Sunday, September 29, 2019

Four Mountains and Almost a Funeral

I don't think I ever got the chance to sleep in my own bed and wake up naturally at my usual time and still be able to comfortably make the start of an ultra race. It sure never happened in Kerry, so that was definitely a new-found luxury. Too bad I still didn't manage to sleep properly - it was the usual sleepless night before a big race.

I got Niamh to drop me down to the Prom, less than 10 minutes from home, to the race start. After the usual plenty of hellos to familiar faces (and a couple of unfamiliar ones) we lined up at the start and at 8:30 am, a fairly civilised time, we set off. The 80k had about 150 starters I guess, but there were 3 shorter options available today as well and apparently they had 1100 runners signed up!

Bray Head
I have done a lot of ultras but it was only my second mountain ultra and it was definitely new territory for me. I have more or less gotten used to the fact that I'm no longer competitive at the front end of the field (not that I ever would have been in the mountains), so the plan was to enjoy it as much as I could. I had scouted out most of the route in the last 2 months and gotten quite familiar with the trails, so I knew very well what was in store. Thankfully the weather forecast had improved just a day before the race an it was to be a nice enough day, though I knew I would run the last hour or two in the rain. I reckoned by that time I would be past caring.

View of Greystones from Bray Head
I spent a couple of miles chatting to Liam, having run a fair few races together in the past. He had finished hours ahead of me in Connemara half a year ago and is much more used to running in the mountains but had missed vast chunks of training with injury, so I guess we were matched much closer this time round. Mind, I was a bit undertrained myself, deliberately so, because I really did not want to fall into my customary overtraining trap and had definitely erred on the side of caution.

The first climb may well have been the steepest one already and I started hiking sooner than most others around me, not willing to waste my energy at the very first opportunity already. The footing up Bray Head from the Bray side isn't great either but with fresh legs that's not an issue. I was already dreading having to descend it on destroyed legs at the end of the race, though - but there was no point in worrying about that already.

Little Sugarloaf
After Bray Head we entered the usually off-limits swanky Kilruddery estate, which was a first for me, and got a few easy miles in before the next climb, Little Sugarloaf. We didn't go all the way to the top but crossed over on a rough trail towards Kilmacanogue where we crossed the M11 via the footbridge and headed towards the proper mountain area away from civilisation.

I was happy to have done some training on those trails because familiarity definitely helped, but I was especially glad when I passed the turn-off for the Sugarloaf trail because that happened to be the one junction of the entire race that was poorly marked - I only spotted a bit of yellow marking tape further up the trail because I was really looking for it, and I was only looking so closely because I had expected to be heading up there. A few more flags and a marshall right at that point would have been more appropriate.

Great Sugarloaf
Anyway, that's where the climbing started in earnest as we did the big loop on the flanks of Great Sugarloaf. Again, we didn't actually cross over the top because the summit cone is rather eroded and definitely would not have been suitable for the big numbers in today's races, but it was still a very long climb.

Still, I felt really good coming into the Sugarloaf aid station, not quite 10 miles in, enjoying the breathtaking views and looking forward to the next mountain, Djouce, already. I also heard one runner complaining about that badly signposted junction, but I haven't heard any complaints from anyone in the shorter races since, so they may well have solved the issue for the later starts.

I used to get frustrated by people doing selfies
during a race. Now I'm one of them.
Anyway, to get to Djouce we were routed through the Powerscourt Gardens, another part of Wicklow that's usually off-limits (unless you pay, that is), so I was happy enough to see the truly spectacular waterfall there as an added bonus. We got a second glimpse of it a few miles later from much higher up, another absolutely breathtaking view. The race route sure was very well chosen.

And then there was Djouce, just after seeing Mick at one of the checkpoints. Years ago he had stated casually once that he would be making a trail runner out of me yet. That really hadn't come to fruition - until right now that is, probably totally unexpectedly, though I doubt he still remembers the original remark.

Djouce is by far the highest point of the course and it can be very windy up there but we got a pretty good day, and while the wind sure was noticeable it wasn't much of a factor. The most prominent feature about the Wicklow Way in the Djouce area is the boardwalk, which wasn't my favourite part of the race, to be honest, because it's in rather bad condition and not particularly great to run on. I was happy enough to eventually get off it. There were plenty more stunning views to be had, especially so of Lough Tay, and then it's about 6 gradually downhill miles towards Roundwood, most of it runnable but a few rough and stony trails thrown in for good measure as well.
Powerscourt waterfall

I was exactly 4:20 into the race and still half an hour away from Roundwood when the race leader came up on his way back home, moving exceptionally well. He had a big gap on the runners behind him, and then I saw Eoin in 4th place, very impressive just a few weeks after his stunning performance at UTMB. However, my own race took a sharp turn for the worse as my calves started cramping, just a few isolated spasms at first but they very quickly turned into full cramps. At first I could not run even on the gentlest of climbs, then they started cramping on the flat and before I reached Roundwood they even started cramping while jogging at the easiest effort level downhill. And as if that were not enough, they even started cramping when hiking uphill on a couple of occasions! All of a sudden I was in real trouble. Not only did I still have over half the race ahead of me, I also had to climb over all those mountains again on the way back home, and in my present state that seemed a rather ambitious target. I was having serious doubts if I would be able to finish.

I struggled into Roundwood, and at the aid station I realised how dehydrated I had become. The last water station had been a long while ago and I had been sparing with my water use, though I had not even realised how  thirsty I was until I saw the water there. I know there is a theory that dehydration can cause cramps but I do have serious doubts about that - but obviously I drank plenty and filled my two bottles up to the brim.

We had to do a flat 5k loop towards the Vartry reservoir before coming back into Roundwood again. It felt like a tacked-on section, out of character with the rest of the route because it was mostly flat, and just there to make up the distance. However, it was a good thing for me as it enabled me to fill up my water bottles yet again for a second time in a short while, and with that I basically had caught up with my hydration again. I did whine to Rene about my cramping legs, he did suggest salt but I had already taken a couple of salt tablets already, and I also ate a few Doritos off the aid station table, so I reckoned I had covered that angle already. That little reservoir loop had taken me much longer than I would have expected because I had been forced to walk much of it, and the next thing awaiting me was the return climb over Djouce. I really did not know how I could possibly make that.
Still Djouce

However, my legs may have gone but my big strength in my ultra running career has always been my stubbornness. As long as I was able to make at least one more step I was still in the business. I was over an hour ahead of the Roundwood cut-off and a quick calculation in my head indicated that even if I had to walk the entire way back home I should still be able to make the final cut-off, though after well over 5 hours on my legs my math skills were not entirely reliable any more. Leg-wise, I was still hoping for a miracle.

Vartry Reservoir
As I made my way out of Roundwood I wasn't in the best of spirits but I was still in the game. As the miles wore on I was surprised that nobody was overtaking me yet, but I guess even the "runnners" with non-cramping legs were tired at that point and they were all hiking themselves and therefore not really moving any faster than me. That changed when I reached a few flatter sections and a few girls and boys did indeed pass me, including Liam eventually. We did chat a bit but he soon moved ahead and I definitely did not expect to see him again.

Around that time I took a paracetamol. Now, I really hate taking painkillers in a race, it can be a really bad idea, especially when you're dehydrated and the aid stations here were very far apart, but I was desperate and had totally run out of sensible ideas so I moved on to the insensible ones. I wasn't really in pain as such, and I had never heard of a painkiller helping with cramps, so it really was just an act of desperation due to lack of other options. However, within 10 minutes the calves started to feel better and I even managed to jog a bit, first on the downhills and then even on the flats, without yelping in pain after 3 seconds. Was it really the paracetamol? I have no idea, and quite frankly at that point I didn't care a dot what it was, I was just glad that I could move again, though overall I was still in pretty bad shape and any time I tried to push my luck I was very quickly reminded of my limits.

Possibly the best view all day, Lough Tay
As I got to the last water station before Djouce at the military road I saw Liam again. He was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him, but we left at the same time and this time I managed to stay with him and another runner as we tackled the boardwalk again. The boards were very slippy and you had to mind your step but we made reasonable progress. I did fall behind on a couple of occasions when the guys started running on the flatter sections and my legs weren't quite up to their pace but every time I caught up on the steeper hiking parts again. To be honest, I was happy just to still being able to move.

Great Sugarloaf. Not small. Just far away!
I was really worried about the Powerscourt section, though. On our way out we had run down a ridiculously steep trail towards the Dargle river at the bottom and I feared my legs would not be able to make it back up such a steep trail and had visions of me literally being stuck right at the bottom. Then again, I had to get there first, so just concentrate on the next step and worry about the rest later.

We eventually reached the high point again and on the downhill part I realised that my calves weren't the only issue, my quads were hurting badly by this point as well. I was ok when the path was smooth but there are long sections of very rough footing and I struggled to keep up with the guys and only just about managed to hang on. Also, I caught a few stones with my toes and while I never fell it always sent my calves back into cramping, which was just as painful as a faceplant would have been. Finally we got to a smoother section, grassy and a bit muddy, and I coped much better on that surface.

That was all fine and well until we got back towards Powerscourt Gardens on a new trail, and that one was really rough, full of loose stones, and quite steep, and in no time at all I lost contact with Liam and struggled to slowly make my way downwards. Eventually, after a long painful struggle I finally got to a flat, smooth trail section but now my calves were back in full cramping mode and once more I was forced to walk on a section that normally would have been perfect for running. Thankfully, however, we did not drop all the way down to the river so I was spared that steep climb that I had been dreading. Instead there was only a 300 meter section back up to the road, this one made particularly interesting by a film crew setting up a scene for some spooky medieval/fantasy film, cool to watch, not that we had time to stop and gawk.

Great Sugarloaf
Crossing the road I was informed that the Sugarloaf aid station was only 3 km ahead, which was good news as I had completely run out of water. It had been a long time since the last aid station! I was also absolutely starving. I still had some chocolate in my pack but the mere thought of sweets almost made me gag and I really could not make myself eat that, not even a tiny bite. I should have brought some savoury options. Ah well. Next time. Unfortunately there was no ready-made table where you could have deposited a bag of boiled potatoes every mile, unlike some other races I would have been more used to.

Coming into the Sugarloaf aid station felt like a landmark, the long Djouce sections were behind us, there was less than 10 miles to go, and it felt that we were finally turning towards home. Liam was still there, but I was mostly concerned with stuffing my face with bananas, apples and eventually whole handfuls of  peanuts, which really hit the spot. Liam was still there, as were a few other runners, and we chatted bit before heading off again. By now we were 8:30 into the race and I was pretty sure my pre-race estimation of a finish somewhere between 10 and 11 hours would prove to be correct.

Look towards Bray with Killiney and Dalkey in the background
There was not much climbing left for Great Sugarloaf as the aid station was at a fairly high elevation anyway and we soon turned right onto a new trail. That was the only section that caught me slightly by surprise, on my training runs I had taken a different trail. Not that there was much difference, it was steep and my quads were destroyed from all the previous climbs as well as the 40+ miles we had accumulated so far and Liam very quickly disappeared over the horizon, as well as 2 or 3 other runners. I really struggled on this section, the quads were on fire with each step and when I finally reached a flatter section the calves were in full cramping mode again. At some point I took a second paracetamol but I don't think I noticed any difference whatsoever. After an absolute age we got onto the road, and for the first time in a very long while were back in civilisation, with houses, and people, and cars. Some more runners passed me but eventually I managed to somewhat sputter back to life and started to jog again, awkwardly and very, very slowly, but it was better than walking. We crossed the M11 again via the footbridge and on the serpentines down I could see at least half a dozen runners within maybe 30 seconds of me. Even though I wasn't competing for anything, the idea of being overtaken by so many guys in a short space of time didn't appeal to me at all. It's a mental thing. Maybe it's a fragile male ego thing.

As soon as we crossed the M11 we immediately had to climb the insanely steep road up Little Sugarloaf. This was seriously hard work but you know what? Somehow, without being able to explain it, I actually moved pretty well here. Maybe the sight of those runners just behind me had given me a jolt, maybe I was smelling the finish, maybe it was the fact that I was back in familiar territory but I hiked at what felt some serious pace. Not that you'd know it from looking at the mile splits but things are all relative after 44 miles when gaining almost 400 feet in a single mile. I had two distinct and slightly contradictory impressions here. One, I was moving surprisingly well. Two, I was in a world of pain, especially when we moved off the road and onto yet another stony, rough and very steep trail. Of all the miles in the entire race, this was the toughest one. It was there that my phone started ringing and even without looking at the screen I immediately knew it was Niamh who wanted to know when I expected to finish. I wasn't able to say much but I managed to tell here where I was and expect to finish somewhere around 60-90 minutes from now. Jesus, she really managed to pick her moment there!

My watch gave up the ghost shortly after, which really pissed me off. Just a bit longer and I would have had the whole race in one file. However, I had my phone with me and recorded the rest of the race with that. Not that having a full GPS track of the race is of any real importance but if you run 50 miles across several mountains you may as well record the damn thing.

Bray Head from a totally unfamiliar angle
That trail looked and felt completely new, and once I somehow got my aching bones over the top there were a plethora of gates to be passed through that all felt brand new. That trail must be a very recent development, I sure was not familiar with it at all, but then again it was the "other" side of Little Sugarloaf. Somehow the legs came back to me on the downhill and I covered the ground much better than I could have hoped for, towards the final aid station, only 6 km and only one mountain left, and a fairly small one at that. Bray Head, very familiar territory, even if I approached it from a very unfamiliar angle. As I made my way through Belmont estate it finally started raining, something I had expected to happen much earlier, but the weather had held fine for almost the entire day. Shortly after crossing the Greystones road I took the rain jacket out of my back pack because by now it was raining heavily and I would have gotten cold very quickly up at the ridge. Again, I managed to hike the steep road much better than I could have hoped for but the bigger surprise was that I was able to run properly again once I reached the ridge, and there was not a hint of cramping left. How you can be unable to run at mile 23 but be able to move nicely at mile 46 I do not know, not that I cared much about the physiological details at that point. The Bray Head cross was surprisingly and pleasing close when I looked up and I was there in no time - but now it was time for the one section I had feared the most all along - the final, insanely steep descent on a really rough surface, slippery in the rain on totally destroyed legs, and to make matters worse it was actually pretty damn dark by now. I could have taken my light out of my back pack but somehow could not muster the energy to do so - just struggle down that damn hill, somehow, without smashing your head against a rock.

I did slip on several occasions and found it hard to make out the roots and stones that threatened to trip me up but by some miracle always remained upright and eventually came out of it still in one piece, onto the concrete road and then it was just the glory stretch left, down towards the sea front and half the promenade towards the finish. Final time 10:46:39, 42nd place in the provisional results but I think there are some runners left out of those so the final placing may well change.

Strava gave me an elevation change of almost 9300 feet / over 2800 meters, that's some serious elevation, especially for the much less rugged Wicklow mountains which are much gentler than the Alps or Rockies.

All done! Niamh was there, having gotten there just 2 minutes before my arrival, excellent timing. They gave me a cup of alcohol free Wicklow Wolf beer which I drained in one go, never has a beer out of a plastic cup tasted so good, alcohol free or not, and apparently it was the fastest they had seen anyone drink their beer all day, so at least I was the fastest at one thing today.

I was so glad to be done, this was every bit as tough as I had expected it to be. The trails are absolutely stunning, it is a spectacular race which I cannot recommend highly enough - if you don't fancy the pain of an ultra there are plenty of other options available, 18, 28 and 45 km, all of them very worthwhile, so come and do it next year yourself.

I have always been a pure road runner but with my competitive phase well behind me now I feel free to do whatever I want and I can definitely see myself out on the mountains again. I found the training as well as the racing on trails much more enjoyable than I expected, and quite frankly I can't wait to get more of the same.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Let It Bee

It was supposed to be a nice, short, relaxing taper run, but a minute into Wednesday's lunchtime run I accidentally swallowed an insect that had flown right into my mouth. It may have been a bee, I'm not sure because I didn't see it but it sure was big enough. Within seconds I could feel a swelling in my throat. After a few rather anxious moments I realised that my breathing was unaffected, so I a) continued to run and b) continued to live. Eating/drinking subsequently was ok, if a bit uncomfortable, though it could have been so much worse it doesn't bear thinking about.

The rest of the day I had a rather uncomfortable feeling in my throat but it got significantly better towards the evening. However, it was back to its most uncomfortable best the next morning, and last night (from Thursday to Friday) I kept dreaming that I was choking and completely unable to breathe, I was literally going from nightmare to nightmare all night. Jesus Christ, how the hell did that stuff happen!

I have the minor matter of a 80 km mountain race coming up tomorrow and I'm not quite as relaxed as I'd prefer to be but there's not much I can do about it now. I'm feeling a lot better today, so if I managed to get some sleep tonight that would be great but I can count the number of times I slept well the night before a long race on the fingers of one hand and still have most digits left over, so I will probably go into it slightly underslept.

Then again, personally I find lack of sleep immediately before a race much less of an issue than it's usually made out to be, I have qualified and run World Championships while in theory being tired from lack of sleep, so I don't think it will be an issue once I hit the road trail!!

And so with that, see you on the other side, my friends!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Pain In My Side

About two weeks ago I got a fairly bad pain on my right-had side. That was a real problem because I only sleep properly on my right side, and that proved to be impossible. I did google for possible causes and of course Dr. Google came up with the usual terminal cancer diagnosis, as well as a few others like pneumonia and muscle strain. While I was reasonably confident that it wasn't terminal cancer I didn't entirely rule out pneumonia because it somewhat reminded me of the pain when I had exactly that 12 years ago, but a muscle issue was always by far the most likely cause.

I don't know what caused it, maybe it was from that bike crash in Kerry because that's the side I landed on, but since it had been such a minor incident and it didn't hurt at all for several days afterwards I think it may have been unrelated.

The most painful thing by far was sneezing; it hurt like hell, as if someone had stabbed me in my side. Coughing was uncomfortable as well, which was another problem because I, and just about everyone else who had been on that bike ride, was suffering from a cold a few days after the trip, but thankfully it was only a short illness and after a couple of days I was better again.

The pain in my side has mostly gone away now, but it has taken about 3 weeks, so there was plenty of discomfort to be had. Thankfully it didn't hurt at all when running or I would have been in real trouble with my upcoming race.

Ah yes, the race. I got a scare last Friday when 3 guys asked me if I was racing this weekend, including one guy who was signed up to the same race, but after checking the website I calmed down again, I had been right, the race is this weekend.

Unfortunately the weather forecast isn't great, I will make sure my rain gear is in good order. That's a shame, we will be up in the mountains but not get to enjoy any of the marvellous views.  I have yet to enjoy the views from the top of Djouce and it looks like I will have to wait a little bit longer.

I expect the race will take me between 10 and 11 hours. I sure as hell don't expect to trouble any of the faster guys but I won't make up the back of the pack either, and I have 12:30 to finish, so I don't think the cut-offs will be an issue. I'll just try and enjoy it as much as I can, without putting any kind of pressure on myself.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Recover As You Taper

The first thing I noticed a day or two after our epic cycle trip was that my hip flexors were a bit tired. That didn't come as much of a surprise after that little adventure, and in fact I was feeling a lot better than expected - 3 consecutive days of several hours of running would have left me in much worse state, that's for sure. Come Monday morning my legs seemed to have forgotten about the cycling already, so that was good.

However, around that time I started noticing a sore throat. This could have had two sources, my room mate for two nights in Kerry had complained about the same, as had my son Shea after I had returned back home. However, just about every single cyclist was suffering from a cold the week after the ride so I'm reasonably sure we all got it there. Usually I manage to fight off most infections without being bothered myself but I did feel sufficiently bad on Wednesday that I cancelled the run for that day. My HR had already been elevated the days before that, so it had been in my system already. Thankfully the whole episode passed very quickly and by Thursday I was already back out on the road, blowing out the cobwebs and feeling surprisingly good, so that's that.

Despite that one enforced rest day it was actually a pretty good running week. The legs are feeling fresh, which may be a sign that I really undertrained this time but I'll take it, it's better than being overtrained and trust me, I know what I'm talking about. My longest run was a 2-hour easy jog on the trails of Bray Head. Usually you meet a lot of people where the cross is but virtually nobody else on the rest of that mountain as you head southwards but this time I must have come across at least 20 runners on my 2 loops there, so I guess the locals were out in force to check out that part of the route for the Ecotrail in 2 weeks' time.

I'm actually really looking forward to it. I was a bit apprehensive when I signed up and wasn't really sure if I really wanted to subject myself to that, but now I'm definitely getting excited about it. I hope the weather will be somewhat manageable, I'm still very much a newbie in the mountains and could do without nature throwing a few extra challenges, but we'll see. It's not as if we had a choice. That's part of the fun after all.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Something Completely Different

About to start
Five years ago a group of about a dozen employees at Microsoft Ireland decided to do a cycle event in aid of charity. The chosen cause was Laura Lynn, which is not only one of the most deserving charities in Ireland but also located closely to Microsoft's office buildings in Sandyford, which made it an easy choice, I suppose. But I don't think they could have envisioned how much the event would grow and how the amount of money raised would reach incredible heights. I guess everything at Microsoft happens at scale, even the fundraising by its employees. This year, for the 6th year of the charity cycle, there were about 90 people actively involved, including a group of 19 crew, the rest of them the cyclists. The fundraising had been going on for months already with bucket collections and bag packing and even at some of the All Ireland games, obviously all done in our spare time. Microsoft as an organisation wasn't directly involved as such but they did provide the facilities and they did allow a significant number of employees to spend 3 days in Kerry for a charity event without having to take the time as annual leave, which is more than most companies would have done, I suppose.

Not all that happy to see my old office, apparently
Anyway, the amount of money raised had already reached a mind-boggling 120.000 Euro just before we set off from Kenmare on Wednesday morning. It had been a hideously early start to catch the bus and get to Kerry at about 10:20 am (already later than planned) and then we set off in five groups of about 12-14 cyclists each. I was happy enough to be in group 1, even though all groups were supposed to be equal (yeah right, of course they are). It was raining as we set off, fittingly so as it had been raining last year when they had finished here, and we followed the Kerry part of the Wild Atlantic Way. About 105 km on day 1 to Caherciveen, 135 km on day 2 to Dingle (a bit more actually) and about 115 km on day 3 to Ballybunion. Day 1 was very windy, which did cause a few hairy moments and might have contributed to my crash just a couple of miles before the end when the rider in front of me swerved and hit my front wheel but no harm done, neither to me nor my bike. Day 2 was gorgeous, with the best views on offer and particularly special for me with a coffee break in Killorglin just outside my old office where I happened to meet and chat to at least a dozen of my former colleagues. Day 3 was supposed to be a washout but the rain stopped just as we were about to leave, and while there were no views to be had from the top of Conor Pass, it was still a lovely day, so we were really lucky with the weather.
Tired in Dingle

I had expected my legs to be sore after the first day, remembering how tough it is to run multiple marathons, but in actual fact I never felt any soreness in my legs. My backside didn't get away quite so easily but I managed. And apart for that spill on day 1 and a dropped chain on day 2, which was fixed in a minute, I had no issues with the bike, so I'm already looking forward to next year's event when we continue the road in county Clare.

Not quite the view I was hoping for
I didn't get any running done on those three days. I felt pretty good on the bike at all times but as soon as we stopped and sat down I got tired within 10 minutes, so the fancy idea of extra training vanished rapidly. I did manage 10k on Saturday in Ballybunion and I did a relaxed 2 hour hill run around Bray Head on Sunday, so I got some running done after all, but with about 20 hours of exercise for the week logged I don't think I have to worry about a loss of fitness.

The race, the actual event I'm training for, is 3 weeks away, so I guess there is supposed to be some tapering happening soon. I'm not feeling tired - it's not like road running when you're at the brink so often, in the hills I felt fine even after almost 4 hours of running/hiking, and I guess it took much less out of me. That's good because for once I think I managed to prepare for an event without getting into overtraining. Mind, I'm not quite there yet. But I'm very much looking forward to it now.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Let's Be Sound!

From Wednesday to Friday this week I will be participating in the Microsoft Ireland Charity Cycle, raising much needed funds for Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice. Over 3 days we will be cycling 355km along the Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry from Kenmare to Ballybunion. Laura Lynn provide palliative care and support for children with life-limiting conditions. I would really appreciate your support by clicking here.

Obviously it mans my training for the ultra will be ever so slightly compromised. I know from personal experience that there is some carry-over of fitness from the bike to running, as well as vice-versa, but I'm not sure how much of that counts once you reach ultra distances because the pounding of the legs is something you only get conditioned for when doing some actual running.

I have been cycling over 100 miles a week every week for the last two or three months, including a hilly, long spin every Tuesday with a sizeable group, and my cycling has been coming along a lot as a result. I am finding it very enjoyable as well, much more so than expected. Maybe I just like to exercise.

And now I keep thinking I should add some swim training as well and finally cross that Big I off my bucket list. I had been meaning to do it almost 10 years ago but then getting into the pointy end of running races took over and everything else took a back seat.

I did have to dial back my running as a result of all the cycling, otherwise it was just too much on the body. How that will turn out over those mountains and the end of the month I shall see.

At least I managed to do some long runs in the mountains. I always saw myself as a road runner and never really enjoyed running on trails, with the uneasy footing and the constant threat of a face plant where I could never relax as much as I can on the road, but when I finally turned my attention to mountain running once again I found it surprisingly enjoyable, or maybe it was just the fact that I was ok with hiking all those steep uphills or those  particularly stony trails and found that I could do 4 hours of exercise and still feel ok afterwards.

Djouce in glorious sunshine - too late!
On Tuesday my left knee felt a bit stiff even before the cycle, but it was ok once I got going. By Wednesday that was better but then the stiffness went into my Achilles instead. Again, it was not too bad initially but on Saturday I was a mile away from home when all of a sudden it started acting up and was rather uncomfortable. It had happened on the steepest part of that run, so obviously the tendon got overloaded. Not great when you're about to head into the mountains and expect to do a lot of climbing.

Therefore I started my big mountain "run" today with a bit of trepidation. After scouting out most of the first/last 10+ miles of what I expect to be the running route in previous weeks I did some running on the middle part of the race, namely Djouce mountain. I got up very early, much more so than would be considered civilised for a Sunday, and drove to Roundwood, which was still very sleepy at this time. I made my way towards the Wicklow Way and then towards Djouce. I also took in the summit, even though that's not part of the running route but when you get that far you might as well tag the top. Unfortunately it was covered in thick clouds, which robbed me of some breathtaking views - it was all cleared up a couple of hours later but by then it was too late for me.

I hiked most of the uphills, partially because I wanted to keep this at ultra effort levels but mostly because I wanted to protect my Achilles and stop it from being overloaded. The last thing I would have wanted was to get stranded with a gimpy leg up on a windswept mountain miles from anywhere. But it was all good, even with a very strong wind that on one occasion blew me off the  boardwalk, but I escaped unharmed and was rather pleased with how it had gone, really.

And please, be sound and donate a couple of Euros to quite possibly the most deserving charity there is by clicking here.