5 Tips For Runners Tackling Their First Marathon

This is a guest post by Shaun Dixon, who is an elite runner and head coach at Let’s Get Running. A self diagnosed ‘run-addict’, he uses his experience of training and competing over a range of distances to coach runners of all ability levels. Shaun is training me for the 2017 London Marathon.

Thinking of tackling your first Marathon? Here are 5 tips to read before you kick off your training.

1. Be patient.

Don’t take on too much too soon-you’ll find quickly find yourself injured, ill or both. Give yourself some time, and slowly build up to it- you need to be fit at the end of the training period not the beginning.

There is a fantastic stat about Marathon running. 95% of those who line up on Marathon day will complete the race but only 72% of those with a place actually make it to the start line. Your number 1 goal should be to get to the Marathon fit and healthy.

So be patient, both in terms of volume increases and the pace of your runs too. The key to improvement, rather boringly, is consistency. Establishing a good routine of steady or easy pace running is an absolute priority- preparing a base level of fitness on which you can build. You can’t build anything on shoddy foundations. So take it easy- always run with your next run in mind, so finish feeling there’s more in the tank. You want to get out and want to run, not sit and wallow in a hole of fatigue!

2. Set yourself a target

All runners struggle with motivation but it’s easier to deal with dark periods if you have a clear goal for the run.

I like people to have a race goal. It could be anything from, simply getting round to running sub 3hours, but it needs to be firm and measureable. If you want to work to a time but don’t know where to start, I suggest running  a 10k race or time trial. An online race time predictor or calculator will then give you an estimated marathon time based on this performance (Runners World is a good place to start). It’s no guarantee but it’s better than a blind stab in the dark!

3. Lock in your routine

If you look at the routines of the majority of top athletes they are fairly regimented. They know when they will run and roughly what each run will look like. We don’t have the luxury of structuring our lives around our running but we can make sure sure our run time is sacred. Set an hour aside, arrange to meet a friend, or join a group to make sure your run plans don’t get shelved.

If you’re wondering how many runs you should commit to each week then it all depends on your goal. The beauty of running is, for the most part, you get out what you put in. If you’re aiming for a time beginning with 3 you need to commit to 4 ‘sessions’ a week ( though this can include a cross training session). 3-4 sessions should be a good target for all runners aiming for a Marathon. Beginners should start with 3 and progress to 4 or 5 if the body reacts well to the training.

4. Think about your body- don’t just tick boxes.

It’s very easy to get very bogged down in numbers when Marathon training. You must follow a 16 week plan, include a 20mile run as your longest run 3-4 weeks from race day, and run all your miles at such and such a pace to run this or that time on race day. Focus on getting your body into the best possible shape to run, not fitting in with a generic structure.

Once you have established a good base of steady running it’s worth having a think about the attributes you need to improve as a runner and thinking about how your training works to support that. Tempo runs, intervals, strides and fartleks can all be a little intimidating at first but understanding their benefits and importance should make them less daunting.

If we were to build a Marathon Runner from scratch here’s what we would need.

Strong Running Body. Built by a consistent routine of steady aerobic running and your long stamina building runs.

Big Heart. Improved by sustained, reasonably challenging runs (tempo, threshold, some fartleks and Marathon pace runs for faster runners. Running at a controlled challenging intensity trains your heart to pump rich, oxygenated blood to the muscles!

Big lungs. This involves interval training- spending some time running at your maximum comfortable range of breathing, in order to improve your ability to take on, and use large volumes of oxygen. Our focus should be on giving the lungs a workout- not flat out running but running where your aerobic system is challenged but not over extended. Breathing should be deep and rhythmic and you should be maintain for the pace for 15mins without stopping.

As a basic guide you should be aiming for a series of intervals of between 2-5mins each, with a rest between each half or ¾ as long as each interval, and a total volume of c.20mins hard running.

Efficient Movement Patterns…brain training!

Efficiency of movement can be improved in two ways; Strength and Conditioning to improve strength and mobility, and through regular faster running!

Running fast is really important. In being more dynamic and explosive you make use of a larger range of muscle groups; improving their capabilities and the efficiency of the communication from brain to muscle. Essentially you’re building your arsenal and figuring out ways to activate those weapons! There are lots of different ways to approach this- from hill sprints to ‘strides’, (relaxed technique sprints).

The key to working on speed is to always consider the purpose of the session. You should always aim to run fast but relaxed- gurning faces and shoulders around your ears are a big no-no!

5. Practise positivity

Very few endeavours require as much mental fortitude as long distance running, and your enjoyment of the training and race itself will hinge on the nature of your mindset.

Charlie Spedding, the last British man to medal in the Marathon at an Olympic games, had a simple yet highly effective method to mentally prepare himself for big events. Everyday in the lead up to the 1984 games he told himself that the Olympic final would be the best day of his life.Over and over again, for the next 3 months. He started to believe it and on race day he felt relaxed, confident and eager to run. He produced an incredible performance to take an unexpected bronze medal. You can do the same thing. Be really positive. The marathon will be fantastic experience- so remind yourself how great it will be.

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Shaun Dixon of Lets Get Running
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Joining Reebok for the London Marathon

I’m delighted to announce that I will be joining Team Reebok as a Reebok Floatride Ambassador for this years London Marathon.

I ran London last year, and it was one of my favorite marathons ever, so I was disappointed to miss out in the ballot this year. Reebok and The Running Bug saved the day however, and I look forward to working with my coach Shaun Dixon over the next few weeks to get in shape for London!

I am also looking forward to trying out the new Reebok Floatride shoes for the marathon, and letting you know how they perform.

Better get back on the training wagon!

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Kinematix TUNE Giveaway!

I have been using the very clever Kinematix TUNE for a few months now, and am constantly amazed at the amount of information it gives on the biomechanics of my running, and how to improve them.

Kinematix have very kindly given me a TUNE, for one of my readers. Simply pop onto the RandRuns Facebook page, and tell me in one sentence what you think TUNE could best help improve in your running. I’ll pick the best one on Friday December 23rd – just in time for Christmas! Terms & Conditions below.

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Terms and Conditions:
One entry per reader
Entry is by posting a comment on the RandRuns Facebook page
Prize is a Kinematix TUNE, supplied by Kinematix directly to the winner
No substitutions of the prize
Judges decision is final

My First DNF

On Sunday, the day finally arrived that I have long dreaded, but never fully believed would come to pass – I DNF’d in an ultra. After 19 marathons, and 8 ultra marathons, I failed to finish for the first time, in the Tralee 100k. This is how it played out.

I arrived at the start line bright and early with the rest of the runners. After a bit of chat and banter, and lots of photographs, we got the countdown from Race Director Marcus, and I set off on my third Tralee 100k.

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The Start

We did a short lap of the outskirts of Tralee, then headed out Caherslee towards Ardfert.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t feeling this from the start. I lacked energy, and just felt sub-par. I tried not to worry too much, as I have had good runs in the past in races where I didn’t feel good at the start, but deep inside, I think I knew that this was more serious.

I made it to Ardfert in reasonably good time, on par with last year, and grabbed a quick snack and drink from the aid station manned by Danny, before heading on towards Ballyheigue.

The road to Ballyheigue again passed without incident, and, although I was passed by a couple of runners on this section, I was still happy enough with my progress, and my time. It was getting hot though, and the niggling feeling that everything wasn’t right was still there – I felt flat and listless, with a distinct lack of energy.

When I got to Ballyheigue, I met Marcus (who’s brainchild this race is) manning the aid station, and he gave me a few words of encouragement, before I headed up the (very) big hill out of town towards Causeway.

This was another very warm section, but I made sure I got plenty of Elivar in to prevent dehydration, and I ate plenty of crisps and chocolate for energy.
The Ballyheigue to Causeway road wouldn’t be one of my favourite sections, but it seemed to pass quickly enough, and I soon reached Causeway. I paused here to check my pace and time, and was surprised to discover I was very close to last years time (when I did this section quite quickly), and was well on track. Just outside Causeway was another aid station, and I got another pleasant surprise here, as I caught up with a lot of the runners who were ahead of me. I also met Mazza here, and discovered that she was suffering a bit – she was carrying a leg injury, and was also feeling ill. I joined her, and medic Caroline, who was biking the entire route, as they climbed the monster hill out of Causeway.

This was the start of the long, hilly, and hot loop around Kerryhead, which would eventually bring us back into Ballyheigue. This is usually my second-least favourite part of this race (though it is the most scenic part!), after the Fenit-Tralee road, but there was nothing for it but to get stuck in.

Myself and Mazza (and Caroline) more or less stuck together on this section – sometimes she’d go ahead for a bit, sometimes I would, but most of the time we were close enough to chat and have a bit of banter. There are lots of hills here, and one of the toughest issues turned out to be a fairly strong headwind, which blew straight into our faces for most of it. The only advantage to it was that at least it kept us cool, but it made the run a bit of a slog.

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Out on Kerryhead, with Mazza and Caroline just ahead

 

I began to flag a bit from here on. The lack of energy, and general feeling of being unwell got worse, and I had to walk a lot more of it than I had intended. Myself and Mazza were like two elderly people as we spent most of the route complaining about our respective illnesses! I had occasional bursts of energy, when I’d put in a good mile or two, and one of these came to an abrupt halt when a farmer stopped me, because his cows were coming up the road, and he claimed my “bright colours” would frighten them. I had to wait until they all passed (eyeing me suspiciously) before I could continue.

The last few miles of this section are downhill into Ballyheigue, and they couldn’t come fast enough for me. I had suffered far more on this section than I had the year before, and I was worried about my rate of progress. As soon as we reached the downhill, I pushed it as hard as I could, and I made some good miles into the halfway point in Ballyheigue.

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Myself and Mazza at 50k

By this time, my sister Gillian had arrived with my two boys in tow, to act as crew for me for the rest of the race.

I changed my clothes here, got some food and drink, and checked my pace notes again. I was surprised to find I was still on track timewise, and I hadn’t lost too much time on Kerryhead. However, it struck me that I was still lacking in energy, and I felt nothing like I did at this point last year. I knew I had a tough 50k to go.

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Changing in Ballyheuige

I set off for Banna with my crew keeping an eye on me. For the first 3 or 4 miles I felt OK, but about halfway between Ballyheigue and Banna, I started to feel really unwell. I walked a bit, hoping it would wear off. Suddenly, I was violently ill. I just about had enough time to step off the road onto the grass margin, before every drop of fluid I drank came up. I felt really bad. After a few minutes, I came around a bit. I took some anti-nausea tablets, and got back on the road. For a few minutes, I was alright again, but the sickness soon came back. I felt weak and miserable now, and was starting to get worried. The few miles to Banna seemed to last a lifetime.

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Feeling like shite

Eventually I got there, and I turned off the Banna road at the Roger Casement memorial, to head towards Barrow. Gill pulled up at the 60k marker sign, and was in the middle of saying “Let’s get a photo…” when I was violently ill again. This time my legs went completely, and I could only kneel on the side of the road, retching my guts out. Danny, and Mazza’s crew came along to see if they could help, but there wasn’t much that could be done for me at this stage. I knew now that I was in deep trouble. I felt weak and drained, and it took every ounce of my willpower just to stand up.

Lee, my youngest son, decided to run and walk with me for a few miles. It was slow progress. I was reduced to a shuffling run/walk, and every now and then had to stop for a fresh bout of retching.

The next 10k or so were truly awful. I ran when I could, but most of the time I walked. I met Jim, who was course director, and he warned me that I was dicing with the 80k cutoff time. I knew it would take a miracle at this stage for me to make it, but I was determined to give it everything I had. I slogged on to the bottom of the infamous Barrow Hill. My sickness was getting worse, and by now, every drop of water I took was coming back up. I had absolutely no energy left, and felt awful. I slowly climbed up Barrow Hill, with Caroline sticking close by in case I needed a medic in a hurry. I hardly went 50 yards on this section without retching, and I thought the hill would never end. My wife Catherine appeared at this stage, planning to run the home stretch with me, but she got a bit of a shock when she saw me. She, and my crew told me that the time had come to call it a day. It was obvious now that I couldn’t possibly make the 80k cutoff, and I was going to be pulled off the course. I couldn’t quit though. I tried to accept the inevitable, but I couldn’t. I pushed on, with Caroline’s help. I made the turnaround at the top of Barrow, and set off down the hill. Just after the top, Caroline gave me some more nausea medicine, and some rehydration drink, and I started to feel a little better – it stopped me getting sick, but by now I had nothing left in the tank, and was badly dehydrated. I was joined by Terence, who has run this race before, and came out to see how some of us were doing. He spoke to me about letting it go, and between him, Catherine, Gill, and Caroline, I started to accept that I couldn’t finish.

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Poor Caroline has to listen to me retching every 2 minutes on Barrow Hill

I made the bottom of Barrow, where I met Jim, who told me that I had missed the 80k cutoff, and would be disqualified. I decided that I would go to the top of Churchill, and would bow out then. Jim agreed to this, and myself, Catherine, and Terence set off. I managed to run Churchill, and made it to the top, where I finally accepted the inevitable. My race was over.

I’ve now had a few days to digest this setback, and get some perspective on it. In the immediate aftermath, all I felt was relief, as I had suffered so much. In the day or two afterwards, I felt a bit down about it – seeing the pictures of the finishers, hearing how others had battled through, and so on, made it hit home. When a runner suffers a DNF, only the runner themselves can honestly and objectively evaluate it. When you are alone with your thoughts, there are no excuses, only the raw truth. I always said that if I ever DNF’d, I hoped that it was because I couldn’t carry on, and not because I wouldn’t carry on. I am satisfied that I did that. I am satisfied that I pushed myself beyond the point where my honesty and integrity as a runner could be questioned, even by myself. I know in my heart that I gave it my best shot, gave it all I had, and it simply wasn’t enough on the day.

In the past I have been dismissive of runners who drop out because of minor ailments, or because they didn’t have the heart to go on – If I felt I was one of those runners, I would call a halt to my ultra running career right here and now. I would rather not run at all, than run without honesty. I will be back for the Kerry 24 Hour endurance race in a few weeks, and I will give it everything I have. It may be enough, or it may not be, but I will again give it all I have. I owe myself and my sport no less.

The day after the race, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, when my eldest son came over to me, threw his arms around me, and whispered in my ear “You’re still the best, Dad”

Fuck DNF’s, there are more important things in life. I’ll be back.

Thanks to Gill, Catherine, Adam, and Lee for crewing and caring, to Caroline for putting up with the world’s worst patient, to Mazza, and her crew for helping me, and to all the other crews, runners, volunteers, and everyone else who looked out for me.

Well done to everyone who ran. Well done to Marcus, Jim, and all at Run The Kingdom on another great event.

 

 

Welcome to Laura Mullins

I came across Laura recently through her blog, Presently Running. I discovered that she was about to move to Ireland with her family, and I asked if she’d do a series of guest posts on her transition to a new culture and a new running community, her build up to the Dublin Marathon, as well as some insights into her running life. Below is an introduction to Laura – if there is anything specific you’d like to ask her, or you’d like to welcome her, let us know in the comments – take it away Laura!

My name is Laura and I love to run. I began running as a way to keep active after my collegiate tennis career ended in 1998. Although I played many sports throughout my childhood, I was never a “runner”. But after college, I needed something to fill the void I felt in my life without the structure of competitive tennis training. I tried to find something that I could do on my own while I was finishing up school and running seemed like a good option. So, I signed up for the 1999 Chicago Marathon. Not only was this my first marathon, it was also my first running race of any kind! Since then, I have completed more than a dozen marathons and countless half marathons. Running is now an integral part of my daily life.

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My husband is a native of Co. Dublin, but moved the United States to pursue tennis in 1997. We both competed for the same college, which is how we met. For the last 13 years, he was a collegiate tennis coach and I was a primary school teacher. We lived in Chicago for a few years before moving to Norman, Oklahoma where we have lived for the last 8 years. We have two amazing boys, 7 and 10, who are absolutely obsessed with soccer (er…football…). My sports loving family of four began living a vegan lifestyle in May 2015. We are passionate about constantly challenging ourselves in all areas of life and living life to its fullest potential.

I am not perfect and have certainly faced many personal challenges over the last several years, the greatest being my divorce and eventual reconciliation with my husband. But immense growth is often a result of immense pain. While I don’t dwell on the past, I believe it is essential to remember the lessons we learned from it so we don’t repeat those mistakes in the future. Instead of living in fear of past mistakes or future “what ifs”, I live my life with great intentionality in the present, as best as I can.

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With that mindset, my husband and I decided it was time for a big change. We worked extremely hard to rebuild our life to a comfortable place with well-paying jobs, a beautiful home, two cars and a pretty delightful lifestyle. We were not unhappy in Norman by any means. In fact, we were living what many would call “The American Dream.” But for us, we realized that it is not exactly what we want for ourselves, our marriage or our boys. You can read more about that decision here.

So we are moving to Ireland to start a new life. For my husband, this is moving home after 19 years. For me and my boys, we are moving to a new country with a new culture and a new way of life. To be fair, we have tremendous support from my husband’s family, which will help us greatly with this transition. But in leaving Oklahoma, we have condensed our belongings into less than 2 cubic meters and my boys are leaving the only home they have ever known.

Over the next several months, I will share my progress as I adjust to living and running in a new country. I am registered to run the Dublin Marathon where I hope to beat my PB. I will be living in Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, but commuting my boys to school in south Co. Dublin. I will also be attending UCD where I will pursue my Level 4 Personal Trainer Certification. All the while, my husband and I intend to keep our marriage strong, healthy and fun!

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For 3 years, I served as the Director of the Norman Runhers, where worked to inspire women in all seasons of life to pursue their own version of health and happiness. I am also a Bibrave Pro who loves to run races, test out new running gear and stay connected to runners all around the world. In addition, I serve as an ambassador for EnergyBITS and am a member of the Oiselle Volee.

What do you think is important for me to know about the Irish running community?

 

Read more about me at presentlyrunning.com.

MCI Tralee Marathon Race Report

On Sunday I hit a bit of a milestone – my 25th marathon (well, not exactly, it was my 18th marathon, but with my 7 ultras, it comes to 25!), and it was nice to hit that number in my hometown, with none other than my running buddy Brian O’Sé as race director.
Sunday’s marathon was the second of two back-to-back marathons over the weekend, and many of the hardy Marathon Club Ireland (MCI) members were doing both. Brian was running today as well, so MCI legend Vincent was running things from the start/finish marquee.

There were two start times, and I went for the earlier 8am start. Things looked ominous on the way in, with dark skies and driving rain. I had escaped the worst of it in yesterday’s parkrun, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be so lucky today.

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Ready to go with the MCI crew (pic Vincent Guthrie MCI)

I arrived at the Rose Hotel in plenty of time, and got registered, had a chat with a few of my running buddies, and we were soon ready to go. The rain was relentless as we lined up at the start, and wasn’t going to get much better.

We were soon under way. The route was a 2.2 mile loop at the start, followed by 6 loops of the 4 mile course we ran a few weeks ago for the Tralee 40 Mile Ultra. Those of us who had run that race would be thoroughly sick of this loop by the end of the day – I can only imagine what those who had done that race, and the back-to-back marathons, must have felt like.

By the time the first short loop was done, I had settled into a comfortable pace with my club mates Mazza and Cilla (I can say whatever I like about Cilla, because she doesn’t read my blog 😉 ), and I have run enough marathons with Mazza at this stage to know that, as long as she is not on a push for time, her pace suits mine.

I had initially planned to run this marathon on a 25/5 run/walk pattern, but my two running mates had other ideas, so I stuck with them on a reasonably continuous run, though we did walk the two hills on most of the loops.

We escaped the rain for most of the first loop, but that was as good as it got – it poured for most of the remainder of the run. We did our best to ignore it, and I went through every pair of socks, shoes, and running tops in my bag before the end – thanks Kirsti for keeping everything dry in the car!

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This must have been early on because Cilla looks fairly relaxed…. (Pic Mary Mockett MCI)

We had some great banter on the loops – one thing you can count on the Born To Run crew for is a good laugh to take your mind off being wet, tired, and wondering where the chafing is going to start!
Myself and Maz were suffering from the usual aches and pains of multiple marathoners by the halfway point, but Cilla looked to be a bit worse for wear – she was falling behind a bit, and we knew she was in trouble when she started to go very quiet. I thought to myself that, if she’s this worn out at this point, we’ll be carrying her before the end….

We slogged on, taking advantage of the downhill bits, and walking the uphills. We got great service at the start/finish pitstop on each loop from Vincent and the MCI crew, and this helped keep our spirits up.
When we came in to the pitstop on our third lap, someone mentioned that we had “only” three laps to go. This had an astonishing effect on Cilla, who reacted like a dog that has just heard a squirrel. I have run many marathons where I got a second wind, and have seen plenty of others do the same, but I have never witnessed a recovery like Cilla’s. She left the pitstop a completely different person, practically dancing down the road. She would spend the next three laps in annoyingly good form, sprinting ahead of us and shouting at us to hurry up, running around us, and generally being far too perky. Maz and I took to persuading her that we actually had further to go than we had in an effort to curb her enthusiasm. When you are tired and bedraggled at the end of a marathon, you really don’t want to run with someone who looks like they could run the whole thing again.

On our second last lap, she actually took off with a faster runner as she got sick of waiting for us, but she soon arrived back to us. I really wish I could have that kind of energy late on in a marathon.

We kept going, and soon we were on the last lap, and none too soon – my last running top was now soaked, and the rain was getting heavier. I found to my surprise that I was very fresh on this last lap, as I had expected some residual tiredness from the excesses of the last few weeks. This is the first marathon in a very long time (maybe ever!) where I felt I could have run the last few miles fairly hard if I wanted to. I was happy to keep it at a nice leisurely pace, as knew I had a triathlon on Tuesday, and, perhaps more importantly, the Tralee 100k coming up in a few weeks.

We crossed the finish line together in around 5:32 (haven’t actually checked the results yet!).

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Me, Cilla, and Maz about to cross the finish line (pic Mary Mockett MCI)

I really enjoyed this marathon – it was fun, taken at a nice easy pace, and was run with some great friends – for me, this is what running is all about.

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Me and the girls with their “suck it up buttercups” (pic Mary Mockett MCI)

Well done to Vincent and all the MCI crew who helped us get it done, to Kirsti for storing my gear, JJ for helping me put on those awkward fancy socks, and Ash for all the help (but especially for the killer combination of sausage rolls and Neurofen, the breakfast of champions). Well done to Brian on his first RD job, and to everyone who ran this race. Can’t wait to see you all on the road again.

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Mazza, Me, Cilla, and Vincent (pic Mary Mockett MCI)

A Little Recovery Run…..

I will be recovering from last weekends ultra by, well, running another ultra this weekend.
And before you ask, no, I wouldn’t advise this as a smart move. This weekends ultra is a “mere” 40 miles, and is a race I did last year. It’s nice and close to home, and, being run in 5 mile circuits, means that you are never too far away from your drop bag and aid station. It also has the added advantage of not requiring a crew, as I’m not sure anyone would be crazy enough to crew two weekends in a row.

I’m hoping this will be good training for the Tralee 100k in a few weeks. Either that, or it will kill me!

Best of luck to everyone running here, the Energia 24H in Belfast, the Waterford Marathon, or any other race this weekend.

If you’re there, see you on the start line!

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Dawn To Dusk Run The Ring 102k Challenge

Running a 100k is never easy. Running a tough, hilly, 102k with no training is madness. But then running ultras probably isn’t a sane activity anyway.

I looked forward to this race with some trepidation, as I knew I just didn’t have the mileage done – I am way behind the training mileage I had done last year, and have been carrying a hamstring injury for the past few weeks that has made what little running I have done, slow and painful. However, I didn’t want to miss this race – it was the inaugural running of it, and it just seemed like an awesome challenge, so I decided I’d have a crack at it. There were two races being run in conjunction – the individual event we were doing, and a longer relay team event.

I travelled to the start with my Born To Run teammates Brian, Mazza, and Dec, for the painfully early time of 5:21 (‘cos that was the official dawn time), and we lined up with the other runners.

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Myself and Brian getting ready to go.

We set off with the ever-bubbly Mary O’Donnell-Bowler as our crew. My wife Catherine would be joining me later to crew for me. The first section from Killarney to Killorglin, around 22k, was bright and sunny, and we did it in a 25 minute run / 5 minute walk pattern. I felt from fairly early on that the pace the others were setting was slightly too fast for me, but decided that I’d stick with them until Killorglin, and fall back to a more comfortable pace then, as we would have to split the crew cars to accommodate different speeds. In Killorglin, Mary handed crewing duties over to Geoff and Ashley.

On the last couple of kilometres into Killorglin, I was definitely noticing that the pace was too fast, and I also noticed something more worrying – I seemed to be developing a hot spot on the sole of my left foot. I never suffer from blisters, and I hoped this wouldn’t be my first – especially this early in a race this long.

In Killorglin we had a quick pitstop, and when I checked my foot, my fears were confirmed – I had my first running blister forming in the centre of my foot. I stuck a blister pad on it, and hoped for the best.

We set off on the next section, the 13k to Glenbeigh. I soon fell behind Brian, Mazza and Dec, and Ashley and Kirsti took up crewing duties behind me, while Geoff and his crew followed the faster bunch. I felt better at the slower pace, and I wasn’t getting much bother from the blister, so I was happy enough on this section. My hamstring hadn’t given me any bother – in fact, despite it giving me near constant pain over the past few weeks, it didn’t once cause me any pain at all in this race. Maybe I killed it.

This section of road consisted mainly of long, fairly straight, undulating sections, with quite a lot of traffic, and wouldn’t be my favourite type of running. Kirsti ran some of it with me, and helped me keep my spirits up, while Ashley made sure I had everything I needed. I found it very warm at this stage, and when Ashley gave me a frozen facecloth to cool me down, I thought I’d weep with joy. In ultra running, it’s the little things that count!

Shortly before Glenbeigh, Catherine arrived, and she and my youngest son Lee took over crewing duty for me. I took this opportunity to grab a bite to eat, change my shoes and socks, and tend to my feet. The blister had grown a bit, but still wasn’t too bad, so I decided to let it be.

We soon arrived in Glenbeigh, and I had another quick pitstop, including more food.

Once we left Glenbeigh, we went off the beaten track on our way to Cahirciveen, around 27k away. I grossly underestimated how difficult this section would be, as I had only ever travelled it on the main road. Marcus had found an alternative route however, and, true to form, it contained some challenges….

The first, I soon found out, was an absolute monster of a hill. This seemed to go on forever, and at one stage, I was moving so slowly that some guy out for a walk caught up to me, had time to ask me about the race, and then passed me.
After what seemed like hours, I finally got to the top of this hill, and there was a much nicer section of downhill and flat running, on narrow country roads. Lee joined me for some of this, and we both enjoyed it.

I continued on my merry way, tackling occasional hills, and trying to keep taking small amounts of food on board. I was trying a new hydration drink on this run (breaking my mantra of “never eat, drink, wear or carry anything on race day that you haven’t eaten, drank, worn, or carried on at least two long runs”) from my sponsors Elivar, called Hydrate Plus, and I found it really good for thirst – it definitely did the business, as this is the first ultra of this length I’ve done without encountering stomach issues.

One of the Run The Kingdom team, Jim, who was keeping an eye on all the runners dropped in shortly before the halfway mark, and told me he felt I needed to increase my pace if I hoped to finish on time. I checked my pace notes, and I felt he was wrong – I had planned on reaching the halfway point in 7:45, giving me 9 hours to do the second half. This would have been fine if I’d looked at the course profile – I hadn’t, and had made the fatal assumption that the course was relatively evenly spread in terms of climbs. I would learn a harsh lesson. Note to self: In future, always assume Jim is right.
Eventually, after what seemed like an age, I reached Caherciveen. I grabbed some more food and checked my feet again. They weren’t pretty. As well as the increasingly painful blister on the sole of my left foot, I was developing blisters between the toes of my right foot. Nice.
I set off from Caherciveen with the cheers of some of the other crews in my ears, determined to get the job done, and feeling very positive. Then it started to rain.

IMG_5389
Big stupid happy naive face in Cahirciveen.

The next destination was Portmagee, around 16 kilometres away. Most of what I remember of the next 10k or so is rain. Lots, and lots, and lots of rain.

Shortly before Portmagee, I began to feel some chafing in my crotch. The Runderwear I was wearing had done a great job, but the rain had soaked me to the bone, and nothing will stop chafing in those conditions. I decided to nip this in the bud, and apply some anti-chafing cream. I had a look both ways on the road to make sure the coast was clear, dropped my shorts, and reached down between my legs with a nice big dollop of cream. At this moment, a car pulled up alongside me, and the passenger window rolled down. It was an American couple, and their teenage son, who were obviously on holidays. We had a nice, casual chat about the race, and the area, all while my shorts were down, and I had my hand inside my underwear, rubbing vigorously. Wherever they came from, wet, bedraggled men publicly fondling themselves in the middle of nowhere is obviously not something that causes alarm.

We reached Portmagee, a picturesque little seaside village, without further incident, and I had more American tourists shout “God bless you” as I ran through. Goodness knows what they thought I was actually doing.

A couple of miles after Portmagee, we came to this:
IMG_5390

Yes, that’s a mountain. Yes, it’s so high the top is lost in the mist. Yes, I have to go up there. I was not a happy bunny. Next time, as well as training for the race, I might actually have a look at the route profile too. I had an awful feeling that what I could see of this wasn’t even the worst part. I was right. The mountain turned out to be Coomanaspic, and it was fairly epic.

I put my head down and trudged onwards and upwards. I consoled myself with the thought that everybody else would find it just as hard as me, until I was passed by one of the relay runners (Thomas Bubendorfer I think) in what appeared to be a flat-out sprint.

The higher I climbed, the more painful my legs got, and the worse the rain fell. By the time I got to the top, it was pouring, and I couldn’t see more than about 50 yards ahead of me. I began to seriously think about taking up an easier hobby. Stamp collecting perhaps. Or flower arranging. Something you could do while sitting down at home in the warmth.

IMG_5393
At the top of Coomanaspic, wondering where my life went wrong.

There was one of those holy statue/grotto things near the top, that are found at the top of so many high passes in Ireland, and I’d say there were a few runners that found religion at that point.

I practically had my tongue hanging out at the thought of the downhill at the other side, but it turned out to be a major disappointment – it was so steep that it was only marginally less difficult coming down than it was going up. Same pain, different muscles – with the added risk of slipping and landing on my ass, or worse still, faceplanting.

Once I got off the steep downhill, I was on to a much more manageable gradient, and this was far more pleasant to run – for the first time in a long while, I began to make some decent progress.

I was soon back to walking a bit and running a bit, when I was joined by my Tralee Triathlon Club teammate Fran, who had run as part of the team event earlier in the day, and he joined me for a few miles. I had gotten it into my head that the rest of the course was flat, but Fran dashed these hopes by telling me there was “a bit of a hill” coming up. I should have known by his manner that he was trying to break bad news to me gently. Fran left shortly afterwards to rejoin his team, but he would be back.

It wasn’t long before I discovered the bit of a hill was another bloody mountain pass. Not as bad as Coomanaspic, but not exactly a molehill either. It had the added bonus of being very long. I started to get passed by a lot of the relay team runners at this point, and while nobody likes to get passed, at least they kept my spirits up, as most of them (and their crews) gave me plenty of encouragement.

This section of the route really knocked me back, as I had thought I’d lots of time left, but now I began to fear that I was going to miss the cut off. I had little or nothing left in the tank, and I was getting further and further behind schedule. The blisters on my feet began to hurt to add to my woes. And the accursed rain continued to fall.

By the time I got over this pass, I was in fairly bad shape. You can hide under training in a lot of sports, but ultra running isn’t one of them. The course would well and truly kick my ass from now on.

Catherine and Lee encouraged me on, as my pace fell to a shambling walk/trot. Soon Fran appeared with his partner and fellow triathlete Trish, and Fran fell in beside me to keep me going. As the miles wore on, my pain got worse – I could now feel the blisters on my toes popping, and I have never known anything like it. It wasn’t pleasant.

Fran has an extremely calm demeanour, and I think his presence definitely helped prevent me falling apart at this stage. He’d make an excellent psychiatrist.

The road wound on. I passed the 10k sign for Waterville, where the finish line lay waiting. Then, what seemed like days later, the 5k sign. I was in very bad shape now, my body was one big ball of agony, and I could feel my willpower fading. I kept telling myself to think of my boys, to think what it would be like to face my sons if I quit. I stumbled on.

Jim came back, and he replaced Fran as my pacer. Jim had a very no-nonsense approach. He simply told me that he and I were going to finish, that he was going to set the pace, and that was that. I don’t know how he did it, but he made me run the last couple of miles.

We passed the 3k sign. Members of my club, Born To Run, began to appear. They shouted me in. I will never forget, as long as I live, stumbling in the last few miles with these amazing friends, my son alongside me, and turning the last bend in the darkness.

The main street of Waterville lay ahead, and it was amazing. I was the last runner home, but damn, did they make it count. Cars hooting and flashing lights, camera flashes, and the whole crowd cheering. I’ve never had a finish like it.

Run The Ring Finish
Coming up to the finish line with Lee. I’ll never forget the emotion of this moment.

My companions pulled out, and Lee and I crossed the line together.

What a day, and what a race. I hit the floor as soon as I crossed the line, and the whole agony and emotion hit me at once.

My friends helped me to my feet, the medic checked me out, and I was helped into the hotel where all the runners were. I got another huge cheer as I entered. Who needs to win when you get this for coming last!

I’ve said before that I consider ultra running to be a team sport. There are some runners I’m sure, that can do this all alone, and fair play to them. I’m not one of them. I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of my family, and my running family, nor would I want to. I really feel a huge debt of gratitude to those who helped me finish this race; Catherine and Lee for crewing, and for their patience and love when I needed it, Ashley for crewing and keeping others updated, Geoff, Kerry and Denice for making sure I was ok, Kirsti for sharing the road with me, Fran for helping me on the most difficult section, and Trish for the many offers of water, hats, and bananas, Jim for his infinite patience, and his ability to quietly and calmly and inexorably  make a person do things they know full well they can’t, Mazza, Brian, and Dec for the company and encouragement on the first section, Gill for worrying about me, Adam for knowing that nothing would stop his dad finishing, Mary for getting up at an insane hour of the morning to crew the first section, Marcus for organising it all (illegitimi non carborundum), all the Run The Kingdom team and the volunteers for making it possible, the huge number of people who cheered me in at the end like I’d won it, and made me feel like a hero when I crossed the line. The wonderful, amazing, teammates of mine from Born To Run and Tralee Tri Club who cheered, encouraged, helped, and enquired. The staff of the Sea Lodge Hotel who will probably never get the sweat out of the seat I collapsed into. James for taking some wonderful photographs, and staying until the bitter end. If I’ve forgotten any name, I have not forgotten any contribution – thank you to everyone who helped me through this.

Well done to the amazing Fozzy Forristal who won the individual race, Team Liebherr 1 who won the male team event, and Star of the Laune AC who won the mixed team event. Amazing running guys.

Ultrarunning isn’t for everyone, and you wouldn’t want to go into one thinking you are doing a 10k, but the pain is in direct proportion to the reward. You have to want to finish it, and be prepared to suffer for it, in order to succeed. I have never come across a sport like it, where people are prepared to inflict such enormous suffering on themselves, purely  so they can prove to themselves they are capable of it, but I can say this – it is something to behold. Can’t wait for the next one.

 

Are You a Female Ultrarunner?

Dr. Irene Kavanagh is a member of the same running club as me, Born To Run, and she is currently studying for an MSc at the Department of Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. As part of her studies, she is carrying out a research project, the topic of which is ‘A quantitative exploration of mental toughness and positive well being in female ultra runners.

She is looking for female ultra runners to complete an online survey – please see below:

AMATEUR FEMALE ULTRA RUNNERS REQUIRED FOR BRIEF ONLINE RESEARCH SURVEY!

Female ultra runners are elite endurance athletes and a very rare sporting population. Help us to understand your motivations and personal attributes, to gain further insight into women who undertake this remarkable endurance sport, by completing our quick and easy anonymous online survey.

Please click on the link below if you wish to participate. Your participation is greatly appreciated and will benefit both our understanding of sports performance and its wider application to mental health and positive well being. THANK YOU!

Anonymous Survey Link 

A Busy Weekend

Although I didn’t have any race this weekend, it was still a pretty busy one. I got up at the ungodly hour of 1:30am on Friday night/Saturday morning to help out Mazza and her team get Tralee Town Park ready for the Darkness into Light Walk. Mazza, who organised the decoration of the park did an amazing job, and Poshey did the people of Tralee a huge service by organising this event. I hope the town recognises his efforts in some way.

Once I had finished in the park, I headed home for a couple of hours of fitful sleep, before getting up again at 8:30am and heading back to the park to do the Tralee parkrun 5k with Lee. It was remarkable that there was no sign of all the activity the night before – kudos to the work of all the volunteers.

I had a reasonably alright parkrun – I still had some stiffness from a tough strength and conditioning session on Thursday night, and I was tired before I started, knowing that this was only the first of two runs for the day, so I was happy enough with a 28:53, all things considered. Lee finished well ahead of me for a 27:43, and was happy to beat the old man again.

After the parkrun I headed back home, and just had time to change into fresh running gear before heading out for a tough, hilly 8 miler with Catherine. I knew this was probably not going to be easy, what with the lack of sleep, and having already done a 5k beforehand, but even so, it rocked me a bit! For the first time in a long, long time, Catherine discovered she was able to leave me behind on the hills, as I simply didn’t have the energy in my legs. We climbed the brutal Tonevane hill in the first half of the run, and there were moments I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep going. I stuck it out however, and was glad to get such a tough test under my belt. I was in bits in the last mile or two before we finished, and the Rugby Club Hill never felt so long!

top of tonevane
Feeling the burn on top of Tonevane Hill!

Sunday was a bit more relaxed, as my eldest son Adam made his confirmation, so the only exercise I got was overeating!

Adam Confirmation
Adam, The Rt. Rev’d Kenneth Kearon, Lee, Catherine, and me.

All in all, a tough weekends training, that hopefully will stand to me over the next few weeks – I am well behind schedule for my seasons 100k training, so I need a few more of these weekends!

I think I will do the Lakes of Killarney Marathon next week to see where my fitness is – I got a PB there last year, but don’t think I’ll be repeating that feat this year.