I did start having doubts when I realised that those were trail marathons. It's not that I hate trails - I do spend plenty of time on the Kerry Way - but I had hated the last trail marathon when the stones on the trail really started hurting my feet. Then they had to change the course completely as the original Loch Derg trail was deemed unsuitable for a race (runners would have had dozens of opportunities to get lost, apparently) and we were switched to a trail loop close to Limerick instead, which was a lot less scenic but much more manageable.
Limerick is close enough to home not to require a hotel and I did not even have to leave home in the dark, which took on extra significance after my car crash three weeks ago. I got there in good time, got ready, and off we went.
The majority of the loop was on a trail but there were a few miles on road as well. We certainly noticed how much easier the road bits were and we invariably and unintentionally sped up a bit on those, though we never got carried away. The weather was ideal with nice temperatures and a cloudy sky, but we were all aware of the weather forecast and the Orange wind and rain warning later on, though we expected to be finished before that struck - at least for today!
The course sounded a bit complicated when described the first time, I sure had troubles following once the explanation had gone past the first three junctions, but it actually was rather straightforward, with one little loop at the start, an out-and-back section and one section along both sides of the canal. It left plenty of opportunities to meet all the other runners on the road, but it also meant getting dirty on the muddy bits of the trail, trying to pass each other amongst the puddles.
The first loop passed quickly and the second one as well. In fact, I barely remember anything about them. Aidan and me just kept ticking along, chatting as we did, and not breaking too much of a sweat. However, I definitely started dragging on loop three. I was still able to run with Aidan without slowing him down but the effort was higher than I would have liked. Mostly he set the pace and I just followed. I did contemplate slowing down a bit and letting him go but could never get myself to do so. I didn't care a dot about leading the race - our pace was so slow that a "win" wouldn't have meant much - but I did not fancy running on my own and decided to remain with company.
Somehow I started feeling better again once we started on loop four. Maybe I could start smelling the finish line but whatever the reason was, running definitely felt easier again and also a lot more enjoyable. I no longer had to worry if the effort was too high, it felt just right again. However, with a couple of miles left Aidan enquired if we were on time to break 3:30 and a quick look at my watch - the first one in over 20 miles - revealed that we were basically on 3:20 pace, definitely faster than planned, though overall the effort had not been hard, a few rough miles after the halfway mark notwithstanding.
We finished together in 3:19:41. We had been the fastest runners that had set off at the main 9:30 start but a couple of lads from the early 8:00 start had run faster than we had done (not that I actually cared). A lovely hot shower and a few sandwiches later I hit the road. The legs felt a lot more sore than expected in the evening but a good night's sleep took care of that and I felt right as rain when I woke up on Sunday morning.
Rain was the operative word. I might not have noticed much of a high wind in Kerry but it was raining a lot, and to make things worse it got heavier the closer I got to Limerick. I expected the trail to be rather messy and brought my trail running shoes (Inov-8 Terrafly) instead of my usual road runner. Those shoes work very well on mixed road and trail events and I hoped they would stop me from slipping and sliding all over the place. They were heavier than my roadies but that seemed a price worth paying for a change.
We were still all in the tea room at the designated start time of 9:30 and I joked that we would start as soon as the rain would stop ("what, some time tomorrow?"). I was gobsmacked when we went to the start 10 minutes later in bright blue sunshine - a gift from the Gods, just in time.
I made a point starting a couple of runners behind from the front and let Aidan and his new buddy go off the front straight away. Today I really wanted to run at my pace, not somebody else's. I ran the first two miles with Ruthann but decided that she was running a tad faster as well and dropped behind. A guy in a red jacket joined me for a bit but eventually he also pulled ahead. It was perfectly clear that I would be running the next 20+ miles on my own. If you really want to run at your own pace that's basically inevitable, I suppose.
The legs felt surprisingly good early on. After a couple of miles I (and probably everyone else as well) decided that there was absolutely no point in prancing gingerly around the puddles in the slippery mud and started running straight through them, which was easier and still left you with the exact same amount of dirt on your legs. That was fine with the fellow runners but I bet a few local hikers out for a walk on the trail that day got a bit more splattered than they would have expected.
I was going at just a few seconds below 8 minutes per mile, just as planned for a change. I hoped to avoid the rough few miles from the day before by eating a gel after each lap and I also had brought along a bottle of Perpetuem, my protein sports drink for Ultras, which I hoped would keep me fuelled and going.
Just like Saturday, the first loop went by quickly. The second loop was more noticeable, not because of my legs but the rapidly changing weather. First it started raining, pretty much right as I started that loop, which did the trail no favours. The sun came back for a bit but then the wind picked up considerably and it started hail stoning. It caught me at probably the worst possible part of the course, heading right into the wind and without the shelter of the woods that would have been there for the majority of the course. Thankfully it did not last long but the wind kept blowing.
Starting my third lap the wind picked up a lot and now things were quickly turning rather wild. Gale force or even strong gale force winds had me almost running on the spot for a bit, the trail was totally churned up by now and my spirits were dropping like a lead balloon. Once more I had a few very rough miles, four or five of them, where I started to feel rather sorry for myself and started wondering why on Earth I was doing this to myself. The thought that a bit of suffering was good training for an ultra runner was quickly losing its shine (those things always sound better in theory) and I really wanted this to be over. The pace started to suffer and I started to doubt that I would finish under 3:30, though to be honest I did not particularly care. Back-to-back marathons are not something you do if a good finishing time is of any importance. With about a mile left of the third loop my toe somehow seemed to catch the only stone on the entire trail and I promptly dived head first into the mud, getting a mouth full in the process. I was more in shock than hurt, though my calf muscle threatened to cramp so I got up as quickly as I could and proceeded as if nothing had happened, except that I was covered head to toe in muck, of course.
Miraculously, just like yesterday I started feeling a lot better again on the last lap. Funny how things work at times and I do wonder if an adrenaline boost following my fall had something to do with it. I should have been utterly exhausted after almost 50 miles in two days but was feeling surprisingly good. I caught the runner in the red jacket, though that was entirely down to him hitting the wall rather than me giving chase. The course had become very quiet by now because most of the early starters had finished by now (they even had a 7 o'clock start so that people would be able to watch the rugby) and it was just a matter of putting one leg in front of the other until I reached the finish. Some local youngsters were looking rather confused, asking if the marathon was on today (yup, but I guess they meant the Great Limerick run which is still a few weeks off).
On the drive home the legs actually felt better than they had on Saturday, though once I made it home I started feeling rather wrecked with the legs, the stomach and the shoulder all complaining.
Recovery is one the card again. Five easy miles every day - it really works.
- 27 Feb
- 8 miles, 1:03:06, 7:53 pace, HR 141
- 28 Feb
- Loch Derg trail marathon; back-to-back, day 1
- 3:19:41, 7:37 pace, HR 154
- 1 Mar
- Loch Derg trail marathon; back-to-back, day 2
- 3:28:30, 7:57 pace, HR 150