Category: northern Ireland

18 miles of ‘Rolling Hills’ around Annaghmore

18 miles of ‘Rolling Hills’ around Annaghmore

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. 🙈

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8 weeks to go…

8 weeks to go…

So here I am 2 weeks after conquering Knockagh and becoming an Ultra runner. Feels like a million years ago but it’ll never be taken away from me.

However no time to dwell. 1 week off where I managed a recovery run and a 5k and it was back to business for DCM17. 

Last Monday saw me take on a training plan that isn’t going to be easy. It is going to require huge commitment and quite frankly scares the crap out of me.

Of course there was only 1 person who could be behind something so scarey… the wise man himself.

Although I do run for the craic predominantly, I do have personal goals and DCM last year was to prove I could do it. But a year has passed and something in me wants to aim for a time. So with the 5.30 dream in my mind there was no one else I would turn to, to help get me as close to that as possible.

I’ve watched over the past year or so how Dermot and the guys at The Running Coaches have helped support others achieve their dreams and pbs. Also I think it’s honestly more of a challenge for Dermot than for me to work together on this. Also I know I’m luckily that he was willing to add me to his already busy client base.

But he knows what level of crazy and emotionally bi polar madness he’s taking on and after some negotiation of terms where I clearly lost on every point. I decided I’d give it a shot for the next 9 weeks. 

But you should have seen my face when the first weeks plan arrived. I near died.

5 days structured training, 1 day rest and another day active recovery.  Feck sake I only want a 5.30 marathon- not to become Mo farah! Apart from 1 particular comment on a very individually tailored plan which was in my language, including ‘go for a wee walk’ it said ‘stay away from the lake.’

I broke out into sweat. Where the hell was I to go for my long run? He’s doing this on purpose (obviously). The girls did laugh. I was going to end up lost!

Ack let’s be honest there’s plenty of places to run round here but when you are comfortable with something you don’t like change. And I wasn’t the only one who found the change unnerving.

Day 1: Getting back out again for a few mile. Didn’t go anticlockwise round the lake. I did take note that I had to “mixed it up” a little so I took to Crow Road and came onto the lake – clockwise! See small steps.

Yeah my Garmin didn’t know what to think. It had me going right through the lake. Either it’s a sign that I should be doing a triathalon OR I am biblical OR that it just couldn’t cope with change.

Day 2: Bagged myself a 5k PB. Yeah that wasn’t the plan but I was slightly broken and my legs wouldn’t do what I told it. Disappointed with myself that I could so massively feck up a simple instruction. But taking over 2 minutes off my 5k pb shouldn’t be overlooked. But I was to suffer later in the week.

Day 3: Active recovery went swimming with the kids in Lisburn and then a nice wee walk marking out the route for the girls progressive training at Wednesday night hell. And enjoyed shouting at them and watching them work hard. 

Day 4: love me Tempo Thursday. In my bid to avoid a repeat of Tuesday I found pacing myself went the opposite way initally but found myself again and not a bad session.

Day 5: Rest day! Went shopping and exercised the credit card. Got lovely trousers in Monsoon. Can’t beat good quality! And did the washing . 

Day 6: Long Run Day- 12 mile

Glorious morning and took myself to the 12 Arches at Murlough at 7am. Sun was just coming up and ran 3 mile out and back, twice along the main road to Mountpanther and back. Refuel at car and off I went again.

What a run. After warm up hit the ground running perfectly. Pace kicked in naturally and I was comfortable and relaxed. The clear skies and looking over the Bay was relaxing and calming. On the way back I ran towards the crystal clear and could have been mistaken for drawn on mountains. It was picture perfect. 

At 10 mile I did consider picking the pace up but I was delighted in how the run had gone and that I was yet to stop for a walk break minus the 6 mile refuel at the car, I tooted on. 

Hardest part of the run was stopping. I purposely marked the route for 12 mile dead as I’d have been tempted to run for the half. It killed me stopping at 12 as I knew I’d have had a 2nd fastest half in the bag easily and maybe even a half pb if I pushed hard. But the plan said 12 and I was for once going to do what I was told.

Day 7: Recovery Run.

Took the long suffering cripple of a husband out for his first run in a few months. He motored on masking if there was any pain or not. I swear I hadnt had a vodka and diet coke about 30mins before I decided to run but when the kids are kidnapped by granny randomly-you’ve got to make the most of it! So off we went  (until that point, I did forget that I had to run)

So many lessons learnt this week. But the main one was simply that I can stick to a plan. It was tough but not designed to be above what I’m capable of. Realistic-  yes my mid week miles have gone up significantly but the wise man knows what I am capable of and pitched it spot on. Suppose that’s how he gets results…he knows his shit lol

So heres to another week and week 2 plan in hand with a few more wee tweaks to push me that bit more and a 15miler as my long run.

I suppose the only thing I know that I’ve got at the moment is that the miles are in the legs. It’s how I make the most of my legs to put in better miles and get that goal.

8 weeks to go

The Walled City Marathon 

The Walled City Marathon 

Running a marathon is like the process of child birth. You sign up and think ‘I really want to do this’ hitting the confirmation button is like getting a positive on a pregnancy test. Mixed emotions of excitement and fear.

Then as you train you have your doubts in your ability to do this marathon and how you are going to cope. Just like the doubts you have during pregnancy about your abilities to get through labour and be a good parent.

Impending doom sets in as you know the big day is about to arrive and it’s going to happen. Holy shit what have I let myself in for and how is my body going to cope with this but everyone reassures you that you can do it…others have.

The big day arrives and off you set. Bits of it you feel you’ve got this in the bag and other bits you are having to mentally and physically push yourself to get through tough parts.

But you’ve started and you are going to finish, you’ve no other option. But you reassure yourself that you are NEVER ever doing this again. As you finish, a feeling of europhia washes over you and everything you’ve endured over the past few hours is worth it as they hand you your medal/baby. Yes your body hurts but you are amazed at what your body has just went through.

Yes your body has taken a beating but holding the achievement is priceless and totally worth it and you forget about the struggle you went through to get to this point – it is all irrelevant- you’ve survived against all odds.

Then not long afterwards you think ah I fancy another, forgetting everything you had to endure to get through it last time. But you go ahead and try for another. And the vicious circle starts again of ‘why the hell am I fecking doing this all again.’

So before I had even endured my first marathon I had agreed a week before hand to guide Tony at the Walled City Marathon in June. Because that’s what you do when you haven’t been through the Labour of marathon day.

Knowing Derry was hilly and that I would be in great company, I thought why the hell not. I was honoured he even wanted to spend 26.2 mile with me when he could have chosen any one else. So that was me crossing the line at DCM knowing I’d to do it all again in June.

So the whole marathon cycle started again. Long miles, aches and pains, maranoia, then the reality hit, shit I’ve got to do this all over again AND make sure I don’t kill Tony in the process.

So what happened in Derry?

Having “trained” for VLM with Brenda and then getting stuck straight into the big miles for Derry, I was well ready to take on the big one. 6 months of exhausting miles all lead to this point. As I packed for 4, someone has to sort the kids out too, I was feeling optimistic that I was ready for this. I hadn’t suffered the same level of panic and maranoia that I had done for DCM. Only having one minor melt down the previous week as the magnitude of the situation set in. I was confident in my abilities to guide run. Tony is a pleasure to run with and I am always at ease when running with him.

After a gentle walk on Saturday morning around the Lake with Lauren on her brief trip home, the kids got left at Grannys as Michael, Brenda, Caitriona and myself set off for the North West. Arriving at our apartment we were greeted by fantastic views and comfort. Definitely a winner on the accommodation front. We set off to Foyleside to pick up our packs. Where we met the main man himself. It was lovely to catch up with Tony in person before hand and also made explaining to the people that I was his guide and needed a t-shirt!

Ok I was a bit miffed I didn’t get an official number but as I am sure the EAMs guys will confirm, I had the fear that I was not going to get “the medal” under the no number/no medal t&cs. However I knew that they wouldn’t dare try to not give me one, they gave me a t-shirt after all. Though it was nice to have a wee rant about it!

We headed back to get ready for an early dinner where we would be meeting MAC speedy man- Alan Johnson for a pre race catch up. It was nice to have a relaxing meal and some craic with him and Hilda. Alan was as uncertain as the rest of us about what WCM was going to produce. Being the clubs best runner by a long shot, he was feeling the same emotions as me who is twice as slow as him. This is what I love about sharing running with such a mixed field of abilities. No matter how hard we train, no matter how much we are ready for something, everyone from 1st place to last place, deals with the same emotions.

An early night followed but I watched every hour on the clock go by. I was relieved to see 5am on the clock knowing it was human then to get up and ready. Between the four of us we had a can do attitude and just wanted things to get underway. Meeting Alan and Tony at the bus stop meant we all went together to the start.

Arriving at the Everglades Hotel, hoards of people gathered. Toilet queues where long but the atmosphere was buzzing. I loved the whole start line buzz, meeting those from races gone by, the first timers, the hard core and of course the MAC crew. With 10 of us toeing the line, it was lovely to have that support.

As 8.30 neared, everyone gathered at the start line. We remembered those who aren’t with us any longer, Martin McGuniness and Andy ‘Tick Tock’ Califf both great ambassadors and supporters of the event. It was poignant and emotional. As I stood at the front (yes in front of everyone) I tried to hold back the tears. I was overwhelmed by the whole atmosphere. Here I was ready to lead off a marathon.

It wouldnt be a marathon without a photo with Bootsy 

For 300m we lead the race, receiving cheers of support along the road. I did feel really self conscious but I knew it wouldn’t be long before nearly everyone else in the marathon would take over us.

You heard it coming towards you, the galloping of runners pounding the tarmac. It was frightening to say the least. And there they were, the lead group of 4 striding past. Next thing I heard was “Keep ‘er lit Siobhan” It was Alan chasing up the lead group. Holy shit was my reaction in fairness.

The first few mile were brilliant. There was the expected abuse from John O’Neill as he questioned Tonys ability to still hear running beside me. Sean give a wave as he passed, Michael dropped past to share some love, pretty much everyone from the running community gave us a shout and a hello. The craic was mighty. Also having the marathon mad ladies of Paula, Jackie and Linda come past made it all the more merrier.

The lead group passed us at about my 2.5 mile point, I was counting. 1,2,3,4…wee break 5,6,7,8,9, ALAN!! Go on Alan, he even managed to wave! On the turn at 3 mile, we came across Bill who was settling in nicely to the run with friend Tommy. As we descended down the hill, there was Caitriona and Brenda. Everyone was moving and still smiling.

I was feeling comfortable, nice steady pace, plenty of support along the way and as the groups thinned out and we settled more, we approached the city again. A steep descent to under the Craigavon bridge and out towards the countryside we went.

This is where the hard work began. A steady 1.11 10k was quicker than I wanted but Tony and I were having so much fun and laughing so much that it didn’t bother me much that I was a few minutes in front of planned pace. Then the climbs began, one after another. There was idiotic drivers who couldn’t read that the road was closed and we had a few near misses and the opportunity to literally shout in through one of their windows that they were idiots.

If a photos spoke a 1000 words..this is it.

As we headed towards 10 mile, we met the Ballymena ladies who spent 2 laps of Knockagh with me, Allison, Mairead and myself debated the prospect of 3 laps next time. Who in their right mind discusses Ultra attempts during a marathon. But here girls, I’ll be there!

We picked up a lonely runner as we approach the water station at 10 mile. Lorraine who had travelled up from Drogheda & District AC to do the marathon became a constant over the next 8 mile. Her laugh, her smile, her outlook on life was refreshing and she stayed with us along the lonely tow path back into town.

It was here my race fell apart. 10 mile came in around 2 hours, I was headed for a strong half time. Something began to niggle me. By 13 mile I was walking, I had got hit by cramp and I feared this could be it. I was so angry as well as perplexed. I had done everything by the book, I took plenty of water on board during the early stages, I had ate and drank well in the run up, so why was I cramping? Caitriona had made up ground on me by this point and pushed on ahead. I was delighted to see her pushing on, as far as first marathons go- this wasn’t the easiest. At the 14 mile gel stop one of the marshals got stuck into the leg and did what she could. Lorraine had assured me that her club mates had a bag with ibruphen gel, after the first aid guys had feck all. So I made it alive to meet the happiest bunch of supporters ever. I got hugs and love from these strangers and of course the all important gel to ease my leg. It was the power up I needed.

We set off to take on the Limavady Road and I could feel the cramp begin to ease. However Tonys promise that it was flat once we got to the bridge, was all a lie. Never trust a blind man! Not like he could see what he was at 2 years ago either! I could have killed him. After leaving behind the hugs and support from the Born2Run crew, the ascent began. God it was just constant and hardly flat! I train in amongst the hills and this was just a nightmare. I kept saying what goes up must come down. And eventually it did.

As we turned down into the housing estate to rapturous applause it was followed by rain drops as big as tennis balls. “Its only up the path a mile to the Peace Bridge” as the rain saturated the ground not taking time to come down. A mile my ass, it went on forever. At 18 mile we found Caitriona again who had hit the wall. Egging Lorraine on and reminding her she would always have us behind her, she picked up pace and took on the last 8 mile on her own. For me at this stage I knew running wasn’t going to happen. I had tried but my leg was not playing ball.

For 10 mile I had fought it but I knew I was lucky enough to be able to walk at a respectable pace and just put my head into “out on the mountains” mode. At the Peace Bridge I felt a sense of calm wash over me. Crossing it I knew I had 6 mile left in me and I would get there. Coming off the bridge we spotted Linda, followed by Jackie for a quick cheer!

Along the water front we went and into the Industrial Estate where for the first time in the whole race I was faced with my first experience of the day of feeling like a 2nd class runner. Not a marshal to be seen, no route mapped out and we had no idea what to be at. We just looked at each other in disbelief and continued moving; hoping and praying we were going the right way.

There was a Lucozade station, unmanned. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. At the exit to the industrial estate stood more than 10 people, yes they cheered us on but it made me wonder where they not meant to be out there directing people?

With 3 mile to go, it was only a Parkrun to go. A Parkrun nonetheless on pavements as they had opened the roads. Now I am very lucky that Tony is a confident runner and we navigated the pavements well. But it was a kick in the teeth after the events in the industrial estate. We endured a mile of that before turning in to zig zag through the city to the finish line. And as we approached the Free Derry corner, I knew what lay around the corner, THAT hill.

I had refused to get any indication to what it was elevation wise, I had climbed Binnian in training, a tarmac hill was not going to scare me. As we swung round the corner we were greeted by the now rightly named “White Kenyan” Alan and Hilda who ran/pushed/encouraged us up the hill. I knew Caitriona was struggling but I was pushing up the hill like my life depended on it, after this it was downhill and flat to the end. As we entered into the Diamond, tears rolled down her face. I wasn’t sure if it was the sheer overwhelming feeling of making it up the last obstacle or the fact the end was near or a mixture of both, but as Tony grabbed both our hands I felt it too.

I felt so responsible for not only Tony in that moment. Caitriona was here at mile 25 because of me. I had talked her into not only this but all the other mad miles and here we were, together, about to finish her first marathon. I knew she had cursed me up and down throughout the marathon, maybe not always verbally but she must have. It was emotional. As shouts of 500m to go and then spotting the finishing tunnel, the reality hit, we survived.

The green carpet glowed in the distance and although the crowds had dispersed and I had had a stinker of a run, I was about to cross the line with the only 2 people in the world I would want to share this moment with. Picking up pace, we smiled as we crossed the line. Would have loved to have seen the picture but the race photographer had fecked off by then. Ok not captured in picture but forever captured in my heart which is priceless.

As we finished getting our hands on that bling, there was Lorraine and all her supporters to share in the post race relief. Everyone was buzzing.

Atthe end with Lorraine 

I looked back down to the finishing line and I saw people begin to dismantle it, hello, we still had Brenda out there! Cue Siobhan style rant at the organisers and ensuring that finish line stayed up. Brenda would finish, there was no doubt about that and she deserved to finish the same as everyone else, only she got a finishing photo as I took it!

Its been a long road for the 3 of us the past 6 months. Training with Brenda for London, seeing her first 13.1, watching her kick ass in London, back to the training to get ready for WCM. We deserved our moment on the finishers podium and we enjoyed it.

Cue the celebrations…

After party at City Hotel

Regrouping…wouldn’t be a marathon without also sharing a drink with Bootsy

OK, don’t shout at me again Tony. I was disappointed in myself on Sunday. I knew I had trained to be better than 6.09. I knew I had more to give and Tony deserved to have a better race with my help.

However that’s marathons for you, eggs all in one basket. Sometimes you crack them, in my case I dropped the stupid basket. I still finished, I still have marathon number 2 completed and I enjoyed my time out on course and getting to share in other peoples journeys around the 26.2 mile. There is always other marathons, on other days, maybe even go back to Derry next year and give the course the assault I had hoped to.

Getting out on Monday night with Dermot and the beginners at The Running Coaches for 2.5 mile, reminded me why I love running. I love it because I can. I can run, I can keep going until I get there. I have made so many amazing friends because of running and it has brought me to places physically and mentally that I never thought I would ever be.

Marathon #2 in the bag…DCM17 I am coming for you!

 Other very important highlights 

 Michael gets himself another 2 minute personal best of 4.32

Got to hang out with Peter who I picked up in DCM and welcomed and looked after us in his home city!

Jennifer and Michael waiting in the only place for me…the pub 

 The White Kenyan … Alan Johnson. Who earned himself a 9th place finish overall in 2.46. A superb, unbeleiveable and an ‘eggs all in 1 basket’ assualt on Derry/Londonderry/Walled City Marathon 😉

A Marathon Journey – a complex relationship

Wow its been 2 weeks since the big day. I wasn’t really sure what to expect at all as I crossed that line. It had such a build up and anticipation. Gosh I was overly emotional in the week before hand, planned everything; all strategies and tactics to cope with the situation. What if something went wrong, what if it all went to plan. I swear to God, as I reflect on it, it was nearly as well thought out and strategically planned than the first time I had sex.

Yet as I crossed the line, a line I knew I would cross regardless of the performance on the day, I didn’t feel what I thought I would. It was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t have the overwhelming emotions, no tears that had engulfed my previous week. That’s not to say I wasn’t elated. I was, and I knew I had achieved what I wanted to. Faith in the training the whole way round got me there. I danced up the finishing straight to pick up my medal and t-shirt and to Michael and Brendan. I smiled for most of 26.2 mile, I smiled for the days afterwards.

You see I look back and realise…

The marathon journey is like a relationship. It starts of with meeting the concept by booking the event. Anticipation, excitement, scared of what is to come from this relationship and journey. It gets off to a fantastic start, you go with the flow and focus turns from the normal training plan to something more dedicated and streamlined.

You progress onto spending most of the day thinking about it. How you begin to enjoy the long runs, they are hard work but like a relationship, sometimes it can be challenging. You have the good runs where they like a perfect date, just everything fuses together and plays out according to plan. There are the bad runs, when you push through it and negotiate with yourself and the situation to get through it.

Feeling like you have nothing more to give to something that means so much and that you want so bad.  You have the arguments and the hurt, the pain of niggles and injuries, the uncertainty if this is going to work out and trying to manage the ups and downs without admitting defeat. Its worth fighting for. The pure emotional roller coster of every breath and movement being encapsulated by the journey.

So when it comes to the defining moment in that relationship, in my case the marathon day, you put all your eggs in one basket and hope to God that you are going to see it through to the end because more than anything you want it to work out. You stand at the start line and you are there with possibly every odd stacked against you. You recall the training, the hurdles you overcame to get here, the mistakes in the bad runs and what went well in the good runs to make them so fantastic. You know there are people who are watching intently and emotionally immersed in every step you take, most of whom want this to go well for you, some sadly who want you to fail.

You know you have the ability to make this relationship a success. But what if your best and your everything isn’t enough? That the relationship isn’t going to be the roaring success you thought it could be?  You stand there and face every last little bit of incompetency and struggle you have encountered, not just since the relationship started but of the many years of life before that. There’s so much that your smile is hiding. Beyond the surface there’s complexities, struggles and a history which could easily consume you and ruin it all. And although you are a million times over and over again, above and beyond what your past dictated, you still have the scars and the wounds are still open.

So as you go through each mile, every inch of the whole journey of life passes from your head to your feet and to the ground below as it takes every moment in your life to keep you moving in the right direction. You pound out the bad runs, you pound out the negativity and as you cross the half way point, you know you are half way there to making this relationship work. What faces you in front is not pleasant, but you are not willing to give up on it. As you spy the 800metre line you realise that actually your best is good enough. The relationship is going to work out and be a success.

Though I guess as with every relationship, even when you achieve relationship milestones and life goes on, it doesn’t mean what you achieved in the past will naturally flow into every other day of your life. You will still face the same ups and downs, niggles and injuries because actually the journey of the marathon turns out to not be a stand alone event, just like a relationship. Its just part of your life, it’s just not your whole life.

I will still wake up tomorrow a mother, a wife, a friend and still trying to get better at this running malarkey. Yeah I’m a marathoner too, but its just part of the story. Possibly the first chapter of a much longer relationship, with Derry on the horizon, and many good and bad runs ahead, with many more encounters with the darker thoughts in my head to come. A repeat of the journey maybe. But you know what, I’ve got this far and haven’t done too bad.

 

 

 

 

The GR8 …the race through the eyes of a Marshal

The GR8 …the race through the eyes of a Marshal

It is that time of year. 

The annual club run. 8 mile of everything a race can throw at you, road, gravel, sand, boardwalk and grass, finished off by a nice stretch on road to the finish line. At least the weather was nice to us this year.
With near 1000 participants taking to the start line it proves that everyone loves a challenge or at least a good view as the route is encased in the beauty of the mournes from every angle.

The GR8 for me this year was a race I would be a Marshal at. I know with Dublin so close that if I where to take to the route, I’d be unlucky enough to get injured. I might as well wrap myself up in cotton wool the next 3 weeks. 
I have to admit I was very excited to find out I was on the beach. Right in the heart of the action. My positivity at times can be overbearing but definitely perfect for that part of the race where after 2 miles on the beach, you need some annoying positivity.
My day started nice an early. Plenty of sandwiches made and biscuits bought. Off to Dundrum Hall to get registration underway. It is such a team effort. As each MAC member arrived whether running or not, they came adorned with goodies for the runners. 

MAC hard at work

I think full marks go to Selena for the 60 Hot Cross Buns that where served up as a pre race treat to keep everyone’s bellys warm. 

I love the pre race excitement as there are so many different people in the room, with such a mix of emotions but there are mainly three types. 

The returning runner; those who know exactly what lies ahead

The friend; where their mates have recommended the race and thought “sure why not”

And the first timer; no idea what lies ahead, picking up passing thoughts and views from others in the hall and wonder why the hell they signed up to it.

As registration came to a close, we jumped in the car headed for our checkpoints.

Selena and Moira had the fun of the water stop whilst Micéal and myself heading down the board walk to our stations on the beach. 

Team water station

Doing the route backwards I knew that at this point which would be 6 miles, would be tough for the runners. The boardwalk was springy but with the wind being quiet mild, it was the lack of breeze to cool them down after coming off the beach that would be a killer and they’d be glad to get to the water station. 

As I reached my very well signposted station I waved goodbye to Micéal as he trudged up the beach to his station.

I was all alone. 

I assumed the race would be soon underway so in my quest to pass some time, I found a stick and as any respectable adult would do. I began writing in the sand. Productive art work obviously.

Just incase someone missed me

I finally got a sensible Snapchat from Micéal to say the first runner was on route. Let’s be honest, David O’Flaherty could have been mistaken for a lone runner, as there was no one near him. No stranger to the route, he knew where he was going and flew past, confident in his ability to make this race his own. 

Shortly in the far distance, the most fantastic sight greeted me. A sea of brightly coloured runners consumed the shore line. It was something a camera couldn’t catch. I knew right then that I was apart of something special. Our club had done this. Our club had enticed all these people to take part in this challenging route and pulled it together. These where the people who had to eat all the sandwiches at the hall after! Glad we made extra.

As the runners started to filter up through the stones and sand towards the beach exit,  I wondered what would I like to hear from someone at that point. 

So I complied a list and these where some of my favourites. 

“Keep er lit” (obvious one)

“I am the end of the beach”

“Don’t let the beach win”

“Show the beach who is boss”

“Looking strong” 

“The water stop is half mile that way”

“No I’m not getting tarmac for next year”

Gosh the pain in some people’s eyes. That 2 mile on the beach had sucked everything out of their legs and let’s be honest, my positivity didn’t always go down well. It was great though to see some of my encouragement got people digging that bit deeper at a tough part of the race. 

Also fantastic to cheer the MAC crew on as they came through along with the club pacers who worked very hard to keep the pace for their allocated time. Always a joy to see the runners I know from previous races, some who had obviously forgotten about how Causeway Coast made them feel and came back for some more sand!

Of course you can always count on the MAC runners who where out for the craic. Time for laughs, hugs and selfies was the only way the race was going to go. 

Micéal and I began the trek back to the car park after we thought everyone had been but luckily enough the man on the quad came back and let us know 1 more was still coming. Micéal went back and I went on with bags to the car. That moment I was filled with intent and only 1 mission. I have ranted so much in the past about back runners and not getting the same treatment as other racers. I knew the club would wait for the last person and I wasn’t going to let them finish the race alone.

So as I got to the car,  I literally stripped in the car park as I’d my winter Base Layer on underneath and it wasn’t going to be kind to me over 2 miles, great for the beach though!

I was honoured to accompany Rosy on the last 2 mile to the finish.  There was no other way I could imagine that would be a better way to end the day. 

We chatted on route home about the race, the joys of being a back runner,  running your own race and about how life had thrown us some bad hands but we were still to be beaten. 100% success rate.

I admire her strength, her resolve and her pure grit and determination to get those 8 mile done. If the world gave half of what she did today finishing that race, it would be a much better place to be. 

As I imagined, every Marshall was still out and cheered Rosy on right to the end where she ended the race the same way she began it…a runner. 

Rosy to the left and Selena to the right

So as the rest of the club go out to toast what was a pretty flawless day, I’m sitting at home, writing. Debating my 16 mile for tomorrow, with a pint of Avonmore. Life of a Marshall is really rock n roll.

A huge well done to everyone who came out today and took on what was a challanging 8 mile. I hope you are all looking forward to coming back next year and owning that beach! Don’t let it beat you!

What you should see in your race photos

Don’t you just love race photos…not!
I had my first half marathon on Wednesday night. It took me 2hrs46. I was near the back of the pack but didn’t care, I knew I could do it in my own good time.
Photos have emerged from the night and at first I cringed. I had done 12.5 mile, 12.5 very very lonely miles at this point and all I could focus on was how my legs looked like tree stumps.
I looked at it again today with a different view…those wee tree stumps are filled with determination, they are relentless, they carried my 14stone body 13.1 mile, they are full of power and strength. They kept going to the end and held me up in the queue in mcdonalds afterwards as I waited for a strawberry milkshake which was better than the tea and toast after labour.
They might not look pretty and I’m stuck with them however they did a mighty fine job on Wednesday night and I salute them!

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What a weekend of triumph for my wee legs

Summer has come to Ireland this week and boy how the sun makes you want to move.
I’ve had a pretty active week as it was, between a session with Shane at the gym where he found my breaking point, running up the local mountain, kicking ass in spin and running home afterwards followed by a Friday Funday around the hills of Tollymore with Lauren.

Let’s face it…I deserved a rest day. But did I? Of course not. I had the mountains calling me and I was going. What was going to be a trip out with my mother in law ended up as a day adventure with Michael.

His mum preferred to stay about the house and mind the kids, letting us get out for a few hours leaving us off about 10mile away from home and a mountain range between us and home.
Although there was a huge downhill road home we obviously opted for the more scenic and mountainous route. With 3 peaks ranging from 550m elevation to 700m to be scaled and conquered we set off ready to take it on.
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It was literally 3 mountains in 3 hours. What went up, definitely came down. The views however were so breathtaking and the sun shone down on us. Thankfully I’d broken out the sun cream earlier that day so only minor areas of redness on completion.

I could feel every muscle including my heart crying out for a rest as I went up each mountain. Thing is, anyone can do the Mournes. It’s about picking the right route and just taking your time. We passed two couples on our assent of Meelbeg and I wouldn’t be surprised if they where well into their 60s. Taking a break every 10metres to regroup and continue on. Obviously they were well versed in climbing as their gear was all top notch and there was me out in my Brooks (first time this year braving trainers up the mountain) and best of sports direct gym gear. But it had been dry enough and as long as I wasn’t planning on fell running I was going to be ok.

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So if that wasn’t enough for my body to endure for one weekend. On waking on Sunday (kids had a sleep over at grannys) we decided to attempt a long run.

Picking a route beyond the park is always interesting especially when you have no idea how long it will take for you to break. So setting off with the hope of 10mile with various side routes to take if we felt tired.

Well 10mile came and went and we hit home shortly after 11 mile.

When both watches beeped at 10mile I stopped and done a funky dance in the middle of the road.  It was ok…It was a country road with no one else on it so I was saved.

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A new 10mile and 15k pb so absolutely buzzing considering I had had a grueling hike the day before. This body can and will make it to the end of a half marathon. 30 days and counting.

My wee legs are looking forward to a rest that’s for sure.

The Road to Rose

So I’ve been a bit side tracked the past few weeks.

In early March after a Friday Funday, where we nearly got stranded on Newcastle Beach as the tide came in, Lauren announced she was going to be a part of the Down Rose this year.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the Rose of Tralee, it’s basically a festival which goes on down in County Kerry every year where over 60 different centres send a young lady to represent their county/centre.. So we have 32 here in Ireland then the others are all over the world.

The winner embodies all that is pure and beautiful about Ireland. Everyone in Ireland has watched it at least once, it is pretty much part of religion to sit down and watch it in August with your granny.

However as a prestigious competition there are careful selection processes in place to determine who represents each centre. For the Down Rose Centre …that was 6 weeks of fantastic outtings and opportunities to try new things, make new friends and have the best of craic.

I’ll admit I was envious of seeing and hearing about where the Roses where now but it was a nice type of envy as I heard about the friendships and the laughter, wondering to myself the whole time…I knew I should have entered this when I was 21.

I was lucky enough to get to go along to a fabulous event at Jack Murphys Jewellers on Thursday after our breakfast hike up the mountain. I got to meet most of the girls and try on items of jewellery that would pay off my mortgage (yes I’m that old and sensible). I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t have married for love…money would have been better. (Only joking Iove is better. ..but love with money is a bonus)

I was blown away by an abundance of beauty and more so the cracking personalities that the 2016 Down Roses had. Each one of them special and unique yet equally full of the joys of life.

Behind the well posed pictures where a group of now friends for life, just out to have a good time and broaden their horizons.

I seen first hand why every young girl should be part of this process and was welcomed with opened arms to join them for some food after wards.

When I say food…I mean fast food, yes they were all human with good appetites. All dressed in the best of frocks we went from a high class jewellers to Friar Tucks and everyone sat down to chips and chicken. It was awesome.

As they chatted about the selection night, plans for gifts for the organiser and important items to pack, I actually felt like I needed to be packing a bag and joining them. I laughed and I also cried inside. All of these girls had their own reasons for doing this and it amazed me how fabulous and selfless they each where. Here were girls barely in their 2os making a huge impact on society daily beyond the normal daily grind.

Fast forward to Sunday. 

I had been getting updates from Lauren throughout the morning and needed to calm my own nerves. I felt so nervous for her and everyone else involved. I know standing  on stage or in front of a room of hundreds of people is something I can do and it doesn’t phase me. However I am 10 years older than most these girls and some where going to be singing and dancing, playing instruments and well Lauren was lifting weights ( classy chick).

I took myself out for a run and thinking about what lay ahead that night I pushed myself to complete my first 10miler. If they could get on stage and do that outside their comfort zone.  I could hit double figures. 

I lay about all afternoon…I felt useless. I could have been helping give them pep talks or being in room entertainment.  It was just awful knowing that between having their hair dragged out of them and make up on. They where having to answer questions and endure interrogation from a panel of judges.

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As I arrived into an sparsely filled room (to be on time, is to be late) the stage area that was to host 17 nervous ladies was luminous. After working in the Slieve for years as a teenager at various events and weddings the room had a completely different feel about it. It was personal now. The Roses would all take to the stage over the next few hours and for one of them the dream would continue on to Tralee.

I have taught many a young person in my time, every single girl who took to that stage was a credit to themselves and their families.  It’s a daunting prospect and they all nailed it. I honestly could have stayed there all night listening to them. Such powerful talents where on display and I am sure Gemma the organiser felt like I do on results day. All her hard work and inspiration clearly had rubbed off on the girls and they delivered.

I didn’t envy the job of the judges. I am sure before anyone took to the stage they were daunted by the task ahead after meeting them all earlier in the day and realising that there was no clear winner.

I was never so glad to know Lauren was 4th on. At least I didn’t have long to wait and as each girl before her came up on stage, I got more nervous.

As she took to the stage she relaxed into the atmosphere. Connor Phillips, the compere for the evening, straight out attacked my hard work in my very homemade banner.  I am not the world’s most artistic critter. ..actually I’m woeful but I put hours of work into it and was more so delighted that it would be more of a souvenir than anything else. The banner made it to the stage and I was totally mortified, yet strangely proud that everyone was forced to admire my hard work even if it looked like 30 kids had made it.

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After the poster hype Lauren was fabulous. She didn’t show any nerves, was clear and precise in her answers and I was so proud of her (I don’t think I can stress just how much so).

Just when the room thought she couldn’t shine anymore she came out to do her talent. I think the whole room was in shock at the little 5ft2 Lauren stepping up to do Deadlifting. 

Working her way up through the weights she was confident in her own ability and made it look effortless. At 110kg (twice her body weight) she had everyone in the room on their feet. I am sure she could have comfortably PB’d on the night had she went up to beyond her 140kg pb as the atmosphere was electric and I am sure the adrenaline was taking over. Though she had no need to, she had put on a fantastic show and everyone was in awe…exactly what doing a talent is all about.

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In the end only 1 could win. I’m sure if many of the other girls where in a different county, they’d have won. The title of Down Rose went to the very deserving Fainche who will do a fantastic job representing the County, I’ve no doubt about that.

I feel very privilege to have been able to be apart of the Down Rose journey and I will encourage anyone who isn’t as old as me, not married and living near a Rose Centre anywhere in the world, to get involved. 

For now though I have my memories and count myself exceptionally lucky to have a friend that rocks as much as Lauren! #alwaysnextyear #dontgiveuponadream

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Planning ahead

Actually running the marathon I assume is the easy part and that is why now over 200 days before the event I’ve found myself sorting out hotels and childcare.

Where do we stay, do we drive, how long do we stay, when do we need to be in Dublin and most importantly … what do we do with the kids.

Currently there are 4 of us taking on Dublin Marathon. Michael, my husband and Thomas and Tara.

Strangely this couples friendship has blossomed from running. Tara, a friend of a friend, was super encouraging in my very early days of running and promised to meet me at my first ever race to make sure I wasn’t on my own even though we barely knew eachother in real life. What rapidly grew from that gesture is a friendship which feels like it’s been growing for years, not months. Also it has hit my bank account hard too in race fees as together we have completed 4 races so far this year and have the Team Relay for Belfast Marathon and of course talked eachother into thinking Dublin was a cracking idea.  Without fail she meets me at every finish line and has a collection of sprint finishes from me on video.

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This is us before the Born 2 Run, Winter Series, Antrim Castle race 2016 when I got my first sub 70 10k

There are very few moments of the day that go unnoted between us via various forms of communication and we love that our husbands have formed a running bromance and take themselves out for long runs and encourage eachother to push further. It’s just nice to know, in a world where many people are bitter and self absorbed, that there are still people who are genuinely nice and who get joy out of seeing other people succeed and do well. Tara is the personifaction of the latter.

So on Saturday the phone pings…Tara has signed up!  I’m not allowed to actually sign up to the Marathon yet as well the money is better sitting in my account than that of the event organisers.

Cue the beginning of what the hell do we need to sort. We have to be in Dublin the evening prior and with an early start on the agenda a hotel for the Saturday night is a must. Also it’s a long drive home so maybe a second night staying somewhere is a good idea too.

Obviously prices are inflated for the marathon weekend so was delighted to get the Travel Lodge in St.Stephens Green for a reasonable price, its not like I’m going to sleep much that night as I’ll be nervous but excited.

The debate on what to do the night of the marathon continued. Do we fork out for another night in Dublin or do we find somewhere where we can chill.

Cue booking the Carrickdale Hotel and Spa. Where we’ll get a great feed, chill out and ease tried and sore muscles in the hot tub. We’re very good to ourselves. Even better that it was a complete bargain at £62 and technically brings us half way home.
It’s Michaels birthday and our wedding anniversary as well as *hopefully* having completed our first marathon, so why not!

So we may not all be booked to do the marathon yet but you can rest assure that we are well sorted when it comes to travel and accommodation.

Tick…another thing off the list.

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Friday Funday… Good Friday shenannigans

I’ve a friend…shocking, I know. I’ve a few good ones actually.

Lauren has come into my life like a breath of fresh country air. Although a few more years younger than me than I’d like to admit, I couldn’t see life without her. A bundle of unending energy, something you wouldn’t expect of a student in her final year. With drive, motivation and a sense of adventure which would scare Bear Grylls yet refined enough to be a hot contender for the Down Rose 2016.

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What started out as a wee walk to pass an hour every now and again has progressed into the blind leading the blind through the various tracks and trails of the Mourne Countryside on what is usually a Friday..hence Friday Funday.

Today’s hike was roughly planned. We knew where we were starting and knew roughly where we’d finish. However the middle bit was a bit blurry.

I woke to clear blue skies and the excitement when I could see the mountains from my window. Not a cloud in sight and for once I thought..yes this is it. A day to scale a few peaks and admire God’s country from the top of Northern Ireland.

The Yellow Bug pulled up outside my house at 7.30am and with our packed lunch we headed to the foothills.

Up we climbed to Hares Gap…followed by a drone which was creepy. The air was still and skies still blue. However that was soon to change. We opted for the lower route across the Valley as we knew it had a path and as we were getting to where you could see right into the reservoir the mist descended and what are normally stunning views where engulfed by it.

After a good few km we locked eyes on the summit of Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland highest Mountain. We had both been to the top a few times but the excitement as we caught a glimpse of the tower on top glistening in the sun there was only one way we where heading…and that was UP.

My heart broke as we began the final ascent and the mist which ruined the views across the valley an hour previously had completely taken over the mountain. It became cold, dull and felt like walking through a wind tunnel. Sheltered only by the Mourne Wall.
The pull in the back of your legs was burning and as you climbed on…you felt that reaching the end was never going to happen.

In the distance we seen the tower, beside the tower was a man beginning to get undressed (free strip show) sadly it was just to change into dry gear. I felt it extremely fitting for it being Good Friday to recite a biblical quote of “my god my god, why have you forsaken me”
As although we knew the end was near and the suffering was going to end shortly…the surroundings, the weather and the struggle was still to be endured. Maybe not on the same scale as Jesus in his dying moments on the cross but still sort of reflected the pain and mild anger within us.

The sighs of relief from us both I am sure could be heard for miles around. We made it but.

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Yip could see no more than 10metres! Not the 360 degree view we were expecting or quite rightly deserved.

Sure if the sun had shone we wouldn’t have been able to procrastinate the whole way back down and for the rest of the day essentially…actually I think I can moan about it for a while.

Anyway 4.45mins, 14.5km and over 700m gained in elevation later, we grinded to a halt at Nugelato where we shared the most immense chocolate egg with ice cream and covered in badness.

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So today…Friday Funday from the top of Slieve Donard. I had 4.8km on my training plan today…think I can tick that off as well and truly complete.