Monday, May 05, 2014

Wings For Life

I said on Wednesday that I would dial back the mileage slightly for the rest of the week, but family life dictated that I could not run in the evenings at all, so this ended up a much bigger reduction than I had planned. No problem, these things are inevitable and it left me fresher for Sunday's Wings for Life run.

The format was strange with no fixed finish line but runners being chased down by a car. It led to some anomalies, e.g. the faster you run the longer you are out there, completely the opposite of a normal race. It's also mentally challenging as there is no finish to focus on.

The morning was a bit stressful, trying to get the kids ready and drop them off to be minded for the day, but I got to Killarney in good time. The start area was divided into several zones and the runners were very disciplined lining up correctly but it was quite lonely up front where me and John O'Regan were on our own until we were joined just before the start by another couple of runners.

My target was to run the marathon, which had to be done in 3:08 or faster, otherwise the car would catch you too early and you were out. I knew I was perfectly capable of running 3:08 but it would certainly require a good effort. I also wanted to keep a few minutes spare, just in case, and to give me to option to add a few miles, so I decided to run 7:00 pace for as long as I could.

I managed to resist temptation to trip up Bernard Brogan at the start - it would have been hard to make it look like an accident in front of the cameras. It took a bit to settle into my pace and if I counted correctly there were 15 runners ahead of me after the first mile. The first half marathon would be very flat and potentially fast with a slight net downhill and as long as you kept the effort easy you were set for a good run. The early kilometers just flew by. I caught a few runners but was passed by some runners myself and if I counted correctly there were still 15 runners ahead of me after 10 miles.

Km 20. Passing Puck and waving to friends.
 Photo by Susanne Foley
At the 15k feed station I accidentally grabbed a cup of red bull rather than water. I don't rate it as an energy drink because it doesn't contain any calories and has messed up my stomach the one time I tried it, but the caffeine gave me a real kick and I started accelerating. By the time I reached Killorglin at 20k I had overtaken 4 runners and was in 12th place, assuming that I had counted correctly.

It was great to be running a marathon/ultra through my own home town, something I never realistically expected to happen and the main reason why I ran this race today rather than the Limerick marathon. However, the topography of the route completely changed here. It started with a short but nasty climb into Killorglin itself and as we turned southwestwards we were now heading straight into the wind coming from the Atlantic. It was very blustery and definitely stronger than I would have liked and it made the effort feel a lot harder from here on.

The rough conditions seemed to work in my favour as I kept catching runner after runner. It's quite normal to catch a runner or 2 in the later stages of a marathon if you're having a good race, but I was moving through the field at a very surprising rate. 5 miles after Killorglin the road dropped down to Caragh Bridge, almost passing our driveway, and then a nasty and much longer climb toward Glenbeigh followed, climbing about 140 feet in a mile. The road drops steadily through Glenbeigh at about 34k, and then slowly rises again for the next 1.5 miles. I caught another 2 runners on that stretch and figured I must be in about 6th position at that point.

Km  28. Almost at home. Photo by Rosemary Browne
I tried to work out roughly where the catcher car was and was almost scared when I realised that it was definitely less than a mile away. Having a car chase you down and knowing that it is getting close is a surprisingly stressful situation. I tried to get that image out of my head again and just concentrated on keeping the pace as it was. I knew I was well under 3:08 marathon pace, so there was no real reason to worry about the car.

And that's where I hit that mountain. I had known all along that it was coming obviously, being local, but that did not help all that much. It is a tougher climb than the Hell of the West in Connemara or the Big One in Dingle and it comes even later in the race, which makes it the worst hill I've ever climbed in a marathon. From the moment we crossed a little bridge (and that's after already climbing steadily out of Glenbeigh) the road rises more than 250 feet over 2 miles with 2 very nasty steep sections. Unlike Connemara or Dingle you can only ever see a small section of the road ahead of you but I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Invariably my pace dropped. I had averaged 6:58 miles until that point and by the time I finally reached the aid station at Mountain Stage, right at the 40k mark, it was down to 7:02. Luckily that was still comfortably ahead of 3:08 marathon pace, but I sure was glad that I had built up a cushion.

It was comparably easy cruising after that. The road dropped down again, losing about a third of the elevation until the 41k mark and then came the stunningly scenic route along Drung Hill, one of the classic parts of the Ring of Kerry. Unfortunately the vicious headwind made this much tougher and less enjoyable that it could have been, and the low cloud took away the views, though most likely I would not have enjoyed them at that point anyway.

On two occasions I could hear some loud noises from behind that sounded a bit like an ice cream van to me and I reckoned it was the chasing car catching the runners immediately behind me. Once I passed the marathon mark in about 3:05 the pressure was definitely off and anything else was a bonus. I kept the effort honest and the pace on the Garmin remained steady. The motor camera came and stuck with me, obviously waiting for the moment I got caught.

I reached the iconic Gleensk viaduct where the road makes a very tight turn, and as I headed up the other side right at the 45k mark I could see the chasing car for the first time. It did not take long for it to reel me in after that and my race was finally over after 45.59k/28.33 miles.

I finished in fourth place, a little bit further ahead than I thought. Congratulations to winner John O'Regan who managed 4 km more than me and club mate Alison Kirwan who won the ladies race, what a brilliant result!

1 May
8 miles, 1:04:34, 8:04 pace, HR 129
2 May
8 miles, 1:02:25, 7:48 pace, HR 136
3 May
6 miles, 44:42, 7:27 pace, HR 139
4 May
Wings For Life, Ireland run. 4th place
28.33 miles, 3:20:54, 7:04 pace, HR 161

Dedicated to Liam Heffernan. Please give a donation to Liam's Lodge. Thank you.


  1. Awesome job, Thomas! I watched this race yesterday from beginning to end and it was so interesting. They didn't show any of the video from Ireland, but there were very few people around the world that made it past 28 miles.

  2. Great run Thomas. Nice to be on home turf for a change.

  3. Another good run from you Thomas, it must have been strange not having a finish line to focus on....but it's a great idea for a race. A question I was thinking of during the week! Do you go to a physio much "I mean Just to loosen all the muscles out!" I have a very good physio But maybe I don't get a rub down as often as I should! I've been told by other runners (fast 10k to half marathon guys) that it should be every 2-3 weeks? What's your thoughts on this? I really only go if there's a problem or maybe every 8 or 9 weeks.

    1. Billy, the last time I've seen a physio was in 2007. I still haven't recovered from the trauma of his dry-needling (f***, that hurt!). I've had a massage on a few occasions where it was offered after a race.

  4. That makes your progress in ultra running all the more inspiring. I'm fairly injury prone myself & with the double runs & increased milage I'm paranoid that an injury is going to blind side me! I'm feeling pretty strong at the moment but Ive found in the past that's when you let your guard down. I did two separate 4 mile races yesterday morning followed by a hilly 9 mile run home followed by a 5.5 mile recovery run yesterday afternoon. It was only after when I was sitting down watching telly I got to thinking it probably wasn't the best way to avoid injurys. "I mean I'm not Superman!......not yet anyway" :-)

  5. Wacky racers :-)

    It's good see race organizers doing something a little different. Did your kids get to see daddy on the telly?

    1. Nope, didn't make the telly though they have seen me on the box before on a couple of occasions - not that they were impressed or anything. They thought coming 4th out of 367 was reasonably okay, though.

    2. "Reasonable okay" ;-)

      You just have adore how your own children can provide a humble assessment of your achievements. I see similar things with my kids, they think hobby of running long distances is more daft than impressive!

  6. Nice running (both place and time) for a good cause.

  7. Now that's an interesting race with the car chasing you, stressful, no doubt! You did amazing, Thomas!