Tag: Running

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

 

Back where I belong 

After a few weeks of playing with new routes it was clear there was only one place where we should be doing our 20 miler.

The Lake.

2.4 mile of trail in the shadow in Slievenaslat, bordering a fresh water lake in Castlewellan. Literally on my door step.

As you all know, I grew up disliking the lake and being dragged around it. In all honesty I am still not too keen on it. Actually I hate it. So why am I always drawn to it when I do big miles?

  • It’s 2.4 mile, makes the maths easy
  • Has a car park on the route, handy for fuelling/water stops 
  • Elevation isn’t overly extortionate in comparison to other routes round here
  • Secluded, no one sees you 
  • Not on the open road, not as dangerous
  • As mentioned right on the door step so near to home
  • Finally laps means symmetrical elevation chart

However like doing laps of anything it is tedious and considering I never turn to go the opposite direction opting for the long gradual hill over the short sharp hill it is monotonous. Kieran Young would rather run up and down Binnian 4 times than run the lake… using marathon chaffing as the closest analogy he could find to how he feels about the lake. Which trust me is a horrendous side effect of long distance running. And speaking of Binnian. Climbing 750m mountains 2 days before a long run is not advisable. My quads where on fire.

Primarily for me 8 laps of the lake is a mental battle. If I can survive that I can survive anything. It served me well in DCM training when I did it on my own and I hope it will serve me well this time round in Derry.

So what happens on 8 laps of the lake? It’s pretty basic. It’s 8 times of looking at the same things. But each lap is different and defined in it’s own way.

Lap 1 … tough getting started. The head is riddled with wtf I’ve to do this 8 times. Both of us wondering why we even signed up to a marathon in the first place never mind 2! 

Lap 2 … wow there’s loads out runners this early in the morning  oh wait crossfitters…7am is a lie in for them. There’s loads of them.

Lap 3 … Jesus where’d that lap go. It was like oohhh we’ve started and bam we are finished. I’ll take that.

Lap 4 …the lap of the red squirrel. After last week’s thoughts of being attacked by a flying squirrel we were greeted by the rare sighting of a red squirrel which thankfully didn’t have wings.

Lap 5 …geography lesson on wind. Why is it is the wind picking up Siobhan? Cue me launching into the an in-depth explanation of isobars (not isogels) and  weather patterns. Caitriona wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped 

Lap 6 … was there not always a bin there? We’ll keep going to the bin. Caitriona swore there was a bin there. Nope no bin just a tree trunk. Then she totally missed the tree we pointed at every lap. Running amnesia in full flow.

Lap 7 … the death lap. Started slow finished strong. End is near but not quite. I did pick up pace this lap. Feeling exceptionally comfortable and embracing the fact the miles where flying in and I knew 26 was very possible. Must have been the pickle onion mega meanies last night .

Lap 8…victory lap. We offered up the final mile to the MAC members who have left us for yellow and red pastures this year.

Last 0.75 mile … I’m gonna sprint finish the last 0.2 mile like it was race day. Which I did at 8.50min/mile pace. Empty the tank!

So all done and dusted by lunch time and fit for bugger all else the rest of the day. The Lake didn’t beat me, dare I say I even enjoyed it. It was a new mileage milestone for Caitriona and belief that her first marathon is now possible.  

So bring on the taper I guess. 17, 13 and 7 milers in the next few weeks and no more going up mountains on Thursday at Hill and Dale anymore the poor quads have seen better days…must phone Grainne for a rub out. 

MAC Does Hill & Dale 2017

The Series race reports – to be added to weekly after each race

Hill and Dale, Race 10, The Meels

The Thursday evening tradition of Hill and Dale continues. This week it was race 10, the penultimate gallop for the MAC Mountain goats this series. It was just a little matter of 3.5 miles and 1800 feet of elevation between the start and the finish. With the route requiring an ascent of both Meelmore then Meelbeg from a starting position on the Trassey Road. I have always found it strange that ‘The Meels’ themselves offer their own quintessential Irish charm. In that Meelmore (Big Meel) is lower than Meelbeg (Little Meel) by no less than twenty five feet, discuss.

We welcomed bigger numbers back to the mountains this week with over 180 toeing the line. The impending heatwave promised by Barra Best had still not landed fully in the Mournes by then however we welcomed nine members to the race including Colm Devlin and Judith Robinson who are the only MACs to have completed all races so far. It was Stephen Cassidy who crossed the line to take the accolade for first MAC home. Coming in 88th place, he clocked a 45.09. He was soon followed by Declan McCormick fresh from his assault on the Mourne Way Marathon five days earlier. For someone who doesn’t know why he is continually turning up to each race, it is clear that not so deep down, he is beginning to really love the mountains.

There is a tale to tell of the next two across the line. After such camaraderie at Donard, Laura Lynch and Colm Devlin battled it out at the top of Meelmore. During the descent they both took different routes. As they flew down the side of the mountain it was the agile form of Laura who took first MAC lady home and just under 40 seconds advantage over Colm. I wonder has she let him forget it yet? Colm clocked an impressive 49.42.

Dave Fulcher, also fresh from his return to marathon life last weekend, tackled the Meels with gusto alongside the relentless figure of Judith Robinson who yet again tackled another route, giving everything she had. They finished in 52.52 and 53.20 respectfully.

Without a doubt, Liam Smyth does do the best mid-race pictures. As we were all treated to the reality of life mid-race during Hill & Dale courtesy of Liam, he finished in 55.37. We also welcomed back Andy Spence to the series and he held his own and took advantage of the fast finish to cross the line in 57 dead. A huge well done to Lorna, new to the series this year, she has come out time and time again and tackled new challenges and never once faltered in her performance taking proceedings home for Murlough in 59.51.

Afterwards, Colm took great pride in accompanying everyone back to Greenans for the post race refreshments. As people praised the spread as being “one of the best,” Colm reminded them that they were eating in Kilcoo and there was no better place!

This week we are all a bit emotional as we approach the last race of the series, Race 11- Drinnahilly, what will we do on a Thursday night now?  Moving to a Friday night this week and as always entry is a donation towards the two chosen charities this year, Mourne Mountain Rescue Team and Mourne Hertiage Trust. The series presentation will take place afterwards in O’Hares.

Hill & Dale Race 9 Loughshannagh

The weather wasn’t kind to the Mournes last week as the rain poured and filled the undergrowth of Loughshannagh for Thursday’s Hill & Dale. Notoriously the most challenging race of the series and it also being a NIMRA ‘short race’ added to the occasion.

 With numbers beginning to dwindle as some sense begins to return to the mountain running community now that they have completed the required amount of races for their spot prize. Others turned up just because they love a good mudbath up the mountains.

After Donard, the just over 4 mile route this year took and anticlockwise direction Carn as the first peak followed by a steep descent into the Mournes beach at Loughshannagh and onto Ott for a quick finish. 

There were only 2 MAC who were brave enough to take on the Challange along with the 156 others. With the MWM  featuring as a race to complete this weekend, many of our mountain goats sat this one out.

 Colm Devlin on course for a series full house donned his well crafted buff hat to take on the race. For the ladies Judith Robinson stepped up to the Challange together showing that there is nothing to fear from a wee jont out with Hill & Dales finest.

Colm put in a fantastic second half to cross the line in 1.10 minus the full face mask he is infamous for wearing at such mudslide events. Judith, equally mucked to the eyeballs put in a vallient effort to finish in 1.20. 

Hill & Dale Race 8 Millstone

So race 8 takes us back to Donard Park. 

If there was ever an advertisement for the bipolar nature of the weather in Northern Ireland, this years Hill and Dale series would be it. Last week the sun couldn’t shine any more, this week it was wet, miserable and in line with the rise of local sales of Jungle Formula, the midgies where out in force.

10 MAC took to the start line, some to make up the race numbers to 6, some to complete their score card and others because well…they just love a wee mountain.

In the shadows of Slieve Donard lies Millstone. Towering over the Granite Trial and home to nesting Buzzards. There where a few health and safety concerns after sightings and attacks from the resident Buzzards. However opting not to reroute this year the runners motored on up and back down again to what I can say was the best finish of the series so far. Just when you think people have nothing more to give, they pull out spectacular finishes, none more so than the immense finish by Newcastle ACs John O’Higgins.

As bodies were like ants crawling across the ridge and looking like they were tumbling down the side of the mountain, it was Mourne Runners William McKee that took the race win. 

For MAC, OC Young was first home as he stormed across the line in 41st place in 47.15. He was followed by Eddie Murnin who has now openingly admitted to enjoying the mountains and clocked a great time of 51.50.

A fantastic finish by Stephen Cassidy saw him take 91st place and tick another race off the list for this series in 53.05. Declan McCormick who managed to turn up with his vest on the right way round and his number in the right place continued his ‘I’ve no idea why I am doing this’  campaign and finished in 57.13. 

Colm Devlin continues to rack up a full house of races this series and gained himself an ‘airborne’ photo as he finished with style in 58.25.

Dave Fulcher also continues to put in strong performances mid week as well as at a plethora of local events at the weekend finishing in 1.02.

We also welcomed back Michael Neeson to the series as he gets back on track. Smiling the whole way to the finish, maybe a smile of loving life or one of relief or a mixture of both, he clocked 1.04 and another 1 down.

Nicola Mathers was first lady home for MAC. Although she looked like she had had a mud bath by the time she finished, it was actually a whole extended family of midgies that covered her and not dirt. She crossed the line in 1.05. 

Fionnuala Simmons is living for Drinahilly so she can hang up her mudclaws (for another year) and wear her hard earned H&D gilet with pride. In order to do so she took on Millstone and made great time on the descent as it seemed like the ground came up to meet her feet. She completed the course in 1.06. Judith Robinson, again took to the line after a busy weekend of running. She encouraged and came home 10 seconds behind Fionnuala to finish proceedings for MAC.

Next week there is no telling what the weather has in store but either way the crew from Newcastle AC will be at Loughshannagh at 6.30 checking your kit and offering a fresh mountain challange for all the mountain goats.

Hill & Dale Race 7 Slieve Moughanmore

This week we returned to the heart of the Mournes for Moughanmore, a Hill and Dale stalwart that has taken a few years off. An out and back affair with runners passing over Pigeon and then onto the summit of Moughanmore and back again. With some legs weary after the Donard Race 5 days earlier, other legs where raring to go. Unlike the bipolar weather conditions endured the previous Saturday where all kit was essential to cope with the changing conditions, the addition of Factor 50 was added for this race as temperatures soared into the mid 20 and we had guaranteed blue skies and sunshine for the whole event. 
Measuring 3.25 mile and 1560 feet of a climb, 205 runners toed the line and in amongst them were 11 MAC members. Leading the charge home in 42nd place was Kieran Young, finding his groove again back in the mountains clocking 40.26. He was the first of five runners in the club to make the top 100 in the event, the clubs biggest top 100 finish this series. Hugh pushed hard and took 67th place, sporting his new sunglasses bought specifically for running. Looking like a smaller version of the Terminator, he crossed the line in 42.57.
Sean Armstrong stayed hot on Hugh’s heels over the first climb much to the shock of the Coach when the photos emerged after the event. Sean took an admirable 81st place in a fantastic time of 44.59. He was soon followed by Stephen Cassidy who returned to the series and took 85th place in 45.35. Declan Mc Cormick, after braving Donard and upgrading to the full marathon at Mourne Way, must have been feeling invincible as he cruised home in 90th place in 46.20.
Colm Devlin proved his worth by even turning up to the race after a hot, humid and tough race the night before at the Bann 10k. After facing the sweltering conditions the previous night, he did it all again with a few bigger hills thrown in for good measure finishing in 48.48. Gerard Rowe and Dave Fulcher were next home in 50.33 and 53.57 both finding the heat adding to the challenges of the course. 
Judith Robinson was the first MAC lady home. Back on her home mountain turf, Judith dug deep to come home in 57.22. It was a series return for Liam Smyth, it was great to have him back in the mix and he completed the course in 58.51. Lorna Fitzpatrick completed the MAC proceedings for the day in 1.02 keeping her focus and drive with a quick return leg.
Next week we return to Newcastle for the Millstone. With warning signs out about Buzzards around the Granite Trail area, runners may be prepared to tackle more than a few 100 feet in elevation!

Hill & Dale Race 6, Donard

Marking the half way point in the H&D series was the infamous, Donard Race. This year due to it being an IMRA trials event, participants had to take on a different route, avoiding the Black Stairs and heading to the summit over the Saddle. The public walking route offers tricky challenges of its own, with the granite steps to the saddle posing hazardous to the average walker, never mind the seasoned mountain runner passing two fold as one goes up and one comes down, at speed.
It was a race of four seasons. It started out a glorious race as 258 runners toed the line on Main Street Newcastle. The streets where lined by family, friends, club mates and tourists who where amazed that these runners where about to run up “that big mountain, up there.” In amongst the mix where 12 of MACs finest Mountain Goats, of course lead by Kieran Young who had a score to settle with Donard after his last trip up.

With the summit clearly visible in the distance, it was looking like yet again it was going to be a scorcher of a day. However as runners began the main accent up past the Ice House, the clouds started to set in. It wasn’t long before the blue skies where replaced by heavy grey clouds which brought with it hail that you would expect on a stormy January afternoon, not the last week in May. This made for an even trickier decent than normal as footwear choice could have made the normal ground feel like ice beneath them. It didn’t deter an on form Zak Hanna from taking a home win as he cruised home to victory under the hour in 59.24, closely followed by William McKee in 1.01.

Leading his troops home was Kieran Young who was first home for MAC. Proud of all the Donard first timers and the fact his positive and slightly unhinged influence may have been the cause of many of them embarking on the Hill & Dale series this year, Kieran crossed the line in 1.20, putting to bed any hard feelings he had after his last race up Donard a few months back.

Eddie Murnin continues to amaze everyone as he made himself look like he has been running mountains for years instead of a few weeks. Even the hail that stung when it hit you didn’t deter him from crossing the line in 1.24. Another mountain newbie, Declan McCormick, who still wonders why he is lining up every week, pulled out a blinder of a decent in 37minutes to finish in 1.32. Proving that he has nailed his downhill technique or that he closed his eyes and hoped for the best as he made his way through the rocky terrain of the forest.

Turning up to the race in her Flip Flops, to ensure an automatic win in the MAC “Tourist spotting” game was our leading MAC lady, Laura Lynch, she did thankfully opt for a change of tyres for the actual race. Going from strength to strength, Laura kept her focus and with promise of her beautiful cupcakes at the end she powered home to continue her rein as first MAC lady home in 1.38. Joining Laura at the finish was Colm Devlin, who on reaching the summit together claimed “we are at the top together, we will finish together” And together they stayed to the bitter end. Laura was grateful for the experienced company and the craic was mighty even if the descent ahead was daunting. A true example of MAC teamwork at its finest

Again the race of pairs continued as race veteran Dave Fulcher coached first timer Fionnuala Simmons down the mountain for them to cross in 1.47. Next home was Nicola Mathers although not new to the series, it was the first time she was tackling the Donard race. Standing at the foot of Donard after the race she said “I will never look at that mountain the same again” knowing she had conquered it in 1.51.

Judith Robinson, armed with her glasses this race, enjoyed the climb to the summit which towers 850m above sea level. Seeing clearly on accent was not the story for the way down as the glasses where popped on the head and experience took her down the mountain in 1.54. Sean Looby, always fond of a great race picture smiled for every camera on the way up. His return to the series post marathon was marked with a 1.58 finish. Coming in under the two hour mark, Sean did say that the marathon was an easier challenge which highlighted the 6.5 mile tricky route and bi-polar weather conditions that runners had to endure on the day.

Making a return to the series and competitive running, Andy Spence crossed in the line in 2.09. It was the now regular H&D pairing of Colette McBride and “The Butcher” that swept around the final corner of O’Hares car park to finish in 2.16. It never ceases to amaze me that Colette enjoys every step of every race, putting faith in her own abilities and never being daunted by the challenge ahead. An inspiration and bench mark for other runners not just in Murlough but further afield that taking the plunge into the unknown at H&D isn’t actually as scary as it looks, after all the mountain can only go up so far and what goes up, has to definitely come back down again.

In five days time, its time to pull on the Mudclaws again as we head back to the heart of the Mournes for Moughanmore. If legs have recovered remember to bring your number and a full kit inspection will be in place, if you are to learn anything from Donard, it is that in the mountain, you need to prepared for everything changing in a matter of minutes.

Hill & Dale Race 5, Rocky

Thanks to Paul Fegan for the photo.

We’ve had Slieve Martin and Slieve Binnian, so to the rookie Hill and Daler, “Rocky” didn’t seem like too bad an idea, having conquered just one peak, a race, in the previous weeks. However it’s actually the Rocky Horseshoe by name and encompasses four peaks which show off the Mournes from the opposite side from last week.

As the cooler weather began to set in on Thursday evening, the 225 runners where given a break from the midgets for a change and conditions where perfect with little wind and great visibility. This race also offered spectators the opportunity to see runners at almost every part of the course and the clear evening allowed for you to see runners making their way along Altnataggart, Pearse Castle, Tournamrock and finally the summit of Rocky and down.

The course allowed for a fast start and finish, that’s if you had anything left after the previous 3 mile and it was clear the competition between McKee and Hanna was fierce as they merged onto the track to climb Altnataggart, shoulder to shoulder. It was a treat for those watching on as they were treated to runners hurtling themselves down the side of Rocky back onto the track, having to make a quick decision to find the best line down. McKee gave everything he had to ensure victory was his after the smart winning tactics from Hanna last week was evidently still raw in his mind.

MAC came out in force yet again and it was Eddie Murnin who was the first MAC to be spotted coming down Rocky with Hugh Oram hot on his tail. At 43.45 and 43.51 respectfully, the two men quite literally emptied the tank and made up places on the final 200m. It is also to be noted that Hugh, who hasn’t tackled Rocky in seven years, was able to boast about a 3 minute pb and proves the Coach is just like a fine wine, as his performances improve as the years go by.

Next to come hurtling down the mountain in 46.28 was the ever agile Stephen Cassidy, as he had every foot placement on point throughout the final descent to secure a top 100 place. He was closely followed by Sean Armstrong in 46. 44 who picked an excellent line down Rocky to arrive alive and smiling at the finish. It seemed that the MAC runners came in pairs on Thursday, Declan Mc Cormick and Colm Devlin followed next in 48.20 and 48.40. The pair were being hunted down by the ever impressive Laura Lynch as she held onto her crown as first MAC lady home in 49.01.

Gerard Rowe, like a mountain pro, clocked a 53.47 and just behind him, Nicola Mathers, who was assured by the fact that she had survived this race in previous years, tackled the descent with ease to come home in 55.49. Judith Robinson took on some of her favourite peaks in this race and clocked a 57.25.

Just over the hour, we welcomed Lorna Fitzpatrick and Sarah McKay safely across the line. Continuing to tackle the unknown and improving race on race, the hills are definitely building in the legs of these ladies and the Hill and Dale force is definitely strong within these two.

As high vis became evident on the mountain, in amongst them was Colette McBride bringing the race proceedings to an end for the evening. Colette, surrounded by the legendary Butcher and The Prophet himself, offered her thanks for the support, encouragement and of course craic had with the men as she made her way across the 4 peaks. She was quick to point out that without them, she would probably still be up there. A testament to the organisation and marshalling of the series and also a warning to both men, Colette is ready to take on Donard next week.

With the midway point in the series nearly upon us, we take this Thursday off to prepare for the highlight of the series as runners take on Slieve Donard on Saturday at 2pm. This year with Donard being a IMRA trial for the European and World Mountain Running Championships and as a first round of the Irish Mountain Running Championships, we expect a considerable field of elite athletes toeing the line in hope to be selected to represent their country alongside our own MAC Mountain Goats who will be out in force to tackle the biggest mountain in NI.

 

 

 

Hill & Dale Race 4, Binnian to the Top

All roads lead to Slieve Binnian on Thursday night for the infamous Binnian To The Top, Hill and Dale Race. Race 4 of the series seen over 250 runners take to the start line at Willies Field. A route which took you up a gradual climb along a gravel path to the foot of the mountain with a hundred metres of respite before you climbed over the Quarry and headed up along the wall, was not to finish at the Stile which was in sight on the accent. As the lungs burned and you had seriously questioned your sanity, the route took runners over the stile and left up to between the first Tor, finishing with spectacular views over the middle of the Mournes. 

Now don’t be fooled by the pictures, with the evening sun setting over Rostrevor, the climb up Binnian was all in the shade with a wind that would cut you in two. Runners scrambled for position at the start knowing it would be tough or taking your own life into your hands to try to pass runners on the climb. It was Newcastle ACs, Zak Hanna who made the break just before the stile as William McKee and him fought to the bitter end for first position.

On arriving across the finish line you were greeted with the very reason many people do the Binnian Race – the view. As beyond the finish line the wind that had whistled across the final accent was non-existent and basking in the evening sun, runners who had given everything took in the views of the valley and the middle Mournes.

It was the familiar face of our officer in command, Kieran Young that was first across the line in 32ndplace in 28.10, over a minute quicker than last year. He may have his sights set on Engeria 24 in July, but he is still MACs top Mountain Goat.

However, three days, post sub 4 marathon at Belfast, it was Eddie Murnin who was the next MAC home. With the attitude of “I’m going to give it a go” Eddie scaled the side of Binnian with relative ease and came across the line in 30.40 and 75th place.

It was the award winning off road runner of the year who was next to pop up on the summit of Binnian. Sean Armstrong took 86th place in 31.19 and was soon followed by Hugh Oram in 32.05. Declan McCormick narrowly missed out on a top 100 place however to finish in 33.40 for a man new to the series was admirable.

Colm Devlin didn’t just stop at the finish line in 34.10, straight after the race he was seen on top of the Tor looking down at the runners still to come and fully embracing the 360 degree views. Gerard Rowe and Stephen Cassaidy came in next as the sun began to set. Laura Lynch powered up the final accent to maintain her winning streak as first MAC lady home in 35.47.

She was followed by both Michael Neeson and Michael Power in 37.10 and 37.45 respectfully. I am sure team support was aplenty between Nicola Mathers  and Judith Robinson as they climbed the final few granite rocks to finish 11 seconds apart in 39.59 and 40.10.

The now Hill and Dale regulars who are training hard for the Mourne Way Marathon, Sarah McKay and Colette McBride, reached the summit unscathed. Both ladies have proven that mountain races are a battle of the mind and if you believe you can, you will. With fantastic times of 45.43 and 47.56, they are ones to watch as their confidence grows.

Lorna Fitzpatrick, who threw herself in the deep end last week at Slieve Martin come out again this week and closed proceedings for the evening with a huge smile, probably of relief, in 48.51. Also a huge welcome to the two honoury MAC members Fiona Kenna from Star of the Sea and Padraig o Connor Balbriggan Road Runners who braved Binnian under the leadership of our OC.

The MAC Mountain Goat contingent continues to grow and it was heard on the descent that “Those Murlough are everywhere.” Well what else would you be doing with your Thursday night? Next week Race 5 takes us to other end of the Mournes to Leitrim Lodge for Rocky. Remember as always, don’t forget your number and to have all essential kit with you.

Hill & Dale Race 3, Slieve Martin

You know when you are surrounded by special people. These are a whole new level of special people. Those who think a Thursday night is best spent running up and down mountains, defying death pretty much. I’m still to get the reason why people love to do this but I tell you this, I love watching it.

This week we headed for the first open mountain race of the 2017 series. A calm evening which didn’t feel as warm as an April evening should, mad people, I mean athlete’s, gathered at the foot of Slieve Martin in Kilbroney Forest Park. Amongst those ready to embrace it where the MAC mountain goats without their fearless leader.

249 runners took to the start line and as usual on time they set off at 7.30 for what I heard be described as a brutal race incorporating 4.25 mile, over 1700 ft and the first taste of open mountain.

The first half mile told the story. As the field of runners lead by Willie McKee took on the first climb the air of ‘why am I doing this’ filled the forest. They had started and they where going to finish. As the field left the forest and on to the final climb to the top of mountain it was Hugh who was leading the troops.

The descent was to be tricky and the fear of putting one foot wrong, did become a reality for a few. Yet for those in the club new to the series, they embraced it and cursed it all at the same time. In the absence of our officer in command who is saving himself for his favourite mountain next week, Coach Hugh was first MAC across the line in 93rd place in 46.53. He was followed by the smiling Sean Armstrong who on the last stretch of the race was loving life back in the mountains in 47.50.

In quick succession we welcomed Colm Devlin, Gerard Rowe and the first MAC lady home, Laura Lynch all in the 51st minute. Newcomer to the series this week, Declan McCormick was next to cross the line in 52.28 who was totally perplexed by the fancy dancey vest pins supplied on the day.

Michael Neeson made it 3 in a row with a 52.30 with Dave Fulcher and Michael Power taking it home for the boys in 54.10 and 54.55 respectively.

Judith Robinson embraced the descent after a tough climb and clocked an impressive 55.30. Nicola Mathers, who was disappointed that she didn’t get to take all her kit with her on the run but nonetheless delighted to finally have the coveted MAC jacket in the right size, colour and trim, crossed the line in 57.09.

A story could be told about Fionnuala Simon’s race that’s for sure. Missing a turn off, her and 2 other runners veered off track and without a reliable human sat nav like the club’s own Caitriona Carr who masterminded her way round 3 different cheer points at London last week, found themselves at the other end of Kilbroney. However even with that slight scenic detour she clocked a 1.03 and is delighted to see she continues her series run of 3/3.

Sarah McKay continues to impress as she crossed the line in 1.06 on her first open mountain experience. Lorna Fitzpatrick was embracing her first Hill and Dale experience and really did choose the hardest race as her first. It didn’t deter her though and she pushed through to finish in 1.07.

Collette McBride was sure to keep on going and had earned that post race cocktail sausage coming home in 1.13 to bring the evening to a close.

So next week it is not a case of what goes up, must come down. Race 4 will see runners take in the only way is up Binnian Race. Of course you will have to come back down but you are not required to run as it doesn’t count.
Hill & Dale Race 2, Tollymore

On Thursday, focus returned to the second race of the Hill and Dale series in our own backyard of Tollymore Forest Park. It doesn’t matter how many times you run around Tollymore, there is always a hill that you have chosen to forget existed until you are half way up it and cursing your great idea to follow this route.

The 4.5 mile course known as the Monument Route, differed slightly from last year but requests prior to the race from the coach himself to have the clubs new defib on hand was worrying regarding what shape some of the runners where going to cross the line.

For MAC there were many to brave the challenge of the second race, seen more as a warm up before hitting the open mountain next week at Slieve Martin. We welcomed back 11 of last week’s ‘victims’ and added in Collette Mc Bride, Michael Grant and Michel Power to the mix.

As the race set off which can only be compared to a stampeded of wildebeests. The thud upon the ground vibrated right around Tollymore as 278 runners jostled for position.

As runners went beyond the Boundary Wall they welcomed knowing that after 2.6 mile it was all downhill from there minus that hill at the end that many have erased from their memories from previous years.

It was the familiar outline of Kieran Young who was the first to approach the final hill for MAC in 39.48. Delighted to know that after this, the next 10 weeks he enters into his comfort zone where I am sure he will retain the glory of beating the now yellow and red clad Kenny.

Not far behind was Hugh Oram in 40.16, who chased his rivals up the hill displaying flawless hill technique to make a few places up on the final push.

Eddie Murnin took the race easy with his impending marathon but still came in strong in 40.50. With all three men coming in the top 100.

Sean Armstrong continues to quietly work his way up the standings in 42.34, with Colm Devlin not far behind in amongst one of his favourite training grounds in 44.05.

Michael Neeson return this week continuing to question his sanity on why he got himself mixed up in the series. However with an impressive 45.42, there is nowhere else he should be.

Dave Fulcher and  Michael Power took the race in their stride finishing in 48.29 and 49.08 respectfully.

It was the determined running of Laura Lynch that brought it home for the MAC ladies in 46.41 retaining her title as first MAC lady. She was followed by Fionnuala Simons in 51.09 and Judith Robinson in 51.49 who kept within a comfortable distance of each other throughout the race. The girls made perfect markers for Michael Grant as he embraced H&D for the first time claiming that the climb isn’t the problem, it’s the downhill, crossing the line in 52.45.

Also returning after their maiden voyage last week was Sarah Mc Kay who although fully aware now of what lay ahead was a lot more relaxed and smiled through the exhaustion as she came up the last hill in 58.08.

It was the relieved face of Collette Mc Bride who after last year’s final assault on the series finished proceedings for MAC on the night in 1.01.

Next week we head for the open mountain at Slieve Martin in Rostrevor. Runners please remember to bring along your numbers and mandatory kit – its not optional, its essential.

 

Hill and Dale Race 1, Castlewellan

13.04.17 MAC Group Photo

Thursday saw the return of the ever growing and popular Hill & Dale series.  A race series masterminded by neighbouring club Newcastle A.C. who not only know how to entice some of our members to their dark side but also know how to put together a gruelling and unconventional route for runners of the adventurous kind, maximising the stunning backdrops of the forests and mountains of South Down. 

As anticipation for the event mounted amongst the MAC virtual clubroom, it seemed that there were to be many new faces to take their maiden voyage round a Hill and Dale course in addition to our hard core and ever faithful mountain runners. 

With Race 1 being within the grounds of Castlewellan Forest Park it was showcased as one of the ‘easier’ routes of the series. When we say easier, that translates to 5.2 mile encompassing 3 hills that amounted to over 1000ft. Definitely not for the faint hearted but Team MAC fielded 14 members including 4 H&D first timers in Eddie Murnin, Michael Neeson, Fionnuala Simmons and Sarah Mc Kay.

It was the continuing formidable form of Hugh Oram that was the first MAC across the line in 42.31. Needless to say Hugh embraced those hills and added to his 2017 collection of personal bests and a top 75 finish for the Coach.  

It was the H&D newbie, Eddie Murnin who powered his way up the Castle hill next in 44.10. Proving that he is just great at everything, it seems, a proactive post race recruitment drive from fellow team mates was rife trying to commandeer him for mad mountain expeditions, in realising his mountain goat potential. 

Kieran Young, still carrying an injury from last weekend’s Donard race, gritted his teeth and showed why he is regarded as our Hill and Dale Officer In Command getting across the line in 45.05.

Next, we welcomed our Hill and Dale veterans across the line with Sean Armstrong, Colm Devlin, Sean Looby and Gerard Rowe pulling off fantastic performances to show that they have no fear at all even when they know what lies in front of them isn’t the easiest of miles.

Laura Lynch stood out throughout the race at all points and with that, was the first of the MAC ladies home. Digging deep on the hills and gaining ground at every opportunity to finish in 51.39, Laura’s return to impressive form continues to produce yet another stunning performance off the back of a 10k personal best in Hilltown.

New comer Michael Neeson showed great promise after the pre race nerves settled, to come home in a 51.51 and was followed by Dave Fulcher in 53.14.

However the rarely heard phrase around any trail race of ‘I really enjoyed that’ was said by one Nicola “I don’t know if I’m fit to run until I do” Mathers only 4 days post Paris Marathon. It seemed she was fit to run after all as she pulled on her freshly washed vest and put in an unwavering and what she obviously thought was an enjoyable race to come home in 53.16.

Fionnuala Simmons showing great promise on the hills on her first attempt at Hill and Dale with a strong finish up the final hill in 53.35. Judith Robinson was relentless on the climb to Slievenaslat making up several places on the assent. Testament to the potential she has for the future open mountain races in the series, definitely one to watch.

It was the sheer determination of Sarah McKay that captured the essence of the Hill and Dale series. New to the series, Sarah has had her sights set on doing a H&D race for a few months now. Not unnerved by the quick pace set from the off, Sarah stuck to her own plan and pace, putting faith in her training. She finished the race to rapturous applause from the Team as she took on the final hill in what was a journey that was more a battle in the head than in the legs and resulted in a commendable 1.02 finish. A great show from MAC both in the field and supporting.

Tomorrow (Thursday) we will be at Tollymore Forest Park for Race 2 of the series. All race details can be found on the Newcastle A.C. website. 

 

Me?  A Rock n Roll Idol…Here begins another story

Me? A Rock n Roll Idol…Here begins another story

“The judges loved your story”

Story? I don’t have a story as such but one thing is for sure, I tell a good story.

I received a message from fellow club member Michelle Mc Cann back in February. Michelle and running pal Nicola are the Rock n Roll queens of the club. They love a bit of bling and love the Rock n Roll series. On seeing that Rock n Roll Dublin had released their Rock n Roll Idol competition for 2017 , Michelle thought of me and sent me the link to enter.

I played with the concept of entering for a few days. I didn’t feel I had a story as such to tell. Everyone has a running journey story and I didn’t think mine stood out as something spectacular. Though that got me thinking of the question on the form about why I run. I’ve spoken at length about it over the past 2 years, what I love about running is being part of other peoples journeys. Especially being able to help and support beginners as well as affording everyone the opportunity to run. This can be summed up under the title of “inclusion.”

Running is not just for the athlete, even defining what an athlete is indefinitely is not possible. Everybody has the opportunity to be apart of the running community. There is no criteria that you have to fit to be classed as a runner. You just have to believe that you are.

Like anyone new to running I had my reservations about why I was even doing it but as I entered race after race I found my place in running. It wasn’t far from the back, but it is at the back that I found myself surrounded by so many people who felt just like I did. They had the determination to turn up and cross the line that day and take part. The stories I hear about peoples journeys, what made them run and supporting them through their own race walls is where I found joy in running. I began to make friends with those from all over the province, it was the same faces at every race that you spent the miles with and picked up a few more new faces along the road. Even when you got to the finish line there were new people staying to cheer you home and none more so than the members from Murlough AC who I had joined after signing up to Dublin Marathon.

It was during Cookstown Half Marathon that my running objectives changed. I was running alongside Tony Barclay who was a visually impaired runner.  He was being guided by the lovely Karen and I was beginning to hit my own running wall in the race. He literally took my hand and ran with me for a few miles setting me out in front to pace him to the end where I pb’d over the 13.1 mile.

From there I made a resolution that I had to run with him as his guide. Little did I know that just before tackling my first Marathon I’d have agreed to do another with him only after he signed a waiver that even after 26.2 mile with me he may also be profoundly deaf, we were good to go!

So began my whirlwind adventure into guide running. I had earlier in the year signed up to the Athletics Ni LIRF coaching course to become a Running Leader and having done so made me eligible to take part in their Guide Running course alongside Disability NI. I also got myself First Aid trained as I was going to be prepared for all eventualities.

In my house, training for a marathon is a well oiled machine, juggling two training schedules and two mad kids wasn’t easy, with both Michael and I passing each other at the door and fighting over 5.30am runs round the lake. Yet the exhaustion was always worth it when I eventually got round to share my long run thoughts on the blog. Many people where emotionally wrapped up in my training and I knew going round Dublin on October 30th that there were more than a few friends tracking me!

Dublin came and went, a momentous occasion and I danced across the line in 6hours 2minutes, pretty much bang on where I knew I would be after all it is finish lines not finish times. As my blog went live 48hours after DCM, I had a resounding response to what my Granda would have called “an epistle” which was my mile by mile break down of my thoughts and the people I met on course. Everyone that day had their own story and reasons for being there. It was refreshing, motivating and lovely to share the experience with them.

I have been privileged to lend a hand with The Running Coaches Beginners and Intermediate groups which kicked off local to me in January. I have been able to learn invaluable skills in coaching and be there at the very beginning of peoples running journey convincing them that they can to 6 weeks later watching them complete what they thought was unthinkable. That feeling is indescribable and now many of them can kick my ass pace wise which is strangely, pretty great to see.

Derry Marathon is just over a month away, I am looking forward to picking up where Tony and I left off at Larne Half back in March. I cant wait to share the miles with him, in fairness he is just as mad as me so its all good, there will be an abundance of smiles and laughter out  on route. The main thing being, there will be some stories to come from it and afterwards my attention is refocused to DCM part 2. As what else would you want to be doing on your anniversary weekend other than running round the nations capital, miles away from each other for a medal, t-shirt and a bottle of water?

So I am sitting here still trying to get my head around this whole Rock’n’Roll Idol competition. For me I am looking at this as a great opportunity, if anything, to raise awareness of inclusion within running. Vegas wouldn’t be half bad either if I was lucky enough to win I must admit. There are plenty of reasons out there why people won’t run however there are options people can avail of. There are plenty of people willing to guide VI runners over all distances and there are many events organisers who are fully inclusive like East Antrim Marathon Series, Born 2 Run and Dublin City Marathon who go the extra mile to support Assisted Wheelchair teams such as Team Kerr to allow them to compete.

For me, it is about removing obstacles and creating opportunities for everyone to enjoy, embrace and love running just like I do. And if its the fact that I tell a good story that will raise awareness, I have plenty more stories to tell.

VOTING IS HERE!!!

http://www.tiny-url.co/rockidol

 

 

Getting taken up the Knockagh

Getting taken up the Knockagh

Well I seriously need to catch myself on. 

Brenda…when’s your 20 miler for London, Just saw a 20 mile race. Fancy it?

Yeah because I’m fit for 20 miles and obviously ‘the plan’ is for 20 the weekend of the 1st April. How about…thats all lies! 

But the seeds had been planted and well it involved a big and long ass hill so if I walked that and ran the rest I’d be alright…right? Michael had signed up to it and I will never forget being so gutted not having a medal after my 20 miler for dcm that I wouldn’t let Brenda feel the same. So at that we were headed for the Knockagh with the East Antrim Marathon Series.

The medal was something else. In fairness a good bit of bling can convince me to take part in any race. But with it being April Fools day and all that it paid homage to B.A with ‘i pity the fool’ and the medal wasn’t far wrong. With a choice of as many laps (1,2 or 3) as you felt fit for on the day of 10.3 miles which included a long drag of 900ft to the Knockagh Monument which I was soon educated in regarding it’s significance of it as a war memorial, thanks Eileen! It was a race fit for those who wanted to push beyond 10k, those on long runs for marathons and the ultra runner alike as well as eejits like myself with no focus or plan.

The 5.30am alarm went off and I had my normal, I don’t even like running moment which lasts until I see the finish line at the end. Also it was a big day…the last race for my DCM trainers that have served me well but not much life left and breaking in new trainers is well underway. 

It wasn’t an overly long drive to Greenisland and let’s face it we’d have been covering a lot of miles on the road anyway if we hadn’t have signed up to this event with either Omagh or Subway half…lets face it we’d have gone to Omagh so not as far just an early start.

We collected Brenda enroute and enjoyed Michael’s poor sense of direction round Belfast. As we came up the M5 there it was…the monument. Sitting at the top of something that replicated Cavehill. I have never really ventured beyond that end of Belfast except to go to Ballycastle or Portrush. So all new territory and totally unfamiliar with surrounding routes and attractions.

Whilst doing Larne, Tony had tried to educate me on being taken up the Knockagh. It sounded daunting but one things is always sure in cases like this…what goes up, has to come down and that is what I held on to the whole time.

Arriving at the registration there where familiar faces, those I’d ran with before and those who I had recognised from other events such as Last One Standing and the previous 6hour challenge that Michael done. Yet the mood across the field was definitely one of ‘what have we let ourselves in for?’ Add ‘again’ for many others on their reruen trip to Knockagh.

Race brief done and we were set off down the road. With no idea what lay ahead other than the mileage we planned to hit.

To fit in with the VLM training plan for Brenda we had to do 2 laps which would equate to 20.6 mile. This would be only the 3rd time I would have ventured beyond 30k and I know I didn’t have the miles in the legs that I wanted for the distance.

It wasn’t long before the group of runners spread out and as Brenda and myself motored along, there were two runners running quite close to us. I did step aside and asked if they wanted past but it turned out they were using us as pacers. 

Alison and Mairead from Ballymena Runners where to spend the whole 20.6 mile with us. Mairead training for VLM like Brenda and Alison the wayward friend who like me was along for the craic. A perfect match. 

We were also joined by Janet, who I first met at the Last One Standing recce, Caroline who I picked up at the Christmas Cracker for a few miles of laughter and honoured to have the Dame herself with us also, showcasing that anything is possible whilst severely hungover.  

So as we turned the corner to be faced with the hill that went on forever there was no doubt that together we were going to survive. I do love the moaning and procrastination on any run and as the hill kept going the laughs where a plenty and as long as we were moving forward that was us winning. 

Sharing tales of our big races, the fears for the upcoming ones and life in general we were soon greeted by the always smiley face of Adrian at the bottom of that infamous Monument Road which after a nice gentle incline looked like Everest. 

As runners came down the way and filled us with reassurance that ‘you’re nearly there’ we tackled the last of the climb for that lap  and there towering over us was the Knockagh Monument. I now understood the significance of it and of course why Tony had that evil laugh when I said I was doing the race. 

Yet with the weather gods on side the views where great and breathtaking. A perfect opportunity for some pictures as let’s face it… Who goes through all the elevation and doesn’t take a picture of the view. Even at the top of Slieve Donard encased by rain and clouds I take a picture and I could well be at sea level for all Joe Bloggs knows. 

So the promise of a big down hill was ahead of us however it wasn’t all immediate. As we pushed on another half a mile we soon found ourselves faced with one hell of a decline. As a guy on a bike flew past us I wondered how he was going to even stop at that speed. 

Watching from behind I watched Brenda enjoy the downhill shouting from behind to relax her shoulders. I thought back to January and the day Brendas name came out of the hat for the club place at VLM. What a whirlwind of a few months for her. Having only gone as far as 10k, in the past 2 months she’s tackled her first half and endured every horrible drop of rain that could fall on long runs. I’ve enjoyed training along side her and grateful for her support as I took ill mid race at Dune and she got me to the end in one piece. Here she was on her 20miler…20 miles! I was so proud of her and loved hanging back watching her enjoy the run. 

I spent a good part of that hill trying to convince Caroline and Eileen to do a second lap ‘for the craic’ but it wasn’t to be. I finished the first lap with Eileen as we swapped our own antidotes on life and realising we weren’t too different other than a few years difference. As I crossed the line for lap 1 Brenda was waiting on me and a quick drink and some positive thinking and we were off again for another 10.

Soon joined by the Ballymena girls and Janet the 5 of us went past the same squashed rat, the nappy at the side of the road and a random collection of bones again.

And there was that fecking hill again. However we were soon to be graced with the presence of the first Ultra runner coming round on his 3rd lap. Such encouragement from him as he pushed up the hill effortlessly. Not far behind him was another on his third lap. Spirits where high amongst those on the Ultra lap. A reflection on the EAMS event and the calliber of runners that it attracts. Able to laugh, enjoy and also offer constant encouragement regardless of how far you where running.  

And still, standing at the bottom of the last hill was Adrian and his 4 legged accomplice Disco handing out jelly babies and chocolate to ensure we got up that final stretch. This time round it didn’t seem so bad. As let’s face it we knew what came next and it was the homeward bound road. Yet with 4 more mile still to go at 16 mile I was buzzing and in the words of Lauren…loving life. Here I was on top of the world or East Antrim really with a great bunch of girls, having a great laugh, in awe that my body was able to cover this mileage and about to start the decent to one big ass medal. Life couldn’t have got any better at that moment. Lucky and blessed.

We made our way to the last downhill and Brenda and I chatted as we let our legs take us down the hill. Brenda got the Siobhan take on cadence breathing mixed with some accompanying lyrics. Alison and Mairead where just ahead as we turned onto the final 1.5 mile. 

It wasn’t long before their hand waving to tell us to hurry up was spotted and we put the final mile in together. 

20.6 miles completed and official start of tapering for Brenda and Mairead. As for Alison and myself, miles where miles and what enjoyable miles they were. 

Seeing Michael at the end confirmed he had stopped after 2 laps and didn’t tackle the 3rd. Which let’s face it was of no advantage to his vague and not well planned training schedule. Post race refreshments where spot on too. Everything you need after a race…coke, salt and vinegar crisps and a snickers. Perfect!

So being taken up the Knockagh twice was an experience. One that I am sure I’ll do again. However I’ll be checking in with the crew to see if they’re doing it. As let’s face it…its the company that makes the race a good one. The medal helps  😉 
 

A huge congratulations to fellow MAC Jackie Moore on making it round 3 laps to earn her first Ultra Marathon. Well proud and great running from a great athlete. Team MAC are very proud of you.

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 . 💗

Half Marathon…12 hours notice, sure why not!

OK, I’ve made some really rash decisions in my time. This week I was determined not to run other than my 10 mile on Sunday. We had both consciously decided after a mad few weekends in the running world, that it was time we had a weekend off and spent it relaxing.

In theory it was a good plan. The kids had a birthday party on Saturday afternoon so would pan out well overall. Ok I will admit that I had the fear of missing out because the club was running a bus to Carlingford Half but I’ve been feeling like I’ve been chasing my tail the past few weeks and I knew my limits, so I thought!

Tuesday saw Caitriona offer Michael a place in the half, although he hasn’t been dying to run much since Last One Standing, he reluctantly took the number, thanks to Gavin and said he’d think about it. So a plan was made, we’d drive down with the kids, he’d run and I’d entertain them, the Grant cheer squad as such. However things took a change on Friday afternoon.

Checking my phone at lunch time and one of the girls in the club wasn’t going to make it for the Half. I was tempted, I don’t like things going to waste. I’ve great memories of Carlingford 10k last year when I pb’d by 6 minutes in the 10k after an abysmal performance at Castlewellan the week before, also a last minute decision to run that the night before too. So it seemed like it was an omen.

I threw the idea past the all knowing powers that be in Dermot. Where he pointed out that my attitude of “I don’t know if I could be bothered” was the wrong one and highlighting for doing 3 mile more than my planned 10, I’d get a medal- very logical. So as I worked through to the end of the day, guilt consumed me, I’d not done much since my 16 miler on Sunday and group on Monday so I was behind alright. Apparently I’d thank him afterwards for the encouragement to run it.

I waited until after school to call Michael. His reply to “I fancy Carlingford” was short and sweet “That isn’t the plan Siobhan.” The problem – what would we do with the kids. So it wasn’t until after 7 that it became a viable option for me to run the race.

I must have been absolutely mad. Who runs a half marathon with just over 12 hours notice?  There was no way I would be able to push myself the way I did at DUNE. I also had the fear that I’d feel sick again, like DUNE. I hadn’t drank as much water as I normally would have in the days before a race, however I had the miles in the legs, that wasn’t an issue and I’m stubborn so I was going for a run and not a race.

I’ve come a long way in a year. I thought back to last year and the fact it was Michaels first half, also Tara, Thomas and Jackies. I was in awe at what they achieved that day, with 10k being my biggest distance. Yet here I was a year later, willy nilly going for 13 miles as if it was a walk around the lake. I have definitely lost the plot. Throwback to Carlingford is here

I think it came as a shock to some of the MAC crew to see me kitted out for the run after I’d made it clear I wasn’t running on several occasions in the past few weeks. But there I was with 17 other MAC about to get stuck in. I stood at the start and as the count down began it dawned on me, shit I’m about to run a half marathon. I think the girls didn’t know what to think other than laugh at my light blub moment.

So off we set and with the course slightly altered this year at the beginning it still merged onto the same rolling hills into the Louth countryside. It was a busy first few miles but by mile 3 the pack had settled down and I was comfortable within my own space. Mile 4 saw the heavens open and after the rain of days gone by, there was a chance that it wouldn’t stop. I had the best of craic with the Ormeau Runners contingent as they passed by me in a sea of bright green t-shirts. Always a pleasure to spend a few miles with one or ten of them and great to see Janet out pounding the roads after her LOS performance only 2 weeks ago.

By 5 mile I’d fallen in with Andrea from OR, she was having a tough race and was debating calling it a day. For her it was just a bad combination of the world being a complete ass and giving her a bad run and her head giving up. So for 3 mile we ran side by side and got through the half way mark safely and headed for the shoreline. With passing marshals, Andrea found herself coming round and determined to make it to the end. I was delighted to see this and as she found her rhythm again around mile 10 and we skipped through the best puddle ever, she took off and I watched her push to the finish.

But my happiness was short lived, I had smashed the first 10 mile in perfect time to come in where I wanted. And the lesson to be learned from my rash decision began to punish me. It started at my ankle and began creeping up my leg, cramp. It was a given that it was going to happen. There’s only so much a gel or 2 can do for you when there’s a lack of water in the body, so there is was mile 11, having to walk.

Looking at my watch I knew I was capable of coming in on the low 2.40s but my leg wouldn’t let me. The head wind of last years race was no where to be seen today and in near perfect conditions I couldn’t utilise them. Not one to give up, I chatted with those out on course who where plodding along. By mile 12 the end was in sight, but its a damn long mile when you are in agony. Reaching the last km I decided to make a stab at not looking like I was dead as I came round to the finish. Turning the corner for the last 300m was Jennifer, a vision in blue and the screams of Paula as they willed me home.

I found my final last wind and put in a strong finish even though I wanted to die. On the corner stood some of the MAC crew who came back to cheer me home which was just fabulous. Crossing the line to the familiar 26 Extreme faces and a bonus Twix bar was fantastic. I met Andrea as she made her way back to her bus, looking relieved. Also got a much appreciated hug from Janet which was well needed after that.

So yeah, not the best run with time coming in at 2.52, and I have a million excuses. I have acknowledged them, however no point complaining or dwelling on it. Drawing the line now and eyes move to the next race in 2 weeks at Larne for my first long guide running experience.

I was delighted to see on returning home that Mr “you’ll thank me afterwards” won the 10k. Some staggeringly impressive PBs in the club from Hugh, Declan and Clare. Paula completed her 50th half marathon also and everyone put in strong runs. Guess Michael and I must have been the only ones up to all hours last night watching the election results whilst everyone had an early night as everyone else did great and we both had awful runs.

But 13 mile in the bag and a very nice medal for the collection!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 

 

 

 

 

I’m not “Dune” yet

A wise man once told me, you can prepare all you want for a race and your training can be perfect however you have no idea what will happen on the day so just run the best you can. Running a race is simply putting all your eggs in one basket and hoping you don’t drop or crack any of them. Sometimes you make it to the end of the race and sometimes not, however there is always another race on another day.

Dune Half Marathon was one of those races for me, where I knew I was fit for it, though all it took was the onset of a wishy washy stomach at 7 mile for me to falter and face 6 mile of trying not the throw up. However on the up side I experienced serious camaraderie and was able to accompany a fellow friend and club mate through the final miles of her first half marathon.

No joke but the air would have cut you in two, Slieve Donard had its little snow cap on and there we were getting into the car to take on the 13.1 mile between Newry and Dundalk. Classed as a Cross Boarder experience, where actually “no passport required yet” was the tag line, it was sure to be an experience. I wasn’t going out for time, nor did I really care, as long as I came in under the 3 hours I was going to be happy. I don’t train on road very often however my trainers do love not being soaked and mucked to the eye balls after a race.

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The T-shirt was epic, just like the race

I honestly spend more time trying to figure out what to wear for a race than I do to go out. Weather is always a big factor when it comes to a training run however at a race there usually isn’t the opportunity to strip off etc, so I braved the very cold temperatures in my capris, short sleeved top and my MAC vest for the cross boarder trip. It turned out there was a vast collection of choice of clothes that the runners opted for on the day, from the hardcore, I’m not afraid of the cold, vest and short shorts, to the more sensible, Layer up and hope for the best runners.

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We feel no cold, the shorter the shorts the better- Joe and Tony showing some leg

Setting off within a field of 800, Brenda, Caitriona and myself, flanked by the usual suspects of the naughty club including Eileen, Jennifer and Peter, set off from Newry quayside shortly after 10am. The first mile was a long drag, more so that fact that we knew at the end of it we faced a long steep climb of roughly 460 feet, to the dual carriageway. As you know I don’t mind a hill or two but this was one of little hope at the end of it, it just kept going. A few seconds relief in between though and whenever you have Eileen and Marion behind you “checking out your ass” willing you up the hill, there nothing like a wee wiggle to make you smile and remind you why you do this to yourself as a smile plasters itself across your face at the hardest part of the race.

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Been chased up the hill by Eileen and Marion as we pretend that we really love this hill

On climbing the hill, Brenda went out in front and after last weeks training run on tried legs I could have swore that she was out to leave me and Caitriona behind to eat her dust. However it wasn’t long before Caitriona made use of the extra leg extension and powered her way up the hill. As we enter onto the old road, the 3 of us had separated and where running alone.

I don’t mind running alone and lets face it, I wasn’t alone for long as I found 2 cracking girls from Derry to pass the next few miles with as I watched Caitriona put in some lonely miles and when I looked behind I could still see Brenda and knew she was still with us and doing well. As we made our way through miles 3 and 4, with the 2 best coordinated runners of the day, we were greeted by snow flurries and I wondered to myself why I had opted for short sleeves.

At mile 5 I hadn’t held back since leaving Newry, pace felt strong and I was settling into the miles nicely. It had been a long time since I was turning out 11 minute miles and for once I didn’t feel like I was going to die. Reaching the Carrickdale and the half way point I was in good form, mentally and physically clocking a 10k time to be proud of based on current form. As I took on the hill at Jonesborough I felt a little queezy and overlooked it as I was distracted by fellow MAC Norah out cheering us on.

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But I wasn’t distracted for too long. I had made up some distance on the hill between Caitriona and myself, however the queeziness got worse and the feeling like your tummy is a washing machine was embedded in my core. I had to slow down to nearly a walk and breathe through each bout of potential vomit. It wasn’t long before Brenda had caught up with me and I think if she hadn’t have done so, my race could have been over shortly after.

 

Through the next few mile we ran and chatted about all things running, the roads we were on, the drivers who tried to run us over and how I can run and direct traffic all in the one movement. It made such a difference to what could have been a potential DNF situation which would probably haunt me forever. As we tackled the section of hills after it wasn’t long that we were looking at the last 3 miles.

Looking down at my watch I wondered if Michael had broken his aim of a sub 2 hour half. I wondered had he ran with Brendan again and the bromance still lived on.  I also thought about how this time next week, I’d be finished my 8.4 mile trail race at Castleward and beginning duty at the Ultra race. I also knew that I’d definitely make the 3 hour cut off even if I had to walk.

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Spotted together on camera, Brendan and Michael chasing down Davey the 1.55 pacer

Brenda and I smiled our way through the final 3 mile as we watched Caitriona up ahead dig deep to 1…finally beat me and 2…smash her PB. We willed her on and cheered for her, both exceptionally excited and proud of her. The last 2 miles where tough but together we made it not as painful. We did decide in advance that we would cross the line together as without each other the race could have been a different story.

I didn’t realise that Dundalk was such a big place as the finish line was, what seemed, miles away. The mile markers along the course where spot on and as the watch buzzed for 13 mile the end was in sight and we cruised to the finish, together hand in hand. Brenda has just officially became a half marathoner and I was super proud of her as she came in bang on target at 2.45.

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The 10.5 mile point where the end was near but not near enough

Crossing the line to a host of familiar faces and hugs from many including Tony, Bootsy and Patricia Brown was a perfect end to the race. I looked around searching for Caitriona and Michael. I spotted them and ran to mob Caitriona. I honestly could feel myself welling up after the emotions I was feeling after making it to the finish in one piece and seeing Brenda so happy, I knew Caitriona had PB’d on such a tough course and her smile said it all. I turned to Michael hoping for more good news. I looked at him and tentatively asked…well? He said nothing and took out his phone to show me his Strava stats and there is was. Not only did he break the 2 hour mark, he smashed it with a 1.52. Who’d have thought! I was just so overwhelmed with excitement as I stood there. The fact my race didn’t go to plan didn’t matter, what mattered was Michael pulled out a spectacular run and went beyond his own expectations, Brenda nailed her first half and Caitriona had exceeded her own expectations and ran the race of her life.

I have to admit I was annoyed at myself and beat myself up briefly, though I have learned that the past can not be changed and I need to look forward and take the positives from the day. I didn’t freeze to death, I still finished, the t-shirt and medal is awesome and it wasn’t even my slowest half either… Lisburn still is! So as I reflect on the race I have much to celebrate. I put in some strong miles even during the later part of the race when I was under the weather and I have said it once and I’ll say it again, I am lucky to be apart of such a great club where I have made some fantastic friends and running has brought even more amazing people into my life from right across the country and I got to spend my Sunday with them.

Better luck next race and I can always give it another blast next year. Lets be having you Dune 2018- hopefully a passport isn’t required then!

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Some of team MAC as we smile through the fear of the unknown

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wet, wetter and wettest 

Wet, wetter and wettest 

As I sat gazing out the window of the classroom at the rain flying sideways across the playground, the mobile rattled and I was sure my daydream would soon morph into a reality that I was going to wake up in Kansas.

The prospect of running in that weather a few hours later wasn’t the most appealing thought especially as I envisaged the waves flying up over the promenade  and soaking us right through.

As I waited for what I thought would be the invitable message to say this week’s session was called off, I recalled some of the most epic runs of the past year. What did they all have in common…it bucketed out of the heavens.

So when I was basically told to pull my big girl pants up and get out there (paraphrasing obviously) I was really looking forward to a bashing in the wind and rain. 

Again the car park was awash with runners tentatively hoping Dermot would call the session off. I’m sure some just turned up to be seen to be making an effort to come. Though their plan was soon to be scuppered. We were going running.
As the wind cut across the shore and took the rain with it, in twos we tried to keep optimistic as afterall you can only get wet once, step by step up the main street. Seemingly what was to be a recovery run for me after yesterday’s 13 mile was, by half a mile in, not seeming like the brightest idea. 

Pushing on everyone kept going and as we got to the mile mark to turn, it put Caitriona and myself at the front. This always carries it’s own challenges on a normal day but as we hit the promenade we were the first pillar of restistance to a God awful headwind which was accompanied by cold, soaking wet rain.  

And with that I had this overwhelming feeling of relaxation come over me. Here I was with 17 other wing nuts,  running in weather fit for Noah and his Ark. Getting a full scale blasting from the wind and rain and I was loving it. My legs were beginning to feel good after a shakey start and although rain drops where plentiful running down my face, I felt so happy. 

In all honesty I didn’t want the run to end. 

As per weatherman Mathers predictions, as we reached the end, the rain clouds cleared and a still night set upon us. OK an hour later than hoped or prayed for but what everyone had achieved was beyond any type of committment required of any runner. 

They have definitely surpassed the title of “crazy runner” but this group is going places. There is nothing that will put them off getting out there. A great attribute to have where within an hour in Ireland you can experience all seasons. 

As for me, I’m feeling refreshed and content. Also surprised that I’ve ran the day after a long run, not like me. Onwards and upwards.