The course had been slightly changed since last time; we started on the road between Annascaul and Camp, right in the middle of nowhere. I met a few friends on the bus and the start; the ultra running community is small enough to become very familiar with plenty of faces very quickly. The second I spotted Keith Whyte on the bus I knew the name of the winner. An early, unexpected highlight of the day arrived when Keith came up to me to congratulate me on my performance in Bangor - blimey! Thankfully I had the presence of mind to reciprocate for his win at the Anglo Celtic Plate.
Anyway, we gathered at the line and straight away Ray Lanigan took off like a bat out of hell; he must have been doing well under 6:00 pace (minutes per mile, as always), he even left Keith in his wake initially. The rest of us started at a much more sedate effort. The first mile was uphill, basically going over the spine of the Dingle peninsula, and then we started descending into Camp overlooking Gleann-na-nGealt, the "Valley of the Mad", the perfect spot to start an ultra marathon, really.
There was a bit of leapfrogging going on and eventually I settled into around 10th place. I couldn't really tell how my legs were feeling, it was too early, and I just wanted to make sure not to hammer my quads on even the first downhill of the day. Just as we got into Camp I saw a flag fluttering very strongly in the wind. Uh-oh! We were about to turn right into that exact direction - and we were going to do it for the next 30+ miles!
As it so happens, just the other day I had gotten word from Ken Zemach who had finished fourth here last time round after running the early miles with me, and he had implored me to walk at least some of the climb. Maybe it was his message, maybe it was because I wasn't in full racing mode, but when I saw that my HR was in the 160s and climbing steadily I indeed stopped running and proceeded to hike. Looking back now I think it was the right thing to do. The road was really steep and the ever stronger blowing gale force made it worse still and the runners ahead were only inching away from me very slowly as my own HR gradually recovered into the 140s (not that I advocate pacing yourself by Garmin and HR). The climb is very long, obviously, going up to Ireland's highest mountain pass (though there are higher roads), and pretty damn steep (I think I mentioned that already). My calves started hurting but there was nothing I could do about that except literally keep my head down and keep going. I tried to start running again on a couple of occasions but gave up quickly as the effort just seemed too high.
To my big surprise, Micheal Mangan from our running club appeared seemingly out of nowhere. He gave me a bottle of water as well as a gel later on, but by far the biggest benefit was simply the fact that there was a friendly face amidst all the effort. He proceeded to cheer me on every half mile or so, which really helped.
|Pat Quill on Conor Pass|
Dingle marked the halfway point and there was also the first drop-off aid station. My plan for these aid stations was very simple, I quickly picked up two bottles of sports drink and re-filled my bum bag with gels and was off again in just a few seconds. I had started the run with two bottles which I had drained over the first 15 miles; there were two more bottles now and two more were waiting for me at mile 36. Each time I used one bottle of Lucozade (leftover from my stash for Bangor) and on bottle of Orbana. I had a few gels in my bag and initially had taken one roughly every half hour but I always had to force those down and eventually stopped using them (I had 8 or 9 during the entire race). I also had one rice krispie square coming down the pass, and that was it as far as my entire race nutrition was concerned. I picked up water bottles from the aid station if I did not have a sports drink in my hand at the time.
I checked my watch as I went up Dingle's Main Street and 3:23 had passed since our start. It meant I was 83 minutes behind the half- and full marathon runners who had started right here. I also realised that the faster half-marathon runners had finished already, not that that was of any concern to me. There was a good bit of support from the locals, which of course helps, as it always does.
Anyway, my quads let me know that they were not happy at all. All along I had been more worried about the descent from the pass rather than the climb, and I was proven right. Halfway through the race and I started suffering. With basically a marathon still to go this had the potential to turn into a very long day. I saw one runner half a minute ahead of me, I'm pretty sure it was James Slowey from out group earlier on, but he gradually started to pull away from me. I never checked behind me so I never knew if I was being chased. I would not have been surprised if someone caught up because my pace was now almost a minute per mile slower than it had been before the pass, despite the effort being at least equal and the discomfort being significantly higher. The road was very lonely; there was quite a bit of car traffic coming out of Dingle but after a couple of miles that stopped almost completely and I was literally on my own. Support was sparse, but one very enthusiastic guy a couple of miles outside Dingle, stood out.
Mentally this was definitely the most challenging party of the race. Dunquin was still a half marathon away, the headwind was still as fierce as ever, the road was lonely and the legs were trashed. It was very tempting to take it easy, maybe even walk for a while, especially since this was not a goal race of mine. But I still had a bit of pride left and resolved not walk another step for the entire rest of the race and keep on pushing, no matter what.
It took me about 7 or 8 miles to catch up with the back of the pack. I presume the people I encountered early on were half-marathon walkers; if they were doing the full it would be a very long day indeed. Some of them gave a cheer, most were indifferent or just too much inside their own little bubble. By mile 10 the crowds had swelled and the last few miles into Dunquin were by far the busiest of the entire day. To be honest, this was my favourite part of the race. A bit of human interaction goes a long way to lift your spirit.
I picked up my drinks from the second drop-off station, again only taking a couple of seconds. The support there was great, the girl had seen my number and handed me my bag as I approached. I took the bottles and was off again. A Formula 1 pit stop could not have been more efficient.
Going through Dunquin I got my biggest cheer of the day from the assembled half-marathon finishers, and then the the road immediately turned lonely again. On the plus side, after battling the headwind for a gruelling 50 kilometer stretch, we finally had it on our back.
After going through a dark patch after leaving Dingle I had finally pulled through. My legs were still hurting but I was able to pick up the pace again. Nobody had caught me since Conor Pass and I was confident nobody was going to do so for the rest of the race. Very gradually a few marathon walkers came and went, but for the next 5 miles I was still pretty much on my own, ticking off the miles one by one, getting the job done.
With about 6 miles to go Michael was there again, and once again the main benefit was not the water bottle he gave me (I refused anything else, my stomach wasn't up for it and at that point I did not really need anything else), but the friendly face. I really appreciated the fact that he had basically given up his entire day to offer support. Thank you very much!
The full marathon course has a 1.5 mile out-and-back section before hitting the last hill but the ultra runners just went straight ahead instead. It felt a bit like taking a shortcut, and from that moment on the road was busier again, sharing it with the runners who finished just after 5 hours.
The last hill was a challenge. On the ultra course profile it looks like a little bump because Conor Pass is so overwhelming, but on the marathon profile it looks much more formidable. It is a little bit higher, steeper and longer than Connemara's Hell of the West, and after 45 miles it sure feels tough. I kept to my resolve to run the entire rest of the race. I overtook a good few runners; as far as I knew at the time they were all marathon runners. After the race James Slowey said I had been flying past him but did not elaborate where that had been, and I had not noticed. Anyway, I got to the top in good enough shape and tried to push the pace for the final 3+ miles in Dingle but paid the price for pushing a little bit too hard when my left calf started cramping. I tried to hobble on; keeping the foot in a dorsiflexed position kept the cramp somewhat at bay. On several occasions I tried to run in a more relaxed manner, but the spasms returned immediately. Just as I got the thing somewhat under control the right calf joined in on the fun and we went for a repeat performance on the other side. Under different circumstances I would have stopped to stretch out the cramp but with just over a mile to go it seemed worthwhile to run through it. All those fun and games finally came to an end when I reached the bottom of the hill. Running on an even surface did not give me any troubles and I picked up the pace again, but this time in a slightly more measured way.
The last mile into Dingle was the glory stretch, I enjoyed it, just as much as I enjoyed the fact that I would be able to stop soon. I knew I had run a good race, I wasn't even disappointed when I realised that I had missed the 7 hours by a hair's breadth. My last Dingle ultra had been a bit of a death march for the last 17 miles, this time I had kept a decent enough pace for the entire stretch, even picking it up again after coming through a dark patch.
|Finish line photos by Mick Hanney|
I finished in 7:01:41 in 8th place. Two years ago this would have been good enough for second place, but I always knew that this year would be more competitive, though I was surprised by how much more competitive it was. Keith had won it by breaking 6 hours, a mind-boggling achievement. It puts my own performance into perspective. In Connemara he had put half an hour on me in a race of just under 40 miles; therefore I should not really be a full hour behind after 50 miles. I guess that's the difference between Connemara being a goal race and Dingle a fun run.
Conor Pass makes a huge difference. Not only does your pace suffer as you go across the hill, it also trashes your legs for the final 25 miles. The 30+ miles of headwind significantly added to the challenge, on another day the same effort would easily have yielded a sub-7 time - Keith's time was all the more impressive under these circumstances.
Anyway, I was satisfied and happy enough. It showed that I can put in a reasonable performance in an ultra even if it's not an A race. I know the next sentence sounds stupid, but it also showed me that 50 miles is basically too short to play to my strengths. I was still moving very well at the end. Had the race been longer I am convinced I would have caught a few runners and ended up further up the field. In short, I had a decent enough race, not great but good enough to be happy.
- 1 Sep
- Dingle 50-mile Ultra 2012
7:01:41, 8:25 pace, HR 151, 8th place