Firstly, my thanks must go out to Torben for the lift out and back but more importantly, pulling into the ditch on route to the pub afterwards. Secondly, to Paul for RDing this route and to the summit marshals for getting battered by a strong north westerly and the torrents of rain that came close to the end of the day. Races don’t happen with out volunteers.
I hadn’t run since the Irish Relays the previous week. Went out and stretched the legs Thursday and I felt amazing. Up until that point, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this race again. Its a bit of a monster. After that “easy” run on Thursday, I was so hyper, I had no choice but to be game on for Sunday. On Friday, I found out we were racing Saturday. These things happen!
There was a lot of trash talking on Boards.ie leading up to this race. I was convinced 2:30hrs was doable. Everyone else, as usual, thought I was crazy. I even through up some made up splits on how to hit 2:29hrs. I didn't believe them, but it was nice to stir it a little bit.
Race morning arrives, short spin on the bike to get breakfast, a single coffee and a bit nervous. Got our lift and we're on route to wicklow. Wicklow looked deadly. A mix of clear skys and rolling clouds of beautiful mist. Coming over the Shay Elliot pass and there is cloud on Lug. A really big dirty black cloud. I feel sick with excitement. Dropping down into the Glenmalure valley, Jeff is at the cross roads, waiting for Paul to blast through on route to revising what I thought was a stupidly unbreakable record. Then again, its not a record, its a marker than has to be beaten. Hats off to Paul (and his support team) going 7mins quicker.
Arriving at the kit check. I pull out my flask of coffee, my lunch box, jar of chocolate spread and a mug. Seeing the look of unamusment on Pauls face, I pull out my prepacked race bag. Looking up in Lug direction. I can see why he’s in no mood for fun and games today. There’s a lot at stake. Is this route too extreme? A bridge too far? Today would be the telling factor. A bit of banter on how fast it can be done.
I got a slap of reality after I inquired about waring just a singlet. Receiving a don't be stupid look the reality seeps in that it could be rough on top. Paul reckons 10mins slower given the conditions and that if I do it properly I’d probably end up doing it solo. I couldn't possibly keep up a high enough tempo by myself. I was thinking otherwise. Inside I knew Peters record was breakable. I made a few silly errors the previous year. Straight lining it to Camenabologue was not happening this year and a direct route from Mullacor to the carpark was not happening. Not for a thousand euros…. Well, maybe… I reckoned I could do it. Hell, the trash talking on boards, was I really trash talking. Hell. If I go hard I could go sub 2:30. I run my fastest times in shit conditions. Soft ground mean you can descend harder and the wind keeps you cool so you need less liquid to keep you sain. Cars move faster in the mist, so why not humans.
I was casually walking around and Paul blurts out that the reg is closing now. This was a surprise to me. It was only 10:50. I enquired why so early, apparently it was 10mins till start! Something else I didn’t read apparently. Paul goes through the pre race briefing, two marshals at two check points and if it gets gammy, their bailing. Then its over the gate for the start.
I sit at the front, 3 to the 1 and we were off. I took off at the pace I decided I’d run at. After a few hundred meters, I eased off slightly and let Gerry catch up. I asked a question about the new Lakes route… Apparently, now was not the time. I took the hint and slowly injected some pace. I pulled away and began the climb up the switch backs. Up and up and up. Looking behind me, Torben and Zoran were close, less than 5om. I kept the pace steady, keeping an eye on my heart rate. This is not a race you want to go off too hard on. Sitting it on 170, I counted down the switch backs. I'm slowly increasing the gap. If I don't drop em on the fire road, I'll get lost in the mist. Finally, I hit the forest ride. Paul Joyce had marked it nice and obvious.
Up the short ride and into the heather, I attempted to straight line it but it wasn’t happening. I jumped and bound in the heather. Making slow progress. Eventually I hit the fence and followed it along. The going was pretty shitty. She's going to be a long day. Control 1 in 24:56 (4.09km), I needed to hit 25mins to be on for 2:30. I was surprised. I didn't think I was running that hard. Oh well. I'll take it. I had a faint memory of needed 18mins to the first peak, and no idea for any of the others. One down, many more to go. I set off in the direction of the ramp. Getting to the ramp was messy. Very wet and sloppy. I couldn’t remember what the ground was like the previous year.
Heading in the direction of the ramp, Gerry passes me going back towards the control. Starting to climb the ramp, I kept it controlled. Keep the running easy. Don't kill yourself yet Cully. Long way to go. Up on top of the ramp and it was into the heather. This was energy sapping. I plugged away but was getting nowhere. After a bit, I remembered that I ended up very far right last year. I was a bit nervous so I whipped out my map and just checked my baring. All seemed ok. Climbing a bit more and I checked my compass again and it was arseways! I chose to ignore it. Then I end up at massive peat hags and got worried, this wasn’t meant to happen. I corrected my direction and I continued to climb further. Getting around the peat hag, I looked up and my eyes feel on a most awesome site. Lug, the summit covered in a dark cloud, but it appeared as if the sun was shinning on the cloud. This lit up the ridge in an almost erry glow, with the summit of Lug looking menacing. When I realised I was running in the direction of Lug, I knew something was wrong. A quick glance of the map confirmed that I was pushed by the contours. Easily fixed, as I corrected my direction and headed for the flat summit.
I summited a good 150m to the west of the cairn. I cursed myself as I took off. Paranoid that someone would have gained back time. Turning the cairn in 18:21, another 1.91km down.
Turning for Lug, I was hit smack in the face by an almighty wind. I had no choice but to put the head down and get on with in. In front of me was Lug. The summit covered in mist. It looked awesome. Climbing up the ridge, I began to catch the early starters. Catching Don and Ruth, Don tells me to catch Roisin who just summited. I couldn’t see a thing, so I put the head down and kept climbing.
As I gained height, I meet Paul J on his way down. I somehow managed to convince him to climb with me for a bit. He was climbing very easily. I realised that talking expels oxygen that would probably be better served in the legs. Paul drops off after a minute or two and wishes me luck. I continue on up the ridge.
I enter the mist. I get giddy. I love running in the mist. More races are won and lost in white out conditions. I knew that if anyone was behind me at this stage, they would have to be on their game if they wanted to stay in touch. The mist was cooling and it felt like a proper day in the mountains. Seeing the cairn slowly loom up out of the whiteness is one of my favour views on a mountain. As I reached the cairn, (15:50, 2.84km) I refolded my map and checked my direction. I didn’t want to end up down in Fentons. Out comes the compass again and its plain sailing. Coming off the summit, I let out a scream of jut sheer happiness. I was falling in style. Running downhill, flat out, in mist, only 95% sure of where your going. Massive massive adrenaline buzz. I shouted so loud, Don heard me on the far side of the mountain. Sound travels further and faster in mist!
Coming out of the mist, the North Prison comes into focus, its so sharp. Behind the Glen of Imall bursts into view as I leave the cloud cover behind me. It’s a stunning sight. Down the Cannow Ridge, no breaks, letting the legs just turn over. All the way down to the bog beside Benleagh. At this point, I decided I would enjoy my gel. The 60ml of food I had brought with me to sustain myself for up to 3hours. I pulled it out of my side pouch and peeled off the top. However, I kept pulling and was fascinated at how the entire gel wrapped had split down the side. The gel leaking out looked cool. Then with horror, I realised that my entire gel had split in two and that its contents were fast leaking everywhere. I crammed the gel into my mouth. Wrapper and all. I reckon I got about 1/3 of it. Some ended up on my face, some on my map, some on my top, some on my legs, but the majority of it over my hands. And so it began. I attempted to get the gel off me and into my mouth. For someone on the outside, this must have looked hilarious. I was pushing the descent while attempting to get as much gel off me as possible. I’m lucky I didn’t break my neck.
After this period of frustration, I got on with the game at hand. However, my hands were getting sticky and annoying, so the first bog I saw (didn’t have to wait long) I crammed both my hands in in the hope of “washing” them and it worked a treat.
As I began the climb towards Camenabologue, I let my mind drift for a second. The following second, my face made friends with the ground. A sharp reminder of who was the boss. Don’t prick with the mountain. It will make you suffer.
Using up the "free energy". Behind the camera man stands Mullacor.
After a bit more running and climbing, I caught Roisin. I passed her by spectacularly by vaulting a deep ditch. I felt awesome. Then the climb started proper and I felt less awesome. For some reason, I reckoned this climb would be quick and painless. Quite the opposite! It seemed to go on for ever! After what felt like an hour, it began to level out. I saw the summit marshal leap up as if he was electrocuted. He waited, pin punch in hand, angled to minimise entry and exit. I mentioned there were 35 runners out on the course, so he knew when to abandon his position for lower ground. Punch and gone. (24:57, 4.77km)
Running off Camenabologue I took a “straighter but around route” (can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/3grsxsw ).
The running was good and I somehow picked a motorway line through the peat hags. I will never find that line again. Crossing the river and starting the climb, I looked at my watch. 1hr33. I laughed and thought could I make it back in half an hour from my current position. Walking up Conavalla, that dream went out the window. A bit of peat hag jumping as I neared the top and I somehow landed on the line I take in Stone Cross to Lug off of the summit. No idea how, but I wasn’t complaining. This lead me straight to the cairn. Total time of 1:42:22, compared to last years’ time of 1:47:08. Split; 18:16, 2.63km
I took a pretty direct line off of Conavalla in the direction of the ridge. I ended up in peat hags. Lots and lots of peat hags. I was plugging away, up and down and up and down. I just couldn’t find the track. I was now firmly on the ridge and it was just a matter of following it back home as fast as possible. Speed was not of the essence as peak hags appeared to grow in front of my eyes. I was jumping and stepping up. This was taking way to much out of my legs. I began to get pissed off. I couldn’t find the track and it was frustrating. I just kept plugging away.
I reached the first spot height along the ridge and still no track. My legs were beginning to tire now. The climb up Lugduff reared its ugly head. I found a small track type thingy. It was all I needed. My pace instantly went up as the clawing at my ankles vanished. I knew I was tired, but I knew I was on for a good time. I wanted the record. As I passed Lugduff in 2:06 (split; 23:53, 4.24km).
I knew I would be close. This was no longer a Saturday skip in the mountains. Although I was enjoying it, there was suddenly a sense of urgency about what I was doing. Out of the blue, I appeared to get a hit of adrenaline. Having gotten the same hit a few times in the mountains, I knew it wouldn’t last long and that the big “crash” was coming soon. I upped the anti. Heading down towards the Wicklow way, I was touching 3min/k at times. I had become obsessed. I knew I was running out of energy. I had half a gel and no liquid since my crust of bread with chocolate spread at 10:45 (good pre-race nutrition advice is available free of charge if anyone wants the secrets). I was wacking out by the time I hit the marshal at the Wicklow Way (8:41, 1.97km), he offered jelly babies and water. I took some water, got my number punched, said 35… 35 runners. And was gone again. I started to hammer the climb to Mullacor, I wanted maximum usage from this “free” energy.
200m. 200 fecking meters was all I got. I hit the wall. I hit it hard. From untouchable to a cramping mess. I was feeling muscles cramp I had forgotten I had. It was most unpleasant. All of a sudden I was at the top! It ended after a meer 6:35mins (0.65km). I was expecting a 15min suffer feast. I did an about turn to head back for the Wicklow way track. My head was in mind burn. On route up Mullacor, I was thumbing the map for Camaderry and couldn't understand why nothing was right. I knew I had to be careful in the forest. Just keep my head together and don’t muck up in the forest. Down the tussocky slopes of Mullacor.
Hitting the Wicklow way track, I expected to be flying. I was nowhere near as graceful as I hoped to be. I had visions of myself gliding down it, not touching the ground at a neck breaking 2min/k.
Route Choice: 2010 (light) V 2011 (dark)
No dice. I struggled down. One foot in front of the other. In a world of hurt. Brain too tired to process the information needed to descend at break neck speeds. On hitting the fire road, it was just a matter of turning the legs over and thumbing the map. Every time my feet hit the hard road, I felt all the tiny muscles laughing at me, on the verge of cramp. I needed to hit every junction. One down. Two down. Three down. Two more ticky sections and I'm in. The open terrain is my catching feature for the tiny row of rocks that form a deathly track. Slippery when wet, the body and mind is tired. It can all go so wrong so quickly. I hit the turning circle and dance down them gingerly. Down around another switch back and down the final single track. I look at my watch. 2:35… Record is mine as long as I don’t break my neck. I bounce down and cross the line. I was pretty sure I had the record, but that wasn't confirmed until I got home.
After a bit of trash talking, I went down to Pauls van to get changed. I just sat there. I couldn't do anything. I stretched down trying to untie my laces and I cramped. The art of getting changed with cramp never far away is a mastered skill that one develops over time. One I have yet to master. Sitting in the van, cramping, the rain came, and it was heavy. My thoughts were with the summit marshals (and my flask of coffee). Waiting around, bodies begin to come in. Everyone gets down safe. A smile on Paul Nolans face.
It was 7pm before my body began to accept food. Its a fair guess to assume I pushed myself today.
Overall I am happy with my performance. It was a solo run. Fuelling up wasn’t the best and I missed a good line on Lugduff. 2 hours 25mins is so doable!
Due hear that Paul? ;)