Marathon training does take over your life and not essentially in a bad way. However I learnt a few lessons after DCM. 1. Don’t race too soon after a marathon and 2. Don’t leave too long until your next race.
Doing Minnowburn 10k 6 days after DCM near killed me but the post marathon blues set in afterwards as it took 6 weeks to race again at Kilbroney and then the Cracker, where I found my love of running lay beyond 6miles. So this time round I agreed with myself on a happy medium. 3 weeks. Ok I did throw in the Mourne Walking Festival but that’s not really running, more extensive 3 days hill training. Ards fell lovely just short of 4 weeks after Derry. I had felt great post Derry physically, mentally I was still beating myself up. So Ards was my come back. I had done enough training but no where near what I was doing in the run up to Derry, though I think my body thanked me for that.
I had cleared my head of cobwebs, lingering worries and concerns that where weighing me down whilst up the mountains and I was feeling fresh as the end of term set in and I was ready to run, for me.
I have to admit I love how this year has panned out for me with running. Training with Brenda for London and seeing her through all her milestones, then straight into tagging Derry training onto the end of that with Caitriona as she hit the same milestones and embraced 8 laps of the lake. And of course being privileged and honoured to run Derry with Tony being able to carry out the promise I made in October. In amongst that I had completed my LiRF course, guide running course, trained the school cross country team to gain a 1st place and shortlisted as the Ulster Representative as 1 of the countries 5 most inspirational runners. It’s been a hell of a 6 months.
So Ards was technically the first race of the year I was running, for me. No one else was relying on me and that quite frankly scared the shit out of me!
Ok I had talked Caitriona and Brenda into the race as well as Jennifer so I wasn’t alone and obviously signed Michael up for good measure. As with all running events there was a plethora of runners and supporters who I’ve come to know over the past 2 years who where there also.
I procrastinated something shocking on the start line. I never really get the reality until the field starts moving and then its like ” holy crap I’ve 13.1 mile to find!” So all you really can do is put one foot in front of the other, a lot of times.
It was also the first time I choose to not run club colours after deciding to step back from club running for a while. So here I was at the start of what was billed as an undulating course, setting off with a whole new way about me.
I settled into the race fine. It was a strong start but I knew there were hills ahead and I wanted to make the most of the flats whilst I could. At mile 2 the hills started. As we climbed towards Scrabbo Tower, the town below got smaller and the views over the countryside widened. Normally this would be my worst nightmare but from the word go, the marshals out on course where so supportive, encouraging and quite frankly, everywhere!
At the first water stop I was greeted by the legend herself Rosy Ryan out selflessly on the eve of her 100th parkrun lending a hand and of course a much needed hug. This set me off into mile 4 and the headwind that whistled over the hills was proving to be a bit more challenging than I had expected. I played cat and mouse with Caitriona and Brenda at this stage but as we began to come off the hills around 6 mile, I found my happy place.
My body and mind had found comfort in the miles and as we came towards the half way mark, I pulled a bit further away from the girls. I hit the half way point at 1.20. I knew in my head that Alan Johnson was about to finish in the same way that he had finished in Derry when I had reached the half way point. And on finishing, I was spot on. 18th place in 1.20.
Though as I gained ground on the runners in front, I knew this was where the months of long miles would pay off, after all during a LSR 8 mile was only half way and you where only really getting stuck in. The support and encouragement from everyone was phenomenal. Residents in Comber stayed out to cheer on the back runners, this is something that I can’t praise enough. Usually they stay for the fast runners and as the field thins out they go back inside, however this wasn’t the case as kids lined the streets with jelly babies and marshals and supporters shouted encouraging things. There has been only 1 or 2 events to rival this in my opinion.
Onto the carriage way I went and set my sighted on Tony in front, him and Becki where about 500m in front and I had so hoped my wee legs would get to him, however I had another person inbetween to catch first, as I turned the corner onto Ards’ own heartbreak hill, I’d caught the fella in front but Tony and Becki where out of my reach. Together we motored up the hill but I could sense a body not far behind me – Brenda. We had merged in with the walkers at this point and as we passed the water stop, Brenda caught me and cursed the sight of my ponytail which she had been chasing for 5 mile. I was glad to see her. I had spent most the race on my own and although you can keep going for 2 more miles, its always better when you have a friend beside you.
As we entered into the final mile and my legs turned to concrete coming off the hill onto the final flat into Newtownards, we knew a good time was within reach. Doing our usual “at most its a 15minute mile” we pushed on and as we turned the corner to see the finishing arch, 2.43 had just turned on the clock. A PB for Brenda and a 2017 best for me, both outdoing our joint effort at Dune in February of 2.45 dead. Caitriona wasn’t far behind us and that was us all home safe.
Only 50 seconds off my all time PB, in a race I knew was physically tough. It was just what I needed. The demons that haunted me after Derry disappeared and I proved to myself I did have it all along, I had just had a bad day on June 4th.
I was delighted to see everyone had made it alive, some in not so great shape others lapping up the awesome donuts and Suki orange juice post race. Based on the exemplary attention to detail of the marshals and their guidance I will be coming back next year to Ards Half. Yes its a tough course and its anything but flat, however it is priceless to be treated exactly the same as every runner on the course from front runner to back runner. Equality across the whole field, inclusion allowing everyone an opportunity to take part and respect, many of the marshals out on course where runners themselves and not one negative comment the whole way round. Yes I was in the last 50 finishers but I felt valued and supported throughout and that is something every event needs to strive to achieve whether its 5k/10/half/full/ultra.
So July sees me on bridesmaid duties, working towards my 10k time and then launching into August with Rock N Roll Weekend and of course the EAMs Knockagh Challenge where I’m pairing up with Tony again for some uphill and downhill fun.
Don’t forget to vote for me as the Ulster Representative in the Rock’n’Fun Idol competition as one of the countries most “inspirational” runners. Would quite fancy a trip to Vegas to represent the country and I am sure I definitely need a holiday.