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The Long Version of a Short Runner


None Ok anyone that knows me knows that I like to talk so as it was a long race here’s a long race report.

Back in October after finishing the Dublin Marathon I felt that I could have gone further but not necessarily at that speed and maybe not another 13.1, but definitely more, so in my endorphin fuelled buzz I registered for the Connemara Ultra! I spent a good few weeks debating the “Will I? Won’t I? Could I?” debacle, but kept going anyway because I could always fall back to the 26.2. Training was going well throughout what had to be the coldest winter ever. I even invested in a Balaclava (much to the amusement of one Mr. Curran!), Hi-Vis jacket and head torch! My weekly mileage was going up too, 30`s 40`s 50`s and 2 weeks into the mid 60`s. I was very soon up to 20 miles on the long run so I added a few long back-to-back runs, 12/20 20/15 and 20.5/21. I did a few extra long runs of 27 and 28miles, Mondays I was doing hill repeats of Ryehill with Owen Curran to strengthen the legs so I was getting more confident with every mile. I got a PB in the Athenry 10k, the Tuam 8k and had a great race in Ballycotton so I could see the improvements.

As Mary Beatty was injured she very kindly offered to be my support. Two people I had asked to cycle declined saying it was too far?!?! This was great news because I didn’t know how I’d carry everything I needed around with me.
My race plan or strategy was to run about 8min miles to Leenaun for a 3.30 marathon and that gave me 2 hours to get to Maam Cross for about 5 1/2 hrs – Easy!?

Race week I ate pasta for dinner every evening lots of fruit, veg and water. Friday and Saturday I cut out the fruit, piled on the pasta and veg, washed down with close to 4 litres of water. Saturday night I stayed in Ti Maire Beatty’s and got the five star treatment. Dinner was served, pillows fluffed and I was off to sleep by eleven. Wake-up call at 6.30am and breakfast was served by 7.00am and off to Maam Cross for the madness. The day was looking like it was going to be fabulous. I put on my sunscreen and as I stepped inside Peacocks I definitely started to feel the nerves especially seeing the much taller girls. I put my supplies into the Ultra baskets and tried to blend in with ‘athletes’.

I kept remembering all the times I heard the saying “its like training to get hit by a bus” Mary introduced me to Diane Hogan-Murphy saying she had done the Marathon de Sables. Yep, she’d be leaving me for dust I thought! Next introduction was Marcus who had ran in the Comrades “Great maybe it wouldn’t be too late to change to the full marathon” A quick pre-race briefing about right turns and we were off to the start line thanking God Mary didn’t know anyone else! At the start line I got sorted with my watch from Larry Kelly. Most people, bar one or two were not doing a warm-up and neither was I, and after a warning from Ray to take it easy the race started.

Off I go and almost immediately I see Diane and another girl so I decide to get past them straight away and now I’m about 10th place! I get passed by a few more men but no girls and I’m flying it as we run by Peacocks, wave to Mary and Larry, smile for the camera and get to the 1st mile in 7.32. That was the warm up done and the next two miles, although I was reining it in, were kind of tiring. Three miles and I was tired. Oh Lord what have I done? I took lots of deep breaths and kept going and at about the 4th mile I was getting into my stride. Every mile marker I registered the split times and that kept me in the moment. The first water station came very fast and although I didn’t need any gels I took one anyway and drank about 1/3 of the water as it was getting warm already. Next few miles I overtook two more ultra men. There’s a strong wind in my face for most of these miles. At mile seven I see two Connemara men I know sitting in their Van waving so I shout ‘Hello’ to them really loud and frighten the hell outta the runner ahead of me – poor man! There’s a bit of a downhill so I pass him out and I start to relax and now.

Nearing the ten mile mark I’ve shook off the nerves and get down to running. Another gel and water at 10 miles, a few minor hills, run past Recess turn right towards Lough Inagh and straight into the wind again. I catch up with Dave wearing the Raheny singlet and he’s saying he on schedule and this man is over 60 – Wow! I speed up to get to the start of the full marathon point where I’m due to meet Mary and there are loos! I come around the corner to the fabulous views of the lake and the port-a-loos! I get a gel and water from Mary, get my photo taken and get going again asking Mary to go back and see where second place Girl is. There are a few photographers along the road and as I ran past he asks me “are you Valerie?” Totally weird I think but take no notice. Mary drives by and tells me second place girl is about a mile back and drives ahead to the next water station. By the time I get to the next water station she’s standing out giving me the gel, water and extra encouragement.

I run on and Mary drives by again cruising past, to no-one in particular she says “Ultra runner coming thru”, to which I start laughing and tell her to feck off to mile nineteen. I start to pass out the marathon walkers at this stage and say ‘hi’ to them and over the next few miles I have a good chat and giggle with them. One guy even offered to sell me his 100 Marathon Club t-shirt for €25 but I thought I’d earn my own in time. Another gel and water at nineteen and at long last I turn right at Kylemore away from the wind. I get a great boost now knowing I’m over half way and the wind is at my back. I pass more runners and get lots of encouragement. Its a great run at this point with all the banter and chat and I don’t feel it at all registering each mile and then downhill into Leenaun, waving at Alan Burke driving by, then Brian, Martin and Elaine in another car, caught up with Stephen Coyne who I had met on a training run nearly halfway to his first marathon and looking well. At this stage I passed out two ultra runners and continue on after a bit of slagging. Another gel and water. I get to the 26.2 in about 3:33 so I was pleased with that as I definitely didn’t feel tired and I still had 1hr 57 to get to the finish.

Mary told everyone around that the leading Ultra lady was coming through so give me a cheer and boy what a cheer I ran faster to save my hearing! I got my isotonic drink and sipped it as I ran into the unknown. Then the dreaded hill out of Leenaun. I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other and got going. At this stage Mary was great for her encouragement and supplies, telling me second place girl is about two miles back. I couldn’t talk so I was just listening for a change! I had a little Bambi moment at about mile 32. My legs went a bit wobbly and I couldn’t figure out how far I had left 39-32=5? 8? 6? But it didn’t last very long. Mary was there with a brain that could do maths. So more gels, water and a few deep breaths and I was going fine again. I got to Maam valley and turned for home. I was delighted – 4.3 to go! Oh my goodness I’d run 35miles!

Time was not in my head now at all I was just counting down the miles. Mary had riled up everyone at the water station to cheer me on and it was amazing and I was better able for the Hell of the West after that. Good to see Grainne at the start of the hill but couldn’t talk. Mary gave me a lovely cold bottle of water which I poured over my wrists to stop me over-heating on this hill. It was tough, but not too bad. I got to halfway when I got another isotonic drink and sipped it ‘til I got up a bit further. I smiled for the cameras and kept going. I got to Frank’s memorial plaque on the left, blessed myself, and gave it all I could! I wasn’t in any pain in fact I was in a very euphoric kinda state, running with a very big smile on my face. I gave a quick wave to Ian Egan and Mary was alongside again. I said I’d race her to the finish line!! Coming into the finish line was only unreal. Jennifer shoved flowers into my hand. I heard my name announced. I saw lots of Athenry AC members cheering me on and I ran under the clock reading 5.27 – later adjusted to 5.25- and straight away hugged Mary. We’d done it! I was after winning my first race! About a minute later I was suddenly hit by the “bus” and it hurt but I was still smiling an Ultra smile!

Next year I might try the driving?