Sunday, June 05, 2016

Always One More Lap

It was a long drive from Kerry to Donadea. Even on the motorway it took me a long time to cover 100km, and when it struck me that I was about to run that distance I started getting nervous. I had been a bit apprehensive about the race for a couple of days (basically since I realised that it was just about to happen) but it was when I drove that far that I realised just how much running I had ahead of me.

Setting up. Photo by Don Hannon
At least I got there without incident and (for once) with plenty of time to spare and no need to stress. I set up my provisions on one of the 3 identical tables when being told off that this was the DBRC table. I moved them, only to gather that the other one was the DBRC table as well. I left them there. Thankfully Ger is a great guy!

The pre-race talk consisted of 1 sentence really, "anyone who takes a wrong turn is an idiot". To be fair, the course was pretty much idiot proof. No timing chips, medals or t-shirt (unless you paid extra for one) and no fuss, requiring us to be (mostly) self sufficient and just a great setting in a stunning forest park with a few enthusiastic and tireless volunteers. Perfect!

Ger wasn't impressed when I told him I was aiming for a 9-hour finish, 8:40 pace. He wanted someone to run with but I was never going to run 6:xx pace in a 100k, neither was anyone else, and I guess he didn't like running on his own for so long.

The start. Photo by Teresa Bradley Taaffe
Neither did I, really, so I let the 5 fast guys set off at the front and jogged alongside Anto, who doubled as RD as well as participant in that race. Within 2 minutes he decided that my 8:40 pace was too hot and all of a sudden I found myself on my own, barely even started. How did I manage to do that yet again?

Initially I thought I'd catch up with the guys up front but after a mile decided that they were running faster than I was prepared to go and just fell into a pace that felt perfectly natural and comfortable, which turned out to be 8-minute pace. In my only other 100k I had run that pace for 70k before slowing down towards the end, so I didn't think it would be suicidal pace and just kept it going,

The course consisted of the standard 5k Donadea loop that makes up the famous 50k in February, plus an out-and-back section that increased the distance to about 7.2k, which meant 14 laps for a 100k. The out-and-back section was a bit stony and included the longest climb of the day, and I correctly guessed that I would soon be learning to hate it.

After a couple of laps I caught up to Brian but he told me he'd already done 2 laps as part of an early start (I had no idea that option was available) and was going to stop after 7 laps, 50k. So much for company! He already started feeling the effort and we parted ways at the end of the lap, where the aid station was set up.

The early laps passed by very quickly. Before I even knew it I had covered 4 loops and more than a quarter of the race. It didn't take long, however, before I started to realise that the conditions today weren't entirely perfect. 25 degrees in Ireland are a significant heatwave, and while it was definitely cooler inside the forest it was still pretty warm. What was worse was the sky-high humidity, which just sapped your energy. On the plus side, the entire course was in the shade and we never had to deal with direct sunlight, which would have absolutely roasted us.

The pace suffered a bit but I was okay with that and just tried to keep the effort at the same constant, easy level. I soon passed the marathon mark in about 3:35 but that's where I did start to get tired. It was lucky that I caught up with a big group of runners at the next lap. I slowed down a bit to their pace and and spent some time chatting to Anto, Gary and the others. After a few miles of this the legs demanded a bit more effort and I gradually pulled away again. I went though 50k in 4:12, which was definitely a reasonable time, though by now I was definitely tired and knew that the second half wouldn't be all fun and games,

One (still rare at that time) look at the watch told me that I was doing 8:50 miles, which was already slower than 9-hour pace, and definitely not a good sign. I was now early afternoon and we started to get into the hottest part of the day. It showed! I wasn't the only one to suffer, Ger and Darren ahead of me started to move less comfortable as well and I actually got closer to them, as I could see on the out-and-back section. Ger slowing down is usually not on the script - I was therefore not too surprised to see him standing at the start/finish after one of my next loops, having pulled out. He told me his hamstring had gone and hoped it would heal within the next 3 weeks - he is aiming for Belfast as well.

What DID surprise me was seeing him pass me again a few miles later, having obviously decided that the hamstring was much better already (30 minutes recovery instead of 3 weeks?), though unfortunately the Lazarus effect did not last and a couple of laps later he pulled out for good. I hope for a speedy recovery - I'd love to see what he can do over 24 hours when fully fit.

With that I unexpectedly found myself in second place and I was actually inching closer to Darren, though he was always at least 5 minutes ahead of me, I passed the Connemara mark (39.3 miles) in about 5:35, which still wasn't too bad, and a lot faster than I had covered that same distance in Achill island back in August). The legs started to spasm but thankfully it never developed into full cramp. The idea of over 20 mile more didn't particularly appeal at the time, but what can you do. So I just put my head down and kept putting one foot ahead of the other, relentlessly forward motion. The pace was starting to dip into embarrassingly slow territory but as long as I kept moving forward I was going to get there eventually.

After 10 laps I felt like collapsing with fatigue but soon after I crossed the 75k mark, and the fact that only a quarter of the race was left ahead of me did cheer me up, for a while at least. My stomach started acting up, my protein drink seemed a bit "foamy" and eventually my stomach decided no more. I actually ended up pouring more than half of the content of the last bottle away, unable to stomach even one more drop, even though I was really thirsty. Rolando kept moving closer and closer and for a while I worried he was going to catch me, but in reality he was a lap behind me and while he managed to unlap himself there was no realistic possibility of him making up an entire lap in what was left of the race, He did move rather well though, and certainly finished looking a lot better than me.

I started spending more and more time at the aid station, and I definitely left a big chunk of time there, needlessly really. I could have done with someone kicking me out back onto the course, which was getting harder and harder to do on my own. I always spent the rest of the loop running, but stopping at the aid station and then walking for a bit before I could face running again did cost a fair amount of time as it all keeps adding up.

If you ever do a race like that and feel like you're unable to make it to the finish, just go out for one more lap. That's all you need to do. Sure you always have the energy for just one more lap. And then you just do it again!

Still, I went through 50 miles in about 7 hours, which is still an okay time. I was dead on my feet, though.

2 laps to go. I used to dream of the moment when I only had 2 laps to go! Now that I got there it wasn't a reason to celebrate, just another big chunk of time lost until I found the courage to head out again. There were still almost 10 miles left, which felt like an awful long way at the time,

One lap top go, this time for real. I had run out of provisions, or at least out of provisions I would be able to stomach. All foody item had been left untouched all along and I had gone through more bottles than I would have thought possible. "Does anyone have some coke?" Fat adaptation be damned, I needed some sugar, and fast. Some generous soul handed me a can of coke, thank you so much, I was too knackered at the time to take in who it had been. I spent almost 3 minutes there before I managed to drag myself out onto the course for one last lap. However, within a couple of minutes the coke hit me, and what a difference it made! All of a sudden I could actually run again, the pain had lessened considerably and I felt better than I had for several hours. The last couple of miles passed in under 10 minutes, unlike the 8 preceding them. I probably should have given myself a sugar dose earlier, it would have helped. I wondered when the effects of the coke would wear off but I was still buzzing when I climbed that last hill towards the finish; undoubtedly, sensing the end helped as well.

I finally crossed the finish line for the last time in 9:13:40 (my own watch), most of all relieved that I could stop running and would not have to head out for yet another loop. Since I had such a long drive home ahead of me I spent less time than I would have liked hanging around and got to my car,

Brilliant winners' trophies. Photo by Don Hannon
There I promptly managed to lock my car keys into my boot, thankfully after having retrieved my mobile. After I managed to stop swearing, but not to break into my car without damaging it, I called the AA and had to wait for an hour until the man showed up, though it was amazing to see him unlock my car in less than a minute (so much for security). After that I finally manage to turn for home, having had my fill of adventures for the day.

Thanks to Anto for a great race in a great location, and all his helpers who were just brilliant. Congratulations to Darren for a well-deserved win, I definitely did not have it in me today. Well done to all the other runners who kept going in really tough conditions, and thank you to every visitor in Donadea today who all managed to share the path with a bunch of lunatics while being patient and courteous at all times.
3 Jun
5 miles, 39:48, 7:58 pace, HR 149
4 Jun
Donadea 100k
9:13:40, 8:54 pace. HR 145
2nd place
5 Jun
3 miles, 27:14, 9:04 pace, HR 126


  1. Hats off Thomas, that sounded hellish, the journey up, the race ( especially the last 20 miles), the locking the car keys in the boot and finally driving home ( a bit dangerous that bit). All your training is done and dusted now. Recovery and plenty of 5 mile jogs await for a few weeks.

  2. Well done and a good report Thomas. I had a good chuckle at "fat adaptation be damned, give me some Coke!" Sort of backs up why Grand Tour riders are taking in X grams of carbs per 30 minutes from early on in their stages.
    Now, if only I could get the 30 minutes recovery instead of 3 weeks secret working for my calf ;)

  3. Sounds like a pretty good training run in terms of heat adaptations and mental strength. 2nd place bonus too :-)