On Saturday 19th July, I ran the Keith Whyte Waterfront Ultra Marathon in Courtmacsherry Co. Cork. I travelled up with a group of runners from the Born To Run group in Tralee, as most of us were treating this as a prep race for the Tralee International 100k in two weeks time.
When we got to Courtmacsherry around 7:30am, we found a few runners already out on the course, though the official start wasn’t until 9am – I would later come to envy those runners wisdom!
Conditions looked perfect in the morning – blue skies, and temperatures that were just a little above what I would consider ideal. There was a great buzz around the little seaside fishing village, and the locals were out in force to support the runners. After breakfast in the hotel where the run was starting, we lined up beside the other Ultras, as well as those doing the 18 mile “half ultra” and the lucky sods doing the 10k! The race started well, with our group mostly sticking together, and using a 25/5 minute run/walk strategy.
The course consisted of a 9 mile stretch of mostly rural, seaside road, looped twice, so you were never more than a couple of hundred yards from the sea, and actually ran right beside it most of the time. The views were spectacular, showing off the scenery of west Cork to great effect.
The organisers are runners themselves, and this showed in the layout, marshaling, and food/water stations, all of which were top notch.
I found the first 20 miles or so relatively easy – a group of around 8 of us stuck together, sharing food, water and banter, and the relatively flat course, with just one hill of any significance, was enjoyable to run.
But then there was the heat. And the humidity. 23 degrees C wasn’t too bad – 103 humidity was a different story. I began to notice it from 20 miles, but felt that my water intake would see me through. My RigBag running top was black – not the best colour choice for these conditions! Suddenly at mile 24, it hit me hard – I felt light-headed, and my energy was dropping rapidly. I began to slip back from the group, and slowed my pace. After a couple of miles at a slower pace, I began to feel a little better, and, taking on plenty of electrolytes, I slowly came to feel like myself again. After the initial wobble, I thought to myself “Well that’s over and done with, back to the task in hand” I saw my running buddies on the straights, about a quarter mile ahead, and resolved to catch up.
This plan was working great until mile 30, when, just a couple of hundred yards behind my former group (who were now splitting into a line of ones and twos), I started to wobble again – this time I felt nauseous, and for the first time, felt I could be in real trouble. I dropped my pace again, but felt I couldn’t stomach any more electrolytes. I stuck to water in the hope the feeling would pass and suffered on for two miles, cursing the entire sport of distance running, as I usually do when the going gets hard.
I knew that I had a drop bag at mile 32, on a friends motorbike, and I decided I’d push on to that, and take a 5 minute rest there to pull myself together. I was in bad trouble approaching my drop bag, feeling very sick and sorry for myself.
10 yards from the drop bag, trouble erupted – literally – as I fell to my knees and was violently ill. The coke and energy drinks I’d consumed at the checkpoints earlier had tasted great going down, but weren’t so good coming back up. As I knelt by the side of the road, a car load of what I think were German tourists passed me by, they slowed down at the sight of a guy in shorts, on his knees, puking by the side of an isolated rural road. I’ll never forget the wide-eyed shock and horror in their eyes. They’ve got a great story for the folks back home about their holiday in West Cork!
After around 15 minutes of this, I managed to get back on my feet, take some electrolytes, and (very) slowly start to get moving again. The last 4 miles felt like a full marathon, and I thought the road into Courtmacsherry would never end, but I finally managed to drag myself over the finish line, in a not very impressive time of 8:01:34. Ah, the joys of ultra running. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
I have to commend the organisers of the Keith Whyte Waterfront Ultra – Bob and Ia Hilliard and their team, for a brilliant event – it is obvious that this event is organised by people who love running, and understand runners. The volunteers on the water stations and the marshalls were all helpful, good humored, and did everything they could to help – thanks guys! I’d also like to mention Irish 100km record holder Keith Whyte, after whom this race was named. Keith was at the finish line greeting and having his picture taken with all the runners – a very nice guy, and a great ambassador for distance running.
A mention too for the (very, very strong!) physios at the finish line, whose sports massage skills ensured I could walk the following day.
I’m looking forward to doing this event next year, and I will almost certainly do the Clonakilty Marathon on December 6th, which is also organized by Bob and Ia.
Well done to all who completed the full ultra, half ultra, and the 10k, especially my Born To Run clubmates.