Category: Ultra running

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. 

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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.

Last One Standing – the Epic race report

Last One Standing – the Epic race report

It’s not very often that I am rendered speechless. Its either as a result of losing my voice by over talking or being so moved by something that there are no words to describe. This weekend it was the latter than took my voice away.

The Last One Standing Ultra took place at Castleward this weekend and after DCM, I had joked with Michael about him giving it a bash. It was the random ramblings of one Kieran Young who put the idea in my head. Of course he was trying to convince me to do it whilst I was still feeling invincible after Dublin as I could spend 6 hours on my feet and that’s good training, I had endurance. Well sadly for him I also have some sense left after 2 kids and instead pitched the idea to Michael, who in order to keep training, needs something to train for, so hello Christmas present to Hubby.

As you all know I did brave the Recce day just to test myself and although I made a good stab at 4 laps with zero training I just don’t think I was ready to take it on myself and entered the 8.4 mile trail race which was 2 laps of the route. So I self nominated myself as head of the support crew as I knew doing this alone without the encouragement and the hands on deck would be a nightmare. So who else to call on than my trusted running buddies and the others from the club to swing by as and when they could on the day.

runners that run together- support together. The 3 amigos out in full gear to keep everyone right!

It was like a military operation in my house the morning of the race. I had to be up and away first and Caitriona had kindly offered to collect Michael a little later so he wasn’t hanging about. I had pre packed for everything the day before ensured all odd and random bits where included in the plastic box to get us through the day, from plasters and socks to sleeping bag and hot water bottles. As I arrived at Castleward I spotted Kieran already set up and ready to take the world on. I honestly hadn’t expected any of MAC to be there before my race and we were soon joined by Brenda who came along to make sure I got off in one piece.

Home for the day- the barn

I was the only one from the club who had opted for what was a brutal and challenging 2 lap route of 8.4 mile, a patch on what some runners would achieve later that day. Knowing the route, I knew what lay ahead but I was just out the pass the time and get a medal for actually finishing. I was in great spirits as I took on the first lap, I treated it the same way I had done the recce and walked the hills and ran the flats, I was on target for a solid first lap and as I neared the line hoping to make it without being lapped, didn’t Don Travers have to spoil my lap and pip me to the finish before I completed the first lap, like park run all over again. I do apologise for the choice words he received as he flew over the line but at this stage many of the MAC had arrived and where there to cheer me through to the start of the 2nd lap.

Flying feet at the end of the second lap! wohoo!

Needless to say I had an epiphany at around 5 mile, I had spent so much time organising Michaels stuff for the Ultra that I had forgot about my own race. I was out on course without water, gels, nothing! So as I hit 6 mile into the field, I had a different sort of fuel keeping me going and it was the sight of the full MAC crew at the bridge cheering me on. I swear as I came up the field, I held back a lot of tears. It was the most moving sight as I was pretty much on my own either side and there they were cheering for me. So thanks guys for that, means a lot.

The bridge where MAC came to cheer little old me on at mile 6

Taking on the hill to the house was, as always, not the best part of the race but as I headed for home, I could hear in the distance 6.5 minutes to the Ultra starts. I had forgot that my race had started late so pushed on to make it to the finish so I could see them all at the start. With a few minutes to spare I was able to wish everyone good luck and see them on their way as they headed off for many, many miles.

Delighted to have a mornings run done and ready to take over duties as support crew fuelled by Avonmore no less

So flashbacks of Causeway Coast came flooding back as I got the baby wipes out and tried to make myself respectable after my run, hiding behind some historic trailer doing a full clothes change as Caitriona, Branda and Aine chatted away. Wrapped up, fresh and ready for the long day ahead.

Everyone made the first lap home safely, with a list drawn up prior to the race it was easy to have organised in advance the how everyone liked their tea and coffee and have everything sitting so that all they had to do was run, rest repeat. As hunger kicked in with myself, I had my first of many runs in with the man in the chip van over the course of the day.

Between Caitriona, Brenda and myself we fell into a pretty smooth routine each lap. On the hour, see everyone off, go the toilet and tidy round the barn. Be at the bridge for 15mins past the hour, spend the next 20 minutes, cheering everyone on. Back to base and check drinks and have food ordered and ready. From 45 minutes past the hour everyone began to come in for their lap finishing and everything from helping to get fresh tops on and socks to getting last minute cravings. Even tending to those around us who became honoury members for the day, Richard with Omagh Harriers to everyones favourite Jimmy Mac loving the Murlough hands on approach.

Michael cosy in his wee group on lap 3

As the laps went on into the 3rd, the wait at the bridge got a little longer as people began to realise that their final lap was nearly upon them. Cheering on those who I normally run with at my end of the field was pure gold. Jennifer, Alan, Nora and Janet all held a special place in our cheering as although my runners had to learn to slow down, for my pace, I’d just have to keep on going and going and going at my normal pace so I am sure they were feeling it.

Alan taking on the muddiness of the path

Lap 3 saw the first DNF. However it wasn’t to be a MAC, as the clocked ticked down I spotted Alan making his way across the line and seeing he had moments to start the next lap pretty much got threw over the line to start the 4th lap. I knew he was in pain but even if he walked, it was miles in the legs and I knew if it was me, I’d want someone to get me across that line. Alan does claim that he was very scared of me on the 3rd lap and the only way he could run away from me was by going over the line again. Well at least he knows now not the flirt with the cut of time again.

A delighted Jennifer finished and showing off her DNF medal

Alan and Jennifer both missed the cut off finishing their race on just short of 17 miles and didn’t start the 5th lap. Both proud and rightly so with precious miles in the legs for their respective marathons. With their final race in the Run Forest Run series looming next week, this cross club friendship continues to keep the two of them striving for better times all whilst enjoying the miles and gaining some fancy bling, even if it is a medal for not finishing a race.
The next lap saw Janet, my partner in crime at the Recce reach her goal of 5 laps. There was something powerful about being able to stand on the bridge and cheer every runner on at the lap half way point. But the elation in her face when she knew she had made her aim and completed the 21 miles was fantastic and a huge hug afterwards was priceless. Well done girl!

An upbeat and strong Brendan wading on
And this is the point where me and the grumpy chip van man clashed. Having served soup from midday, runners where beginning, 6 hours in, to want some solid warm food in them. It was dinner time after all. However the catering van was not prepared for this and even when a runner asked for solid food, he said he’d soup and I knew something needed to happen by the next lap, so being Siobhan I went and spoke to Adrian nicely and bacon and egg baps where promised the next lap. Well arriving at the van at 6.35 ready to order for the runners from Murlough coming in, he was more concerned about his paying customers than the runner who had the short window of opportunity to eat and nothing prepared- which I am sure was what he was paid to be there for. A few sharp choice words and although I was cater for he was told to pull his finger out and be ready for over 100 runners about to cross the line within the next 10 minutes. After that I couldn’t even face looking at him again and I hope to God that he isn’t there next year and some one who can do their job is there putting the runners first instead of being more concerned about lining their own pockets. *rant over*

Its head torch time

As many approached their longest milage to date with marathon distance soon to be reached in the middle of the 7th lap, you began to see some runners search for that little something extra. As head lamps where now mandatory as day light faded, the course became like a new route, totally unrecognisable to the eye. As promised we walked the gutters of the field that had taken a bashing from hundreds of pairs of feet over the previous 8 hours and held with pride the Murlough AC banner just past the Marathon distance point to welcome the runners into the Ultra Marathon bracket.

Mr music man himself
And as promised by Michael Mc Kenna the tunes where pumping and we heard him before we seen him. With a quick rave in the middle of a field surrounded by I’m sure bewildered runners, we celebrated the entry into uncharted territory and headed to embrace Ultra running.

Coming back through the field we waded through the muck and although a lot more compacted to when I ran it earlier in the day it was sort of sticky and pulling the backs of your legs,  thought to myself that it wouldn’t have been to pleasant doing that.

We returned to the barn and ready for prep *insert bacon bap rant with grumpy chip van man* As team MAC returned to their camp seats, I heard the sensible words of the music man himself and was glad he made a tough call. Actually in fairness, he should not have toed the line anyway and my heart broke as out of everyone he had trained hard and knew what he wanted. Although breaking the marathon barrier and going beyond is extraordinary, I knew not too deep down he wanted more and at full health, very capable of double what he done. I can’t wait to see him blow the race out of the water next year. However well done Kenny. Your presence was missed the next lap as the ladies in the field where sad to see the “music man” had bowed out.

Going well through the early laps, Eddie gives the thumbs up
The next lap started in pitch black, completing this lap would bring everyone beyond the 50k mark. I knew for many of the field that this was a personal target. A huge distance by any stretch of the imagination and I knew Michael had initially set this lap as his aim. It was a long lap for us waiting on, even though runners continued to come in from the 38 minute mark. The smell of the barn was become toxic with an array of deep heat, cool gels and the likes to keep legs from cramping and seizing. Fresh changes of socks and clothes where aplenty also. I waited with tailwind and an orange. MAC began to come across the line from the 48 minute mark and no sign of a steady Michael in at 51. I hoped to God he hadn’t called it a day but at 55 minutes he crossed the line.

Following him into the barn he gave an open invitation to everyone else declaring, this is his final lap and welcomes anyone willing to walk. Considering the previous lap near killed me with nerves and I knew he had already accepted that he had done what he wanted I jumped at the chance to see what 9 laps of running had done to the terrain. Michael had changed from his trails to his road trainers on lap 8 so I was intrigued. Of course I went for the trails and grabbed a handful of jellies for the 4.2 trip. So on the hour, we crossed the line with all the other runners and off we set at a nice walking a pace.

It was such a fantastic evening with stars lighting up the sky and views across Strangford Lough, such a difference to day time but equally as calm and still. I rabbled on about my run and getting lapped by Don…again, people getting lost, forgetting my water and my random comments about the way the track had changed since 10am that morning. I got to also enjoy the stories from the pack with everyone elses tactics and how although he called it a day on this lap how he knew he could have went on for another- which I knew fine rightly, he just has other priorities this year and maybe in a few years he’ll come back and make the race his priority.

Strangford Lough on lap 9

It was a perfect cool down, he’d brought his club jacket so was able to bring the body temperature down slowly and it was more of a farewell to each painful part of the route, the hill to Winterfell, the field, the bridge, that hill to the house, the lonely tarmac road and the sliding down the back hill to the caravan park. On reaching that point children were out and said “are you runners, its 9 oclock you aren’t going to make it” apparently they had been there calling out “come on lightbulb” to the runners as they passed in the dark.

Ormeau Runners little fairy Nora eating up the miles

Crossing the line in 1.12 brought his Garmin to over 40 miles with a pleased and proud Michael attached. Also this lap saw Nora, the wee legend complete her last lap also. Heading out to make the Ultra Distance, she took more steps than anyone in the field, took even more abuse and shouting from us on the bridge than anyone else and had the best smile of anyone out there running. She did make the cut to go for lap 10 but knew she had smashed her expectations and made me wonder, next year, that could be me. I said could…not would! just for the record.

There was many a costume change throughout the day- someone should buy this man a hat

The next lap cut off came and went with Eddie, Colin and Kieran making the cut. Brendan and the only MAC woman in the field, Judith finished the lap together with cheers from all the MAC crew who had travelled to Castleward in the evening time. With in excess of 42 miles completed the two of them beamed from ear to ear and I was so proud of them both. The club bond shone throughout that lap. I had watched both of them with awe. Brendan had come a long way in the last 6 weeks since the recce day where he turned up for just 2 laps and there was Judith, the little person that she is yet strong as an ox battling through each lap giving her all, just exemplary and showing that an Ultra is not just for men.

The strongest lady I know, Judith powering through yet another lap

Lap 11 saw Eddie leave the madness. A few laps earlier he had toyed with the next lap being his last, however each lap he just kept going and pushing himself to his limits. He dug deep and fresh socks seemed to give him magic powers to go, yet again. Grit, dertermination and by self admission, pure stubbornness got him to over 45 mile and retired a happy man from the race.

Judith, Eddie and Kenny, out in the midnight hours

A man on a mission, Kieran Young was out to break the 50mile barrier. After earning the Ultra title last year as the ONLY MAC to take to the start line last year, I am sure he felt more at home surrounded by some fellow loopers who he talked into doing this along with the randomers he picked up last year. Taped from the ankle up beyond his knee, fuelled with McDonalds Fillet o Fish (yes someone actually buys those) he preserved and obviously cut from the same branch as Eddie, his stubbornness got him past the 50miles and Kieran finished the race a content and proud man.

Hopefully Kieran is still feeling this elated now after 12 hours of running.
Yet still looking fresh faced after 12 laps and beyond, Colin Jess continued to put in staggering lap times through the wee hours. The night time crew had come in to support him and honoury member Jimmy Mac who between them both kept each other going during and between laps. As the field began to whittle down a bit more, Colin continued to keep it steady and do what he needed to do and more each lap. As the sun rose over Strangford Lough the MAC Duracell Bunny kept on running. I am sure it was a welcomed sunrise and just after 8am Colin crossed the line completing in excess of 84 miles. To miss the cut off by a small margin.

No bother to this man! cool as can be- whats another lap!

However he still looked as if he had only done one lap but I am sure Artie had something to say about his legs not being so fresh when Colin lay up for a good rub down followed by a feed that came on a plate and he got to eat at a table. The whole club had so many words of support and congratulations and rightly so. From lap 6 Colin was in new mileage territory and to keep on going shows just exactly the calibre of runner and indeed person that he is. I am in awe at the runners out in the field the last 2 days.
Even with Colin over and out, Jimmy Mac continued on and earned himself his 100 mile medal and after 24 hours took himself and his two medals him. I have never been in the presence of such inspiration and determination all coated in pure mentalness.

Jimmy Mac- 100 mile club

As I write this there are still people out there running on little sleep, going beyond the 130mile mark. Crazy some would say, however now I’ve watched that, I would say absolutely completely crazy but such mentally strong, physically strong and so sure of their capabilities and belief in themselves, I cant even find the words to explain the level of respect that I have for endurance runners. Either that or they just don’t like their families and just keep running to avoid going home, or want to phone work in the morning to say “hey I’m still running that race I started on Saturday I’ll not be in until after lunch”

My blog has seemed to go on forever, just like the race but I never knew when I joined MAC that I was opening a door to a new life. This time last year I was following the Last One Standing online, as I heard it mentioned at the Gym that it was happening. I thought anyone would be a fruit cake to consider such madness and a year later I was there supporting not only my husband but friends from the club and beyond. People who I’ve met at races, people who I have ran miles with, people who I just met that day who I befriended (not the grumpy chip van man) supporting them to push themselves to new limits, cheer them through tough miles, hug them when they where struggling, hold them up when they finished and share the experience with them. I am so proud of them all and I cry writing this as although I feel like I have ran the Ultra, I know how much it meant to them and to reach those limits. Which they never thought ever possible.

The guys who left their sanity at home and need to find something different to do on their Saturdays off

Will I ever do an Ultra, I don’t know. I’ve my eyes firmly on Derry and Dublin and I know when it gets tough I will remember the grit, the determination and the stubbornness that the runners I encountered at Castleward showed at Last One Standing and know- I can and I will do this.
 

The Last MAC Standing..take a bow Colin 

 

 

 

 

What goes up must come down…eventually

What goes up must come down…eventually

I always wonder how I get myself into things. However on the realisation that Michael actually doesn’t train unless he has an event to work towards, Christmas 2016 seen him getting a one way ticket to his Ultra Running baptism of fire. 

The Last Man Standing Ultra run by local events company Atlas Running, consists of 4.2 mile on the hour, every hour for as many hours as it takes until there is only 1 person left. Sounds simple enough, right?

So cue the Recce day. 5 laps of the course, race conditions. And check out that elevation 🙈🙈🙈

Yip up and down like a loop whilst doing loops. A bipolar course if i ever seen one.

Of course thinking I didn’t want to miss out/flirting with the idea that I might actually do it after my performance at DCM16. I took myself along with the long suffering husband and what is the crew from MAC. 
I had treated this week like I had done my prep for my 20miler, well I could have rested up a bit more as I’m sure my legs where screaming for mercy after being up the Granite Trail aka lunges with a view, twice this week. However when the weather is as mild as it has been, I can’t sit inside.

Granite Trail on Thursday

So Team MAC took to the start line with over 20 other’s including last year’s winner. I had various ideas of strategy on how best to tackle the miles ahead. Other than just getting my ass round it alive, I was sure there was a technique to it.

Team MAC with honoury members Fiona Kenna and Lucy the dog

As we set off I felt very overwhelmed. I was surrounded by the elite of running madness, sorry I mean royalty. Seasoned Ultra Runners, the members of the 100 mile club and me. I’m sure they must have looked at me and wondered was I lost. But I am the personification of slow and steady and that essentially is what we needed to be. In control of pace and our own abilities to make the time frame. 

The recce participants

I was very lucky to be yet again at the back of the pack as I was accompanied by race organiser Adrian. Who was the perfect gentleman and paced me round. Explaining the best strategy for the lap. To be at the road by 11 minutes, the Bridge by 22, the House by 30 and the Caravan Park for 40. And if you want to walk it takes 12minutes to get the start. 

Lap 1 sucking all the information out of Adrian

First lap was bang on 52minutes. But I was already feeling it, a sign that I was nowhere near ready for the few laps ahead. Lap 2 kicked off and Michael decided to pace me through it.
We don’t often run together and there is a valid reason why- he drives me mad. I appreciate whoever runs with me has to have something special about them, especially if they are slowing down to meet my pace. We survived the 2nd lap together and headed off on the 3rd lap. And this is where he started to drive me mad.

In fairness my legs where starting to feel it bad, I was wondering if a 4th lap was even possible never mind a 5th. He encouraged me in his own annoying way to get me through the first 2 mile which where the toughest by far. Reaching the tarmac after the house I actually began to open up and relax. However this was becoming a common theme every lap. 

He left me with a mile to go on the downhill and I knew I’d make the cut off to start another lap. Doing some quick maths I knew this would bring me in around 13 mile. I was happy enough with that but knew I hadnt done any long run training and this was my limit. 

Winterfell Castle… made infamous by Game of Thrones.

Coming in with minutes to spare I had a stern word with myself.  I’d 2 more hours to go until everyone was finished and my legs, although tight, had some life left. So I set off on lap 4 knowing I’d burn out and have to walk missing the cut off. I enforced a new plan to my Ultra Running strategy. I was going to enjoy the unseasonably mild January day and the beautiful surroundings, take out the camera and photograph the memories of the day with a dynamic cool down. And that I did! I came in just over the 4.10 mark as let’s face it, I stopped to talk to a lady and her son out walking their dog, I sang with the birds and towards the end had caught up with the girl in front who happens to be called Janet and we walked the last mile in together. 17 miles completed.
Now that’s what I call a perfect end to a run. Learning about others running stories and obstacles, their future plans and laughing. 

The first of the lap 5 runners arrived in at 36mins and everyone followed shortly afterwards.  

The MAC crew all done themselves proud making the 21 miles looks easy. The recce has recruited maybe 2 more runners from the club as they felt it is a challenge they want to embrace. 

Me on the other hand. Not this year…some year definitely. But for now I’m happy to head up the MAC support crew to ensure there are friendly faces and all hands on deck to get the biggest entry of Murlough runners to an Ultra, through as many laps as possible.  

Myself and Fiona Kenna post run

In true team fashion and of course to satisfy the post run munchies. We stopped by McDonalds and massacred all food put in front to us…you can’t beat it.