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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