Saturday, 30 November 2013

Run the line Trail Race Dublin

I picked up Gearoid at around 7:30 am and off we went for the "Run The Line" trail race in the Dublin Mountains. I hadn't heard of this race before but the word on the street (various forums online) was that it's a nice trail and all proceeds go towards the Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team.

We arrived just before 10 am at Lamb Doyles Pub and there was already a nice buzz around. Lot's of skinny, spadex wearing, weathered looking heads around, we were in the right spot alright. We got registered quickly and back to the car to get race ready ourselves. Nice and cold out so got changed in the comfort of Lamb Doyles pub and waited around chatting to some familiar faces.

No warm up to speak of and straight onto the start line with about 190 other people. I was somewhere in the middle initially and nearly missed the start gun with talking to people I hadn't seen in ages. Our group of 190 doing the long course (26 km) started at 11 am and then the short course (11 km) people, another nearly 200 people were off at 11:10 am. Pace was nice and relaxed at the start so I worked my way up the field into about 10th position to get a good run at the first hill. I wasn't to sure how I'd cope with the hill running due to the fact i hadn't run up any hills to speak of since the summer. So just took it stride by stride and kept plodding up the hill. To my surprise I didn't feel too bad jogging uphill and kept a steady pace. This was obviously early days and still had 90% of the race to go. After the first big climb up Three rock I was probably in the top 6 or 7. A nice route around Three Rock and then we were directed right along the edge of a forest up to Fairy Castle, the highest point on the course of 537 m. As sure as night follows day, after a big climb like that, there's a lovely downhill to be had. Off we bound down the other side of two rock and ran into pretty thick gorse bush growth which gave my uncovered shins a good scraping, never thought I'd be wishing I had worn tights. Man tights of course.

What happened next I'm not totally sure of but I overtook a couple of people and thought I was going mighty as the trail now took a route right by a barbed wire fence, which I thought at the time was quite dangerous if you slipped and fell on the wire so I was pretty careful. I kept up the pace and ran straight into a big bushy tree which I tried quickly to push around but on closer inspection the tree was huge and there was no way I was getting past. "What in the name of god did the people before me do?!" I thought as I looked right, down the hill a little to see runners I had overtaken skipping along a completely different path I was now standing on. Balls. I heard of no one else making the same mistake so it seemed to be just me that went wrong there so I don't know what happened, better keep an eye out in future. So in realizing I was wrong, I carefully hopped over the barbed fence and bounced my way down the open mountain side through the gorse to join the runners who were actually looking where they were going. No overtaking for a while I thought and just settle in behind a runner in black. This section was still downhill but the path was very narrow and the thick gorse made it tricky to spot good footing so there were a few "leaps of faith" taken to find some good grip. This mostly worked out ok but on more than one occasion it resulted in one foot not getting any footing and then ending up head over hills, rolling in gorse bush. Good fun and all but gorse isn't nice to be rolling around in too much. Eventually made it out the other end of the gorse section and took the fireroad/path down towards the main road and crossed here. Stopped up and had a cup of water, this was about 10.5 km down so another 15 or so to go.

Up again we went so took it nice and steady. Settled in with the runner in Black and we made a few "jaysus, tough going" comments to each other. Without realizing it I ended up pulling away from this runner in Black and I was on my own making my way through the trail. Some really nice trail/forest path sections here so really enjoyed this section. Feeling pretty good at this stage and really enjoying myself I was able to hold a nice pace and push the downhill. I wasn't too sure what position I was in but reckoned maybe 5th or 6th.

After that forest circuit with a nice climb, we were brought back again to the same spot to cross the road with about 10 km left. Threw back another half cup of water and off I went for the last big climb of the day Head down and just plodded up the hill again towards the summit of Fairy Castle. Left before the summit this time and continued around in a clock-wise direction back towards Three Rock. At this point I was out in the open mountain and had a good view all around me. Looking back and forward I could see no one at all. I was sure I had gone wrong again but to my delight after about another 0.5 km, sure enough there was another marshall directing me left, thanks be to god. No humour to take a wrong turn at this stage, feeling the effects of the previous 20 km now the next section was to be a nice downhill to the finish, well mostly downhill anyway. It consisted of mostly fireroad (with amazing views overlooking Dublin) and then back down the singletrack we had come up two hours previous at the start of the race. On nearing the last downhill section I could see another runer up ahead, delighted I might be catching someone I upped the pace and caught the runner who turned out to be Eoin Keith. I took him by complete surprise it seems because he upped the pace two and we were going very hard down towards the finish. We arrived down to the last 500 m road section together and on switching from hard downhill running to flat road running again, my legs had had enough, nothing left for a final kick so I just sat back and watched Eoin pull away, damn. Fair play to him though, serious kick in the last 500 m which landed him 3rd place so I ended up about 20 sec back in 4th place with 2:08:19 on the clock. Delighted with that, what a great event. Gearoid also had a great race finishing in 2:34:46 for a 29th place finish to his first ever trail race and judging by his reaction to it, it won't be his last! Padraig also only just back from injury had a brilliant race finishing in 2:33:02. Next stop, Art O'Neill for him the lucky dog.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Gaillimh Abú! Inter-county XC Santry

I ran this last year but I was in worse shape and had a long run in the Wicklow mountains the day before so this year with better preparation and a proper taper I hoped to do a lot better.

Arrived down to Santry in plenty of time and found registration to collect the race numbers. A few of Galways top runners missing so unfortunately for our team, I was in with a chance of being one of the scoring runners (top 6 from Galway County).

As we warmed up by doing a couple of laps of the course, we watched the women's senior race. It was aw inspiring to see Fionnuala Britton do her thing and lead out the race from the start and win by a country mile. She's very unassuming standing still but when she gets moving its a different story, she holds such a powerful stride the whole of the race, amazing to see first hand.

Running about 10 mins late we were off at about 2:35. The pace at the start of these XC races is ridiculous. You'd think your in a 400m race the pace that everyone starts out at. Everyone flat out to try get a good position for the first bend. The start is very wide but coming into the first bend there's legs and elbows everywhere as people jostle to get into a good position on the inside of the bend. Eventually came out the other end of the left hand corner and looked around to see Gerry just up ahead so caught up to him and stuck to his shoulder for a bit to settle into a comfortable pace. Things eventually settle down and everyone found their own comfortable gear. I went passed Gerry on a downhill section and kept what felt like an easy-ish pace. I knew I'd have to keep this up for  ~40 mins so I didn't go too hard. After the first lap I spotted a few sore heads in the crowd, Kill, Dec, Darragh and Bar turned up to show some support, this picked me up nicely and great to see them out supporting! It was just a case of keeping the head down and counting down the laps for a while, trying to keep the pace up but comfortable.

Sure enough with about 1.5 laps to go, Brian went passed as if I was stopped, I'm getting used to this now! I had planned to put down the shoe for the last lap but ended up picking up the pace to try keep with Brian for the last lap and a half. I possibly went out a little too soon so with about half a lap to go I was completely spent and it was just a case of gritting the teeth and getting home in one piece. With about 100 m to go a Donegal runner came out of nowhere and sprinted passed, having none of it I turned on the afterburners and running on fumes managed a sprint finish myself but didn't quite have enough and he held his position very well to come in just ahead, a great finish to a great race.

I was only 10 sec off my road PB for 10 km (if the 10 km distance is to be trusted, it never is in XC) so I was very happy with that. I don't think I could have left anymore out there.
Results are here:

Gary Thornton was 1st for Galway with an amazing run in 13th place followed by Vinnie McGuinnes who ran a great race to come 90th in 36 mins flat. Brian Bruton finished in his usual powerful finish to come 105th in 36:51 and then there was me in 111th position in 37:06. 5th and 6th scorers were Gerry Carty and Brian O'Connor.

Some serious standard of running, thought I might have been able for a top 100 finish but alas it wasn't to be this time around, maybe next year! Back to the drawing board.

A new average HR record too: Avg HR: 194 with it maxing out at 201. I can't say I didn't give it my all anyway!

Here's most of us at the finish, one for the mantle piece:

A nice roast chicken dinner ready and waiting when I got back to Galway, happy as a pig in XC muck.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Day 3 of Connaught XC in Ballinasloe

Well rested this week so I had hopes of being nice and strong in this race.

Straight away on arrival, met up with a few from the club and settled nice easy few laps of the pitches with Cian down in Padraig Pearses GAA grounds to warm up (7.7 km!). The course was to be 7 laps of a small loop with plenty of turns. The ground was nice and solid and the weather was fantastic so there should be plenty of grip with the spikes and no mud.

Met with fellow GCH'ers before the start for the all important photoshoot:

At about 3:15, a little behind schedule as usual, we were off. I'm detecting a pattern with these XC races start times! Settled into a nice pace for the first lap, loads of turns in the loop really breaks up the stride, constantly slowing down and speeding up is tough going! Pace felt nice and easy for the first couple of laps and stuck in behind some guy from North Sligo AC called Niall. I felt like I could easily go by him in the first few laps but I knew there was still 5 laps to go so held tough and see what was going to happen. On about the 5th lap, it felt like the pace lifted, looking back on the stats I don't think it did. What ever happened I was really struggling keeping up with Niall. On the last lap, the game was up for me, first Niall started pulling away and I had nothing to respond with, then Cian went past. Brian in his usual strong finish style went past as if I was stopped, on the 2nd last bend only a couple of hundred metres form the finish Gerry caught me and I usually have a nice kick but this time there was nothing. I looked back to see if I needed to pick up the pace to secure my current position but I was safe so just eased off the pace and crossed the line after 8km in 29:20 in 8th place. It turns out Niall was also a Novice so I was 2nd Novice home. Great running from Niall Hoey who apparently plays GAA and only runs twice a week. Now there's a blow to the confidence!

A nice 2.2 km warm down with Gerry gives 17.9 km for the day.

Not too sure what happened today, just didn't have it in the legs. Perhaps the build up week of no speed work and all easy running didn't help? Ah well, all in good time, softly softly catchee monkey.

There was mention of the Inter-counties in Santry on the 17th. Hmmm...

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Galway XC 2013 Loughrea

Drive out to Bushfield, Loughrea, it was lashing rain, perfect XC weather! On arrived the rain seem to subside somewhat so I went on a mission to find my race number to relax a little. I ran into Matt Lockett with the numbers and the rest of the GCH crew, it seemed like a great turnout! Rocked up to the start after watching some great performances by GCH in the U19's and Senior Women's Race, they were all going to be tough acts to follow. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed with my new, bright orange, XC spikes, 1st time even putting these yokes on since I left the shop, on sale at €30 so they'll do fine. Only 6 km so didn't think breaking them in was too important.

About a quarter past three and we were off. Settled into a nice quick pace for the first lap, then managed to tell myself to leave something in the tank so tucked in behind a few runners to coast along for the next two laps. Then with about 1.5 laps to go and with a few words of encouragement from Matt and crew (pity Matt couldn't race, unluckily, he got injured in the warm-up), I picked up the pace a little and passed a couple of runners, for the last lap all I could do was hold this gap and finished comfortably in 7th place. Luckily I did have the sense to pass that Craughwell runner with 1 lap to go. In the team event, Craughwell and GCH finished level on points, but in a tie it comes down to the last scoring runners. I finished in 7th being GCH's last scoring runner and with Craughwell's last scoring runner in 8th, we may have leveled on points but this got us the Galway XC Team title! great day out!

A nice 3k warm down chatting about how the race unfolded. Craughwell were very unlucky, their runners seemed to be dropping like flies with injuries during the race.

The two days rest did me the world of good, legs felt great and I seemed to have plenty in the tank towards the end. I could really feel the plantar fascia was a little swollen on both feet so that could be down to the new shoes, some easy running should sort that out again.

Also managed to get the Novice XC County title, so two gold medal's in one race, I'll take that one!

I wore the HR monitor again, this time I averaged 189 bpm, 4 bpm lower than my average for the 10km Road Race last weekend and cross country I was at a faster pace! Just goes to show what a taper can do!

6.47 km in 22:47 (3:31's) Avg HR 189

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Galway Bay 10 km

3rd Male across the line! 

Technically I was 5th place but thankfully 2 of the 4 people ahead were female, and a lot faster than me!

It's a pretty low key 10k, the main event of the day is the half marathon but I wanted to see where I was at for 10 km's so with it being right on my door step, the social club at work were giving entry out for free, it was a bit of a no-brainer.

Rocked up to the start fresh from finally changing the exhaust on my car all morning (yes it took that long). Didn't realize the time go by and by the time I had the last bolt tightened I looked down at the watch and it was 9:22! Race was starting in 23mins! Ran into the house, grabbed HR monitor, garmin, house key and changed into running gear and then ran out the door and did my (very fast) warm up to try get down to the start of the race in time. I arrived down with literally 60 secs to start, just enough time for the Garmin to find signal. Still panting from trying get down on time the gun went and off we went.

I was in about 10th position for the first few 100 or so meters and worked my way up and into what felt like a comfortable pace. Within the first 1km I was in 4th place overall. It continued like that until about the 4km mark when the 2nd female went passed me like I was stopped, so that left me in 5th place (3rd place male) and there I stayed for the rest of the race.

It's a pity I don't have splits, I forgot to use the lap button on the Garmin but I definitely went out way too quick, I think the first 1km was in or around 3:19 min/km.

As we rounded the driving range at the 4.5km mark and faced for home, it came as a bit of a shock that we had the un-noticed advantage of the breeze for the first half, this spelled disaster for the return journey and did everything I could to keep some sort of form and concentrate. There was no one around me at this point so it was tough to stay focused. I thought I kept hearing footsteps behind me and by the 8km mark I was getting quite fond of my 3rd place finish and wanted it to keep it that way! Out along the mutton island route you do a full 180 degree turn and you get to see who and how far people were behind you. The two chasing runners were too close for comfort with 1.5km to go so I tried upping the pace and did manage to hold them off to finish and claim my 3rd place male prize!

Officially finished in 36:56, a country mile off my target of under 36mins. Obviously I need to do a lot more 10km focused training to get next or near McMillan's 35:31 prediction of my 5km time. I've being doing more hard sessions recently than I have in a long time so possibly takes time to reap the benefit of the sessions. Fingers crossed it'll come good for the XC next weekend.

On a side note, I wore the HR monitor. My estimated max HR for my age off of using the common 220-(your age) formula is completely wrong. This should put me with a max HR of 192 bpm. During the 10 km I averaged 193! This messes up all my plans on having different paces based on HR zones so I'd better do a full on max HR test some day soon. The max I reached today was 200 bpm so I'm at least over 200 bpm and thats all I know for now.

10km in 36:55 (3:37's) HR avg. 193!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ice Trail Tarentaise 2013

So why the Ice Trail Tarentaise? Well I knew I'd be in the region of the Alps on the weekend of the 12/13th of July so I had a look on the UTMB qualifying races page and this popped up for that very weekend so it was ideal. On first look it was a 65 km mountain trail race, nice one, I've done longer so this shouldn't be too bad and a nice handy 2 points for UTMB. So I booked the race there and then in January and thought nothing of it until I heard a few of the top Ultra-runners in the world were going to be in attendance including the awe inspiring Kilian Jornet. Hmmm, why would a 65 km race interest the top ultra-runners in the world?! I quickly looked at the race stats and realized that it was not going to be your typical 65 km Ultra, this was going to be climbing and descending 5000 m with the average height of the course over 2000 m! They were running the race as part of the "Skyrunning" series of races. I ran a lot in Connemara but the max height I could attain there was roughly 800 m, not the best altitude training even if I just ran rings around the summit of Benbaun! The race was going to go up to 3600m and from asking people with experience of this (thanks Jerome!) I was definitely going to feel some sort of altitude effects, the key is to get back down from that height as quick as possible to feel better again. Easy! Apparently getting altitude sickness is a lot like being hungover, so my best training could possibly be those long runs where I'd had a few the night before. Acclimatization wasn't going to be the best, I was going to be driving from the Mediterranean coast (0 m) on the Saturday morning, arriving in Val D'Isere (1800m) on Saturday evening for registration and race briefing and then eat and sleep a few hours in the van and then race start at 4am Sunday morning, then straight into the climb to 3653 m (Grand Motte). My goal for this race was just to finish. I was on holiday and just wanted to experience the Alps in all their glory, and what a way to do it!

We arrived in Val D'Isere after an amazing drive up from Gruissan in the South of France.

I can't say I wasn't well rested anyway, the past week was spent relaxing on the beach with a couple of short runs thrown in in the searing heat to get to know the local area. Of course a few beers and even more wine everyday was mandatory.

I had the best carb loading preparation you could ask for. Val D'Isere itself is quite small and is a well renowned Ski resort. In the summer not much really goes on bar some hiking so it was pretty quite around. You could tell everyone in town was there for the race. We found registration quite easily and after I nodded at some race instructions in French (which Anna kindly translated after) I had my race number. We had a quick inspection of the course on a large map hung up on the wall and started to get very excited!

The weather was promised perfect, clear skies and plenty of sunshine! Excellent!

We went for a quick stroll around the beautiful Val D'Isere and got our bearings.

Plenty of fancy shops with the top brands, everything was ridiculously expensive. Val D'Isere doesn't look cheap! A real erie place in the summer with what appeared to be christmas lights still on the trees and ski stands dotted around everywhere, all this in the middle of the summer heat! It was hard to imagine it covered in snow. The mandatory race briefing was at 5pm so we plonked ourselves down and waited to listen intently.

The race briefing began but I forgot we were in France and I couldn't understand a word. Anna again had to translate, then an English translator summarized what the first guy had just said. The worrying part was the French guy went on for 20mins about some important aspect of the races and the English translator always managed to summarize it with a couple of lines "lots of snow", "cold winter", "Yak Trax" and "mandatory gear", I wondered what we were missing, I need to brush up on my French for next time, I felt very ignorant. Then the announcement came that 60% of the course was in snow! I gasped along with everyone around me! Well my gasp was a little delayed, Anna had to explain first, then I gasped by myself. Just 24hrs previous my main problem was keeping sand out of my pants on the beach! This was going to be interesting to say the least! Part of the mandatory kit were Yak Trax, these slipped on over the shoes to provide extra grip on the ice. The first climb and the biggest of the whole race was up a glacier so some sort of grip on the ice was compulsory. Anna's parents kindly donated theirs for our use so that was handy. Kilian Jornet and Dachhiri Sherpa who were a couple of the race favorites also said a word and then that was it, see you at 3am!

We found the local Spar for some food to cook in the camper and for some supplies for the race, I had a feeling the aid stations were going to be well stocked so I didn't get much, a few oat bars and some jellies. We spotted a car park with other campers parked up only a few mins down the road so got a nice spot there and relaxed while cooking up some grub as the sun went down.

Just before bed we sorted out what we'd need for our respective adventures. Anna was booked onto the hiking event which was 15km in length and went to one of the highest points in the whole course, the Col des Fours, almost 3000 m. It looked like a very nice route too and I knew she was in for a treat. The routes were overlapping on some sections so there was a chance we might bump into each other. Lights out at 10pm and we were just drifting off to sleep when there were loud cracks of...thunder?! It can't be, then opened up the window and saw they had fireworks for the Bastille day celebrations, pretty nice lying in the camper with the curtain pulled watching the fireworks for 10mins. Then off to blanket street.

Alarm set for 2:30 which is such an awful time to get up but when I knew what was ahead for the next few hours I wasn't long hopping up. Gear was ready to go so just had to throw it all on and pop outside the door for a quick number 1. Anna kindly reminds me after the race that it was too close to the camper again. I must work on that.

Strolled up to the race start with the aid of the headtorch and grabbed some breakfast at the race HQ. Nice touch, help yourself to pastries, bread, cheese, jam, cereal, the works!

The French take their food very seriously, I was already looking forward to the first aid station! At 3:30 it was time to stroll down to race start, surreal seeing nearly 500 people with head torches lining up for a race. I joined the end of the queue which eventually had me somewhere in the middle of the nervous pack.

A few words from the race director and we were off! The path quickly narrowed as it turned up for the first climb. This slowed everyone down to a walk and a full on dead stop for some parts. Quite frustrating to hear the start gun go and then your stopped so soon. I didn't really like this part of the course, too many people around and too much hustle and bustle. Running in the Alps isn't meant to be like this! But to be fair, what can you expect, it was only the race start! Eventually everyone got into a nice uphill rhythm with some people skipping past to try get up the hill faster. I didn't see much point this soon so I just took it nice and easy and hiked up the hill and the same pace as most people. Taking a few shots with the camera along the way but it was too dark.

Reaching the first summit just before Tignes it was getting a little brighter.

Then a loverly downhill section into Tignes and we were skipping past Tignes at around the same time as a few people seemed to be staggering home after their own endurance events, Tignes nightclub. In fairness though, they gave great support at 5am! Through Tignes and ahead of us was one huge climb. The Grand Motte. Onwards and upwards. Head down and slowed to a fast hike we powered up. Hands on knees stuff with a few flatter sections on the trail where you could pick it up to a jog again. There were poles everywhere! Everyone had a least two, I didn't even have one. I hadn't practiced with them at all in Connemara, I didn't like the idea of carrying them around to be honest and decided they weren't for me. I had enough to be worrying about! If I ever get competitive at these kind of races I might consider them, for now my legs alone will do!

As we climbed, the snow and Grand Motte glacier came into view. At the foot of the glacier a small group had formed, here you got a chance to put on your manditory Yak Traks.

This was my first time even putting them on my shoes but they take no getting used to and were a huge help on the icy patches. A few hundred meters more of climbing had us reach the first aid station at 3032 m!

In good spirits I gorged myself on all the lovely treats, cake, cheese, bread, tuck crackers (I must remember to use these again, great source of energy and salt that went down very well!). It was getting cooler up this high and put back on my jacket even though there was a huge climb up the glacier to the summit ahead. Onwards we all went in our drips and drabs. All of a sudden we see something up ahead flying at a ferocious pace down the ice, Kilian of course, flat out as usual, amazing to actually see in real life. At this stage, 2hrs into the race he was probaby already 1 hr ahead, unreal. So much for my chance to race him! ;-)

Coming closer to the summit, people were well spaced out at this stage, everyone finding their own comfortable pace and plenty of room for overtaking.

Reaching the safety zone, there was only a few hundred more meters to go to the summit. In the "safety zone" you had to stay single file and weren't alowed to overtake anyone, you didn't have much chance anyway, stray a step or two in the wrong direction would mean a very nice fall.

There was a single track carved out in the ice and snow to get safely up to the summit and down the other side. The heights were pretty dizzying but gradually you got used to it, this was a far cry from Connemara. Close on 3600m up at this stage scurrying up a bit of rock on all fours using a rope for stability on some parts, everyone took this really easy.

Then it was one of the best summit feelings I've ever had, what a view! 3650m above sea level, about 24hrs previous I was just leaving the Mediterranean coast!

That was short lived though, I'm only about 8km into the race! Altitude sickness-wise I wasn't too out of breath or anything, the pace going up was very easy but I had a splitting headache which initially I though was dehydration but as I climbed it was definitely getting worse so it was obviously all part of the altitude effects I was expecting to have. Waiting around on the summit is the worst thing you can do for it so straight back down we went, all be it very slowly initially.

For the first time in a long time I was able to stretch out the legs for a run again, and what fun running down snow is! At first I was slipping everywhere being too cautious and tensing up too much so I just let gravity do its thing and hoped the legs would follow fast enough. My logic was that if I turn my legs over fast enough, a slip on the ice/snow with one leg would mean the other leg will be able to correct it fast enough and I should keep upright. It worked!...well to a certain extent anyway, I got a little cocky and went flying past a nice few people. What I didn't expect was knee deep snow. My "quick leg turnover" was little help. I saw it but it was too late. Face planted into the snow and skidded, rolled over onto my back then managed to dig in the feet again up I popped mid canter. I looked around to see if anyone else witness my amazing acrobatic display but they were all too busy trying to keep themselves upright. Some people just gave in and slid down the snow on their arse's. It was too cold for that crack, pun intended. Before we knew it the snow had disappeared again and we were running on a wonderfully amazing trail down to the next aid station.

That was one long descent and the legs were already feeling it. So much fun though! Stopped here for a bit to take a breather a soak up the views which taking on some tasty fuel, I went for chocolate, oranges and some dried apricots this time washed down with some warm noodle soup, this is the life!

Onward towards the next climb, a bit slower this time, stomach was trying to deal with a lot in one go so had to give it a chance. I wasn't going to go hungry anyway.

Details are pretty sketchy from here. but we got to snow pretty fast again and had to cross a few streams so feet were very cold for a while.

A lot of the snow was very run-able but every now and again it'd surprise you with a knee deep hole and you'd have to think quick to correct yourself. Then as we descended down another trail were started to come into Vanoise National Park, the pics tell it all really, rolling green hills dotted with Alpine cows that make their tasty local cheeses. It was bliss!

I had been wearing thermals for the glacier bit but stopped up here and changed into shorts and t-shirt, it was hotting up now the more we descended into the valley.

It started to climb again and I was finding it tough at this stage, the climb had us back into snow and ice but it was a lot softer this time and really sapped out the energy. The climb got steeper and steep and still no sign of the summit. Man this is tough I was thinking. headache was starting to act up again too. A few sups of water and kept the head down, hands on legs hiking up the never ending climb.

Eventually up ahead the line of runners was getting more bunched so it was obvious we were approaching another summit, thank god. Eventually got to the top and just sat down for a bit. Eventually got some of my breath back and looked down over the edge to see the most amazing, green colored lake in the snow.

I didn't feel so bad anymore and picked myself up and stared to job down the icy slope again. Again this snow was very soft and slippery so it was a real struggle. Just leaned forward and let the legs do their thing to carry me all the way down to the next aid station. I was pooped. Sat down here and just looked around. It was actually the prettiest of the aid stations with the most helpful people.

I took on plenty of water and some fruit, tuc crackers, coke, and a powder isotonic drink thing which I regretted immediately, I knew I'd need some type of electrolytes though.

I sat here for longer again and looked around. A lot of people were really feeling it a this stage. This is probably over half way but effort wise we had two huge climbs to >3000m to come. This was going to mean more headaches and pain. Did I want to do another two I though to myself? This was the first time in a race I thought I'd be happy to just finish it here, the day has already been amazing and did I really need to do another two huge climbs, I could just get a lift back down in the cable car from here...snap out of it, of course I want to finish!! Up I hopped and said I'd give it one more mountain anyway and re-asses at the next aid station. The legs were still working fine all-be-it a little tired so onwards and upwards, again!

On the climb we reached more snow again, this time it didn't feel as bad as before and was able to hike away up without too much bother, the views were, as always, stunning so that took my mind off what was still to come. Reaching the top of this second last big climb I sat down again on the summit and decided, yep, I'm finishing this.

Took a breather, a few photo's to make me look busy (and use it as an excuse to rest) then down the other side and down the slippery, icy single track slope that had a pretty serious drop off to our right. Didn't want to slip here so everyone took it real easy.

Eventually the snow disappeared again and we ran down to what looked like another aid station but was only a group of people cheering us on, great for the support but the route took a turn for the worse and were were to switch to a road for a couple of KM's up to the next aid station. So on we went along Europe's highest paved road (I learned after) to the next aid station. With one final huge climb to 3300 m to come, everyone seemed a little nervous but in good spirits that this was the final big one. So took on more tasty treats from the aid station and onwards up the mountain. Didn't feel great at the start of the climb (possible eating too much again) and took out the camera for an excuse to rest.

Eventually after a bit of a personal motivation speech in my head, I hopped up, hopped might be a bit optimistic, and faced the final big one. Head ache was starting again, here we go. This climb went on forever, near the top there were plenty of "false peaks", very disheartening after all that went before. A lot of this peak was broken shale rock causing you to take two steps forward, one step back so this part felt like an eternity. Eventually reaching the top of this wretched, beautiful mountain, and with a few cheers from the race marshalls, I sat myself down and soaked up the atmosphere.

And as much oxygen as I could get, headache was quite bad now and it seemed to be getting worse so eventually I got up off my lazy ass and back on the snow for some great downhill snow running again, I was really beginning to enjoy the downhill snow bits, if you fell, it didn't matter! The more you accepted that, the less you fell!

Eventually down to the final aid station with everyone in high spirits. Didn't wait around here too much, felt actually quite good, bar the sunburn. I had forgot to mention but my legs, arms, back of neck, were getting quite warm at this stage. About half way around the race, after stripping down to shorts and t-shirt I realized in all my haste, I forgot sun-cream  What a mistake. I already had a serious burn line from my shorts so I ended up covering up as much as possible, long sleeve top, gloves, buff around the neck to limit the damage. It was very hot at this stage too but I decided I needed to save some layers of skin. I couldn't bring myself to put back on thermal leggings, so I kept it to just the shorts and accepted the fact I'll need an industrial size bottle of after sun when I finished.

Onwards for the final "little climb" of a few hundred meters. This brought us up to an interesting part of the course where there was a tunnel near the summit bringing you to the other side.

Running though the tunnel was a great feeling, at the end of the tunnel you could clearly see Grand Motte from earlier in the day way way off in the distance. Stopped up here to take in what we had just been though since summiting Grand Motte, what felt like days ago.

It was all downhill from here so to my delight, another section of downhill snow running and then a nice grassy trail bringing you all the way down into Val D'Isere, needless to say I really enjoyed this section!

Legs were in bits but it didn't matter, I had done it! I started the race at 4am and crossed the finish line just before 6pm after a very long but amazing 13:51:52 adventure. Notice all my thermals and gloves in the photo, it was roasting!

Chatted with Anna about her day and couldn't believe she'd waited around for me to finish, legend! Grabbed some water, more cake and my well earned "Ice Trail Tarentaise" thermal top and off we went to use the free pool voucher in the local sports centre, straight into the jacuzzi, ahhhhhhhh.....

In all it was a great event, I had though around 12hrs was possible judging by last years results but found it a little tougher than expected. There were times where I would've pushed harder but I was enjoying the scenery too much. The alps were a great new experience for me and doing loops of the Glencoaghen Horseshoe in Connemara was a great help. In all the mountains I've been on around Ireland, they are the most "alpine-esque", about 3000m lower though! Running down the scree slope off Benbreen was very similar to running downhill on snow so that actually proved very beneficial, and great fun! The biggest help for this race was all the hiking I had done. It's hard to class that race as an Ultra-run to be honest, more like an Ultra-hike. I hiked up everything and then jogged the flat and downhill sections. The altitude wasn't as bad as I had thought it was going to be. I had got pretty bad headaches every time I went about ~2900m but never felt too out of breath. I suppose I was never really pushing myself too much so that why I didn't notice it. It'd be interesting to run a road race on that 2770 m road, you'd have a very different 5km time I'd imagine!

Kilian Jornet as expected, broke the course record in 7hrs 35mins, later on in an interview he refers to it as a long training run, unbelievable, it really puts it into perspective as to what those guys get up to.

How I would love to live in the Alps for a summer season and just get out hiking/running every day. Living within an hour of Connemara isn't so bad either of course!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Connemarathon Ultra 2013

Last year I attempted my first marathon, the Connemarathon. Infamous for it's "Hell of the west" hill at the 22mile mark, ouch. i didn't have any time goals for it, relatively new to running and just had the "be happy to finish" attitude. It was my first marathon. I'll never forget heading out on the bus for the race start at Lough Inagh and passing these runners already after starting. "Another event on today?" I enquired, "No, they are doing the Ultra, started at 9am and running 39 miles to the finish", I was horrified people ran longer than marathons, but for some reason slightly intrigued. I ended up finishing the Connemarathon (walking funny but a huge smile on my face for days). I also learned since that the marathon is not the be all and end off of distance running. In fact, it's only the beginning! I read of 39, 50, 100 mile races, to 24, 48, 72 hour races to races that have no finish!

Since that first marathon I kept up the training, did a few marathons since and ended up signing up to the Connemarathon Ultra to experience it for myself.

Race day fast approached and weather was looking about 15 deg cooler than last year so wrapped up well in the morning leaving the house and met Jerome to walk to the bus for 7am to take us out to the start line at Maam Cross. The day was promised to be windy but it didn't seem too bad that morning so things were looking good, no rain expected, phew!

We arrived at Maam Cross and met the fellow competitors. Plenty of familiar faces around from other races in the past 12 months so great to catch up with people again, everyone seemed a little on edge but happy to make it to the start line. Ray gave us our race briefing in the comfort of the Peacocke's Hotel while we readied ourselves. It got very emotional when he mentioned the passing of the great Simone Grassi, two time Connemarathon Winner 08/09 who in 2012 walked the marathon for Cancer Care West having himself been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010. RIP. His parents and friends who were also running the marathon today in his memory. All of a sudden, 39 miles didn't seem that hard.

We then hopped on the bus again and it brought us to the race start, about a mile up the road to give us the 39.6 miles. Brilliantly organized and started bang on 9am, boy were we happy to be running, we were waiting around the start for only 10mins and we were already freezing! Almost 200 competitors running the Ultra this year with mostly sheep for spectators, all a bit surreal.

I set into a nice easy pace and got chatting to plenty of people along the way and all of a sudden we were going through 13.1 mile marker, that flew! Feeling good I pushed on a bit here and started passing a few of the marathon back-markers. It was a nice undulating course with only a slight headwind at this stage. Plenty of flashbacks from last years run, I was really enjoying myself. Then feeling good, I bound down the hills towards Killary Harbor and turning slightly to the right towards Leenane, it hit us like a tonne of bricks. A strong wind was now coming straight down Killary Harbor and hampering all out plans of an easy run into Leenan. What kept me going was the though that, "ah when we get to Leenane we'll be turning right and the wind will no longer be against us". How wrong was I. What ever way the valley is shaped coming into Leenane, we turned right at the 26.2 mile mark and yet again a strong head wind was waiting for us going up the hill from Leenane. Head down, grinned and beard it to finally get up the hill from Leenane and on towards Maam. I like this part of the course, the views were amazing and everyone is in high spirits with plenty of laughing and joking going on around me.  Plenty of support too from Marathoners and Half-marathoners as I went past, "go Ultra's". That was nice and I quickly returned "well done to you too!". For me it's not actually that hard to run 39 miles, I'm relatively young and do a nice bit anyway so it's a lot more impressive seeing some of the half marathon/marathon back-markers finish their distances.

In my head I had thought 5 hrs was possible for me, I went through the first 26.2 mile on that pace. The wind had quickly put and end to that dream so I was thinking maybe 5:15. Coming near Maam around the 32 mile mark is where my condition deteriorated somewhat. Suddenly my goal changed to "just finish". I was expecting this due to lack of long road runs and the pace quickly dropped from slow to extra slow. To be honest I really felt like walking for a bit but clung onto the "no walking" goal. Hell of the West was fast approaching and knew things weren't looking good. I reached Maam and to my surprise there were loads of support, getting plenty of high 5'sfrom kids for a few hundred meters, using this support and some jelly babies parents were giving their kids to hold out, I turned right and faced the beginning of the end, the hell of the west, "here we go again" I though. So head down and drove through the wind using every ounce of strength left to run up toward Maam Cross. At one point I glanced up to see what seemed like a long line of colourful ants winding their way up the hill in front of me. They seemed really really far away at that point, so head down again and tried to think happy thoughts.

Eventually reaching to top of the hill, I grabbed a bottle of water, couldn't get it in fast enough and relaxed a little knowing it's pretty much all downhill from here. Legs and feet were pretty shot at this stage but it didn't matter. To my delight I came across a bunch of GCH supports roaring "Go GCH" and "Well done John!" this really put a pep in my step and bound over the line in 5:18:16.

After over 5 hours of running it was nice to be stopped again. Walked to the finishers area to be presented my finishers medal by the Irish Ultra running legend, Mick Rice. That was a nice touch.

Congrats to Jerome finishing 4th in the Ultra with an astonishing time of 4:39:57, he went through the last 13.1 miles the fastest Ultra on the day and was unlucky not to catch 3rd place.

Matt made it look easy and took victory in the Half for the second year in a row in 1:19:29 and well done to all the other GCH runners who completed one of the most beautiful, windy races in the country!

Now for the Ultra rest...