Sunday, September 25, 2016


I've been quite lucky this time round with races a just the right time when I needed them. Last week the coach wanted me to run 40 miles and the Glen of Aherlow ultra saved me from having to trot on my own for hours and hours on end, and this Saturday the Kerry 24 hrs Endurance run saved me from a familiar situation. In fact, I had been quite disappointed that I would not be able to take part in this race; a 24 hours race here in Kerry seemed to be too good to miss but the European Championships do beat that and 4 weeks would not nearly have been enough to recover. I am therefore very grateful for the RD, Marcus Howlett, to offer me an entry. I made sure he would not mind if I stepped off after a marathon (the last thing I would have wanted was for him to think I disrespected this race) and was nominally put into the 6-hour race.

There were many familiar faces in Tralee town park, many local runner who would otherwise never have contemplated running a 24 hrs race took the opportunity to take part - it was very much a case of build it and they'll come. It all started with very little fuss and at 12 o'clock we all set off - at a rather leisurely pace.

My plan was to test out as much as I could in realistic race conditions. Therefore I was wearing the same gear I am planning to use in Albi, I was having the same nutrition and following a nutrition plan for a 24 hrs race and I ran at the same effort level I am planning to use in Albi. Basically, I was running the first 4 hours of a 24 hours race. That is, admittedly, very much the easy part.

I set off at basically 4-hour marathon pace because that's a pace I am very comfortable with and can hold for a lot of hours (not 24 though!). I also wore a HR that settled in around the 135 mark, and after that I paid no more attention to either HR or pace and just ran by feel and tried to keep the effort as even as possible. A lap was 0.75 miles, so that makes 4 laps for 3 miles, and 35 laps for the marathon. The distance seemed to match very closely what was displayed on my GPS, so there was no need for me to keep count; just run.

I felt a bit like an impostor. I knew I was going to stroll away happily a few hours later, while the real runner would be close to having to be carried off the track. I tried to ignore that and just, well, run. I ran a few miles with Terence at the start, had a chat with Alex O'Shea (I still can't understand why he's not on the Irish team for Albi even though he has run the standard), also with Mike, David, Fozzy and a few more, and I also made sure to have a few encouraging words with anyone I passed (that didn't entirely work for 4 hours but I did give out plenty of encouragement). My hamstrings felt a bit tight after only a few miles, but coming into this race on the back of probably the toughest few days of training I have ever done that didn't come as a complete surprise and the legs settled nicely as the miles ticked by.

The nutrition plan consisted of taking something every 2 laps, either a drink (tailwind or watered down flat coke) or a small bite (potato or flap jack), which should add up to about 180 calories per hour, just about the maximum you can digest while running. To be honest, even though I have run 4 24 hours races (and a few other very long runs) I have never paid much attention to my race nutrition, always ate whatever I felt like, but that approach seemed to backfire in Belfast in June and I wanted to try and put that on more solid foundations this time with a nutrition spreadsheet and planned calories intake (which will undoubtedly go out of the window after a few hours, I know that). The nutrition bit worked very well, and I am very grateful for John, who was crewing for Aoife, to re-fill my coke bottle when it was empty. The flap jack seemed to sit heavily in my stomach, even though I only ate about  third of it, so I have to be careful with that.

This would have been ground for disqualification in Albi

Keeping track of nutrition was the one thing that kept my mind occupied, apart from that it was just running. My iPod's battery was flat when I put it on (next time maybe bother to check before the start?), but that had the advantage of having to remain a bit more social. I kept very close to 4-hours marathon pace for 18 miles before drifting into slightly faster pace for the last third. The last hour was definitely a bit faster than I would have run in a 24 hours race but I guess I wanted this to be over, especially as the weather got a bit worse with a few rain showers and dropping temperatures.

To be honest, I was a bit worried for the likes of Fozzy and Vinny, who definitely ran a good bit faster than I would have advised (in fact, I did advise them when they had asked) but eventually decided not to say anything as I did not want to put any negativity, or perceived negativity, into their minds. A positive mindset is so important in those long races, I know that better than most.

Anyway, I actually felt better towards the end than I did at the start. With just one lap to go I sped up, partially to have a bit of fun, partially to make sure I did indeed have plenty left in the tank, so I ran the last lap at sub-7 pace, which felt good after almost 4 hours of shuffling. After crossing the line I made sure they had all 35 laps in the computer and then said my good byes to all the runners on the track.

My GPS said 26.74 miles but the official distance for 35 laps is only 26.25; I have no idea where the discrepancy comes from, especially since the laps seemed to track very closely at the start. Either way, this is without a doubt the shortest ultra I'll ever run, and of course I am at the very bottom of the results list - which is fine by me, my race is still 4 weeks away.

I did pay one price for the race. Ever since Belfast, my left big toenail has been very dark and did not look good but it stayed on - last night it finally came off. There was a new one growing underneath the old one but it's still only a third of the way of being a full toe nail, so right now I have a mismatched number of toes and nails (which, incidentally, is a sign of a real runner, as I have been told numerous times).

The weekend wasn't quite over yet. For Sunday the coach had put 18 miles into the program. I did feel a bit tired after my marathon the day before and the legs grumbled a fair amount at the mere thought but I kept thinking of the warriors in Tralee town park who had kept going all through the night while I was snuck up in bed. My right knee hurt a bit but nowhere near enough to serve as an excuse to stay at home, so off I went. The first half mile sucked as badly as expected but the legs settled down surprisingly quickly and then it was just a matter of putting down the head and keep going, ticking off mile after mile until I was done. I had actually expected this run to be the worst run of the entire training cycle but despite the weary legs, that never got any worse, it passed surprisingly quickly.

The only thing that failed was my HRM; the battery had been acting up a few times already, so it did not come as a complete surprise and I already had a replacement battery - at home, so that had to wait until after my return, and I just ran by feel - slowly that is. I got home before 12 o'clock, so I even managed to catch the finish of the 24 hours run on facebook (isn't modern technology amazing!).

Congratulations to the real runners!

22 Sep
6 miles, 54:49, 9:08 pace, HR 134
   with strides
23 Sep
3 miles, 28:28, 9:09 pace, HR 130
24 Sep
26+ miles, 3:57:59, 8:53 pace, HR 146
25 Sep
18 miles, 2:50:43, 9:26 pace


  1. Crazy last 10 days of training, I think you can be pretty chuffed with pulling through with just a few aches and pains. Great to see your training come good at last. So does mean taper time now?

    1. Not yet. Still a fairly tough week left, but no more back-to-backs