Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Art O Neill Challenge 2012

I was sitting on the bus to Dublin on Friday afternoon, less than 12 hours before the start of the Art O Neill Challenge, when it finally dawned on me what I was letting myself in for.
I'd recced some of the course, I'd run some miles on the roads but tonight I was going to put it all together and cover around 34 miles from Dublin Castle to Glenmalure in the Wicklow Mountains.
The butterflies turned into a herd of stampeding buffaloes, doubts assailed me, I started to consider the less than perfect training, the poor nutrition and late nights. I tried to dispel these negative thoughts and succeeded for the most part but every now and then I'd get the buffaloes back.

On arrival to Dublin I caught a bus to my parents house. I had plenty of time for food and a chat. I was able to get changed and get my gear sorted before I set off for Dublin Castle.
I arrived before 11.00 pm to allow me time to soak up the atmosphere and catch up with some friends. I bumped into Gearoid, who was looking remarkably calm for a guy organising such a major event.

Check in was extremely smooth, number and timing chip collected, without hassle. I found Andy, Mark and Brian, my hiking companions from last years event, with their new additions, Dave and Nicola. Time passed swiftly, midnight arrived, I went outside to the courtyard, amid loud cheers the guys set off with the hiking group.

Back inside I chatted with a few people, it helped keep me calm. At 1.15 am the hybrids set off, these were running to check point 1 at Kilbride, then hiking to the finish.

The large rooms in the Castle were now looking decidedly sparse. There were only the runners left.
I looked around at this lycra clad bunch of nutters, not for the first time, I wondered how I ended up in the land of the skinny people.

My gear for section 1 Dublin Castle to Kilbride army camp (about 12.5 miles) consisted of:
Asics DS racers - Nike socks - Asics tights - Underarmour underwear - technical Tshirt - Dare 2 b mid weight top - hat, Tikka 2 xp head torch. Plus OMM 15l backpack (I didn't have a smaller bag) containing 1/2 ltr XYMS drink - Mars bar - light weight Karrimor rain jacket - light woolen gloves - GPS - camera

2.00 am: After a slight delay to locate a missing runner, a hooter sounds and we're off. I'm delighted, no more nervous tension, it's now make or break.
The group quickly spreads out, with the quicker runners shooting off into the city's lamp lit semi darkness. I plodded on with no idea of my pace but feeling comfortable, at mile 2 I heard my watch beep and I was shocked to find that I was running over a minute a mile faster than I expected. I told myself to slow down, too fast, too soon would cause trouble later. Naturally I totally ignored my sensible inner voice and maintained the pace for another few miles.
Somewhere around Tallaght I found myself in a group of about 10 runners, the pace was fine, I was still feeling ok.

Through Firhouse was the first time I noticed the moon and bright stars showing in clear patches of sky. It was going to be a beautiful night in the mountains, not that I was likely to care later.
I had checked behind on occasions, I started to worry when I couldn't see many runners behind me. I really didn't want to be last.
Head torches were switched on after the last of the street lights at Firhouse. I was tucked behind the front runners so didn't need my lamp yet.
I'm well used to running in the dark and will leave off my head light as much as possible on training runs but what I'm not used to is running in a group. I found myself on edge for a time because my view of the road ahead was blocked by the guy in front but I relaxed eventually, I think that I may have actually started to enjoy myself a little.

Our group was down to 4-5, I discovered the others were running as a group when one called a pee stop and they all stopped. I found myself heading into the foothills on my lonesome.
I knew the the hill were always going to be a problem for me, I'm way too heavy to run hills easily so it was with trepidation that I hit the first proper uphill section.
I could see that I was loosing ground to a runner ahead of me but it wasn't too much and I wasn't huffing and puffing too much. At some point a lad passed me, we exchanged a few words and he said "great view" or words to that effect. I only realised what he was talking about when I looked behind and saw all the lights of Dublin - at that moment I couldn't have cared less about the

I switched on my headlamp for the first time at Stone Cross. The road was getting icy and I found my road runners battling to find purchase. The going was tough with the extra effort to remain upright, I hated the backwards slip on every step.
A few lads came motoring past me on one of the hills, I remember thinking that they were moving at a right pace, however, as we crested the hill I fell in with them and had I no problem matching them on the flat.

We were directed into Kilbride Army Camp for checkpoint 1, the start of the real adventure.

Check point 1 was brilliant, a hive of activity, people everywhere getting changed, fed, sorted into groups, floodlights blazing, noise, hustle and bustle. I loved it.
As I grabbed my bag I got a shout from Andy and the lads, I had a chat with them while I swallowed down .75 ltr of XYMS drink and changed my shoes, tops and backpack, I was glad to hear they were all going well. I dropped my bag back and set off for the toughest part of the course.

For anyone interested, I'll post my gear and kit list at the end of this post.

Setting off along the road to the checkpoint exit I was delighted to see some runners making their way in. At least there were still some behind me.
I began to overtake large numbers of hikers. If they were blocking the way I would call "on your left/right". Every time, without fail, the would quickly clear a path, many called words of encouragement, the "well dones" and "keep going" were a welcome boost.
Initially I was a little chilly and the drink I had gulped was sloshing around but that soon passed and I felt I was moving well.

I swung into the first off road section, running across a grassy field I met a muddy downhill and promptly lost my footing and slid several feet on my arse.
My headlamp was struggling with the featureless grass. I had added a Led Lenser P7 torch to my waiststrap as an extra, just in case. Switching on this tidy piece of kit gave me a lovely wide patch of daylight in front of me. I had one dodgy moment along here when I went to hurdle over a wooden fence and stalled momentarily at the top, for a heart stopping moment I thought I was going to faceplant. Luckily I managed to land safely and quickly found the road to Ballysmuttan Bridge.

Ballysmuttan Bridge to Ballynultagh (Black Hill car park) was a section that I was dreading. I had recced it once and knew it was nearly 4 miles, predominately uphill, with some nasty steep sections and a poor surface. I was running alongside another chap, we had a chat heading towards the bridge. The first steep section starts just after the bridge, as we hit it I wished him luck and told him I could only travel slowly uphill. He headed off but reduced to a walk 20 metres later. We exchanged words as I passed, he told me that a friend of his placed near the top of the Art O Neill last year walked all the uphills. I said, fair play, but I was going to try maintain my shuffle.
I caught up to a large hiking group, one of their guides was trailing the group, as I drew level with him he called to the group to make way. I swear they must have practiced this move, they shifted to the right with military precision to leave me a clear path, I thanked them as I shuffled on.
This was a lonely stretch of road, I only met a few hikers and a mountain rescue vehicle passed, otherwise it was dark and quiet. The part near the crest felt really steep, I was struggling to keep my shuffle going, I did walk twice, I counted 20 steps and started shuffling again. If truth be told, I was probably travelling just as fast when I walked. I was pleased to reach the car park at the base of Black Hill.

Time to take some solid food. My nutrition strategy was haphazard to say the least. I rarely take drinks with me on runs of less than 15 miles so I had to remind myself to keep drinking on the road section from Dublin (.5 ltr XYMS), more drink at CP1, now, after around 19 miles, I was taking my first solid food. Was it some high energy bar or special endurance food? No, plodding along the base of Black Hill I was chewing on a piece of baguette with ham and cheese filling...
At this stage running up Black Hill would have killed me, my plan was to walk as briskly as possible and use this part for recovery. I recently acquired a small gps, the Garmin etrax, I took it out while walking along and attempted to start one of the pre-programmed routes I had put on it. Unfortunately, I was passed the starting point for the route and the bloody machine kept trying to send me back the way I had come. I was amazed to discover that I had covered a large chunk of the rough track without once looking at the ground while playing with the gps, when I packed it away I began tip-toeing around the rocks again.

The wind became very strong before the summit. I thought it prudent to take the time to put on a jacket. Once I hit the summit I was delighted to have the jacket, the wind was howling into my face, I would have become dangerously cold without the extra protection.
The ground from Black Hill across the coll towards Billy Byrne's Gap is one of the few off road surfaces that I can run on without too much trouble. I was disappointed to find that through the combination of tired legs and a strong head wind I ended up covering the ground with a mix of running and walking. As planned, I hit the east side of the gap, I intended to keep along the side of Mullaghcleevaun and head almost directly to the forestry track. The ground here is a right mix of grass clumps, rocks, bog, heather, all with assorted hidden foot trapping holes. I had a few slips, trips and falls, no big deal, you just go with the flow but one caught me by surprise, a sudden, sharp twisting of my right ankle, I thought I was a goner but luckily I was able to keep going without any trouble (this ankle was very sore for 2-3 days afterwards, I must have been close to disaster).

I was close to the forestry track when I started to feel hungry, I knew there was food available at CP2, so decided to push on. The thought occurred to me that I may get what cyclists refer to as the bonk or knock but risked moving on. After the crap terrain from Billy Byrne's Gap the forestry track was a thing of beauty.

Checkpoint 2 was a godsend. I checked in, grabbed a bowl of porridge, topped up my drink bladder and swallowed down a gel. While eating I had a chat with a couple of runners and one of the photographers. All in all a relaxing few minutes. I checked out and took off along another forestry track, I was pleased to find my little legs were still working reasonably well. Another bonus was it was now bright enough to run without a torch, full daylight a few minutes later.
There were 2 runners just ahead of me when I hit the NPWS marker at the Glenreemore Brook. I wondered if I would have the energy to over take them,I reckoned I hadn't, I had resigned myself to loosing two places. To be honest I was delighted when they took a different route.
I continued along the river, there were 2 guys behind me, that encouraged me to keep going. I cut across at Art's plaque, up the hill and crossed the river. I was now on the steep section to Art's Cross.

I hate this climb, it's steep, soft, wet, with large steps that just don't suit my little legs. I struggled here. It was stop, start all the way up. I used my hands to help but, at one point buried my left arm nearly to the elbow. I had close to 30 miles done and I was feeling every one of them on every step to the cross. At last I reached the cross, I was soon joined by two others. We took the time to take a photo for each other.
I bid my companions farewell at set off at a trot to find the three lakes. A mist had covered the mountain, visibility was poor, despite the conditions I was feeling fine.
I noticed a hiker standing in the mist reading a map, I call to him asking if he was ok. He had missed the lakes and was backtracking to find his bearings. I told him to follow me and when we hit the lakes I asked if he knew his way from there. He did, grand, that's me off the hook.

A group of four runners appeared near the lakes, they ended up just ahead of me, we were all following the same bearing. I pushed along to keep up with them. As we neared a river they moved towards Conavalla while I headed into the river valley. Maybe I could get ahead of them here. I was climbing high above the river on the south side, I could see the lads on the other hill. Again I was having some difficulty on the steeper parts, luckily they were only short sections. As we neared the track it looked like we were going to hit it at about the same time. I was thinking that if they got to the road before me I would just sit in behind them and enjoy the last couple of miles to the finish.

They hit the road about 10 metres ahead of me but as they ran on they missed the turn for Table track, they stalled to check. As I closed in I pointed out the track and slipped onto it just ahead of them. That's it, time to get moving, I hopped down the track and didn't look back until just before the dodgy wooden bridge. I was really happy to see I had a good gap on the lads.
Two runners popped out from track just ahead of me. I was feeling remarkably good, I actually felt that I was running faster that I had any right to expect at this stage but I had no inclination to attempt to close the gap, I probably couldn't have anyway. I resigned myself to loosing another two places. I had no idea what position I was in but I knew that I would achieve one of my targets by not finishing last.

The red military sign , around the bend, past the hostel, I was now in the last few hundred metres, the surface was brutal, I didn't care I was almost at the finish. I rounded the last bend and ran across the river to cross the finish line in 8 hours 11 minutes. Happy days !

I was delighted when I got a shout from my mate Sean who had travelled from Dublin to be at the finish for my arrival.
Handshakes and congratulations with the other finishers, tired smiling faces all around. Finishers enjoying well earned beverages, hot chocolate, coffee and teas.

I threw on some extra clothes, put newspapers on Sean's car seat (I was filthy and soaking wet)and got a lift to the Glenmalure Inn.
After changing I had the full Irish, I don't think a breakfast tasted so gorgeous.
I waited for Andy and the guys to arrive, they all finish in good form. Several pints were dispatched and the analysis was as enjoyable as the event itself.

The Art O Neill Challenge is a fantastic event. There is something for everyone in it. I'm already looking forward to next year.
As I mentioned earlier, I had two goals for the day 1) to finish and 2) not to finish last. I was totally amazed and somewhat over the moon to discover I had finished in 26th position. Miles
behind the top guys but so much better than I had expected.

Gear and kit from CP1 Kilbride to finish

Asics trail shoes, light hiking socks, Asics running tights, technical Tshirt, Crane long sleeved fleece, Tikka 2 XP head torch.
18ltr Camelpak backpack containing: .5ltr xyms drink, 2 gels, 1 mars bar, 2 pieces baguette.
Map, spare batteries, Sealskinz hat and socks, fleece, windproof gloves, light weight Karrimor jacket, Packlite w/proof trousers, Rab insulator jacket, Rab emergency bivi, emergency foil bag, first aid kit, whistle.
Waist strap carried: Silva 4 compass, etrax gps, w/proof camera, Led Lenser torch
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Edinburgh Marathon 2011

The thing that I both love and hate about the marathon is that despite all preparations undertaken and training miles done I just don't know how the race will go until I start running on the day.

This years Edinburgh marathon was a point in fact, as mentioned in my previous post, I followed a high risk training strategy that included 300 miles in 4 weeks, I also attended a wedding in Poland - plenty of beer and vodka - the weekend before the marathon and I topped that off with 3 day unable to keep any food or liquids in.

I arrived in Edinburgh with my friend Sean on Thursday evening after an uneventful and calm journey.

We hopped a bus on Friday morning to Holyrood Park to collect our race numbers, feeling better I scoffed a dirty big burger (carb loading !) for second breakfast while there. The rest of Friday and Saturday were spent relaxing and trying to get plenty of food and water in.

Although out of bed early on race day I had very little to do, pinning on numbers, sorting gear etc, were all done the night before. A light breakfast and a final check on the weather forecast - windy with showers - and we were away in the pre-booked taxi. A heavy shower had us sheltering in the hall way of a church, I'm sure there were a few prayers said there that morning. With 20 minutes to race start we dropped our bags off and headed for the starting areas. Unlike Dublin, there is no major panic in the starting pens, I enter my pen 10 minutes prior to the gun but still had loads of room to move towards the front, 10 minutes before Dublin you would be lucky to have enough room in the pens to scratch yourself.

The gun signaled the start of the race, I crossed the starting within about 30 seconds, a sign of how near the front I was.

Another marathon underway, what would this one hold in store for me?

Despite the recent setbacks I had set my watch for 7.30 miles, in the hope that if I had a good day I would manage a sub 3.20 finish. The first 5 miles of the route favour downhill, my plan was to run at a comfortable pace, whatever that may be, and see how I felt. I was a little surprised to see my first mile was 7.02, this was followed by 7.11, 7.11. Around the start of mile 4 I started chatting to a really sound bloke from England, Neil. He was aiming for around the 3.15 mark, that was close enough to my target for me to tag along beside him for a while. Pleasant conversation passed the next few miles. The 6th mile at 7.38 was a tad slow but the previous ones were in the 7.20's , so still on target.

Conversation with Neil had dried up, at one point, somewhere in the 8th mile, Neil asked if I was all right. I told him I was just zoning out but that wasn't the whole truth.

I'm certainly no expert on this, I can only speak from my limited experience but at 8 or 9 miles into a marathon you should feel comfortable, the pace shouldn't cause any problems and legs and breathing shouldn't be under any stress.
My legs were feeling heavy, I had expected this at the start but after a couple of miles, when the blood starts flowing, that feeling should go, today it didn't.

At mile 9 I knew this was going to be a long day.

With the exception of my first marathon in Dublin, that I jogged around, just to finish, the other 3 marathons I've done have finished in a whole world of pain. The trouble usually started after the 20 mile mark, this is to be expected as strange things happen to the body after 20 miles running but today I was uncomfortable so early on that I knew that I could expect the physical and mental issues to hit earlier. Nothing much can be done about the physical, except decisions about pace but the mental process, well, that's a whole other ball game.

Neil was drawing ahead of me but I decided that my best hope of not fading badly was to keep him in sight. The gap between us open and closed several times over the miles, at times I ran just behind him but I didn't push up level with, a totally selfish act on my behalf but I reckoned anything that helped me towards the finish was fair game. I eventually fell away from him after mile 15.

Somewhere after mile 15 the front runners started to pass on the opposite side of the road. I moved towards the median to keep an eye out for Sean. I was beginning to think that I had missed him but soon he appeared, from a distance he didn't look comfortable. A shout and a wave each but when he shook his head and drew a finger across his throat it just confirmed that he was having a bad day. His report is here.

Between miles 17 and 18 there is an out and back section, as I approached the turn I spotted Neil on the opposite side of the road, maybe 40-50 yards ahead of me. I was quite pleased that I hadn't lost too much ground.

As I made the 180 degree turn around a traffic cone I almost came to a complete stop, trying to get moving again took a major effort. Here was also the first taste of the headwind that would torture the competitors for the last 9 miles.

The turn into Gosford House offered a brief respite from the wind.

I was just hanging on, I remember just as I entered the gate to Gosford House, I realised that there was still a hard 9 miles to go and I considered the idea of walking for a while. A mental kick in the arse sorted that. I tried to keep positive. One of my back up targets was a sub 3.30. As I waddled through the ground of the country house, wondering why there were chickens wandering around, I tried to work out how my target times were fairing.

Ok, still close to 3.20 pace but fading fast, that allows over a minute a mile slower for the remaining miles to hit sub 3.30. A mantra started " I'm not going to lose 10 minutes in 9 miles" " I'm not going to lose 10 minutes in 8 miles".

Up to mile 16 I was around 7.30 minute miles, the next 4 were sub 8.00, that's fine, that's good. 8 minute miles would work. I can finish with a reasonable time, that will do.

Out of the park, a short stretch into the wind again, then another short out and back section. Once again at the 180 turning point I nearly stalled, down the hill, sharp left, 20 miles done.

I'll remember this point for years to come, just starting along the straight when I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, followed by another one, then bang, full on cramp. Shit, Jesus, that hurts. I hopped onto the footpath to get out of the way and danced a little jig. I've rarely had cramps and never during a race so this was scary. I was really lucky, just where I stopped there was a Scottish chap that helped me, fair play to him, he knew what he was doing. I lay on the grass verge and he helped me stretch out my leg, I was so keen to get going that I got up too soon and did my jig again all the while testing out my expletive vocabulary. After a second stretch I was underway again.

6 miles to go. I took 9.10 including the stop for the next mile, not as bad as I thought. My pace was dropping a few at 8-8.15 but I was still moving. My biggest worry now was the recurrence of cramps. At the 23 mile marker my left hamstring started to twitch again. I was scanning the sideline for a suitable spot to stretch for when the cramp hit, nothing but concrete footpath, no soft grass to lie on, luckily the expected cramp didn't arrive then.

To say that I didn't notice the head wind during the final 8-9 miles would be untrue, I noticed it at points but so many other problems were happening - mostly my legs - that the wind actually became unimportant.

I had promised myself that if I had anything left in the tank I would push on for the last mile or two. I revised this plan as both my legs felt like they could go into spasms at any moment. Maybe I was tired, maybe I was lazy but I was telling myself that I would be better off to keep moving at a steady pace rather than risk cramps. With 1.5 miles to go I was trying to do the maths for how quickly I could walk the remaining distance if the need should arise. 1 mile to go, that's it, even if I have to crawl the remaining distance to the finish I should still make a sub 3.30
As I rounded the final corner and ran (wobbled, hobbled) the last few hundred yards to the finish line a huge sense of relief swept over me. At last, I'd made it. I crossed the line at 3.22.14

Almost immediately after the finishing line my legs started to ache, if lactic could be bottled and sold I would have made a fortune. By the time I had retrieved my bag every step I took caused an involuntary groan. I managed to get to the reunion area. Shower facilities were available but the water was freezing, at the time it was breath taking cold but I think the cold water helped my legs as I felt so much better afterwards.

I met up with Sean, he had a very welcome cup of coffee for me, he had run a fantastic 3.03 and was happy with his performance on a difficult day.

Trying to get back to the city was another marathon in itself, eventually we got a bus and were able to sit for the duration of the journey. We popped into the Rutland hotel for a quick pint with Alan from I have to admit they were the most enjoyable 2 pints I'd have for a while.

On the way to the airport on Tuesday Sean received a text to say that our flight was cancelled because of the volcanic as cloud.......
This was the start of another marathon..........

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Pre Edinburgh marathon 2011 - Journey and Excuses.

It's been a long time since I've posted on this blog, early February to be exact.

There have been many reasons for this but mostly it's because, like Austin Powers, I lost my mojo. Unlike Austin Powers mine wasn't stolen by a time travelling super villain but rather it slid unceremoniously into a puddle on a cold winters night, while the wind howled and my head torch lit the falling rain. I don't remember exactly when this occurred, all I know is that it did happen and for weeks and months after, although I didn't realise it at the time, I was looking for my elusive mojo.

I've done no cycling events this year and only 3 road races, they were:
Dungarvan 10 mile
Dungarvan 10k
Craughwell 10 mile

I had done a ridiculously small amount of training and struggled around these at a slow and painful rate, in fact all 3 races were run at a slower pace per mile than my Dublin marathon time of a few months previously. I've noted these races as some of the best organised and value for money races that I've taken part in and I hope to come back next year and do them justice.

After these I plodded on for another few weeks getting some slow miles in, huffing and puffing, especially on any kind of hill, until I realised that if I wanted to have a chance of finishing the Edinburgh marathon I would have to make some drastic changes.

There were 8 weeks to go to Edinburgh, the last 3 would normally be taper, so in real terms I only had 5 full training weeks left. As I write this I don't have access to my diary but if memory serves I had only run about 150 mile to this point.

Marathon training usually consists of various types of training, speed work, threshold sessions, long runs.

After working out my options I decided that time on my feet would be of most value to me, miles and miles it would be.

Decision made, time to start on a very high risk strategy.

The problem with increasing mileage suddenly is the very real risk of injury. The body needs time to adjust, without this time things can go "ping" and "snap" at any stage. I hoped that with careful management I'd be OK.

First week was 50+ miles, not high mileage by marathon training standards but a big jump for me. The next 4 weeks were to be make or break for Edinburgh. I was about to attempt to run more miles in consecutive weeks that I had ever run before.

The strategy I would employ was from the ultra runners, these athletes do back to back long slow runs to increase their ability to run extra long distances and minimise chances for injury.

I would do 15-20 miles on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a 20 miler on Saturdays, Sunday would be a rest day.

70 miles done in the next week, all slow but no major dramas, a few slight niggles that sports massages mostly sorted.

From then it seemed that on every run strange things would happen to my poor abused legs. The ITB is a bit tight, the knee is tender, the Achilles is pulling etc, etc, nothing would last long or cause me serious discomfort but I would file them to be mentioned at the next massage.

Another 70+ miles added, no major dramas.

Some days I would run both mornings and evenings, my morning times were always slower. On one run I felt a soreness in my lower leg that by the end of my run had me hobbling. Maybe it's nothing, I'm sure it'll be gone by morning. It was painful enough to wake me through the night. The next run had me cut a planned 1o miler to 5 miles but I only managed 3 and that was nearly hopping the last half mile. Shit, that's it Chris, you gave it a good go but you can't expect your body to put up with that sort of abuse.

A visit to the masseur sorted me out again, I had what's known as dancers tendinitis or as my friend Kev refers to it mincers tendinitis.

80+ miles done, some dramas.

I haven't my diary for reference but some time in the previous 2 weeks I also hurt my back lifting my ride on mower to fix a belt. A typical lift and twist injury that cost me a day and another massage session.

Last week before taper, it dawned on me that most of my runs now, although not much faster, seemed much easier than a few weeks previously. A good sign for me was that I was enjoying more time thinking about various things while running and not constantly checking my garmin for the distance to the finish.

Another 80+ miles done, dramas? no. falling apart? yes.
Over 300 miles in 4 weeks. A new record for me.

5 weeks previously I would have settled for finishing the marathon, ideally in under 4 hours.
2-3 weeks ago I was starting to think that sub 3.30 might be on the cards.
A 3.30 marathon requires 8 minute miles so when I set on on my last long slow 20 mile run I was planning on running 8.30-8.40 minute miles. The first mile was uphill, I hit around 8.30, the second mile around 8.15. Miles 3, 4 and 5 favour downhill and were all sub 8.00. I decided to keep up the higher pace to include some PMP miles (8 min m) All the miles after were +-5/10 seconds of PMP. I finished the run feeling reasonably fresh, which was a major surprise to me.
The problem I now had was that if I could run 20 miles on my own, over undulating roads, at predicted marathon pace (PMP) how much faster could I go under race conditions.
I formulated a loose plan for the marathon that, all going well during the 3 weeks taper, I would set my Garmin for sub 3.20 and see how I felt during the first few miles, it I could hold the 7.30 pace without too much stress I would attempt the sub 3.20 otherwise I would adjust to either sub 2.25 or sub 3.30. Yeah, that plan looked good to me, no pressure, best case would be a decent second fastest marathon, worst case would still be Boston qualifying time and still my second fastest marathon, result !

As I write this post it's less than 24 hours to the start of the race. I'm reflecting back on the events of the past 3 weeks, especially the previous 7 days.
Taper started fine, 50 miles in week one, done in 3 consecutive days, not ideal but OK.
Week 2 was 29-30 miles again a short week but no problems.
From last weekend on is where the fun starts. A wedding in Poland had me flying out very early on Friday morning, I returned on Monday evening after 3 days of vodka, beer and food, not ideal preparation for a marathon but I'd known about this for months so I was expecting a small setback. I was quite please with myself that I managed to get in a 10 mile run in the beautiful Polish mountains, I think the benefits were somewhat negated by having beer for breakfast the next morning (thanks Allen)
Feeling fine, 6 days to recover, no problem, all should be in working order for the race. What happened on Tuesday was unexpected and unpleasant. I got some kind of stomach bug/food poisoning that saw me dropping at least 5 pounds in 2 days, I lost more on the 3rd day but I'd no access to a scales to check. On Friday (yesterday) I was feeling much better and managed to get plenty of food a liquids into me and my first run since last Saturday, a slow 5 miles, the only problem was that my heart rate monitor kept slipping down. Today is more of the same, food,water and rest.
The result of this recent bout is that all targets for tomorrow have gone out the window.
I can only see how I feel at the start and hope that I can maintain a decent pace for the 26.2 miles.

I'll let you know tomorrow..................

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dungarvan 10 mile road race

I used to be a competitive little fecker, I hated to lose at anything but especially sports. For many years basketball was my passion. When I think back to some of the unscrupulous things I did to gain any advantage in a match I wonder what sort of testosterone fueled fiend was I.

Now I only compete with myself - not with anywhere near the same passion I used to exhibit - so for most races I take part in I will have a target time, this I hope, would keep me honest and pushing to improve. These times would be set by various means, training times, McMillian calculator, to beat a PB, etc.
The Dungarvan 10 mile road race was an exception to this.
For numerous reasons, too many to go into here, I didn't start running this year until 15th January. I had already committed to take part in the Dungarvan race, although, at the time I thought it was a 10k, so I only had 2 weeks training before the race. I had been struggling with all my training runs, although run at very, very slow paces I found myself wheezing and unable to increase pace.

We arrived at the race HQ with plenty of time to spare following a very pleasant spin mostly on motorway and national primary roads and made all the more enjoyable by Sean offering to do the driving, a rare chance for me to enjoy the scenery on the new M9.

I'd just spent ages finishing this post when my computer crashed and I lost the whole thing.....
I may never get around to writing it again.....

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Art O Neill Challenge 2011

After the Wiclow adventure race in September 2010 I was sitting in a friends motor home enjoying a coffee (actually, a beer) when a chap popped his head in through the open window and told us about the Art O Neill challenge. A 55k run/walk tracing the route taken by Art O Neill & Red Hugh O Donnell after their escape from Dublin Castle and finishing at Glenmalure in the Wicklow mountains.

My initial reaction was that you would have to be mad to try this but a seed was sown and the more I thought about it the more I fancied a go at it


Option 1: Run the full route. This was my initial first choice, but I realised that I wouldn't get enough training done in time.

Option 2: Hybrid. Run stage 1 to Kippure House (about 25k/16 miles) and then hike the balance.

This option is the one I signed up for. My thought here were, (I'm now laughing to myself about this) even if I haven't done the planned training I could run 16 miles without too much trouble and sure anybody with a reasonable level of fitness can walk 19 miles across the mountains, can't they ?

Option 3: Hike the full route. I had a mild cold for a couple of weeks before the event, nothing too bad, just mildly annoying but the main problem was that when I attempted to run I would take to fits of lung bursting coughing, so because of this and a lack of quality running miles I had mentally decided to cancel but a chat with a friend, Andy, encouraged me to switch from the hybrid and join him and two of his friends on the hike.

Walking into Dublin Castle in the pouring rain had me wondering why I was doing this but once into the registration area the good atmosphere and craic lightened my mood.

I bumped into Andy and he introduced me to his friends, Mark and Brian.

Just before midnight we all gathered outside in the yard, following a poem and safety briefing we set off.

The lads had done some good quality training and had a plan regarding pacing each stage, I was delighted to be invited along with the guys and so I was happy to fit into anything they wanted to do.

I found it interesting to observe the other walkers, their equipment, their style and especially the pace they set for themselves.

We were moving along at a slow steady pace that saw us at the back of the field, stone last. I've done enough distance and endurance events not to be bothered about this and to be honest I could tell from what I'd seen of some of the other participants that we would be seeing them again sooner rather than later.

On a sour note, near Tallaght we had just caught up with and passed a chap when 3 scumbags attacked him. The cowardly bastards ran off as we sprinted back to help him. He withdrew from the event soon after.

Even before the first hill we had closed up behind a long line of participants. Initial enthusiasm wained some people were starting to realise the difficulty of the event. I said to myself "here we go" and so we did, reeling in group after group.

Snow had recently fallen and as we gained height into the mountains the road became slippery and difficult to negotiate, I was delighted that I had selected my trail shoes for this stage, although much heavier than my runners they have better grips and are waterproof.

From Stone Cross to Kippure House was a time for stock taking for me. How are feet, are the legs sore anywhere yet ? etc. etc. I had the odd twinge here and there but nothing detrimental.

It was at 3.20 am that the first of the runners overtook us. I tried to clap and give some words of encouragement to each as they passed, I was amazed that almost all replied with a thanks or a chirpy comment. I had a twinge of regret that I wasn't running too but as it turned out it's just as well that I wasn't.

It was also something of a decision time, although I was delighted to be with the 3 lads I knew that they had put in a lot of hard training miles for this event, I was worried that I may end up delaying them. I had thought to myself that if I made it to Kippure without any major problems I would ask if I could keep tagging along with them, otherwise I would join a guided group. The lads made me feel very welcome.

At Kippure we changed into our mountain hiking gear. I had a slight hotspot in my left foot but decided against putting compeed on as I was changing my socks and boots, a decision I would regret later.

After soup, coffee and some grub, we took about 50 minutes here but it felt like a lot less, we headed out for the mountains proper.

The first target after crossing the foot bridge was to find the summit of Ballynabrocky, easier said than done as it's a long flat ridge rather than a peak and then from there to find a track that would bring us onto a road. We cheated slightly here by using a GPS to confirm that we were very close to the summit and I had a bearing that would take us to the track, the first time in years that I had used a compass, I was chuffed when we quickly hit the track.

We met the road and moved on towards the next main point, the car park below Black Hill, at a guess I would say it was about 5-6k.

I think that it was along this stretch that Andy started to have some knee trouble, something that had happened to him before but he had been able to walk off the soreness.

This was also the first time that I felt the need to put on gloves, although daylight was starting to show the wind was biting cold.

Brian and myself had moved ahead of Andy and Mark and even the 2-3 minute wait at the car park brought home to me how cold it was on the hills. I went to have a drink only to discover that the tube on my backpack was frozen solid.

The track on Black Hill was rocky, with ice and snow making footing treacherous and hail was driving from the right with venom. Brian had pushed ahead, I was next with Andy and Mark behind. I was aware the the lads behind were losing ground but I didn't know about Andy's knee problem at this point.

A call of nature allowed the lads to catch up and move ahead of me, I knew that it wasn't a great sign when I caught up with them quickly and with ease.

I fell in behind Andy and noticed he was struggling slightly. Soon after the 3 of us stopped for a chat to discuss our best options. Andy really wanted to push on and felt that his knee would ease out soon, he's a tough fecker.

A little later two stumbles in quick succession both twisting his bad knee forced another chat but this time serious decisions had to be made.

Visibility was poor, hail was battering us driven like needles into our faces by the howling winds. We were really lucky that we could get Brian on the phone to tell him we were delayed.

This was a difficult time for all concerned, it was emphasised that safety had to be the first concern, there would be other walks and other mountains.

I knew that Andy was in turmoil about what to do, he knew that if he abandoned now he would be taking either Mark or me out with him. We had both offered and we tried to reassure Andy that it was not a problem for either of us to accompany him back to the car park.

After more checking of the map and working out where the next possible exit would be Andy decided the sensible thing to do was head back to the car park, a brave and, I believe, correct decision.

Mark insisted that he would accompany Andy, I'm very thankful that he did this, although I would have gladly done it, I'm not sure if I would have turned around at the car park and attempted to finish or called it a day there.

A phone call to the wonderful rescue people involved with the race to confirm a pick up at the car park, I replaced my glove on a now completely numb hand and I said goodbye to the lads.
They told me later that it took an hour and 20 minutes to cover the mile to the bottom.

I went on and in short time met up with Brian who had waited at the summit.

A poster on had kindly posted information about the route including OS grid references for most key points. I had printed this out and packed it with my maps. While sitting in my parents house a few hours before the start of the Art O Neill I thought I would spread out the map and take some bearings for the key points, not that I was going to need them but I reckoned it would help me remember the route better. Am I glad that I did this ? Oh YEAH !!

Standing on the summit of Black Hill with no visibility, the navigator gone and miles left to go, I had a moment of excitement, Jesus, this is where the fun starts. I checked the compass, visualised the saddle we were making for, reminded myself that my previous bearings had been correct and Brian and myself walked off into the fog.
We were joined by a guided group travelling alongside us, thank goodness, at least we're going the correct direction. Their guide was using a GPS, I enquired if he was making for the saddle, he said that he was. On the saddle he veered off to the right, my first real nav decision in years, cut across what, on the map, looked like wet ground with several streams or push beyond the saddle and contour around to Billy Byrnes Gap, as recommended on the boards post. A quick chat with Brian, we decided to stay to the higher ground.
As we neared the next mark a wonderful thing happened, the fog cleared and the sun came out, we could now clearly see the route ahead and a few other groups at various points in the mountains. The guided group were cutting across the lower ground but were behind us now, I guess the frozen conditions must have allowed them reasonably firm footing.

Through Billy Byrnes Gap we had a couple of choices, head for the higher ground and contour around the hill, we chose to head down towards the river, we crossed a feeder river to the Ballinagee, headed up the hill and after some wandering around eventually found the farm track, onto the road, passed a big barking dog and on to a farm gate. We met a couple here who had hopped the gate and were going to cut through the fields, we had a chat with them and joined the for the next while. I glad we met them there because I think would have missed the gate as the correct route, for some reason, I was expecting the entrance to be further along the road.

My legs were drained, I thought the track would never end. I was thinking that if I felt this tired now then the last stage was going to be murder. I didn't know then how right I was.. Eventually we hit the main road and walked the few hundred yards to checkpoint 2, Ballinagee bridge.
Before we left the checkpoint I told Brian that I was totally wasted and would only be able to tip along at whatever pace the legs would allow. I told him I would have no problem if he wanted to push ahead. He was ok that we should stay together.

About now I was regretting my lack of walk specific training. My running miles had been drastically reduced, mainly due to the weather and a cold but in fairness I'm sure that I could have squeezed in a few more than the 10-12 miles walking I'd done in the previous weeks. I had also been eating and drinking dirty pints with a vengeance since well before Christmas, through Christmas and into the new year and even the night before the event we had friends to our house for a meal and serious damage was done to several bottles of wine, hitting the bed after 2.00 was the icing on the cake. Hmmm ! cake. The result of my well planned "training programme" was several new chins and all my trousers shrinking !!

Along the forest track, climbing through the felled woodland to avoid zig-zagging on the track, out to the Glenreemore river, as I plodded along by the river Brian pointed out Art's Cross in the distance. I must admit, it looked a long way off but I was telling myself that this was going to be the last of the days climbing, it would be all downhill after the Cross. We crossed the river and made for the higher ground..... I think this is where it all started to go to shit !!!!

We could see people in the distance slowly making their way up the steep ground to Art's Cross. Then I made a ridiculous decision to cut up along the hill to my right and persuaded Brian that I had seen people take this route. It was steep, icy and difficult to negotiate, it eventually dawned on me that we would have to drop down to the river level to cross thus losing most of the hard earned height. Over 12 hours of hiking was taking it toll, although I didn't feel mentally tired, the brain obviously wasn't working at full efficiency. A quick look at the map or more simply, a look at the lay of the land would have told me that there was an easier way to get to the river. We had to climb along by the river to find a crossing point, if not for the ice covering most of the rocks in the river this would have been a relatively simple task.
The climb to Arts Cross was murder for tired legs, it was managed a few steps at a time. At points it was easier to put the hand on the icy ground to aid the legs. It was freezing cold, once again my drink was frozen, I was feeling a little sorry for myself but again told myself this was the last of the climbing. As we neared the summit a raven glided past the cross, I couldn't help thinking what a hardy bird. Photos were taken and we tramped off towards the Three Lakes. We were covering some rough ground, it was sapping whatever strength was left in my legs, sliding on my ares into gully's, climbing out the other side all made for hard earned yards. I noticed a group that left the cross after us taking a sweeping arc to our right. I don't know if there was a track there or just a easier route but I would have paid for a little local knowledge as they made it to the Lakes before us.

We had mingled with what was left of the guided group and as there was only the short hop to the Glenmalure valley we tagged on to the back of the group. After a while this started to cause me some stress as it seemed to me that we were heading too far south but I was just too far gone to bother checking the map, I reckoned we would have to hit the track eventually, even it we were taking a longer route. Sure enough we made the track and the guide told his group there was only 4km to the finish.
My numb brain started trying to do the maths. 4k, ok, 4k is how many miles ? 1600m is a mile plus the 400m that's a quarter mile, blah, blah, blah 2 and a half miles that's it, woohoo, 2 and a half miles to go, I can do that ! The track was covered with snow and slippery but it was downhill with a tail wind. My legs were so tired that the brakes were not working well. I softened my knees and went with the flow, I had something of a new lease of life. Doing the maths again, worse case scenario would be 20 minute miles, 2.5 miles meant unless something mad happened we should be across the line in less than 50 minutes. A look at the watch showed 3.10, great home by 4.00, not bad with all the previous delays.

Following the track past working forestry machines and a skyline, we were making good time, some people ahead of us passed a junction but were making their way back to it, we followed and continued down the valley. After a while we arrived at another junction. This is where I made the most ridiculous, stupid, lazy, unforgivable mistake. We were on a rough forest track that came close to a lovely flat smooth road, two women from the guided group came by just as we reached the junction and I just fell in with them. I should have checked the map, I knew the OS map showed only one track along the valley but I had previously seen several tracks on the East West map. I don't know why I didn't check but I'm still kicking myself about it. The road rose along the side of the valley, after a good while I realised we were not on the correct road but what the hell it was still going in the right direction and surly it would sweep down to the left and onto the finish, wouldn't it. Even at this point I didn't take out the map.
We reached a bend and from there I could see the way the road we were on went. I nearly cried it zig zagged away from the finish, I could see the finish but the road was bringing us away from it. Now to add insult to injury the surface was like glass, slipping and sliding along, only able to take careful baby steps, I thought how ironic would it be to walk from Dublin Castle only to fall a break a bone in the last mile on the wrong road. We had been walking for over 16 hours and to have to concentrate so hard on my footing at this stage felt so horrible, why couldn't I just be allowed to stagger unimpeded to the finishing line, bloody ice..

At last on the lower road we were met by Gearoid Towey, the organiser of the Art O Neill challenge and the guy who had poked his head into the motorhome a few months ago and started me on this mad adventure. A pleasant chat with Gearoid passed the last bit of road and as we reached the finish line we were noisily greeted by Andy, Mark and their crew. It was fantastic to see the guys, they had been waiting there in the cold for hours, fair play.
Arrr, I reckoned that my last mistake cost at least 40 minutes, I'm so gutted about this. I think Brian and myself crossed the line having taken about 16 hours 40 minutes to complete this epic event. We went to the Glenmalure Lodge for a well earned pint or two and some good craic

I'm delighted to have done this event with Andy, Brian and Mark. I'm extremely grateful for their friendly acceptance of my sudden entry into their hiking group. My biggest regret is that Andy and Mark didn't make the final section. I know they will be back again next year, as will I.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dublin City Marathon 2010

The Dublin City Marathon has been my main goal for 2010 and despite derailing my training plans by partaking in some adventure races I still held it as my main target.

For the first time I started a 18 week marathon training programme with some miles under my belt, having run the Edinburgh Marathon in May.
This was my 4th marathon but only the second with a specific target time. Last year in Dublin I had failed miserably in my attempt to make the Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3.30 when I hit the wall at about 20 miles and struggled across the finish line in 3.38.xx.
This year my target was to be the same as 09 at sub 3.30.

Soon after I started the training I realised that I was running faster than last year, some race results confirmed this so I started to revise my target time downwards.
Could I take 5 minutes off, could I take 10 minutes off ? All sorts of numbers would be flying through my head while I was on training runs.
Early in the training phase I briefly flirted with the idea of trying for a 3.13, a strange number you may think, but that time would leave me requiring just 30 seconds faster per mile to head for the milestone time of sub 3.00. A target way beyond my reach for a long time into the future, if ever, but psychologically 30 seconds is not such a huge hurdle, is it?
Those thoughts soon disappeared as the quality of my training suffered, especially in the second half of the programme. With only a few weeks to go to the start of the race I was doubting if I would be able to manage the 3.30. With a week to go I decided to go with the 3.15 pacers and hold on for as long as possible.
This saw me standing in a packed pen in Merrion Square, on a freezing cold morning, surrounded by 13,000 other souls and trying to get as close as possible to 2 guys holding helium filled balloons with 3.15 printed on them.

Bedlam ensued. Thousands of people setting off together created total gridlock at times. I did my utmost to stay close to the balloons, this required plenty of zigging and zagging, I hoped that the crowds would thin out allowing for more even running. A glance at my watch during the first mile confirmed that we were way below target time.
At the 2 mile mark one of the pacers "Krusty Clown" - a user name - called out that we were 40 seconds slow. I think that if I was running on my own I would have panicked and tried to get the time back at a sprint but Krusty assured me we would take it back slowly.

The next few miles were reasonably easy running but I was kept busy trying to hold my place behind the pacers. It was a time for stock taking, how am I feeling, how's the breathing, are the legs ok? A really weird thing is that my right foot was completely numb, I was worried about it because at this early stage everything should be working well.

The beautiful thing about running with pacers is that I didn't have to bother looking at my watch, all I had to do was keep close to the wonderful people carrying the balloons. Heading down the North Circular Road was fantastic, there is a section where you can see the whole road ahead filled with runners, add to that the sunshine and the cheering supporters and you realised running rarely gets better than this. We seemed to pick up the pace on the way into the park but I still felt fine. As we hit the 5 mile mark a shout from Krusty confirmed that we were now only 4 seconds off (can't remember if it was ahead or behind, doesn't matter)

I knew that my friend Sean was going to be at the 6 mile mark in the Phoenix Park so I tried to position myself to give him a wave. This rather tall, wide lad was in front of me blocking me from view so I pushed up ahead of him, soon I realised he had moved ahead of me again, much to my amusement we swapped place several time within a mile. I copped Sean as I passed him and shouted and waved. He commented afterwards that I looked comfortable and I suppose except for the mental doubts I was feeling grand.

While running through the Park I had brief conversations with runners around me and a chat with Krusty helped pass the time. The fact that I was chatting with other runners may seem irrelevant but when I had been training at the pace we were now running at I was breathing heavily and thought I would not be able to converse with people, it was something of a relief to realise I was not panting too much at this stage.

We left the Park, headed through Chapelizod and into Kilmainham. At times when the roads narrowed and there was no space to pass people I got a bit twitchy as the pacers moved ahead, on reflection, another learning experience, as I actually found it fairly easy to close the gap once the field spread out again. I knew that my parents were going to be at Dolphins Barn, so positioning myself to see them meant I had to take some corners very wide but it was well worth it, I'll worry about the racing line when I trying for a sub 3 !!

Most people that do the Dublin marathon hate the Crumlin Road, it's slightly uphill and usually has a head wind, but to be honest, it actually doesn't bother me, I guess because I grew up around there I spend the time looking out for familiar faces (like my sister, who live about 2 minutes from the course but has never given me a shout, thanks Dee)
Next comes Walkinstown Road, the half way point. We hit this bang on target. I was happy to be still with the pacers at this point and feeling reasonably well.

I had arranged to see my wife and son on Cromwellsfort Road, it turned out that nearly everyone was running on the right side of the road, I knew they would be on the left side so I was able to drift left and wave at them from a distance. I was delighted to see my other sister and her family there also. I collected 2 gels from my son and enjoyed the shouts of encouragement from the rest of my family (especially my favourite sister Again they commented afterwards that I looked very comfortable. I still actually felt fine.

The next miles drifted by. This is probably where the real doubts started to fill my mind. I was holding onto the pacers but it wasn't as easy as it should have been. Last year I had started to fall off the 3.3o group somewhere around Terenure, this year I was delighted to be still there at the same point but I was conscious that there was still along way to go.

15,16,17 went by and I was still hanging on. I was telling myself hang on until 18 at least.
Made 18, hang on 'till 19.
At this point I was really starting to live in my head. I was trying to work out how slow I could do the remaining miles and still get a personal best time.
OK Chris, just hang on until 20 miles and you'll be ok, that's not too much to ask.
The fantastic thing is that about now Krusty starts shouting out all sorts of encouragement. I thought to myself he is never going to keep this up until the finish but, fair play, he never stopped, what a legend !!
20 miles done. This is where previously the wheels have fallen off. I knew what to expect, I could just come to a grinding halt at any point soon.
At 21, much to my surprise, I'm still there. 21 done, can I make 22?
I got to 22 miles but this is where I'm really hurting.

Jaysus Chris, stay with it, get to the next mile.
We're running along Merrion Road, Krusty is flying "come on, we're nearly there" I'm hanging on. Nearly there, me arse, it's still a long way but I'm still with him. We're weaving through people, they're slowing down but it feels like we are speeding up.
Again Krusty shouts "you wouldn't get out of bed for what we have left" It brought home to me how close to the finish we were.

I can't do it, I can't hang on, oh fuck, how far to go ??? 3 miles, is it 3 miles, that's over 22 minutes, I can't run for another 22 minutes. Give it up now Chris, you'll still have a personal best time, give it up.... Ahh, you soft bollix, you've trained for the whole year, you knew it wouldn't be easy, keep with that balloon. If it was easy everyone would be doing it... Keep going..

Miles 22 - 25 hurt. I probably can't adequately describe what I was feeling then.

I'm now counting down from the garmin, 2.5 miles to go, 2 miles to go. The amount of times that I wanted to let the pacers go in those few miles was unbelievable, I didn't think that I could get to the finish. Push, ya big puff, push.

With a mile and a half to go I genuinely thought that I was going to stop at any moment. I really was just trying to hang on.
As I got close to the last mile I had a sudden burst of energy, well actually, it probably wasn't a burst of energy so much as a realisation that I was so close to the finish.
A mile, one mile, it's easy, I can run a mile, yes , yes I can, run ya little fucker, run.

I pushed ahead of the pacers, I really tried to stretch my legs. After about about a quarter of a mile I was knackered and I got caught behind a group of lads strung out across the road. I didn't have the energy or interest to push through them but then a small gap opened and I went for it. I drove on, looking back and seeing the 3.15 balloons too close behind inspired me to push harder.
I kept looking at the Garmin 0.6 of a mile to go, 0.5 of a mile to go, Jaysus half a mile I can't keep this up for another 1/2 mile....shut up, shut up, keep going, you're nearly there.

Then I saw it, the finish line, it was so close. I could see the clock, it said 3.1xx, Jaysus I couldn't see the figures on the right. Check the Garmin, 3.12.xx.
Oh my god, I was going to make 3.15 but, but could I get in under 3.14. Push, push.

I crossed the line in 3.13.49. Result.. Happy days.. I beat my personal best marathon time by a whopping 24 minutes.
I know I did the training and I put a lot of time and effort into my programme but, hand on heart, I would not have made that time without the pacers and Krusty Clown in particular driving the train.
I've since seen video of me finishing the marathon, it's not a pretty sight and as I went to collect my T-shirt a very Dublin auld one suggested that it might be a good idea to hold onto the barrier for a few minutes.

I'm happy with the result, actually, I'm bleedin' delighted, a good day, better than expected. Finished with a few (loads) pints with my friend Sean and a gang of Boardsies.

Roll on 2011... already thinking about the possibilities.....................

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Dublin Half Marathon 2010

The old engine hasn't been running too smoothly in recent times, especially the last few weeks it's been coughing and spluttering in a bad way.
Ideally a full engine replacement would be in order but in these bad economic times the best I could hope for is a full service. Until I can get that done I will just have to hope that the motor doesn't have a major breakdown.

As is now the norm for these races I arrived to the Phoenix Park via Sean's house. I did a 3 mile warm up at very low revs, then headed to the starting pens.
Some week ago I had a fair idea of a target time, this had changed in the intervening weeks as I revised it upwards because of the failing condition of the engine.
I hadn't realised that there were pacers for this race, as I made my way towards the start line I saw the balloons denoting the various pace categories. The ones I noticed were 1.40 and 1.30.
Hmm !! 1.40 was too slow, was 1.30 too fast, that pace, 6.50 minute miles, would put me on my limit for the distance. Decisions, decisions... To hell with it, I pushed up behind the 1.30 guys. My thinking here was to start at 1.30 pace and see how things went. I was also pleased to recognise some Boardsies.

Starting gun fires, clutch out, accelerator to the floor, wheels spinning, thousands pile down the wide, straight Chesterfield Avenue. I found myself jockeying for position, in the malee I saw that I was travelling along the painted centre divide, here I had another surreal Johnny Cash moment when the song I walked the line popped into my head.
The first mile felt remarkably easy, I was ticking over nicely, I was somewhat surprised to realise we had done a 6.50 mile. The next miles were slightly less comfortable but I wasn't under any major stress. The most difficult thing for me was holding my position close to the pacers. I was constantly pushed back and squeezed out of position - this was very much down to my lack of race experience - things improved when I became more aggressive about holding my position or pushing through gaps.
At 5 miles I was still with the pacer, thinking that if I was still with them at 7 miles I could afford to take a full minute a mile extra to the finish and still have a personal best time, funny how the mind works at times.

The first uphill of note, Kyber Road, at about 7.5 miles, was the first sign of trouble. The pacer zoomed up the hill and despite trying to force extra revs from the ailing engine they quickly opened a gap. The hill was shorter and less severe than I had remembered, I was delighted to reach the crest only 30-40 yards behind the pacers. I hoped that over the next few miles I could kick in the turbo and gradually close the gap.

Acres Road was exposed to the wind, I was alone on this stretch looking at the tightly pack group ahead and wishing for the shelter they could give, at times I felt I was closing them down but on reflection I think the distance remained more or less constant.
A tight turn brought us alongside the football pitches.
A quick check of the systems revealed some possible problems but nothing catastrophic. I even high fived one of the kids cheering at the roadside.

Another sharp turn brought me on to Military Road.
At 9.5 miles disaster struck, the timing belt went, this brought the engine to a complete stop and although I attempted a temporary repair by moving at waking pace and forcing in the remaining fuel, the damage was done. I got the engine started again but it would only tick over at low revs. Arriving at the pit stop less that a mile further along the road, I spotted my number 1 mechanic, Christopher at the front of the line of helpers. I stopped beside him and took on some water, I think at this point the water pump was fried anyway but I continued at walking pace through the pit stop, trying not to hinder any of the other vehicles. On exiting I was again met by Christopher, I stopped to chat with him and his encouragement for me to make temporary repairs pushed me on and got me ticking over again.

The remaining 3 miles were all about getting over the line. I was nursing the wrecked engine along, been passed by a stream of others when this one passed me, to add insult to injury, as he passed his clacker valve went, resulting in an extremely long, watery fart like sound. On another day I would had commented that there should be a stewards enquiry for his effort but today I couldn't care less.

The chequered flag was long packed away by the time I crossed the line. I did manage to get one last effort in the final 200 yard but it was too little too late.
I had known that a breakdown was on the cards during this race considering the abuse the engine had sustained, especially in the previous week at Achill Roar Adventure Race and some coughing and spluttering in recent days but the sudden and catastrophic failure was a little more than I had expected.
It's nearly time for a full overhaul, one more adventure, WAR, next weekend, one more 20 mile LSR the following, then 3 glorious weeks taper for the Dublin City Marathon.

My finishing time of 1.34.58 is a personal best by 2.5 minutes, so not a total disaster but to be honest I would have liked a slightly faster result..
Time: 1.34.58
Overall position: 664
Position in category: 51

Accompanied by Sean a refueling at Ryans afterwards helped immensely. I had the pleasure of meeting a group of Boardsies there, always good to put faces to names.
A quick stop at Wheelworx on the way home to buy Christopher his first cycling shoes completed an interesting day.

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