Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gone With The Wind

Ah yes, the best laid plans. I had it all worked out, got a rental car Friday after work, carefully prepared all the stuff that was needed, and on Saturday very early in the morning headed up north for my first race in the East Antrim Marathon Series, something I had been looking forward to for a very long time. The race was the Paddy's Day 6-hours challenge and was going to be one of the key workouts for my goal race in June. Ah yes, the best laid plans.

I had not slept well, something that happens quite a lot before a race, but that didn't overly bother me, I'm well used to that. The weather forecast wasn't great, with temperatures plummeting back to about 0, but I can cope with that as well. One look at the wind forecast had me going "oh shi*t", but I still expected to manage. This is Ireland, I have been running in high winds on plenty of occasions.

Lap 1
As soon as I got close to Newtownabbey I did not like the look of the waves on Belfast Lough, they looked rather rough. And as soon as I got out of the car I almost got blown over. This was going to be interesting. I had to re-park my car after getting my number because apparently it would be too busy down here, which meant I barely had enough time to get ready but I made it just in time.

The course was from Loughshore Park towards Gideon's Green a tad over 2 miles further south, all along the sea front, and back again. A bit over 6 laps would be a marathon (there was a sign where you had to turn around on lap 7 for a full marathon) and my plan was for about 10 laps, making 42 miles, but to take it as it goes, this was a training run after all.

The first 2 miles were easy with the wind at our back. The next 2 were considerably more challenging, especially the last half mile back towards Loughshore Park where the wind was so strong that you kept running at big effort but barely kept moving forward. What worried me the most was the fact that the forecast had predicted steadily increasing winds. This seemed hardly possible at the time, but as it turned out, it was correct.

Lap 2 with Dino
I spent most of lap 2 chatting to Dino, which was nice, but the wind was so strong that you basically had to shout really loudly to get heard and after a while that simply was too much effort while running at the same time. I picked up a drink after lap 2 and kept going.

Lap 3. It still got worse after that
By now the wind had increased to such an extend that it kept pushing big waves right over the path. That proved to be a problem. A big one. Running on wet paths was not the problem. Getting soaked from wave after wave after wave, with the icy cold wind blowing a full tilt, was. Getting sufficient electrolytes was not an issue today. Every few minutes you were guaranteed to get a wave right in your face, with a mouthful of salt water. For once I didn't even think of taking a salt tablet today.

From as soon as lap 3 I started the internal dialog for how long I was going to endure this. I did not want to pull out lightly. I had spent plenty of money to get here in the first place, and I did not want to miss out on one of my key workouts, so I postponed the decision for a while. I kept flip-flopping on the issue. Once, just as I had decided to quit soon, the sun came out and it became significantly more tolerable, but that didn't last (though it did come out again later).

One area of the course was so exposed to the waves that everyone started running up on the grassy slope of a hill instead, which was hard going as well as slippery, with me taking one full plunge in the mud, but still better than the flooded path. Another section was re-routed through the car park. Nothing could protect us from the wind, though, and one section close to Gideons Green was still pretty bad with big waves coming over the wall all the time.

I had long started to question how save this was. After lap 4 I picked up another drink and for the first few minutes simply could not drink it, my face and lips had become totally numb and I could not sip from the spout until I had warmed up a bit once I had the wind on my back. Also, the field had thinned out considerably already, I guessed that at least half of the runners had already called it a day.

I still hadn't decided either way but resolved to make it to the marathon. Up to then I had paid no attention to the turn-around sign, having planned on keeping doing full laps until the end, but now I did start to notice it. I wasn't even tired. In fact, I was really pleased with how well the legs responded to running for several hours, even with the big effort required every lap when we had to fight the monster headwind. There was no sign of cramp either (maybe due to the constant load of unexpected electrolytes, hehe), and from that point of view it was going really well. However, when the sun disappeared again I eventually decided to end it with the full marathon. Finn seemed to sense something and told me it was warming up, but at that point my mind was finally made up and I told her I'd call it a day.

After completing 6 full loops I headed back out to the full marathon turn and back towards the finish. My watch said 26.38 miles and 3:46:50. The mileage wasn't what I had wanted but that was that. Due to this being a timed race you had an official finish after even one single lap, so this still counts as a result, not a DNF. Would I have continued if I required the full 6 hours for an official finish? I don't think so, but you never know for sure.

As soon as I stopped I actually started to feel worse, physically. I took a can of coke and could not open it, my fingers being too numb. Once a helpful angel (those organisers and marshalls REALLY deserve a medal!) had come to my help, I could barely drink it because my hand was starting to shake badly. I left very quickly, I really had to make it to my car straight away (thanks for the lift!). Once in there I was unable to get changed at first, shaking uncontrollably, and had to just sit there for several minutes with the heating on full blast before I could finally take off my wet gear.

As a race, this was a brilliant community effort with everyone being really supportive towards each other and all enduring the pain as a group. It was also the worst conditions I had ever run in. I have run marathons in over 30 degrees and I have run in rain with the wind blowing it sideways but today the combination of stormy wind and the icy cold sea water washing over us non-stop was utterly brutal. A handful of runners went on past the marathon, boys and girls you have my full respect! And congratulations to Finn for winning!

The one photo that gives you a sense of the wind
Me, I am definitely ok with my decision to pull out when I did. Even a day after finishing a large area of skin of my lower right arm feels somewhat numb and uncomfortably tingly, a bit like pins and needles, when I touch it. Slight nerve damage? I'm not sure. It felt better after a good night's sleep, so I'm sure it's only temporary but it definitely makes me glad I decided to call it a day when I did.

I'm sure I'll be back for more EAMS love sooner rather than later. I won't be expecting sunshine all day, but I sure hope the weather will be a bit more accommodating in future.

I saw on one website that the wind speed had been up to 32 knots (60+ kph). To be honest, I think it may well have been even more.

Also, there were plenty of friends at the race but I barely, or even not at all, recognised half of them because most runners were completely wrapped up, even with bandanas covering their faces. I put up a lot of photos because they are describing the conditions much better than any words could. Keep in mind that this wasn't even the worst section! Credit for all photos goes to Elma McAvoy.

15 Mar
am: 5.5 miles, 43:48, 7:57 pace, HR 139
pm: 6 miles, 45:28, 7:34 pace, HR 137
16 Mar
5 miles, 42:23, 8:28 pace, HR 128
17 Mar
EAMS 6-hrs challenge, marathon in 3:46:50, 8:37 pace, HR 134
18 Mar
am: 6.3 miles, 52:31, 8:19 pace, HR 129
pm: 3.8 miles, 32:27, 8:32 pace, HR 122


  1. Thomas, you're a legend!

  2. Wow. Not the greatest venue for a winter marathon in Ireland.

  3. At least you didn't have to be rescued!

    1. I saw that, alright, though the headline is misleading.

  4. That's mental conditions to be racing in. Well done on keeping going for so long and not doing yourself an injury. Best of luck with recovery.

  5. Y’all are animals! Thanks for the pics! It shows the “clear cut view” of how hard the “wind shred” actually was, & it makes any windy run I’ve endured look like a walk in the park.