Hot Beacons

The Brecon Beacon National Park was our destination last weekend and in 28 degrees of heat it was sure to be a testing weekend for running but a perfect one for camping.

 

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Toasting in the hills.

 

Pen y Fan is the highest peak in south Wales, situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. At 886 metres above sea-level, it is a fine mountain and spans along a group of mountains all with unique long spurs reaching out for miles. I hope to get a chance to head up there next time.  To the mountain runner the area is a dream with vast expanses of running ground down off the peaks on one side and good hard climbs on the other. You can also travel along from peak to peak along cliff like edges. The trails are technical but grassy and fun to run in parts as well.

 

 

The second furthest peak in the video above, of Fan Y Llia peak was our destination on day two. After a few steep climbs and long running in between we completed a 21km out and back run. The climbs were short and steep with over 1300 metres in total. This all on tired legs from a similar long hot run on Saturday in another section of the Brecon range. Training on tired legs is important at times, being aware to be careful of injury but at the same time simulating the racing feeling.

 

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Typical Brecon view, on a good day.

 

Saturdays run was possibly hotter with the sun never hiding from us in the vast open countryside you can see above. With over 1000 metres of vertical we were nicely wrecked by the end but some good Swedish coffee (with lots of double cream) and homemade cookies we replenished quickly! Recipe to follow tomorrow…

 

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Nutty oat cookies and Swedish coffee with just a wee bit of cream!

 

The Brecon Beacons are only an hour and a half away from Bristol and with endless opportunities to train here I will be back a lot. This back to back training on similar ground to Snowdonia should stand to me on Sunday week as I take on the Scott Snowdonia Marathon for the second year in a row. Last year I finished a happy 14th overall, so lets hope I can have a similarly good and even improved performance this time around. I have trained early morning, knocked out some good hill repeats and even managed a few trips out on the bike over the last few weeks, all in the heat, so it should stand to me.

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The weekend was greatly enhanced with more camping in “The Mueller” and in finding some secluded spots with our own private waterfall for a post race cool down, you couldn’t ask for much more, except maybe a little more water in the waterfall. It has been pretty much dry since April!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maverick Inov8 X Series Exmoor

It is quite the name for a race and a mouthful at times so I will just refer to it as the Maverick as I describe last Saturday’s race to you. This mountainous or hilly coastal marathon would start from Caffyns Farm, near Lynton in the Exmoor national park and meander its way along a very hilly coastal route, veering back along some river and farmland valleys before finishing at the farm where our campsite was located. An absolutely brilliant thought on arrival to think that you would camp at the start line and finish at the camper the next afternoon.

We arrived on Friday night and camped within 100 metres of the start line and registration which would take place first thing in the morning. The numbers were small enough for the first outing of this particular race. Looking at the course I knew it was going to be a gruelling race with hills throughout. The ascent at about 1880 metres and the same in descent. Emma was taking part in a 15km route and there was a 21km route as well, all starting at the same time and place with the others heading off the marathon route to head for home earlier. This would be a little confusing for the first hour of the race with half marathon and 15km speed runners running with the front marathoners. As I mentioned in previous posts I intended to use this and Snowdonia in July as build up races towards CCC. They are a lot shorter but if I push that bit faster and not to the complete limit they should stand to me well come the end of August.

 

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Coastal section near Lynmouth

 

A little extra motivation at the start was knowing that I would build up another 2 UTMB points if I finished this one, maybe not significant now, but you never know when they might be handy. I hoped it would attract a few good runners to the race as well. Race briefing was nice and brief, of all things, and at 9.05am we were off. The run took off fast as always with one dude, there is bound to be one, taking off at 90mph. We took a left out of the farm aiming towards the coast and the next few kilometres was fast and downhill. Grassy fields and downhill are fun but these quickly led to trickier trails of hard mud through some forestry. A nasty little climb early on started to spread the field a bit and I sat a bit behind the leaders to get myself warmed up. It didn’t take long before I passed that speedy front runner from the start-line. There were a few ahead of me as we came over the first hill and descended to Lynmouth, a lovely town by the sea, at about 7km. The 15km route went straight on while the rest took a left along the coast and up a steep trail with some nice little switchbacks. There were about 6 or 7 runners ahead of me but I knew a few of these would be shorter course runners. The next few kilometres were fabulous as we climbed a little and then ran along the edge of the rolling hills, massive views of the sea below but concentration was key on some narrow trails, running at a decent speed for the marathon distance.

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Another 4km in and the half marathoner’s took a right towards home and the rest of us took a left continuing to hug the coast. The trail turned tricky with some fast downhill and bumpy ground underfoot. Basically holes all over the place in the grass. A little bit like a field that the cows were let into while wet and then it dries up leaving holes everywhere. So after holding my breadth running these downhills, we were led along the coast and into a really technical rocky section along the cliff edge, certain death on the left and hopeful falling ground on the right. The trail meandered along before heading inland a bit and into a big long uphill on a side road. I started to catch the guy on front of me on the uphill and as I fast hiked he was trying to run. We reached the top of the road section and returned onto the trail once more. The guy ahead was running most of the hills and I knew there was a chance this would catch him. I continued to hike the majority of the hills and within 15 minutes I passed him on a downhill. Long distance experience and patience starting to pay off maybe. What I didn’t yet realise was that the two guys I could see rounding a headland about 1km ahead were 1st and 2nd and I had just popped into 3rd place.

At about 15km after a quick water stop the trail joined a section of the Coastal path we had trained on a few weeks ago. Knowing the route is massive and locals always have an advantage. This short section was the only place in the race where I was comfortable to speed up and slow down knowing what was around the next bend. A few short up hills, a few speedy short down hills and ducking my way along the trail under some low lying branches followed until the blue race markers told me to take a right. The next 15 minutes was a constant steep climb up the side of a grassy hill. I knew if I stuck to my solid hiking pace up this hill it would leave a good few behind me with work to do and hoped maybe one of the two ahead might tire as the race went into it’s second half. I was happy with my hike up that hill but when I started running on the flat at the top I could feel it’s effects.

 

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A nice gradual descent.

 

The terrain turned into farmland and long flat fields for a short period before descending along a fence on a narrow trail towards the next checkpoint, as the rain started to come down. A lovely sight for a melting Irish lad. The light mist cooled me down and as I thought how lovely it was I forgot all about the fact that rain wets the ground and ended up on my ass in the ditch laughing at myself. The checkpoint at 26km came along soon. I didn’t stop at all as I had a good stash of water and a few gels if needed. I had filled my bottle with Tailwind at the last water station so knew I was good for grub for the time being. I confidently ran past the guy with the water and of up the trail only to realise I probably should of taken the left trail. I quickly shouted to the guy who said , “yes left, left, and wipe that sweat from you brow”. Well said I thought, can’t beat something amusing on a day where you end up racing some quiet countryside alone. The gaps turned out so big between runners that I never saw another runner between 12km and the finish.

 

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Watching my steps a bit closer now!

 

The next 11km of the course were spectacular as the hard mud trail wound it’s way along the side of the hills, throwing in a few lumps to slow me down as well as a good strong wind. The wind, however, was mostly a tailwind and I felt lucky once or twice as it pushed me up and over the hills. The trail descended at around 28km towards a river and I followed the river for what seemed a good distance. The ground here was flat and runnable at a good pace. I wasn’t beating speed records but I was running at around 4.40 minutes per kilometre most of the time. The river was crystal clear and I almost stopped to chat to a fisherman, keen to know what he might be after in a nice fishing spot below a waterfall. I thought, for once I better keep moving, I had second place to catch.

 

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At the end of the River section, around 34km.

 

It is always a huge motivator if you’re in a good position in a race. You have something to fight for as well as an even better prize up ahead. I realised I hadn’t seen my competitors up ahead on the long open sections and most likely wouldn’t catch them. My friend at the last checkpoint had told me I was in third, as did a cameraman soon after, so I had something strong to hold on to for the last 16km. This would prove so important as the final 10km of the race turned into a real uphill struggle. I don’t mean that I was completely out on my feet but I mean, literally it was all hills. There were three biggish climbs and in between lots of small ones. This was all perfect for my style of race, but as you know, a marathon is a marathon and when you throw in 1800 metres of up into it you are going to tire towards the end, especially if a good portion of the climbs are in the final quarter of the race. This is how it feels when the legs are tired of course. I managed to hike (at a slower pace than previously) up the rest of these hills and continued to run downhill quite fast, Transvulcania paying off here I reckon. The final long uphill was on a paved road, not something a trail runner enjoys at the end of a race, but in fairness it did make the course a real cracker in terms of variation. With 3km to go the kilometre markers started saying only 3km until you are a Maverick. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but sure it was something to take my mind off the pain. I never laid eyes on 2nd place but finished the race pretty strongly in 4 hours and 1 minute to be met by Emma at the line. She had completed the 15km and looks forward to giving the Snowdonia half a go once again next month.

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Just across the line
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Moments later with a finish line beer (I thought was lemonade!)

The rain started again so we quickly returned to ‘The Mueller’ and set up camp for the night.

You can’t beat some downtime after a long run. I was thrilled to get a podium place of course and hope to push on from here and try to improve on last years place in Snowdonia, enjoying what is a classic race at the same time. Thanks to the Maverick Race crew for a brilliantly laid out course with good water stops. The event was a bit dampened by the wind and rain at the finish line but with such a good location I hope to be back again some day.

https://www.resultsbase.net/event/4340/results

 

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Now I’m a Maverick!!

 

 

Coastal Path Exmoor

The Coastal path took us to a gorgeous fishing village called Porlock, 1.5 hours South of Bristol and just inside Exmoor national park. We based ourselves here for Sunday night and went for a few warm and hilly trail runs. Considering the coastal trail takes in 630 miles of the South Western coast of the UK it still remains somewhat a hidden gem to many. Anyone interested in running the lot some day!!?

As you can see above the trail varies from fabulous, quite mysterious deciduous forests, to open rolling hills and coastal views which you will see in the video below. I have to say, not only the fact that the weather has been top class during my time here so far, but the trails are well marked and endless. I’m feeling a bit spoilt with the vast areas to explore. I even had the excitement of a deer crossing the path only a few feet away from me on Sunday. She bolted across my course and straight up an almost vertical hill, disappearing into the vast wilderness. These are the reasons I am addicted to the trails. You become part of their world as well as being completely split from your own. As I’m sure you have already guessed, the camera was in my pocket and I was too slow to grab it as she ran up the hill. Sorry folks but this one is for my memory bank only!

The excitement of Transvulcania soon passed and almost seems a distant event by now. To be honest my legs are still a little heavy, really feeling the effects of the long runs in the hills over the last few days. In saying that we stuck to around 20km on Sunday and 14km yesterday. No major distance but it is very much up and down running. Perfect training for a little event I am throwing in the bag for mid June, as a lead up to Scott Snowdonia trail marathon in mid July. The Maverick x series trail marathon in Exmoor on the 16th of June will be my race of the month. I hope to be back to full racing mode by then and actually give it a good bash. The hills are everywhere here in Bristol so I have no excuses any more. As you can check out in the link the Exmoor trail marathon takes in about 1800 metres of vertical gain, meaning I will need to stick to the hills in training and try improve at them all the time. It’s all about the goals!

Recovery has been good since La Palma and I feel as if the distance is in the legs. Some good training in the next few weeks, along with maybe getting on the Coastal Path again before race day would be great. The Exmoor marathon takes in a good piece of the Coastal Path so the more time spent out there the better.

I just wanted to take this chance to thank the crew at Tailwind for the support pre races of late and also the great Tailwinds products. They even sent me their buff for free which they do with all good customers! For those of you that think it looks like wearing colourful underwear on you head, I suggest you try out a buff on your next run. I wear it to keep wind out, to keep head warm and even in the heat to keep sweat off my face. Handiest thing a trail runner can ever have in my opinion!

 

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Rocking my Tailwind Buff

 

For those of you that run you understand the great feeling post run, both of success of what you have achieved that day but the immense feeling you get when you begin to relax. Here I am below in the sun by the seaside, having left all my energy on the trail, while having fun, and now I can relax and enjoy the evening. I’m not saying you need to run to enjoy a relaxing evening, but for me I always relax that bit more having spent my energy on the run. Everything tastes better and no doubt we feel a little less guilty about that treat of a beer or a big icecream, or if your me, probably both!

 

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Resting post run in the sun.

 

 

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Massive Beer in “The Mueller”

 

 

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.

 

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 !!

https://www.movescount.com/moves/move200537805

https://www.popupraces.ie/donadea-50k-irish-national-championships-live-blog/#1_94D641

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.

Western Way Galway

The highlight of last week was a training session on the Western Way with my good training buddie Sinead Keogh. Sinead is taking part in the Wicklow Way Race so no better person to talk strategies with over a long run.

20170517_202449Sinead Keogh cruising on the Westrn Way.

After a long days work, starting at 4am and finishing at lunch time, I managed an hours sleep before setting off for Oughterard. The Western Way is 179 kilometres in length and someday I may take this on. It goes from Oughterard in Co. Galway to Ballycastle, Co. Mayo. Last Wednesday was more of a “time on the legs” training session. We decided to tackle 21km of the Western Way from Oughterard to the end of the boardwalk between Maam and Maamcross. We would return on the same route to Oughterard. A total of just over 41 kilometres on my garmin in the end but I didn’t count the first 500 metres walking at the start and the finish!

The full route and stats can be seen here for those interested. The course took us along the Gleann road with Lough Corrib on our right all the way. The evening was gorgeous and the anglers, enjoying the peak of the mayfly season were staying on the water a little later than usual. We would follow the road along the shoreline for 15km before a short bog run and then a few miles on the boardwalk. We met sheep, lambs, lots of flies and the odd local wondering what we were at heading out the road this time of the evening. Everyone was really friendly although one car did stop suddenly thinking we were larger than we looked. After leaving the road the boardwalk was tricky and our pace dropped considerably. Keeping in mind we were running slowly as pace was not important on such a run. I tripped and saved my fall about three times on the boardwalk, while Sinead only had one mini tumble. We were proud of our saves rather than the expected face plants. We followed the boardwalk along the river, passed some mini waterfalls and through the forestry meeting two people and their dog at one point, as surprised to see us as we were them.

As the western way meanders around the Maam Turk’s and leaves Galway it passes through an old haunt of mine on the Erriff Fishery at Aasleagh Lodge in Leenane. The Aashleagh cottages have recently been taken over by friends of mine. Joanna and Richie are setting out on an adventure of their own as they will take care of the running of the cottages and hope to attract fishermen to stay there during the fishing season and over a longer season hikers, mountain runners and adventure enthusiasts. The place is a perfect location for setting out on day trips to the Ben’s, the Turk’s, Mweelrea and various other mountains, not to mention Killary Fjord and it’s adventure centres at Delphi and Killary. The area is so beautiful and a few days holiday here ereally does take you into the wilds.

Check out the link below for all the information needed.

Aashleagh Cottages

We reached the end of the boardwalk in around 2 hours, refilled our water bottles from a local stream and turned for home as a shower rolled in across the Maam Turk’s. The rain left a nice film of water on the boardwalk, which went from trippy to slippy in seconds!

20170517_202548Coming off the boardwalk and onto the trail leading back to the Gleann Road.

The Hill of Doon is in the background of the photo above. Some of you may remember this from my training sessions last summer before the ITERA adventure race. My kayak training took place here. It was, quite ironically, also the exact location where the race finished for us, competitively at least, during that stormy night.

We began to slow a little around the 30km mark and were amazed at the amount of hills on the way back. I never realised that a seemingly flat road going one direction would be incredibly hilly in the other. Then again we had done 30km already in the middle of a weeks training. We ran all the hills, some slowly and Sinead mentioned screaming calves once or twice, but we kept moving nicely. I ate one mars bar during the run and drank nearly three bottles of water but generally felt good. Our tactical race chats were great as well as general random stories. The time flies when you run and chat. As we both said, there is no way we would run 42km alone on a Wednesday evening without good company. The topic of racing disappeared and the idea of food and getting home began as we saw the finish wasn’t far off. I mentioned soaking the legs in the Corrib before we went home and Sinead agreed it was a good plan. We arrived at the car as the light faded and popped down to the pier for a freezing soak before heading for Galway. Not a bad Wednesday evening.

As my manager said after we got promoted on Saturday. “sure your going alright, a marathon between soccer training on a Tuesday and Thursday isn’t too bad”. A massive shout out to all involved with Maree Oranmore FC on our promotion to the Premier division. What an effort by everyone. A proud day for myself and a few of the older lads as well, we have fought long and hard to get back to the top after 5 years in the first division.

 

Race Report, The Race 2017

The question is, how do you account for a race of this time and distance in one blog post? A total of 247km over 15 hours and 21 minutes. Can I try and account for this in a single post. I will give it a shot and hopefully give those of you interested an account of one of the toughest and most amazing days of my life. What an event to be part of. All proceeds going to Gorta and all the people organising it on a voluntary basis. It really was a privilege to be involved.

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After a journey up to Donegal, accompanied by my sister Lisa, we arrived at the bike drop in Rathmullan and from there travelled to the box drop and start line in Garton Adventure Centre on the shores of Garton Lake. The organisation was superb and I had all boxes for 4 transitions and registration sorted by about 4pm. Plenty of time to settle in, get some food, attend the race briefing and get a few hours sleep before things kicked off at 5am. There was a great buzz about and everyone was in even better mood as the forecast was good for Saturday. I managed to get about 5 hours of sleep before the start. The start can be seen in the video above and the buzz is felt even in the video as we set off on our 23km road run to Ramelton for the kayak stage.

Stage 1 23km road run.

The run began at a decent pace and I found myself running with Shaun Stewart and Marty Lynch as well as another competitor early on. We were running a pace of 3.50 to 4 minutes per kilometre. This was way too fast for my intended time so within about 4km I backed off a bit and settled into a 4.25 pace for the remainder of the run. This was more comfortable but I also intended to save my legs as there was one hell of a day ahead and my intension was still to finish and wherever I found myself position wise would be. The run really had little to write home about as it was dark until the last few kilometres. I finished in 1 hour and 43 minutes and cruised into transition feeling nicely warmed up. I met Shaun as I went in the door. He was already on the way to the kayak and going well. Of course having raced and trained with Shaun and having become good friends, I was hoping the day would go really well for him and he would take the victory. I entered transition in fifth and exited in less than 3 minutes in third.

Kayak Stage 2. 15km.

I ran from transition with my paddle, buoyancy aid and backrest, grabbed a kayak, clipped on the backrest, almost slipped on the slipway and hoped into the boat to paddle away. The crowd were cheering us on with great vigor. I turned the boat towards the course and on my first stroke disaster struck! My carbon fibre paddle split in two. With disgust I through half of it away. I paddle back to shore with the other half and I roared at the marshal for a paddle and they quickly through down another one. I heard later that Shaun’s brother, Patrick, actually helped grab a paddle for me and get me going again.I had to laugh at this point of the chances of such a thing happening at the start of the paddle. My luck of course was that it happened here and not 5 miles out to sea. I got going and soon settled into a bit of rhythm. I could see Martin Lynch was only about 200 yards ahead and Shaun was almost out of sight. I was happy to push hard during this section but there was no need to go into the red. The sit on top kayaks only do a certain speed and time gained would be minimal. Energy could be more adequately spent later in the race.

The water was like glass as we paddled down the river and estuary into Lough Swilly. The tide was in our favour and the morning was close to perfect. A seal popped it’s head up between my boat and Martin’s about half way across the bay. I’d say he was unimpressed by 78 kayaks moving through his territory first thing in the morning. I decided with my luck so far it was most likely the seal would land on the front of my boat at any minute, but unfortunately it never happened. I had this experience while kayaking in New Zealand. Probably not the kind of thing that happens twice. So to this point it probably all sounds like a walk in the park. The legs and arms had a good warm up but the real race was about to start as we pulled into the Bike transition at Rathmullan. The final few paddle strokes were fun as we paddled under the pier with crowds of people looking down at us, including Lisa. I shouted up at her ” we are sucking diesel now”, which got a good laugh from a few of the locals. Out of the boat and a run up into transition for the bike.

Bike 1. 96km

I changed into cycling kit, out of pretty wet and cold kayaking gear. There were about 5 of us in transition with Shaun gone ahead and Martin soon got going. I took an extra two minutes to eat a jar of overnight oats and have a coke and some water. A good breakfast at my usual time of about 8.15am!

I came out of the transition trailer, left my box at my bike and grabbed my bike. At this point I realised there was no helmet with my bike. Disaster number two at transition number two! The marshals quickly got on the case and started searching. One of the race directors was straight in on the action and said he would sort whatever time I lost, as it was their mistake. Lisa was there and shouted that she had the car and could grab my spare helmet. Obviuosly an unsupported race but on this occasion it was not my mistake and they said go for it and get a helmet. Lisa found the helmet and 3 minutes would be deducted from my finish time. I didn’t get flustered by all this as I knew this was only the start of a long day and no point getting stressed and emotional so early on. Stick with your own plan and all will be well, start trying to race those around you at this stage and I could have a really bad day.

Once out on the road I found myself swapping and changing with Peter O Donnell, another of the local guys. We were in 4th and 5th throughout the cycle with Michael Mchugh, Martin and Shaun ahead of us. I was happy  to spin up the hills and try get some speed up on the downhills. The average speed was decent but the hills, well what can you say about this cycle. I suppose my cycling experience, apart from some multisport races, a few sportives and charity cycles and my own training really isn’t that amazing. I haven’t cycled in multi day events and since I started adventure racing in 2010, cycling has been my second sport to running. Therefore I may be corrected on this but in my experience this 96km is the hardest 96km you can do in Ireland. If anyone knows harder, give me a shout and I’ll come for a spin! Hill after hill after hill, relentless in and out of the saddle. One man said to me after the race that the hills were so bad that he couldn’t spin out his legs to shake the lactic acid as the gradient was too steep. Slow and painful on the ascent followed by teeth gritting and elbow tensing fast decents, far too fast to spin your legs out.This was the case for 4 solid hours on that first cycle. I actually feel like I enjoyed it so much more than my first experience of the area when training. Maybe I was fitter or maybe the weather played a part. When I looked up from the pain of the hills there was nothing but beauty around me. The beaches, the hills, fields full of lambs, small country cottages, everything was in it’s finest spring glory. The sun was splitting the rocks and the fluids were leaving my body faster than I could replace them. A local pulls up along side me in his car and says “this is a long one, keep her lit”, as I start the ascent of Lough Salt hill. A long long gradual climb to the finish at a steep short climb. Almost all the locals i met said “keep her lit”, a saying you hear all the time in Donegal. I decided I better take local advise and keep on pushing. The top of Lough Salt is only about 20km from the end of this stage. I thought the last 20km would be ok, I was far from correct. The climb from the valley up to muckish was relentless. My legs were beginning to burn and the hills were annoying my head. I stayed positive when I saw the sign for 130km’s gone. This meant of course that I was over half way around the course and anything positive is good when the tiredness begins to set in.

The signage throughout the course was top notch and the marshals and support at every turn in the road gave the whole race a more positive feel. The sections where you go for hours without a seeing anyone are by far the hardest. I arrived at Muckish mountain in just under 4 hours and looking at my time I was about 45 minutes ahead of my predicted race time already. A quick change of footwear, a bite to eat, some tea and a toilet break saw me in and out of transition and off up the mountain by about 12.10pm.

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Thats me at the base of the mountain.

Stage 4 Muckish 5km mountain hike.

Muckish would be my strongest section on the day but my plan was not to expend too much energy trying to go up and down fast, risk injury or burn out. This was a race to finish. I started the hike in 4th postion. The ground was soft and pretty nasty in areas. I met a lady half way up that was supporting Michael, her brother, who was up ahead of me. She was full of enthusiasm and like all the support on the day her encouragement pushed me on. I reached the top feeling strong and the legs were loving being off the bike. What a view from the top. A picnic would of been fantastic but it was time to start running. I ran the majority of the downhill, landing on my ass twice, but luckily on the slippy boggy sections further down. I passed Michael on the way down and came into transition a minute or two before him. I sat down to change for the bike and my first and only bad cramp of the day  hit on the inside of the leg. A good lesson to keep moving and probably not sit down at all if you can avoid it!

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Bike transition for stage 5 and my helmet was found.

Stage 5. 68km Bike

Stage 5 would be a total unknown stage for me. The first 10km or so were mostly downhill with some nice rest and good speed picked up. I managed to take on lots of fluids, a few gels, some coke and some cake during this section. I knew from the race profile that more hills awaited so I needed as much fuel as possible. My second jar of overnight oats and cake at the muckish transition area wouldn’t be enough to get me as far as the marathon. This bike stage is almost a blur to be honest. I was probably tiring but I do remember the climbs going into pretty remote areas, down worn country roads, though marsh and bog land, along the coast, through small villages and up more hills. The locals were out to say hi, while some of them really didn’t seem to know what we were doing there. I was of course only the third bike through the area that day.Michael passed me half way around the stage but I quickly passed him again as he had a few punctures. Somehow he managed to fix 4 punctures and arrive into the next transition only minutes behind me. Amazing you might say.. My bike was performing well until with about 5 km to go one of the cables became fraid. I couldnt change down gear but luckily I wasn’t far from transition. Once again the timing of this was in my favour. After battling the hills and the backroads the final few kilometres were also on the main road, so my gears got their first rest in hours. I arrived in transition 4 in about 2hours and 43 minutes. My total time at this point was around 11 hours, giving me plenty time to try hit my goal time of 16 hours in total.

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Garton Lake

Stage 6. 40km road and trail run.

I stayed in transition 4 for about 13 minutes, to get some decent food, some tea, soup and overnight oats into me. The volunteers were so friendly and helpful, giving us a table each, having boxes laid out and ready and offering as much tea as we wanted. I can’t thank these people enough for thier kindness at every transition. I changed, stocked up on food, grabbed an all important can of coke and started on the next stage. I was once again so happy to be on my feet, although my legs were pretty much spent at this stage. I brought my poles along as an aid, I could run and keep the weight off my knees once I had the poles. “Who’s yere man with the sticks”, was a line I heard a few times from some of the locals! As I made my way along the small road at the start of the marathon, I realised I was way overdressed. There was no breeze and the evening sun was warm. I decided to ditch my warmer long sleeve top and go with one layer, plus I had a jacket in my bag if things changed. One of the relay team guys pulled up along side me near the start and offered great words of encouragement, said i was doing so well. Another couple pulled up and told me I was an inspiration. Another family stopped and all jumped out to clap and cheer me on. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced such encouragement during a race and these people are the reason I managed to keep going.

The first 15km were on the road, gradually climbing to the start of the minors pass, a section of about 10km of trail that runs down to Garton House and along the lake. The trail then takes a turn right up over a hill though some bogland with more small lakes to one side before descending back down onto the road for the last 10km. As I did in the Race I will take this run in sections. The first as already explained was monotonous, on the road. The views were nice but the road really takes it out of you when there is little left in the legs. The trail was a welcome sight, with some downhill and I started to gain a bit of speed. I was averaging 6min/km on the road and soon brought this down to 5.30’s or so on the trail. A competitor came out of knowwhere at this point, passing me out at great speed, but withing 100metres I met him bent over getting sick on the side of the trail. Like so many others he had possibly pushed too hard and the body said no. He did manage to finish the race but lost alot of time at this point. I was still holding third for the time being with Michael, and his crew, now in sight behind me. As I made my way along the lake I could see the trout were on the evening rise and wished I could stop and drop a dry fly over them. The Moon was coming up and was huge over the hills while the sun was going down behind me. Boy was I glad I was half way through the marathon before it got dark.

I left the lake to climb the section of trail back up over the hill. I hiked the majority of this section, knowing that I still had a small lead on the group behind. I wasn’t really worried if I was passed out as I knew I was going as fast as I could and I wanted to finish and not blow up this late on. Lisa once again met me as I came off the trail and met the final road section. I would say I was at my lowest point at this stage. I was in pain. My right hamstring was sore and all my legs were screaming. My feet were good though and once I went from hiking with poles to running and back to hiking I could manage. I adopted the run the downhills and parts of the flats to hiking the uphills method. Michael passed me soon after I had met Lisa and she told me I was doing so well, was in control of my position and had only 10km to go. Lisa ran along side me for a few hundred metres and then said she needed to go to make the finish line. I laughed thinking she would have heaps of time as this was going to be the slowest 10km of my life!  The thing that saved me was that I was prepared. I had told myself in the lead up to the race that if I got this far that the last 10km would be torture.

There was no doubt it was torture but there was support out on the junctions and I had a brilliant experience in the middle of it that made me laugh and got the spirits going! As I ran through a forested section of the road I saw 6 eyes bearing downing the trail at tremendous speed. Once in view I saw that there were 3 badgers closing in on me at full tilt. The badgers ran passed my feet and on down the road as if I wasn’t there. Had I been on the trail a few days I would say I was hallucinating. There was a sight you don’t see mid race too often. But then this is a full day of adventure racing in Donegal and anything can happen. The final few kilometres on the road were sore and slow but I found myself on the home straight before I knew what was going on. I could hear the mike call out my name and the crowd cheering as I made for the line. I flashed my headlight as I crossed over and felt an amazing relief lift from my shoulders as I realised I had just finished one of the toughest 24hour races out there. All the training and all the effort came down to this. It is only now three days later that I am starting to understand what an incredible achievement it is for everyone that takes part in this race. To test yourself this way is amazing both physically and mentally.

At the finish. 15hours and 21 minutes later!

All in all the Race couldn’t of gone more to plan for me. My transitions were good, my fueling was good, I had no stomach or intestinal issues and I made the finish line. This was all I could of asked for and hopefully it will give me the confidence to try some more of these long distance events.

I have to thank Emma, my family and friends for all the support in the last few months. The training effort since Christmas has been pretty massive but the encouragement from everyone top class. A huge congrats to my training buddies Rachel Nolan and Sinead Keogh, Rachel who won the ladies race in a course record time and Sinead who came 4th. They are  incredible athletes and it has been a pleasure to train with them and make friends with them along the way.

I have to mention the battle that took place ahead of me all day. Shaun and Marty fought out to the death for the win. In the end Marty finished stronger on the marathon and Shaun came in behind him. The effort and times they put in were unreal. Both of them smashed the course record and I’ve no doubt without one pushing the other on this may not of happened. Shaun will be back to fight another day, but for now I hope he is in recovery for our High Peaks Challenge FKT in April. A far more important few days out!! .

The race stats! 4th place!

http://www.therace.ie/the-race-2017/2017-results

A few more pictures to round up The Race 2017.