On Sunday, July 12th, I ran the Born To Run Tralee Marathon Club 40 Mile Ultra Marathon. This event, run in conjunction with Run The Kingdom, was being used by most participants (including me) as part of their training programme for the Tralee 100K on August 1st.
28 of us set off from the Tralee River Walk at 7am to run 10 laps of a 4 mile circuit, made up of mostly road, with some pedestrian paths. I had run 6 laps of this circuit a couple of weeks ago as a training run, and would be very familiar with it, having run it probably hundreds of times, so I had a good idea of what was ahead of me.
The course has a few small climbs, with two slightly tougher climbs at around the 1.5 mile and 2.5 mile marks – as it happens, these are spaced nicely to take advantage of a run/walk strategy, and I, along with most of the other runners, planned to walk these two climbs on each circuit.
I ran the first circuit with a few of my Born To Run teammates, and conditions were near perfect – dry, warm, but not too hot. It would get humid later in the day, and occasionally a little too warm, but nothing to get too worried about.
I hadn’t done much running in the past two weeks, in an effort to let my annoying hamstring problem get better, so I hadn’t any illusions about doing this race in any great time – I intended to get through it injury-free and without too much suffering if possible. To that end, I ran at around 11-12 min/miles, and, as above, walked the two hills.
The first circuit was fairly uneventful – we ran around half a mile from the start along Riverwalk (on the section known to many runners as Dogshit Alley due to the fact that dog walkers seem to think the pooper scoopers provided are for other people), and then turned a sharp right over a pedestrian bridge crossing the River Lee (from where Tralee, and my youngest son, get their names!), through a small park, and then up through the leafy suburb of Caherwisheen, before heading out into the countryside. About a mile further on, on a narrow country road bordered by high hedgerows, we came to the first climb, where we began to walk. This ended when we came to a T-junction onto a slightly wider road, which we followed for a quarter of a mile, before turning back towards Tralee on a nice downhill section. This ended at the start of the Rugby Club hill, a favourite of mine, as I use it to good effect on 10k runs, but today I would be facing it 10 times, so this was the second walking section. After a few hundred yards walking, we came to the steep downhill of Ballyard Hill, and soon we were back on Riverwalk again. The Start/Finish line was halfway along Riverwalk, where we were diverted off to an aid station, and where we kept our drop bags.
I (again like most of the runners) stopped briefly on each lap to refuel, and then set off again, to do it all over again.
I ran with a fairly large group for the first few laps, but we soon began to split up, mainly because of different times spent in the aid station. I tried to minimise my time spent there, as I had learned the hard way in the Tralee 100k last year, that time spent in the aid station can cost you later on.
Although some of us were treating this as a training run, others were going at it hard, and I was lapped fairly early on by David Hughes, who was absolutely flying, and looked like a guy running a 10k, and not long after I was passed by Michelle Burke, who looked very strong, and totally focussed. Appearances were correct, as these two would go on to put in excellent performances and take the wins in their respective categories. The advantage of the short course and single aid point meant that this race felt really friendly, with great camaraderie between runners, as we met each other on the road. As usual with this group, there was brilliant banter, and no shortage of witty commentary.
My sister Hazel had decided to join us for “a lap or two” before the halfway point, and ended up pacing me for the rest of the race – good practise for when she crews for me in the Tralee 100k in a few weeks time, a race she finished well before me last year!
My hamstring began to flare up from mile 4 on, and I worried that it might cause me problems later on. I took painkillers, and tried to ignore it – my friend Marilyn was running with a dislocated jaw (and would finish fourth in her category) and I reasoned that if she could ignore that pain, I could get over a little hamstring issue.
One of the things that struck me most about this ultra is how little I suffered – as someone who tends not to have the easiest of races, I have to say that, other than the hamstring (and later cramps), I never got beyond the point of mild discomfort on this one. I wonder if it has something to do with the short course? I found this psychologically much easier than a long course – any time it got difficult, I just told myself “just another mile to the aid point and I can regroup” or something along those lines. This close proximity to the aid point, the fact that you were counting laps instead of miles, and the fact that there were always other runners around made it feel like a much shorter race I thought, and would definitely encourage me to do this type of ultra again.
By the 9th lap, my hamstring had settled into a pattern of getting very sore going uphill, and easing off completely going downhill. However, I had started to get bad cramping in my other leg, presumably because I was favouring it too much. These cramps were actually worse than the hamstring because they would come on suddenly, drive me nuts for a few minutes, then go away, only to reappear again after a while. They were annoying more than presenting any danger of me not finishing, and, in truth, I don’t think they even slowed me down much – though they did piss me off.
Hazel showed her pacing credentials by not giving me any sympathy whatsoever, just telling me to keep going, and pick up the pace! This lap was my slowest of the race, and I was very glad to get to the aid station at the end of it, and get body and mind together for the final four miles.
Once I left the aid point for the last time, I knew it was just a case of slogging it out, and that’s exactly what I did. Despite a slow start to the lap, with Hazel’s encouragement I picked up the pace for the second half, and, despite flagging a bit near the end, finished fairly strong, in a time of 9:04:49.
I am happy with how this race went, and feel I am fairly well prepared for the 100k in a few weeks, as long as I can sort out my hamstring in the meantime. I finally got my eating and hydration right – and can now pretty much eat everything in sight while running.
Well done to all the runners that took on this challenge, especially those who were doing their first ultra – there were some fantastic emotional scenes at the finish line as some of the runners came through, and many will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
Well done to all involved in the organisation and running of this event, it was a great day out. Well done to the winners, runners up, and everyone who finished. Marcus, Seanie, and the Run the Kingdom team did a great job as usual.
Marie O’Shea did an excellent “mammy” job, and makes REALLY good sandwiches.
If you want to see all the pictures from the event, they are here.
Great praise is due to those who came out to support the runners, especially those, like Ashley and Karen, who would have been running with us were it not for injuries.
Some of my friends had brilliant runs – David, Eoin, and the inimitable Brian who took the top 3 spots in the men’s race, and Michelle (who ran a marathon 2 days previously!), Bridget, and Tena who took the top spots in the women’s race.
Marilyn overcame pain to finish fourth, and her brother Danny ground out a great finish despite bad blisters – his casual removal of a large part of his foot along with his sock at the finish line impressed all who saw it!
On a personal note, thanks to Hazel for her great pacing job – if she does as good a job for the 100k I’ll be very happy!
I think this race will definitely become a fixture on the Irish ultra scene – it is an ideal distance for an new ultra runner, or for anyone who is either thinking of doing a longer distance, or is training for it. I’ll definitely be here next year.