There’s lots wrong in the world and lots right in it.
On the wrong side is the impending demise of One Direction following Zayn’s departure, the irrepressible rise of radical religions and our indifference to the ascendancy of the incompetocracy that makes most of the big decisions for us these days.
On the positive side, or the right side, it’s the 8th of April and I’m sitting outside enjoying a warm spring sunset and as any loyal son of Hibernia will tell you there’s no place better than Ireland when the sun shines (about 5 days a year then……). The kids are on holidays so the panic of lunches, school drops and homework are suspended and you’re reading this on some sort of portable device while pretending to be working/listening to your partner/paying attention to something else – that means we’re all good and above ground.
My running is also looking worryingly promising at the moment. My default position is to be a moaning Mary when it comes to running. A mask for my inherent lack of talent and unwillingness to commit to a training regime or club that would show me up for the bluffer I am. My recent training and test racing success has seen me struggle for an excuse to hide behind. The only one I can think of is that with 8 weeks to go to my target event (calling it a race would be disingenuous) I am, like a man rapidly approaching the target demographic for erectile dysfunction products, not going to be able to keep it up for 8 more weeks.
I’ll give you the abridged version of my Vartry 50k experience in a while but before I go into that I’d like to testify to the idea that the more laid back an ultra marathon is in terms of event organisers the better it seems to go. Vartry was no different. The organisation was of the kind where if you’re turning up for this sort of thing then you’re in the big boys/girls club so don’t start whining about hills or water stops or traffic or toilets. That said, I left the event with a happy glow of knowing that we are finally getting an ultra scene together in Ireland that will save me having to run around Italy/Scotland. It looks like we will be able to have seasons of 50k spring and autumn races, with big toenail removing 100 milers in the late spring to mid-summer.
I entered it on Thursday as my last job before I signed off work for the long weekend. €40 for 50K – it seemed to be good value and it would see me reach 31 miles in a single training run. I wanted to see how my magic coffee experiment was going to work and to see how my body would deal with two long runs in 6 days (this would see me reach 75 miles for the 7 days – a record by about 20 miles for this body).
I headed up to my sisters house in north Dublin at around 8.00pm on Friday evening (she was in Cork with my neices and nephews), I watched TV with my brother-in-law and put the world to right until around 12.30am (him on the Lithuanian beer and me on the tea) and then it was off to bed for a few hours of dreams.
I woke the next day at around 6.20am and made up a flask of magic coffee (a large cafetiere, about 25g of butter and the same of coconut oil – coconut lard more like it – all whizzed up) and set off for the race. I pulled into the campsite in Roundwood that served as the race HQ at around 8.00am and felt like a rookie. The 50 miler had been under way since 6.00am and the 100 miler had been under way since 6.00pm the previous evening. Like a first world war soldier heading to the front I was being met my by returning vets in various states of shell shock. Still, given that I’d signed up on a whim on Thursday I wasn’t under any more pressure than I wanted to put myself under.
I slurped my coffee and had the good sense to leave my box of spare gear, water and Aldi berocca tablets at the start finish point. I was running for the first time this year in short sleeves. As part of my Italian Job training I’ve been running everything in a gore-tex coat and long sleeved top so that the heat doesn’t stress me out too much. I used a camelbak hydration job for the race as well although apart from carrying a hat, my phone, my car keys and some haribo it was empty. It was more about getting used to equipment for Italy.
The start briefing was another common sense job – have some fun and don’t be stupid and we were off. These events usually attract one or two souls who can do a 50k in around 3:00-3:30hrs and this one was no different. There were a bunch of them haring off up the road within two miles of the start.
The course was run over a 10 mile triangular course with an out and back leg on the last side of the triangle to make the distance right. The out and back leg was longer for the 50k racers than the 50/100 mile folks as we had to make it up over 31 miles to meet our 50k target.
The course seemed to have no hills on the first loop, some gentle ones on the second loop and some mount Everests on the final loop. I don’t want to think what it was like on the 8th, 9th or 10th loops. If you’re a non-runner you might be wondering how someone can run 50k let alone 50 miles or 100 miles. All I can say is that almost all of the 50k crew had the same thoughts as you. The 50 milers looked to be suffering as we passed some of them on our first lap. The 100 milers had long since passed through the gates of reality and were now stranded in a Godot like purgatory of unending comical suffering. They may have been beside us on the road but they were alive in another dimension, as unable to explain their pursuit of their goal as we were of comprehending it.
Lap one ticked over in 1:29hrs for just over 10 miles. My gut instinct was that this was too fast for a 50k and that I would be in for a pretty spectacular fade in laps 2 and 3. As I went under the timing arch I grabbed a mouthful of water and my sunglasses and hit the road again for the second lap.
As the second loop started the field had thinned out and I found myself happy to run along in my own company. The sun was up now and when the biting wind wasn’t trying to go through you rather than around you you could feel the sweat build up around the back of your neck on some of the long gradual climbs. This lonely running is great when you can empty your mind and just associate with the task.
Around mile 12 or 13 I happened upon a 100 mile competitor who was on mile 82 or 83. Liam Costello. A man who shouldn’t be allowed near running shoes or mountains the way a heroin addict shouldn’t be allowed near tinfoil and a lighter. I stopped to walk with him for about 5 minutes and he explained the surreal suffering he had experienced and was still to endure (he was running the race completely unsupported). God help me but I found the concept of enduring the mental suffering almost too enticing. He said he was going to walk the 9th lap completely and see how he felt for his final lap. I wished him luck and ran on.
The rest of lap 2 was fairly uneventful although I did have a quick chat with a girl on a road bike who was very friendly (she seemed to be crewing for someone) and had a physique that made me want to take up following ladies cycling. I saw her a few more times and had to hold back on telling her how nice I thought she looked. This was probably for the best as may lack of fashion sense made me look less like the rugged ultra runner my mind’s eye imagined and more like a cross between a tramp and a man who exposed himself to strangers. This lap went by in 1:32hrs and after the race I thought that it was (excluding the chat with Liam) a negative split on the first lap.
serious look, should’ve shaved…..and worn normal shorts
As lap 2 finished and lap 3 started I dropped an Aldi berocca into a bottle of water and headed out again. The hills were a bit harder now but nothing that needed a walk. At the end of the first leg of the triangle there was a sharp turn with a steep 50m rise (around mile 22 or 23) and I took this as an opportunity to drink down my Aldi berocca water. The electrolytes did their trick and I felt fine to keep motoring on. At about mile 25 I grabbed a few small bottles of water as an insurance policy against running out of fuel. My plan was to use them to wash down some haribo somewhere around mile 27 or 28 so I didn’t suffer any sort of a fade.
The full marathon clocked by in 3:49hrs which, for a training run, seemed to be pretty good (for me). At this point I had a bit of a battle on my hands with the first lady on the 50k course. As I power walked my haribo at mile 28 I reconciled myself to letting her away from me (the haribo were useless by the way – giving me a sloshing stomach) and focused on my steady performance to that point.
My constant training on hills was standing to me on this course (on the up-hills – I was like a car with the hand brake on on the downhills) and as I pushed on I found myself reeling in the first lady.
By mile 29 it was more or less over so I just opened up my stride and drove on for the finish. I’d vaguely entertained a 4:30hrs finish but my inability to calculate the distance meant I gave up on this as soon as I started entertaining it. With about half a mile to go I met Liam starting out on his 10th and last lap. Like a desperate junkie he was looking for pills for his knees and all I could offer him was haribo and water. I stayed chatting to him for a few minutes and told him I had to go as I didn’t want to get chicked.
I did the eventual sprint for the line over the last 400m and crossed the timing mat in 4hrs 35 mins and 19 seconds.
I placed 7th out of 52 finishers.
Be honest, do I have gay wrists?
The steady pace and lack of food were the two things that I was happiest with over the whole race. My pace isn’t fantastic but then I haven’t been doing any speed work so that’s fine.
welcoming the first lady home in the 50k. The moment where you both admit you were racing each other.
Chatting after the race with the 3rd man home in the 50 miler (Mike O’Sullivan). I need to buy new shorts.
After the race it was a case of scoffing down some crisps and rocky road with a cup of tea, a squirt of deodorant and into the car for the trip home and back to dog-walking and chilling with the kids by 6:00pm.
Hopefully this won’t be the apex of my running year, but if it is, I can’t complain.