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From Solo Run, It says something when the shortest of the three events I have signed up for this season is likely to be Ironman Wales in September. Of the other two, the Belfast 24-hour is the longest. However when it comes to the toughest I’m hoping certainly that none will compare to the Wicklow Way Solo – 81 miles of up and down with a total elevation gain in excess of 13,000 feet – although in fairness the last 5km are flat, which allows for a speedy run-in to the finish – assuming you haven’t thrashed your legs in the preceding 125 km (126 this year as Coillte added an extra km to detour around tree felling).

It’s difficult to know which of the three is my “Target A race” but I know for sure that it wasn’t the WW, which I was targeting as the most suitable key “training run” for Belfast. It was either that or the Portumna 100k and as WW takes close to twice as long as Portumna to complete, equivalent to 100 miles+ on the flat and with all those “strength training” hills it should be the best preparation there is for Belfast – assuming I recover sufficiently in the five weeks between the events. With Ironman Wales 8 weeks after Belfast I may be cutting it a bit tight if I am to run a decent marathon leg so by default Belfast must be my “A Target”, followed by Wales.

Then again if I was taking Belfast seriously perhaps I shouldn’t have entered Tri Athlone last weekend. As it was “only” half the distance of an Ironman I thought I’d sail through it. I must have overcooked (or under ate) it on the bike, as the run was a bit of a slogfest – slowing from 7:20 pace for the first mile or two to an average of 7:48 by the time I crossed the line in 5:07:09 (113th place & 8th in Age Group – only realised it was the National Championships after I entered – the guy who came 2nd also came 2nd in IM Wales last year, where he described the course as “brutal”)

Anyhow back to the WW. As this was my second outing at this event it is the only one of the three that I could say I knew what lay ahead of me – but then again I have a very short memory, particularly when it comes to pain and suffering – I suppose it is a good thing that I only retain the positive memories.

Meticulous preparation, as usual, meant that I left home at 7:15 for the two and a half hour drive to Celbridge to pick up my cousin Liam, whose wife would be picking us up in Clonegal the following evening. A couple of last minute preparations and we hit the road for Marley Park shortly before 11, only to double back to collect Liam’s drop bags, left in the hallway. We still got there in plenty of time to register, complete kit check (we had to carry far more this year) and distribute our drop bags. We both noticed that there weren’t many of last years participants milling around the start area. Had we both forgotten how tough this race is – then again the evening was warm and dry compared to last years biblical floods. So at least the weather was on our side.

Marley Park – Crone Wood (Cut-Off 3 hours)
We all started off together running through Marley Park and on up the hill to Kilmashogue. I got a shout out from Karina, who said it was my 100 mile Connemara run that inspired her to take it on last year. Good to meet you, Karina. Within the hour I had tripped on the rocky trail across Tribadden and gave myself a bloody knee. It wasn’t like I was running fast. In fact, I had been passed by 3 or 4 runners, including the leading lady, as I am very poor on technical trails – must be some sort of Dys.,???. Once on the open road to Glencullen, I wipe the blood from my leg and make steady progress towards Prince William’s Seat, where I catch back up to a group of 6 spread out in front of me. I lose them again on the technical descent to Curtlestown Wood but catch up with the leading lady, Linda O’Connor from Kerry along the route around Knockree, where we chat for a while before I lose her again on the descent towards the Glencree River.

The night is mild and relatively warm, perfect T-Shirt weather. With 2:27 on the watch I make my way into Crone Wood CP and as I have no drop bag to collect I carry on, once I have “checked in”, passing Linda in the process.


Crone Wood – Glendalough (Cut-off 8 hours)
The run-up through Crone Wood past Powerscourt Waterfall (unseen in the darkness) is pretty uneventful. Down to the Dargle River crossing and the long drag up around the shoulder of Djouce, where I am overtaken by two guys chatting away to themselves as if they were on a Sunday stroll. Once I am up on the boardwalk heading towards White Hill I have the worst of the technical running behind me and most of the dark hours behind me. Making my way down towards the Sally Gap Road I look back and see a string of lights stretched out behind me in the distance coming down off Djouce – enchanting. As the light improves I switch off my headtorch as I head towards Oldbridge, passing one of the guys who had passed me on Djouce – looks like he was fading – not a good sign so early in the race. I hit Glendalough shortly before 6 (31 miles done, only 50 to go).


Glendalough – Ironbridge (Cut-off 12 hours)
I collect my drop bag (Banana Milk and a few homemade almond/date/coconut/chocolate energy balls) and am soon heading up towards Poulanass Waterfall and the long climb up to Mullacor, maintaining a consistent jog all the way to the top, along the boardwalk and down the fire roads to Glenmalure and the halfway mark, with 7:45 on the watch. I was looking forward to the impromptu stop for bacon and coffee at the entrance to woods that is the start of the long climb up towards Drongoff Gap. However Jeff and Robbie are not here this year, but I do get a few salty crisps and a strong cup of black coffee from Aisling, who is crewing for her brother, Padraig. I take a small break sitting in the middle of a stream to remove the muscle pain and cool my legs – very refreshing. This works quite well so I repeat the process whenever I get the opportunity. I pass a group of early morning hikers on the slog up to Dromgoff Gap, eventually reaching the top and on to the next climb up Carrickashane, crossing the boardwalk where I became a cropper last year. I stop briefly at one of those open log cabins to cool my legs with water from the water butt before running on down the fire road to the Ironbridge CP with the time approaching 9:25. I take a relatively long stop here (4 or 5 minutes) taking one of the BBQ sausages Robbie is cooking on a stove and sitting down in the river for a minute or two to enjoy it. Coming out of the river I notice a young guy who had just arrived – I hadn’t seen him coming as when I had looked back from the top of Carrickashane I had not seen anyone behind me.

Ironbridge – Dying Cow (Cut-off 16:30 hours)

I leave Ironbridge with a sense of purpose, as now I have a position to defend, although deep down I know I am only racing against myself as it would be foolish to run at anyone else’s pace with so many miles left to run. Still, I manage to keep a steady jog up and over the hill beyond Ballyteige Bridge but am eventually overtaken on the long road to Moyne, as I take a call from Abina, telling her that I should be finished at 4 – still a long way off though. The day has heated up nicely with the sun shining brightly. I resume jogging and overtake my new friend (the only other participant I have seen since 4 a.m.) as he stops at his crew’s car for some R&R.

A few miles down the road at the beginning of the next off-road section, I sit in the middle of a stream to “treat” my legs before beginning the long climb up Garryvoe Hill and on to Mangan’s Wood, where I am overtaken by my new friend after exchanging a few pleasantries. This time he is gone out of sight after a mile or two, his pace is much faster than mine. Down onto the Tinahealy Road I, meet a few guys togging out to run back the way to support Paul Daly, taking the opportunity to fill my water bottles. I make reasonably steady progress along Muskeagh Boreen and down on to the road section leading to Dying Cow, entering the checkpoint just before one in the afternoon. Torben Dahl, who ran some of the roads with me from here this time last year, is manning the checkpoint and soon has me sorted with my drop bag. I mentally note that it is about 1 hour to Raheenakit and a further 2 hours to Clonegal and the finish line and with the time at 12:55 I am still just about on target for a four o’clock finish. Time to get going.

Dying Cow – Raheenakit (Cut-off 18:00 hours)

While Torben said it was about 15km to Raheenakit, I think and hope it is closer, if I am to get there in an hour. Last year I walked a lot from this point and I “lost” a lot of time. I’d have to concentrate on maintaining a reasonable pace if I am to hit the finish by 4. After walking the initial steep climb I resume running along the road to Kilquiggan Cross, stopping briefly to take a chocolate bar and some very refreshing cool water over the head from a couple supporting the race from their front gate – unbelievable!!! especially considering that the gap between runners. I hit Raheenakit in the hour and stock up on fuel for the last push home.

Raheenakit – Clonegal (Cut-off 21:00 hours)
There is a slight kick in the teeth leaving Raheenakit, as the WW is temporarily detoured around an area of tree-felling, adding about 1 km to the course. The detour is along a quite pleasant woodland trail, that appears to be reserved for horse riding, judging by the footprints left on the ground. Soon I am back on the all too familiar punishing stony fire roads and have all but given up hope of getting to Clonegal by 4. I keep the pace steady and with an estimated total distance of 81 miles, I reckon I will be close. Just one last climb up through the last section of forest on Ireland Hill, managing to quieten the mental demons, which are urging me to stop and walk, as my target is futile and what would a few more minutes matter. I am out of the forest and passing the “Clonegal 5km” sign, with about 26 minutes to go – I’d need 8-minute miles to get me there (5-minute km). The first 2 km is along a gradual downhill – passing the “Clonegal 3km” sign with 17 minutes to go. I reckon I have slowed to 6-minute km and am unable to up the pace, predicting I’ll be a minute over my target. The Garmin beeps for mile 81 for 15:58 on the clock, still some way to go. The “Welcome to Clonegal” come into view and my journey is nearly over – the Garmin turns over 16 hours and the finish line is in sight- turning the last corner and stopping at the WW Board in 16:00:58 (16:01:30 Official Time) for a 7th place finish. I had thought I was 8th, so someone must have dropped out – or so I thought until the guy who had passed me 35 km back came in to touch the board half an hour later. It turns out he needed a rest at Dying Cow and I hadn’t noticed when I passed through.

What’s Next

With the WW done and dusted and the race report finally, complete I can now turn my head towards the nemesis that is the Belfast 24 hour. It feels like it has crept up on me as I am only beginning to realise that I have not done near enough race specific runs. Apart from the WW, I have only run two longish runs in the last two month, pacing the Cork and Waterford marathons – surely a 24-hour race commands a bit more respect than that. My philosophy has been that the time on the bike training for the IM will stand to me next Friday/Saturday. With an average monthly mileage of 420 over the last 3 months compared to a running average of 166 miles lets hope it’s true. I’m also hoping that the few residual niggles from the WW and recent training will fade over the next few days of relative rest and relaxation. I feel like I am winging it a bit and could be in for a rude awakening on Friday/Saturday.