Month: December 2016

Cracking Craic at the Cracker

Cracking Craic at the Cracker

So the final race of 2016 took place on the 27th. After a few days of overindulgence it was only right that I should be joining over 1100 others who were feeling the same way about the recklessness of the Christmas period and ready to “punish” themselves with an approx. 8.5 mile of the best Castlewellan could offer.

I count myself very lucky to live where I do. I’m surrounded by many a mountain, hill, greenery and endless forest trail paths. Local club Newcastle AC where playing host to the Christmas Cracker which basically took in EVERYTHING the surrounding area had to offer. With the event selling out well in advance of Christmas with record numbers of entries all headed to Castlewellan to take on the unconfirmed route. We were definitely going to be in for a treat and a host of surprises.

The best of both road running and cross country that Northern Ireland had to offer where registered for the event. The only catch with the Cracker is that it is a paired event so it doesn’t matter how fast you can personally finish, if you don’t cross with your partner, tough shit! So the key is to run with someone of the same pace or be prepared to drop your pace to match them. So the person you have probably spent all year running to beat, soon becomes the person you rely on to get you over the line.

Now of course, I’m hardly “the best” that Northern Ireland has to offer unless its for craic whilst running, I’m your woman. So although there were many out to put in a strong performance, for most it was a bit of post Christmas craic, where you left the club vest at home and dressed up for the occasion in fancy dress and embraced the day as just sharing the fun and challenges together.

The Cracker was the first race I booked after DCM to give me a focus. Needless to say, the natural pairing of me with Caitriona was inevitable and her inability to tell me my ideas are pure mad, landed us both on the entry list. I honestly think she ignored exactly what the race involved and got more excited about getting dressed up for the occasion. Bottom line is, if you are going to be near the end, you might as well look like you made an effort. So against my better judgement and my hatred for dressing up, I agreed to tutus, hats, socks and embraced looking like a complete fool all on the promise that afterwards we could go out for the night. Fair deal!

So as we woke on the morning of the 27th, the sky was blue, it was fresh and the fear of the unknown hovered in the air. Getting dressed I really did panic that we’d be the only ones who dressed up and people know me here! After some gentle prompting from Selena and Caitriona and then realising that Micheal was making a slight effort, unannounced to run as Santa, I didn’t feel like such an idiot.

As Santa and his two MAC elves, headed up the Town. The amount of odd looks from passing cars could have easily caused an accident. However once I got up the town it was clear that the passers by must have thought the population of Castlewellan had totally lost their minds! There were Snowmen, Elves, Vikings, Cowboys and Donald Trump and some Mexicans to name but a few. In amongst this were the vest and short runners which to the non runner at the end of December is madder than those dressed up!

As we registered at the local GAA club, we picked up our numbers and mugs which lets face it will make tea taste so much sweeter. Soon we met more and more from the club, it seemed that this was a big Murlough AC day out as many of the club had come out to take part in all categories, some mixed pairs, ladies, men and transgender (not an official category but should be added for next year).

After the obligatory group photo, we headed off to the start line and we where soon on our way moving through the town. I had prepared myself for a climb of Slievenaslat so when I heard rumbles of complaints about the climb to the top of Drumee, I laughed. It wasn’t even a hill as such so couldn’t wait to hear what they had to say once we went into the park.

Billed as having road, forest trails, mud and a surprise, it first caught the city folk off guard as we turned to run down a field only half a mile in. This wasn’t the last time I was amused by those who had travelled down to “run in some muck.” To those of us who are used to chasing sheep and shifting cattle, the softness of field underfoot was welcomed.

Turning back to head into town, we kept smiles on our faces and were greeted by many a spectator. I did enjoy the fact that we wouldn’t move for a white van that was trying to push his way past us as we headed towards the bottom roundabout. I get that it must have been so frustrating for them trying to get somewhere and then being greeted by police holding up traffic to accommodate a pile of runners. But tough shit really is my view on that and as we turned to head up the exit of the Forest Park I did turn to wave at him to acknowledge his lack of patience.

As memories of Causeway Coast 16 soon flooded my head as we cut up the dirt track to Crow Road, the field of runners, not for the first time in the race was to come together as one by one we tried not to fall or slip. Familiar faces were about for some reminiscing and a good laugh. Running past the holy grail that is the lake, we were greeted by the hill to the Castle which I can only assume is the Castle that inspired the town name.

From here we went up and down and up again through the trails of the back hills. At 3 mile, we were impressed to be on point for half marathon pace and given the amount of hills we had encountered, both Caitiriona and I where very pleased with ourselves. However the familiar route of the back hills soon entered into the unknown as we passed the boundary wall and went into the “arse end of nowhere” or as known to many as heading towards Leitrim and this is when the real fun began. Negotiating fields which have seem to become inhabited by the “works of art” that appear for the Soma Festival each year, added laugher and a few scares to those who aren’t used to oversized fake animals in random places, with no valid reason.

With at least 1000 in front who had cut up the ground prior to our arrival it was tricky to find safe ground underfoot. Not one to worry about the trainers, or level of mud, I pushed on through as I watched 2 snowmen panic like the sun was going to melt them as they sunk further into the mud as they didn’t move quick enough. However at our next obstacle, it was comical to watch as everyone held on with bated breath trying to get down a rather steep hill which had mud rivers going down it quicker than the runners. It was here we met Lorriane and Caroline, who we were to spend the remaining few miles with as we continued to meet, tackle and conquer the “surprises” that the route organisers had in store for us.
Reaching 6 mile, I knew it was going to make or break me. After a few tough months post marathon, I feared the unknown beyond what I had ran. I had walked several times in the past month beyond the distance but I wasn’t sure what I had whilst running. As we came onto the Drumbuck Road, we had seemingly swapped partners briefly as I spent a mile or two running with Caroline and chatting about our aims for the coming year. The sun had began to drop in the sky and as we entered into the park, the thought of the end being near as very appealing.

There was one more little surprise left for us and although the finish line was in sight, we had to run the whole way around the god damn horse show field which wasn’t without a few wee inclines. I was however feeling strong, comfortable and content within myself and my wee legs. I had become quite attached to my green tutu and was smiling away. Having to gather the now “team” together, Caitriona and I, alongside new found running friends Lorraine and Caroline, pushed towards the finish line to come across it together to mark what was a tough, challenging and extremely fantastic run.

There is nothing I can fault about the whole event from start to finish, apart from missing out on soup as they had run out as it seems spectators and joe bloggs off the street had heard there was complementary soup and although I’m sure both the club and Newcastle AC had planned to cater for more than entered, they had under estimated the hunger and excitement that a bowl of soup could generate.

It was the best well attended prizegiving I have ever been at, though on scanning the room it was probably because a pint or 3 where available and everyone deserved a wee tipple for their hard work. I was delighted to see Michael Power and his sons take home the main category win for dressing up. I’m still laughing as I see more and more pictures of them appear.
Caitriona and I took home a bottle of wine each also for the effort made to dress up along with some other of the club members, you could say that although MAC didn’t win any of the running categories, we definitely owned the fancy dress, showing that yet again that Murlough AC fully embraces everything that there is on offer from running right down to being the best turned out club in Down. *my own opinion of course*

A quick shower and pizza and soon we were back out to toast how badass we were for completing and surviving the Cracker. I don’t think it was really necessary to be the last ones to leave the bar or not get home to after 2.30am, but I was celebrating, celebrating the realisation that I can still run, that I may have found my mojo again and that I was amongst those who have been by my side the whole way through what is without a doubt the most amazing year of achievements that I have ever had.

 Photo credit to Mal Mc Cann, Paul Fegan,  Colm McMullan and Liam Smyth

And some dodgy drunk snap chat pictures

Happy Runniversary to Me!

Happy Runniversary to Me!

​What is a Runniversary? Well simply put, a Runniversary is celebrating a running milestone anniversary. Today I am celebrating it being 1 year since my first race.

This day last year I took my very nervous self to Tollymore. With me I had a pretty hungover Michael who was going to run with me, we lasted to 7k before we parted ways as we were headed for divorce. I was meeting Jackie and Tara in the car park and I was also going to share this race with Caroline who was beginning her road to VLM and slimming world buddy Caitriona. 
Seems on arriving at Tollymore there were many others I knew who done this running thing. 
And as we set off there was no turning back…and that was the start of it.

So with too many 10ks to recall, 4 half marathons, 1 full marathon and a whole lot of miles covered in the middle, here I am still running.

I’ve had a rough few weeks. Lost my running mojo totally and then still fighting a cough which just isn’t shifting. But I’m not one to give up that easily and theres a selection box up for grabs so the same incentive that got me to Tollymore…got me to Kilbroney.

Given the state I was in I knew normally I’d have gave the race a miss but I wanted to mark the runniversary and of course make the miles on a tough course as prep for the Cracker on the 27th. 

First though, as in any relationship, he had to run first. So off we set with the kids to Kilbroney Park Run for Michael to get a wee jont out. Rónán insisted that he wanted to run and luckily as it’s a 2 lap course we agreed to let him run a lap and then Michael could push on.

 In fairness I knew he wouldn’t slow Michael down that much. And I wasn’t far wrong as they finished the first lap in just over 15minutes. Still a sub 30 performance from Michael after having company on the first lap was impressive and after he finished we packed the kids up and he took them home. 

He wasnt the only 1 who took on Park run on Saturday. Caitriona in all her wisdom thought doing Park run and then the Kilbroney 5k was a good idea. I personally thought she was mad! But each to their own. I guess too many hills is never a bad thing.

As Michael and the kids set off, Caitriona and I headed for pack collection. The 5k seemed so appealing at that moment as I continued to cough a lung up. 

But never one to shy away from getting value for money from a race I stuck with the 10k option. With the introduction of the 5k to the Run Forest Run events, had seemingly hindered the number of slower runners in the 10k. So I knew I’d be flirting with last place. For the record I came second last!

Off we set and surprisingly felt great. Steady 11.30 minute miles over the first 2k as the pack thinned out. As I reached the first of 2 big climbs I recalled the thoughts I had last year when I done the same race. “I’ve to do this twice.” Knowing what lay ahead beyond the forest I took her handy and was met by marshal extrodinaire Wendy at the turn. 

As I began the climb I was passed by so many of the friendly faces I’ve seen over the year at various races coming back down the hill. High fives galore and shouts of encouragement from everyone. The festive spirit was captured by the majority of participants and more so by those on the down hill…us on the uphill struggled to stay upbeat. 

As I came back down the hill it was only natural that I was going to be passed by the front runners on their second lap. And there they were. Some looking comfortable as long strides took them down the hill and others who’s faces encompassed the determination and pain of pushing yourself to the limit.

I always wonder what it is like to be fast. It doesn’t look to be super enjoyable at times but I’m sure it’s great to be finished a lot sooner than everyone else.

On the second lap I had gained company and as we faced the double hill again it didn’t seem so bad. As always the marshalls where supportive and encouraging. 

As I passed the Park run start line I knew that I didn’t have far to go and that I could just go for it. Then I thought to myself that I felt like I could go on a bit longer. After struggling to get to 6 miles the thought of stopping was making me sad and feeling cheated. 

However there was the medal and selection box waiting on me and knew then 6 mile was enough for 1 day.

I crossed the line strong to shouts of support from an whole array of people who seemed to know me. I looked down at my watch and stopped it. In fairness I read the time and it didn’t bother me. I had aimed to go out to beat Minnowburn which I had done. I also was aiming to maintain half marathon pace which I nailed so I didn’t care it was well out of my 10k PB and also 4 minutes slower than the time I got last year. Achievements in running do not have to be specifically about being faster.

I had pretty much coughed the whole way on the way round but it was such a beautiful crisp morning in a fantastic park which just made you smile being there. That is what makes a race. 

OK it’s a bonus if you can get a faster time but it doesn’t define how you feel about a race.

Have I found my running mojo…well it’s still missing in action however I have regained the appreciating of being able to run, being blessed to have so many unbelievable new friends this year because of running and feeling optimistic about the year ahead. Now if only I could find a way to get rid of this cough, find my voice and get back out there, I’d be buzzing! 

Run Rónán Run

Run Rónán Run

My kids are outside children. They would happily potter about outside all day, especially if they are out at the farm. 

Running up and down the lane and bringing the fleet back and forth to the shed (there is an impressive collection of ride on machinery that has been gathered over the years). However if you were to say to either of them, fancy a walk round the lake. You get a whole range of moaning from my tummy is sore to I just don’t wanna. 
When we do manage to get them up to the lake, Rónán (who just turned 6) was always the one who runs for like 50m and then stops for a wee rest, where as Aoife, who is a year younger, can happily plod along nice and steady. 

So when I saw that there was a 2k Santa Run in Downpatrick, I was chancing my arm asking Rónán did he want to come along. I did have to promise him he could be a team with Oisin who is Caitrionas nephew. 

In my head it was going to just be a wee light jog up and down Downpatrick, hand in hand with my son. How wrong was I.

He set off at speed with the other kids. I was pretty certain at this point by the corner he’d have stopped and gathered himself. As he passed the corner and didn’t stop I panicked as there was a road at the end of the industrial estate. So I sprinted to catch up. 

Too little too late as he was powering up the road. I shouted to him “Mammy doesn’t do 8 minute miles, slow down” but he turned and looked back at me and smiled. I knew then that I just had to let him run on and hope he burnt out.

I met him on the turn as he was coming back down the street after 1 km. By this stage he was running with his hat in his hand and I was filled with guilt as he was running in a Christmas Jumper and was melted. But how was I know that he as going to actually run.  He assured me he was going “at super speed” and he was so proud of himself. 
Back down the 2nd half of the race I could see the ginger hair disappear into the industrial park. I notice that there was only 2 people in front of him and couldn’t believe it.

 I ran with a child who was ready to give up at the end and kept her going across the line. Where she kindly thanked me for running with her. I was meant to run with my child but I’d take any child going at that point.

As I crossed the line, there was no sign of my ginger ninja. I asked the marshal did they see where the ginger elf went and they said he went into the hall.

In true Rónán fashion he had already helped himself to juice and a piece of cake, sitting on the floor with his medal round his neck, so happy with himself. 
He was blotchy red with sweat and overheating but couldn’t wait to ask me was I proud of him and show off his bling to me. 

Of course I was proud of him. I did initially want to strangle him for running off but then was all biz for him doing so well and coming in 3rd. Over the 2k he seemed to have worked up an appetite/seen cake and tart and was in heaven.

He kept telling me he was super fast and I was a slow coach. I informed him I just know how to pace myself and queried how many marathons has he ran. Yes I know he’s 6 and someday he’ll understand. 

In the car on the way home he kept asking was I proud and would daddy be proud. He also wanted to show everyone his medal and even got a phone call from Auntie Shauna in Scotland to congratulate him.

So seemingly there is potential for a runner in the house however…

The next day I asked him if he wanted to go for a run around the lake. Yeah I got the same answer as always…”no mammy my tummy hurts”

So he hasn’t obviously got the bug but nice to know he has the same ability as his daddy to never run and then to magically pull out a stellar performance on the day. Like Father, like son. 

Just Stop

I have so much I want and could write about but alongside my running mojo, I am sure I have lost my writing mojo.

Nothing ground breaking has happened in life, I honestly think I have just worn out all over. My legs are in foul form and its definitely not DOMs. As I’m able to walk, I’m able to walk for miles in fact. They just have no inclination to run.

This worries me but then again I can understand why they may be in protest at me. Just over a month ago I ran a marathon, a marathon that I trained hard for, so it wasn’t a total shock to the system, my legs where ready for it. As I stood at the start line my legs felt fresh and I was dying to run. Even on reflection every good race I had last year, when I look back to the start line, I was confident my legs where ready and felt good. I don’t have that anymore. When I try to run my legs are like lead, flip sake, I cried during Parkrun. Yet it isn’t pain, it isn’t isolated, its just meh. All over heaviness and doesn’t ease, actually it intensifies.

What lingers in the back of my mind is that my “runiversary” is happening in 2 weeks. So it’ll be a year since my first race. Its a really tough 10k, one of the harder of the forest runs. I smashed it last year out of the blue. When I say smashed it, it was well above my expectations. Thing is my expectations have got higher now and as I was knocking minutes off pbs the start of 2016- 7 minutes in 3 months of my 10k to be exact. I’ve been tooting around the same time and then I had the mad notion for Dublin and times slowly dropped as distance went up.

Like I didn’t expect times to return to normal post marathon, but I did expect that I might have fresh legs and be knocking on the door of previous times by now. I did learn my lesson last year not to over think a race as it’ll only end up eating away at me. I should just enjoy it but you can’t help but want to do better than you did last year. After all I’ve ran all distances so I should be capable of much more.

Its like Parkrun on Saturday, I know I am better than 38minutes however I had nothing to give. I was that upset mid race that by 4k I had to totally empty the tank to just get it finished or I was going to break down and there was 4 minutes difference between my 4th and 5th km, though an uphill vs downhill section would have greatly affected that.

Don’t get me wrong I am loving being out walking, I’ve enjoyed some of the fabulous sights of the Mournes and unseasonably mild weather. No pressure to stick to times, just me and the path in front. Fresh air has a lot to answer for! I’ve had some great conversations with myself and also with Michael and Collette who have joined me on my travels.

See my writing mojo is lost as this is just a whole pile of jibberish and I can’t find my positives!!!

So what am I doing about it? Well I’m ranting random jibberish so that’s a start. I’ve cut back on the longer walks and the elevation gain. So just long walks on smaller hills- there is no such thing as flat walks here and I don’t like walks that only take an hour. I’ve not went to Intervals tonight so nothing intense on my legs. I’ll go to my usual pt session with Shane at 7am and spin and core at 9.30 followed by probably an hour lying in the Jacuzzi rubbing my legs in hope that they will magically get better. In fairness I can manage that session myself not too bad as you get what you put in sort of thing.

I’m feeling perplexed and holding on to what hope I have left I suppose. I am hoping that this feeling is down to the darker nights, the time of year, post marathon life and expectations, a kind of end of year depression after what has been an epic year. Realistically I know I need to cut back to nothing really and just wait it out. Which quite frankly I just don’t want to do and can’t mentally do.

So I guess I won’t really be saying much until I find myself and find not only my legs but my drive. I need to pick a fight with someone or something to fire me up, may be. Feeling very much in limbo and slightly lost. But hey, smiling on and into the festive season where more than likely my legs will fall off in Kilbroney or shatter to pieces in the Cracker. Time will tell.








I am no longer a Parkrun Virgin!

I am no longer a Parkrun Virgin!

There comes a time in every runners life when you just have to let it go. Over the past year I have ran every distance from 5k to Marathon and still held onto the fact I’d never ran a Parkrun. I wasn’t willing to just let any Parkrun be my first. I had flirted with going to Lisburn or Belfast to break my Parkrun virginity but with word on the street that a team was working hard in Kilbroney, Rostrevor, to bring Parkrun nearer to home, I held off waiting and hoping it would be the perfect one for me.

Low and behold the promise of Parkrun coming to Kilbroney materialised and under the wing of “Race Director” Dermot Mathers (why does he keep stalking me and my life I’ll never know) last week saw over 130 participants take to the trails of Kilbroney to mark the inaugural Parkrun.

Sadly I missed out on it as was busy learning how to save lives in case I ever come across a runner in need of more than hug. So clearly on the calendar I had marked this weeks Parkrun as a must.

It was an unseasonably mild December morning and as we left the confines of our cosy home in Castlewellan to make our way to Rostrevor, we had no idea what lay ahead. I have encountered Kilbroney a few times over the year in various races, so I was under no illusion that it was going to be a flat and monotonous course.

Over 100 parkrunners took to the start line and before we knew it we were off.

As we set off towards Fairy Glen, the sea of runners stretched the length of the path. As a 2 lap course my aim was simply not to be over taken by the front runner. It was great to have Caitriona back out running and keeping me right. She even requested for me to sing which is usually the reason she lets me run on as she doesn’t want to hear me. A rendition of Jiggle Bells was soon cut short as we approached the first hill.

As we climbed up through the twisty gravel track we were able to gain a place or two. Met by a lovely and very positive volunteer who directed us on up another hill. At this point on the loop the other runners came down the other side and spotting Michael with those who I assumed where in around the mid 20s, I knew that the front runners wouldn’t be too far behind me.

It was a relief to see the second hill end and know it was all downhill from there. As we came in through the caravan park, we where greeted by the Narnia Trail Door and like little fairies we ran through the woods towards the start again.

I could have easily stopped after 1 lap but as I crossed the line for the 2nd lap I spotted Don Travers coming across the finish and although I had made it a lap (just about) without being lapped, I know next time to get my ass moving a bit quicker!

The second lap didn’t have the fear of the unknown. You knew where to push yourself and where you needed to contain your energy. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good thing or not but I enjoyed the second lap more even if I did shed a tear as couldn’t shake off a niggle. I was able to take in the surrounding mountains that tower over the forest, listen to the leaves crunching under feet and appreciate my procrastination on the last hill that bit more.

It was exciting to come back down through Narnia, though it was more like a heard of elephants than a collection of fairies. The end was near and everyone knew it. Getting to the finish and smoothly going through the post parkrun motions, I was finally not a Parkrun Virgin anymore.

I have to give a shout out to all the volunteers, from the moment we arrived they where on hand to help with informing you about what is happening, what the route was and keeping you in the craic. Nothing beats fun and laughter first thing on a Saturday morning. Through out the course they were very encouraging and also empathy was aplenty as probably runners themselves, they knew the story that our faces told. We were treated to cake and sweets afterwards which was a fantastic surprise and finished the event off lovely.

It was great to see 6 of the Murlough crowd making the Parkrun also, well there where 5 until we realised Michael had decided to tackle a 3rd lap as punishment for that 3rd helping of Jameson last night, as that’s what sane people do obviously.

So Parkrun done and home for 11am. So this is what everyone raves about…I totally get it!

So was it worth waiting for the right Parkrun to be my first, definitely! I couldn’t have picked a more scenic yet challenging route. It was also helped by the fact that the weather was perfect and the seasonal changes in the surroundings added to the beauty. I just love running in the forest even if it does mean that I am faced with some “mild” elevation.

I will definitely be back and think if you are still waiting to pop your parkrun cherry, this is the one to do it. Friendly volunteers, great route, a few wee challenges to wake you up and plenty of fellow parkrunners ready to share their Saturday morning with you.

If you need a first aider, look for someone else qualified but if stuck, I can help

If you need a first aider, look for someone else qualified but if stuck, I can help

I know I rabble on about how much I love being a part of Murlough AC. But seriously I can’t remember life before running became pretty much my social life too. Not hard when I didn’t have much of a life in general due to numerous factors, mostly my kids. 

Anyway as awesome as the club is we had the opportunity to take part in a REC First Aid at Work course that was geared towards runners. 

I’ve never done first aid before. OK I can deal with sticking a plaster on and giving a cuddle to make everything better but I had no idea what to do if I was to come across a situation where having first aid could save a life. 
So I was up for the challange and delighted to be able avail of learning such skills.

We were the second group to do this session and the 10 of us all had varying backgrounds in first aid. Me with nothing and beside me was class swot and first aid queen Selena. Of course with the mix of personalities in the room there was the potential that it might be possible to derail precedings but the course was so captavating that apart from our usual one liners and giddiness we where really well behaved lol

Everything from robust CPR to how to use a defibrillator, how to bandage a wound to being prepared to deal with situations on your own and in groups.  It really was an eye opener to how you can practically save someones life through basic steps done right.

The 6 hour course flew in. I made great friends with the CPR dummy and soon will have a certificate to prove I can do first aid…but more than likely will phone Selena in an emergency for advice.

Siobhan Grant, mother, runner, marathoner and now first aider. How my life has changed in the last year all because of trying to put one foot in front of the other.