I did not know Eddie very well, but I had met him on one or two occasions and I was shocked when hearing of his death last April. I all the more appreciated Tom Enright's plan of putting on a race in Eddie's memory, and all the proceedings went to the hospital charity nominated by Eddie's brothers. It was a wonderful gesture. Today was that day.
Of course this was not supposed to be a "race" race. The setting did not suit it and anyway, I am in the early phases of my training for Connemara. I have messed up my recovery from Dublin, I had not slept well the last couple of days, I had not tapered and I was treating this strictly as a long training run. I could not mess this one up even more, could I?
Though as Mike pointed out correctly, once you pin a number onto your shirt, all bets are off. I guess I should have known.
After some truly wild condition during the week, the weather forecast for Sunday had been ideal, no rain and 10C, not too much wind. It felt pretty cool when waiting at the start and I noticed I was the only competitor amongst 15 who was wearing a singlet, but I knew I would warm up as soon as we set off.
The plan was to start at around 8-minute pace, drop it to 7:45 or so once I warmed up and then see how it goes. You know what they say about plans. Mine didn't even last to the first corner.
Usually there is at least one fast guy running any race, which means the rest of us don't have to worry about winning. In this case though, the one fast guy around, the incomparable Mick Rice, had opted for the marathon, leaving the Ultra to us plodders.
There was also a double-marathon going on at the same time. The guys had started 3 hours ahead of us and looked weary already. I'm sure they were fed with us during our first few loops, when we were all bright, fresh and excited, in marked contrast to their own weary style.
The race course was a one mile loop, with a nice little hill in the middle, not too long and not steep at all, though sufficient to solicit plenty of moaning over the next few hours. There was a cone at the end of the start/finish area that created a short out-and-back section and required a very tight 180 degree turn. The rest of the loop went through the delights of Sixmilebridge. I never thought I'd ever study Sixmilebridge in such great detail
I might have been able to live with the fact that same other guy was running faster than me. Maybe. But when Deirdre Finn (who I think won the Belfast 24 hour race last July) took the lead, my fragile male ego could not take it. Idiocy triumphed over reason, testosterone won over grey matter, logic went out of the window, you name it. She was running about 7:30 pace, and I followed in her wake. Together with another guy, Declan, we formed the leading group.
Miles 1-5: 7:26, 7:26, 7:26, 7:25, 7:35
The first few miles were impressively even, which was absolutely not down to me. I was running right behind Declan and Deirdre most of the time, admiring the very, very even effort. I even commented on it.
We passed the start/finish area every mile and one of my targets was to spend very little time there. It is very tempting to stop every time and grab a drink, a gel, a
biscuit and/or whatever else springs to mind each time, but 30 stops can quickly add up to a lot of wasted time.
By mile 8, I took over the lead once more, expecting the others to stay right behind. I did not up the pace, just kept going at the same effort. I was a couple of seconds ahead at mile 9, and all of a sudden I was 30 seconds ahead at mile 10. That wasn't in the plan.
Miles 6-10: 7:43, 7:29, 7:23, 7:29, 7:27
Mind, I was feeling so comfortable I could have thought I was out for an easy Sunday jog. I decided to keep going at exactly the same effort level and see how things would develop. I was not worried about hitting the wall. I was feeling too good to worry about anything right now.
The marathon had started an hour after our Ultra, and the tenth and eleventh lap were rather congested, but then the field spread out and from then on there was always plenty of company around.
I can always test my levels of fatigue in the manner I treat runners when I overtake them. This also works very well in Connemara where you catch up the with the marathon and later the half marathon runners. It works even better on a loop course like this, where you meet the same runners several times and soon get very familiar with them. If I feel ok, I greet all of them, maybe just a quick hello, or some little motivation, "getting there", "looking good". As I get more fatigued, this changes into just a little "hi". And when things get bad, I become silent. Sorry, nothing personal. It's a surprisingly effective gauge.
Miles 11-15: 7:15, 7:15, 7:14, 7:10, 7:15
I was still at the chirpy stage. The miles were flying, the hill seemed flatter every time, I had a little chat with almost everyone on the course, high-fiving kids and volunteers and so on. I realised I was speeding up a little, but still felt so comfortable I just let it go on.
At that stage I had tuned totally into the effort and it becomes difficult to remember at which part of the race certain things happened. Mick Rice passed me, looking as comfortable running 6:25 miles as I was doing 7:25.
I was getting a thrill out being in front while knowing I had loads in reserve. I knew I was going to win today.
Miles 16-20: 7:19, 7:22, 7:21, 7:25, 7:19
Around mile 18, a little bit of fatigue slowly started creeping into the legs, but since I was already closer to the finish than the start, I was not worried at all. I tried to decide what to do if the pace started suffering. Should I accept it or should I increase the effort in an attempt to keep the pace even? As it turns out, since I did not keep an eye on the individual mile splits, I was never really aware when the pace did indeed slow down a little bit, so I never had to make that decision.
Miles 21-25: 7:37, 7:33, 7:24, 7:33, 7:32
I was getting closer to the marathon point and still feeling fresh as a daisy. Most of the other runners had become increasingly quiet by now. I noticed I wasn't quite as chirpy myself, but still had a few words for just about everyone on the road. I was enjoying myself so much, I cannot put it into words. I live for days like that.
I was almost sorry when I entered the last few miles because I did not want this to end.
Still, I got really excited towards the end, telling all the volunteers and a lot of the other runners that I was on my last lap, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Mick Rice caught me one more time and rightfully called my a sissy when I responded "not this year" to his question if I was going to do the Connemara 100. You can always count on Mick to keep things in perspective.
Miles 26-30: 7:34, 7:24, 7:27, 7:27, 7:13
On the final climb I wondered why I was busting a gut, chasing after Mick when I could soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the glory stretch instead, so I eased up a little bit, but I still produced my second fastest lap of the day. I could not wipe that grin off my face and breaking the tape gave me a big thrill. I just don't get a lot of wins.
I do not have the words to describe just how much I had enjoyed today's race. I have no idea where that performance came from. Not once did I push the pace all day, maybe apart from the very last hill. I could have run much, much further today, as well as faster, and if that had been Connemara the sub-5 would have fallen with plenty to spare. Coming into this race I had every intention of running 20 minutes slower, but I do not regret a thing. Days like today don't come very often, and when they come, you should grab them. Live's too short. Eddie would have agreed, I'm sure.
- 20 Nov
- Sixmilebridge 30 mile Ultra
3:41:34, 7:23 pace, avg. HR 157
Thank you to Tom Enright for putting on a great race with excellent organisation, to all the volunteers and all the other runners. This really is a true runners' race, and I could not enjoyed it more.