My first night ultra run, elicited memories of waiting around for evening kick off’s in my youth. Trying to contain nervous energy and keeping a lid on any unwarranted movement or action that would drain energy away from the main event.
I had intended to get a laid on bus out to the start line but was lucky enough to be able to get a lift from Colin and borrow his support crew for the Night. Namely his brother in law Tadgh. I generally don’t like borrowing things, but in this instance I was happy to make an exception. On top of the drop bags I had left with the race organisers, I gave Tadgh a just in case bag which included enough caffeine to kill a badger, poles and a few bananas.
Once upon a time I would sign up to these events for a challenge, a test. Or whatnot. Nowadays I chase a
“This is awesome” – feeling.
Last year when I entered the 200km event, or the full as it is affectionally known that feeling was not there at any point during my 77km and 13 odd hour attempt. Yet as this large 100km group ran together through dewy grass – and light initial inclines that feeling started to flood back. Being part of a gentle train of easy going ultra runners hoping stiles and looking back at a narrow winding river of lights initiated, elicited and saturated the release of all those chemicals and hormones that I now pursue two to three times per year if possible.
With the year we have had the land was sound underfoot and it was not long before we were starting climbs, the first up and over pass towards Waterville. Which, early on has given me one of the most outstanding memory bank images from any code any year. As the thinning train faced west on top of a hill I spotted what looked like a sign outside a pub hugging the top of the hill. Totally out of place but yet perfectly mimicking the contour of the gradient on this hill.
“Is that the moon”
Total gram moment. And I would have, if my phone was easier to access and not in my first aid bag due to the promised inclement weather. The illumination gave me all the reasons why an event like this should be done. Imagination’s running wild of early iron and or Bronze Age Celts running these same very fields ateing mushrooms and tripping balls at this very same sight millennia ago.
As amazing as it all was, getting into and out of Waterville felt longer than expected as the gradients started to come fast and furious. You run when you can or walk hike when you have too, befriending a young Cork buck after hiking out of Waterville – talking all things from travel to the merseyside derby, I said will we get back running. He said,
“We’ll go for a Wobble”
And Wobble we did only to be interrupted by an unyielding herd of cattle slowing for hills and mountains that were becoming more common place in their severity all under the most amazing watch full gaze of a sky of stars that really but on a show for every runner throughout the night. God bless whoever thought of protecting dark sky areas in Mayo and the kingdom because they are a treasure to cherish.
Winding into Caherdaniel at about 25kms approximately all went to plan. My borrowed crew member now a treasure also. I was helped quickly fill my reservoirs and soft bottles.
And was it needed. I found the 16kms to Sneem very hard going. It took over two and a half hours, but time did not seem to factor. Clock time that is. I honestly thought It was closer to 12 or 1am and could not believe it was closer to 3 am. Time outside of race time just seemed to fade away into obscurity. Not needed, secondary almost. It was really weird – any thoughts about running through the night and points of the night just faded away they were unimportant now.
It was just black, reflections and spooky trails through low lying hedges and trees where feedback from leaves and branches would seem like hands waving at you and took a while to get used to versus what was actually a reaction of light and shadows. My hip at this point was really starting to get sore and pain travelled down my leg through the TFL highway and straight away knew that I should have kept my prescribed rehab up over the last few weeks. knocking out the first marathon or thereabouts into Sneem I did what I have never done before in a race. I took a pain killer. Solpadeine.
Paul Kimmage did flash through my head, but the analgesic effect also washed away my morals. As I ran the 20kms now towards Spillane country Templenoe It was nice not being in pain. I pushed on.
Getting close to 4am, my wife with her fractured pelvis was awake giving me updates from our bed in Mayo. I was in 26th, Colin was pushing on and doing great. So I thought I could now try and race and plug that gap a bit. The temperature dropped and I felt a chill so I put my rain jacket on where it waited for the duration of the remainder.
I knew this stretch having done the lite 58km race previously so I went as well as I could. It was only coming into Templenoe that I was caught by someone. Thankfully so, an actual Kerry man and a gent no less. I say, as previously I had met the 4 horses of the apocalypse coming into Foilmore last year this year we were set upon by the 4 dogs of a See You Next Tuesday.
Well that’s what she was. Some Yank. All I could see where 4 sets of canine eyes illuminating in the lights. As tired as I was, I realised that the ACP-CP system that I had learned about three times now in my undergrad studies kicked into gear. This system if you do not know gives you very short bouts of explosive movements. With 60kms in the tank, feck me. That system is one good system because it fired up no bother at all.
She. The Yank. Then proceeded to say. “Don’t touch my fucking dogs” of whom were gone buck ape. Then proceeded to call me, and a fella from actual Killarney. “Fucking Tourists” the mind boggles.
The bull was right.
Around the corner I had a quick re fuel in Templenoe, alerted stewards of the said nut job and grabbed my running poles and another pain killer from my borrowed run crew.
In my head I felt that once I got to the next stop I was on the pigs back. Kenmare was of a shorter distance away but there was sealed and boggy hills to circumvent to get there. Colin was on about David Goggins on the drive out so I re listened to his interview with Rich Roll. And much like the DR Joe Dispenza meditation I did between for a part between Sneem and Templenoe. It did help. Just in a totally different way. Research both and try them out.
I was still powering on strong, pushing as hard as I could – Kenmare reveals itself in the valley. It’s a false reveal though as the carpet of buildings are further than they seem. I was passed out by someone I know, I won’t mention his name as he was racing in keto and may not want that public but I did remark that I was being passed out by a guy that was eating cheese and peparami as race fuel at considerable speed.
Coming into Kenmare village I had to ask a lady in a dry robe where the aid station was. Even though I actually did know where it was, looking back now it’s one of my first signs of my impending “feckedupness” refuelling with everything for the final 25km push which takes in the greatest bastard hill the world has ever seen. I know it, I have raced it. I knew it was there and what had to be done. Get it out of the way and I’m nearly home in a very decent mid pack placing and time.
Driving into my climbing poles I could feel the fatigue in my triceps. I put the saw doctors on Spotify. I even started singing, to which my right honourable friend from Co. Down had a giggle.
“To win just Wance, to wiiiiiiiiiiiiin just Waaaaaaaance”
Could a man be any more Mayo in the high twenties placings. Still though get to the top of bastard hill and I’m fine.
It is only a couple of Km’s but It takes ages. I was being passed by what I now know where relay runners that I thought were Nite runners which felt like a stream of failure to me at this stage. Relay runners by right should be tarred and feathered, but then what do we all seem like to the 200km entrants ? It’s honestly a mind feck and I’m not gonna be political about it.
I got to the top of that hill(s)
Yes of course.
It was not nutrition because I was anal about fueling, It was not training related because I have the best coaches available. Maybe it was treating the hip and leg pain, or maybe my expectations for myself are too high and my ego to great because at the beginning of the decent down to Torc and about 18kms to the 103.5 km finish. I was officially fecked up.
I can only describe it as a state of exhaustion that all I wanted to do was go for a sleep. I had no energy, I still had nutrition but nothing would fire the engine up. There is no other option but to keep going as here it is inaccessible to everything but a helicopter or Kerry mountain rescue.
And if I had called Kerry mountain rescue I would have been known as the greatest snowflake in the history of ultra running. I would have to go back playing football at 41 years of age. And the story would still probably filter though.
It took my 3 hours to walk 15kms. On the technical aspect I was like a drunk walking down a stairs holding two babies. And boy did it all drag. I’d say my run coach nearly had a nervous breakdown. My wife – would be well used to this by now. A slow zombie death march trying to accept niceties from tourists, that I think I may have scared a bit – eye balling them hoping they would offer me some magic foodstuff like a rabies infected lone dog but they smiled and kept their distance saying the immortal line.
“Your nearly there”
Que, a biblical rain where I put on my safety gear – waterproof pants gloves and hat circumventing the steps at Torc waterfall. A couple shifting in the rain. Seriously, feck off. Then the mind warp of trying to enter and exit Muckross.
Eventually finishing on my watch 103.5kms in 18 hours and 29 minutes, surprisingly to me since then in 32nd (male) place and close enough to mid pack to keep some sort of semblance of performance for all the investment of time and resources, and considered injury time melt down.
Colin, who had done exceptionally well and come 11th was there to greet me. Having retired his brother in law of his duties. But all I wanted was my Jim Jams and to sleep. Which I did. To awaken and book an unplanned room for the night.
From initial disappointment, the result has grown on me. Mainly because from a state of wanting to call rescue 118 to realising that come the Sahara desert next year even on fumes I can still push out 20 odd kms.
This is a massive learning and positive to be taken from an exceptionally amazing and special place in the world.
Kudos to all that ran, irrespective if you finished or not. As these races are a challenge like no other.