Last One Standing – the Epic race report

It’s not very often that I am rendered speechless. Its either as a result of losing my voice by over talking or being so moved by something that there are no words to describe. This weekend it was the latter than took my voice away.

The Last One Standing Ultra took place at Castleward this weekend and after DCM, I had joked with Michael about him giving it a bash. It was the random ramblings of one Kieran Young who put the idea in my head. Of course he was trying to convince me to do it whilst I was still feeling invincible after Dublin as I could spend 6 hours on my feet and that’s good training, I had endurance. Well sadly for him I also have some sense left after 2 kids and instead pitched the idea to Michael, who in order to keep training, needs something to train for, so hello Christmas present to Hubby.

As you all know I did brave the Recce day just to test myself and although I made a good stab at 4 laps with zero training I just don’t think I was ready to take it on myself and entered the 8.4 mile trail race which was 2 laps of the route. So I self nominated myself as head of the support crew as I knew doing this alone without the encouragement and the hands on deck would be a nightmare. So who else to call on than my trusted running buddies and the others from the club to swing by as and when they could on the day.

runners that run together- support together. The 3 amigos out in full gear to keep everyone right!

It was like a military operation in my house the morning of the race. I had to be up and away first and Caitriona had kindly offered to collect Michael a little later so he wasn’t hanging about. I had pre packed for everything the day before ensured all odd and random bits where included in the plastic box to get us through the day, from plasters and socks to sleeping bag and hot water bottles. As I arrived at Castleward I spotted Kieran already set up and ready to take the world on. I honestly hadn’t expected any of MAC to be there before my race and we were soon joined by Brenda who came along to make sure I got off in one piece.

Home for the day- the barn

I was the only one from the club who had opted for what was a brutal and challenging 2 lap route of 8.4 mile, a patch on what some runners would achieve later that day. Knowing the route, I knew what lay ahead but I was just out the pass the time and get a medal for actually finishing. I was in great spirits as I took on the first lap, I treated it the same way I had done the recce and walked the hills and ran the flats, I was on target for a solid first lap and as I neared the line hoping to make it without being lapped, didn’t Don Travers have to spoil my lap and pip me to the finish before I completed the first lap, like park run all over again. I do apologise for the choice words he received as he flew over the line but at this stage many of the MAC had arrived and where there to cheer me through to the start of the 2nd lap.

Flying feet at the end of the second lap! wohoo!

Needless to say I had an epiphany at around 5 mile, I had spent so much time organising Michaels stuff for the Ultra that I had forgot about my own race. I was out on course without water, gels, nothing! So as I hit 6 mile into the field, I had a different sort of fuel keeping me going and it was the sight of the full MAC crew at the bridge cheering me on. I swear as I came up the field, I held back a lot of tears. It was the most moving sight as I was pretty much on my own either side and there they were cheering for me. So thanks guys for that, means a lot.

The bridge where MAC came to cheer little old me on at mile 6

Taking on the hill to the house was, as always, not the best part of the race but as I headed for home, I could hear in the distance 6.5 minutes to the Ultra starts. I had forgot that my race had started late so pushed on to make it to the finish so I could see them all at the start. With a few minutes to spare I was able to wish everyone good luck and see them on their way as they headed off for many, many miles.

Delighted to have a mornings run done and ready to take over duties as support crew fuelled by Avonmore no less

So flashbacks of Causeway Coast came flooding back as I got the baby wipes out and tried to make myself respectable after my run, hiding behind some historic trailer doing a full clothes change as Caitriona, Branda and Aine chatted away. Wrapped up, fresh and ready for the long day ahead.

Everyone made the first lap home safely, with a list drawn up prior to the race it was easy to have organised in advance the how everyone liked their tea and coffee and have everything sitting so that all they had to do was run, rest repeat. As hunger kicked in with myself, I had my first of many runs in with the man in the chip van over the course of the day.

Between Caitriona, Brenda and myself we fell into a pretty smooth routine each lap. On the hour, see everyone off, go the toilet and tidy round the barn. Be at the bridge for 15mins past the hour, spend the next 20 minutes, cheering everyone on. Back to base and check drinks and have food ordered and ready. From 45 minutes past the hour everyone began to come in for their lap finishing and everything from helping to get fresh tops on and socks to getting last minute cravings. Even tending to those around us who became honoury members for the day, Richard with Omagh Harriers to everyones favourite Jimmy Mac loving the Murlough hands on approach.

Michael cosy in his wee group on lap 3

As the laps went on into the 3rd, the wait at the bridge got a little longer as people began to realise that their final lap was nearly upon them. Cheering on those who I normally run with at my end of the field was pure gold. Jennifer, Alan, Nora and Janet all held a special place in our cheering as although my runners had to learn to slow down, for my pace, I’d just have to keep on going and going and going at my normal pace so I am sure they were feeling it.

Alan taking on the muddiness of the path

Lap 3 saw the first DNF. However it wasn’t to be a MAC, as the clocked ticked down I spotted Alan making his way across the line and seeing he had moments to start the next lap pretty much got threw over the line to start the 4th lap. I knew he was in pain but even if he walked, it was miles in the legs and I knew if it was me, I’d want someone to get me across that line. Alan does claim that he was very scared of me on the 3rd lap and the only way he could run away from me was by going over the line again. Well at least he knows now not the flirt with the cut of time again.

A delighted Jennifer finished and showing off her DNF medal

Alan and Jennifer both missed the cut off finishing their race on just short of 17 miles and didn’t start the 5th lap. Both proud and rightly so with precious miles in the legs for their respective marathons. With their final race in the Run Forest Run series looming next week, this cross club friendship continues to keep the two of them striving for better times all whilst enjoying the miles and gaining some fancy bling, even if it is a medal for not finishing a race.
The next lap saw Janet, my partner in crime at the Recce reach her goal of 5 laps. There was something powerful about being able to stand on the bridge and cheer every runner on at the lap half way point. But the elation in her face when she knew she had made her aim and completed the 21 miles was fantastic and a huge hug afterwards was priceless. Well done girl!

An upbeat and strong Brendan wading on
And this is the point where me and the grumpy chip van man clashed. Having served soup from midday, runners where beginning, 6 hours in, to want some solid warm food in them. It was dinner time after all. However the catering van was not prepared for this and even when a runner asked for solid food, he said he’d soup and I knew something needed to happen by the next lap, so being Siobhan I went and spoke to Adrian nicely and bacon and egg baps where promised the next lap. Well arriving at the van at 6.35 ready to order for the runners from Murlough coming in, he was more concerned about his paying customers than the runner who had the short window of opportunity to eat and nothing prepared- which I am sure was what he was paid to be there for. A few sharp choice words and although I was cater for he was told to pull his finger out and be ready for over 100 runners about to cross the line within the next 10 minutes. After that I couldn’t even face looking at him again and I hope to God that he isn’t there next year and some one who can do their job is there putting the runners first instead of being more concerned about lining their own pockets. *rant over*

Its head torch time

As many approached their longest milage to date with marathon distance soon to be reached in the middle of the 7th lap, you began to see some runners search for that little something extra. As head lamps where now mandatory as day light faded, the course became like a new route, totally unrecognisable to the eye. As promised we walked the gutters of the field that had taken a bashing from hundreds of pairs of feet over the previous 8 hours and held with pride the Murlough AC banner just past the Marathon distance point to welcome the runners into the Ultra Marathon bracket.

Mr music man himself
And as promised by Michael Mc Kenna the tunes where pumping and we heard him before we seen him. With a quick rave in the middle of a field surrounded by I’m sure bewildered runners, we celebrated the entry into uncharted territory and headed to embrace Ultra running.

Coming back through the field we waded through the muck and although a lot more compacted to when I ran it earlier in the day it was sort of sticky and pulling the backs of your legs,  thought to myself that it wouldn’t have been to pleasant doing that.

We returned to the barn and ready for prep *insert bacon bap rant with grumpy chip van man* As team MAC returned to their camp seats, I heard the sensible words of the music man himself and was glad he made a tough call. Actually in fairness, he should not have toed the line anyway and my heart broke as out of everyone he had trained hard and knew what he wanted. Although breaking the marathon barrier and going beyond is extraordinary, I knew not too deep down he wanted more and at full health, very capable of double what he done. I can’t wait to see him blow the race out of the water next year. However well done Kenny. Your presence was missed the next lap as the ladies in the field where sad to see the “music man” had bowed out.

Going well through the early laps, Eddie gives the thumbs up
The next lap started in pitch black, completing this lap would bring everyone beyond the 50k mark. I knew for many of the field that this was a personal target. A huge distance by any stretch of the imagination and I knew Michael had initially set this lap as his aim. It was a long lap for us waiting on, even though runners continued to come in from the 38 minute mark. The smell of the barn was become toxic with an array of deep heat, cool gels and the likes to keep legs from cramping and seizing. Fresh changes of socks and clothes where aplenty also. I waited with tailwind and an orange. MAC began to come across the line from the 48 minute mark and no sign of a steady Michael in at 51. I hoped to God he hadn’t called it a day but at 55 minutes he crossed the line.

Following him into the barn he gave an open invitation to everyone else declaring, this is his final lap and welcomes anyone willing to walk. Considering the previous lap near killed me with nerves and I knew he had already accepted that he had done what he wanted I jumped at the chance to see what 9 laps of running had done to the terrain. Michael had changed from his trails to his road trainers on lap 8 so I was intrigued. Of course I went for the trails and grabbed a handful of jellies for the 4.2 trip. So on the hour, we crossed the line with all the other runners and off we set at a nice walking a pace.

It was such a fantastic evening with stars lighting up the sky and views across Strangford Lough, such a difference to day time but equally as calm and still. I rabbled on about my run and getting lapped by Don…again, people getting lost, forgetting my water and my random comments about the way the track had changed since 10am that morning. I got to also enjoy the stories from the pack with everyone elses tactics and how although he called it a day on this lap how he knew he could have went on for another- which I knew fine rightly, he just has other priorities this year and maybe in a few years he’ll come back and make the race his priority.

Strangford Lough on lap 9

It was a perfect cool down, he’d brought his club jacket so was able to bring the body temperature down slowly and it was more of a farewell to each painful part of the route, the hill to Winterfell, the field, the bridge, that hill to the house, the lonely tarmac road and the sliding down the back hill to the caravan park. On reaching that point children were out and said “are you runners, its 9 oclock you aren’t going to make it” apparently they had been there calling out “come on lightbulb” to the runners as they passed in the dark.

Ormeau Runners little fairy Nora eating up the miles

Crossing the line in 1.12 brought his Garmin to over 40 miles with a pleased and proud Michael attached. Also this lap saw Nora, the wee legend complete her last lap also. Heading out to make the Ultra Distance, she took more steps than anyone in the field, took even more abuse and shouting from us on the bridge than anyone else and had the best smile of anyone out there running. She did make the cut to go for lap 10 but knew she had smashed her expectations and made me wonder, next year, that could be me. I said could…not would! just for the record.

There was many a costume change throughout the day- someone should buy this man a hat

The next lap cut off came and went with Eddie, Colin and Kieran making the cut. Brendan and the only MAC woman in the field, Judith finished the lap together with cheers from all the MAC crew who had travelled to Castleward in the evening time. With in excess of 42 miles completed the two of them beamed from ear to ear and I was so proud of them both. The club bond shone throughout that lap. I had watched both of them with awe. Brendan had come a long way in the last 6 weeks since the recce day where he turned up for just 2 laps and there was Judith, the little person that she is yet strong as an ox battling through each lap giving her all, just exemplary and showing that an Ultra is not just for men.

The strongest lady I know, Judith powering through yet another lap

Lap 11 saw Eddie leave the madness. A few laps earlier he had toyed with the next lap being his last, however each lap he just kept going and pushing himself to his limits. He dug deep and fresh socks seemed to give him magic powers to go, yet again. Grit, dertermination and by self admission, pure stubbornness got him to over 45 mile and retired a happy man from the race.

Judith, Eddie and Kenny, out in the midnight hours

A man on a mission, Kieran Young was out to break the 50mile barrier. After earning the Ultra title last year as the ONLY MAC to take to the start line last year, I am sure he felt more at home surrounded by some fellow loopers who he talked into doing this along with the randomers he picked up last year. Taped from the ankle up beyond his knee, fuelled with McDonalds Fillet o Fish (yes someone actually buys those) he preserved and obviously cut from the same branch as Eddie, his stubbornness got him past the 50miles and Kieran finished the race a content and proud man.

Hopefully Kieran is still feeling this elated now after 12 hours of running.
Yet still looking fresh faced after 12 laps and beyond, Colin Jess continued to put in staggering lap times through the wee hours. The night time crew had come in to support him and honoury member Jimmy Mac who between them both kept each other going during and between laps. As the field began to whittle down a bit more, Colin continued to keep it steady and do what he needed to do and more each lap. As the sun rose over Strangford Lough the MAC Duracell Bunny kept on running. I am sure it was a welcomed sunrise and just after 8am Colin crossed the line completing in excess of 84 miles. To miss the cut off by a small margin.

No bother to this man! cool as can be- whats another lap!

However he still looked as if he had only done one lap but I am sure Artie had something to say about his legs not being so fresh when Colin lay up for a good rub down followed by a feed that came on a plate and he got to eat at a table. The whole club had so many words of support and congratulations and rightly so. From lap 6 Colin was in new mileage territory and to keep on going shows just exactly the calibre of runner and indeed person that he is. I am in awe at the runners out in the field the last 2 days.
Even with Colin over and out, Jimmy Mac continued on and earned himself his 100 mile medal and after 24 hours took himself and his two medals him. I have never been in the presence of such inspiration and determination all coated in pure mentalness.

Jimmy Mac- 100 mile club

As I write this there are still people out there running on little sleep, going beyond the 130mile mark. Crazy some would say, however now I’ve watched that, I would say absolutely completely crazy but such mentally strong, physically strong and so sure of their capabilities and belief in themselves, I cant even find the words to explain the level of respect that I have for endurance runners. Either that or they just don’t like their families and just keep running to avoid going home, or want to phone work in the morning to say “hey I’m still running that race I started on Saturday I’ll not be in until after lunch”

My blog has seemed to go on forever, just like the race but I never knew when I joined MAC that I was opening a door to a new life. This time last year I was following the Last One Standing online, as I heard it mentioned at the Gym that it was happening. I thought anyone would be a fruit cake to consider such madness and a year later I was there supporting not only my husband but friends from the club and beyond. People who I’ve met at races, people who I have ran miles with, people who I just met that day who I befriended (not the grumpy chip van man) supporting them to push themselves to new limits, cheer them through tough miles, hug them when they where struggling, hold them up when they finished and share the experience with them. I am so proud of them all and I cry writing this as although I feel like I have ran the Ultra, I know how much it meant to them and to reach those limits. Which they never thought ever possible.

The guys who left their sanity at home and need to find something different to do on their Saturdays off

Will I ever do an Ultra, I don’t know. I’ve my eyes firmly on Derry and Dublin and I know when it gets tough I will remember the grit, the determination and the stubbornness that the runners I encountered at Castleward showed at Last One Standing and know- I can and I will do this.

The Last MAC Standing..take a bow Colin 






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