32 miles. As I reach the coast and the edge of the peninsular, the wind is getting stronger all the time, well there’s nothing much between me and the Atlantic Ocean so a bit of a breeze is to be expected. But by 35 miles I can’t run into that strength of wind and I’m reduced to walking, but despite the wind the temperature is warm and pleasant and I just enjoy the views. I have another food bag at the drink station at 37 miles but I leave it there as don’t really feel like eating much. I spend a lot of time doing the mental arithmetic and work out that I can complete the race within the time limit of 11 hours so I relax and just keep plodding on. I know now that I will finish and I’m in good humour and enjoy a few words with the marshals on the route.
At about 42 miles I finally turn back towards Dingle and the wind is behind me but I’m tired now and only manage a run/walk. At 46 miles I pass the hotel where I’m staying and gaze longingly at my bedroom window and look forward to that hot bath. Just round the corner from the hotel is the second steepest climb of the race and it’s a long drag to get to the top but once there I know I only have gentle downhill and flat to the finish but I’m on a long straight road and I don’t seem to be making much progress. I’m getting a lot of support from the passing traffic, some are marathon runners on their way home but many are locals that realise that I’m in the last couple of miles of the ultra and hoot and wave enthusiastically to spur me in.
But eventually I reach the end of the end of the straight road, turn left onto the main road and down the hill into Dingle, just half a mile to go. I run along by the sea and have a random thought wondering if I will ever see Funghi the resident dolphin at Dingle Bay then turn the last corner to the finish. The feeling of completing this amazing event is wonderful; I’m suddenly revived and manage what feels like a decent run over the finish line, but probably looked like a pathetic shuffle to any bystander, finish time 10:42. 49 minutes slower than my PB but I’m really pleased to have finished with no injuries and to finally lay that pesky dragon to rest.
back out into the cold, do a few stretches, line up and we’re off. I’m not feeling that great and don’t want to admit to myself that I have the same sick feeling I had last year, I focus on settling into a comfortable pace and watching the dawn break. The first mile is gently undulating and I’m running with a man who tells me he’s the race director for a new 100k road race next August in Tralee, I try and not to appear at all interested in another race right at this moment and we drift apart so the conversation is ended. The next few miles is very gentle downhill, the perfect start to a race, I can keep my heart rate down and my legs feel good, still feeling a bit sick though. Race instructions are to wear high visibility kit as we have to run on open and narrow roads for part of the race, in the gloomy daybreak we are all so brightly dressed that the sheep are transfixed and stop eating to watch us. At five miles we turn sharp left and the first drink station, 10% of the distance completed already. More gentle downhill and then long flat stretches, virtually no traffic I’m still feeling a bit sick but it’s not getting any worse and at 8 miles I manage to take a little fuel on board.
The miles click by and just when I get to 14 miles the support ambulance comes along, this is exactly at the place I pulled out last year and I don’t need reminding, I look in the other direction and run on, at 15 miles I’m starting to feel better and take on a bit more fuel.
At 17 miles the course starts to climb gently and soon the warning signs appear for Conor Pass. The road to the top is narrow and steep, in places single track, no vehicles over 6 feet wide, I once drove my car on this route, not something I’d do again and with a €1300 excess on the hire car I won’t be risking that either. At 18 miles I’m reduced to walking, remembering that my last hill training session was in May! Fortunately we’re sheltered from the wind so I make good progress striding out to the top of the pass, we’re instructed to run on the right hand side, fortunately I don’t suffer from vertigo as there’s only a low stone wall between me and a very steep drop. I take the occasional glimpse over my shoulder to admire the view of the valley behind me.
At 20 miles I finally reach the top and up there the wind is howling and the girl at the drink station looks frozen, I take a drink and something to eat but I leave my food drop bag at the station as I haven’t yet eaten what I’ve been carrying with me from the start. I then start the descent into Dingle; this is the easiest part of the course, 4 miles of gentle downhill with fabulous views. But within a couple of minutes the rain starts to fall and soon it’s a torrential downpour of icy cold rain that stings as I’m running into the wind. Half a mile later my feet are soaked and I’m so cold, a car stops and the driver asks if I’m OK and offers me a lift, I laugh and decline the offer, I think the driver thought I was a little unhinged. The rain eases and by the time I’m nearly into Dingle I’m starting to dry out and then we have another shower of rain and I’m soaked again. Into Dingle and back down to sea level and the temperature feels lovely and warm as I run into the town and pick up the start of the marathon course. I take a walk break up a nasty little hill and then pass the 25 mile marker, halfway completed. I run well for the next few miles as I take the road for Slea Head and continue at a reasonable pace up to about
Background – I ran this race the first year the event was held in 2010. At the time I was running really well and had already knocked 11 minutes off my marathon PB that year. It’s a tough road course and at 20 miles climbs to the top of Conor Pass, the highest pass in Ireland. The scenery is stunning and whichever way you look there are beautiful views of mountains, moors, beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Conditions were perfect on that day, warm and little wind and I had a good run and was thrilled with my finish time of 9:53.
The following year there was no ultra so I had to settle for running the marathon instead but in 2012 I was back on the start line for the ultra. Although I knew I wasn’t in as good shape as 2010, I wasn’t expecting to have to DNF due to sickness. Flagging down the ambulance at 14 miles, and then getting out of the ambulance at 20 miles to throw up at the top of Conor Pass, the ambulance man carefully choosing the correct side of me to stand in the strong winds! Failing to finish a race is a devastating feeling and having to wait a full year to put the matter right can make the challenge even more daunting, so I really needed to slay that pesky dragon this time.
My preparation for the 2013 race didn’t go well, too many races and racing when I was carrying niggles meant that I was unable to maintain any decent level of training mileage. But I managed to clear up any niggles before the race and my training was just starting to pay off. Ideally I could have done with another few weeks of training. A few days of carbo loading which I usually do for an ultra, not successful this time as my weight remained the same and I would have expected at least a couple of pounds more on the scales before race day.
Travel to Dingle is fairly straightforward, fly from Bristol to Cork, pick up a hire car and 100 miles later I arrive at Dingle. I decide to go straight to registration to collect my number, oh dear I’ve been allocated Race No: 1, not good when my goal this time is just to finish in one piece.
Checked in at the hotel, this is 4 miles outside of Dingle, so peaceful at night. Am early to bed but didn’t have much sleep, not unusual pre race and something that I don’t let worry me. Up at 3:45 am, breakfast at 4:30 am, the hotel manager has kindly arranged for the night porter to serve breakfast and he is waiting for me in the dining room and rushes around making sure I have everything I need.
I leave the hotel just after 5 am and drive to Dingle, runners quietly arriving at the meeting point, we put our bags out for the drop points (every 5 miles), I put 2 bags out of extra food, I’ll carry the rest with me and there will be some supplies at the drink stations. We’re in good humour and it’s good to catch up with the chat, I’m invited to take part in a 12 hour race in Athlone in November, I decline as today’s race will be my last ultra this year, fortunately I’m already committed to another event that weekend so I have a reasonable excuse.
We get onto the buses and head off to the start line, about 40 minutes drive and we’re deposited in a quiet country lane. A portaloo and a chalked line on the road the only indications that this is where it all begins. Dawn is just breaking and it’s chilly and most of us get back onto the buses to keep warm. Some of the runners don’t seem to be adequately dressed; the runner next to me borrowed a pair of woollen gloves from the receptionist at his hotel. Five minutes to go and we go
Jugula - LOL, when you said 'box' I had visions of a catering size box, having been down the wholesalers!
Big G - ha, ha at the late nights or early mornings! They're always a good idea and fun at the time, not so great the next day.
I'd heard Jo Pavey is on the after dinner/talks circuit now. A friend of mine went to a Chamber of Commerce dinner in Exeter and she was the speaker. My friend isn't a runner so no useful feedback, she said Jo was quite good but a bit nervous.
Lovely and mild today, makes me realise how I hate the cold weather so much, had a fab run, I so love my Hoka shoes