The story of the Dorset Ultra 

The Jurassic Coast. 

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

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

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

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

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

Not bad eh! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spin it Out and Suck it Up

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

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

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

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A recent long run in Bristol by the Avon River.

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

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

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

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

 

Mourne Skyline MTR

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

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

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

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

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One of the many walls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

View results here

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A small bit wet, dirty and tired.

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

 

 

A little bit of reading

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

Cross Country

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

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

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

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

Ultrarunners post season Guide.

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

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

 

The story of Graham Bushe.

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

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

 

Kebnekaise

It has been a pretty busy few months but I am finally back in the blogging frame of mind and hope things stay that way for the foreseeable future. Sometimes we need a break from these things and after a few years on the blog I felt it was no harm to take a brief period off. Since my last post in Wales, I have been to Sweden and Alicante on two holidays, so all in all I can’t complain much. The other end of things wasn’t so nice with our little buddie Ferris, our cat, passing away and in the mix of everything I was rear ended in a road accident. Luckily I was in one piece, however my car did take the full brunt of the collision. Anyhow enough rambling, how do you write blog posts again? I will start by a little run down on an epic adventure in the North of Sweden, 2100metre mountains and some of the best scenery in the world.

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Not far from Sweden’s highest point!

So where exactly is Kebnekaise for those of you not too sure about Sweden’s geography?

Here is a very rough ,very quick idea as to where we were!

We set out to hike 20km to the base camp of Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise mountain. We would camp here for three days and one of the days give the mountain a whack. The hike in was flat but with 15kg on our backs and a nice 10km trail run in the legs from the previous day we were all tired by the time we reached camp. Emma’s sister Frida was joining us for the trip and would be great having her part of of it all, one any Swedish hiker or nature enthusiast dreams of making. Very few people outside of Sweden, or at least in Ireland even know these kind of places exist.

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Base camp in the shelter of the woods.

We secured a spot for our tents on the first evening. We pitched them in a howling gale and realised it was a hell of a lot colder than first imagined. We had travelled as light as possible but thermal clothes and down jackets along with good rain gear were the essentials. My new Alpkit Brukit Wolfe would do all the cooking and a diet of porridge and various beans and rice mixes would have to keep the engine ticking over for the few days. I would learn that I need alot more fuel than Emma and Frida to keep myself in check and I hadn’t quite packed enough.

After a pretty average sleep on the first night we set off to trek Kebnekaise the next day. We took a wrong turn early on and ended up hiking further into the valley under the mountain. I had some form of vertigo or at least an imbalance from sleeping in a stuffy tent and was glad we decided not to go for the summit today. It turned out the weather closed in pretty badly and very few summitted that day. It was nice to get a long hike and get used to the temperature of about 7  degrees depending on wind and rain conditions. An early night in order to set off early the next morning was the plan. I actually slept fine and was feeling great the next day. Bring on the mountain.

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The view early on, not far from base camp. Things were looking up!

The hike was relentless but we got into a nice rythm and the views were more spectacular by the minute. After a 45 minute climb to the first stop I cooked up some hot water and we had a coffee and some sugar as a break.

Coffee break.

From here I told Emma and Frida I would push on as I was going a different pace and instead of enjoying every second I would turn it into a bit of a training session, typical me! I literally ran up the next two climbs, reached a snowy wet point (adding a few layers here) and then descended a few hundred metres before starting the last long climb towards the first and second summits of Kebnekaise. A few Dutch guys asked me was I not freezing as I had stripped to a tshirt and shorts. I replied no I’m ok, as long as I don’t stop! I ran into a few more hikers, one of which had taken a wrong turn with a 20kg backback and in order to get back to his original route was having to go over Kebnekaise. It wasn’t his finest moment but he was taking it in his stride with a smile! I ploughed on up past 2000 metres and was suddenly engulfed in a blizzard. I could see the summit on my GPS but I could barely see my hand. I decided to descend back once near the summit and go in serach of Emma and Frida on the trail. I could head back up with them and enjoy the rest of the day even more. Our photos from the summit are a little blurred but I will throw some into my next post. There were people wandering around in search of the exact summit. A crazy dangerous thing to be trying with no proper GPS. I could see 2100 metres on my watch and was happy we were within a few feet of the top. I knew as well that there was a shear drop to our right and now was time to head down. As we descended the rain started and it followed us all the way home. It was torrential at times but we stuck it out. I think we were on the mountain arounf 9 hours in total. I would go up in a flash again.

It was amazing to see groups of people, young, old, and all shapes and sizes enjoying the hike. It is a gruelling hike but it seems hiking is one of those sports that attracts everyone and everyone can give it a go. It was great to see a dad with a little boy tied on to his side and the boy so excited to find the top. It was also great to see the safety being used in this instance. One thing that was for certain was that people in Northern Sweden know the type of gear needed on the mountains and for the most part people were very safe.

We slept ok the final night and our hike out on tired legs was relentless, being well over 20km’s when we clocked it all.Our bags were lighter than the journey in having eaten everything but my socks. In saying this they still felt twice the weight. A sure sign of tired bodies! Back to the campervan, clean clothes and an amaing appetite for a pizza. Kebnekaise, hope to see you again some day.

This is a brief account of our adventure but another fantastic experience. I learnt the amount of food I carried was way below what my body was crving in the cold and the mountains. I drank so much water even though I really only pushed hard on one of the days. A good rain coat is essential and staying warm even more so. Bring a second and third set of wet gear for relentless rainy days. Always use dry bags, as we did, and stick to boiled foods if possible.

A couple of reindeer under the mountains

It has basically been weeks and even months of training and working, with a short break in Alicante thrown in, since this Swedish trip. I ran in a few cross country races the last couple of weekends, shear torture but fun at the same time. Only cross country runners get what I am saying here! I managed to be part of a great team on Sunday and we won a county gold and I topped that off with first place in my category (senior), only 3 weeks off my over 35 debut that is. I promise to get back into the blogging scene and hope to share my goals and plans with you all over the next few months. Next up is the Mourne Skyline MTR on the 21st of October. A 35km killer of a mountain run/scramble!!

 

Scott Snowdonia Marathon

I have had a week to reflect on my first race abroad. Hopefully I can get across in these few words, the magic of the Snowdonia mountain range. I might even persuade a few of my running mates to come along next year. I reckon it is time to start racing abroad. It seems even in North Wales there is more sunshine than in the West of Ireland.

We arrived in Llanberis, North Wales on Saturday evening, registered and had a nice evening with Emma’s friends who kindly made dinner and put us up for the night. I thought about my first proper mountain marathon which lay ahead in the morning, not really knowing how I would fair out. I was running on reasonably tired legs after the year behind me as well as the race last weekend and I would be running on unknown terrain as well.  The main thing was that I was excited and reckoned I should be able to enjoy this one as there was no pressure to place well and I could use it as a learning experience. The field would include some pro runners and some top mountain runners from up to 40 different countries. Bring on the morning.

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Llanberis in the morning, pre race.

Not only was I competing in a new type of race but Emma was also taking on her first half marathon and a mountain one at that. Emma seemed very chilled out of course and in general I didn’t feel nervous as I lined up in a crowd of around 900.

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Looking a bit drunk in the sunshine just before the start.

The Snowdonia Trail Marathon began at 9am and we sped down the road, soon taking a left up out of Llaberis. The road turned to farm road and soon we started to climb. The first climb was sharp and I started into a fast hike. As I hiked I flew away from those running around me. The terrain leveled out and then we descended down the farm track to meet a trail at the valley floor. The trail turned rocky underneath and I began to feel like I was in a trail race. We gradually climbed up through a luscious green valley with scree slopes on one side. I started to pick off a few runners onfront. They had hit off too fast up the first hill and were feeling the effects.

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Around 2.5km into the race.

Within about 6km the field was breaking up and I soon found myself in a group of about 6 runners. One guy was very strong on the flats and would take off, slowing fast when the hills arrived. The rest of us seemed close in strength and we ran five or six yards apart for miles. After the second climb we started to descend on some boggy, grassy farm land and could really let go. A lovely fast but tricky downhill brought us down and into an old slate quarry. I think it was somewhere around this point that the half and the full marathon races split. I was running as fast as I could without totally expending myself, knowing the the second half of this race would be the real killer. Snowdon itself would only arrive around 19 miles into the race.

Our little group were all together as we arrived at the second aid station around 10km into the race. A very fast gulp of water and away we went. I had a few gels and had taken one already. I planned to race all day so I wouldn’t be stopping for food. Some jellies and a few gels would suffice. The next section, from mile 6 to 11, and from there to mile 16 or so would be reasonably flat. It started with a gravel track around some amazing lakes. You may notice I am talking a bit in miles today. The reason being it is all miles over there and when it comes to marathon racing, miles are the only way to talk anyhow! It’s all the same if you ask me.

We ran along with the lakes on our left and the towering Snowdon mountain in the distance to the left as we circumnavigated it. We arrived at a farm gate and then another, and another as well as numerous stiles over walls and ditches. We made our way through farmland and eventually over some undulating hills before arriving at the third aid station. A brief stop, a few cups of water/electrolytes and away once more. The last 10km (6miles) had been fast, averaging 4 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre on my watch. These guys weren’t holding back and I intended to test myself against them.

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The Climb before the big climb!! Concentrating on the slates.

The next few kilometres were over some bogland and on muddy, rocky trail with lots of little ups and downs thrown in. It felt like real trail running. I love the technical stuff, I think it comes from all the football over the years and enjoying the tricky footwork. Way easier without the ball! The climb to Snowdon would start with a climb to Pen Y Pass and from there we would start the real ascent of Snowdon Mountain. At about 2 hours and 37 minutes I had 32km on the watch. This climb was going to be epic.

The first section to Pen Y Pass was steep in parts and this meant mostly hiking. At this stage the legs were not enjoying running uphill so the fast hike was far more effective. Our group had split before the last aid station and I had been alone now for about 10 kilometres. I had passed three guys and caught up with a fourth, but he soon edged away from me. As I climbed to the Pass and the aid station before the Snowdon climb I passed one more competitor and felt like I was moving well. I had no idea what position I was in but reckoned I had to be close to the top 20. I was blowing bubbles at the aid station and looked to my right to see the mighty Snodon stairing down at me. I really had no idea the length of the hike ahead. Get to the top was my next aim. I might even take in the view as I go.

The hike was relentless. I ran any flat or downhill, of which there were very few. It was hands on quads hiking and pushing all the way. The trail was made up mostly of slabs of rosck, hard to run on and some of the boulders were huge making the footing tricky as well. I managed to hold my place all the way and as I summited I passed two athletes right at the top. A nice little confidence booster before the 7/8 km downhill to the finish. The views of the high valleys, pristine lakes below and rocky verges along the sides of the trail were spectacular. I would love to head up on a non race day to take it all in. The only downside of the hike up were the crowds of tourists winding their way up the trail, sometimes not realising there was a race going on around them. A huge thumbs up to them all for taking on this hike though.

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This face says it all, sore on the summit of Snowdon.

I rounded the bend under a bridge for the train, which goes right to the top of Snowdon, to find the last aid station. It was all downhill from here the ladies at the aid station announced. They also said it is only 2 miles. Now I am no expert on the whole mile/kilometre thing, but my watch said just over 38km and according to the organisers it is a 44km course. I knew I had a much longer descent than just 2 miles.

The final 7km went really well. I felt fast on the downhill and even though I didn’t catch anyone I made up a few minutes on those behind and rounded the final bend into the finishing field feeling reasonably good. I crossed the line in just under four and a half hours, in 14th position overall. I was greeted by Emma, covered in scrapes from a nasty fall on the mountain. I told her she was now a fully fledged trail and mountain runner. We both had left it all out there and that is all you can ever do, in any race.

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I did smile a few seconds after this one!!

Next up, holidays to Sweden, some mountain hiking and running thrown in and a little 58km race down in County Kerry on my return.

 

Joyce County Challenge

Last weekend I took part in a local challenge. It is known as a gruelling 30km in the mountains bordering Galway and Mayo. As I made my way to the start at Finny on the banks of Lough Nafooey I realised a tough few hours were ahead. A heavy mist was hanging around in a strong south westerly wind. Conditions that rarely lift fast in the West! 

I was greeted at the community centre by race organisers or event organisers I should say as this really is a go at your own pace event. Miko and Theresa had tea and toast ready with a wake up coffee. Hikers and runners were arriving but at 6.30am Miko, Rachel, Betty, David and myself set off on the course. David Joyce is the local mountain speed merchant so I reckoned I could cling on to him and save too much navigational effort. 

We were soon on the ascent across bog and fern stricken ground towards our first checkpoint at Maamtrasna. The wind strengthened as we got higher. Myself and David headed off as a bit quicker than the others. We pushed hard, running as much as possible and fast hiking uphill. The terrain was tricky, but better than that on nearby mountains, that I am used to. It was mild, therefore we never felt cold and once we kept pushing we knew we would be fine. David has all the course records in the Joyce County and was flying towards another one. He knew the terrain well, even pointing out that we were on track as he recognized his neighbours sheep. He said he never timed himself as the conditions play too big a part. How right he was here! 

On reaching our second CP before the hike up the relentless Devilsmother mountain David’s shoe fell apart and he had to pull out. We had contoured around the last mountain and the sideways running motion had taken it’s toll.  It was a shame as I knew David would push me all day and probably finish ahead of me too. I would also have to navigate in crappy conditions. Out came the map and compass! There was no phone coverage up there and the rain was heavy at the summit’s meaning my fingers wouldn’t work on my wet phone. 

The third checkpoint would be at a van carrying some food and refreshments. I could see the van in the distance as I descended off the Devilsmother and I made a line straight for it. My adductor muscle cramped on the descent as I hopped across the bog. I stopped, stretched and drank lots of electrolytes. After a few minutes I was fine and carried on to CP3. There was a great view down the valley towards Lough Nafooey and I could imagine the final 10k as I looked back up into the clouds. I had half a ham sandwich, some tasty cake and water laden with salt before I set off again. I took a 15 minute break here knowing I was not on record breaking times or in a race situation. At the same time it was good training.

The next mountain was Bunicurreen, probably spelt wrong. It seemed like forever as I climbed up into the cloud, which soon turned to rain. The last 100m was steep and I was glad I had my poles! When I submitted I realised I was unsure of my next bearing. I knew the lake was running west to east so if I kept going east I would be fine. This worked out a treat in the end, however had I known all you had to do was follow the fence I probably would of been alot faster. As I flew along the ridgeline I came across the B walkers heading in the opposite direction. They were enjoying their day and clearly thought I was mad, running these hills alone. Their route was a shorter 20km but they all needed to be good hikers to take it on. The ridgeline took me all the way to the final descent which Miko had kindly marked out with tape.  I ran down, enjoying the descent. No matter when you take part it’s always nice to be first home of course. This always puts a spring in those tired legs. I came home in 5 hours and 15 minutes. Not my fastest moving but there was almost 2000metres of tricky ascent thrown in. 

Thanks to the organisers and well done raising money for the Galway and Mayo Hospice. 

I will be back next year for sure. I can add this to the list of all new events I have taken part in this year. I’m writing this on my way to the next adventure in Wales and hopefully a good report to come from Snowdonia. 

The course map. 

The last checkpoint, unmanned. 

I think this was the driest it got all day and my phone actually worked! 

Some welcome homemade soup and of course a medal to finish

I thought a little add on to this post would be nice, so here are some recent training photos.