Month: August 2017

Rockin N Rollin in Dublin

Rockin N Rollin in Dublin

Ok I know this is well overdue but with having the Ultra at Knockagh the week after Rock n Roll, I found myself immediately on my return from Dublin launching straight into the zone and spending the week afterwards, recovering from it all.

I had always had my sights set on the Half Marathon in Dublin as an opportunity for me to go out and leave nothing on the course. It had been over a year since I’d clocked a half personal best, putting it down to simply pushing up the miles for DCM and then Derry. But with the huge increase in miles over the past year, I began to wonder why I wasn’t getting any faster.

Ok it was obvious that my training held the answer to that. The lack of speed training in my then non existent plan meant that yes I was happy to plod along for 13, 17, 20 miles but although building endurance my speed never picked up and actually went the other way.

So with being crowned the Ulster Rock n Run Idol, this was my chance to shine. After Derry Marathon I got my act together and began intervals with the girls on Wednesday nights and it wasn’t long before not only I, but Jennifer started to clock better times. With Summer upon me also, it freed me up to take to the mountains on active recovery days and even the mental advantages of that where priceless as I wondered aimlessly up the Mournes for hours on end, sometimes on my own, sometimes dragging someone along.

At Ards Half, I was a mere 50seconds of my PB and I was treating the race as a welcome back to running after Derry Marathon a few weeks earlier. And then the bright idea of tackling Knockagh 50k Ultra presented itself, so no more excuses, it was game face with Rock n Roll now being an invaluable race as part of taper and endurance.

So the weekend went like this.

Friday

Note this became a weekend away with the girls. It was Brendas birthday and Michael being on the bench didn’t mind staying behind. So off we set to Dublin on the Friday evening. I had flirted with the idea of even a 5k PB on the Saturday at the 1st race. That all went out the window as we arrived into the RnR VIP party on Friday night.

Teaming together with the Dublin RnR Idol, Keith and his dashing significant other, Stephen, I would love to go into further details on what happened next but its a bit hazy so the general consensus was that maybe it was a good thing that Sinead won the competition as the two of us where certain to be liabilities in Vegas. When you feel the need to teach a barman how to pour a proper glass of wine, this is where we went wrong. It was gone past 2 before we crawled into bed and alarms set to get up for the 1st of 3 races that weekend.

 

Saturday

Not good. Not good at all. I will say this, the best thing I could have done was get up and go outside, even to run (using that term lightly). Serious case of being hungover, but thankfully I wasn’t the worst, isn’t that right Jennifer. Who cares about Personal Bests, Saturdays race was solely about Personal Worsts. Together we made it round the course in just short of 43 minutes and a valuable lesson was learnt! NEVER AGAIN- at least as an ensemble we looked class together as the mini team of little misses.

The welcome taste of Mega Meanies and Lucozade (the staple diet of the weekend with Eddie Rockets) got me going post race and we spent Saturday chilling and fuelling the appropriate way for the Half Marathon on the Sunday.

Sunday

In all honesty I was just glad to be alive on Sunday. The antics of Friday had me wondering if I was even going to be fit for 13.1 mile. So with the intentions, sponsored by the toll bridge on the way down, to just arrive alive.

It was an early start. I had to be at the start line for a photo call with other idols and people involved and we had opted to walk to the Point/O2/3Arena or whatever it is called now. All dreams of a PB had gone out the window and I was just going to take things as they came.

Bumping into some other local running celebrities, The Roddy Sisters, we made our way to the start and spirits where high. I forget how big some events can be. So used to smaller scale runs, it was lovely to be surrounded by a sea of runners. The serious athletes, the groups tackling this together, those in fancy dress and then your average joes like me out to pass a Sunday morning and earn some fabulous bling.

Everyone within the RnR team where fabulous. A great family of event organisers who knew exactly how to work of eachother. Photos taken and it was a matter now of waiting for everything to kick off.

With Jennifer returning home on Saturday evening to compete in Monaghan 10/5 miler, it left Caitriona, Brenda and myself to tackle the half. We had stolen Janet to keep us in craic and little did I know that she was to play a huge part in my race in the latter stages.  It was a perfect day for running, overcast but not cold. Though it was to heat up.

As corrals began to cross the line from 8.30. It was nearing 9 before we crossed the mats and we stayed together as a threesome for the first mile or so. Losing Caitriona quite early on, Brenda and I ran side by side round Christchurch and past the Guinness Factory. What still to this day gets me wondering is why everyone was waiting to get their pictures taken mid race, outside St. James’ Gate. I get that its iconic but swing by after the race and get your photo!

Shortly after 5k, Brenda told me to motor on and she’d catch up. As we hit 4 mile, I wasn’t to see Brenda again and found company with the lovely ladies of Star, Derry. I always worry when someone knows me and I don’t know them but knowing a few of their clan, I was glad it wasn’t because I had been banned from Derry after the marathon after party!

I also began to notice a lot of the course was like DCM backwards and got this strange fuzzy feeling inside. I fondly look back on my run at Dublin and it was lovely, yet petrifying to be back on those roads again.

Losing the Derry girls, I entered into Ballyfermot with 2 lovely ladies from Sloggers to Joggers. They were upbeat and just what I needed. Full of craic and support. At around 5 mile as we swept around the corner to the climb to the back of Phoenix Park, I met a first time half marathoner from England. At this point also it began to heat up, the clouds had started to lift and the sun peaked out. We ran together until 8 mile. Her determination to not stop to walk was fabulous. In all honesty she kept me going as I thought to myself, there’s no need for me to stop, I’m fit to keep going. At the 8 mile water stop as we arrived in Phoenix Park, I told her I’d catch her and took on some water and a gel.

Here is where my race picked up no end. Janet came beside me as I was getting stuck back in. Janet and I have spent many miles together and as a fellow guide runner, we always have plenty to talk about. Yes I know if I’m talking, I’m not running hard enough but I love the company and she is faster than me so its a challenge to keep alongside her and one I contently managed on the day. As we fell in with some ladies from Duleek who were brilliant to pace off, we hit 10 mile.

I dared to look at my watch and knew that I was well ahead of where I had hoped to be. However, I was no sooner thinking about saying something when I spotted the medical team on the hill. And there was some poor soul flat on the ground. I knew after the way I died the previous day that anything could happen to me over the next 3 mile. So I kept it to myself and enjoyed the tale of Janet and Tony at the Twin Peaks Half Marathon.

At mile 11 I spotted Sinead, Sinead and Eileen on the brow of the hill and as lake buddies who I have passed multiple times in the past week going the other way it was nice to mob them and share the love for the lake!

Mile 12 I caught sight of my friend from earlier in the race, still going. Janet and I had picked up Donna, one third of the infamous Roddy Sisters and plenty of abuse was being hurled of course all with laced with love and respect. I knew I had the personal best even if I crawled the last mile but I was feeling strong and I was buzzing. The end was near and as we turned onto the final straight I could feel the overwhelming emotions of achieving the long awaited Half PB. This was made even more special as with 100m to go there where the cheers from my southern running family, Drogheda and District AC, who I adopted at Derry. 2.36 saw me knock over 5.5 minutes off my time from Cookstown Half in July 2016.

I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t get through the finish funnel quick enough to phone Michael and tell him. I really missed not having him patiently waiting for me and unable to share the moment with him. I could barely talk and for once he was genuine and said well done, when I got home the next day, he was sure I could do better. Which I am not going to argue with.

Walking back to the DDAC contingent to cheer the girls home allowed me to share my excitement with everyone. It wasn’t long before we welcomed Brenda across the line and she was followed by Caitriona shortly after. We all arrived alive.

On completing the Half we had half an hour to get ourselves sorted for the fun run. 1.5 mile which we were treating as a cool down. Seems nearly everyone was doing the same but we crossed the line earning ourselves the 4th medal of the weekend.

A quick interview with the RnR crowd and we were free to bask in the glorious August Sunshine in our nations Capital.

Best way I can describe Rock n Roll is; It’s like Christmas for Runners. Plenty of bling, well thought out and organised route and surrounded by your running family. The craic was immense and no doubt I will be returning but think I will be avoiding the wine next time.

 

 

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Being taken up the Knockagh backwards – A tale of my first Ultra 

Being taken up the Knockagh backwards – A tale of my first Ultra 

Limits…everyone wonders where their limits are. I know I prefer a mild curry but I like my baths very hot. How far can I push myself running was something I’d never thought about much. 

Still quite a baby within the running community, this time 2 years ago I could barely run a tap never mind a mile. Yet after only 2 marathons I found myself flirting with the idea of a 50k.

So quick rewind. As part of Brendas London training we took part in East Antrim Marathon Series or EAMS as better known, Knockagh Challenge. It was more the appeal of a medal for a 20 mile training run that drew us in and the flawless reputation of their events. Smaller more intimate event but great bling and super supportive. What’s not to love. 

Mile 16 of the April Knoackgh Challenge with Brenda 

In short these are the stats of this particular route:
10.3 mile a loop

900 ft elevation each loop

Choice of 1,2 or 3 loops

Big ass hill leading to a monument 

2 laps in April was everything I had imagined the race to be. Yes the elevation was tough but we had a blast and was cemented as one of the best races of the year. I even took a small obsession with finding various Knockagh-likes on training runs.

Top of Slieve Martin, Rostrevor 

I had guided Tony round Derry Marathon and we had talked during the run about teaming up again in the future. The return of the Knockagh challenge was one that I had said I’d happily join forces with him again whenever it rolled round. Well I didnt have long to wait. 2 weeks post Derry marathon ..whispers of a return of Knockagh where heard for the end of the summer.

Derry Marathon June 2017

It was almost immediate when word went live, that up popped the message on messenger. Tony didn’t waste anytime and with it being so close to Derry I still had the miles in my legs so ramping up the miles in training would be safe enough and managable. So when the question of 1,2 or 3 laps appeared…it was no contest 3 laps it was.

So I had until August 19th to get my ass in gear and attempt my first Ultra, roughly 6 weeks. I kept it to myself for a few weeks though. The girls had followed suit to tackle the Knockagh but once 2 x 20 milers appeared on Strava in quick succession I had to admit what I was training for. 

I had plans this summer to work on my 10k and half time so this wasn’t really in the plan. Yet amongst intervals and better structured training I managed to get my 10k down another 3 minutes. I was beyond ecstatic to even manage 5.5 minutes off my half time at Rock n Roll the week before Knockagh. A testament to how hard I had been working between the crazy long runs. 

The day was soon upon us and using her brain to make a sensible call, Caitriona dropped to the 2 laps. Brenda and Jennifer had their hard hat’s on and where going to go the full distance too.

With a 5am start on Saturday morning we arrived with plenty of time to spare. Nerves where high. I had my own mini meltdown on Wednesday about the event but didn’t let onto the girls that I was suffering acute maranoia. Afterall this was technically my bright idea and I’d to be strong for us all. However once we got out of the car and got mixed up amongst the participants I relaxed and had a very much ‘nothing I can do about it now’ attitude.

I looked up and there is was. The Knockagh Monument towering over Greenisland. I aimed to visit it 3 times over the coming hours. A message from the wise man to take my time with no silly messing at the start and ease into it, brought me firmly back to earth. What was I doing? You fecking eejit Siobhan! So with the plan being to arrive alive each lap. I didn’t think in distance and embraced the only way I know how to run which is to smile and count the laps. 

Tony arrived and although I was accused of being too full of beans for the start of the days proceedings, he knew he was stuck with me for the next 31 mile. 

EAMS had kindly suggested that the resident “Knockagh Knuts” lead off the race. So there was Tony and I about to set everyone off on their days adventure. After a chilled, animated briefing we were on our way. 

8.30am as everyone took to the line

Lap 1 was relaxed. The weather had been kind and although a tad windy it was refreshing and cooling. Being a clockwise course it meant that Tony, who prefers to run to my right, was to the inside of the paths. This meant only one thing, brambles, nettles and brackens. I admit,I missed a few to warn him about but considering I am a bit shorter and they didn’t reach my head I’m easily forgiven. Though I am sure there were a few bad stings that I swear I couldn’t avoid. I ran along a grass verge and on the road at times to ensure I didn’t have him running in the ditch itself. 

We had agreed to tackle this as a team. We had welcomed Susan with open arms into the team knowing she was of the same pace and she had also hoped to take on a marathon the next day in Letterkenny. At that she was more than mad enough to be hanging with us. 

The turn to the climb was soon upon us in the 2nd mile. Up, up and up it went. Then it got steeper and steeper. Forever in the shadow of the Knockagh Monument as it looked down on us laughing at how silly it must have thought we were. 

The whole team together on the approach to Monument Road.

That last turn was heaven, one more push got us to a gentle incline followed by a banana like down and up. As we picked up pace again we were soon welcomed by the 2 most amazing marshals to ever grace any race. Lorraine and Michael were there for the duration and offered hugs, encouragement and an array of goodies. This fuelled us for the final climb to the monument. Meeting others as they descended was filled with encouraging and supportive words which is always fantastic to hear. 

And there it was… Knockagh. Looking out onto Belfast Lough the sun shone for miles around. Doing the obligatory lap of the monument I had forgotten how beautiful and peaceful it was up there and how God damn big the thing was. 

The big lump of stone on top of the hill

But knowing we were coming back 2 more times we set off on our way. The team firmly together as we made our way to the corkscrew bends. Definitely Knockagh clockwise is a nicer way than the anticlockwise direction. Even on the downhill the corkscrew goes on forever! 

As we made our way back to the road we began to spread out. Probably safer. Tony, Susan and Myself close together as we made the final stretch to the start/finish line. We arrived at the checkpoint and as I stopped I felt it. I couldn’t believe it. My bloody right leg began to cramp. Stopped too suddenly maybe, I don’t know but thanks to the paramedics on site I had half a can of deep heat sprayed on me and I had to get going again as quick as possible. So we were forced to leave Jennifer, Brenda and Caitriona behind and off the 3 of us set off. 

It wasn’t long before Jennifer caught us just before the bend. But I felt my leg ease or maybe it was the can of coke kicking in but I took on the hill the second time like a woman on a mission. I’d my mountain head on and I was not going to let a hill defeat me. It was here I had a very humbling moment. We had begun to be passed by those on their 3rd lap. With 10 more miles completed than us, I was amazed to see them stop to walk parts of the hill. These are marathon runners who run 6 minute miles on normal runs being reduced to walking on the hill. I did look upon it as a way to conserve energy but it was reassuring to see that those who were leading the pack had similar tactics just a lot quicker. 

By now my race stories had become deep and meaningful. Reaching the half way point at Knockagh, Tony took me to the edge of the grass to let me see over the drop. I’m not a fan of heights and knew there was a sheer drop there. But I was tackling an Ultra – I was fit to embrace the height. 

As we reached 18 mile I was comfortable, had found my groove and poor Tony had to listen to Susan and Myself swap motherhood stories and remedies. In the distance there were dark clouds. The weather had said there would be showers but these clouds were nasty looking.

As we approached the final half mile to the end of the 2nd lap, rain began to fall. Of course this lead to the ground being wet and me totally missing a mud pile after a footpath, nearly losing Tony as he slipped. I really am a terrible guide on open roads. Quick reaction meant he stayed on his feet but I was sure I had hurt him. Though being the man he is, he ran on saying he was fine and didn’t tell me until after the race he had pulled something in his knee. As we reached the end of the lap the heavens opened. Thankfully it was a short, sharp shower and soon gone.

Before lap 3 Susan had gave me some magic magnesium spray for my legs which was unbelievable. It instantly loosened my legs and I was ready for lap 3. No sign of the girls behind. I took on what I could stomach in solid food. I was heading for marathon distance and beyond this lap. 

I was lucky to welcome Gillian (first lady home) and Stephen (strava buddy) across the line before setting off on my final lap. Time wise I was doing ok. Second lap was a bit slower than the first but I put that down to the pull of the other runners in the first few miles in lap 1. 

Off I went on lap 3. My legs were fuelled by magic spray and knew this was it. Even if I had to crawl I was going to do it. And surprise, the hill was still there. Looking a lot more steeper and higher than before. I am so grateful for my trips up the mountains, they served me well. Tony was great and my wee legs managed to keep up with his long strides. We lost Susan on the climb but knew she’d never be too far behind. 

Oh my god my legs were in bits at the top of the hills. I don’t know if it was a thank God that hills done but knew marathon distance wasn’t far away and as we met marshals extrodinaires at the bottom of Monument Road we where 1 hill away from 26.2.

Hitting marathin distance

Saying goodbye to Knockagh 1 more time was a relief. The steps back to the road where the hardest part of that lap no joke. As we descended back down we passed Susan followed by Jennifer and her colourful language and greeted by a positive and smiley Brenda who we met at 26.2 on the nose. 

Stephen and Gillian had come up in the car with beer on offer. In fairness if I had accepted, that would have been me. My body would have shut down thinking it was party time post marathon. So politely declining we used the downhill to take on the final 5 mile.

Excitement came over me at 27 mile that I was actually going to do this. My body was beginning to wonder why it wasn’t at the pub as per normal marathon tradition. We had been met by Tonys team mates for his next big challenge the PAT 2018, Pete, Matthew and Janice up on the bikes with Pete on the tandam piloted by Matthew. It was a great boost.

 By this stage Tony was sure I should write a book on my life as he thinks I’ve some worthwhile stories to tell from my past. Both entertaining and enlightening. We had some lovely moments on those final miles. Just me, him and road in front. Both of us about to achieve something people would have deemed impossible for us both. Making dreams a reality and showing the world there are no barriers, it’s just finding a way to get around them.
Mile 28 saw my legs begin to protest. I felt a blister pop on my right foot and knew this was going to take all the positivity I had to get to the end. Obviously if I had trained harder over a longer period of time I wouldn’t have had this minor struggle but my body was in uncharted territory and it knew it. 

Yet it wasn’t long before we were preparing ourselves for the home straight. The medics had been past to check on us and informed the finish line of where we were. And there waiting at the line I saw Caitriona popping her head out to see us coming, Wallace Tonys guide dog, Emma Tonys fabulous wife and a number of the EAMS team and runners. 

I have been so happy to see a finish line

We crossed the line, hand in hand to rapturous applause. I couldn’t believe it. It was the best hug I’ve ever had. I didn’t want to let go of Tony. We had done it. 31 mile/50k/a lot of hill.

In amongst the haze I wanted to ensure I had clocked over 50k so took myself for a short third of a mile recover run to push the numbers up. Yes everyone thought I was mental. But I needed that minute to gather myself and my emotions. 

I arrived back and text Michael followed by checking in with those on Snapchat awaiting my finish photo. Tony got mobbed by Wallace and I stood in disbelief. An Ultra marathoner. That’s me.

What people don’t realise is that I had more than determination and madness driving me through the miles.  This day 5 years ago I made a phonecall that was to turn my life upside down and inside out. From here I broke into little pieces and began to build myself into the person I am today. Against the odds and losing a lot of people who I thought cared, I fought for justice and had my day where I was proven right and a burden eased (I would say lifted but the past never goes away).

I found running in my journey to find who I was and it was so appropriate to cross that line at 50k when I did. A true indication of how far I’ve come in the past few years and the how I didn’t have anything or anyone holding me back.

As I pretty much ate everything in sight, Susan crossed the line and had picked up the two lads, Ivan and Ronnie, out on course to accompany her through the final miles. 
It wasn’t long before we welcomed Jennifer and Brenda. Smiling together they crossed the line and hugs where aplenty. I feared that I was being cursed up and down that Knockagh by them. Brenda not so much..she knew what she was in for but definitely sure Jennifer had lots of choice thoughts for me. 

So here we are…Ultra Runners. Jennifer marking her 10th marathon and Brenda going from 10k in January to Ultra in 8 months. Unbelievable stuff. I’m so proud of everyone. I think you need some sort of crazy idea radar as we’ve seriously pushed the boat out this time.

Whats the next challenge planned… is what I keep getting asked. Well nothing I haven’t done before- DCM17 where all the madness began last year. For now though I’m resting my wee legs, showering my feet with love and I’ll get back to proper training for the marathon once I’m fully recovered.

I’ll wake up everyday for the rest of my life an Ultra runner. However the reality is I’ll forget somedays what I’ve achieved after all its just a very long run. Guaranteed though everyday I’ll be woken by my kids, who although don’t understand what I’ve achieved, will someday be proud of how far I’ve actually ran. Proving to them that they can achieve anything they can dream of. And that alone is an invaluable lesson to be taken from being taken up the Knockagh … 3 times… backwards.

A huge congratulations to Susan Dixon on completing not only 50k on Saturday but also on getting up the next and completing a marathon. Just unbelievable. 
Thanks to everyone for all the photos especially Lorraine and Simon from Seapark AC. Just lovely to have the day also in pictures. 

On the road to 50k 

On the road to 50k 

Lock me up now. I am now one of those runners where distance doesn’t scare me anymore. This time last year I was beginning to build my miles for Dublin City Marathon, venturing into milages above 13.1 for the first time ever. Fast forward and here I am about to tackle my first 50k.

Again I have no idea really why I am doing it. Obviously I bent the fine line between madness and the craic yet again. After Derry I knew I had more to give. I let myself down (and Tony) due to 1 minor flaw in the build up to the event in my prerace prep- only myself to blame. Yes I got round it and never gave up but it’s haunted me the past 2 months. I’d worked for a better time and I knew it wasn’t a reflection of what I was capable of. So my attentions turned to DCM 17 and I sorted out the training plan and got focussed. Aim number 1 to knock my 10k time out of the water by the end of July and by the time Rock n Roll came round to get a my half time down.

A few weeks after Derry as I was beginning to embrace speed training there was whispers of the Knockagh Challenge coming back. Brenda and myself had tackled 2 of the 10.3 mile loops in April for her VLM training. It was the best run of the year. It was brutal but the support from fellow runners to get round it and up and down 900ft of elevation each lap was vital. It was also helped by the smooth running and invaluable support of the EAMs crew round each lap. 

Then the post went up. Knockagh was coming back in August and offering the same choice of 1,2 or 3 laps. It would have been rude to not sign up. Though the voices in my head started. Why do 2…sure you could do a 3rd. It’s only 5 more mile than a marathon. You were well able for a 3rd in April. Afterall when are you ever going to get a bash at an Ultra. I knew in my heart it wouldn’t take much to sway me. 
Cue a message on Facebook.

 “You going to Knockagh, would you mind me tagging along?’ It was Tony. This was my opportunity to pay back the million sorrys from Derry. It was another person to add to the ‘team’ on the day. A strong, supportive and encouraging one at that. It was a no brainer agreeing to guide him round. 

So Siobhan 10,20 or 30? 

Sure why not let’s go for the 30! (What is wrong with me?)

And here we are. Of course it wasn’t long before Brenda was signing up…like me she loved the day at Knockagh and even though she knew what was ahead she was all over it. Caitriona was reluctant to follow suit but after about 10minutes she gave in to joining for a lap or 2 and the team grew.

It took some subtle work on Jennifer to come round to the idea but soon we had her thinking about embarking on the challenge. This is going to make it her 10th Marathon and 1st Ultra in one. Quite poetic if you ask me!

Ok the girls are blaming me for all this where I am blaming EAMs for presenting the opportunity to me lol 

I have worked hard the past 2 months, yes you can always work harder but I had for the first time – structure. However I achieved the aim of a 10k PB knocking 3 minutes off my time at the end of July, the same week I had clocked up 50k in training including a 20 miler on the Monday. 

I’m just back from taking nearly 6 minutes of my half marathon time in Dublin so things have been falling into place as per the plan.

The Challange of the Knockagh was daunting until that first 20 miler. I knocked over 15 minutes off my time for the same route 8 weeks previously proving to me that Derry was solely a bad day and not the fact I thought I could do better. After that 20 on one of the hottest days of the year, I had a new lease of life come over me and the game face was well and truly on.

I put in solid training and with the support of the girls over the next 20 miler 10 days later I was feeling in control and strong. It’s amazing what a good run can do for you. I do have to offer a lot of the success to the fact the kids where in various summer camps. This gave me the opportunity in the mornings to get stuck in and the weather has been  kind to me. Weekly sessions torturing the girls at intervals also proving to be effective. 

So here I am in recovery from a tight run on Sunday in Dublin and I’m free from any form of maranoia or fear about the run on Saturday. I know it’s not going to be easy, I know I’m venturing into the unknown in the distance stakes but I’m comforted knowing I won’t be doing it alone. 

Ok don’t get me wrong it wasn’t part of the actual plan post Derry but aren’t I lucky that I am able to actually even believe that this is possible and that I hopefully can do it? A distance like this was something totally unachievable 2 years ago. Even this time last year I’d have laughed at the suggestion. 

So roll on Saturday. It’ll take me a while that’s for sure but I’ve yet to give up and I’ve got a fantastic team of equally crazy people surrounding me on the day and in the wings and for that I’m blessed.