The last time I toed the line for a race was 6 weeks ago for my biggest running accolade yet… the Knockagh Ultra.
In the time since I took myself and Tony around 50k, I have taken my training pretty seriously (about time) and have put everything I can into my prep for Dublin.
I had toyed with doing the Irish 3/4 marathon however the hefty price tag put me off. I spotted the Annaghmore Running Festival which seemed to know that there would be a few critters like myself looking something beyond a half to fit into their DCM training plan. This was perfect – 18 mile, ‘ rolling hills’ and didn’t break the bank whilst all fitting in with the long run plans. This appealed to all bodies in the Grant household.
Cant beat a race where organiser don’t take the piss on price plus funds where donated to the Southern Area Hospice a charity close to my heart.
A perfect opportunity to trial race day, pace, fitness, outfit, fuelling etc. I’ve always had my sights set on Annaghmore as a true indication of how well the 40+ miles a week was influencing my running. So when I had a week where my 18 miler was a tad off desired pace, a dodgy hip encounter but cracker mid week endurance runs I was feeling optimistic about the run ahead.
With everything ready to rock n roll we set of for County Armagh from Castlewellan. The weather was perfect, although there was an autumn chill in the air, the sky was blue, the sort of morning that does your heart good.
Arrived in Annaghmore after taking the scenic route there and picked up our packs. Caitriona had seemingly signed up for the race in her head and not actually done it. But the guys where great at sorting her out with a number and didn’t openingly judge her 🙈 me on the other hand… I found it absolutely hilarious! Nearly as funny as watching the fella pin the race bib to a girls boobs. 🙈
The crowds rolled in and within them a surprised addition of Alan Johnson who had only 2 weeks previously told me he had planned to wash his hair that morning when I suggested doing Annaghmore. He had obviously delayed that to run 18mile around the beautiful Armagh countryside.
It was great to see familiar faces, Hugh had popped along for the half, Eamon was out to do the 5k, Caroline had on a whim signed up mid week to do the 18 miler and Micéal donned his NCR vest for a long run also with fellow NCR team mates Patricia and Cathal there too. Also I had to admire that Michael had pulled on the trainers yet again for another marathon crash training course including the 18miler. He knew worse case scenario would be falling back to run with me. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. At worse I’d have to drive home.
Setting off to the start line
We set off and within 0.3 of a mile there was the first of many, many hills we were going to encounter. Seeing that the half and the 18 miler set off together, I was optimistic that there might be a some people in around my pace to keep as markers or company even. But from about a mile in, I was alone. However I’ve ran many a race where I’ve been on my own for a long time and I’ve enough confidence in my pace and ability to finish longer races and to keep focused, running my own race and not try to keep with the crowd.
I settled in quite quickly with the game plan of simply keeping under 12.30s to come in at 3.45. I’d hoped to hit 5 mile on the hour, 10 mile just beyond the 2hr mark and a 1.45 8 mile to finish.
Aye the biggest understatement of the day
As we set off in to fantastic country roads lined with orchards and endless green fields everything was going great. Plenty of marshals in place and markers which where bang on distance wise and arrows to help.
The first water stop at 5 mile was welcomed and I noticed that we were to come back that road. We turned into a trail section which was like something out of a fairy tale and there was the front runners coming my way. I didn’t know whether they where half runners or 18 milers but they where flying.
Hats off to the leading man who was full of encouragement and even high fived. I was to meet him again later on towards the end of his race where he was just as humble and supportive.
For the record Caroline took this picture of the Orchard
wasn’t surprised to see Alan cruising along, with him at around his 11 mile and me at just short of 6. Was quietly all biz that for once I was over half of where Alan was meaning I wasn’t as per normal practice twice as slow… I was getting faster 🙌🙌🙌
The middle section of miles flew in. I’d hit 5mile at 1hr on the nose and 10 mile I was delighted to have come in under the 2 hours. I was bang on target and the race was going to plan. I was feeling fresh and in control. Passing Alan again, as he made running look easy, I was delighted that he had decided to not wash his hair as he was taking a comfortable 2nd place.
As I entered into mile 12 I knew I was making good time. I clocked a 2nd fastest half marathon and as I passed this point a drive by marshal checked in on me to offer water/sweets and check I was ok.
I reassured them I was fine and would make 18 mile so not to worry. I knew from the 12 mile water stop that I was self sufficient for the rest of the race. Afterall there are many races where the backrunners are left without marshal support and/or fuel stops have been packed up so I’m always prepared just in case. However I can not praise the organisers highly enough as 3 times throughout my last 5 mile I had drive by Marshals as well as marshals still in place in many spots. A true testament to the conscientious planning and execution of the event.
Highlight of the race… Mile 15
Watched beeped for mile 15 and had just finished a gradual incline at 14. A tight hill faced me and I made it but after the plethora of hills earlier on I didn’t recover from that hill as quick as I had wanted. At 15.5 there was another hill. I spoke to myself and said wise up Siobhan you’ve yet to be beaten by a hill today and haven’t stopped so motor on. So I did and got to the top and enjoyed a wee downhill. However… 15.75 there was another hill and it was a lot bigger than the previous 2. Out loud, I cursed the hill and declared that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to run it and I walked it. First time the whole race that I actually walked.
I just knew it wasn’t worth fighting my way up it as I knew there where a few more hills ahead that I had already ran down. Once I got to the top it was back on it and headed for home. I was again delighted to be greeted by marshals still at their posts and the support from runners and locals in the last mile was much appreciated as going against everything else the race had thrown at me….it finished on a cracker downhill.
As I turned into the club grounds I was greeted by applause from everyone on site and there was Michael, Caroline and Micéal waiting on me to finish.
Yay for a run that we all were happy with
I glanced down at my watch and couldn’t believe it – 3.40. I may have been one of the last to finish, 2nd last to be exact but I felt like I had won. I’m never going to be a podium finisher but when a race plan comes together flawlessly and I crossed the line knowing that my DCM dream was very much alive and on track. That’s what I strive for from a race.
I got congratulations from the organisers and they knew I’d Pb’d as I was buzzing as I crossed the line. I was even more delighted that Michael had come in, in good time and so did Caroline giving her the reassurance for DCM too.
I was offered freshly cooked burgers and an array of sandwiches. All was plentiful and even had a bottle of Coors Light. Now I know there was no medal for this run. But let’s face it, I have a t-shirt, burger and beer. That is a perfect substitute for any bling. For what we paid to be apart of the event, this was beyond expectations.
Finding out also that it was an inaugural event was even more impressive as to me, it ran flawlessly.
Caitriona finished proceedings for the day as she came in well ahead of her estimated time also getting her back on track for Dublin.
So will I be back… definitely. Even though I know the hills will still be there, it was a solid training run with many challenges including making heartbreak hill in Dublin look like a speed bump. There was a huge crowd for the multi race event considering it was competing against Bangor 10k AND Monaghan Pheonix Marathon. A great foundation for next year.
So resting up now before a very tough week of training ahead. This time 4 weeks it’ll all be over. 🙈