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!
Varying light on the Trail
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!
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!
I took this photo on the journey to La Palma and the Transvulcania Ultra. Thursday last saw me leave Bristol at 4am for a flight to Tenerife, a taxi with a great bunch of Irish from the South airport to the North airport and a flight from there to La Palma island. We rented a car from here and drove to our destination of Los Llanos. To cut a long story short it was a long days travel and boy was I glad I had a days recovery in between before the race on Saturday. Shaun and I had accomadation just outside Los LLanos where we would eventually finish, all going well, on Saturday afternoon.
Friday was a chilled out day, with coffee, croissants and plenty sunshine. We did a few last minute bits of shopping for some things for the race and registered along with 1,680 other people. Owen Boyhan joined myself and Shaun for some grub and we soaked up all he had to say about the race, having finished it last year. He is great for remembering all the minor details and alot of his knowledge would stand to me on race day. An early night, a few hours sleep and up at 2.30am to get on the road to the start line. This epic journey of finding the start line of Transvulcania almost complete!
We parked the car just outside town so we had an easy route home after the race and started to walk to catch the bus. I realised after a few minutes walk that I still had my glasses on. A quick dash back to the car and then back to Shaun had the heart rate flying and it was only 3.15am. The race would kick off at 6am from the Lighthouse at Faro de Fuencaliente, right on the most Southern tip of La Palma. Our bus was quiet with some tension but as always the ultra running community tend to be a pretty chilled out bunch. One thing that stood out to me was the incredible style of these european runners, looking so fit and no doubt the standard of runners was extremely high, way above anything I have ever experienced.
Before I really kick off this story I would like you to see the route that lay ahead. Here is a link. Zoom in on the map for an idea of the terrain and the distance covered.
So the real story starts from about 5.15am. Myself and Shaun decided to start together and hopefully get a little ahead of the big crowds. We had heard there can be bottlenecks on the narrow trails if you get caught at the back and thought it better avoid these. We hung around at the lighthouse in the dark, with a gale blowing dust around the 1700 competitors waiting to make their way down to the corral near the cliffs below. As we sat and ate a little we noticed a woman coming up from the cliffs covered in blood. It turns out she had fallen off the cliff to a area of rocks below, breaking an arm and some ribs as well as other bad bruising. The volcanic rocks had taken their first runner, before things had even kicked off. A harsh reminder of the type of terrain we faced ahead.
We made our way into the starting arena at about 5.25, a kit check on the way (very strict that we had our phone, foil blanket and both from and back lights). Once in the starting area we realised we were 600 athletes from the front of the line. It doesn’t seem like far but when you have the thoughts of being stopped for a time as the trail narrows we wanted to move forward. It was so tight this wasn’t gonna happen. The race had a Space Running theme this year and our man above was dancing at the start line (to thunderstuck) as the announcer interviewed the pros and asked their thoughts on things. Mr. Cody Reed, one of the favourites was asked. “are you a favourite today?”, his answer, “Yes”. You have to love this honesty, confidence and also the fact that the guy didn’t beat about the bush.
All of a sudden it was countdown and we were off. Shaun sprinted on ahead and I tucked in behind him. We weaved in and out of the crowd before finding some clearance along the right had side. I’m not sure what sort of numbers we passed to get to where we wanted to be but before long we were running alongside people of the same speed and started to settle into a rhythm. Let me also explain here that this was all winding uphill. The first few kilometres was incredible with crowds of people out cheering and fireworks on both sides of the course. Within a kilometre or two we turned right onto a steep sandy climb which took us straight up at a right angle until we hit more road.
This was like a forestry road, minus the trees, and it felt like running on mars. Little did I know this was the nicest terrain of the entire race, underfoot that is. According to the trackers we found ourselves in the top 50 by the time we reached Los Canarios. It was about 6.45 in the morning and the place was alive. There were hundreds of supporters out and I must say I think it was the best buzz of the day. A phenominal atmosphere to say the least. We were only 700metres into a massive climb and only 7km into a 74km race but it felt amazing to have this many people cheer you on.
As you can see above the next 10km would be a relentless climb. The headtorches were soon off and the sun began to rise, along with the mountain. The trail was very sandy and soft in sections, as well as rocky and it was beginning to get more technical. Shaun soon began to peel away from me around the 12km mark and I knew I had to race my own race. It is easy to get taken into someone elses race. I had said to Shaun before the race to race his race. Your own plans are the ones to stick to in a race this long. We had both come to La Palma to give it our all but this meant sticking to our own plans and mine was to go by how my body felt. In saying this I felt really good early on and decided to fast hike all the hills and run anything in between.
Anyone that climbs mountains understands the term false peak. Coming to where you think is the top and realising the top is still far away. This would happen a lot today, however I had semi memorised the distances to each summit as well as the elevation so most of the time I knew exactly where I was. The sun was just up at Las Daseadas summit and the views just amazing, looking back down on the cloud in the hills below.
The next checkpoint was at the finish of the half marathon route at El Pilar. This came after a fast descent from Las Daseadas through the foreast and some good runnable trail. I ran into the checkpoint in just over 3 hours and felt considering the mammoth climb we had already put behind us that I was moving well. I stocked up on food and water, the aid stations being pretty fantastic by the way, and off I went. The crowds here were electric as the half marathon would finish here soon after I went through. The next 10km was mostly along a flat muddy road across the peak to El Reventon. This is one of the only flat sections all day. My legs were not moving like I wished on the flat and I started to lose a few places on this section. I wasn’t in any way worried about losing a few places as I knew I was well ahead of where I thought I would be. “Race your race”.
A quick pit stop in the woods for a toilet break and back on the trail feeling a lot better, to say the least. The last 10km had been wet and almost cold with a strong wind as I was down in the cloud line. The course soon began to climb again and we would climb small peaks, descend off them into forests before climbing again into the sun and the heat. I was drinking more water than ever in a race but knew this was the key to trying to finish. I fueled almost entirely on Tailwind. This product is incredible when it comes to long distance. I had a few jellies, a few bits of fruit and two gels as food all day. Apart from that I fueled solely on Tailwind in my bottles all day. Thank you Tailwind.
The next checkpoint, that I can remember at least was at Pico De La Cruz, at 2294metres elevation. The 10km before Pico was tough, winding through very technical trail, fast descents. sluggish climbs and the heat was starting to ramp up. I jogged into the checkpoint. I noticed I was starting to tire a bit as I couldn’t fill my bottles too easily and I needed a minute or two to gather myself. A woman poured two jugs of water over me which was amazing and I would make sure to get this at every opportunity as the day went on. My little Irish body was at melting point and the watch was reading 25 degrees. I left Pico and the climb began instantly as we crawled up the side of a steep hill. It was about 4km from Roque de los Muchachos, one of the famous checkpoints and highest point on the route. At the top of this steep climb I could see Muchachos in the distance but this 4k would be the toughest section of up and down running all day. I had been passed by quite a few but had reeled one or two of them back in again. It really was amazing racing. The scenery was just incredible. Imagine racing but also seeing views like these.
I summitted peak after peak, dropping two or three hundred metres and then back up again, the heat sweltering my bones as I watched the ground for any rogue rocks that might appear. The terrain was totally unforgiving. Sharp rocks, loose rocks, oh and did I mention, ROCKS everywhere. I had one or two hairy moments as I tripped but I never actually fell. It was more like stumbles and oh crap that could of been a disaster sort of feeling! At one stage, just after one of the pros had bombed by (Kelly Wolf, who would take third lady, finishing the last quarter of the race in emphatic style), I stumbled and was catapulted forward coming into a bend. I barely kept my balance and took the bend without falling. Thankfully so as there was a huge drop off the edge of the trail on that corner. It all goes to show how careful you have to be on these trails.
I eventually arrived at Roque de la Muchachos in serious need of more water and food but not wishing to hang around either. I knew there was basically 20km of downhill ahead and the downhill at this stage of a race is extremely tough. I stood under some nice cold water as some guys showered me down and after a bite to eat, some jellies stashed in the pack, I was off and moving again.
The downhill was relentless. It went on and on, rolling down the valley. The terrain became harder to navigate with so much rock and loose ground. A few athletes bombed past me, clearly having more left in the legs, plus I’m sure the heat was starting to impact my performance. The last 7km of the descent was the same 7km as the Vertical Km race which took place on Thursday from Tazacorte, the town you can see below me in the photo above. This 7km was steep, with small sections of road and sections of slab rock as well as loose rock. My legs were slowing down more on this section. I actually felt great on the first 10k or so after Muchachos and had ran some of the downhill pretty fast. It was the Vertical Km course that smashed me up. I zig zagged down the cliff face and eventually came to the bottom in Tazacorte. This was the finishing point for the marathon, some of which had passed us in the last few hours. More water and coke top ups here, a quick stop for a dance with some kids in the water shower and away once more. I met a nice spanish guy with good English who said it was only 5km to the finish and only just up and over that hill. He pointed to this massive cliff too the right hand side of the dry river bed we were running up.
I managed to run most of the river bed (which was entirely composed of loose gravel and shale), but by the time I stepped off it my legs were dead and my body overheating. Once again some locals stood on the side of the trail and they gave me cold water and a glass of ice which I threw down my back. I stopped, leaning on my poles and told my body to cop on, I’m only 2.5km away now and I want to finish, maybe even in under 10 hours. One foot onfront of the other and move your ass. I climbed so slowly but I climbed. I met two medics with a guy who wasn’t going to make it at the halfway point of the climb. I told myself that I have legs and they can move and that I’m so lucky to be where I am, don’t blow this now. At the top of the hill I was met by a woman with her garden hose which she was cooling people down with. I got a full shower and turned the corner to see the finishing straight. An almost 2km of a straight but it was the finish and I was going to make it. I ran along past cafes and pubs with people cheering and kids running alongside. Animo, Animo, Animo, was the shout of the day, meaning go for it or come on. As I passed one of the Cafes a guy held out a small glass of beer. My eyes opened wide and I laughed as I grabbed the beer and chugged almost all of it before pouring the rest on my head. The cafe erupted into cheers of laughter. No doubt they saw the flag on my bib and realised I was only doing it for my country!!
The finish was incredible with lots of people still cheering us on, even though the winners were in over an hour and a half before. I met Shaun, who looked just like I felt. He had finished 20 minutes before me in a time of 9.28, in 62nd position and had definately left every ounce of energy out there. He mentioned very similar feelings to mine, with the last quarter of the race really hurting. In fairness we did go out hard, but I still think that downhill in the heat would zap anyone. Try running downhill in the heat on a training day, you will sleep that night.
So I had finished 93rd position overall, a top 100 for my first big international race. I couldn’t be much happier with that. The journey had come to an end in Los Llanos and considering a few toe cramps I actually started to recover pretty well after food and a nice cold beer. An epic race and one I will remember forever. We had done ourselves proud and all the training and hard work was paying off. I hope to be back some day, for now I’m not sure when that will be but I would recommend to all trail ultra runners to take on the mighty Transvulcania Ultramarathon.
It’s the day before the trip begins and I write to you from Bristol. My first blog from my new home. It has been a busy few weeks moving and getting settled in. I look forward to the race on Saturday with great excitement and some nerves as always.
Transvulcania is one of the most popular trail races in Europe and will attract a pro and elite field from around the world. Experiencing the event and giving it my all is my goal for Saturday and you can follow me here. I’m lucky enough to know Shaun Stewart, Owen Boyhan and Paul Tierney also taking part. There is a big Irish contingent heading over so local rivalries will be evident even on the island of La Palma.
The lead up to this race has seen my training and racing take me all over Ireland since 2018 began and the last few weeks have really been about maintenance and staying in good shape rather than killing myself training. I threw in some speed session with the club and even managed a PB in a 5k near Galway last week to give me some confidence that I’m still doing things right! It might not seem like race specific training but speed and strength are just as important once you have the endurance in the legs heading into a race of this magnitude. The basic breakdown is 74km with 4500 metres of elevation gain and loss. This will be a tough day out before you stop to think about possible hot conditions and unknown terrain. These are the factors that increase the challenge and the reason I love it.
I have tried using poles, training with my pack, different shoe choice etc over the last few weeks of training. I am going with my salomon s-lab ultra sense shoes, salomon pack and carbon poles and hopefully just shorts, tshirt and a small amount of mandatory kit. I hope to fuel off Tailwind throughout and see little need to have much more than a few jellies to add to my nutritional plans on the day. This has been my strategy on long runs all year and I have had little or no stomach problems so far. Hydration, hydration, hydration is key throughout. Fingers and toes crossed there. I continue to have toe pains, most likely linked to arch or ankle issues but I will run through this and continue to do the strength work needed on the toe post race.
I have been lucky the last week to run in a few new places and this will continue on my new adventure in Bristol. There seem to be endless areas to explore and I look forward to training all summer leading up to the CCC. For now I will concentrate on Saturday. I am not going to look at times too much or start predicting how I will do. This is a learning experience and I will chat to you post race. The start line is my first goal and from there I will have lots of mini targets before crossing the finish.
I took this one on a recent run in Derroura, soaking up that West of Ireland air before I came east, to the South West of England! If your not from this part of the world that last sentence is gonna be a little tricky to understand. I will miss these fantastic training grounds but I will make new ones here and can look forward to returning home to play in the hills once more.
The last two weeks have been busy with a race in Wicklow last weekend and a more local adventure across the Maamturk mountains yesterday. I hoped to treat both events cautiously as I try to build up to Transvulcania. In saying that the Maurice Mullins ultra was a race and I would work hard without going totally into the red if possible. The Maamturk’s was more about a good training session and I decided to enjoy the day more with friends and not get into race mode for the day.
The Maurice Mullins started at 9.30 and myself, Sinead Keogh and John Sherry travelled up early that morning from the West. The Wicklow Way was familiar to me from the 130km race last year. Anyone that has read that particular report, (The yellow men of the Wicklow Way) on this blog, will remember my hatred of those yellow men after nearly 19 hours on my feet. The Maurice Mullins, I hoped, would blow away those cobwebs and give me a new relationship with the Wicklow hills. A few years ago I ran the half or 26km version of this course so it was reasonably familiar terrain. That race had been my furthest ever run at the time and I came 6th place. It was my introduction to trail running. Little did I know back then how hooked I would become. Just shows how we can go from 26km in 2015 to ultramarathons in 2017!
Two hundred eager runners lined up and after a cattle like corral on the road near Jonnie Foxes pub, we were off. The different colours and styles on the start line really stood out. The bags and gear in the ultrarunning world make these mass starts a sight to behold. The run would take us along the road and then onto the Wicklow way trail. We ran at a decent pace. I decided to sit in and try stay with the top ten runners, without going into the red and hopefully running the majority of the first half of the race. I won’t bore you with the fine detail but the basics of the course meant we would cover grassy trail, boardwalk, gravel road, fireroad and some more technical trail. This variation of terrain was great and I enjoyed the technical stuff the most. We had a few decent climbs, around 1800meters, including Djouce Mountain before decending to the turnaround point. We would turn and run the course the same way home. This actually wasn’t as monotonous as I expected as at this stage I started meeting people running in the opposite direction. The comradory between runners on these events is second to none. High fives and constant encouragement for everyone. By the time I was around the 40km mark the 26km race started to pass. It was about here that my good pace began to slow and the rain came down in buckets, nice and cooling actually, but it did get very slippy underfoot. Shaun Stewart came bombing past on the 26km route, finishing 4th in a great display. Great to see a good buddie when your feeling fatigued. It picks the spirit up.
By the time I had turned at the 26km mark I was sittting in 7th position and I would stay here until the finish. I slowed considerably over the last 2 climbs and even though my downhill legs felt good my uphill ones began to tire. (This sounds like I carry the spare set of legs in the bag for up and downhill?!!) This loss in pace saw me drop off the front runners a little more than I hoped but all in all 7th place was a good day out. I wasn’t there to break records and I hope that this will stand to me in the coming months.
To conclude the Wicklow Way is now in the good books again. It’s always worth giving something a second or even third chance in this case!
Yesterday saw our return to the Maamturks Challenge in local Connemara.
It was a welcome day on the mountains after a week of recovery training. The weather was mostly fair with some mist and wind on the summits but all in all a real cracker of an event lay ahead as we set off around 6.40am. There is no doubt for a distance of 26 kilometres, this challenge is second to none. Relentless climbing, small running sections, nasty nasty ground underfoot, rock, bog, grass, mud, water, everything but snow. The hike starts at the base of Corcog in the East and follows several peaks all the way to Leenane in the west overlooking Killary harbour. Simlar to Wicklow almost 160 people took to the mountains today, none of which were mad enough to have taken part in an ultra race the weekend before, apart from myself, Sinead and John of course. We are quickly becoming the three amigos! A good adventure racing buddie, Mike O shea joined us after we met him at the start and it was great to catch up on the mountains. Mike is an experienced racer and always one for good advice.
We hiked the uphills and trotted on the downhills and slightly flat sections if possible, using the hiking poles alot. My kit of the salomon bag, carbon poles, salomon speedcross runners and of course the all important Tailwind as fuel is working a treat in 2018 so far. These days out are ideal tester days and the gear is all important during endurance events.
We used viewranger, Suunto GPS watches and maps to navigate, taking no chances in the low visibility. One after the other we summitted the Turk’s, my legs feeling great throughout, bar one ankle roll, which I seem to have come through safely. Around 13km we reached the first checkpoint at the top of Mamean. From here we climbed from 250metres back up to 700 and began another section of peaks and troughs. The rocky terrain on top was dangerous so we kept the running reasonably slow. We checked in at the next few checkpoints and with about 2 hours to go the clouds almost completely lifted and the vast mountains and expanse of views opened up. Once again blowing me away with how incredible this part of the world really is. I decided to bomb on and run the last 5km or so, which included the climb of Maamturk Mor and the Col of Dispondancy. They were two hard climbs but not particularly long and I was soon flying on the downhill back towards Leenane. A few big bowls of soup awaited at the hotel and this was what really pushed me on, having reluctantly left my friends to finish without me but I did want to run and push a little extra to make the most of that last hour. I’m sure they were ok with one of the amigos needing his lunch a bit sooner than the rest.
Two great weekends were had and I feel good, despite a bit of a sore hip and ankle. This are only niggles that a day or two will sort out and with the right food and hydration this week I will be building towards Transvulcania nicely.
It has been an absolute pleasure to spend these weekends with Sinead and John. They are both inspirational and and I think the 3 of us are improving at our own levels on a constant basis. Sinead and John took 30 minutes off their time on the Turks from 2017 this year. Incredible to see people constantly improve with pure grit and determination.
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 !!
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.