After last weeks shenanigans in the 102k ultra, I wasn’t exactly full of enthusiasm for dragging my aching legs out on another ultra this week, but I did it anyway.
I ran this race last year, and was determined to complete it again, especially as I am getting close to qualifying for my Marathon Club of Ireland 25 marathon bronze medal, and this race would leave me with just two more to go (hopefully they will be the MCI Tralee Marathon, and the Tralee 100k).
I had only gotten in one training session between last weeks ultra and this – a short swim/run brick session, and I definitely wasn’t fully recovered – my feet were still a bit tender, and my hamstrings were still tight.
On the morning of the race, I got to the start/finish line at the Rose Hotel, and got my drop box set up, and met the other runners. There were four of us that ran last week that were doing this as well, and there were lots of runners from Born To Run and Kerry Crusaders.
After the usual formalities, Marcus from Run The Kingdom set us on our way. The course consisted of 10 laps of a 4 mile route, which consisted mainly of public road, with some riverside walkways, and a small section through a public park. The route was very slightly under 4 miles, so there was a small loop around the hotel to do on the last lap. There were 2 long slow hills in the route, divided fairly equally along its length.
I set off at a nice slow, comfortable pace, knowing that I probably didn’t have an easy day ahead of me. My plan was to keep the pace slow, walk the two hills, and try to come in under 10 hours. I’d done it in just over 9 hours last year, but I’d had a lot more training miles in my legs, and hadn’t done a 102k the week before!
I had lots of company for my first two laps, but I knew I wouldn’t have them for long – I intended to stick to my slow pace no matter what, as I knew any effort to push on would end in disaster with my tired legs. I had a lot of stiffness in my legs for the first few miles – my feet especially, felt like they were ready to seize up.
By lap 3 I had settled into a bit of a groove. Weather conditions were surprisingly good – it had rained heavily the day and night before, and it had been very cloudy, but one we got going it was sunshine all the way. It was actually quite warm for the whole race, and I was very glad of my Elivar Hydrate Plus. I definitely felt last week in my legs as the mileage racked up – I was just weary, and the little reserves of energy you always find in an ultra just weren’t there. Every incline felt like a mountain.
The leaders lapped me for the first time on this lap, and one incident stands out in my mind, that pretty much epitomised this race, and my experience of ultra running in general. The two leading runners passed me, neck and neck, just before the mid-point water stop. The flew in to the stop and grabbed bottles of water. One of them looked back at me, noticed I had veered across the road to head for the water stop, and bent down to grab a second bottle of water. He then ran the few paces back to me, handed me the water, and took off again. This was a guy fighting for first place. You won’t see that in a 10k. Ultra running is tough, brutal, painful and not for the faint-hearted. It’s bloody brilliant though.
Every single time, without exception, that a faster runner lapped me, they said something encouraging. Many took the time to ask me how I was, congratulate me on last week, or engage in a bit of friendly slagging. I don’t know whether ultrarunning attracts exceptional people, or whether running ultras makes people exceptional, but either way, it’s cool.
My Tralee Triathlon Club and Born To Run teammate Poshey joined me for lap 4, and his naturally upbeat personality definitely helped shorten the road. We had a funny experience near the end of this lap when we were running along the riverside walkway (known to local runners as dogshit alley) when we nearly ran straight into a guy who had decided, at a very inopportune moment, to trim some of the trees overhanging the path. He had cut down one tree and completely blocked our way – blocking me wasn’t too bad, as I looked on it as a chance to rest my legs for a few seconds, but as we stopped, Rachel Stokes, who was leading the women’s race, came flying around the bend and nearly went straight through it. In fairness to her, she took it in better spirits than I might have had if I was leading, and we were soon on our way again. You need to be prepared for every eventuality in an ultra!
By the halfway point, on lap 5, my legs were gone awol. I was now finding the first section of each lap very tough, both because most of the climbing was in the first section, but also, I think, because I was finding it mentally tough leaving the start/finish line each time, and heading out to do another lap. It took all my willpower to keep going, but I was determined to finish.
The last 4 laps were fairly grim at times, and I went through a fair bit of pain. I was kept going by the encouragement of the other runners, and the supporters. Catherine and Lee came out and gave out ice lollys (if you have never eaten a Calypo during a hot ultra, then you have missed one of life’s great pleasures!), Ashley set up an aid station with Coke and sweets, and lots of others helped with drinks, bananas, and encouragement.
At the start/finish line for my second last lap, I had to stop to stretch my hamstrings, as they were locking up badly, and thanks are due to Vinny from Crusaders, who had finished second, and who did a great stretching job for me. I slogged through the second last lap, and I knew then that I would survive. I got a great cheer coming in and leaving the start/finish area before my last lap, and I set off to get it done. I was last at this stage, and, although I could see a few others not far ahead of me, I had no intention of even trying to catch them. I was on course for sub 10 hours, and I was uninjured, and I intended to keep it that way.My sister Gill (and cliff the dog) came out to encourage me through the last lap, and, with the prospect of the finish line to come, I got through it without drama. As I approached the end, I had a few moments of worry, as my legs started to get very wobbly, and I willed them not to give out before the the finish line. One I got to within a few hundred meters of it, I took the view that if my legs did go, I’d just crawl the rest of it.
As it happened, it didn’t come to that, though it wasn’t far off. I came in to the finish zone, had to do a lap of the hotel, and came back around. As I headed the last stretch to the finish, a young woman standing on the footpath decided to cross the road in front of me, and, lacking the reflexes at this stage to avoid her, I ran straight into her. If she knew ultra runners, she would have known that, with 70 or 80 meters to the finish line, we would go through a brick wall without flinching, and I could’t do anything other than keep running in a straight line. I think she was ok.
I crossed the line to a great cheer from the runners and spectators, and I can tell you I was very, very happy to finish. I found a nice patch of grass and hit the deck. I had done it under my 10 hour target.
Another ultra under the belt (my 7th ultramarathon), and a step closer to my big goal for the year, the 24 hour.
Thanks to Marcus and the Run The Kingdom team for another fantastic event. If you are contemplating an ultra, especially a first ultra, I couldn’t recommend this event more – it is friendly, compact, well organised, and well supported.
Thanks to all the other runners, whose sense of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and mutual support, is fantastic to see, and be a part of. Thanks also to everyone who came out to support, encourage, and help. Well done to the winners, Denis Keane and Rachel Stokes, and to everyone who ran, especially those completing their first ever ultra – may it be the first of many.
Well done to my many friends and club mates who completed Ironman distance this weekend – you know who you all are!
A special mention for my youngest son Lee, who joined the parkrun Junior 10 Club, with his 10th parkrun.
My next event is the Tralee Triathlon Club mini Tri on Tuesday night, which I think may be done VERY slowly. I’ll be getting my first chance there to test out my new Ribble Aero 883.