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”

 

 

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Transvulcania Preview

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.

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Crossing the line in 17.12 for a 5k PB with Sean Mcdermott.

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.

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A trail near Bristol, Blagdon lake.

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.

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Great Castlegar Club teammates at recent road relays in Dublin.

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.