Tag: Running

Being taken up the Knockagh backwards – A tale of my first Ultra 

Being taken up the Knockagh backwards – A tale of my first Ultra 

Limits…everyone wonders where their limits are. I know I prefer a mild curry but I like my baths very hot. How far can I push myself running was something I’d never thought about much. 

Still quite a baby within the running community, this time 2 years ago I could barely run a tap never mind a mile. Yet after only 2 marathons I found myself flirting with the idea of a 50k.

So quick rewind. As part of Brendas London training we took part in East Antrim Marathon Series or EAMS as better known, Knockagh Challenge. It was more the appeal of a medal for a 20 mile training run that drew us in and the flawless reputation of their events. Smaller more intimate event but great bling and super supportive. What’s not to love. 

Mile 16 of the April Knoackgh Challenge with Brenda 

In short these are the stats of this particular route:
10.3 mile a loop

900 ft elevation each loop

Choice of 1,2 or 3 loops

Big ass hill leading to a monument 

2 laps in April was everything I had imagined the race to be. Yes the elevation was tough but we had a blast and was cemented as one of the best races of the year. I even took a small obsession with finding various Knockagh-likes on training runs.

Top of Slieve Martin, Rostrevor 

I had guided Tony round Derry Marathon and we had talked during the run about teaming up again in the future. The return of the Knockagh challenge was one that I had said I’d happily join forces with him again whenever it rolled round. Well I didnt have long to wait. 2 weeks post Derry marathon ..whispers of a return of Knockagh where heard for the end of the summer.

Derry Marathon June 2017

It was almost immediate when word went live, that up popped the message on messenger. Tony didn’t waste anytime and with it being so close to Derry I still had the miles in my legs so ramping up the miles in training would be safe enough and managable. So when the question of 1,2 or 3 laps appeared…it was no contest 3 laps it was.

So I had until August 19th to get my ass in gear and attempt my first Ultra, roughly 6 weeks. I kept it to myself for a few weeks though. The girls had followed suit to tackle the Knockagh but once 2 x 20 milers appeared on Strava in quick succession I had to admit what I was training for. 

I had plans this summer to work on my 10k and half time so this wasn’t really in the plan. Yet amongst intervals and better structured training I managed to get my 10k down another 3 minutes. I was beyond ecstatic to even manage 5.5 minutes off my half time at Rock n Roll the week before Knockagh. A testament to how hard I had been working between the crazy long runs. 

The day was soon upon us and using her brain to make a sensible call, Caitriona dropped to the 2 laps. Brenda and Jennifer had their hard hat’s on and where going to go the full distance too.

With a 5am start on Saturday morning we arrived with plenty of time to spare. Nerves where high. I had my own mini meltdown on Wednesday about the event but didn’t let onto the girls that I was suffering acute maranoia. Afterall this was technically my bright idea and I’d to be strong for us all. However once we got out of the car and got mixed up amongst the participants I relaxed and had a very much ‘nothing I can do about it now’ attitude.

I looked up and there is was. The Knockagh Monument towering over Greenisland. I aimed to visit it 3 times over the coming hours. A message from the wise man to take my time with no silly messing at the start and ease into it, brought me firmly back to earth. What was I doing? You fecking eejit Siobhan! So with the plan being to arrive alive each lap. I didn’t think in distance and embraced the only way I know how to run which is to smile and count the laps. 

Tony arrived and although I was accused of being too full of beans for the start of the days proceedings, he knew he was stuck with me for the next 31 mile. 

EAMS had kindly suggested that the resident “Knockagh Knuts” lead off the race. So there was Tony and I about to set everyone off on their days adventure. After a chilled, animated briefing we were on our way. 

8.30am as everyone took to the line

Lap 1 was relaxed. The weather had been kind and although a tad windy it was refreshing and cooling. Being a clockwise course it meant that Tony, who prefers to run to my right, was to the inside of the paths. This meant only one thing, brambles, nettles and brackens. I admit,I missed a few to warn him about but considering I am a bit shorter and they didn’t reach my head I’m easily forgiven. Though I am sure there were a few bad stings that I swear I couldn’t avoid. I ran along a grass verge and on the road at times to ensure I didn’t have him running in the ditch itself. 

We had agreed to tackle this as a team. We had welcomed Susan with open arms into the team knowing she was of the same pace and she had also hoped to take on a marathon the next day in Letterkenny. At that she was more than mad enough to be hanging with us. 

The turn to the climb was soon upon us in the 2nd mile. Up, up and up it went. Then it got steeper and steeper. Forever in the shadow of the Knockagh Monument as it looked down on us laughing at how silly it must have thought we were. 

The whole team together on the approach to Monument Road.

That last turn was heaven, one more push got us to a gentle incline followed by a banana like down and up. As we picked up pace again we were soon welcomed by the 2 most amazing marshals to ever grace any race. Lorraine and Michael were there for the duration and offered hugs, encouragement and an array of goodies. This fuelled us for the final climb to the monument. Meeting others as they descended was filled with encouraging and supportive words which is always fantastic to hear. 

And there it was… Knockagh. Looking out onto Belfast Lough the sun shone for miles around. Doing the obligatory lap of the monument I had forgotten how beautiful and peaceful it was up there and how God damn big the thing was. 

The big lump of stone on top of the hill

But knowing we were coming back 2 more times we set off on our way. The team firmly together as we made our way to the corkscrew bends. Definitely Knockagh clockwise is a nicer way than the anticlockwise direction. Even on the downhill the corkscrew goes on forever! 

As we made our way back to the road we began to spread out. Probably safer. Tony, Susan and Myself close together as we made the final stretch to the start/finish line. We arrived at the checkpoint and as I stopped I felt it. I couldn’t believe it. My bloody right leg began to cramp. Stopped too suddenly maybe, I don’t know but thanks to the paramedics on site I had half a can of deep heat sprayed on me and I had to get going again as quick as possible. So we were forced to leave Jennifer, Brenda and Caitriona behind and off the 3 of us set off. 

It wasn’t long before Jennifer caught us just before the bend. But I felt my leg ease or maybe it was the can of coke kicking in but I took on the hill the second time like a woman on a mission. I’d my mountain head on and I was not going to let a hill defeat me. It was here I had a very humbling moment. We had begun to be passed by those on their 3rd lap. With 10 more miles completed than us, I was amazed to see them stop to walk parts of the hill. These are marathon runners who run 6 minute miles on normal runs being reduced to walking on the hill. I did look upon it as a way to conserve energy but it was reassuring to see that those who were leading the pack had similar tactics just a lot quicker. 

By now my race stories had become deep and meaningful. Reaching the half way point at Knockagh, Tony took me to the edge of the grass to let me see over the drop. I’m not a fan of heights and knew there was a sheer drop there. But I was tackling an Ultra – I was fit to embrace the height. 

As we reached 18 mile I was comfortable, had found my groove and poor Tony had to listen to Susan and Myself swap motherhood stories and remedies. In the distance there were dark clouds. The weather had said there would be showers but these clouds were nasty looking.

As we approached the final half mile to the end of the 2nd lap, rain began to fall. Of course this lead to the ground being wet and me totally missing a mud pile after a footpath, nearly losing Tony as he slipped. I really am a terrible guide on open roads. Quick reaction meant he stayed on his feet but I was sure I had hurt him. Though being the man he is, he ran on saying he was fine and didn’t tell me until after the race he had pulled something in his knee. As we reached the end of the lap the heavens opened. Thankfully it was a short, sharp shower and soon gone.

Before lap 3 Susan had gave me some magic magnesium spray for my legs which was unbelievable. It instantly loosened my legs and I was ready for lap 3. No sign of the girls behind. I took on what I could stomach in solid food. I was heading for marathon distance and beyond this lap. 

I was lucky to welcome Gillian (first lady home) and Stephen (strava buddy) across the line before setting off on my final lap. Time wise I was doing ok. Second lap was a bit slower than the first but I put that down to the pull of the other runners in the first few miles in lap 1. 

Off I went on lap 3. My legs were fuelled by magic spray and knew this was it. Even if I had to crawl I was going to do it. And surprise, the hill was still there. Looking a lot more steeper and higher than before. I am so grateful for my trips up the mountains, they served me well. Tony was great and my wee legs managed to keep up with his long strides. We lost Susan on the climb but knew she’d never be too far behind. 

Oh my god my legs were in bits at the top of the hills. I don’t know if it was a thank God that hills done but knew marathon distance wasn’t far away and as we met marshals extrodinaires at the bottom of Monument Road we where 1 hill away from 26.2.

Hitting marathin distance

Saying goodbye to Knockagh 1 more time was a relief. The steps back to the road where the hardest part of that lap no joke. As we descended back down we passed Susan followed by Jennifer and her colourful language and greeted by a positive and smiley Brenda who we met at 26.2 on the nose. 

Stephen and Gillian had come up in the car with beer on offer. In fairness if I had accepted, that would have been me. My body would have shut down thinking it was party time post marathon. So politely declining we used the downhill to take on the final 5 mile.

Excitement came over me at 27 mile that I was actually going to do this. My body was beginning to wonder why it wasn’t at the pub as per normal marathon tradition. We had been met by Tonys team mates for his next big challenge the PAT 2018, Pete, Matthew and Janice up on the bikes with Pete on the tandam piloted by Matthew. It was a great boost.

 By this stage Tony was sure I should write a book on my life as he thinks I’ve some worthwhile stories to tell from my past. Both entertaining and enlightening. We had some lovely moments on those final miles. Just me, him and road in front. Both of us about to achieve something people would have deemed impossible for us both. Making dreams a reality and showing the world there are no barriers, it’s just finding a way to get around them.
Mile 28 saw my legs begin to protest. I felt a blister pop on my right foot and knew this was going to take all the positivity I had to get to the end. Obviously if I had trained harder over a longer period of time I wouldn’t have had this minor struggle but my body was in uncharted territory and it knew it. 

Yet it wasn’t long before we were preparing ourselves for the home straight. The medics had been past to check on us and informed the finish line of where we were. And there waiting at the line I saw Caitriona popping her head out to see us coming, Wallace Tonys guide dog, Emma Tonys fabulous wife and a number of the EAMS team and runners. 

I have been so happy to see a finish line

We crossed the line, hand in hand to rapturous applause. I couldn’t believe it. It was the best hug I’ve ever had. I didn’t want to let go of Tony. We had done it. 31 mile/50k/a lot of hill.

In amongst the haze I wanted to ensure I had clocked over 50k so took myself for a short third of a mile recover run to push the numbers up. Yes everyone thought I was mental. But I needed that minute to gather myself and my emotions. 

I arrived back and text Michael followed by checking in with those on Snapchat awaiting my finish photo. Tony got mobbed by Wallace and I stood in disbelief. An Ultra marathoner. That’s me.

What people don’t realise is that I had more than determination and madness driving me through the miles.  This day 5 years ago I made a phonecall that was to turn my life upside down and inside out. From here I broke into little pieces and began to build myself into the person I am today. Against the odds and losing a lot of people who I thought cared, I fought for justice and had my day where I was proven right and a burden eased (I would say lifted but the past never goes away).

I found running in my journey to find who I was and it was so appropriate to cross that line at 50k when I did. A true indication of how far I’ve come in the past few years and the how I didn’t have anything or anyone holding me back.

As I pretty much ate everything in sight, Susan crossed the line and had picked up the two lads, Ivan and Ronnie, out on course to accompany her through the final miles. 
It wasn’t long before we welcomed Jennifer and Brenda. Smiling together they crossed the line and hugs where aplenty. I feared that I was being cursed up and down that Knockagh by them. Brenda not so much..she knew what she was in for but definitely sure Jennifer had lots of choice thoughts for me. 

So here we are…Ultra Runners. Jennifer marking her 10th marathon and Brenda going from 10k in January to Ultra in 8 months. Unbelievable stuff. I’m so proud of everyone. I think you need some sort of crazy idea radar as we’ve seriously pushed the boat out this time.

Whats the next challenge planned… is what I keep getting asked. Well nothing I haven’t done before- DCM17 where all the madness began last year. For now though I’m resting my wee legs, showering my feet with love and I’ll get back to proper training for the marathon once I’m fully recovered.

I’ll wake up everyday for the rest of my life an Ultra runner. However the reality is I’ll forget somedays what I’ve achieved after all its just a very long run. Guaranteed though everyday I’ll be woken by my kids, who although don’t understand what I’ve achieved, will someday be proud of how far I’ve actually ran. Proving to them that they can achieve anything they can dream of. And that alone is an invaluable lesson to be taken from being taken up the Knockagh … 3 times… backwards.

A huge congratulations to Susan Dixon on completing not only 50k on Saturday but also on getting up the next and completing a marathon. Just unbelievable. 
Thanks to everyone for all the photos especially Lorraine and Simon from Seapark AC. Just lovely to have the day also in pictures. 

Leaving It All On The Road

Leaving It All On The Road

It’s funny how even though your focus is elsewhere in running, you still wonder why you haven’t achieved what you should have.

Ok it’s pretty obvious I don’t like shorter races. I’ve found myself quite content within the bigger miles. I’ve even caught myself saying yeah it’s only 13 mile. ONLY! What is wrong with me…thats a very long way. However not doing shorter races left me wondering what I was capable of over 5 and 10k in a race situation.

Cue 26 Extremes, Women’s Mini Marathon. It was the 10k race I did last year before beginning my climb in miles for DCM16 so you could say I was in 10k race fitness then. It had been the 4th time that year that I had clocked a 1.09 and the illusive 1.08.59 never happened. So I left 10ks behind and seemingly never returned to them.

I did plenty in training and did do both the Mourne Way Night 10k which was a serious bit of craic and then Newry 10k guiding the hippo but they weren’t races as such. 

I have spent the past month or so working hard in intervals and on the hills in amongst ridiculous miles as I train for my first 50k. I had pb’d at Rostrevor parkrun two weeks ago and was feeling strong. But with that comes the self doubt and obsessive behaviour of looking at times in longer races and debating pace.

A wise man once told me that if you want to go out and run a certain pace on race day…you’ve to train at that pace as to not shock the body. I’d completed sessions of epic jelly leg proportions and at that nerves set in. Yet all I had to do was just keep running.

Sunday morning I felt weird leaving the house with just my phone in my pocket and none of the paraphernalia I have with me for longer runs. Kept thinking I’d  forgot something. Arriving at Kilbroney it was the usual suspects who greeted me. And this is what I love about running. 

The running community is ace. I’m sure I could turn up at any race in the North and know a handful of people. The craic and banter was flowing as the threat of rain soon disappeared and the ground began to dry up. As nearly 300 women and their families gathered amongst the tunes and buzz of the event. 

I know 26 Extreme go by the ‘we don’t do easy’ tagline which they do live up to 99% of the time. However the Mini Marathon is one of their races which flirts with being a normal run. I said flirts!  8k of tarmac along a beautiful country road shadowed by the mountains. Then you ascend up towards Kilbroney to hit a hill where the language heard on that hill is let’s say, colourful. Finishing on the most immense downhill finish through the trails which would take every last ounce of hill training to nail perfectly to use to your full advantage.

On the buses we got and as we passed the 8k point all that could be heard across the whole bus was ‘that’s the hill.’ In fairness, it isn’t the worst, it’s short and sharp however after 5k of a downhill it is a shock to the system. 

I did have to laugh that out of all the buses there where, the ‘naughty crew’ had randomly all got on the same bus. So amongst friends and our running family there was plenty of laughs to be had. 

Starting the race we set off toward Leitrim Lodge. Knowing the route, I just wanted to get to 3k in good time. A gradual climb but nothing I couldn’t handle. Passing Leitrim Lodge I thought about how much I had rather have been up the mountain than running. But as I looked ahead I could see on the brow of the hill the NCR colours of Patricia Brown leading the pack. 

It was hard to catch my breath, it was very humid however I could hear the same panting all around me. So I knew everyone was feeling it. Passing Santa’s Cottage I had found myself in amongst friends. Laura Jane had pushed on at the start and I was delighted to see that as she undertook her first 10k since returning to running. I could still see Jennifer which was my plan but she was far enough away so I couldn’t catch her. And beside me was Donna who had come down for the event after a tough run the day before at Dark Hedges Half. We played cat and mouse for a bit and she found her stride and took off in the direction of Jennifer to catch her.

The 3k point arrived and strangely I said to myself gosh that was quick, 2k was only a few minutes ago. How times have changed. Working in miles means that the kms come thick and fast. Here I began to run along side Janet. Another eejit who had completed the half the day before and PBd on the course. Having spent many a mile with Janet over the year, the most memorable being the last lap of the LOS recce and the 20 at Knockagh, I knew keeping pace with her would keep me focused and on track. 

As my watch beeped every mile I could see my pace was strong and I aimed to keep it under the 11 min/miles. I knew I could let the hill take me down to Kilbroney and that the hill wouldn’t hinder me too much. 

Lorraine had made up ground on me and although we were both giving our all we were able to keep eachother going and moving. Even as we turned to the hill I recall telling her not to stop and we made it to the top together. Into the trails, down the track I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve ran down it. It was here I knew the pb was about to become a reality.

Race maths does help me pass the time. But knowing turning onto the hill with a mile to go I could walk the whole way and beat last year’s time gave me a real buzz that I haven’t felt in a while. I had no idea exactly what time I would come in. As I turned onto the caravan park onto the parkrun route I knew it was all or nothing. 

I started to pick people off as we approached the final hill down. Even finding myself on the grass taking over. I was literally giving every thing I had. I was determined to catch Lorraine out in front and as I did, managing to feel her bum on the way past, I powered onto the flat where my legs turned to concrete. It was the clock 100m in front of me that kept me moving. The wee red numbers reading 1.06. 

I crossed that line knowing I had did it into the arms of 26 Extremes finest, Emma. Who said ‘take it that’s a PB Siobhan’ I could barely talk but just smiled. 

Grabbing a bottle of water and the event beer thank you Mourne Brewery, I’m getting used to celebrating with a bottle of your finest these days, I headed into the crowd of finishers. I spotted Laura Jane and delighted to hear that she had done so well. 

Then I bumped into the wise man himself. Think it’s the first time a race ever brought tears to my eyes. I could barely spit out that I had taken 3 minutes off my time. I just stood and cried. Another tick on the list of mad and mental attributes I’ve displayed in running. 

You see the thing is, I don’t even like 10ks simply because of the pressure you put on yourself. At HM I have a 15 minute window where I would like to finish time wise, however 10ks is very much a very very small window if I want to be happy with my time. I put the pressure on myself so I cant blame anyone else. So to have clocked up 50k last week before setting foot across the line on Sunday, I knew I had a battle on my hands with tired but possibly strong legs. And to pull a fast 10k when you are turning out long 20mile runs for an Ultra was a pipe dream.

Celebrating with everyone on the line was great. Caitriona and Brenda had put in strong runs and Donna caught up with Jennifer. Delighted to see the now run/walk duo of Liz and Aine powering through the distance. Denise had words of wisdom and the Ormeau Runners posse keep Kilbroney looking bright. Of course I can’t forget The Dame, running royalty herself. Who always makes me smile and her jokes of being taken up the Knockagh backwards where welcomed.

So more miles and more smiles amongst us all. I had actually surprised myself yet now I’m wondering what I can pull out of the bag at Rock n Roll in 2 weeks. I clocked not only a 10k pb but also a 5k pb. I was so busted after I didn’t manage a celebratory drink until Monday evening. I’ve recovered quicker from Marathons. 

So it seems training hard does pay off and I’ve been back to the road this week with an impending 20miler this Saturday if anyone wants to do multiple laps of the lake? 

With August riddled with events all over the place the full naughty crew is due to reconvene in force together at Causeway in September. But plenty of running to be done in the meantime. Let’s just start praying now that the sun will shine down on us at Causeway this year but sure we’d a great time last year in the rain! Either way I’m sure it’ll be another cracker event by 26 Extreme.

Sign up for Causeway HERE

I can’t imagine life without you

I can’t imagine life without you

Very few things in life make you smile like this….

In all honesty, in the year that you have been in my life, we have been inseparable. You are the first thing I check in the morning and last thing at night. Even during the night I am checking on you. Even when I can’t sleep you are the light that keeps me company. We go everywhere together, I can’t even go to the toilet without you there. I don’t mind, you where my choice and I knew that this would happen from the moment you arrived.

I coveted you for so long, I hmm’d and haa’d over how you would fit in my life. I had coped well with your sister and the immense changes that it brought to my life. But you would be much more different. You would feel my every breath and heartbeat. You would know my every movement and be able to read my emotions. I had so many other options to weigh up, so many other things that would maybe fill that void in my life. Cheaper options not requiring such investment of my time and effort. Yet I couldn’t shake the longing for you.

I spoke at length with my husband, as you would expect any wife would do when it came to big decisions. He was also unsure if this was exactly what I needed in my life. Of course he knew only too well that it would be loved and cherished just as much as the previous one. That it would bring that something extra to my life but he wasn’t convinced I was ready for such a commitment.

I had friends who empathised with the dilemma. Those who had been in the same situation, some who understood the gravity of the decision and the impact it would have on my life. Of course there is always the ones who didn’t get it at all and queried what was wrong with what I already had. But that’s the thing, there was nothing wrong with what I had, it was perfect but I wanted more, I needed more. It was just an empty gap in my life and I needed it.

So I took the plunge.

It wasn’t as hard as I had imagined, it was literally as simple as a click of a button and I was lucky to not have to struggle to achieve it. I guess this was a blessing that I was able to do this when so many others battle and have to work harder to get what they want.

When the day arrived to welcome it into my life, I was nervous. My whole body was buzzing. I just couldn’t contain my excitement, actually nobody could, as I got messages asking had the big arrival appeared yet? Oh but it was worth the wait even if it was going to hit the bank account a few £££.

It was everything that I had imagined. Perfect in shape and form. I guess not everyone saw the beauty of it but in my eyes there was nothing to fault. Promising such a bright future. There was a long run ahead for us both from this point. A steep learning curve but such achievements and memories to be made. I knew I had made the right decision and got ready to welcome it into my life.

It was such a game changer. So much so it wasn’t long before the husband was bowled over by the new addition that there was another on the way. It even won over a few close friends who also started to see how much my life had changed and they too joined “the club” and where soon expecting their own bundle of joy.

This year, together, we have covered endless miles, climbed many mountains and shared in many special moments. You are the only constant in my life, day in, day out and you are the last thing I look at when I’m about to embark on my next challenge, keeping me grounded at all times throughout.

Who ever thought that I would become so attached to you. When you have to sit out a day or two when I’m not allowed to bring you along, it brings a smile to my face when we are reunited as you are missed in that time.

Like my two children, I can’t imagine life without you in it. There are times, I don’t like what you say and other times I get you to tell me over and over again because it is just what I need to hear to make it all worth while.

Dear my Garmin Forerunner 235. Thank you for always keeping me right, be that pace, heart rate, step count or just simply telling me the time. I owe the tan line around my wrist to you but no one ever sees it as you never come off, only when I am having a shower. You have saw me through marathons and many, many miles of training. You have known when I was at breaking point long before I did. You will continue to always be there, beeping when I need reassurance and tracking me when I’m lost.

Together for many more miles and many more smiles.

 

Don’t forget there is only a week left to vote for me in the Rock n Run Idol competition with  Rock n Roll Half Marathon Dublin in conjunction with Affidea Ireland.

VOTE SIOBHAN GRANT

http://www.runrocknroll.com/dublin/rock-idol/

 

Kilbroney Parkrun Round Up

Kilbroney Parkrun Round Up

They do say the best runs come when you least expect it. Today I couldn’t fault that.

Caitriona had mentioned that she was down to marshal today at parkrun. Doing her bit and all that. She did ask if I fancied going but with a glass of vodka and diet coke in my hand as I wound down from a mental week of wedding madness and my legs recovering from a day in heels- yes I got doms after the wedding. There was no way I was getting up to run.

Of course I woke shortly after 8 and as I turned my phone on there was the snap chat.

Beautiful blue skies and parkrun?

I replied ‘meh’ however I’m sure Caitriona was having withdrawal symptoms as it had been 5 days since she last saw me, she insisted she’d pick me up in 20minutes.

I briefly debated it replying… sorry I’ve got the kids. Damn her goodness (potential madness) she said bring them along and they could marshal with her. So there was me jumping out of bed, sticking on my gear and throwing the kids together. Off to Kilbroney we went.

As we came over the hill into Rostrevor I was able to explain to Caitriona where my escapades during the walking festival went. Pulling up to Kilbroney we had a few minutes before starting.

I absolutely detest 5ks. Give me a half marathon anyday. Yet even I couldn’t have faulted the weather, atmosphere and stunning surroundings. Kilbroney parkrun offers everything. A challanging route, well supported by marshals and other public users of the park and breathtaking scenery as you weave in and out of lush greenways, riverside track, woodland and through Narnia-twice. Ok there are 2 hills but it adds to the challange and makes finishing that bit sweeter.

I’ve a Rostrevor parkrun personal best of 38.06. As I took off lap 1, pace was strong as the field spread out. Smiles and encouragement from marshals and also those staying in the caravan park. Before the descent into Narnia I was greeted by the personal cheer squad and made the resolve that I was going to push on and not let the next lap beat me. I crossed the start line in 18mins dead. I was delighted that for once I wasn’t lapped by the winner!

So realistically if I kept the same pace this lap, I’d blow my PB out of the water but without the field pulling me the first km I went back to my usual chanting and focused on my breathing to get me to the next hill. I didn’t get as far up it as I would have liked but with only a short uphill to go I knew I would do myself justice on the downhill.

I also knew that Rónán would be asking to run with me when I met him and as I opened up on the downhill I shouted for him to join me and the little ginger head took off in usual fashion and I chased him right into Narnia. As we turned the corner to the finishing straight he was in full flight and me too. Together watching eachother we emptied the tank taking the person in front and finishing neck in neck.

Some people do say you should let the child win. But he’s beaten me so many times I needed the victory of the final half kilometre.

I looked down to see 36.51. A new personal best by over 1 minute. Can’t be bad to that and for the record slightly hungover and definitely not in racing shape.

That’s the thing about parkrun though. It’s not a race. It’s a community event for everyone to join in and set themselves a goal. I always welcome getting new bests, who doesn’t? Yet the only pressure you have is yourself. Today for me though it was a gentle nudge from the running buddy who either knew I needed a good run, knew I was fit to do myself justice or just plain mean and wanted to laugh at me running. Either way… thank you Caitriona for getting me to run this morning and also for marshalling. Without the volunteers, parkrun wouldn’t happen.

Also want to draw your attention to another local event for both runners and walkers alike for a very worth while cause. Will be a fantastic way to spend a Saturday evening with friends and family.

And don’t forget to keep voting! 

http://www.runrocknroll.com/dublin/rock-idol/

Ards Half- the return to racing ways

Ards Half- the return to racing ways

Marathon training does take over your life and not essentially in a bad way. However I learnt a few lessons after DCM. 1. Don’t race too soon after a marathon and 2. Don’t leave too long until your next race.

Doing Minnowburn 10k 6 days after DCM near killed me but the post marathon blues set in afterwards as it took 6 weeks to race again at Kilbroney and then the Cracker, where I found my love of running lay beyond 6miles. So this time round I agreed with myself on a happy medium. 3 weeks. Ok I did throw in the Mourne Walking Festival but that’s not really running, more extensive 3 days hill training. Ards fell lovely just short of 4 weeks after Derry. I had felt great post Derry physically, mentally I was still beating myself up.  So Ards was my come back. I had done enough training but no where near what I was doing in the run up to Derry, though I think my body thanked me for that.

I had cleared my head of cobwebs, lingering worries and concerns that where weighing me down whilst up the mountains and I was feeling fresh as the end of term set in and I was ready to run, for me.

I have to admit I love how this year has panned out for me with running. Training with Brenda for London and seeing her through all her milestones, then straight into tagging Derry training onto the end of that with Caitriona as she hit the same milestones and embraced 8 laps of the lake. And of course being privileged and honoured to run Derry with Tony being able to carry out the promise I made in October. In amongst that I had completed my LiRF course, guide running course, trained the school cross country team to gain a 1st place and shortlisted as the Ulster Representative as 1 of  the countries 5 most inspirational runners. It’s been a hell of a 6 months.

So Ards was technically the first race of the year I was running, for me. No one else was relying on me and that quite frankly scared the shit out of me!

Ok I had talked Caitriona and Brenda into the race as well as Jennifer so I wasn’t alone and obviously signed Michael up for good measure. As with all running events there was a plethora of runners and supporters who I’ve come to know over the past 2 years who where there also.

I procrastinated something shocking on the start line. I never really get the reality until the field starts moving and then its like ” holy crap I’ve 13.1 mile to find!” So all you really can do is put one foot in front of the other, a lot of times.

It was also the first time I choose to not run club colours after deciding to step back from club running for a while. So here I was at the start of what was billed as an undulating course, setting off with a whole new way about me.

I settled into the race fine. It was a strong start but I knew there were hills ahead and I wanted to make the most of the flats whilst I could. At mile 2 the hills started. As we climbed towards Scrabbo Tower, the town below got smaller and the views over the countryside widened. Normally this would be my worst nightmare but from the word go, the marshals out on course where so supportive, encouraging and quite frankly, everywhere!

At the first water stop I was greeted by the legend herself Rosy Ryan out selflessly on the eve of her 100th parkrun lending a hand and of course a much needed hug. This set me off into mile 4 and the headwind that whistled over the hills was proving to be a bit more challenging than I had expected. I played cat and mouse with Caitriona and Brenda at this stage but as we began to come off the hills around 6 mile, I found my happy place.

My body and mind had found comfort in the miles and as we came towards the half way mark, I pulled a bit further away from the girls. I hit the half way point at 1.20. I knew in my head that Alan Johnson was about to finish in the same way that he had finished in Derry when I had reached the half way point. And on finishing, I was spot on. 18th place in 1.20.

Though as I gained ground on the runners in front, I knew this was where the months of long miles would pay off, after all during a LSR 8 mile was only half way and you where only really getting stuck in. The support and encouragement from everyone was phenomenal. Residents in Comber stayed out to cheer on the back runners, this is something that I can’t praise enough. Usually they stay for the fast runners and as the field thins out they go back inside, however this wasn’t the case as kids lined the streets with jelly babies and marshals and supporters shouted encouraging things. There has been only 1 or 2 events to rival this in my opinion.

Onto the carriage way I went and set my sighted on Tony in front, him and Becki where about 500m in front and I had so hoped my wee legs would get to him, however I had another person inbetween to catch first, as I turned the corner onto Ards’ own heartbreak hill, I’d caught the fella in front but Tony and Becki where out of my reach. Together we motored up the hill but I could sense a body not far behind me – Brenda. We had merged in with the walkers at this point and as we passed the water stop, Brenda caught me and cursed the sight of my ponytail which she had been chasing for 5 mile. I was glad to see her. I had spent most the race on my own and although you can keep going for 2 more miles, its always better when you have a friend beside you.
As we entered into the final mile and my legs turned to concrete coming off the hill onto the final flat into Newtownards, we knew a good time was within reach. Doing our usual “at most its a 15minute mile” we pushed on and as we turned the corner to see the finishing arch, 2.43 had just turned on the clock.  A PB for Brenda and a 2017 best for me, both outdoing our joint effort at Dune in February of 2.45 dead. Caitriona wasn’t far behind us and that was us all home safe.

Only 50 seconds off my all time PB, in a race I knew was physically tough. It was just what I needed. The demons that haunted me after Derry disappeared and I proved to myself I did have it all along, I had just had a bad day on June 4th.

I was delighted to see everyone had made it alive, some in not so great shape others lapping up the awesome donuts and Suki orange juice post race. Based on the exemplary attention to detail of the marshals and their guidance I will be coming back next year to Ards Half. Yes its a tough course and its anything but flat, however it is priceless to be treated exactly the same as every runner on the course from front runner to back runner. Equality across the whole field, inclusion allowing everyone an opportunity to take part and respect, many of the marshals out on course where runners themselves and not one negative comment the whole way round. Yes I was in the last 50 finishers but I felt valued and supported throughout and that is something every event needs to strive to achieve whether its 5k/10/half/full/ultra.

So July sees me on bridesmaid duties, working towards my 10k time and then launching into August with Rock N Roll Weekend and of course the EAMs Knockagh Challenge where I’m pairing up with Tony again for some uphill and downhill fun. 

Don’t forget to vote for me as the Ulster Representative in the Rock’n’Fun Idol competition as one of the countries most “inspirational” runners. Would quite fancy a trip to Vegas to represent the country and I am sure I definitely need a holiday.
  http://www.runrocknroll.com/dublin/rock-idol/

 

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.