I suppose when you think about it, most of my “days out” this year have been to go to races. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’m still getting out. So when Michael McKenna threw the idea of a bus run to the Causeway Coast out there a few months back, I wasn’t long ensuring I’d be on it.
After what has been an iffy few weeks in marathon training, I’d been warned how dangerous this route was and to be careful, well essentially I was told not to do it. But really how bad could it be?
So bus picked us up at 8am and that began the 2 hour trip to the scenic North Coast. 26 Extreme, who organise this race have the tagline “we don’t do easy” and it is this foundation that they pride themselves on. So with worries from competitors about high winds and bad weather they were basically told to pull up their big girl pants and horse her on.
With a glass of bubbles on the bus at 9.30 as second breakfast, we arrived in Portbalintrae. The sky looked moody and as team MAC dandered to the start line minus super runner McKenna doing a few mile before the race, the fear of what lay ahead began to sink in.
Numbers collected and got ourselves sorted, we where soon on the bus to the start line. The thoughts of the previous race information highlighting what to do ie do what the Marshall says or you’ll get seriously injured or die. Played through my mind. Did they really have to be so dramatic..as the race progressed it became very apparent that they weren’t telling lies.
With the majority of Team Mac opting for the half marathon we braved the cliff edge for a group photo. We were soon on the road, well questionable gravel uphill before turning onto a grass path. I knew I had to be careful and from the off I stuck with Caitriona. We were in this together and after promising her I wouldn’t run off and leave her, or take her at the finish line all was going well for the first 2 mile.
Mac half marathon machines to quote Joe McMahon
A few hold ups at the stiles allowed for race picture taking but nothing too dangerous or challanging in the beginning. Settling in we both turned to eachother saying well if we keep this pace up we’d be flying. Hmm mm
I laughed off a comment from an Ultra runner that we’d need our swimming gear around the corner. He wasn’t too far wrong. The tide was in and we had to go into the water. I’ve heard many people say they where up to their knees in the water, for short asses like me I was up to my knickers!
Leaving the water to run a mile on the beach where I was treated to a sandblasting/exfoliation treatment from the wind and the sand was far from enjoyable. As we reached the rocks the heavens opened and let’s face it, it was the really wet big rain. At 3 mile in, I was hoping that this was the worst of the course. How wrong was I. Even after the rocks, I could have easily killed myself as I was about to run into a chain I didn’t see and Caitriona thankfully steered me clear.
The ground had been cut up by all the previous runners and because it was so soft and wet it wasn’t long before I was on my ass. It happened in slow motion, I had flash backs from falling up Bernagh in the snow back in March as I hit the ground. Thankfully my extra “padding” had taken the brunt of the fall and I was able to carry on, with a bruised ego and mucky shorts.
The rain continued to fall and at the first feed stop the haribo where swimming in water. All this water meant I had to pee so following the race instructions I avoided wild weeing and used the toilet instead.
Plodding on we began to feel like we where getting somewhere. However the next 6 miles where to be the most brutal experience of my life. Between steps,stiles, more steps, slipping, steps, sliding, steps and guess what more steps. I managed to stay primarily on my feet falling only 1 more time and bashing my shoulder. And as for the stiles, short legs Siobhan could barely get her leg over some of them and would have been better crawling under them.
Mid race selfie
The views where stunning after the rain cleared up and although I was holding onto the fence for dear life as we progressed, I began to enjoy it as the thought of how much worse could this get, kept you going.
Just past Ballintoy Harbour
Conversation was plentiful, not only between Caitriona and myself but with the other participants. We were in amongst the marathoners, the 10k and the Ultra runners. Everyone feeling exactly the same, even if we where all drown rats covered in muck.
Caitriona’s Geography left a lot to be desired and as we came above the Giants Causeway her reaction was priceless.
“Is that it?” Yip just a lump of oddly shaped rock. I’m sure if we were at sea level she’d realise the columns are quite big and for a geologist, quite fascinating. And also that is not Scotland over there!
The feed station at just after 9 mile had the world’s best cake. We had been going 3 hours at this point and I’m sure anything would have tasted good, but the cake was immense.
The cake must have had magical powers. As from there we were able to actually run at pace and I felt like I was finally breaking in. The end was near and it was just a matter of making it in 1 piece. With 1 tricky decent at 11 mile, we were soon on the railway track.
I didn’t care anymore and ran straight through the puddles. Caitriona wasn’t impressed by my excessive dancing in the puddles as I was splashing her whilst I prance like an eejit. So my singing and dancing at Lisburn Half drove her away and then my puddle dancing at Causeway may result in me not having someone to run with ever again .
As we came across the board walk pitching the GR8 club race to fellow runners as a ‘Smaller version of Causeway Coast.’ We could see what looked like the support crew on the hill.
One last hill and as I got to the top, I was delighted to take Caitriona by the hand and cross the line with her. True to my word,we done it together, right to the bitter end.
Final hill to the finish
With a quick trip to the bus to make it to Portrush for dinner, I tried my best to wash the muck off me with baby wipes and change my clothes. A beautiful dinner and a well deserved drink was had whist everyone tried to come to terms with what we had just put ourselves through.
The bus journey home was to be fun. We had a “few” drinks to make the journey home that bit more easier on the sore bodies, purely medicinal. There was plenty of ice for not only drink but for an ice bath..thanks Brendan!
We got off in Newcastle and headed to the Donard Bar for a few sociables whilst not in transit. Craic was mighty and was a perfect end to the day.
A big shout out to the team of supporters who came along and kept us full of positive thoughts and were there to support us during the race and also at the bar.
However I know I’d have never made it through this race injury free without Caitriona. She worried more about where my feet where going than hers. She kept me sane and in craic throughout the race. We technically verbally wrote this blog at 8 mile. She chased me up every hill shouting to “drive drive drive” but best of all I was delighted to see that she beat me, it’s been a long time coming and for the results to have her name before mine was a poetic finish to the race. 2 seconds is 2 seconds.
In the aftermath of the race, for about 10 minutes, I was never doing this race again. However today, with my broken body, sore shoulder and fresh hope that the sun might shine on the North Coast someday, I’m looking forward to next year’s “Away” race. It can’t get any worse than yesterday…can it?