Published in Reports on 7th April 2008
Connemara Ultra 2008
5 minutes before the 9am start time 100+ runners haul themselves out of a nice warm bus at the start line. Cold!
Ray informs me I don't have enough time to get in my extra 0.7 mile run that I needed to bring my mileage up to 40miles ... just go! This is a 39.3 mile race but I want to run 40 to celebrate my 40th year. Without another thought I started off towards Leenan, ran for 2mins and turned back. Got about 4mins of running done (a half mile?) and arrived back to the start where 100+ people were singing Happy Birthday to me (Thanks Ray!!!)
Without further ado we're off.
Started mid-pack and eased up to fifth position within the first mile. Knew straight away that the four ahead of me were travelling too fast for me and I let them go.
First 5 miles I was a nervous wreck - I'm too fast, no I'm too slow, my legs are really heavy, it's too windy, I've too many layers, I shouldn’t have worn the lightweight shoes, I haven't enough clothes ... I never felt so tempted to bail out of a race as I did in those first 5miles.
Reached the 5m mark in 33:30 – 15 sec's ahead of target. Can still see four runners ahead of me.
Next 5m I began to settle. Completely alone most of the time. Wind became a factor whenever there was no shelter and I knew that turning towards Lough Inagh would soon mean turning into the wind. This section was a bit downhill and I ran a little too fast. Hit 10m in 1:06:03 almost 90sec's ahead of schedule. Wasn't too worried as I believed the wind would soon knock back those 90sec's.
Onwards through Recess and a right turn for Lough Inagh. The valley looked more spectacular than I’d ever seen it before. Connemara looks different every time you visit. Today it was bathed in strong sunshine, contrasted with dark snow clouds and finished with a bright rainbow. The mountains were topped in snow and reminded me of scenes from The Lord of the Rings.
Windy. It took a bit of concentration to keep a pace going. It’s still early days but I’m forced to work.
I passed the Full Marathon start 2 or 3 mins before they were due off and the adrenaline must have been pumping through the crowd because they roared me along as if I was a rock star coming out on stage.
Only the very occasional glimpse of the guy in fourth place way ahead of me. A shower of hailstones to sharpen the senses.
Hit 15 miles in 1:39:34. I’m now 140 sec’s ahead of schedule. I knew at the time I was a bit fast but now with hindsight I realise that I was going way too hard. For the first 15 miles I ran almost 10 seconds quicker than planned for every mile – that’s not race-destroying fast but it’s pushing it!
Still battling against the wind, and still very much on my own I ran on towards the turn for Killary Fjord. Once I turned towards Killary the northerly wind was no longer into my face but was from my left. A few hills to contend with here. Somewhere about the 20 mile mark I was overtaken by the two lead marathoners – a bit of company at last, but they didn’t hang around to talk. Completed 20 in 2:13:20. I was still 140 sec’s ahead of target having slowed to my target pace for that 5m stretch.
A bit of downhill and then the long run along the fjord into Leenan with an inevitable headwind. At the 25.1m mark I was 75 sec’s ahead of target and slowing a bit. I was glad to make it past the start of the half-marathon before the masses descended from their perch on the Louisburgh road.
I passed the 26m mark and I estimate that I covered the marathon distance in 2:56:10. To put that in perspective it's my third best marathon time from twelve races to date, so I wasn’t exactly dawdling. Now only the tough bit to go … my five-mile splits so far 33:30, 32:33, 33:31, 33:46 and 34:50. Anybody see a trend?
Up the Devil’s Mother. A killer hill at the best of times, I recorded my slowest mile to date with an 8:12 effort. Not overly concerned as I was still in reasonable shape. I thought I’d be able to pick it up when I got back to level ground. Only problem was there’s very little level ground between where I was and where I was trying to get to. I think it was somewhere along here that I passed an ultra-marathoner and moved into fourth place. Now the wind is blowing from behind me, and I know it'll stay there until the finish.
Took me 36:40 to cover the 5 miles to 30m. I expected the hill out of Leenan to slow me down by a minute or so, but it actually slowed me by about two min’s; for the first time in the race I’m a little behind schedule.
Three-quarter’s completed. I’m slowing up but not in any major discomfort. By now I’ve loads of company as half marathoners are passing me steadily. As they go, they can see my Ultra label pinned to my back and many of them cheer me on.
Now the downhills start to hurt a bit, I can’t stand the thoughts of another carbo gel, my ability to think has deserted me and I feel as if I’m shuffling instead of running. But I remember the text my friend Rachel sent me the night before – “enjoy every mile” she said. So I did. I started to enjoy the sore joints, the slow movement, the people encouraging me, the sunshine, the scenery and I kept running.
40 mins and 58 seconds later I passed the 35m mark. Now I’m averaging only 8:12 per mile and the Hell of the West is still ahead. Enjoy every mile!
At this stage I’ve been passed by lots of Athenry club-mates running the full and half marathons. Each and every one of them gave me great encouragement as they passed – and each and every one of them appeared to be running at 100mph compared to me. Thanks for the support lads and ladies.
So, five miles to go including a mile-and-a-half climb up the Hell of the West. I’ve read many reports written by ultra marathoners and they usually involve horrific pain, insurmountable problems, massive blisters, toes falling off and so on at this stage of a race. I know that 40 miles is short in the world of ultra’s but I honestly didn’t feel any bad discomfort or pain. Sure the downhills were hard, and an occasional twist of my foot or hard landing would expel a groan from deep in my belly, but I was ok. I was just unable to run. I shuffled.
About half-way up the hill I was joined by an angel. Actually he was a fully grown man complete with a moustache but in my delirium he was an angel sent from heaven. He obviously took pity on my ridiculous efforts at running uphill (the 36th mile took me 10 min’s!) and decided to run alongside me. It simply meant that I was able to focus on keeping pace with him rather than doing it alone as hoards of half-marathoners and marathoners streamed by. We crested the hill together; I managed a nod towards Frank Haines’ memorial tree and then pushed on with a bit of a surge towards home. The angel said something about a good recovery and I didn’t see him again. Two miles to go.
Somewhere on the ascent I had been passed by an ultra-marathoner. I had overtaken Peter Palmans at the 1-mile mark and he got his revenge after about 36. When he passed me it took some time for the fact to register in my brain. I decided to give chase. In my head I took off after him like a bullet from a gun, but in reality I managed to speed up for two or three steps and then was completely unable to do anything at all about it. Well done Mr Palmans.
I was completely unaware that Helena Crossan had also passed me en route to her new course record. Helena finished in fourth position overall, proving once again that women are well able to hold their own against men in very long races.
The last two miles went well for me. I picked up the pace considerably and ran in with 7:36 (downhill) and 7:49 (flat) splits. I raised two arms high as I passed under the gantry happy in the knowledge that never again would I run an ultra marathon.
Then I turned around and ran back out the course a bit. Remember, I didn’t get my 0.7 miles completed at the start? I jogged another 0.2 miles before stopping. I needed to do that – 40 miles for my 40th birthday.
My record in Connemara
2002 Half-Mar 1:25:06 3rd
2003 Marathon 3:04:30 8th
2004 Marathon 3:28:57 41st I paced a group for a sub-3:30 finish
2005 Marathon 3:03:23 8th Peter Palmans won the marathon that year
2006 Half-Mar 1:29:27 18th
2007 Half-Mar 1:22:47 9th
2008 Ultra-Mar 4:42:33 6th