My next race will be the Kerry 24 Hour Endurance Race. This will be a big test of where I am mentally and physically after my travails in the 100k, and I’m really looking forward to it (though I wish I’d more training done!). The race was originally scheduled to take place on a running track, but has been moved to Tralee Town Park, where the Tralee parkrun takes place. This move could be interesting, and will certainly be more scenic!
The course consists of 0.75 mile laps of the park, and it starts at 12pm on Saturday, September 24th, and ends, not surprisingly, 24 hours later, at 12pm on Sunday.
If you are in the area, and aren’t up for running it, be sure to drop in and give us some encouragement.
There are 12 hour and 6 hour versions running at the same time. I’ve a feeling I’ll be very envious of those runners on the day! I believe there are still places available through Run The Kingdom for anyone interested.
My eldest son’s school, CBS The Green, which is adjacent to the park, is organising a fundraising 5k starting at 1pm on the Sunday, with registration available at the school – I’m considering entering it – surely an hours rest will be enough for a 5k……
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s really, really far, and really, really tough. When you complete it, you might just feel a little too epic.
You would become one of the .02% of the population that has completed an ultra – who wants to be part of a group that exclusive?
All that training will make you super fit – you’ll get sick of explaining to your doctor that 40bpm is actually your normal heart rate, and have you thought of what you’ll do with all that extra lifespan you could get?
You might offend your marathon runner friends by referring to 26.2 miles as a training run.
Every time you go for a 4 or 5 hour drive, you will be annoyed by the thought that you would have enjoyed running it more.
You will spend weeks resisting the temptation to start every conversation with “When I ran my ultra…….”
When anyone tells you about some tough task they have to do, you will want to sigh and roll your eyes.
Ultras are addictive – one is never enough.
Think of all the poor shoes you’ll kill.
When you complete an ultra, you will realise that nothing is impossible for you. Do you really want to change the way you look at the world that much?
Ultrarunner Carmen Byrne is carrying out a survey on emotions when ultra running, for a future article she is publishing. It is just 8 questions if you have a few minutes – I found it quite interesting to do! The article will be published in Ultra magazine.
Carmen is doing a PhD, and is interested in the relationship between mind and body.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
In a few hours I’ll be taking on the beautiful Ring of Kerry (or 102km of it anyway) in the RTK Run the Ring Dusk to Dawn Challenge. There are 2 races in this – the individual 102km race that I’m doing, and a 183km team relay event.
If you are badly stuck for something to do (and want to see just how slow I really am), you can track all the runners here.
Best of luck to all the runners, team and individual, and to the organisers and volunteers. A big Thank You to all the crews, without whom this wouldn’t be possible. See you at the finish line on Saturday evening!
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!
I came across a very interesting little device this week, called the Kinematic TUNE. The device consists of a pair of electronic insoles that go in your running shoes, and connect with senders that clip onto your shoe. These then send information on pressure points, land time, dwell time etc. to an app on your smartphone.
This information is then used, via special software, to build a personalised running plan for you. It also claims to detect asymmetries in your running form, and can advise on specific improvements, and exercises to improve your form.
I have been asked to trial this device, and I will report back on how I find it, and whether it helps to improve my running or not. I am certainly keen to try it, given the work I did on my running form in recent times.