Tralee 100k Ultra Marathon Race Report

On Saturday August 2nd I ran the inaugural Tralee 100k Ultra Marathon. This was an important and emotional event for me for various reasons, not least of which was the fact that it was the first running of my hometown ultra, and I had many friends running in it, including my older sister.

I had been training for this, and waiting for it, for a long time, and, as we lined up at the Tralee Wetlands Centre at 6am for the start, I couldn’t wait to get going.

The first few miles brought us through the outskirts of Tralee, and, even at this early hour, there were a good number of supporters out to cheer the 40-odd runners on, with many from the local Born To Run Marathon Club.

The first 12 kilometers brought us on a relatively flat course out of Tralee, north through the village of Ardfert, and onto the seaside resort of Ballyheigue. After Ballyheigue the temperature started to go up, and so did the road, as we hit some decent climbs on our way to the scenic, undulating roads of Kerryhead.

I found the first section fairly easy, having run it many times in training, and I made sure I took in plenty of fluids – however I didn’t eat, an oversight I would come to regret later. The Kerryhead section of the course I found tougher, as it was much warmer by now, and there were a lot more climbs to contend with.

I had my usual mile 24 meltdown, which has, unfortunately become a trademark of mine, and I suffered for 3 or 4 miles, probably due to getting my nutrition wrong again – I really must learn to take more carbs and salts on board early on if I’m to avoid this. Jim McNiece, a fellow member of Born To Run, and an experienced ultrarunner, helped me through this section, and made sure I got to the halfway point – Thanks Jim!

Halfways in - already feeling crap!
Halfways in – already feeling crap!

Shortly after the halfway checkpoint, we came back into Ballyheigue, where we had a food break, and I REALLY needed it at this stage – I was feeling nauseous, tired, and weak, and wasn’t looking forward to running another 50k!

With the help of my crew, Catherine, Gillian, Adam, and Lee, I managed to pull myself together, get some nutrition on board, and get my mojo back.

I headed out on the homeward leg with a renewed sense of purpose, keen to get back in the groove.

I found the next 10k, bringing us from Ballyheigue, south towards Tralee before turning west for Banna beach, and then south again towards Barrow to be a good bit easier – the food and drink I’d taken on board helped perk me up, and, once we passed Banna, we were running on the Tralee International Marathon course, a route I know well – I’ve run that marathon twice, and train on this course regularly.

When we got to Barrow, I found that I wasn’t as far behind my clubmates as I had feared, as I met a few of them on the Barrow Hill switchback, and this gave me added impetus. Then I tackled Barrow Hill – this hill is notorious among those of us who have run the Tralee Marathon, and anyone who has trained on this course – it is very steep, and takes no prisoners, and is made worse by the fact that, when you finish it, you are faced almost immediately by a long climb up Churchill, giving you little or no time to recover. I, like most if not all the other competitors, walked Barrow Hill, as I knew that I had a lot of climbing ahead of me, and I would need to save what little I had left in my legs! At the top of Barrow Hill I had an interesting conversation with a farmer who asked me what race we were running – he expressed some doubts as to our sanity when I told him!

After coming back down Barrow (ah, the relief in the leg muscles) we had a (very) short flat section before beginning the long climb up Churchill. This was followed by an undulating section, with one short, sharp climb, before descending into Fenit. Fenit is very familiar to me, as it is where I do all my triathlon swim training, and I also do some cycling and running here. I knew that the gentle fall into Fenit would be nice to run, but, after turning around at the end of Fenit pier, we would have a tough run back in the Fenit to Tralee road. Just before Fenit I met Niall O Lioingsigh, who is a fellow member of Tralee Triathlon Club, and Niall decided on the spur of the moment to “run as far as the end of the pier” with me – this would turn into a bit more than a run to the end of the pier for Niall!

There was great support in Fenit, mostly from Tralee Tri Club members, and I appreciated every cheer I got at this stage.

After the turnaround, Niall decided to run another mile or so with me, but the skies opened without warning, and we had a monsoon-like rain shower, which drenched me (and Niall!) to the skin. I found the slight incline out of Fenit tough, and, for the first time, I began to worry that I might not make the 15-hour cutoff time for this event.

After a quick water stop on the Tralee road, and some encouragement from some of the other crews waiting there, I set off on the long, lonely road from Fenit to Tralee. This road is my nemeses – it has broken my spirit on many occasions, most notably the two times I’ve run the Tralee International Marathon. I’m not sure what it is about this road that gets to me – it is a road like any other, with a few hills, many twists and turns, but nothing out of the ordinary. I think it may be due to the fact that, when I first started distance running, I did my long runs here, and I tended to be physically and mentally destroyed on this section of road!

I actually didn’t do too badly this time, until I reached Spa, a small village a mile or so before the turn off for The Kerries section. Here I began to suffer badly, and my crew could see I was unsteady on my feet. Catherine decided to start running with me, and practically forced me to take salt and water. After the turn off for The Kerries, I was in a bad way – I could feel myself going down, and I felt light-headed, drowsy, and very unwell. I was unsteady on my feet, and slurring my words. My crew decided to pull me over, and, despite my protests that I was feeling sick, made me drink some electrolytes, take some salt, and finally eat something. Within minutes I felt better – a sure sign I am completely messing up my nutrition intake, something I really have to work on for the future.

While I felt sharper mentally, and was ready to go on, no amount of food can take the tiredness out of the legs, and I knew there was a lot of pain to come. I set off towards Tralee determined to make the finish line before the cut off.

However, it didn’t look good – I had around 14 miles to go, with around an hour and a half to cutoff time – going by the time I had taken to do the previous 14, I hadn’t a hope of making it.

I pressed on as best I could through the Kerries, and came to the Strand Road turn – this is a big psychological test for local runners, as you know that you are only about half a mile as the crow flies from the finish line, but you now have to turn back out of town towards Blennerville, and you have another 5 miles of running to go. I checked my watch at this turn, and two things occurred to me:

  1.  There was no way, based on my current physical state, and current and previous pace, that I was going to finish, not to mind finish before the cutoff time.
  2.  I was going to fucking do it anyway

I set off up Strand Road (long, steep Strand Road) with legs that were growing wearier by the yard. I made the turn across Blennerville Bridge, past the beautiful old windmill (my tired brain reflecting on the fact that the finishers belt buckle features that very windmill on it), with my legs burning, and my body telling me it could go no further. I had nothing left in the tank, every muscle screaming in pain, and all I wanted to do was lie down on the road and give up this crazy dream.

But that voice inside, the one that has driven me mercilessly through all the physical challenges I have taken on, screamed “SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP, YOU WILL NOT STOP” I dragged myself on.

Catherine kept telling me I could do this, that I had it in me. Niall, who had returned to see me finish, soon joined her. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by the inimitable Seanie D Lamb, who I discovered for the first time, has a true gift for motivation. If you have ever read the David Remnick’s wonderful biography “King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero” they will know of Drew Bundini Brown, Ali’s erstwhile cornerman (and the man who first coined the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” phrase), and a man who constantly spoke a kind of motivational voodoo in Ali’s ear. Well, Seanie was my Bundini Brown for the last 5k of this race – he spoke what seemed like a constant stream of motivation in my ear (as well as pouring litres of water over my head) that somehow made me push myself beyond my physical limits.

Despite being mentally exhausted, and physically destroyed, I ran the last 5k of this 100k at close to the speed of my fastest 5k ever. I even passed one of the other runners a few hundred yards from the end, and finished in a flat-out sprint.

I crossed the line with 8 seconds to spare on the cutoff time!

200 yards from the finish with my motivation team willing me on!
200 yards from the finish with my motivation team willing me on!

The Tralee 100k Ultra Marathon was an amazing experience – there’s nothing quite like pushing yourself to your limits with your hometown and your friends willing you on.

Another great event by Marcus Howlett and his Run The Kingdom team – well done guys! If you ever get the opportunity to run one of their races – grab it!

Thanks to all those who helped me along the way – you know who you are – I’m forever in your debt.

Thanks to my employers RigBag, without whom this wouldn’t be possible – If you need sports gear, look them up!

Some days you will remember always – this was one of mine.

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