Home News 2011 Energia Belfast 24-hour Race Report

2011 Energia Belfast 24-hour Race Report


Mind over matter… I (Gerard McCann) started running 3.5 years ago. After completing my first marathon I got a runners high that lasted a few days. I wondered if it would be even better if I stepped up to the ultramarathon distance after I’d completed a few more marathons. It certainly is! However, the ultramarathon experience is about more than just the high and I hope this race report will whet your appetite to consider giving one a go…

I wanted to enter the 2010 Energia Belfast 24-hour race. However, having completed the 2010 Mourne Ultramarathon 8 weeks before, I felt I wouldn’t be able to perform to the standard I expect of myself. When I watched the race video I felt a bit gutted as the folks had an amazing experience. So I couldn’t wait to enter this year’s race which I did as soon as entries opened in January 2011.


Just to say a few words about the training as folks frequently ask about it. Basically I followed a standard 17-week marathon buildup program as I was running Belfast Marathon in early May. After that, I did 70-mile weeks with the mileage pretty much split between a long midweek run and weekend back-to-back runs. For example: Wed 15, Thu 5, Sat 15, Sun 35. In addition I did core and upper body strength training. I did a few 15-20 mile sessions at Mary Peters track to prepare the mind and body for the experience of the many, many track laps that was to come on race day. I also did a fair few hilly miles to build up my leg strength a bit more than usual.


Thankfully I got through all the training without any major issues. Before I knew it I’d done Belfast Marathon (in 3:22) and reverse tapered from that into the ultra training phase, which meant I was running at least a marathon every weekend until the 24-hour race taper point (I did a 3 week taper). It’s amazing how much mileage the human body can cope with if you build up slowly, take regular back steps and respect it by taking a day or 2 off if it sends you any warning signals.


And all too quickly it was race week. I slept fine the first few days, but as my excitement build during the week I got fewer hours so I power napped at every opportunity to try and make up for the lost sleep. I’m the type of person who makes lists when I’m thinking clearly so I don’t forget stuff and/or get stressed close to the event. It’s a good tip for this kind of event where you need to bring many, many things and missing out on one could mean you suffer on race day. This list is a really good starting point: http://www.ultrunr.com/checklistexcel.html. On race day I brought my, literally, 30 kilos of stuff and got to the track at 3:30pm to erect my tent and go through the other pre-race formalities.


My race strategy was to split my mileage 60% for the first 12 hours when you’re fresher, leaving 40% for the final 12. Apparently it’s a strategy that most of the semi-pros use. Whether or not you use that particular split, it’s critically important to have a strategy – and to have trained running at your goal race pace otherwise it can feel a bit unnatural on race day – if you want to achieve a particular mileage target! I opted to take 5 minutes break per hour to stretch/rest. That meant I needed to complete 21 laps per hour for the first 12 hours and 14 laps per hour for the final 12. It was clear from my research that it is vitally important for the normal punter to include walking from the start and the most popular way to do that is a 5:1 (i.e. run 5 mins, walk 1) split. I bought an Ironman 30-lap watch for this race as it ticked a few major boxes: the batter life isn’t an issue like it would be for my Garmin, it’ll count my laps, it has a countdown timer to beep so I know when to walk. It proved to be a great help on the day.


Right from the off it was clear that this year’s race was going to be good craic as folks chatted away. The semi-pros were in a race of their own though and they passed us with a scary frequency – those folks are incredible athletes and it’s only because ultra running is so niche that they don’t get the same recognition as other sportspeople. The first 4 hours passed very quickly and conditions went from a pleasantly warm, cloudy day to a very cold, clear night.


Thankfully my list included a hat, jumper and gloves as they were definitely required! Eddie Gallen got the pizzas in and I’ve never been more grateful for a bit of real food – thanks again, Eddie. A cold, damp mist settled in the tented village at the center of the track. It was a lovely image, but it meant that anything which wasn’t bagged up got wet. I changed socks and footwear after about 5 hours. It’s good to change into a pair of shoes that are a couple of sizes too large than normal as your feet swell after a while.


I’d say I stayed on my 21 laps/hour target through the night because I had a couple of nice, strong coffees. I deliberately avoided caffeine for 2 weeks before the race so it would work better. If you can tolerate caffeine, it’s a great advantage during the race.


The sun started to come up about 5am and with that, I realized we were approaching the halfway point. The farthest I’ve run is 10 hours in the Mourne Ultramarathon, so I was relieved to still feel in good shape physically and have no energy issues. I’d consumed 550 cals/hour throughout the race to that point which I calculated meant at my race pace I was using up my bodies (approx 1800 cal) glycogen reserve at a rate of about 100 cals/hour. With my reduced pace in the final 12 hours, all I had to do was drink cola/electrolyte energy drink during that phase and I’d still have a small glycogen surplus at the end. It’s a good tip to take 12 individual food bags for the first 12 hours with all the necessary food for each hour. That said, if you find you don’t want something in your food bag, swap it with something you can tolerate. I found I could drink any amount of cola – at 200 cals/500ml, it’s a great way to boost your cal intake – just be sure to get enough electrolytes if it’s a hot day.


Every time I took a break I asked myself how I was doing in 3 areas: hydration, nutrition and condition. The hydration and nutrition were great as mentioned above. The condition was fine for muscles but I my feet were developing a few hotspots. I can’t overemphasize how important it is to immediate and thoroughly treat any foot issues! You can go a long way on sore legs, but if your feet hurt, it really thwarts your ability to keep going. I popped a blister and after dosing the area with antiseptic cream, I wrapped it using micropore tape against the skin then overlaying it with gaffer tape to provide a bit of extra reinforcement. Changing socks every 4 hours helps prevent blisters and it limited the number of blisters I got to 1. The early treatment meant that blister gave me no further issues thankfully.


About 8am we had porridge (with loads of sugar and honey) courtesy of Ed Smith’s wife – thanks again for making it as it went down a treat! I had 2 bowls as I walked round the track. It was crucial to minimize any non-track time because now we were in the last 12 hours I was just about on target to be able to powerwalk 14 laps per hour and achieve the 100 miles. However, my right shoulder was really tight and I could feel the improvised bandage on my blistered foot had started to come off and rub a bit which was sore. The shoulder was tight earlier in the night and I reluctantly took 15 minutes and visited the massage tent. This time off was not budgeted for in my strategy and it meant I had to recalculate my strategy and play catchup – to my mind you have to spread such a deficit over many hours otherwise it’d take up too much energy. (There’s a lesson to be learned about factoring in some contingency time as stuff will likely come up over which you have no control.) The masseurs did a brilliant job on the two occasions I visited them patching me up as quickly and effectively as was possible – many thanks to you folks!


The lack of sleep started to catch up with me as the caffiene wore off about 10am – 8.75 hours to go – so I put on my MP3 player, stuck it up full blast, and got some banging trance music going. The leader John O’Regan clocked up 100 miles a little later – around the 16 hours mark – which is awesome! I woke up mentally, got into a great zone and powerwalked loads of laps at around 3:15 each. I was still taking my breaks and stretching/resting for 5 minutes per hour. Things were going good but I was starting to have a few negative thoughts. I knew to expect them so I literally got the head down and walked them off.


I also took on some extra food to boost the blood sugar in case that was a factor. The next few hours are a bit of a blurr. It was starting to get tougher each hour – the mental roller coaster of lows were coming more frequently and not being balanced up with highs. I remember looking at the clock and it saying 6 hours to go and me thinking seriously about dropping out. Thankfully I didn’t quit as the mental rollercoaster started to come back into balance by giving me a few euphoric rushes. Some of them were so strong that I cried as I powerwalked along. This is what ultramarathon running is all about!


I had done just over 91 miles with 4.5 hours to go (thank you so much to the lap counters and Precision Timing folks for keeping us right with the stats!) and I had been going well at around 3.5 miles per hour. I stopped to take my scheduled break. When I went to stand up I found that I had a horrible pain in my right knee. It eased a bit as I did the next lap but it was still sore enough that I began to fear I might be forced to quit the race. I pulled in to the pits again and Finn O’Mara called over to my tent to help me as I was clearly in pain. It was great to meet Finn because when I saw how she felt at the end of the 2010 Energia 24 hour race it played a big part in my decision to enter this year’s – you and I blubbing is not cringeworthy Finn, it’s simply that we get overwhelmed by incredibly powerful euphoric feelings, which I personally have only ever experienced when pushing myself to my absolute physical limits – I wish I could bottle and sell the feeling because I’d be a millionaire many times over.


Between us we fashioned a couple of knee supports. I resolved that whatever happened I wasn’t going to stop again until I hit the magic 100 miles (mainly because I feared I would sieze up and never get going again!). The knee supports worked well enough that I managed to walk all the way to the 100 miles with just under 2 hours to go.


When I got the 100, I pulled off the course and was interviewed By Ed’s daughter. If any of it manages to survive the cutting room floor, you’ll see that I was simply delirious. I sat at my tent for a little over an hour to let the legs calm down a bit. There were so many others who got their 100 in that hour and it was fantastic to see them all crossing the line and celebrating – especially Lynne Hanna with whom I powerwalked for ages and who inspired me with her stories of mountain climbing and ultra running. I got back on the track for the last 45 minutes and managed to complete another 3.4 miles.


Thanks to everyone for such a magical experience! This has been the culmination of my 3.5 years of running so far. I’m a mere mortal so if I can do it, so can you. Hopefully this will give you a bit of inspiration and a few tips. One final thought, and I think this neatly summarizes the entire piece: if your mind can conceive it, if your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it…



(note: these were calculated from count of whole laps so they may change by up to 400m based on any additional partial laps that were completed – that data was unavailable at time of writing)


Name                              Km                 Miles

Team Orangegrove       269.2            167.3

John O’Regan               212.8            132.3

Eddie Gallen                 205.2            127.5

Gunnlaugur Juliusson    194               120.6

Shane ONeill                 187.6            116.6

Karl Martin                     181.6             112.9

Deirdre Finn                  180.8             112.4

Michael Cunningham     180               111.9

Gerard Mccann (me)      166.4           103.4

Jim Moore                       164              101.9

Frank Mcdermott          163.6              101.7

Liam Mcgarry               161.6               100.4

Mark Ketteringham      161.6              100.4

Graeme Colhoun        161.2                100.2

Dave Sexton               161.2                 100.2

Patrick Quinn             161.2                  100.2

Lynne Hanna               161.2                 100.2

Tim Brownlee             161.2                 100.2

Robin Alexander       161.2                  100.2

Garfield Jones            146.8                   91.2

Timea Bontovics        146.4                    91

Thomas Maguire        146.4                   91

Johnny Goldie            146                       90.7

Eamonn Dargan       145.6                     90.5

Vilnis Pleite               144.4                    89.7

Susan Mccartney      138.4                   86

Greg Mcclure            136.8                   85

Adrian Mcdermott     130.8                 81.3

Andrew Hassard       130                    80.8

Anthony Lee             126                     78.3

Gary Stitt                  125.6                   78.1

Oliver Murphy          122.8                   76.3

Andrea Heslip         120.8                    75.1

Iryna Kennedy          119.6                    74.3

Jonathan McCloy    110.4                     68.6

Sandy Carr              109.2                     67.9

Gerard Fay              107.6                    66.9

Eamon Sheehan     95.6                      59.4

Eddie Mcquillan        92.8                   57.7

Sean Burke              87.2                     54.2

Michael DeKorte     79.6                     49.5

Christian Zaffaroni   74.4                     46.2