Lyall Guiney has shared his report on his brilliant run in Connemara recently. This can also be found on his blog Race the Blue Line.
There was some craic on the bus to the start line. A load of the Marathon Club Ireland guys were on it, and once we started passing the Ultra runners after Peacock’s hotel they were banging on the windows and shouting at their buddies down on the road. There was lots of sardonic Cork humour and insults and jokes flying around. It was great, it totally took my mind off the run. I’d spent the last 24 hours as a nervous wreck – as usual before a big race – so this was a welcome distraction.
I lined up with a handful of athletic-appearing runners at the front of the field. There weren’t many singlets on show besides my Athenry outfit. Almost 600 lined up behind us. Lezan Kimutai, eventual 4:07 winner of the Ultra, had just passed us in his own Athenry AC singlet, with a third of his race complete. Ray counted us down. I set my Timex Ironman stopwatch going and looked ahead along the shore of Lough Inagh.
I immediately fell into a “hard but comfortable” pace – whatever that happens to be, I’ve learned to trust myself. I was 6th in the lead pack, with the front five pulling a little ahead, and the sound of footsteps just behind me. A few strides into the second mile I settled into 8th position, as two pairs of footsteps eased past. Frowning at the concession, I glanced at my watch, then afforded myself a little chuckle; this was my 10-mile pace.
I had a decision to make straight away. The wind was behind and to the left. I had offered up a blind prediction to a few friends that I was going to finish no worse than 5th. And despite some significant hypochondria for the last 24 hours, I felt really great. But having just dropped a couple of places to 8th, and being way inside my established marathon pace, I could easily have thought: “Okay let’s be realistic. Let’s hang on here for a bit, ease off the pace, and if another couple of lads overtake, there’s still a top 10 finish to target.”
I thought that for a few seconds. Then I squashed that idea, and replaced it with this one: “I said I was going to finish no worse than 5th. That means that nobody else will pass me. And I must pass three runners in the next 25 miles. Be brave and run hard. Go.”
Thus I tucked into a steady, uncompromising cadence, with the tranquil but inspiring notes of Einaudi’s Andare on repeat in my mind – matching the rhythm of my legs. I had a few Ultra runners to catch first. The marathoner opponents could wait a while. It was a long way to the finish.
- Mile 1: 5:48 - 6th position, falling to 8th just after the marker.
- Mile 2: 6:00 – Considered backing off but kept it steady.
- Mile 3: 6:08 – Tempered a little by the slight ups and down.
- Mile 4: 5:53 – But only a little, effort was consistent. Ray saluted as he passed me out on the motorbike.
- Mile 5: 6:36 – Just a nasty uphill section.
- Mile 6: 5:58 – Closing in on John Cronin and Jerome Debize (GCH in 3rd and 4th place in the Ultra). Took my first gel here ahead of the water station. I knew that later today, with hills and headwinds to come, energy levels would sap – so keep them topped up.
- Mile 7: 6:06 – Passed the two GCH lads on the little incline just after the turn onto the N59.
- Mile 8: 6:19 – I had stayed within a couple of hundred metres of the 7th place marathon runner. He maintained a more or less constant lead in these miles.
- Mile 9: 6:24 – Up a short, sharp climb. Couldn’t close the gap on the man up ahead.
- Mile 10: 6:00 – Starting the long descent into Leenane. With the strong tailwind now fully at our backs, the splits dipped back into ‘serious’ territory.
- Mile 11: 5:48 – My fear at this point was pounding my quads into a pulp as I thundered down the hill. It had started to rain as well, but it was barely noticeable with it at our backs.
- Mile 12: 6:01 – Took 7th position. I’d been gradually reeling him in over the last mile, only half realizing it. When it came to it, I sailed past him.
- Mile 13: 6:01 – Took the second gel a little ahead of the water station. Very steady along the flat into the town of Leenane.
- 0:45 to half: 1:19:47 - my fastest ever half-marathon by well over 3 minutes! It also told me that I was going to PB today, no matter what the second half threw at me. It was not going to be one of those days when it all falls apart.
- Mile 14: 6:35 – Now it began for real. First challenge – the hill, from about 13.5 to 14.5 mile distance. Got a shout on from Mr. Shaw and possibly a couple of other friends at the turn in Leenane – I was only half aware. All focus was on the work ahead.
- Mile 15: 6:44 – The hill finished, but the undulating second half continued ahead. Still, it’s always a relief when that seemingly unrelenting drag on your legs finishes; when your lungs get just that little bit of respite. More importantly: 6th place was now in my sights, and I was gaining.
- Mile 16: 6:25 – Iain passed me in the car. The third gel got scoffed before the water station at the end of the mile. I caught the 6th place man just after the mile marker. He had slowed to a walk. I shouted at him: “come on buddy”, and he started moving again behind me, but I made sure to set a punishing pace for the next half-mile to encourage him to fade away in my wake.
- Mile 17: 6:16 – Holding steady, just eating up the miles.
- Mile 18: 6:03 – One of the few nice, flat miles in the second half. Cruising past walkers at nearly 6-minute pace, feeling great, feeling solid.
- Mile 19: 6:55 – Significant climb in this mile. And the headwind. I had a bleak moment mentally, amidst all the half-marathon walkers, where I felt a wave of weariness wash over me.
- Mile 20: 6:13 – Straight back to sub 6:20 once the profile leveled out. I think I was outputting a consistent effort level through all these miles, with the hills, the gusting wind and occasional rain causing most of the variance in pace. Ray passed me again on the bike.
- Mile 21: 6:21 – At about this point a cyclist came up beside me and told me I was “7th or 8th”… “6th !” I shouted back triumphantly, thinking how any runner after 21 miles would prefer no information to wrong information. And rather optimistically: “And I’m gonna finish fifth!” He didn’t seem to think much of that but assured me I was “on for a good time”. Genius! :-P
- Mile 22: 6:08 – I just burned through this mile, steeling myself for the final climb. Peter Brandon – one of my new Kenyan club-mates! – passed me just after crossing the bridge in Maum – the only half-marathoner to do so before the finish. Fourth and final gel with the water stop at the end of this mile. Fuel for the Hell of the West.
- Mile 23: 7:11 – The first few hundred metres are on the flat, but the rest of it is straight up hill. And then it continues relentlessly for another mile, with a gale blowing you back, blowing you off the road.
- Mile 24: 7:22 - There are so many “KOH” signs that cycling clubs paint onto the roads around Connemara, but there are none that make me snarl with satisfaction more than that alongside the 24 mile marker here. And an extra reward: the 5th place runner was in sight.
- Mile 25: 6:33 – My legs were on fire now but I pelted down the hill in chase. No let up – taking 5th place had to feel inevitable. I was battered by rain and wind, but if I was closing him down, it meant he had to be feeling even worse. So I pushed and pushed, flying past spectators wandering out to the top of the hill. I caught the runner with a little bit of road still to cover before the mile marker. I didn’t look at him, I didn’t make a motion or utter a word. No consolation. I ran straight past. 24 miles ago I’d promised myself that I was taking 5th position or better, and if there was any fight left in this guy, I wanted to crush it.
- Mile 26: 6:50 – For the love of… the last mile is flat, but it had to be the windiest of the whole course. I was fighting for every forward step. But I knew this was it – everything had worked out. I had a massive PB and I had 5th place, on one of the most beautiful yet terrible marathon courses in the world. I glimpsed Jim and Francis as I cleared the 26 mile marker – best of luck in London! – and tumbled towards the finish straight.
- Finish: 1:15 – sprinted home, fist in the air, second half in 1:26:04
Stopwatch: 2:45:53 | Gun + Chip: 2:45:51 | Place: 5th
A completely acceptable positive split of 6:17.
This was the greatest athletic performance of my life. Compared to some of my peers, it’s not saying much, and I know I’ve got more to come. But for now, I believe it to be true. I’ve never ran as bravely in any other marathon. The first half was a foray into the unknown, and I maintained the effort levels from the first mile to the final step. My determination and self-belief has been there in previous long-distance races, but I’ve always had some reticence in pacing strategy. Today, I literally threw all caution to the wind, and fought tooth and nail for every second.
Ray, Angela, Iain, James, Bridget and Alan should all be able to attest to one thing: I was utterly happy after crossing that line. I was so happy, so crazily happy with what had happened over the past two and three-quarter hours. Not even that it had finished, as such – this wasn’t a feeling of relief. It was simply delight with what had happened. I’d actually finished 5th. After the first mile, I had no genuine knowledge that I’d be able to reel in those other runners, just a determination to do so. Furthermore, I’d demolished my previous PB, a time with which I had been really rather content. And to have done so on that course, in those conditions. I’ve felt ecstatic after races in the past, but this was different. There was a sense of holistic fulfilment this time, which I have never quite felt before.
I could barely stand upright. So, after hugging and shaking hands with all concerned, I wandered off to collect the t-shirt and my gear, and to sit down for a while. Mick gave us a lift back to the car in Oughterard. A Scotties double-stack burger (and a brownie sundae) rounded out the afternoon a little later.
… 8 weeks to Cork…