.

I ran over the finish line in 3 hours and 55 minutes, 5 minutes faster than my target but also knowing I ran a silly race by anyone’s standards. I went out too fast, almost blew up and had planned yo rely on pacing off watch too much. This all said I still reckon these early season races are a time to try new things, experiment and test yourself like you normally wouldn’t. I learnt that presently I have the ability to run a fast marathon, I can run on the flat and could specially train for it and that loops are manageable mentally. Now all I have to do is recover in the next four days before Galeforce Dublin on Saturday !!

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As you can see above I  finished 24th overall, 7th in my category of senior male but of course I should of been in over 35 age group and then would of finished 2nd in that category! None of this matters too much but it’s always nice to know you did well.

The magic of sunny Donegal

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Horn head near the start of our run

In the barron North West lies probably Ireland’s most fabulous county.  This may be debatable among plenty people but in my opinion on a good day it is very hard to beat Donegal. Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend two days training with my good friend Shaun. I know for many of you that read the blog you have seen my posts and heard me gloat about Donegal before, however last weekend really topped it off for me.

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Highest point on our coastal run near Horn Head

On Saturday we ran for two hours through forest, coastal trail, bog, beach, road, (covering 19km, 916 metres ascent, 229metres highest point) and stopping regularly for a photo along the way. It really was a completely epic run. Hugging the cliff tops most of the way we ran at a good clip, almost turning our run into intervals. The wind howled through the crevasses in the cliffs and funnelled through the gaps in the trail that led out across the North Atlantic. We saw waterfalls blowing back up in the air and got soaked while stopping to catch this on camera. I got soaked and Shaun failed to get a photo!

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Grunty the seal

As we ran we were suddenly spooked by movement on the beach. We saw a gorgeous seal cub, possible separated from it’s mother. It made it’s way to some rock pools and with a few grunts told us to leave it’s territory. I hope the little seal makes it through. These coastlines are a harsh climate for even the toughest of animals. We stopped beside a cliff face and watch the gulls as they performed acrobatics trying to land on the cliff. They swooped in, missed their landing and would continue to swoop using the wind and their skill until they could land safely on the cliff edge. Just to think people complain about traffic on the way home. I would take it over the possibility of death by smashing into a cliff face.

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One of many beautiful inlets we discovered

We made our way down off the cliffs and onto a beach. A cracking beach near Dunfanaghy with sanddunes spread along it’s entirety. We hopped across some rocks and as I went to land on the beach I lost my footing on both legs and ended up ass down in a stream. Hilarious considering all the nasty terrain we had just covered. I had fallen off a rock and onto the beach from about 6 inches high!! Shaun had a great laugh. There was a cave at the source of the stream I had fallen into. During our little excursion into the cave Shaun found a bone, possibly a dolphin or a whale. I tucked it in my pack and Shaun said a friend of his will ID it for him at some stage. Always nice to have a little find on a trail run.

Sunday was an even sunnier day, with the showers disappearing and a frosty night, the sky was blue and the bikes were calling. We went for a 55km spin out to Rosguil Point and back. This was part of ‘The race’ course last year and the memories flooded back. We had done this route on a training day last year when I had bonked and really hadn’t taken it in properly until this Sunday.

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Rosguil point views

The cycle was hilly and a great workout. We slowed up on a few possible icy patches where the road was still sheltered but most of the time we kept pushing on and finished the 55km in around 2 hours. It really is a meca for cycling, no doubt the hilliest cycling in Ireland. Every time I come back I realise I am not half the cyclist I could be. The hills will make sure to let me know.

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Decent views?

This trip, however short to Donegal, reminds me that wherever life takes me in the coming years I will no doubt come back to this great part of Ireland to train and enjoy myself. Hopefully this good feeling of enjoying training will lead me into the race in Donadea on Saturday in a good frame of mind. A 50km over 5km loops may not be as scenic as the cliffs at Horn Head but no doubt these images will be in my mind as the pain kicks in on race day.