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On Saturday, August 1st, I ran the Tralee 100K Ultra for the second time. Last year I had to pull out all the stops to beat the cut-off time, and ended up beating it by just 8 seconds, this year I was determined to go for a slightly less dramatic finish. The best laid plans of mice and men….
I arrived at the start line on Ballyard Hill nice and early, and had time to chat to the other runners and crews, and wish them well. It was a cool, dark morning, but dry and not too cold – perfect running conditions. Soon, the countdown started, and we were off.
I had made a last-minute decision to carry a backpack, as my crew weren’t joining me until later on, and the pack started to annoy me from early on – must try to train more with it to get used to it.
We headed down Ballyard hill, through the outskirts of Tralee, and then headed up the slight incline of Caherslee, before heading out the long road to Ardfert.
I ran this section with a group of my Born To Run teammates, and it certainly shortened the road, as there was great banter as usual.
Unlike last year, when I didn’t eat on the early stages, this time I made sure that I got plenty of food on board, as well as electrolytes.
By the time we came to Ardfert, 6 miles or so from Tralee, the sun was high in the sky, and it had gotten warm and bright, though not too hot as yet. I was well and truly sick of my backpack at this stage, and it was causing a hot spot on my back, so I threw it into one of the crew cars, and just carried a water bottle in my hand. We headed for Ballyheigue, another 6 miles or so away, along a relatively straight, slightly undulating road. Passing Ballyheigue, I did a quick scan of how I felt, and everything seemed great – my hamstring was throbbing slightly, but that was only to be expected – overall, I felt really good, though, as Gene Thibeault once said, if you feel good in an ultra, don’t worry, you’ll get over it.
There is a really long, steep hill after Ballyheigue, on the road to Causeway, and I walked this, as, I think, did almost everyone else. This was the start of the very undulating section that loops around Ballyheigue, taking in Causeway and Kerryhead, which broke my spirit last year, so I made sure that I was mentally prepared for it this time.
The road between Ballyheigue and Causeway seemed much shorter this year, and, unlike last year, I was comfortable throughout, and, in fact, it felt almost like a training run. In my visualisation plan for this race, I had broken it down into 10k increments in my head, and the race actually lends itself very well to this, with villages, hills, or landmarks almost every 10k to remind me.
By the time I made it to Causeway, I was feeling fantastic – although a little too warm for my liking, conditions were near ideal, my legs felt strong, my hamstring pain had almost disappeared completely, and I was ahead of my assumed times for each section, without having pushed myself at all.
I turned north in Causeway and set out for Kerryhead, the 16 mile section to bring us past the halfway point and back into Ballyheigue. This section destroyed me last time out, and I was determined that this time, I would beat it and run into Ballyheigue with a smile on my face.
Kerryhead is famous among tourists for its fantastic scenery, and among runners for its many hills, and today I would get a taste of both. My sister Hazel joined me on this section to take over crewing duty from Geoff, who had looked after me really well to this point. Hazel ran this race last year, so she knew the course well, and kept me on point with drinks and fuel. I walked the hills, and kept a sensible pace going on the flats all the way through Kerryhead.
At the top of a particularly steep hill on this section, a hill that everyone I saw walked, an elderly man was cutting a hedge. He shouted out as I passed “How long is this walk you’re all doing” At least I knew I wasn’t the only one walking the hills!
I was surprised when I came to the last few miles of downhill section into Ballyheigue – it had seemed so much longer last year. I ran this last bit as fast as I could, and passed the halfway point at around 6:42, which put me on for a sub-14 hour finish – in fact, at this stage, I felt that I could speed up a bit in the second half, and go for a sub-13.5 hour time.
However, within minutes of passing the halfway point, I started to get stomach cramps. They weren’t too bad however, and I didn’t worry too much – I knew I was just a mile or two from Ballyheigue, where I could take a quick break.
I came into Ballyheigue at a flat-out sprint, passing another runner on the way, and felt very happy with myself, even though the stomach cramps had gotten worse. I spent some time in the toilets in Ballyheigue and hoped that was the end of that!
I grabbed some food, changed my shoes and socks, and hit the road again, heading for my next “mental checkpoint” of Banna, around 5 miles away on the main Tralee-Ballyheigue road.
I felt better after my break, and ran this section well, knowing that I was finally heading back towards Tralee instead of away from it. Arriving in Banna I grabbed some electrolytes, and headed for Barrow.
The road between Banna and Barrow is narrow, twisty, and fairly uneven in places, and can be a bit of a drag. I felt good setting off, but soon the stomach cramps started again. I kept going and hoped they wouldn’t get worse. No such luck. By the time I was halfway to Barrow, I was very uncomfortable – I had to stop running on a couple of occassions due to the pain. I decided I’d get to the top of Barrow Hill and review my situation there. Barrow Hill was, as always, a challenge, but I made it, turned around at Tralee Golf Club, and set off back down. Near the bottom of the hill I got really bad cramps and had to make the first of what would turn out to be many detours into a cornfield. I was in a fairly bad way, and asked my crew to see if anyone had any medication that might help. Karma was certainly kicking my ass – several of my running buddies had advised me to bring Immodium or similar medication, but I had decided I didn’t need it because I NEVER have stomach issues…..
My crew turned up a blank, so I kept going, paying visits to many of the fields and ditches around Barrow and Churchill.
The Barrow to Fenit section was next, and it is one of the toughest parts of the route – around 5 miles of narrow twisting roads, with lots of climbs. The only advantage as far as I was concerned was that I had planned on walking these hills anyway, so I hoped it would give me a chance to recover somewhat.
I actually found this section relatively ok, considering the state I was in. I got to Fenit in one piece, and headed off down the pier to the turnaround. I had gone the last few miles without any major stomach issues, so I hoped I was over the worst of it. Not quite. At the top of Fenit Pier, I had to make a dash to the toilets, and I ended up spending a long (painful) time in there, wondering how the hell there was anything left in my system. Afterwards, I took some electrolytes, but couldn’t eat anything, knowing it wasn’t going to stay in my stomach. I headed off towards The Kerries in a slightly dilapidated state.
This section has been my nemesis over many marathons and I hadn’t been looking forward to it, especially the way I was feeling now. However, Catherine had joined me by this stage to run the rest of the course with me, and she worked hard to keep my spirits up and to force me to keep taking on electrolytes. Overall this section wasn’t too bad, though I could definitely feel myself fading. The cramps in my stomach were back with a vengeance, and Gillian, who was crewing for me, asked the ambulance crew for help. They hadn’t anything on them, but very kindly drove back to base, and told us they would meet us on the course.
After passing through Spa Village, I turned down The Kerries, heading towards Tralee around 3 miles away – though, as we had to detour around Blennerville and Tonevane, I still had around 7 miles to go. Halfway through the Kerries, the ambulance crew were true to their word, and showed up with medication to help my stomach – and it worked brilliantly – within 10 or 15 minutes, all the cramps were gone, and I had no more detours into fields to make!
I knew that all I had left to do was slog it out, and that’s what I did. I was exhausted by the time I got to Blennerville, and was fading fast. The detour around Tonevane seemed to last forever, and, as I did the death march in the canal road towards the finish line, I started to wonder for the first time if I was going to beat the cut-off time. My crew cheered me on, and I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.
As I turned the corner of the Brandon Hotel and saw the finish line ahead, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. I put my head down, and, with my sons on either side of me, sprinted for the line.
I hadn’t noted the time for a while, and wasn’t sure crossing the line whether I’d made it or not. I collapsed to the ground as soon as I’d crossed, totally overcome with emotion. I don’t know why, but I was far more emotional this year than I was last year. As all my friends and fellow runners embraced and congratulated me, JJ told me the news – 14:59:59 – I had beaten the cut-off by a single second!
After having a sit-down to gather myself a bit, I stayed on for an hour or so to cheer in some of my Born To Run clubmates who were still on the road, before cold (and the need to get my boys home to bed after a very long day!) got the better of me.
This was another brilliant day by Marcus and his Run The Kingdom team – I really think this is one of the best running events in Ireland, for the sheer scale, difficulty, comradery, and organisation of the whole race. If you are contemplating an ultra, this has to be at the top of your list.
I’d like to thank everyone who made this run possible for me – Catherine, Adam, Lee, Gill, Hazel.
Geoff and his crewmates Kerry, Donna, and Bernadette. Marcus the Boss (without whose guidance and help I wouldn’t be running at all), Jim, Seanie, and all at Run The Kingdom. “Mammy” O’Se (for giving good drinks and great hugs), JJ (a quiet, unassuming star), and everyone else at the aid stations. Karen, Michelle, Laraine, Jim, and everyone else who went out of their way to stop and make sure I was ok. The ambulance crew who went above and beyond the call of duty – I don’t know your names, but a big thanks guys. Frederick for the pics (the ones at the finish line will become family heirlooms!), Sean, Tracy, and Karen for their photos. Cliff The Dog for tolerating a long day, not eating all my sandwiches, keeping the boys amused, and only tripping me up once.
If I have forgotten to mention anyone, blame my memory, not a lack of appreciation – I am acutely aware that running an ultra is a team effort, which I could not do alone. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Once again I will be left with lifelong memories of this day – meeting so many wonderful people, remembering the goal when times were tough, and having a laugh with new friends and old when things were going well. I got to chat to several MCI members that I had seen on the road, but never spoken to before, and I got to see the sheer willpower of some of my Born To Run friends, who had to dig so deep to finish, but who refused to give up – well done to all of you.
Can't wait for next year.
March 15th was the third running of the Tralee International Marathon, and it was my third time running it. The first running of this was also my first marathon, and it is also my hometown marathon, so is the most important one of the year for me. I have a chequered history with this race, and yesterday added to it! The first time I ran it, I was fat, unfit, and suffering from a knee injury, last year I was much better prepared, but suffered an undiagnosed hip dislocation during training a couple of weeks before, and ended up suffering terribly – though I did finish! This year I was in the best shape I’ve been since I started running, have gotten PB’s over nearly every training distance I’ve run over the past few months, and had no injuries coming in to it – I planned on doing it in 4:30, which would be a big PB for me.
I got up nice and early yesterday morning, and took my time getting ready. I felt fantastic – ready to rumble. I met my sister Hazel, who was also running this for the third time, and we went to Tralee to meet up with the Born To Run gang. Everyone was in great spirits, and conditions were perfect – cold but dry, and with the promise of sun later in the day. We all walked to the start line, and, after the usual formalities, set off. Due to a football match between Kerry and Donegal, the start and finish lines of the marathon had been moved slightly, and it meant we ran the first mile or so through Tralee town – it was a nice start, and there was great fun and banter as we ran through the streets of Tralee.
Once we left Tralee, we headed out towards Ardfert, on a long, relatively straight, and mostly slightly climbing road. I enjoyed this section a lot – the banter with my clubmates continued, and I was comfortable sticking with Paddy, the 4:30 pacer.
When we got to Ardfert at mile 6, there was a great crowd of supporters, many of them from the local St. Brendans Athletic Club, and they gave us lots of cheers (and jelly beans) as we passed through the village. Here the route has been changed from previous years, when we would turn west in Ardfert, as this year we went straight on north towards Ballyheigue for another 2.5 miles or so, and then turned off for Banna, on what is a section of the Tralee 100K course. At Banna, we took the coast road towards Ardfert.
I found the coast road from mile 9 to mile 11 tough enough – there was a strong breeze blowing straight in our faces, and it made hard work of keeping to the 4:30 pace for me – in hindsight, I might have been better dropping my pace on this section.
At mile 12, we took a sharp turn south-west, about half a mile before we would have reached Ardfert village again. Here we met up with the Half Marathon runners, who had started an hour and a half after us. I began to struggle a bit here, as temperatures rose, and I dropped my pace a little. This section seemed to slow quite a few people down, and, although I dropped back from the pacer, I was still with a few of the group that had been running with him. As we went from mile 12 to 15, I really started to drop back – I felt fit and strong, but my legs were definitely getting heavy. I decided I’d take it a bit easier until Fenit at mile 18, and try to push hard for home from there. There are some tough hilly sections in the 3 or 4 miles before Fenit, and I decided I’d conserve as much energy as I could on those. A great plan in theory, but not as easy when you’re in the middle of it! I found those hills tough, especially the last hill before Fenit, and I was surprised at how tired my legs were.
At the Fenit turnaround, I get some water, electrolytes, and encouragement, and made the turn for home. I was surprised at the number of people I thought had been far ahead of me, that I met here, and this gave me some added impetus. However, I found the section out of Fenit very tough – as I have said before, I don’t like the Fenit to Spa road, and this time it hit me with a vengeance. I suffered a lot coming in here, and my pace really dropped a lot. I think I’m going to have to get psychological counselling (or perhaps a blindfold) to help me get over my fear of this road!
I felt a little better one I got off the main road and turned up the Kerries at mile 23 – the mental boost of knowing you’re on the last stretch (especially this year, when the finish was straight into town) was huge, and gave me the impetus to finish reasonably strong. The feeling rounding the corner of High Street and heading up the Mall towards the finish line was fantastic, and finishing right in the centre of town was brilliant.
I finished in 4:57:11, which was disappointing – I had hoped to break 4:30, but I simply didn’t have the legs for it in the second half – not sure why, my training had been going really well, my nutrition worked out fine, conditions were good, and I know the route like the back of my hand. Perhaps the marathon in Limerick 2 weeks ago had left some residual soreness? I don’t know, and I’m not going to worry too much about it – I really enjoyed the day, as I have every running of the Tralee Marathon, and, as usual, I had a great time with my Born To Run club mates. It was brilliant seeing some of the guys and girls I’ve trained with over the past few months finish their first marathon, and seeing one of them in particular, Danny, cross the line to the waiting arms of his family was a memory I’ll hold for a long time.
As usual, Tralee was a brilliant day out – congrats to all the organising team, Marcus, Vivienne, Jim, and everyone else – especially considering the last-minute rejigging that had to be done after Marcus fell ill. I can’t wait until next year! Well done again guys.
Thanks to everyone I ran with, who encouraged me, joked and laughed with me, helped me get going when I was struggling (especially Marilyn and Eoin!), to the stewards and marshalls, to Martin the MC, and to everyone else who makes Tralee such a great marathon, see you all again next year!
Two days after the marathon, all the runners from Born To Run participated in our now-traditional march in the Tralee Saint Patricks Day Parade. As usual, we had brilliant fun!
On October 27th I ran the Dublin Marathon for the second time. Last year, I’d went out quite a bit too fast, and felt I left a sub 4:30 after me as I faded badly in the second half to come home in 4:53. I was determined not to make the same mistake this year. Training had gone well, and I had a lot more mileage under my belt this year, having completed two ultra marathons, and numerous shorter races in the past couple of months.
I travelled up to Dublin the night before the race with my sister Hazel, who was also running this marathon for the second time. All my preparations went well, and I woke bright and early the morning of the race, and got to the start line in lots of time. I met up with quite a few of my Born To Run club mates at the start line, and everyone was in great form, and keen to get going.
Once the gun went for our wave, we were off, and conditions, while a little humid, were very good.
But I knew within 2 miles of the start that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I just didn’t feel good. I felt weak and lacking in energy, and the pace, which should have been easy for me, felt too fast. I hoped it was just early stage jitters, and I would come out of it.
By mile 5, I knew I was in deep trouble. I had no strength in my legs, and was way off pace. By mile 6, I was seriously considering dropping out. I knew it was going to be a bad day for me, and that I was going to suffer, however, I decided to press on as far as I could – I’m just not the dropping out type, and I promised myself I’d go until I couldn’t go any further, and only drop out if I was in serious medical difficulties.
The next few miles were very unpleasant – I felt like I’d run an ultra and was being asked to run it again. I had long since lost my pace group, and was constantly being passed by other runners.
I put my head down and pushed on as best I could. I made it to mile 13 before I had to stop for a walking break, and that’s pretty much how the second half of the marathon went for me – I’d run a mile or two, at a slow stumbling jog, and then have to walk a half mile or so.
I eventually stumbled across the finish line in a time of 5:38:18 – my second slowest marathon ever (since my first ever marathon!), and even slower than Tralee last year, which I ran with a dislocated hip.
I was at a loss to figure out what was wrong with me at the time, but subsequently I think I figured it out. In the days that followed, I developed a bad chest infection, which ruled me out of the Sixmilebridge Ultra, which was to be my next race, and sidelined me from running altogether for weeks. I’m guessing that this was what sapped my energy for this marathon. I suppose I’ll just have to chalk this one down to experience, and get ready for the Tralee International Marathon in March 2015.
On Saturday August 2nd I ran the inaugural Tralee 100k Ultra Marathon. This was an important and emotional event for me for various reasons, not least of which was the fact that it was the first running of my hometown ultra, and I had many friends running in it, including my older sister.
I had been training for this, and waiting for it, for a long time, and, as we lined up at the Tralee Wetlands Centre at 6am for the start, I couldn’t wait to get going.
The first few miles brought us through the outskirts of Tralee, and, even at this early hour, there were a good number of supporters out to cheer the 40-odd runners on, with many from the local Born To Run Marathon Club.
The first 12 kilometers brought us on a relatively flat course out of Tralee, north through the village of Ardfert, and onto the seaside resort of Ballyheigue. After Ballyheigue the temperature started to go up, and so did the road, as we hit some decent climbs on our way to the scenic, undulating roads of Kerryhead.
I found the first section fairly easy, having run it many times in training, and I made sure I took in plenty of fluids – however I didn’t eat, an oversight I would come to regret later. The Kerryhead section of the course I found tougher, as it was much warmer by now, and there were a lot more climbs to contend with.
I had my usual mile 24 meltdown, which has, unfortunately become a trademark of mine, and I suffered for 3 or 4 miles, probably due to getting my nutrition wrong again – I really must learn to take more carbs and salts on board early on if I’m to avoid this. Jim McNiece, a fellow member of Born To Run, and an experienced ultrarunner, helped me through this section, and made sure I got to the halfway point – Thanks Jim!
Shortly after the halfway checkpoint, we came back into Ballyheigue, where we had a food break, and I REALLY needed it at this stage – I was feeling nauseous, tired, and weak, and wasn’t looking forward to running another 50k!
With the help of my crew, Catherine, Gillian, Adam, and Lee, I managed to pull myself together, get some nutrition on board, and get my mojo back.
I headed out on the homeward leg with a renewed sense of purpose, keen to get back in the groove.
I found the next 10k, bringing us from Ballyheigue, south towards Tralee before turning west for Banna beach, and then south again towards Barrow to be a good bit easier – the food and drink I’d taken on board helped perk me up, and, once we passed Banna, we were running on the Tralee International Marathon course, a route I know well – I’ve run that marathon twice, and train on this course regularly.
When we got to Barrow, I found that I wasn’t as far behind my clubmates as I had feared, as I met a few of them on the Barrow Hill switchback, and this gave me added impetus. Then I tackled Barrow Hill – this hill is notorious among those of us who have run the Tralee Marathon, and anyone who has trained on this course – it is very steep, and takes no prisoners, and is made worse by the fact that, when you finish it, you are faced almost immediately by a long climb up Churchill, giving you little or no time to recover. I, like most if not all the other competitors, walked Barrow Hill, as I knew that I had a lot of climbing ahead of me, and I would need to save what little I had left in my legs! At the top of Barrow Hill I had an interesting conversation with a farmer who asked me what race we were running – he expressed some doubts as to our sanity when I told him!
After coming back down Barrow (ah, the relief in the leg muscles) we had a (very) short flat section before beginning the long climb up Churchill. This was followed by an undulating section, with one short, sharp climb, before descending into Fenit. Fenit is very familiar to me, as it is where I do all my triathlon swim training, and I also do some cycling and running here. I knew that the gentle fall into Fenit would be nice to run, but, after turning around at the end of Fenit pier, we would have a tough run back in the Fenit to Tralee road. Just before Fenit I met Niall O Lioingsigh, who is a fellow member of Tralee Triathlon Club, and Niall decided on the spur of the moment to “run as far as the end of the pier” with me – this would turn into a bit more than a run to the end of the pier for Niall!
There was great support in Fenit, mostly from Tralee Tri Club members, and I appreciated every cheer I got at this stage.
After the turnaround, Niall decided to run another mile or so with me, but the skies opened without warning, and we had a monsoon-like rain shower, which drenched me (and Niall!) to the skin. I found the slight incline out of Fenit tough, and, for the first time, I began to worry that I might not make the 15-hour cutoff time for this event.
After a quick water stop on the Tralee road, and some encouragement from some of the other crews waiting there, I set off on the long, lonely road from Fenit to Tralee. This road is my nemeses – it has broken my spirit on many occasions, most notably the two times I’ve run the Tralee International Marathon. I’m not sure what it is about this road that gets to me – it is a road like any other, with a few hills, many twists and turns, but nothing out of the ordinary. I think it may be due to the fact that, when I first started distance running, I did my long runs here, and I tended to be physically and mentally destroyed on this section of road!
I actually didn’t do too badly this time, until I reached Spa, a small village a mile or so before the turn off for The Kerries section. Here I began to suffer badly, and my crew could see I was unsteady on my feet. Catherine decided to start running with me, and practically forced me to take salt and water. After the turn off for The Kerries, I was in a bad way – I could feel myself going down, and I felt light-headed, drowsy, and very unwell. I was unsteady on my feet, and slurring my words. My crew decided to pull me over, and, despite my protests that I was feeling sick, made me drink some electrolytes, take some salt, and finally eat something. Within minutes I felt better – a sure sign I am completely messing up my nutrition intake, something I really have to work on for the future.
While I felt sharper mentally, and was ready to go on, no amount of food can take the tiredness out of the legs, and I knew there was a lot of pain to come. I set off towards Tralee determined to make the finish line before the cut off.
However, it didn’t look good – I had around 14 miles to go, with around an hour and a half to cutoff time – going by the time I had taken to do the previous 14, I hadn’t a hope of making it.
I pressed on as best I could through the Kerries, and came to the Strand Road turn – this is a big psychological test for local runners, as you know that you are only about half a mile as the crow flies from the finish line, but you now have to turn back out of town towards Blennerville, and you have another 5 miles of running to go. I checked my watch at this turn, and two things occurred to me:
There was no way, based on my current physical state, and current and previous pace, that I was going to finish, not to mind finish before the cutoff time.
I was going to fucking do it anyway
I set off up Strand Road (long, steep Strand Road) with legs that were growing wearier by the yard. I made the turn across Blennerville Bridge, past the beautiful old windmill (my tired brain reflecting on the fact that the finishers belt buckle features that very windmill on it), with my legs burning, and my body telling me it could go no further. I had nothing left in the tank, every muscle screaming in pain, and all I wanted to do was lie down on the road and give up this crazy dream.
But that voice inside, the one that has driven me mercilessly through all the physical challenges I have taken on, screamed “SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP, YOU WILL NOT STOP” I dragged myself on.
Catherine kept telling me I could do this, that I had it in me. Niall, who had returned to see me finish, soon joined her. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by the inimitable Seanie D Lamb, who I discovered for the first time, has a true gift for motivation. If you have ever read the David Remnick’s wonderful biography “King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero” they will know of Drew Bundini Brown, Ali’s erstwhile cornerman (and the man who first coined the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” phrase), and a man who constantly spoke a kind of motivational voodoo in Ali’s ear. Well, Seanie was my Bundini Brown for the last 5k of this race – he spoke what seemed like a constant stream of motivation in my ear (as well as pouring litres of water over my head) that somehow made me push myself beyond my physical limits.
Despite being mentally exhausted, and physically destroyed, I ran the last 5k of this 100k at close to the speed of my fastest 5k ever. I even passed one of the other runners a few hundred yards from the end, and finished in a flat-out sprint.
I crossed the line with 8 seconds to spare on the cutoff time!
The Tralee 100k Ultra Marathon was an amazing experience – there’s nothing quite like pushing yourself to your limits with your hometown and your friends willing you on.
Another great event by Marcus Howlett and his Run The Kingdom team – well done guys! If you ever get the opportunity to run one of their races – grab it!
Thanks to all those who helped me along the way – you know who you are – I’m forever in your debt.
Thanks to my employers RigBag, without whom this wouldn’t be possible – If you need sports gear, look them up!
Some days you will remember always – this was one of mine.