I once saw a bumper sticker that read ”If the valleys of Wales were flattened out it would be bigger than England”
The same could be said for Donegal, versus Connaught at least. We all know it’s hilly, most of us have gone buck ape at one stage or another when that song comes on in a nightclub or late bar- however to get the full appreciation of those hills you must race them.
Unlike previous sporting obsessions I have put a lot of research into Ultra running. Podcasts are just a fantastic medium, I really like Ger Prendergast, Rich Roll, following Damian Browne (@auldstock) on the gram and of course probably one of my favorite reads (Audible, which my wife does not consider reading) was David Goggin’s ”Cant Hurt Me”.
I get such a kick out of Goggin’s every time he puts up a video, ”Shut the fuck up mother fucker” – would give a great summary of what he says and it is really awesome to listen to regularly.
This season much like a fan boy I really took all of that ”Cant hurt me” book on board, it was all about building a callous mind and seeking out those 5am long runs starts in sometimes horrendous weather in order to get 40 plus km runs in without leaving my wife too long without help with 3 smallies on a Saturday morning.
The Rocks N Rolling 63km Ultra Marathon was no different. Harold the organizer announced before we started that this was the last one. Numbers were too low to continue in the future. I know now why.
Upon the starting klaxon the lead runner took off, I know that these Ultra runners are a real eclectic bunch. And I honestly thought that the start would be chilled out Gentlemanly affair. ”Would you like to take the lead Sir, why thank you Sir I will do so now with haste”
Nope, this Nordi took off. I’d say at approx 4:45 pace. Three or four went with him. and even though I went up to Moville to win and hoped to at least place. There was no way I was going to get stuck in at that pace, that early in that race.
Once you exited Moville you were straight into a 20 odd% kicker of a climb and I just let them go and focused on myself. Some folks were chatty, there were couples and groups behind us at this stage doing it together. I was just really looking forward for things to space out so I could be on my own.
You follow the shoreline, the water is crystal. I guess It would have been nice to have blue skies to enhance this look more but thankfully it was overcast for the day. And I still received a sun burn. Following the leaders out of Moville, I was constantly climbing , dropping slightly and climbing again until you hit the first proper climb outside of Greencastle.
From here it was 8 kms of climbing, around Inishowen Head. You are looking all over the Causeway coast. It is so high and the roads so bad that there is a sign that reads ”Not suitable for cars beyond this point”
I was in 5th, 3rd and 4th place were running together. I thought they were buddies and I was doing my best to put as much pressure on them. To split them up. I felt they were really supporting each other. On the really steep climbs they would walk where I would run which narrowed the gap. But they were always about 2 minutes ahead of me. It turned out , when I got talking to one of them after they did not know each other. They were just telling each other their life stories!! With me in Navy seal mode.
The race was mainly on fire roads at this stage, very stoney. The first half marathon took 1:56, for perceptive my PB in March was 1:26. It was just constant climbing or, knee popping descents. Where there just seemed to be a lot of strain on my knee caps.
A drizzle set in and apart from my foot steps all I could hear was a cuckoo, and for company the blackest Hare I have ever seen and a curious fox.
In 5th place and really starting to feel the strain at 30kms we came to a grave of a Spanish Armada Galeon. That’s if you can see it apparently. To get there was more adventure race than Ultra. A wet slippy path where I fell. There was a local with a brolly sitting on a rock like a Hobbit from the lord of the rings giving directions. From here it opens out into one of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen in Ireland. Jurassic rocks pointing out of the sand like great big tusks that needed to be climbed over and slipped on and then a beach jog back onto the road.
I could see the two BFF’s in front, and at this point, below me running together on the beach. I decided that there was no reason to keep chasing and to focus on finishing the race and holding onto 5th.
From 32kms to the Marathon 42kms was an absolute drag, my main nutrition was cashew nuts. I started to take gels every 5kms from here and I popped some electrolyte tablets into water bottles. I completed the marathon in 4:06 and was able to recover somewhat on a flatish piece of actual tarmac for about a km, then it was into byroads and fire roads again.
Listening to ”Ger Prendergasts” pod on the way up to Moville with Jeff Butler regarding Marathon Des Sables. Jeff talked about walking parts of MDS. There is nothing worse than hearing about having to walk parts of a race, and when I saw the Bff’s doing it earlier I saw it as a sign of weakness. But at this half way stage I understood that walking steep parts 13% to 20% made sense. Once over the crest I would kick on running again. I did this about 8 or 9 times.
From 45 kms on I gave 5 kms each to my kids. 45 to 50 to Danny, 50 to 55 to Naoise or Ni Ni as we call her. And 55 to 60 to Dara.
I cant really describe much here because when I get to this stage of a race I always bring my head to another place to help with the strain or pain. This is where the kids come in. They carry me.
I do remember however how foggy it was up top at this stage. And out of the fog one of the Bff’s had been dumped. Nice one.
I could see he was suffering, I knew I was going to catch him on a hill. I just wanted to make sure I could make it stick and not only go pass him. But keep going ruling out any tit for tat. I was patient and waited for the right spot, downed a gel and went for it. I just pretended I was physically fine and got a real kick and release of energy going into 4th place at this stage of the race.
Once the crest of that hill was taken, it was pretty much downhill. I had left the final 3kms for Jasper.
Jasper is the name of the room that my wife stayed in Hughs House. Hence the picture above with my son Danny. The picture has a funny thing going on around my fingers of my right hand. Might be easily explained. Or whats the point in explaining. Leave it as something special.
I do not know anything about Jasper, his or her parents, his or her story. All I know is that he or she did not make it. Like many of the children of parents that stay in Hugh’s House.
It was Jasper’s job to carry me down that hill as fast as possible, it was Jasper’s job to keep the twangs of hamstring cramps away. It was Jasper’s job to keep me close to 5ish min pace at this stage of this race. Jasper did it, I completed an absolute humdinger of a race in 4th place 6 hours and 21 minutes.
I crossed the line scanned, and sat down. Soup and a wrap provided. My buddy and fellow member of Crossmolina GFC coaching staff came in soon after, calling me expletives. But I could see he was stoked. He and his partner Julie on a romantic weekend away. lols. (My Mrs would stab me at the suggestion of such a weekend away from the kids)
Thanks to Harold and all the Volunteers in Moville, Barr’s B and B and everyone in between for a wonderful experience. Smaller numbers in races are really cool in a sense that everyone gets to know everyone else. It is a far more intimate experience versus over 2000 competitors in an Ironman.
The Rocks N Rolling 63 km Ultra has left me with more questions than answers. If the course had been flat, how far can I run in a race? I can feel a physical and mental yearning to push the distance now to 100kms. The only way I can describe it is that I have found more gears. And it feels very natural to run longer and further. Much like our ancestors did. Centuries ago. Up top on those hills chasing, I felt closer to the bronze age than titanium.
The journey as always is becoming more and more fascinating.
Roll On Marathon Des Sables for Hugh’s House 2020.