Tag: inclusion

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. 

I didn’t sign up to guide oversized Hippos

I didn’t sign up to guide oversized Hippos

So you are going to run Newry 10k dressed as Henry the Hippo…this I’ve got to see.

It’s not like Michael to have a random idea involving dressing up and let’s face it I married him in the hope he would balance out my crazy. Always the sensible one in the marriage even the suggestion of this to raise money for Cash 4 Kids caught me off guard.
As always I’m such a supportive wife and collected the suit and took the pictures however it was 24hrs before the event that the bombshell was landed on me.

“I can’t see out it”

So there was me on Saturday, getting my head around the fact I’d to guide run with him dressed as a hippo. When I completed my guide running training in the view of raising awareness of inclusion and getting visually impaired runners out there, I didn’t think inclusion would extend to oversized hippos, especially my husband dressed up as one. We don’t run well together…ever. My first 10k I told him at 7k to bog off and leave me alone as his form of encouragement enraged me. At Running Blind I nearly killed him more than once you can read about it here: Running Blind – An Eye Opener. So my confidence wasn’t high that the marriage would make it through this latest challange.

So here we are before hand. Happily ignorant to the 6.2 mile ahead of us. I donned the tutu as if he was going to look an eejit, I might as well join him.

I had so many worries. Primarily the fact he could easily over heat in that outfit was at the forefront of my mind. Usually a 50min 10ker he knew he had a big drop in pace required and when it comes to slow and steady, I’m your woman. I told him it would be more near 1.15 factoring in some breaks to let him breathe and drink.

As we set off the kids in the street loved it. Who doesn’t want to high five a huge Hippo. The adults too just loved seeing the familiar face of a childhood icon again. On the lap of the town we had our first and ONLY mishap where I told him to wave right and he turned right instead and went straight into a cone but didn’t fall.  As we entered into the second mile, we were going strong and hit the Tow Path where we knew the only people we would see where the other runners.

Even the Psni where going to lock him up for his random idea.

It was warm, although the sun was firmly behind the clouds, I was feeling the heat. Yet I was tied to Michael in the Hippo suit, tied together by the strap of the child’s Trunki skilfully looped so he could be guided safely. I kept checking was he ok and reminding him to slow down. The leaders in the 10k race passed, with local NAC member David O’Flaherty in 1st and the main man himself Dermot Mathers in second. We got the look of “what the hell are you two at” from him as he cruised down the familiar tow path that he runs a few times a week. I don’t think anything I do now, surprises him.

With the leaders coming our way it wasn’t long until the rest of the 10k runners came past. Shouts of support, high fives, laughs and giggles from the runners made what could have been a lonely part of the race more fun. Michael did offer them at times to swap but there was no takers. At 3.5 mile we had the well needed water stop. I knew I was making good time in general and when Michael took the head off for a drink, the sweat was running off him, he had to take his glasses off as it was steaming up inside and the buff he was using as a sweat band was wringing.

The next 2.5 mile was going to be hot but we were homeward bound. By now we had a steady stream of half marathoners passing us. Many familiar faces and continued support. On the return leg we met Peter for a selfie, wouldn’t be a race for me if I didn’t get the craic with him!

As we came off the towpath with under a mile to go, Michael took a breather as we walked for a minute. After all the rest of the race was going to be amongst the eyes of the public so we had to at least let on we were loving life!  The fact of the matter was, I was feeling great as he melted to death in the hippo suit. We came into the final half mile with Michael waving and giving thumbs up to everyone about. Turning onto Hill Street, the announcer had spotted us and the cheers where mighty. Not only from the spectators but the fellow runners who had finished and had passed us on the way.

We clocked 1.11.24 – lets face it, not to shabby for me and a hippo.

With Gillian Fitzpatrick Chair of the Council, Fiona Valentine from Newry Branch Ulster Bank and my side kick always willing to support the Grant madness without question…Caitriona. 

After a quick breather and meeting up with Caitriona and Fiona who had been shaking buckets for change and showing flawless support of Michaels endeavour, the head was put back on and Michael kindly posed for photos with runners and children. I have to admit I was taken back by the way he interacted with the crowd, I knew he couldn’t see who he was shaking hands with or who was in front of him, high fiving little babies, talking to the toddlers and letting wee kids kick him. Though what stood out for me was the fact there was a family with a child with special needs and he didn’t think twice when the girl asked for a hug. He then had to hug the whole family including the dad. Admirable and made that families day.  I guess that there are a lot of things that the money he has raised will go to help and support within the Cash for Kids charity however sometimes its just the simple things like a hug or taking time to listen a child that is priceless and something money can’t buy.

On the marriage front; we are still together, it was actually a really enjoyable outing as I couldn’t hear what he was saying so we didn’t fall out. It was great practice for guiding Tony next week at Derry marathon and hey it was a comfortable 10k for me and gives me hope that the past 6 months of big miles hasn’t totally ruined the smaller run, so after Derry I might give the shorter races a bash again before jumping back into marathon training.

As always everyone, make sure you have voted this week for Rock’n’Run idol. Brining a whole new level of inclusion into my journey and Michael being inspirational (and absolutely crazy) this week, it would be lovely to represent Ireland in Las Vegas.

VOTE HERE

 

Guide Running – 13.1 mile of guaranteed company

Guide Running – 13.1 mile of guaranteed company

So today was finally the day I took my duties seriously as a guide runner and held onto that black strap and headed off through Larne Town Centre with Tony for 13.1 mile.

I’ll be honest I wasn’t too nervous about any of it. 

Half Marathon- done a few of those.

Guide running – I’d certificate in that.

Putting up with company the whole way round – a perfect combination for a long run.

I met Tony away back in July at Cookstown Half whilst I was finding the race tough. He literally held my hand and got me through mile 7 and 8, sending me on ahead to ‘pace’ him to the end. I got a 4 minute pb that day and I’m sure it was all down to his belief and support.  From there a friendship blossomed. I took on the 10k at Running Blind highlighting that I was a terrible guide as Michael ended up in a few trees. 

Then just before Dublin Tony asked if I fancied doing Derry with him. I’d yet to even make it round 26.2 mile but I was blown away that out of all the people in the world he could have asked, he asked me. So always up for a challange  I agreed and so began my venture into guide running.

I completed the Athletics NI guide running course in addition to my Lirf course and just in case got me my first aid certificate. Can never be too prepared says me.

Making my way through the Guide running course 

Looking at the race schedule I knew we would be pushed for events to practice running together and Larne Half came up. Perfect, however with the event selling out Larne AC where super accommodating and the two of us had the green flag to run together. 

With the weather indicating a complete wash out we travelled tentatively to Larne as clear skies and lack of rain followed us. With Michael having to stay at home with the kids it was me and the girls destined for 13.1 mile together. 

I have to admit I love how within the last year between Caitriona, Brenda and myself that we’ve racked up some serious milage and didn’t even flinch at the thought of another half marathon even if we are forever the other end of the ‘MAC sandwich’ when it comes to results 

Team MAC at Larne

The girls had pre race gitters whereas I was in search of a blind man. As the hall filled at Larne Leisure centre I began to wonder where Tony had gone. He knew I was here as we were thankfully early but where was he! I kept circling the place just in case I’d missed him.  Thankfully I got a call and he was outside with all his County Antrim Harriers team mates. This was it…game on!
As the race got underway we waited for the majority of runners to pass before joining the madness. Caitriona and Brenda passed and we followed in behind.

The first 2 mile of the course was lined with spectators. The atmosphere was buzzing as around us there were those taking on their first half marathons, crossing the line to taking the first steps into a new distance.  As for me it dawned on me as we passed the start line that ‘crap I’ve to run a half marathon and guide run.’ 

It’s not like I didn’t notice I was attached to Tony, but with the reality of having to run and then be sure I was taking in and sharing everything happening around me was overwhelming.

I spent the first mile at Tony’s pace just to see how things panned out after the first mile. Surrounded by the familiar faces of those from other races and exchanging the usual pleasantries.  It seemed that Tony was running royalty in his own right. Everyone knew him and as we cruised through Larne town centre and he encouraged spectators to join us. This wasn’t the last time he’d invite people to join us.

Picking up randomers, the Craic from Derry in the form of Peter

As we made our way out to coast the sun shone down on us. Possibly a terrible weather trick before the flood of rain arrived but it showcased how beautiful the route was. At 3 mile I looked down at my watch. By now the Pack fallen into it set order and we were comfortably motoring along. Comfortably…I had just blew my time trail time out of the water. I could believe it. Although we had slowed down  bit it wasn’t sore or too much effort. I then got the head up and headed for the 10k point. 

As we began to pass the runners on their return leg it was clear we where headed for a strong time. When I saw 1.09 10k on the clock I knew I’d over 9 minutes advantage over my first half marathon time and relaxed into the second half of the race.

By now Tony and I had worked out each other. 2 kindred spirits out for the craic and a few mile. It was lovely to find out more about him and share many times of laughter and many times of sadness. I run for the journey and what I learn along the way. So between cheering on others and getting there ourselves, it was a mighty race. 

The weather continued to hold and it began to heat up.  At 10 mile the blister that Tony first detected at 7 Mile was becoming an issue. With procrastination and history of running shoes it was decided that a run walk to the end was the only way we’d get there. Let’s be honest it’s the best way to get there.

Crossing the line to the familiar faces of runners right across the board we clocked a decent 2.48. And when you look at it, that was 5 minute quicker than my venture out at Carlingford 2 weeks previous so was delighted. 

I am really looking forward to Derry Marathon now. It’s going to be the best quarter of a day of my life and lucky me that I get to share it with Tony.

Guide running is like running with a mate and being stuck with them the whole way. I didn’t suffer in anyway from additional post race pains and it was a great 13.1 mile. 

Team MAC had outdone themselves again and with a rake of pbs to boot everyone had a great race.  

Although only a small contingent of the club ran Larne, it was lovely to cross the line to all but 1 of them for post race support. It’s that which makes being part of a club- worth it.  

Hugging Tony goodbye for the second time in 2 days after he accompanying Michael the day before at Craic I knew I’d see him the next day as he went for his 3 in 3 at the EAMS event. I reflected on the way home about my running journey so far and what opportunities that it have afforded me.

Always a great believer in inclusion myself I never knew running would allow me to explore that further and be able to be useful to someone. Over the 3 race days I shared the events with not only Tony and Peter his VI friend but also Team Kerr who have been at the forefront of inclusion in running in NI with son Aaron through an assisted wheel chair. Just showing that running is an option for many and that there are people willing to support and event organisers who will do what they can to make their events fully inclusive to all.

A huge thank you to Tony for last weekend at Larne.  Here’s to the best 26.2 mile of our lives in June.  

Couldn’t be any luckier to have met this man on a dodgy country road in Cookstown in July . 💗