It was around this time last year that I ran my first Ultra in Wicklow. Since then, things have got a bit out of hand…in fact I’ve become an addict. Saturdays race up the Causeway was my 4th over 50 miles for the year. In fact, with my wife due a mini Nesbitto in early May, I’ve found myself searching the net for Baby Carriers ‘Suitable for long distances’…I need help. Anyway, enough of my issues, to the race…
I could say it was a beautiful bright morning when I got up, but I won’t because nothing is bright or beautiful at 3.15am in the morning. The alarm went off and I negotiated the obstacle course that was our Hotel room to get my stuff together and ready for the race. Made it over to Race HQ in Ballintoy at 4.10am expecting a big buzz of ultra runners but the race had been put back by about an hour so I had a bit of time to put in. So I went for a 10 mile warm-up…Ha, no. I lie. Instead, I stood there and chatted with bleary eyed runners as they slowly but surely started appearing.
I met up with Matty, a lad that grew up not too far away from me in Richhill! We only discovered we had both entered this race in the weeks leading up to it. What are the chances eh? An original field of 40 runners or so from all over the world plus 2 chancers from Richhill!!
I would still consider myself inexperienced when it comes to Ultras when compared to some of the other guys but Mattys record was unbelievable. A 32-min 10k cross country champion that had never raced over 10k! I thought he had maybe just missed the second ‘0’ when he was registering!
I also caught up with Pat, who I’d met at the Lakeland 100k the previous year. A marathon machine, Pat is on, I think, 62 marathons at this stage so I knew this would be wee buns to him 😉
After a few more brief chats with others, the bus arrived and we were off on our journey to the start in Glenarm. When we reached Glenarm, we all bailed out into a carpark where all the lads formed a line looking out to the ocean while we pee’ed. Must have been a lovely sight!! Got chatting to Alan & Richard during our 30 minute walk along the river bank to the start. After climbing a wobbly stile, it was the moment we were waiting for and Ian from 26extreme sent us on our way.
Straight away I fell into pace with Richard, who I had recognised from doing marshall at the Wicklow Way last year & Matty. We followed the road until we hit Glenariff Forest where the climbing started, this gave us an idea of what we were going to be up against today. The old calfs fairly felt these hills but it actually just served to get me warmed up quicker! We climbed on until we hit the stuff we had been warned about. The Bogs. Actually, they weren’t as ‘boggy’ as they could have been but it was a constant mental challenge knowing that we were putting a good bit of exertion on the legs so early in a race this long.
At this stage, we started catching on some of the guys that had excelled on the earlier roads including Noel Paine, an extremely experienced Canadian runner. There was one part of the course here that was basically a case of dodging trees & trying not to go any further than ankle deep in bog-gage! This was great craic. I jokingly refered to the Barkley marathons at this stage which were running on the same day in the states.
Richard & Marty were flying here, showing some great technical running, while I just made sure they never went out of sight before coming back up on them. They’d not lose me that easy!
So, down to the first checkpoint where some of the Lost Worlds guys were with Rowan from 26extreme. We threw a bit of fruitcake/banana/water into us and continued down the road chatting away. I was used to being on my own during races as I usually prefer to run my own race but for the first third of todays run, the three of us stuck together & I have to say it was a great experience getting to know the lads but also keeping up a good pace the whole time.
After a few more trails mixed nicely with some more of that delightful bog, we reached the 25k point of the race. Still feeling good, we headed on down the trail. Somewhere along here, we came out of the trees and could see the coast awaaaayyyy in the distance, knowing this would only be the halfway point made us all realise this was going to be a long day….but we were in great spirits so onward! This was all on fairly straight forward trails with no major obstacles where we were passed by someone on a bike….no sorry, it was actually another runner Diane Roy, on a hill too!! Diane finished up 2nd lady in the end.
After about 30k I realised my water bladder was empty… I had misjudged how much I had left at the last station so I had to ran 18 or so K without any water! It was getting warm at this stage so I missed it all the more, luckily Matty had a bit extra that he let me have a few slugs of which saw me through.
Massive thanks have to go to a fellow racers Sister & friends. Helena is from Ballycastle and they had all turned out to support her…and with Jaffa cakes and water!! I thought it was a mirage at first but this really helped everyone running out. I think I would have really struggled to the 50k point without this dose of water to be honest!
It was here that we said farewell to our buddy Richard as he’d finished his warmup 😉 and he powered on into the distance. I found the country lanes outside Ballycastle hard mentally as I was just getting the fluid back into me but was also feeling the stress of the hard ground underfoot. So the mission was to get to halfway as quick as possible! We crested a hill on the lane where we could see Ballintoy…I was a happy man 🙂
Rammed some kind of peanut bar into me at this stage & continued the run down into Ballintoy & the halfway point…which was also the Finish as we would run the next 50k out and back. As we came in, Helena was still here and Richard was just heading out, everyone looking in good shape at this stage so we flopped into the dreaded deckchairs and fired a load of food into us + assessed whether we needed to change shoes/socks/tshirt etc. I had all this with me but I was still feeling really good so didn’t want to mess with anything!! We got out of the halfway in under 5 minutes just as a Declan, on his 2nd Ultra, was coming in on his 2nd Ultra run – He’d taken up this ultra running malarkey once his footie career had finished up, much better sport I say 😉
This next 25k was the most beautiful but also slowest part of the race for us. It just took a bit to get used to running on the up/down terrain. It was fairly easy going compared to the first 50k but in retrospect we could have went a wee bit harder on this section although I think we reeled a good chunk of time in on the return 25k!
Some great scenery on this part of the course as we scaled cliffside steps and ran along the cliff tops, I really love the North coast. I spent a great deal of my youth in this part of the country but had never been along the coastal path. Just stunning!
After crossing White Park Bay beach, which pulled the legs outta ye, we then made it to the Giants Causeway and its steps…these were worse on the way back though!! The Causeway was heaving with tourists which was great as it created a real buzz. I could see a few funny looks as these apparently fit lads walk/jogged out of it though…what kind of race is that I could hear them say!
And just to make sure I was aware that I wasn’t travelling at lightning speeds, a german tourist stepped out from behind a rock (Much like that guy with the glasses off Charlie & the Chocolate factory…y’know the one that bribes them?) and asks me –
‘Do you have time to take a photo of my family & I?’
‘Erm…not really’ I reply as I point at my race number
‘Ok, thank you’ as he thrusts the camera into my hand, steps back and arranges his family for a shot that was reminiscent of a Carpenters album cover. Aw, I wish I had a copy of that photo.
So onward! We met the leaders of the race as they zipped by, looking good everyone exchanged high 5’s. I loved this aspect of the race, there was just a great camaraderie among all the runners…we then came upon Richard again & he laughed as I’m sure he couldn’t believe me and Matty were still running together! Regarding this, neither of us had planned it but it was pretty apparent from the early stages that we were seeing this one out together. Something I’ve never been used to as I always, always, always run on my own but it added to the day & its great finishing a race like this with someone, especially when they have never run an ultra before!
– Oh and sure the Richhill lads have to look out for each other;)
We made it to the 75k turnaround at Dunluce where my superwoman of a wife was waiting (Pregnant superwoman you may remember!!). She had been great all day arranging to meet me and seeing if there was anything I needed, but holy crap she came into her own here. Peanut Butter & Jam sandwiches…flippin’ AMAZING! Kiss, hug, water and away we went again. This checkpoint made sure my spirits were sky high, and now we were onto what proved to be my favourite part of the race.
We met a few of the other guys including Andrew from down Cornwall direction, he had stopped for an ice-cream after getting lost…well, I suppose it was ice cream eating weather! Myself and Matty were both feeling strong on this section so just went at it as hard as we could, and apart from the dreaded Causeway steps we managed pretty well, only stopping to stretch out the legs once on the journey back. We wanted to get back before dark & the sun was just starting to disappear in the horizon. A beautiful sight I tell ye!
We ran back across White Park Bay one last time…
This race had been made all the more significant for me as I had decided to run it in memory of my younger brother Christopher as its 10 years this year since he was killed in a hit and run accident; I received so much support in this from friends & familia for the BRAKE charity, so from my very first step at 7.20 this morning, I was going to be finishing this one way or another! I had a t-shirt printed just to kind of acknowledge him for the run in over the line which I pulled out of my bag as we ran along that one last cliff…
‘It’s been emotional’…I agreed with Matty. What a cracking day. We started the day together so we finished it together, no pulling sprint finishes…although sprint at this stage would be used very loosely! We ran in hard past a good wee group of support I had somehow gathered up, including superwoman (as mentioned earlier) & the twins, my mama, my aunty and my my good mate Geoff & his family.
It was a great feeling crossing that line…I thought I may have blubbed a bit but nope I was just over the moon with how the day had gone. We finished Joint 9th from 29 starters in a time of 13hrs 9mins. The DNF rate was something like 50%! We may have contributed to that though…
Thanks to the guys at 26extreme/Lost Worlds for a great race, I won’t forget that in a hurry 😉
An Ultra is not a competition. It is much more. When you finish a race having won it, it happens many times that you’re not satisfied. You’re happy. But that’s it. But the next day you see people arriving (crossing the line) and you see they are crying with joy and happiness. Then you think: Look at them man, They really WON – Kilian Jornet