Getting taken up the Knockagh

Getting taken up the Knockagh

Well I seriously need to catch myself on. 

Brenda…when’s your 20 miler for London, Just saw a 20 mile race. Fancy it?

Yeah because I’m fit for 20 miles and obviously ‘the plan’ is for 20 the weekend of the 1st April. How about…thats all lies! 

But the seeds had been planted and well it involved a big and long ass hill so if I walked that and ran the rest I’d be alright…right? Michael had signed up to it and I will never forget being so gutted not having a medal after my 20 miler for dcm that I wouldn’t let Brenda feel the same. So at that we were headed for the Knockagh with the East Antrim Marathon Series.

The medal was something else. In fairness a good bit of bling can convince me to take part in any race. But with it being April Fools day and all that it paid homage to B.A with ‘i pity the fool’ and the medal wasn’t far wrong. With a choice of as many laps (1,2 or 3) as you felt fit for on the day of 10.3 miles which included a long drag of 900ft to the Knockagh Monument which I was soon educated in regarding it’s significance of it as a war memorial, thanks Eileen! It was a race fit for those who wanted to push beyond 10k, those on long runs for marathons and the ultra runner alike as well as eejits like myself with no focus or plan.

The 5.30am alarm went off and I had my normal, I don’t even like running moment which lasts until I see the finish line at the end. Also it was a big day…the last race for my DCM trainers that have served me well but not much life left and breaking in new trainers is well underway. 

It wasn’t an overly long drive to Greenisland and let’s face it we’d have been covering a lot of miles on the road anyway if we hadn’t have signed up to this event with either Omagh or Subway half…lets face it we’d have gone to Omagh so not as far just an early start.

We collected Brenda enroute and enjoyed Michael’s poor sense of direction round Belfast. As we came up the M5 there it was…the monument. Sitting at the top of something that replicated Cavehill. I have never really ventured beyond that end of Belfast except to go to Ballycastle or Portrush. So all new territory and totally unfamiliar with surrounding routes and attractions.

Whilst doing Larne, Tony had tried to educate me on being taken up the Knockagh. It sounded daunting but one things is always sure in cases like this…what goes up, has to come down and that is what I held on to the whole time.

Arriving at the registration there where familiar faces, those I’d ran with before and those who I had recognised from other events such as Last One Standing and the previous 6hour challenge that Michael done. Yet the mood across the field was definitely one of ‘what have we let ourselves in for?’ Add ‘again’ for many others on their reruen trip to Knockagh.

Race brief done and we were set off down the road. With no idea what lay ahead other than the mileage we planned to hit.

To fit in with the VLM training plan for Brenda we had to do 2 laps which would equate to 20.6 mile. This would be only the 3rd time I would have ventured beyond 30k and I know I didn’t have the miles in the legs that I wanted for the distance.

It wasn’t long before the group of runners spread out and as Brenda and myself motored along, there were two runners running quite close to us. I did step aside and asked if they wanted past but it turned out they were using us as pacers. 

Alison and Mairead from Ballymena Runners where to spend the whole 20.6 mile with us. Mairead training for VLM like Brenda and Alison the wayward friend who like me was along for the craic. A perfect match. 

We were also joined by Janet, who I first met at the Last One Standing recce, Caroline who I picked up at the Christmas Cracker for a few miles of laughter and honoured to have the Dame herself with us also, showcasing that anything is possible whilst severely hungover.  

So as we turned the corner to be faced with the hill that went on forever there was no doubt that together we were going to survive. I do love the moaning and procrastination on any run and as the hill kept going the laughs where a plenty and as long as we were moving forward that was us winning. 

Sharing tales of our big races, the fears for the upcoming ones and life in general we were soon greeted by the always smiley face of Adrian at the bottom of that infamous Monument Road which after a nice gentle incline looked like Everest. 

As runners came down the way and filled us with reassurance that ‘you’re nearly there’ we tackled the last of the climb for that lap  and there towering over us was the Knockagh Monument. I now understood the significance of it and of course why Tony had that evil laugh when I said I was doing the race. 

Yet with the weather gods on side the views where great and breathtaking. A perfect opportunity for some pictures as let’s face it… Who goes through all the elevation and doesn’t take a picture of the view. Even at the top of Slieve Donard encased by rain and clouds I take a picture and I could well be at sea level for all Joe Bloggs knows. 

So the promise of a big down hill was ahead of us however it wasn’t all immediate. As we pushed on another half a mile we soon found ourselves faced with one hell of a decline. As a guy on a bike flew past us I wondered how he was going to even stop at that speed. 

Watching from behind I watched Brenda enjoy the downhill shouting from behind to relax her shoulders. I thought back to January and the day Brendas name came out of the hat for the club place at VLM. What a whirlwind of a few months for her. Having only gone as far as 10k, in the past 2 months she’s tackled her first half and endured every horrible drop of rain that could fall on long runs. I’ve enjoyed training along side her and grateful for her support as I took ill mid race at Dune and she got me to the end in one piece. Here she was on her 20miler…20 miles! I was so proud of her and loved hanging back watching her enjoy the run. 

I spent a good part of that hill trying to convince Caroline and Eileen to do a second lap ‘for the craic’ but it wasn’t to be. I finished the first lap with Eileen as we swapped our own antidotes on life and realising we weren’t too different other than a few years difference. As I crossed the line for lap 1 Brenda was waiting on me and a quick drink and some positive thinking and we were off again for another 10.

Soon joined by the Ballymena girls and Janet the 5 of us went past the same squashed rat, the nappy at the side of the road and a random collection of bones again.

And there was that fecking hill again. However we were soon to be graced with the presence of the first Ultra runner coming round on his 3rd lap. Such encouragement from him as he pushed up the hill effortlessly. Not far behind him was another on his third lap. Spirits where high amongst those on the Ultra lap. A reflection on the EAMS event and the calliber of runners that it attracts. Able to laugh, enjoy and also offer constant encouragement regardless of how far you where running.  

And still, standing at the bottom of the last hill was Adrian and his 4 legged accomplice Disco handing out jelly babies and chocolate to ensure we got up that final stretch. This time round it didn’t seem so bad. As let’s face it we knew what came next and it was the homeward bound road. Yet with 4 more mile still to go at 16 mile I was buzzing and in the words of Lauren…loving life. Here I was on top of the world or East Antrim really with a great bunch of girls, having a great laugh, in awe that my body was able to cover this mileage and about to start the decent to one big ass medal. Life couldn’t have got any better at that moment. Lucky and blessed.

We made our way to the last downhill and Brenda and I chatted as we let our legs take us down the hill. Brenda got the Siobhan take on cadence breathing mixed with some accompanying lyrics. Alison and Mairead where just ahead as we turned onto the final 1.5 mile. 

It wasn’t long before their hand waving to tell us to hurry up was spotted and we put the final mile in together. 

20.6 miles completed and official start of tapering for Brenda and Mairead. As for Alison and myself, miles where miles and what enjoyable miles they were. 

Seeing Michael at the end confirmed he had stopped after 2 laps and didn’t tackle the 3rd. Which let’s face it was of no advantage to his vague and not well planned training schedule. Post race refreshments where spot on too. Everything you need after a race…coke, salt and vinegar crisps and a snickers. Perfect!

So being taken up the Knockagh twice was an experience. One that I am sure I’ll do again. However I’ll be checking in with the crew to see if they’re doing it. As let’s face it…its the company that makes the race a good one. The medal helps  šŸ˜‰ 
 

A huge congratulations to fellow MAC Jackie Moore on making it round 3 laps to earn her first Ultra Marathon. Well proud and great running from a great athlete. Team MAC are very proud of you.

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