My first endurance event

For anybody clicking on this post hoping to hear about my first marathon or, god forbid, my first ultra you’re going to be disappointed.

That said, the running this week has been going ok. I skipped a few runs last week as I was starting to wheeze when running and it didn’t seem useful to push on through this chest thing. The weather has dried up and it’s the warmest April since 2003 so I’ve had a bit of warm weather acclimatisation to do. I did 20 miles last Sunday in the heat and after a gentle recovery on Tuesday I did 10 more in the heat yesterday.

Anyway, enough of all that stuff about running. Just take it that I’m still walking the line between chronic injury, exhaustion and making my wife feel like the running is just a minor interest of mine – reading out blog posts from the likes of Grellan and Thomas is helping me no end as they make training for a marathon seem like a couch to 5k programme.

Back to the blog post title.

My first endurance event.

This event happened completely by accident and was something I only thought of as an endurance event when I read some of the recent blog posts of others where they talked about mental preparation for these events and the long and arduous training and experimentation with nutrition and long nights plotting over pacing strategies and deciding on equipment, shoes and shorts.

My first event had none of these.


About 26 years ago at this time of year for reasons known only to me and my brother we decided that we weren’t going to go to school one Monday. Go on the hop, on the lang, skip off.

Not that special I hear you murmur. True, but I was just 14 and the brother was still 12 (it was the eve of his 13th birthday).

We hatched the plan at around 08:15 as we loaded up our bikes. We were going to go on a bit of a cycle instead of heading to school. No sweat.

Our big fear was that we didn’t want to get caught. Back then getting caught was like being arrested for drink driving – a mark on your record for life. Remember when the teachers told you that they kept a file on every student and once you applied for a job they’d have to tell the prospective employer that you were a lazy dosser with a chronic erection problem? (the last bit might have just been me) – and we used to believe them – God we were dumb.

Anyway, equipped with this overriding fear we decided to set off for the beach at Garrettstown. for those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of the Cork coastline Garrettstown is about 26 miles from my front door – about 7 miles beyond Kinsale. Allowing for the return trip this was going to be an easy 52 miles by 4.00pm.

Not that we were thinking about that at that stage. First we had to get out of suburbia. We spent the first 3 miles of the journey like escaped world war 2 soldiers waiting to be pulled up by some school attendance Nazi and being asked to produce our papers. We made it past the fictitious Nazis and started the first of many climbs. We weren’t as well equipped for this long slow climb from sea level to 600ft up the Airport hill as the current crop of ultra athletes.

We weren’t so much MAMILs as german army parka wearing spotty kids with drain pipe woollen grey trouser, white socks and a pair of simon harts.

There wasn’t a breathable fabric between the two of us. We had grey  polyester school shirts with matching grey polyester grey vee-neck jumpers and the aforementioned woollen pants. The only compression wear we had were the regulation budgie smugglers that passed as a pair of jocks back in 1985.

Anyway, at the top of the Airport hill we had what would now be called an ‘equipment failure’. We were being chased down the road by the dogs from a traveller’s halting site when the brother’s backer fell off the bike and hit the road like the stabiliser at the back of a nitro burning funny car.

The brother hit the wall at this stage and burst into tears. As I was the genius who had dragged him on this escapade I had to steady his nerves and carry out a running repair on the backer. I re-fastened it with the bungee cords that held on our school bags and PE gear.

I didn’t mention that, did I?

We hadn’t the sense to ditch the school bags or the PE gear – or even cycle in the PE gear – fuck no. We were going to haul the whole lot on the 52 mile trek.

Anyway, what goes up must come down so we spent the next 4 or 5 miles free wheeling down the hill to Riverstick. Parkas flying in the wind and finally feeling like we were going places.

We rolled on at a steady pace through Belgooly and then started the next of our big climbs into Kinsale. For anywhere that had a hint of adults we pulled up the parka hoods so as not to be recognised – delusional doesn’t even being to describe our feelings of self importance.

I was now about 11:45 and we had covered nearly 20 miles. Like a bunch of first time marathoners we thought we had the better of the event. We estimated that we’d get to Garrettstown by 12:30 have about 2 hours to relax and then crack on for home.

In the jargon of ultra events we were probably metabolising too many carbs and hadn’t realised that you can’t bank time. Basically we were going too fast.

We had another killer of a hill out of Kinsale that took us the best part of an hour to get over before we free-wheeled into Ballinspittle. the fact that we were following the route driven by our father up and over every hill between Cork and Garrettstown was completely lost on us.

We made it to Garrettstown by 1:00pm.


We now had a nice relaxing 30 minutes to refuel before we had to do the whole journey again. So, what did we have to refuel on?

Go Gels? Power bars? Endurolyte? Sustain? flat coke? Farley’s rusks? protein shakes? Salt tabs? Chocolate covered espresso beans? Warm milky coffee with 5 sugars?

No, none of those. We had what every ultra athlete should have:

A flask of warm diluted orange squash drink.

2 white bread and easi-single cheese sandwiches (the brother had sandwich spread on his – google it – fucking vomit in a jar) and a penguin (or maybe a united bar).

So we sat there for 30 minutes contemplating the world. The smell of the wild garlic and the singing of the birds filling our slightly numbed senses and then we did the whole thing in reverse.

We had to be home by about 4:00pm or 4:20 at the latest so we had to push on to get home. Our bikes were feeling it at this stage. I didn’t mention the bikes did I?

Top class they were. None of your fancy carbon monocoque construction with Campy drive train. None of your clip out pedals and carbon fibre water bottle holders.

No. we had real bikes. The brother had the sister’s Raleigh Medale – 10 speed –

I had a home built 5 speed. Mine had flat handle bars and the cheapest SunTour parts that would pass as a dérailleur. Now, I know by today’s standards a home built bike sounds kind of cool and retro but back then it was because you were skint and couldn’t afford drop bars. It was, in fact, the complete opposite of today’s trendy rolled-up jeans wearing fixie riding black spectacled funny haircutted courrier bagged knob jockies.

We made it back by about 4:30 and tried to walk as best we could into the house. We were having trouble using any of the muscles from the waist down so we creaked around for the rest of the evening.

the next morning was a different kettle of fish altogether. We hadn’t put on our compression gear before bed and the flannel pyjamas didn’t do anything for the lactate in our legs, stomachs or shoulder. Not that we knew it was called lactate back then. All we knew was we were fucked. We could barely sit up straight for a few days.

Still. We survived and managed to become productive tax paying citizens .

I only hope they never write to the school looking for my attendance record – I’ll be out of a job.


2 responses to “My first endurance event

  1. What’s most impressive Richard is that you pulled it off, despite the odds. Perhaps you should run Cork in cotton top, polyester shorts, woollen socks and a pair of Roms – take the parka if it’s wet.

  2. We call it wagging school down here… but were too fearful to do it as it would mean six cuts of the cane. Only two (girls) ever wagged during my time in primary school.

    Can beat you on the high-tech gear though — a Malvern Star 3-speed then eventually the ant’s pants — a Raleigh Grand Prix 10-speed.

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