Guest Post: Cross Training For Improved Marathon Times

This is a guest post from my friend and fellow Tralee Tri Club member Den McCarthy, on how cross-training and Strength and Conditioning has helped his marathon times. Check out Den’s blog There Will Be Hills.

Firstly, thank you Randall for the opportunity to give my take on marathon running and how cross training with the Tralee Triathlon club has impacted on my times. Now, this is an ongoing process that, I hope will yield a big success, at the Berlin Marathon in September 2016.

So, who am I?
And what qualifies me to give this advice?

To answer the second question first, nothing! I am a very ordinary runner. It really is a case of what works for me and what doesn’t. I will give you some background to my running and what I have learned and changed over the course of my 8 Marathons.

So, two and a half years ago, at the age of 47, I had quite a change in my personal life and was urged by my younger brother, Brendan, to get back into running. Back in the 80’s, during the great running boom, I took part in many 10k races with my dad. But this fell by the wayside after college, with work and family taking priority. My current job entails spending quite a bit of time on the road so I always had the excuse that I didn’t have the time to train.

In June 2013, I was fortunate to read about Born To Run, (right here in Tralee) and after meeting Marcus Howlett, I signed up for the training program for the Rose 10k in August of that year. A wise move, as it opened the door to a wide circle of friends, who were all quite new to this running lark.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider running a full marathon, but, shortly after finishing my first 10k, I took the plunge. Part of me wanted to rediscover my youth – and get back to near my times for the 10k runs from yesteryear – and another part wanted to finish a marathon with my brother. Now, Brendan was a veteran of a number of marathons at this stage, with times around 3 hours 30 minutes. There was my target!
He told me that it would take me five or six marathons to discover how to run them correctly and added that I would learn a great deal about myself when I complete my first one. How right he was!
I threw myself into the training, with gusto, and discovered a strength in my legs from all those years ago. Muscle memory is a great thing. I completed my first marathon in March 2014 with a time of 4 hours 10 minutes – shattered, after hitting the wall and over hydrating.   What a wonderful feeling though – to finish a 26.2 mile run. I was hungry for more.
I signed up for Dublin in October 2014 but after a summer blighted with injury and tendonitis, I discovered I was running all wrong!! After one visit to the Tralee Physiotherapy Clinic, my problems were sorted. All I had to do was retrain myself on how to run, by reducing my stride and increasing my cadence. I broke four hours in Dublin but blistered very badly. Through the winter, I continued working on my running form and did my second marathon in Tralee in 3 hours 47 minutes. This time, I had the benefit of getting my feet taped.

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Crossing the line at the 2014 Tralee International Marathon

In July 2015, while running a marathon in Courtmacsherry, as part in the Keith Whyte Waterfront Ultra Marathon, I was fortunate to fall into step with a seasoned runner. His advice was on Long Slow Runs, with the emphasis on ‘Slow’. All my previous long runs were pretty much at marathon pace. This resulted in my feet being constantly in need of repair and also, I was tired when it came to marathon day.
With the Berlin Marathon coming at the end of September, I was on a different training plan to my friends in Born To Run, so I did quite a bit of solo running. On the advice of a friend, I added walking barefooted on the beach, some cycling and hillwalking to my training regime.

This brings me to Berlin 2015 – my sixth marathon. Had I learned enough?
To summarise, I messed up with nutrition and hydration in my first two – and hit the wall.
Dublin taught me not to put Vaseline on my feet, if you are not used to using it.
Tralee II, with a new running form, had me singing the praises of chiropody felt and also that sweet potato is excellent for nutrition.
Courtmacsherry gave me the benefit of slowing down and that rest is important.

3 hours 31 minutes is the answer. A day when everything worked. Nutrition, hydration and a flat course. I was so well rested, I thought I was under trained. Of course Brendan finished eight minutes ahead of me. Berlin really rocked, but the target of finishing with him is still to be achieved.

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Berlin 2015

Now this brings me to the whole reason for this post. As I had briefly considered doing the Tralee 100k Ultra in August 2016, I knew that my feet would never hold up to the long and frequent training runs, the decision was made to join the Tralee Triathlon club. I needed to build up my strength and endurance. Cross training seemed to be the way to go. The Tri club would give me access to threes disciplines, (because one is never enough), but also strength and conditioning classes, nutrition advice and a fantastic support structure.

The 100km went by the wayside when I got accepted to run Berlin again. But, I was curious to know just how much triathlon training would help. My first task was to learn how to swim. With a dislike of water, it was really just a matter of throwing myself in at the deep end, or should I say, sink or swim.
The Tri club have organised top quality coaches to cover each discipline and John Edwards of Wild Water Adventures has got us to a point where we are nearly ready for the Open Water swims. All we need is the weather to hurry up and get warm. I know there will be many challenges ahead but swimming has already made me aware of a different level of fitness.

In October 2015, I signed up for the first block of Strength and Conditioning at Nisus Fitness, with an aim of building muscle and losing fat. What an eye opener!! That broken up feeling every Friday and Saturday came against my running times, but I was looking at the bigger picture. The first inkling of the benefits of S&C came in the Run The Gauntlet Half Marathon in November when I had the confidence to go all out, downhill, over the last few miles, safe in the knowledge that my knees were not going to explode. At the end of this block, I got a big surprise, while gaining some muscle, I also gained fat. The reason for this, when explained, made a lot of sense. With all the extra stress that I was putting my body under, I was undoing much of the good work because I was not getting my recovery shakes and protein in during the 20 minute window after a workout. I was also not getting enough quality sleep. On the second S&C block, I have reversed the trend as I am now more focussed on getting my proteins and shakes and rest.

On the cycling front, I had my trusty Mountain bike initially, before swapping it for a Road bike. With cycling Coach Cian Hogan and a wealth of guidance and help from the Tri club, I was finally learning how to ride a bike! The Club spins and Time Trials have been very beneficial. Like the swimming, I have much to learn.

On the running front, top athletes, Maria O Keeffe McCarthy and Milosz Wojcik provide the coaching. I attended some of the speed sessions with Maria but not enough of the Hill/Trail sessions with Milosz, as I still struggle to get up and over any hill of consequence, during a race. In truth, I neglected my running since January, in preference to the swimming and bike. I have only run 150km this year, which is way down on the 380km for the same time period in 2014.

(I promise, I am nearly finished this tale).

Last Saturday, I ran my third Tralee International Marathon. My head was moidered beforehand, with phantom pains and fears of being under prepared. How was all this cross training going to play out? My plan was to beat last years time and aim to get close to 3 hours 40 minutes.

On a perfect day for running (as described by Randall), I tucked in with the 3.30 pacers Chris and Francy and felt strong throughout. I began to drift back a little when we hit the 32/ 33 Km mark (20 miles). I was able to maintain a fairly constant pace to the finish, unlike my two previous Tralee marathons, finishing in 3 hours 34 minutes. Only 3 minutes outside my Berlin time. The two routes are like chalk and cheese. I would happily put this down as my best marathon performance to date.

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Tralee International Marathon 2016

Does cross training work? ABSOLUTELY!!
And especially, when combined with the correct rest and nutrition.

I may ask Randall for another post, when I complete Berlin in September. By then I hope to be a fully paid up triathlete and have the benefit of summer training and some more marathons.

Thanks for your patience in getting all the way to the end.
Den McCarthy
Ok, I will come clean, finishing a marathon with Brendan would be great…….
……… but I really do want to beat him now. J

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Run The Kingdom Endurance Track Race

Registration opens today for the Run The Kingdom Endurance Track Race.
The race has 24 hour, 12 hour, and 6 hour options.

This promises to be a really exciting race, and a huge challenge. It is happening in September at the An Riocht running track in Castleisland, and will be my first 24 Hour race. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’ll see you there if you are up for it!

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Documentary on Ultrarunner Daithí Ó Murchú

Yesterday I got a sneak preview of a documentary IrishTV will be airing soon on ultra runner Daithí Ó Murchú, called Daithí – One man’s journey into the extreme, that focuses on his participation in this year’s Likeys 6633 Arctic Ultramarathon.

Unusually for ultra runners, Daithí tends to keep a low profile, and certainly wouldn’t be the first name most people would come up with when ultra running is mentioned. However, his record is impressive to put it mildly – a National Master Decathlon Champion and record holder, he has also captained the Ireland Masters athletic team to World Championship bronze medals, and national records.

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Daithi during the Likeys 6633 Ultramarathon

The race itself must be one of the toughest physical challenges in the world – 566km, from Eagle Plains, Yukon, to the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, with average temperatures of -30 Degrees Celsius. At the time he entered the race, the DNF rate was an astonishing 99.97%, with only 11 people having ever finished.

The conditions really are brutal – it makes the type of ultras most of us do look like a walk in the park!

The documentary is a brilliant watch – it really gets into the mind of an ultra runner, the huge challenge of running in the arctic conditions, and is a fascinating study of a very complex and driven guy.

Daithí gives us a look at his preparations, his reasons for wanting to run it, and some of the truly amazing experiences he went through. He holds nothing back, and his descriptions of his trials and tribulations make for fascinating viewing. Definitely one to watch and to record for rewatching!

Daithí – One man’s journey into the extreme airs on IrishTV on Christmas night at 10pm UTC.

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Eddie Murphy Memorial Sixmilebridge Ultra Race Report

On Sunday I ran the 30 mile ultra in Sixmilebridge, one of several distances that were run that day (there was a marathon distance and a double marathon also, as well as the option of back to back marathons). Wait, I hear you say, weren’t you supposed to do the double?
Yes I was. However, in the days leading up to this event, common sense began to creep in, and I realised that the training I’d done over the past few weeks (as in practically none) would make the double too much of an ask, so I decided that, unless I felt spectacularly good on the morning of the run, I would opt for the 30 miler. Since I’ve never felt spectacularly good on the morning of any race, I didn’t think it likely that I would this morning.

I left home at the ungodly hour of 4am, and headed to town to pick up Mazza, who was traveling with me. She had also signed up for the double, and was also leaning towards doing the 30 instead.
Weather conditions leaving Tralee were truly awful – a storm (somewhat incongruously named Abigail) was raging, with high winds, and heavy, driving rain.

We arrived in Sixmilebridge in plenty of time for the 6:15 registration, which was just as well, as we got a little lost after arriving while trying to find the registration area, and ended up having a Deliverance moment when my satnav led us down some dark, narrow country lanes before we found where we needed to go.

I discovered at registration that the organisers weren’t as keen on me dropping to the 30 miler as I was, and I still wasn’t sure toeing the line which race I was actually running.

A group of around 12 of us gathered on the start line at 7am, and, after course instructions, and a minutes silence for those killed in the awful attacks in Paris the previous night, we set off.

The course consisted of a one mile loop around the village of Sixmilebridge, with a small switchback at the start/finish area, where there was a marquee for our drop bags, and timing mats. The weather hadn’t improved much, it was pitch dark (necessitating the use of head torches) and the first loop was interesting, to put it mildly.

The route started out on a long uphill stretch, with a left turn at the top bringing us onto a level straight, near the end of which was the short start/finish switchback, then another left brought us on a short downhill, before another left (we’d get really tired of all these lefts) brought us on to the long curve of the uphill section again.

Eddie Murphy Memorial Ultra Route
Eddie Murphy Memorial Ultra Route

I ran the first few loops with the main group, just to get familiar with the course. I knew I wouldn’t stick with them long though, as they were going at well over my usual pace, and I had already decided that I was going to walk the hill after the third or fourth lap.

Despite the weather conditions, I felt pretty good on the early part of this race. I wore a waterproof jacket (my first time ever running a race with a jacket!) which worked well to keep my core warm and reasonably dry. My biggest issue was my runners – the heavy rain, combined with the standing water on the road meant my runners were soaked through fairly quickly – a baptism of fire for the first race in my new Mizuno Wave Inspire 12‘s. Just as well I brought a few spares!

From lap 3 on, I walked the hill, and I have huge respect for those who ran it all the way through – tough doesn’t even come close.

By lap 10 I was well into my stride, the wind and rain had died down a bit (or I had just gotten used to it!) and it had gotten bright. There was also more people around, as the other distances started later, and there was a bit of banter going. I started to think that maybe I wouldn’t have to stop at 30 miles, and the 52.4 might be doable after all.

I stopped briefly at the end of the 13th lap to change my runners, and I couldn’t decide which distance to aim for – I felt good, if not great, I seemed to be making good progress, and everything seemed to be in order. I decided to give it another 5 or 6 laps before making a definitive decision.

A study in suffering!
A study in suffering!

During the walk up the hill on lap 15, my quads started to twinge a bit. This was unusual for me – I get plenty of muscle pain on runs, but it’s usually from my hamstrings or calves – this was a new and unwelcome development. On the next lap it was worse. I met Mazza again on this lap (as she was lapping me!) and we decided to stop and have a quick cup of coffee and decide what to do.

We stopped at the drop bag tent, had a cuppa, and discussed our options. I knew by now that the double probably wasn’t on for me – I had slowed down a fair bit on the last 2 laps, and my quads were aching. Mazza was still undecided, though she wasn’t feeling great. However, I was pretty sure she was going to go for the double – she tends to recover very quickly from setbacks, and she had that determined look in her eyes.

 

We got back on the road, and back into the hamster wheel of one-mile loops. I knew within one lap that the double was definitely off for me – my quads were screaming going up the hill, and weren’t much better on the level sections. My legs were now starting to feel very heavy, and the lack of serious training over the last few weeks, coupled with the testing course was finding me out big time.

By lap 19 I was in real trouble, and started to think for the first time that I might not make the 30 miler. I was well and truly in trouble – I was in lots of pain, and it was no better on the downhill sections that it was on the uphill. For the first time since the halfway point of the Tralee 100k more than a year ago, I thought I might not have a finish in me. At this stage, the support of the other runners became crucial. I knew lots of the other runners, doing all the different distances, and their support and encouragement was amazing. What was more amazing still was the support and encouragement of runners I had never met before. I was constantly being lapped by faster runners, and so many of them went out of their way to keep me going. Everything from a word or two of sympathy, to offers of painkillers, a drink, or just a “keep it going” – it all meant a lot, and definitely helped me. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people I didn’t know, who mentioned that they recognised me from this blog, and enjoyed reading it – that means an awful lot when you are dead on your feet, and your mind wants you to stop.

I just kept doing what I always tell others to do in this situation – put one foot in front of the other, keep moving, no matter how slow – and I was seriously bloody slow! To add to my woes, I started to get some really good chafing – it was so bad in my crotch that I expected my balls to fall out the legs of my shorts at any moment. The post-race shower promised to be bracing.

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I plodded on, head down, like a mule, cursing my lack of training, the weather, hills, and running in general. JJ joined me for a while, as did Brian, and Jim, and Mazza, Michelle, and lots of others, all encouraging me, and helping me get nearer the finish line. Poshey had come up to support us, and made sure I was ok too.

When I got to the end of lap 29, I nearly cried with relief – for the first time in many miles, I knew I was going to make it. I actually almost enjoyed the last lap, and had a bit of banter with a few of the other runners – I even managed to run some of the accursed hill.
I don’t think I have ever been as relieved to cross a finish line. I really was beat when I got there, with nothing at all left in the tank, and my legs felt like lead. This was definitely one to put down to experience. The hubris of taking on an ultra off the back of almost no training is a mistake I won’t make again. Another lesson learned in the great school of distance running. I crossed the line in a time of 6:56:39 – definitely not my finest moment, but lucky to get there!

Mazza, being the beast that she is, continued on and completed the 52.4 miles of the double – she’s bloody tougher than I am!

I owe this finish to all the runners who helped me make it – many of you I know, lots of you I don’t, but I owe you all a debt of gratitude. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again – distance running really feels like a team sport at times, with the way runners support each other.

A big thanks to everyone who helped me in this race, and a big thank you to Vincent, who was an awesome MC as usual, to Poshey for the support (and the pictures!), to the race organisers, and the marshalls, and to the brilliant MCI crew.

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Keith Whyte Breaks 100K Record

Well done to Irish ultra runner Keith Whyte who won the 100km De La Somme race in Amiens, France  on Saturday, beating his own Irish record in a time of in 7 hours, 2 minutes and 42 seconds. As well as being an awesome runner, Keith is one of the most down to earth, approachable guys you could meet.

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Showing The Triathletes How It’s Done

I had planned on doing a long run today, but then I saw that Tralee Triathlon Club were doing a training run on Linehan’s Loop, a tough trail run designed by the great John Linehan. I decided that this would be nice for a change, if a little shorter than planned, but I thought I could always do a second run later on if it proved too easy.

A group of 6 of us (and 3 dogs) met up and travelled to Glenageenty woods, and set off on the trail.
I knew this was a challenging run, and there were a few really good runners here – most of them were Ironman finishers, and were pretty fast, but I wasn’t worried. After all, I’m a hard-ass, hill-eating, ass-kicking, double-digit-marathon-finishing, ultra runner. I eat road and shit PB’s. I’m so tough the bogeyman checks under his bed for me before he goes to sleep. I got this.

The awful realisation of how much I didn’t have this set in at precisely 2.47 miles. At this point, all but one of the triathletes had disappeared off into the distance, bounding gracefully along the trail like a herd of startled gazelle, while I lumbered after them like the world’s oldest, fattest, most fucked up lion. Brendan and his dogs had taken pity on me and held back. I know the exact distance, because at this point I was bent over my knees, dry retching, in between gasps for breath, and had a good view of my Garmin. The only wise decision I had made this morning, not to have breakfast before I set off, was all that saved me making a mess of my shoes. I noted the distance, because it shocked me – I felt like I’d run a tough 20 miles.

After some very slow walking to get my heart rate down, I managed to trot the rest of the loop, holding Brendan back all the way. If I had any doubts about how far behind I was, I met Siobhan coming back along the trail near the end, presumably to check if I was still alive.

Brendan had decided to do a second loop, and, being the sucker for punishment that I am, I decided I’d do a second too – I knew that however bad it was, it couldn’t be worse than the first. I made sure this time that Brendan ran at his own pace though. He took off at a depressingly fast run, proving that I was actually way slower than him! I actually found the second loop easier (though easy is relative here), and even started to enjoy it for the last mile or so. It helped that this section was downhill. The views are spectacular, and it really is a fantastic trail.

Those bloody triathletes, though. I’ll show them next time. Well, maybe not next time, but the time after that.

Tralee 100K Ultra Marathon Race Report 2015

On Saturday, August 1st, I ran the Tralee 100K Ultra for the second time. Last year I had to pull out all the stops to beat the cut-off time, and ended up beating it by just 8 seconds, this year I was determined to go for a slightly less dramatic finish. The best laid plans of mice and men….

I arrived at the start line on Ballyard Hill nice and early, and had time to chat to the other runners and crews, and wish them well. It was a cool, dark morning, but dry and not too cold – perfect running conditions. Soon, the countdown started, and we were off.

Just after the start
Just after the start

I had made a last-minute decision to carry a backpack, as my crew weren’t joining me until later on, and the pack started to annoy me from early on – must try to train more with it to get used to it.
We headed down Ballyard hill, through the outskirts of Tralee, and then headed up the slight incline of Caherslee, before heading out the long road to Ardfert.
I ran this section with a group of my Born To Run teammates, and it certainly shortened the road, as there was great banter as usual.
Unlike last year, when I didn’t eat on the early stages, this time I made sure that I got plenty of food on board, as well as electrolytes.

On the road to Ardfert
On the road to Ardfert

By the time we came to Ardfert, 6 miles or so from Tralee, the sun was high in the sky, and it had gotten warm and bright, though not too hot as yet. I was well and truly sick of my backpack at this stage, and it was causing a hot spot on my back, so I threw it into one of the crew cars, and just carried a water bottle in my hand. We headed for Ballyheigue, another 6 miles or so away, along a relatively straight, slightly undulating road. Passing Ballyheigue, I did a quick scan of how I felt, and everything seemed great – my hamstring was throbbing slightly, but that was only to be expected – overall, I felt really good, though, as Gene Thibeault once said, if you feel good in an ultra, don’t worry, you’ll get over it.

There is a really long, steep hill after Ballyheigue, on the road to Causeway, and I walked this, as, I think, did almost everyone else. This was the start of the very undulating section that loops around Ballyheigue, taking in Causeway and Kerryhead, which broke my spirit last year, so I made sure that I was mentally prepared for it this time.
The road between Ballyheigue and Causeway seemed much shorter this year, and, unlike last year, I was comfortable throughout, and, in fact, it felt almost like a training run. In my visualisation plan for this race, I had broken it down into 10k increments in my head, and the race actually lends itself very well to this, with villages, hills, or landmarks almost every 10k to remind me.

By the time I made it to Causeway, I was feeling fantastic – although a little too warm for my liking, conditions were near ideal, my legs felt strong, my hamstring pain had almost disappeared completely, and I was ahead of my assumed times for each section, without having pushed myself at all.
I turned north in Causeway and set out for Kerryhead, the 16 mile section to bring us past the halfway point and back into Ballyheigue. This section destroyed me last time out, and I was determined that this time, I would beat it and run into Ballyheigue with a smile on my face.

Kerryhead is famous among tourists for its fantastic scenery, and among runners for its many hills, and today I would get a taste of both. My sister Hazel joined me on this section to take over crewing duty from Geoff, who had looked after me really well to this point. Hazel ran this race last year, so she knew the course well, and kept me on point with drinks and fuel. I walked the hills, and kept a sensible pace going on the flats all the way through Kerryhead.

At the top of a particularly steep hill on this section, a hill that everyone I saw walked, an elderly man was cutting a hedge. He shouted out as I passed “How long is this walk you’re all doing” At least I knew I wasn’t the only one walking the hills!

Arriving into Ballyheigue
Arriving into Ballyheigue

I was surprised when I came to the last few miles of downhill section into Ballyheigue – it had seemed so much longer last year. I ran this last bit as fast as I could, and passed the halfway point at around 6:42, which put me on for a sub-14 hour finish – in fact, at this stage, I felt that I could speed up a bit in the second half, and go for a sub-13.5 hour time.
However, within minutes of passing the halfway point, I started to get stomach cramps. They weren’t too bad however, and I didn’t worry too much – I knew I was just a mile or two from Ballyheigue, where I could take a quick break.
I came into Ballyheigue at a flat-out sprint, passing another runner on the way, and felt very happy with myself, even though the stomach cramps had gotten worse. I spent some time in the toilets in Ballyheigue and hoped that was the end of that!
I grabbed some food, changed my shoes and socks, and hit the road again, heading for my next “mental checkpoint” of Banna, around 5 miles away on the main Tralee-Ballyheigue road.
I felt better after my break, and ran this section well, knowing that I was finally heading back towards Tralee instead of away from it. Arriving in Banna I grabbed some electrolytes, and headed for Barrow.

Approaching Banna Strand
Approaching Banna Strand

The road between Banna and Barrow is narrow, twisty, and fairly uneven in places, and can be a bit of a drag. I felt good setting off, but soon the stomach cramps started again. I kept going and hoped they wouldn’t get worse. No such luck. By the time I was halfway to Barrow, I was very uncomfortable – I had to stop running on a couple of occassions due to the pain. I decided I’d get to the top of Barrow Hill and review my situation there. Barrow Hill was, as always, a challenge, but I made it, turned around at Tralee Golf Club, and set off back down. Near the bottom of the hill I got really bad cramps and had to make the first of what would turn out to be many detours into a cornfield. I was in a fairly bad way, and asked my crew to see if anyone had any medication that might help. Karma was certainly kicking my ass – several of my running buddies had advised me to bring Immodium or similar medication, but I had decided I didn’t need it because I NEVER have stomach issues…..
My crew turned up a blank, so I kept going, paying visits to many of the fields and ditches around Barrow and Churchill.
The Barrow to Fenit section was next, and it is one of the toughest parts of the route – around 5 miles of narrow twisting roads, with lots of climbs. The only advantage as far as I was concerned was that I had planned on walking these hills anyway, so I hoped it would give me a chance to recover somewhat.
I actually found this section relatively ok, considering the state I was in. I got to Fenit in one piece, and headed off down the pier to the turnaround. I had gone the last few miles without any major stomach issues, so I hoped I was over the worst of it. Not quite. At the top of Fenit Pier, I had to make a dash to the toilets, and I ended up spending a long (painful) time in there, wondering how the hell there was anything left in my system. Afterwards, I took some electrolytes, but couldn’t eat anything, knowing it wasn’t going to stay in my stomach. I headed off towards The Kerries in a slightly dilapidated state.

Starting up Barrow Hill with Adam, Lee, and Cliff The Dog in tow
Starting up Barrow Hill with Adam, Lee, and Cliff The Dog in tow
Grabbing some sustenance from JJ and Marie at an aid station
Grabbing some sustenance from JJ and Marie at an aid station

This section has been my nemesis over many marathons and I hadn’t been looking forward to it, especially the way I was feeling now. However, Catherine had joined me by this stage to run the rest of the course with me, and she worked hard to keep my spirits up and to force me to keep taking on electrolytes. Overall this section wasn’t too bad, though I could definitely feel myself fading. The cramps in my stomach were back with a vengeance, and Gillian, who was crewing for me, asked the ambulance crew for help. They hadn’t anything on them, but very kindly drove back to base, and told us they would meet us on the course.

After passing through Spa Village, I turned down The Kerries, heading towards Tralee around 3 miles away – though, as we had to detour around Blennerville and Tonevane, I still had around 7 miles to go. Halfway through the Kerries, the ambulance crew were true to their word, and showed up with medication to help my stomach – and it worked brilliantly – within 10 or 15 minutes, all the cramps were gone, and I had no more detours into fields to make!

I knew that all I had left to do was slog it out, and that’s what I did. I was exhausted by the time I got to Blennerville, and was fading fast. The detour around Tonevane seemed to last forever, and, as I did the death march in the canal road towards the finish line, I started to wonder for the first time if I was going to beat the cut-off time. My crew cheered me on, and I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

As I turned the corner of the Brandon Hotel and saw the finish line ahead, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. I put my head down, and, with my sons on either side of me, sprinted for the line.

Just about to cross the line with Adam and Lee at my side.
Just about to cross the line with Adam and Lee at my side.

I hadn’t noted the time for a while, and wasn’t sure crossing the line whether I’d made it or not. I collapsed to the ground as soon as I’d crossed, totally overcome with emotion. I don’t know why, but I was far more emotional this year than I was last year. As all my friends and fellow runners embraced and congratulated me, JJ told me the news – 14:59:59 – I had beaten the cut-off by a single second!

A hug for my boys at the finish
A hug for my boys at the finish

After having a sit-down to gather myself a bit, I stayed on for an hour or so to cheer in some of my Born To Run clubmates who were still on the road, before cold (and the need to get my boys home to bed after a very long day!) got the better of me.

This was another brilliant day by Marcus and his Run The Kingdom team – I really think this is one of the best running events in Ireland, for the sheer scale, difficulty, comradery, and organisation of the whole race. If you are contemplating an ultra, this has to be at the top of your list.

I’d like to thank everyone who made this run possible for me – Catherine, Adam, Lee, Gill, Hazel.
Geoff and his crewmates Kerry, Donna, and Bernadette. Marcus the Boss (without whose guidance and help I wouldn’t be running at all), Jim, Seanie, and all at Run The Kingdom. “Mammy” O’Se (for giving good drinks and great hugs), JJ (a quiet, unassuming star), and everyone else at the aid stations. Karen, Michelle, Laraine, Jim, and everyone else who went out of their way to stop and make sure I was ok. The ambulance crew who went above and beyond the call of duty – I don’t know your names, but a big thanks guys. Frederick for the pics (the ones at the finish line will become family heirlooms!), Sean, Tracy, and Karen for their photos. Cliff The Dog for tolerating a long day, not eating all my sandwiches, keeping the boys amused, and only tripping me up once.
If I have forgotten to mention anyone, blame my memory, not a lack of appreciation – I am acutely aware that running an ultra is a team effort, which I could not do alone. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Once again I will be left with lifelong memories of this day – meeting so many wonderful people, remembering the goal when times were tough, and having a laugh with new friends and old when things were going well. I got to chat to several MCI members that I had seen on the road, but never spoken to before, and I got to see the sheer willpower of some of my Born To Run friends, who had to dig so deep to finish, but who refused to give up – well done to all of you.

Photos of the race are here.

Can’t wait for next year.

Racking up the miles out in Kerryhead
Racking up the miles out in Kerryhead
A hug from Mazza Wonderwoman O'Shea
A hug from Mazza Wonderwoman O’Shea