It could be said that some runners would have been wiser eating grass than running on Saturday morning. With rain coming from every direction and Silent Valley resembling a bad day in Mordor, the hardcore runners took to the start line of Born 2 Runs, Dambusters Half Marathon whilst the fair weather runners rolled over in their beds.
Let’s face it, I made a point of running through every storm that the alphabet threw at me this year. Even running like a mad woman through the burst banks of the lake and the floods running down the mountains. So I’m not one to fear the wind and rain but I do detest beginning a run in the rain.
You see the issue with this race was simple. It was in the middle of the Mourne Mountains. The part of the land that has a weather climate all to itself. So if it’s sunny and lovely at sea level you can bet your ass it’s lashing rain and gale force winds up the mountain.
As Michael drove up the Slievenaman Road towards Silent Valley the clouds began to decend upon us. It felt like a trip to a race during the winter series not in the middle of August. Yet after collecting our registration packs the mist lifted and hopes grew that it might actually dry up.
Dambusters is not your average half marathon. Some would say that it would count towards more like 15/16 miles in your legs than 13. It offers elevation of over 1000ft over multi terrain in what is essentially the heart of the Mournes.
The elevation map
We boarded buses to the start line that was 3 mile outside of the park. I was full of mixed emotions. I have proven that I can run 13 mile, I don’t mind a few good hills, I love the mountains abeit walking them but I was doing this on a day that holds some strong memories for me and I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up emotionally.
I did have Michael to one side of me and Caitriona to the other. I was sporting some fantastic bling on my shoes also that Caitriona had got made for me for inspiration for Dublin. She couldn’t have nailed it any better.
Caitriona was gearing up for her second half marathon which she was gently convinced to do as I owed her money and thought I’d put it to good use and sign her up. I thought after Lisburn she learnt her lesson to not listen to me but seems not and she was along for the ride again.
As the runners embraced the steady climb up the Carrigenagh Road, the rain began to pour. It was a small field of 200 runners so it didn’t take long for Caitriona and I to own the back of the pack. You see the thing about doing any distance is to run your own race. Being able to ignore those in front of you speeding off, ignoring the cars, medical team or police behind you crawling along slowly and have the self believe in your legs to make the distance is what you need to succeed. And boy do Caitriona and I know how to do that and do it well.
After a mile we gradually split from eachother. I was determined to make it to Silent Valley without stopping to walk. I knew there was at least 300ft of a gradual climb to there so took it slow and made it within my time frame. Yet I spotted a familiar body in the distance. It would have been too much of a coincidence for two people to be wearing exactly the same gear, it was Micheal.
I have serious respect for anyone to drop out of a race. They’ve paid the money, geared themselves up for the race and took to the line. He wasn’t the first body I’d seen drop out, even in this race. Someone barely made 1 mile. But to know it’s just not worth putting your body through everything and accepting a DNF, I’ve the upmost respect.
When I reached him I knew he’d already debated carrying on with me and decided even that would be a bad idea and he called it quits and saved his knee from any further injury. To say I was gutted was an understatement with DCM 10 weeks away, I hope it’s something that doesn’t hinder training for him or I’ll have to listen to him the WHOLE way round. The plan was suppose to be; do the marathon to get away from eachother!
Anyway, I carried on and reached the reservoir where I was greeted by fellow MAC Clare on marshalling duties, cue photo above. It was clear that the 10k was about to kick off so I needed to get up the path to the dam as far as I could before being flanked by the 10kers. As I progressed, the leaders of the HM passed me and support was aplenty either way from me to them and them to me. Strangely a few of the faces where familiar ones from Cookstown and also some of the MAC crew showing off that they’d already been up and down the hill I still had to face. They weren’t really showing off..I was just jealous they’d a big hill under their belt already.
I spotted the tree. A lonely tree that sits on a corner like the middle of a roundabout. I knew around the corner I was going to be faced with “that hill” the hill I had familiarised myself with a few weeks ago. I kept the head up and set my sights on the foot of Ben Crom Dam. The water was gushing out of it with all its might and as refreshed faces made their way back down the hill after surviving the climb and enjoying the water station at the top…I wanted to be like them. So digging in, I got to the top and reached what was essentially the half way point of the race.
The next 3 mile was pebble dashed by all types of rain. Rain from the left, rain from the right. Rain that came at you and rain that jumped up off the ground. The surrounding and usually dynamic landscape was immersed in mist and the rain rolled down the valley.
The hope of a tailwind never appeared and at 9 mile I looked to my right to see people running across the mountain. That couldn’t be right! I knew the end was trail but a mountain? I reached into my hydration belt and pulled out the gel. My normal powerbar sweets where not going to cut it at this point. As I turned and broke away from the 10k, a much needed hug from Clare at that point helped me pull my emotions together to tackle the end.
I ran across the front of the Reservoir I spotted Brendan on the final stretch of his 10th half marathon and he was making great time. It was like his high five had special powers and I entered the forest with gusto.
To be honest I felt like a fairy lost in the glen. I was very alone but comfortably so. You could hear rain drops fall from the trees and your feet crunching on the path. I was nearly ready to put a complaint on my list when I saw the water station packing up and you know how I feel about that, luckily they where able to muster together a glass for me and remind them that I wasn’t last so to hang on.
The next mile passed by and I kept saying to myself I’ve only a lap of the lake to go so motor on. However mile 11 happened, a mountain happened at mile 11. In the approach to the climb, I was met by organiser Jane bracing horrendous rain, which by now I didn’t even notice anymore, she coached me along the straight to the foot of the hill and I took on that hill like my life depended on it. One thing about this climb was…what went up, definitely was going to coming back down. Through a track that was essentially 1 big puddle I knew if I just kept steady I’d come in well below my 3hr aim.
Down the mountain I came and onto the flat again. I could see the finish line downhill and waved at what was clearly Michael and some other MAC folk waiting for me. That’s one thing I can say about the club. They know to hang about for you to finish and cheer you home.
The last km was fIlled with pure relief. I seen the 13 mile sign and then the finish line. I knew I had the sprint finish in me and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I glanced at my watch to see a 2hr 44. 2 minutes faster than Lisburn and only 2 minutes slower than Cookstown on what was a desperate and challanging course. I was delighted.
Not far behind me, Caitriona graced the front of the Dam and came across the line with a smile plastered right across her face with a half pb! What an achievement.
What was even more of an achievement was that we didn’t come last either…ok we where 3rd and 2nd last respectively but that still isn’t last…give me a cheer!! Wohoo!
Soaked right through to our knickers, we celebrated with Brendan on a series full house. We took our sodden feet to the car and headed for the hot tub and showers at the Burrendale.
My feet where wrinkly, the blister on my hand had the top layer of skin peel off and my sock line separated the clean skin from the dirty skin. But I felt so badass. Definitely running in the rain makes a race twice as great to finish.
So for now, I’ll sit and admire the medal…a very nice one with the mountains and the Dam on it and remember everything that was thrown at me during that race. Ok I did cry twice during the race but I was working through the thoughts in my head that plagued me from 4 years previous. I remembered that the same determination and belief that I acted on that day got me through a challanging part of my life, is in fact the same determination and belief that got me through that race- seems it’s something that I’m sure is embedded in me now.
There is no challange too big, not a complete life upheaval, not a half marathon in questionable conditions and landscapes or a full marathon.
10 weeks to go…
Thank you to Mervyn Mc Keown for the fantastic action shot mid race. Looking for the race pictures is my favourite post race ritual www.mysportsphoto.uk
And to Clare Murnin for enduring all that rain and providing the mugshots of all the Mac team in the collage above