Race Report From This Year's Burren Marathon Challenge from Deirdre Hassett

A philosophical question: is it possible to win if technically you’re not racing, sort of like a tree falling in the forest? I had a couple of goals for the Burren half marathon this year - as my second attempt, one goal was to stay on course (after a disastrous stray off course last year by the whole field on a badly marked route) and the other was to use it as a nice challenging training run (it not being a race would make it easier to stick to the goal pace). Last year we ended up bog hopping across the top of the Burren as a result of getting lost; this year should be much easier. So I thought.

With over a thousand people entered in the 10km, half marathon and full marathon challenges, Ballyvaughan was awash (literally) with well kitted walkers and cold looking runners on Saturday morning. It was pelting rain but with foolish optimism, I stuck with the club singlet and my trusty many-pocketed marathon shorts. I started the race with my Minnesota based friend Helen who snuck in a last minute full marathon entry - her report can be seen here:

We started right at the front - once again Brendan Gleeson started the race - and took off at a nice steady pace. As it was a ‘training’ run we took off at a nice steady pace - around 7:40 min. miles, which felt comfortable (and I suspect a tad slow for the speedy Helen) and settled into the first few miles on road. I was delighted to meet Johnny Donnelly of the Saw Doctors and ‘Run Johnny Run’ fame( en route before the marathon and half marathon routes parted company. Having seen him out in Connemara with Mick Rice in February I recognised him and I’d already signed up with his fundraising group for the Dublin marathon so it was fun to meet him - I got a bit of gossip on his work setting up the stage for the Volvo race festival (he was running the full marathon for ‘stress relief’!) before the route turned off road and I ran out of air.

A couple of miles of green road had turned into a sloshy quagmire - at this point Helen (an accomplished trail runner) moved ahead and I slopped along as best I could. After a mile or two of this the road turned solid again and the marathon group parted left and we turned right. At this point I noticed a couple of women chasing me down really hard - I also realised at this point that I seemed to be doing better going uphill than downhill - my pursuers would gallop furiously past me on the downhills while I crept steadily past them on the uphills. Some kind of not-a-race appeared to be on.

Helen and Dee

Helen and Dee

A small boy waved bananas and apples hopefully at us at the six mile water stop; I drooled energy gel back at him. Around mile seven or eight (where it all went fruit shaped last year), I waited for the route to take us back onto the road. I looked up to see the snail trail of runners winding right up to the top of the Burren again. At least this year the trail was very well marked so I was in no doubt of being on the right route The trail was so steep that at points it was more efficient to walk/ hike. At the top, the path quickly lead into limestone rock, which forced a sort of hopscotch scramble along the route. It was bitterly cold and my arms were raw in my singlet. Pace was well out the window at this stage but I had dropped my enthusiastic pursuers at this stage so suspected I was the first woman. After a short while we turned left (the mistake point of last year) to run along the Burren ridge. While it had been raining for much of the race the view had cleared and we were looking down over the spectacular sea view between Fanore and Ballyvaughan. I was torn between the view and making the hell sure I didn’t fall off the side of the Burren. The course organisers had gone from one extreme to the other and we’d swung from last year’s almost unmarked course to this year’s route which had thoughtfully understated signage like ‘Rough Terrain Ahead’. I’d battered my left ankle a bit at some point which made the going tough as I had to favor my right foot for the more balletic leaps. There is a seminal 1970’s philosophy book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which describes the concept of ‘flow’ which is about being so deeply involved in something that all you are thinking about is that current task. The joy of hill running is the extremes - on a flat race you pick a pace and stick to it (approximately); here the crawling heart bursting uphills are contrasted with technical sections where the heart rate comes down, and heart-in-mouth descents; the mind is focused intensely on the task at hand. I remember thinking at some point as I looked out across the sea and picked my way along, all-consumed with staying on course; covered in mud and freezing cold; that I was having a Perfectly Marvelous Time.

We turned right after a mile or so to take in a very long, slippery, muddy, technical descent back to the road. As I descended closer to the road; a few people cheered me as first lady - exciting; but I looked back to see the second woman - clearly far more used to hill running than I - descending in my footsteps like the Hound of the Morrigan. I made myself as much of a nuisance as possible in taking up the narrow trail but she stormed past me just before we hit the road with about three miles left.

We hit the road almost together. With a flat three miles home, my legs felt good and my competitor’s pace slowed a little so I decided to kick for home. My favourite bit of racing advice comes from Ray in the Galway tri club; who has been at the forefront of many races, and pointed out that ‘everyone else is hurting like hell even if they look fresh, the trick is to make them think you’re hurting less’. I took off confidently at around seven minute mile pace, crossed my fingers and didn’t look back. I certainly was hurting like hell for the last two km; at this point we were meeting the stragglers from the 10km route and there was some shouting of “Runneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!” as I tried to cut a straight path through and most of all Not Look Back. A few hundred meters from home I took a sneaky look behind, the coast was clear. I crossed the line at 1:47:30 - a cheer for me as first woman home (as it’s a walking club event, there is no official record of times). Considering the terrain (and the fact that it was, ahem, a training run) I was very happy with my time.

Helen did a glorious marathon time to come in as second finisher overall in 3:24. We celebrated with a brief soak in the sea and pasta with clams in Linnane’s of Newquay.

I paid the price for a hard day’s running with a dismally slow 5km the following Tuesday in Loughrea, but it was worth it.

And, philosophically I decided, yes – it was a win.

Zen and The Art...

Zen and The Art...