Monday, May 09, 2016

Wings For Life - Ireland Run

It’s a good thing that I had checked the weather forecast. Sunday morning in Dublin was cold and grey and windy and you would have thought rain was just about round the corner. The forecast for the afternoon, however, could not have been any more different with sunshine high temperatures (for Ireland anyway), basically the first summer day of the year, the calendar still showing May notwithstanding.

For me this was stage 2 of a 3-step program to push myself towards greater endurance. I had run a 3:07 marathon in Limerick a week ago; recovery had gone very well, better than I could have expected really, and from the way the legs felt I could not have told that I had only recently run a marathon, never mind one with a decent time (and a 3:01 just 3 weeks before that)

As I made my way towards the start I bumped into Amy Masner, which finally gave me the opportunity to congratulate her on her outstanding performance in Finland back in February in person, rather than on social media. As we stood there chatting Alison walked by, so I got to introduce the 2 champs to each other (“Amy just ran 217 km; Alison won this race 2 years ago”), though as it turned out they actually had met before.

On the start line I had a chat with Dom, who put the Fear of God into me when describing the course and all those hills (that took a while). I also had a quick chat with Jamie, and since we were both hoping to run to the marathon distance it was clear that we would be close to each other for the duration of the race.

This was not a standard distance run; instead we were going to be chased by a car, and the faster you ran the longer you got to go. My mother-in-law seemed to have difficulties to comprehend the idea (“so, are you going to run a marathon or not?”) but some of the runners seemed to have problems with that regard as well, because a few went out at what must have been their 10k race pace. My advice is to use the calculator in advance and see what you are capable of. You had 3:08 to run a marathon. That’s what I was aiming for. I had run 3 sub-3:08 marathons already this year; this should be doable.

The 2 biggest problems of the day were apparent right from the start. It was already fairly warm and warming up further quickly. And pretty much from the start we went up the first climb. The first really big hill was not far away either; at mile 3 we were climbing up the steep Killiney hill but the drop down the other side was even steeper. There was a lady running just behind me (I think she was third lady at the time) and I could hear her shout as see seemed to fall, though when her clubmate passed me later he confirmed that she was alright. My standard way of running steep downhills is to lean forward and spin the legs as fast as you can, using gravity in your favour and don’t lean back because that destroys the quads when breaking. Right at the bottom of that insanely steep drop I glanced my pace on the watch - 4:55 minutes per mile! Blimey! My strava file later showed I had broken my 400m record on that stretch. This was supposed to be a marathon! It was going to a challenging run!

It was also getting hot! The temperature might “only” have reached 18 degrees but we were running in direct sunshine, which makes it feel a lot warmer. Plus, this was a lot warmer than any run since September and I soon felt parched. The drinks stations were 5k apart, which is pretty much standard and fine on most days but I started suffering between stations and was always parched as I approached the next one, and this only got worse as the day went on.

Once we had gone through Bray, about 13k into the race, the biggest challenge of them all awaited, a merciless 400 feet climb. Dom had warned me about it, as had Alison, so at least I knew what was coming. We had been going up and down for most of the race so far and the pattern was that I always lost a few places on the climbs and gained a few on the downhills, so it came as no big surprise that I went backward in the field as the climb went on for several miles. One of the runners going past was Jamie in his bright orange top, which made him fairly easy to identify. When we finally reached the top it was a long way down the other side and true to form I re-gained most of the places I had just lost.

Greystones was the half-marathon distance, and I had averaged about 7-minute miles to get there, though with all those hills that had taken a lot more energy that it sounds and my legs were already hurting. I also had the Limerick marathon lingering in there, which probably didn’t help, and the heat was definitely getting to me. From here on I would stop at each water station instead of grabbing a cup on the go, take 2 or 3 cups of water and maybe a red bull as well for caffeine stimulation. I would always feel better for 1 or 2k and then I was left looking forward to the next water stop.

Looking better than I felt at the time - photo by Andrew Hanney
There weren’t any more big hills but the course kept rolling up and down and there were very few flat stretches. I kept ticking along and the km markers passed by reasonably quickly. The photo of me going through Kilcoole shows me looking surprisingly fresh, certainly better than I felt at the time. However, I must have been in better shape than a lot of others around me because from here on I steadily started to make my way through the field. I even caught Jamie at 26k, though I could always sense him close behind when others seemed to drop off.

On the way to Newcastle I passed Barry Murray’s house where I had spent several very interesting hours only a couple of weeks ago. It made me wonder how my new mate Svein Tuft was getting on in the Giro d’Italia right now, but thoughts soon returned to my own increasing suffering. My pace suffered, my legs hurt, I was tired and thirsty and both dreading and awaiting the chaser car, which at that point couldn’t be much more than 10 minutes behind me. Tempting as it was to stop or slowly jog from here, I kept pushing onwards. Not everyone followed the same strategy though and I passed a number of runners who had given up the ghost and were reduced to walking.

Somewhere past the 30k mark the legs started cramping, which has become all too familiar this year. It left me with no choice but to reduce the effort a bit. By 35k it was becoming clear that the marathon was not going to happen today, I was already behind pace and only getting slower. Ah well. I would still try and make it to 40k at least.

Actually, the kilometers still kept ticking by reasonably quickly, but when Jamie caught me once more at 36k I knew I wasn’t going to catch him again. It might have been helpful, however, to have him within sight and try not to let the gap grow too large.

As we got to Rathnew there was a water stop at about 39.5k. If I had realised how close the catcher car was I would have run through it but I was too tired to think clearly and wasted precious time drinking several cups of water. The next hill was about to start and I was only seconds into it when a Garda motorbike drew up alongside me, informing me that the car was at the bottom of the hill. As it happened, I lost one place in the field as I was slow to grasp the idea that it was time for a finishing sprint, though going up that hill on cramping legs was never going to be particularity quick. At least I managed to go past the 40k mark but it was only a few second later that I was caught and the race was over. While feeling slightly disappointed that I had not made it to the marathon mark I knew I had given it a good effort on a tough day. I had run 25 miles at the pace of a 3:11 marathon rather than the required 3:08 one. On a flat course and more comfortable temperatures I would have made it I'm sure but let's not start making excuses.

I came 23rd overall and 3rd M45, which isn't a bad showing in a field of over 1400 runners. I'm happy enough with my effort. It's a unique race with a fun race format and I'll definitely consider doing it again next year

6 May
8 miles, 1:02:47, 7:49 pace, HR 141
7 May
5 miles, 40:41, 8:08 pace, HR 139
8 May
Wings for Life Run - Ireland
40.16k (24.95 miles), 3:02:18, 7:19 pace, HR 163
   23rd place, 3rd M45, 659th overall worldwide (54th M45)
9 May
5 miles, 42:42, 8:32 pace, HR 138


  1. Well done. Thanks Grellan for your updates. The one in Melbourne was popular with a couple of runners I know doing it. You should have done a 1.2 mile cool-down! What do you think of the global winning distances? 88k and 65k seem incredible. How do they get all the cars to drive at exactly the right speed, especially on hilly courses?

    1. They have GPS in the cars to tell the drivers if they are even a few metres ahead or behind.

      88k is just mind-boggling but that's what a multiple world champion is capable of. I actually ran "against" him in Connemara once. He's as nice and humble as he is good.

    2. I think I was tracking the catcher car. Great result Thomas, particularly given that Limerick was only the week before.

  2. Incredible racing schedule and achievements, Thomas! This race sounds interesting, maybe I'll try it next year - Niagara Falls is not too far from here and that is its Canadian location:)