On Sunday I ran the 30 mile ultra in Sixmilebridge, one of several distances that were run that day (there was a marathon distance and a double marathon also, as well as the option of back to back marathons). Wait, I hear you say, weren’t you supposed to do the double?
Yes I was. However, in the days leading up to this event, common sense began to creep in, and I realised that the training I’d done over the past few weeks (as in practically none) would make the double too much of an ask, so I decided that, unless I felt spectacularly good on the morning of the run, I would opt for the 30 miler. Since I’ve never felt spectacularly good on the morning of any race, I didn’t think it likely that I would this morning.
I left home at the ungodly hour of 4am, and headed to town to pick up Mazza, who was traveling with me. She had also signed up for the double, and was also leaning towards doing the 30 instead.
Weather conditions leaving Tralee were truly awful – a storm (somewhat incongruously named Abigail) was raging, with high winds, and heavy, driving rain.
We arrived in Sixmilebridge in plenty of time for the 6:15 registration, which was just as well, as we got a little lost after arriving while trying to find the registration area, and ended up having a Deliverance moment when my satnav led us down some dark, narrow country lanes before we found where we needed to go.
I discovered at registration that the organisers weren’t as keen on me dropping to the 30 miler as I was, and I still wasn’t sure toeing the line which race I was actually running.
A group of around 12 of us gathered on the start line at 7am, and, after course instructions, and a minutes silence for those killed in the awful attacks in Paris the previous night, we set off.
The course consisted of a one mile loop around the village of Sixmilebridge, with a small switchback at the start/finish area, where there was a marquee for our drop bags, and timing mats. The weather hadn’t improved much, it was pitch dark (necessitating the use of head torches) and the first loop was interesting, to put it mildly.
The route started out on a long uphill stretch, with a left turn at the top bringing us onto a level straight, near the end of which was the short start/finish switchback, then another left brought us on a short downhill, before another left (we’d get really tired of all these lefts) brought us on to the long curve of the uphill section again.
I ran the first few loops with the main group, just to get familiar with the course. I knew I wouldn’t stick with them long though, as they were going at well over my usual pace, and I had already decided that I was going to walk the hill after the third or fourth lap.
Despite the weather conditions, I felt pretty good on the early part of this race. I wore a waterproof jacket (my first time ever running a race with a jacket!) which worked well to keep my core warm and reasonably dry. My biggest issue was my runners – the heavy rain, combined with the standing water on the road meant my runners were soaked through fairly quickly – a baptism of fire for the first race in my new Mizuno Wave Inspire 12‘s. Just as well I brought a few spares!
From lap 3 on, I walked the hill, and I have huge respect for those who ran it all the way through – tough doesn’t even come close.
By lap 10 I was well into my stride, the wind and rain had died down a bit (or I had just gotten used to it!) and it had gotten bright. There was also more people around, as the other distances started later, and there was a bit of banter going. I started to think that maybe I wouldn’t have to stop at 30 miles, and the 52.4 might be doable after all.
I stopped briefly at the end of the 13th lap to change my runners, and I couldn’t decide which distance to aim for – I felt good, if not great, I seemed to be making good progress, and everything seemed to be in order. I decided to give it another 5 or 6 laps before making a definitive decision.
During the walk up the hill on lap 15, my quads started to twinge a bit. This was unusual for me – I get plenty of muscle pain on runs, but it’s usually from my hamstrings or calves – this was a new and unwelcome development. On the next lap it was worse. I met Mazza again on this lap (as she was lapping me!) and we decided to stop and have a quick cup of coffee and decide what to do.
We stopped at the drop bag tent, had a cuppa, and discussed our options. I knew by now that the double probably wasn’t on for me – I had slowed down a fair bit on the last 2 laps, and my quads were aching. Mazza was still undecided, though she wasn’t feeling great. However, I was pretty sure she was going to go for the double – she tends to recover very quickly from setbacks, and she had that determined look in her eyes.
We got back on the road, and back into the hamster wheel of one-mile loops. I knew within one lap that the double was definitely off for me – my quads were screaming going up the hill, and weren’t much better on the level sections. My legs were now starting to feel very heavy, and the lack of serious training over the last few weeks, coupled with the testing course was finding me out big time.
By lap 19 I was in real trouble, and started to think for the first time that I might not make the 30 miler. I was well and truly in trouble – I was in lots of pain, and it was no better on the downhill sections that it was on the uphill. For the first time since the halfway point of the Tralee 100k more than a year ago, I thought I might not have a finish in me. At this stage, the support of the other runners became crucial. I knew lots of the other runners, doing all the different distances, and their support and encouragement was amazing. What was more amazing still was the support and encouragement of runners I had never met before. I was constantly being lapped by faster runners, and so many of them went out of their way to keep me going. Everything from a word or two of sympathy, to offers of painkillers, a drink, or just a “keep it going” – it all meant a lot, and definitely helped me. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people I didn’t know, who mentioned that they recognised me from this blog, and enjoyed reading it – that means an awful lot when you are dead on your feet, and your mind wants you to stop.
I just kept doing what I always tell others to do in this situation – put one foot in front of the other, keep moving, no matter how slow – and I was seriously bloody slow! To add to my woes, I started to get some really good chafing – it was so bad in my crotch that I expected my balls to fall out the legs of my shorts at any moment. The post-race shower promised to be bracing.
I plodded on, head down, like a mule, cursing my lack of training, the weather, hills, and running in general. JJ joined me for a while, as did Brian, and Jim, and Mazza, Michelle, and lots of others, all encouraging me, and helping me get nearer the finish line. Poshey had come up to support us, and made sure I was ok too.
When I got to the end of lap 29, I nearly cried with relief – for the first time in many miles, I knew I was going to make it. I actually almost enjoyed the last lap, and had a bit of banter with a few of the other runners – I even managed to run some of the accursed hill.
I don’t think I have ever been as relieved to cross a finish line. I really was beat when I got there, with nothing at all left in the tank, and my legs felt like lead. This was definitely one to put down to experience. The hubris of taking on an ultra off the back of almost no training is a mistake I won’t make again. Another lesson learned in the great school of distance running. I crossed the line in a time of 6:56:39 – definitely not my finest moment, but lucky to get there!
Mazza, being the beast that she is, continued on and completed the 52.4 miles of the double – she’s bloody tougher than I am!
I owe this finish to all the runners who helped me make it – many of you I know, lots of you I don’t, but I owe you all a debt of gratitude. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again – distance running really feels like a team sport at times, with the way runners support each other.
A big thanks to everyone who helped me in this race, and a big thank you to Vincent, who was an awesome MC as usual, to Poshey for the support (and the pictures!), to the race organisers, and the marshalls, and to the brilliant MCI crew.