Portumna 100km - Jim tells his story

Published in Reports on 21st June 2015

I think it all started a long time ago when I was in 3rd class in school, the school sports day was coming up and we had to pick the events we wanted to enter. As a 7 year old you were expected to go in the 60m 80m and 100m, maybe chance the long Jump or the high jump.
But I knew for me these would not be an option as I would only be getting up to speed as the finish line approached and dead last. No I have to go long, so it was going to be the 600m and the mile. Unfortunately the teachers didn't see it that way these 2 events were for the boys of 5th and 6th class, a small schroney lad from 3rd class could do himself damage, no they weren't having that so it was back to the 80m and 100m and last in both races.

So as you can see long distance running has always being lurking around in the back of my head. For a long time it lay dorment there, almost completely undisturbed, with only watching the odd marathon on the tv. Then 3 year ago I made a huge mistake, I joined Athenry AC this was the first mistake, I only joined to do speed and I can still remember the conversion with Frances (I’m only doing speed nothing else). Then came mistake number 2 and I went for a couple of Saturday morning runs and started to meet up with people who seem to have been out all night running, they were training for the 50km in Portumna. They looked normal enough, they even sounded normal but they weren't even training for a marathon they were going to run over 31miles. I had to go and see this, so when the day came we went to Portumna to watch and it was fantastic, they were brilliant they were gods, elite, I was truly in awe of these people, but the monster had well and truly being awoken. The summer wore on and before we knew it the club was in full Dublin city marathon mode.

With very little persuassion I decided to do Dublin and the long runs started and I loved it. Dublin came and I ran it with Kieran and Deirdre, and it was brilliant except a small hiccup at mile 20. The next June we were in Portumna again, this time it was to watch a true legend of distance running the great Ruthann Shehann in the 100km and boy what a sight. She made this distance look effortless, it was amazing to watch. That was it, one way or another I was going to do this I had to, it just wouldn't go away I couldn't get it out of my head.

Last year wasn't a good year on the running front for me, I seemed to be injured or sick all the time. I think it was during the summer that I truly made up my mind it was going to be this year. At the Athenry AC Christmas party I meet Ruthann and talked to her about doing it. She filled me with confidence, so in January with help from Ruthann and Jane Ann I formulated a training plan. It wasn't too bad at first, a few runs a week but then came the new plan, I needed to do back to back long runs of 20 miles plus. This was different, now my weekends were gone, with this life changed, life was very simple for me, Eat, Sleep, Train, Work, Eat, Sleep, Train, Work, there was nothing else. What ever else had to be done Frances had to do it, I was never at home and if I was, I was eating or sleeping. The other problem was food, I was starving all the time Frances would cook dinners for 2 days, and go to speed I would come in and eat the lot thinking it was only 1 dinner.

With the help of Jane Ann and her magic hands I almost managed to stay injury free but as part of training I did the Limerick marathon and ran ridiculously fast in the second half, but it felt great and the following Tuesday ran a fast 5k in Loughrea. The next day my shin was sore so I decided no training till Friday I had a big weekend planned, half marathon on Friday and 2 back to back 50km's on Saturday and Sunday this would be the pinnacle of my training. Friday and Saturday went ok, shin was a bit sore but the usual routine, stretch, roll, cold bath, food, sleep should take care of it.

Sunday morning I set off and everything seemed ok other than the weather it was foul, heavy rain windy and cold After about fifteen miles I could feel the shin and by 20 I was limping, the problem was I was in Derrydonnell and had to get to Craughwell. By the time I made it home the leg was starting to go from under me but I made it, 78 miles done since Friday. I should be ecstatic but this shin business was bothering me. Luckily I had an appointment with Jane Ann for Tuesday. By this time I was expecting the worst news as the swelling had not gone down, I couldn’t see how I'd be ready to run 10km never mind 100km.

So in to Jane Ann, she looks at me coming through the door and say’s your not moving too well. She has a look at it and a poke around and then ask’s how long to Portumna. 23 days, ok she says we need a plan and proceeds to hatch a plan. I couldn't believe it, the 100km was still on, there would be no running for a week, so Jane Ann says seeing as you won't be running for a week I can go a bit harder on you! If you ever hear these words from Jane Ann RUN, run as fast and as far away as you can get, she is about to kill you or at least think she is. But as always she works her magic and a week later I did my last long run, Craughwell to Carnmore airport for the 5k series, I had learned my lesson and this was a very easy 5k, 26 minutes but very happy no complaints, I was ready for Portumna.

The day had finally arrived, it seemed I had waited all my life for this and here it was. A beautiful morning no wind, pleasant not too hot a little chilly if anything. I meet up with Janet as planned and we found we weren't the only Athenry runners there. Mary Kealy and Adam Leadbetter were going in the 50km aswell. Just after 7 am we were off and it felt great to be finally running. For 4 laps of the 5km course myself and Janet ran together at a nice steady pace, every lap Frances had my food ready for me but there was some thing wrong, I could't figure it out I didn't want the food. In all the training runs since Connamara ultra I had followed the same routine, eat every 5km and it was a great way to keep going, every 5km I get to eat again.

On lap 3 I didn't eat, just couldn’t eat and on lap 4 the wheel seemed to come off the wagon, I was feeling dizzy and absolutely no energy. I came to a small wall at about the 2km mark and sat down and thought this is not good. I am 17km into a 100km run and I have no energy and can't eat. I decided to run the rest of the lap back to Frances but when I got to the water station at the marina I found they had coke, 2 glasses of coke and I keep walking. Suddenly I had energy I could run again, got back to Frances and said no more food just coke and red bull.

I didn't know how long this would last I figured this new diet would surely make me sick so I was trying to drink as little coke as possible (I thought this is the way to do100km's) while carrying a bottle of red bull as some sort of comfort blanket in case I run out of steam half way around the course. As the day wore on more club members started to arrive and it was great to see and hear from them, the encouragement was brilliant. I remember Dave Noone running beside me and checking to see if I was alright or needed anything, one more lap and you will be counting down, this was great it's amazing how the little things keep you going.

Then there was a changing of the guard at the second water station Maeve Noone was in charge with Tieran in support. This was great now, I had a big group of supporters at the start line, and when I reached the other end of the course a pep talk from Maeve was fantastic. After another few laps I was beginning to feel that I could make it to the end on just coke and was happy enough with the situation. I knew I was running out of energy as I was having to walk the 100m up the very small slope to Maeve's water station but I was ok as Maeve would come running down with coke and words of encouragement to get me back to Frances for more of the same.

At some point people were getting worried that I wasn't eating and were trying to encourage me to eat when a shout come's from the back I HAVE SAUSAGE ROLLS HERE, Mairead Quinn, wouldn't you know if I had anything in me to throw up it would definitely come up at the thought of sausage rolls.

The next problem was the shin, l had 4 laps to go and was starting to limp at times. I metioned it to Maeve in one of the pep talks, and it was simple, as far as she was concerned take neurofin now, you will be sick later but what the hell you'll have your 100km. The last lap was great, the roar from the gang as I left was worth 2 kilometres at least but it will be a while before I FORGIVE Kieran. Just as I'm leaving he says there are three 100km runner's just ahead of you and you can get them. I can hear the words ringing in my ears you can get them, 3 places higher up the leader board and I also had a quick look at the clock as I passed the finished line 9 hours 29 minutes I could make the ten hours and the 3 places.

Push Jimbo it’s only a 5km easy peasy I can do it. I pushed as hard as I could my legs were wobbling a bit but I knew they were ok and would last. I caught up with the 3 lads and as I passed each 1 asked them what lap they were on, all had to 2 to go (thanks Kieran). But it did help me get the time. The last 3km were wonderful, all the way through the race I didn't look at the km signs because they could drive you mad but I looked at them on the last 3km, 97, 98, 99, and then nothing. Just thought of all the training runs, the wet days, cold days in and out the Dublin road, all the people who ran with me it was amazing. Then when I turned off the track for the last time and you see the finish line it was unbelievable and then you cross that line.

It’s over I have done it, and then suddenly there was everybody all my club friends, my sister Aideen, my Dad, and Frances, the brilliant Frances who for a full 6 months had put her whole life on hold to let me train for this. Handed me my breakfast, had all my meals for the day ready to go, my gear bag packed so I could run home in the evening what ever I needed Frances was their with it. So what can I say, that’s the story of my 100km. I would like to dedicate it to my parents who taught me I can achieve anything I want to in this life, its just about finding the way to do it. My wonderful mother would always say to me you can do it, you can do it. So if you have that thing at the back of your head don't give up on it, you can do it. And what did I learn from the 100k. Never give your kids coke I ran 70 kilometres on just 2 litres of it, no wonder kids are bouncing off the walls. And live in a bungalow if you want to do this sort of thing because stairs are hell the next day.

Jim Leahy