On Saturday I ran the Valentia Island Cable Half Marathon (ain’t that a mouthful), which was, remarkably, only my second half. The last half I did, the Half on the Head, was a somewhat painful and humbling experience, and I was hoping that this one would go better.
The race (there is a 10k option too) takes place on the beautiful Island of Valentia, just off the south-west coast of Kerry, opposite the little village of Portmagee. The “Cable” in the race name refers to the fact that Valentia was the terminus for the first ever successful transatlantic telegraph cable, which operated from a station on the island, connected to Newfoundland, for more than 100 years.
I drove the journey from home to the island in a little under 2 hours with Catherine and my boys as support. We had to drive across on the bridge, as the (slightly closer) ferry was out of commission for the winter. As we drove across the island to Knightstown (the capital of sorts) I noticed that the roads could best be described as undulating, with no shortage of hills….
Knightstown is a pretty little fishing village, that looks like it came straight from a postcard. We registered at the hotel, and had plenty of time to chat with the other runners, the majority of whom I knew, as both Born To Run and Kerry Crusaders had large representations. My usual running buddy Brian, drove down to support, but wasn’t running due to illness.
After getting ready, we set off for the 15 minute walk from the finish line outside the hotel, to the start line. There was plenty of banter and messing on the way there, with the usual suspects Poshey and Mazza at the forefront:
Once we reached the start line (and the 10k runners who had come with us realised that they should have stayed at the hotel, which was where their race was starting!), we met up with the pacers, and got ready for the off.
I had decided that I was going to take this race at training pace, as I have the Charleville Marathon coming up next weekend, so I thought sticking with the 2:15 pacer was a good option.
The 2:15 pacer was Rachel, who I had met (when she passed me!) at the Half on the Head, and as soon as we set off, I fell in beside her.
We soon passed back through Knightstown, and got a great cheer from the spectators, and the waiting 10k runners. Almost immediately after the village, we came to the first of what would turn out to be many hills. This one was a long, tough one, and set the tone for the rest of the course.
On the way up this section we passed a spectator by the name of Mick O’Connell, a Valentia native, and one of the greatest footballers of all time.
The first 3 or 4 miles of the course were very scenic, and very hard! We climbed up through the island to the slate quarry on the highest point, from where the famous Valentia slate is quarried. This slate has been used in the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, and the Paris Opera House, as well as many other notable buildings, as far away as Brazil.
We turned at the slate quarry, and headed back downhill, for a brief respite. The views were fantastic on the course, with wonderful views of the Blasket Islands across the bay.
Rachel was doing a great job with the pacing, encouraging us on, and keeping an eye on our time. One thing she and I noticed early on was that the distance markers were well off what our GPS watches were telling us – sometimes this can be caused by poor GPS signal, but since both ours were tallying, we realised that the markers must be wrong – and, since they were all wrong by the same amount, I soon twigged that this must mean that the course was going to be longer than 13.1 miles – I hoped that somehow the last mile marker would be short, and the course would be correct overall.
After the downhill section, we came to another series of climbs, and I tried to keep admiring the view to keep my mind off the tiredness in my legs. A couple of the runners who had been with us had pulled ahead by now, while more had fallen back, and myself and Rachel were the only two members of the 2:15 group for a while. At a water station around mile 8, Conor (who runs marathons the way other people have hot dinners) caught up with us, and we ran together for a bit.
By now, the hills had given way to nice flat roads, and none too soon – I was feeling every mile in my legs now. Rachel began to slowly pull away, and I decided rather than pushing myself too hard, I would run at a comfortable pace, and if I caught up again, well and good. I ran the next couple of miles alone, though I could see a couple of runners I knew ahead of me. By mile 11, I was really feeling the strain – my hamstring, which has acted up on every race I’ve done for the past 6 or 7 months was doing it’s thing, and I was not feeling the love for half marathons. I dropped my pace to a stumbling trot at one stage, and saw a couple of other runners stop completely. Fortunately, when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, Conor caught up with me again, and encouraged me on.
Myself and Conor ran the last couple of miles together and I am certainly grateful for his company, as I was very uncomfortable for the last mile or so, with a sore hamstring and bad calf cramps. We discovered that the mile markers were not wrong, and the course was indeed long, my Garmin making it 13.76 miles. The last .66 of a mile felt like a race in itself as my body had decided it had done enough and wanted no more!
Myself and Conor crossed the line together at 2:21:02, which is a half marathon race PB for me (though I’ve done much faster halves in training!), and I was very, very, happy to finish.
Valentia is a fantastic place to run a race, and the views alone are worth it! Well done as usual to Marcus and the Run The Kingdom crew, to Rachel for a top pacing job (despite me not being able to keep up again!) as well as to all the runners who completed either distance – and to the hardy souls who managed to go partying afterwards. Thanks also to Poshey for the photographs.
I think I needed a tough race to get me back into the groove in preparation for the Charleville Marathon next week, and the further challenges ahead, and this most certainly fitted the bill!