Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Longest Day

The alarm went off at 4:50 am. I had my breakfast and just before 5:30 left to drive across the country to drive towards county Kildare. It might have been easier to do this the day before and stay overnight in Dublin, but I didn't think leaving my wife alone with 4 kids on Valentine's Day would be a good move.

Anyway, I arrived in Donadea in good time. The short walk to the registration tent took me about half an hour because I met so many friends. Then I got ready and we started almost on time.

I did not have much of a plan apart from treating this purely as a training run. Two years ago I had run the first half of this race in 2 hours and then sped up a bit to run the second half in 1:50, and if things went well I'd maybe do something similar again, but on the whole I was playing this entirely by ear.

The course consists of 10 laps through Donadea Forest Park, which is a lovely setting, but after 2 months of rather solid storm weather the road had turned very muddy in places and there were puddles, including one across the entire road, which gave us the option of either a long jump or cold wet feet.

I started slowly and the first lap was rather slow. I had started way too far in the back a spent the first few miles slowly overtaking people. Another runner, Andrew, who had been part of the 3:10 pacing group in Dublin, joined me in the fun. We made up for the slow start by running the second lap a bit faster, catching up to a big group of about 10 runners who all seemed to have an eye on a sub-4, but had run the first lap a bit too hard. I thought about joining then but didn't because my own pace had felt perfectly comfortable and I decided to run my own race. Niall gave me a bit of grief for that, but since I had foolishly said I'd jump into the pond if he finished ahead of me, hey!

The next few laps were all pretty much the same. We settled into a very constant pace that felt pretty much effortless - at least to me, I can't speak for Andrew. I'm not much of a talker at best of times, so a lot of times we ran in silence, though Andrew did not seem to mind. We got lapped the first time right as we went through the finish area after 3 laps by Gary O'Hanlon. I did a few calculations in my head and realised that he was on sub-3 pace. Wow! I did worry that he might blow up later on, after all this was his first ever 50k, but obviously he is the top-class runner, not me, so chances were he knew exactly what he was doing.

At the end of lap 5 the timer was at 1:58, so we were clearly at just below 4 hours pace. Around that time I noticed a little grumbling coming from my stomach, but mostly ignored it, However, it came back and gradually got more and more noticeable. I became more and more aware that it was now 12 o'clock and I would have been hungry after not eating for 7 hours anyway, never mind when burning through an awful lot of calories by running an ultra-distance race. Visions of hot dogs or steaks starting flashing through my mind but that wasn't going to happen. I didn't bring anything substantial with me so I didn't have much choice but keep going with my original feeding strategy of a gel after each second lap.

The pace held up and apart from my stomach everything else was still working well, but I ditched the plan of speeding up at halfway and just kept going at the same effort. The legs were feeling surprisingly fresh and running was still easy. However, after lap 7 Andrew dropped off and sent me ahead (unfortunately he would drop out completely another lap later), so I was now entirely on my own, which was a shame. Even if we were mostly quiet, it's still nice to share the running with someone else.

Things kept going very well until I reached the marathon mark, but then things started going south quickly. I was running entirely on fumes and it started showing. I did get a quick boost after downing a bottle of powerade from the organiser's table, but that did not last. However, I still managed to keep the same pace going. One runner asked if I was about to finish when I overtook him but I told him I still had a lap to go.

Turns out I should have lied - I had just overtaken him, not lapped, and now he was chasing me! I started the final lap just ahead of him but within a mile he had caught me again, went past strongly and my spirits dropped after that. I just wanted this to be over, but at least I found a tiny ounce of energy for the finish sprint and did an "Eamonn" across the finish line - I sincerely hope someone has a photo of that!

The official time was 3:55:34 (official results are here), I finished in 27th place, 5th M40. This was my slowest 50k ever (well, it was only my third), but in actual fact I have never raced one, they were always just training runs. I guess had I actually eaten something I would have finished a bit quicker, but then again running a sub-4 50k on an empty stomach isn't all that bad either. The slippery road surface made it all a bit more difficult, every step just took that little bit more energy than normal, though considering that Gary O'Hanlon managed to run sub-3, this isn't much of an excuse.

I got cold quickly afterwards and didn't hang around for too long so made my way home - it was a long drive again. I slept well that night

Race photos by Peter Mooney.
14 Feb
6+ miles, 47:05, 7:43 pace, HR 139
15 Feb
Donadea 50k, 3:55:34, 7:31 pace, HR 149
16 Feb
5+ miles, 40:59, 8:06 pace, HR 136
Weekly Mileage: 83.4 miles


  1. Well done Thomas, I told Gary on Tuesday night to watch out for you, that you were the serious competition, he was probably looking over his shoulder for you all race! ;)

  2. See you in Connemara Thomas, all the best, Andrew

  3. It certainly was a long day Thomas - well worth the trip.

  4. I have little doubt that the early start, early breakfast, drive will have sapped your glycogen reserves in the your liver and left you a bit empty on the start line. I'd guess that your central governor will have been gating your performance based sub-concious assessments of how best to maintain blood sugar, this will have been a bit of struggle with less glycogen available to release into the blood stream.

    I do think it's encouraging that you can run, even with sub-optimal pre-race prep, at 7:30 pace for nearly 4 hours - it's a sign that your are in pretty good shape and now have a good base to build from.

  5. 'Learn from my mistakes' was what I think you said to me before the start. So I have just added to my check list..'Be sure to eat before you race'. Great run despite the lack of fuel and good to meet you.

  6. Sub-3 hours for the first bloke is moving. You did well to hang in there with the dodgy stomach. Nicely under 4 hours - good pace for a training run. You'll have to race one of these one day ;-)