Sunday, August 12, 2012

The View From The Other Side

As you probably know, I had a great crew for my 24 hours race in Bangor 5 weeks ago. I still don't quite know why Jo offered to sacrifice a weekend to crew for me all day and night, apart from the fact that she is obviously a very good person, but I have felt a little bit of guilt ever since. So when Frank McDermott asked last week if someone would crew him for the Connemara 100-mile race, I offered my services to repay the favour (or, really, to pass it on).

After a very long drive I arrived in Clifden just a few minutes after the race briefing had started. The race is growing, there were 25 runners at the start this year. I wonder where this will lead. I had a good chat with plenty of old friends (that's what it's all about, isn't it?), and eventually Frank had the chance to talk me through his requirements.

Crewing for the Connemara Race is very different to the job that was required in Bangor. We basically had to drive behind our runners and whenever they needed anything park the car at  the side of the road and hand it over.

Everyone gathered very early on Saturday morning. It was a very low-key start. We watched the lunatic fringe of the Irish running community run one loop through the town before heading off towards Letterfrack, which was the signal for us crews to jump into our cars for the start of a very long day.

I don't want to go into too much detail, because Frank should tell his story himself if he wants. He looked very good early on and took in plenty of fluid. All that changed about 20 miles into the race when his stomach shut down. From that moment on he was unable to take anything in, not even water. He manfully battled on for many more hours, running first then walking and eventually wobbling. There was not much anyone could do, if you cannot take in even water, you cannot complete 100 miles. I am very grateful to the others crews who all offered their assistance, but to no avail. I could tell a few stories, but one pretty much summed it all up. When he was halfway down the Hell of the West, I tried to cheer him up by telling him that at least he had conquered the Hell, at which point he looked at me and told me that he had no idea where he was and that he had not even realised that the last mile had been steep downhill. To his credit he dragged on for 10 more miles after that episode before finally pulling the plug between miles 52 and 53. It still took several hours afterwards to take some fluid onboard, but eventually he came round and spared himself a trip to the local hospital.

That's not how he had imagined his day, and of course that's not what I had come to Connemara for, but what can you do. I found crewing very tough. I never had a moment to relax, I either had to drive the car or assist Frank, and seeing him suffer like that really made for a tough day.

We took advantage of the little positives that came out of it; we were able to see Mick Rice finish in an amazing time of 15:22 or 15:23 to win the race for the 4th time in a row. We also got a good night's sleep instead of the expected long night out on the road.

I unexpectedly managed to get my weekend runs in after all, 10 miles on Saturday evening and a few more on Sunday morning to see the Alcock and Brown monument and landing site. As I got back on the road I spotted a runner on the road, who turned out to be Oliver Clare, the last man standing. I had seen him plenty of times early in the race and he had looked tired even then. By now he looked shattered, no wonder after 27 hours on the road. I spoke a few words to his crew, and as I was about to turn back to Clifden he asked me to run with him. I could not possibly say no to that and we made our way into Clifden. The race rather cruelly requires the runners to complete 3 more laps through town after they reach it, and I asked Oliver if he wanted me to run them with him as well, "yes please". Actually he moved remarkably well for someone who had been through the wringer like that and he finished to a highly deserved round of applause, comfortably over an hour under the cut-off. I have gained tons of respect for him and was glad to have played at least a tiny part in one runner's successful outcome.

Oliver ran the entire race with a Garmin. His remarkable file is available here.

11 Aug
10 miles, 1:19:52, 7:59 pace, HR 142
12 Aug
7.75 miles, 1:02:45, 8:08 pace, HR 138
~6.5 miles, ~1:30:00 with Oliver Clare


  1. You'd want an automatic for that kind of crewing. Good job. You can put it on your resume when applying for crew jobs.

  2. Hi Thomas, I didn't realise you had a blog until I saw your comment today :D Just a quick note to say thanks again, it was looking really sketchy there for a while as to whether I'd beat the cut-off time or not, but having someone to run with made all the difference. Very much appreciated! Well done in Dingle by the way. -Ollie