Last weekend I had the chance to race in Northern Ireland as well as try out my new camper (photos on a later blog!). It would be an adventure no matter what happened in the race. The Mourne Skyline 35km mountain trail running race is one of the most difficult in Europe over this distance, with 3500metres or thereabouts of ascent and descent, it was going to be one tough event.
I arrived to an eerily quiet Newcastle in Co. Down, at the foothills of the Mourne mountain at around 6pm. Registration wasn’t until the following morning so I picked a nice sheltered corner of a carpark near the registration and start line. I cooked up some food and put the feet up for the evening. I was confident my fitness was good for this race but I knew my training had not been race specific. These would be relentless high gradient climbs on wet and tricky terrain, terrain I had not really trained on in a few months. In saying that I decided to think positively and give the race a good go.
Storm Brian was brewing down South as people made their way to the start line on the strand in Newcastle. Huge bundles of people huddled behind buildings to get some shelter ahead of a tough day. The wind was actually mild but it was strong and the rain lingered on the hills above. I knew that once above 400 to 500 metres we would be in the middle of rain, mist and low visibility.
The gun went off at 9am and very quickly little groups formed. I settled into a group just behind the leading one and felt comfortable here. Little did I know, despite plenty warnings what lay ahead of me!
One of the many walls.
Walls, lots and lots of walls, going up and up and up and then down and down and down!! What more do you need to know about this race really? Now I am certain that this course is absolutely epic on a clear and dry day, but on a wet day with no visibility and treacherous terrain it is somewhat different. Unfortunately my legs were refusing to enjoy going up. I was fine on the downhills and the flats but as slow as could be on the ascents. It was a strange feeling as usually this is where I excell. I don’t think I can explain this except to say that I had an off day. I thought maybe I went out too hard but in fairness I felt the heavy legs on the first, second and tenth climb in the same way. It just wasn’t in me on the day. It might be due to a busy year, a lack of specific training of late or maybe I just had a lack of something in my diet of late. Who knows, and to be honest who cares really? You cannot make excuses for a bad day. All you can do is give yourself a good kick in the arse and pick yourself up for the next day. Train harder or just hope that the next day you will feel like yourself again.
The first half of the race included about 4 big climbs and a long section of extremely technical trail, which I loved, in between. The ascents were gruelling as I explained, but the descents were nearing on the impossible at times. I wore my Salomon Speedcross 4’s for good grip and balance but even these were like ice skates. The mountain side was like a river, with rocks, mud and one inch blades of grass that were themselves hanging onto the mountainside for dear life! I was told in advance that the second half of the race would be the toughest. Now, as we all know the second half of most races is harder as we tire. However, this was the worst yet. At about 18km I blew up. I found the real wall among all the stony walls. I hit it hard and went from running up a gradual incline to walking on the flat to actually stopping and almost sitting down. I put on my waterproof pants thinking some warmth would rejuvenate the body. This worked momentarily but then I reached another climb in the Loughshanagh area and began to overheat. I had to stop and lose the wet gear. Between my massive bonk and the changing of clothes I lost over 10 places in the race and felt really bad. I was now almost crawling up the climbs and shouting at myself inside to keep on going. I actually shouted out loud a few times!
This was the process for the next few hours as I made my way home. The marshalls at every checkpoint were amazing, offering water and jellybabies that saved my life on a few occasions. On the rare occasion I was on a runnable downhill or flat I looked like this…
A genious photographer caught me on a day I rarely smiled!
Yes I know everyone is thinking why do we do these events if we can’t smile throughout? In my opinion it is about enjoying yourself but you are challenging and pushing yourself to the limit, therefore it is not all fun and games. I kept telling myself that days like this will come about in your racing life, but the good ones will come along too and then you realise that without these awful days the good days would never be as sweet.
I crawled to the top of the last climb on Slieve Donard at over 800metres and found one last burst of energy to fly the downhill almost 6km to the finish. I even managed to gain two places and almost a third as I ran the downhill in 34 minutes. It was almost as quick as our descent during the 26 peaks challenge back in April of this year. I finished in 20th position, a good bit lower than my goal but no doubt I will be back to this race, one of the hardest of it’s kind.
View results here
A small bit wet, dirty and tired.
So a second trip up the Mournes this year and I still haven’t seen the view. Better luck next time all round.