Sunday, July 25, 2010

The End of Solitude

I had no idea I would miss them so much, but I was counting down the hours until my loved ones' return to Kerry. Though, after dealing with the boys' non-stop fighting for the rest of the day, I was wondering what exactly I had been missing. Reality has returned very quickly.

I had gotten up reasonably early on Saturday to give myself the chance to have some porridge for breakfast and 90 minutes time to digest it before hitting the road and still be home before the rest of the family. The initial weekend weather forecast had been pretty good but the closer we got to Saturday the worse the predictions became and it was indeed a dreary and drizzly morning. At about 9:30 I left home to the last of the raindrops but the low cloud cover remained. I could see the hills I was heading for covered in white fluff but every time I got there the clouds had lifted just high enough to avoid my presence. The road went up and down a few times until I arrived at Loch Acoose, about 8 miles from home, on the Kerry Way, going the other direction to last week. This was right at the foot of the highest peaks of the Reeks, which contain 9 of the 10 highest mountains in Ireland (with the missing one, Mount Brandon, not far away in Dingle), but unfortunately due to the low clouds the views were nowhere near as good as they could have been.

Since I had run out of water last week, I carried a little pack with a water bladder on my back. I had gotten that 2 or 3 years ago very cheaply in one those German discount stores and it had resided unused in the back of my cupboard ever since. You get what you pay for, the pack kept rubbing against my back, I was sweating madly and I was worried about it chafing, but it was still better than running out of water halfway through a 4-hours run.

I initially missed the turn-off from the main road, but from reading the map I had a pretty good idea where it should be, so I turned around and went down the road that I thought was the right one, even though I still could not find a signpost, no matter how hard I looked. As it turned out, the road was indeed the right one and I did spot the marker on my way back. It felt like running into the wildest and most remote part of the country but I was surprised to find not just one but two farms along the way. As stunning as the surroundings are, I could not imagine living up there, taking self-reliance pretty much to its reasonable limits. Running further upstream the little Gearhanagour Stream, the road turned into a trail, the trail turned into a bog and then I was surrounded on all sides by a massive cliff, hundreds of feet high and no visible way out. Luckily this was the one section of the Kerry Way that was well signposted and I followed a series of markers, scrambling up the almost vertical face, on all fours at times. Progress was so slow that several times the Garmin's autopause feature kicked in even though I was genuinely pressing on. Eventually, and almost exactly 2 hours into the run, I finally emerged at the top of a saddle, looking down the other way into the breathtakingly beautiful Bridia valley, though in all honesty I would not fancy living there. Right at the foot of Carrauntoohill, this really is wild countryside. I took plenty of photos, but be it the low light, the crappy camera or lack of skill of its operator, not one of the photos came out the way I hoped.

Last week, 40 miles down the other direction of the Kerry Way, I had turned around at a sign. To my surprise, I found an equivalent one here. Had I carried some money with me, I would have gone down to sample the delights of the Cookie Monster's Cafe (come on, how could you possibly resist that in the middle of nowhere), put as I was literally penniless I turned around and scrambled down the rock face towards Loch Acoose again.

I felt reasonably good, but my right shin was hurting, and the longer I got on the more it hurt until I was in agony, especially on the downhill stretches. Since I had 1200 feet of elevation to lose from the turnaround point to my home, there were a slot of downhills to do, and it was not the most fun I've ever had, truth to be told. I also was getting hungry, the bowl of porridge had been a long time ago, and eventually I gave in and ate the Powerbar that I had brought along. The last time I had one of those, probably 5 years ago, they had tasted awful and were really hard to chew, but it seems like things have improved; that one was really yummy and easy to eat. I still would not dream of actually buying that kind of artificial stuff. I had gotten it in a goody bag of one of my races. I tried to remember where, and it might even have been last year's Boston marathon, over 17 months ago! In that case it would almost certainly been out of date, but it sat well in my stomach and sustained me for the rest of my run. I didn't touch the gels I had brought along with me.

Eventually it dawned on me that running downhill was faster than uphill, so I would be home in less than 4 hours, so I took a slightly longer route coming down the last mountain, which also avoided the steepest part of the road, for which my shin was thankful for, and I was back home a couple of minutes past the 4 hours mark. This would have been sufficient, but the Garmin showed 25.17 miles and I decided, having run so far I might as well turn this into a marathon and headed out for a few more minutes until I had 26.41 miles on the clock.

Sunday morning was similar to Saturday, except that I also had to prepare breakfast for the kids, and again I was out of the house at 9:30, 90 minutes after a bowl of porridge. Thankfully the legs felt much better than they had a week ago, but that's not to say it was an easy run. It was hard enough going, but at least this time I did not have to stop myself from moaning in pain on the downhill stretches. The quads were in much better shape than 7 days ago. If that was due to the slightly lower Saturday mileage, the fact that I had gotten a break from running while climbing up and down the cliff at the halfway point, the slower pace, because my legs were already stronger than before, or if it was a combination of some or all of these points I don't know, but I appreciated the difference. I headed around Caragh Lake again but as I neared the 10 miles mark decided to up the ante slightly and headed on the Kerry Way on a punishing climb up towards the slopes of Seefin Mountain, following the tracks until I got closer to home rather than using the usual route of the road alongside the lake. I was rewarded with beautiful views but also screaming hamstrings. Last week it had been the quads that were giving out, this time it was definitely the back of the legs that complained vociferously. I took one gel at that point, but shortly afterwards I passed some blackberry bushes with almost ripe fruits, the first ones of the year. That was good enough for me and I interrupted my run and greedily ate about 2 dozen of them. Following the road down the other side of the mountain I reached our driveway after about 2 hours 25 minutes. After a quick top-up of the bottle with some water I was ready for more and headed towards Ard-na-Sidhe. I was unsure which way to go but must have decided that I had not punished myself sufficiently yet and ran up the road on the side of Devil's Elbow that I occasionally use for hill sprints. There were more views to be gotten from the picnic spot, but eventually I had enough and headed for home, which I reached once more after 3 hours 20 minutes. That was still 10 minutes short of the original target, but since I had done 15 minutes extra on Saturday I could not muster the energy to add another mile and stumbled through the door, by now completely exhausted. This was slightly shorter than last week but with a lot more vertical gain and loss, and at least as tiring.

Niamh, in her immaculate timing, had pancakes waiting for me. Has any runner ever had a better wife? Now I definitely remember what I had been missing all week. Welcome back, honey! Don't ever leave me behind again!

Saturday: 1 Amino + 1 Powerbar = 386 cal,
weight pre-run 151.2, post-run 149.4 (minus 1.8 lbs)

Sunday: 1 Amino + 1 gel + blackberries = 263 cal,
weight pre-run 150.6, post-run 146.2 (minus 4.4 lbs, oops)
24 Jul
26.41 miles, 4:20:36, 9:53 pace, HR 135
25 Jul
21.88 miles, 3:21:37, 9:13 pace, HR 139


  1. You're a lucky man - I have an empty cat food bowl on my return home....(more violins)

  2. You are going to be so well prepared for this race... These back to back runs are quite intimidating just to read about!

  3. Epic adventure as always Thomas.

    I don't see much race day nutrition practice during these long runs or maybe you have cased out the Dingle route for blackberry bushes. Is all your nutrition for Dingle going to be in liquid form or will Niamh be at the top of the Conor pass with a plate of pancakes.

    Given that it was all about time on your feet rather than pace I thought the 90 minute gap after the porridge could be relaxed a bit.

  4. Your turning into a 'trail Monster', I like it!

  5. All that rain sure makes for beautiful countryside.

  6. Epic training as usual, Thomas. I think i might have to visit Ireland and run part of the Kerry Way in 2011. Low level cloud reminds me of running in the English lakes and the Pennines.

  7. I don't know, but sounds like yours beats Scott Brown's ;)