East and West

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

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Maurice Mullins 50km

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

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

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

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

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

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A typical turks view, fantastic!

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

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Misty tops with Sinead and John

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

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Another climb?!

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

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The clouds decided to lift.

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

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

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Not a bad spot

The magic of sunny Donegal

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Horn head near the start of our run

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

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Highest point on our coastal run near Horn Head

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

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Grunty the seal

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

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One of many beautiful inlets we discovered

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

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

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Rosguil point views

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

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Decent views?

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

Burren Training in June

We decided to head South rather than West for training on my days off lately. The Burren is an unspoilt, unknown area to Galwegians really. The karst landscape is beautiful and undulating, therefore a perfect training ground. We kept our efforts to the Burren Way Trail, following the trail through the heart of the Burren and down the coast to the Cliffs of Moher. Our first day was mostly mountain biking with some pretty tough hike a bike sections. Steep rocky backroads and trails meant a tough physical session on our first trip.

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The terrain above was as good as it got on the first day with some much trickier technical biking around the coastal trail on the way home. I finished the day with two punctures but made it home.

Day 2 which we turned into an overnight camping trip was fun. We biked as far as the coastal Cliffs of Moher trail and then ran this hilly trail along the cliffs and back for 12km. The hills were actually steep and it is a trail I would recommend for anyone interested in a different hilly trail. The views are just amazing . It is no doubt one of the most scenic runs I have ever done.

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Running along the cliffs was exhilerating. The wind was strong on top with some exciting downhills and tough uphill drags. Emma was flyin it as well, enjoying the mountain biking as she had done very little off roading before and cruising through the trails on foot.

By the time we finished we were starving but some tasty salmon and a quinoa salad sorted that out. My new Brukit Wolf burner worked a treat and we had hot food cooked up in no time. The Burren coast has lots of free camping areas, wild camping at it’s best and most beautiful.

As you can see it was a usual irish camping trip, well wrapped up and surviving rather than camping really!

The next few weeks will include build up training towards the Snowdonia trail marathon and so far so good. I am increasing my speed training and doing a bit more strength in the gym so hopefully I will be feeling good on the 23rd.