Saturday 29 March 2014

EOI Howth

Marathon #49  EOI Howth


This was the first of the Spring Race Series for the East Of Ireland and was their mid-week race in March.

My heart sank when Frank announced it was going to be on the Howth course. This is one of the toughest marathon routes in the country with over 1800ft of climb on 4 punishing laps around Howth island.  I have done this course twice before and knew that my course best of 3:50 wasn't under threat as when I woke up the rain was absolutely lashing down. I really was not looking forward to this as to add to the misery it was only 3 days since my last marathon in Belfast and my legs hurt like hell.

The weather eased a little as I parked up in Howth and 18 toed the line in what has to be said was cold, windy, sleety, rainy conditions.  It was miserable. Dipak and Dave Brady arrived as we started and followed us. A number also had gone out early. Pretty much everyone had raced somewhere the previous weekend.

It was a self sufficient marathon but Ger who was injured, and who lived right on the course close to the start/finish setup an aid stop outside his house. So in actual effect it was very well serviced. It was also a free event as are all the mid week marathons for EOI.

The field spread out quickly and by the time we hit the hill for the first time at 3 miles I was on my own. I could have easily gone home at this stage. But this was my 49th marathon I only had 2 thoughts.

1) Finish
2) Don't get injured

I did not go hard at all during this run as I was treating it with kid gloves and it was my last long run before Connemara. The hill was as long and tough as I remembered and I came through the first lap in 1:03. I was freezing, wet and alone. Ger at the aid stop raised the spirits and it was off on the second lap.

The only exciting thing that happened on lap 2 was Mark passing me on the hill and I could see by the trail of blood that was following him that someone forgot to Vaseline.

1:05 brought me through half way in 2:08 and I had to disguard the rain gear and hat as it was just dead weight and long since had stopped keeping me dry or warm.

On lap 3, half way up the hill Frank came past and let me know I was about to be lapped. Indeed Barry Casserly who was fresh off breaking 3 hrs the Saturday before in Killeigh duly flew past on way to a 3:07 which given he had only 4 days between events and this was Howth and it was miserable was amazing.

Lap 3 got me around in 1:07 and I was fading badly with the hill ahead one more time. I walked/ran up the hill not killing myself and managed to catch Fermin who was cramping. When I eventually got to the top I legged it into Howth coming a few seconds short of catching James in the village before crossing in 4:26:14. Not the fastest time but this was my 8th marathon in 7 weeks and it was miserable conditions on one of the most difficult marathon courses in the country.

Ger invited us all up for Tea and Stephen provided samples of his special soup which despite the portions was very tasty and well received.

Now the attention turns to 5th/6th April. Lindsay has has her TV series PUNKY nominated for an IFTA award for best childrens program. The awards are announced at a gala ceremony on Saturday 5th in Dublin with the A list of Irish film and TV personalities, which is actually quite impressive. It can followed on RTE on Saturday night. Then I have my 50th marathon on the other side of the country with a 7am bus pick up in Galway at the Ultra. So the plan for the weekend is:

  • Friday night:  Goto Galway and get a good nights sleep
  • Saturday morning pick up the number, get everything ready for Sunday and hit back for Dublin
  • Saturday night attend the awards ceremony and win the IFTA
  • Sun morning (approx 2am) hit back to Galway
  • Sun morning 6am get up and fuel and go for the bus at 7am
  • Sun morning 9am start the Ultra close to Maam Cross
  • Sun mid to late afternoon finish in ecstasy
I'm as nervous as a kitten but I have all the miles in the legs now and I am running with a lot of friends both in the Ultra and the Marathon and I can't wait. Thanks also to Ray the Race director who allocated me the No 50 bib for my milestone run. The Connemara half marathon was my first ever running race in 2004 which just adds to it more as its a 10 year anniversary as well.

Garmin stats for today

Sunday 23 March 2014

EOA Bfast Lough

Marathon  #48

East Of  Antrim Race Series Jordanstown - Cultra and back


This brings my strike rate for the last 12 months to 26, or one every 2 weeks. Isn't that insane?

I never have had much occasion to visit either East or North Belfast before. This despite being born and bred within 20 miles of this marathon course, in Downpatrick. I guess when growing up in Northern Ireland in the 60's and 70's you didn't have much need to leave your own community. Indeed when I went to University in Belfast in the early 80's there was also no need to stray too far as everything was self contained in the university area.

Panoramic view from the start
It was a 2 hr drive from Dublin,  so it was an early start but the roads are fantastic and there was no traffic. A quick stop in Newry for a coffee and some cash and I arrived well on time. As I drove into Belfast along the West Link I could see snow on Black Mountain and the temp gauge had it at 1 degree. Arriving at the Shore Rd I drove into the lowest, blackest cloud I ever have seen and it became a snow blizzard. I was worried. Fortunately when I parked at the start the cloud had blown over and it was a bright, cold but breezy day.

I was still on a high from having helped out at the Killeigh marathon on Saturday. We had a blast and witnessing the excitement and pure emotion of Brian O'Kelly and Barry Casserly going under 3hrs for the first time was just magic.

Gary, Lorna and I waiting to go
There were three that were attempting a back 2 back after Killeigh and they had duly arrived. Gary Reinhardt who was making excuses early, Lorna Murphy who is Derrygonnelly's most famous export and Kathleen Cheshire  who just never rests. In fact there were more familiar faces that I expected with lots having done EOI events in the recent past.

I was looking forward to a nice flat run by the sea and running through areas that should be familiar, as either iconic landmarks or no doubt parts of the Belfast main marathon route. This was a fantastically run event, up there with the best in the country including EOI, MCI, Donadea 50K and Achill (I think that has covered my ass). I would recommend everyone to try one out and support the race series as its fab. I saw the route for the race in April and it looks special.
Start Line

I loved and hated this route with equal measure. I loved the sections along the lough and the city center but hated the industrial estates that connected them. I have the same love hate issues with the main Belfast marathon but yet I return and return.

Ready and waiting
The race needed permission from the parades commission which I found strange. Then I was reminded of the festival in Fermanagh, where they wanted for some reason to herd a paddling of ducks (thanks Google) down the main street and also had to seek permission from the parades commission. So why should I be surprised.

We did the obligatory photo's and instructions and we were off.  After the first mile we hit the main Belfast marathon route along the cycle path
Anyone got the time?
without the annoyance of relay runners. I spent a bit of time with Ali Shaw who predicted a 4:00 finish after running the Larne Half the day before. He started at 3:30 pace and was to finish even better than that and soon disappeared into the distance. This was beautiful easy running and I was joined by Trevor Denton for the next 10 miles. We clipped along nicely chatting, even stopping to take photos. I discovered that Trevor and I were born within a few weeks of each other and both have big birthdays approaching. Trevors brother was leading the race and would finish in 2:53.

Some great iconic sights
We wound our way through the city center following the yellow arrows and outriders crossing the Lagan at the blue fish (which I nearly missed) . We skirted the Oddessy and headed into East Belfast past Harland and Wolff and Shorts before joining the coast again close to Holywood. This again was a beautiful stretch and I now know where all the money is in Belfast. Trevor kicked on and I was passed by one other runner immediately. I got to half way at 1:56 and felt great. We turned at the aid station (thanks for the cheers) and retraced our steps.

The field was very spread out now and I was on my own for the next 7 miles. I crossed the Lagan at 20 miles in 3 hrs exactly. The same as the last 2 weeks. I was however quickly overtaken by Leslie who was training for London and looked strong. There followed a tricky section of turns in the city center to get us back onto the cycle path. I don't know quite what happened but I stupidly seem to have ended up doing 500m extra in confusion before getting back to where I should be. A side affect of this dalliance was I missed the opportunity to take on water or gels and had to do the rest of the race on empty.

Last sprint
I got back onto the cycle path but was on fumes. Lorna the Derrygonnelly
The spoils
dazzler glided past me at 24 miles and I regret now not taking her up on her offer of water or gels. I limped home in 4:14:09 to a big big cheer at the end. It was fantastic.

Beautiful showers at the finish line were a bonus and it was off to Downpatrick to see the folks, family and friends. Apparently the last time I was home was before Christmas.

 Garmin Stats

Sunday 16 March 2014


Marathon #47     Tralee International Marathon      3:58:18

144th out of 370 finishers and 24th in my age group

Full results at

Marathon results at sports splits

This was my second ever visit to Kerry. The last time was in 1988 as guest of the Aer Lingus Gold Circle club at their infamous pro-am golf tournament held in Killarney that year. Incidentally I came 3rd with 41 points off 12. But the lasting memory was playing 6 holes with Christie O'Connor senior. Brilliant. I believe he can still be found at the ripe old age of 89 mid week at the practice area in Royal Dublin, on Bull Island.. 

This time I went with Lindsay and Libby for the weekend and after a stop over in Galway made it to Tralee by 14:30. We stayed in the Grand Hotel which was fabulous and smack in the centre of town and 400m from the start and right on the finish line. These regional events bring a huge amount of money into the local economy. I'm not exaggerating when I say I think I spent at least 1 million euro in Tralee over the weekend. 

We got to the registration by 3pm and it was a pretty small and quiet expo. I think we were the only ones signing in at this time. Given it was rugby afternoon I wasn't surprised. Everything was fine until I went to get the commemorative t-shirt and was told that they only had S and XS left. I was offered a half marathon one instead which didn't do it for me. If this was my first marathon or I had spent 4 months training for this race, I would have been more annoyed than I was but I didn't really care. So I left my name and address with a promise it will be posted. We will see. But as I have paid for it I expect it in the post soon.

Ireland beat France.... Yahoo!!!  We went to celebrate at a fantastic Southern European restaurant on the square called Stone House. Big recommendation. I have to say, after the match, town was very very quiet and not the usual atmosphere I come to expect on St Patrick's weekend.  

I was up by 7:30 and loaded up on toast and porridge and it was off to the start at 8:15.

Brenda, Collette and Eimear
Getting ready for the start
And we are off

MCI was there in force and were really colourful with many in St Paddy's day outfits. They really added a dimension to the race and were in the spirit of the weekend. They are great.

We went to the start line just in time for the start and there were lots of other familiar faces there.

As soon  as Gary O'Hanlon  arrived we we off.

At the start 
I  have to say I felt like crap. The first part of this race (10 miles) was mostly up hill and into a wind. I really didn't feel well and was well off my normal pace.  There were loads of runners that were veterans of Connemara last week that just skipped past me with disgusting ease. I remember Adolfo, Jim, David, Larry, Mo and Bono (AKA Bob) all coming past.  I was really struggling and had a real upset tummy. I knew I was in trouble when the 3:45 pace group flew past looking as if they were out for a stroll. I was in a position  that I wasn't comfortable with. I struggled on until mile 10 and had a nature break. 5 minutes later I was back and joined the race just in front of the 4 hr pace group.

 I felt much better and started making my way through the field. There was a switchback soon after that took us up and down a really steep hill and I must have known about 50% of the field as we passed. I was feeling much better and pushed on. I came through the half way in 1:59 on what has to be said was a tough half with the wind and the hills. But the second half was supposedly easier. Overall I was surprised to see the elevation was very similar to Connemara but it sure didn't feel like it.

After 15 miles we hit the second switchback on a pier into Tralee Bay. I had managed to gain a couple of minutes on the 4 hr pacer and was still feeling good. I passed Larry, Dave, Mo and Adolfo around this point and they commented I was looking better.

I kicked on and we hit a lovely section with the wind in our back and flat. It was the most picturesque part of the course as it skirted the sea. It was a nice respite. Tralee is no Achill or Connemara when it comes to scenery but it was a nice rural Irish run.

I came through 20 miles in 3 hrs even. Exactly the same time as last week in Connemara but more a testament of how good last week's run was opposed to today's which was in much better conditions. I was expecting the 4 r pacer to pass me at any time but there was no sign. We hit the outskirts of Tralee around 23 miles and I was still going OK.

I could see Jimmy Nugent about 200m ahead of me and put him in my sights. I eventually caught him at 24.5 miles and executed a textbook "tap tap".

The 4 hr pacer was 30m behind us at this stage and Jimmy and myself agreed that our chances of a four-hour finish was gone. I was still feeling quite good and pushed on. I was joined by a few others who I assumed were the pace group, but they like me, were just in front. As we got closer we got conflicting advice from the stewards about how long was left. Anything from 50m to 5 minutes. Then suddenly we were in the town center and hit the crowd barriers. The organizers were obliviously expecting thousands of supporters but only hundreds had turned up and the streets were rather empty. There wasn't much atmosphere. I eventually crossed the line in 3:58:18  and it was an unexpected bonus to break 4 hrs. I was delighted.

Just finished

Honestly, it was a fantastic result for me given that I wasn't on top form and it was my 6th marathon in five weeks. Next up is East of Antrim in Belfast next Sunday.

Sunday 9 March 2014


Marathon #46   4:11:30

Connemara  (the last ever of the West of Ireland Race Series due to the change of guard at MCI)

I fecking love Galway. I spent 5 wonderful years in the city from 1986, sheltered from the then recession by an American multi-national.  Lindsay and I currently spend every free moment we can in Galway and have set-up a home-from-home there. Its an oasis from Dublin and a great base for exploring the West of Ireland from Achill down to Limerick.

This race is the curtain raiser to the Connemarathon in a months time and is run over the same course. I'm pretty experienced on this course having run the marathon distance there 3 times, and the half a further 5 times since 2004. In fact two of my best runs ever was a 1:40 on the half marathon course (just one spot behind a certain Rory Mooney (who had a podium in Dublin in the MV35 category in 2013, now that makes me feel good)) and a 3:43 into a strong headwind in 2013 on the marathon course. Neither were PB's but both right up there in my best efforts. So I have a lot of good memories on what has to be one of the most picturesque marathon tracks in the world.  It was also nice to get away from the beach and the mud which have been a feature of the last 4 weeks.

This was my 5'th marathon in the last 4 weeks with none of them easy, and this course notoriously has three decent hills on it and in particular the one out of Linnane at half way wakes you up and the Hell Of The West at mile 22 lets you know you are alive.

Before getting on the bus
I stayed over in Galway the night before and made the meet point at Peacocks Hotel in Maam Cross for 8:30am to be taken to the start at Lough Inagh for a 9:30am start. There was a big crowd with more than a coach load. A small number opted for doing the half marathon from the traditional start in Linnane.

Lough Inagh
There were 20 different forecasts for the race time but the one I settled on was for a strong Southerly wind and dry. This is the worst possible wind for this course and similar to last year. It means 20 miles of hell. The talk before hand was what to wear and hydration packs. Most chose full wet gear and Camelbacks. I decided on neither. No wet gear was a mistake as it was colder and wetter than I expected but there was plenty of water stops on the course so no need to carry your own.

We started by heading North from Lough Inagh with the wind straight in the back. I spent this section with
Mo (who had the grandstand view of my Donadea 50K finish) chatting and moving along well under 8:30
The defence force boys
pace. We settled in behind the defence force boys who were running in formation in their new running gear. Everything was easy and good. Mo decided to pull back a little as his heart rate monitor had him too high. 

We turned North East after 5 miles and this brought the wind directly into our sides from the right. It was vicious and now had brought with it mizzly, soaking rain. It was funny seeing the whole field running at a
Hitting towards Killary
tilt of 15 degrees leaning into the wind and from time to time being blown across the road when gusting. Deepak glided past me at the "Stop and Pray" church. At this stage I had pretty much found my place in the race and was 100m back from those in front and 100m ahead of those following. It was very exposed and the wind and rain continued to lash in. Thankfully we soon entered the Killary section of the race. This was mostly down hill and sheltered from the wind by the mountain on the right and had Killary Fjord on the left. It is easy running and one of the nicest sections of running in the country. Mo flew past at sub 6:30 pace declaring "This is the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning". He took about 10 places in very short order around the Killary outdoor pursuits center, but I suspect he was about 15 minutes away from changing his mind on that previous declaration.

I passed a few on the way into Linnane and arrived there at approx 1:50 which isn't bad on this course but I had suspected we had got the best of the day so far. But even at that we were soaked and battered.

In Linnane we swung South and hit the first big hill. Mo looked to have shot his bolt and was hiking up the hill. We were now running directly into the very strong wind which was to stay with us for the rest of the run. It was easily a steady 30-40 mph and gusting way above this with driving rain. If you lifted you head at all you just got a face full of rain. The gusts just brought you to a standstill and large parts of this section were walk-able at best. At the top of the hill I was on my own and at the most exposed part of the course and the wind and rain was relentless for the next 5 miles. It really had slowed down the whole field and there were large sections that I could see no one in front or behind. It was a tough time.

Windy and wet
At mile 19 the winds seemed to ease a little and the rain stopped giving us some respite. I was jockeying for position now with Michael Hagan and we got through 20 miles in 3 hrs even. At Maam village we swung right heading into the last section of the race. Normally at this stage you see "the hell of the west" laid out before you. Today you could barely make out the mountain never mind the road. I hit Maam village at 3:20 and the bottom of the hill at 3:25. From experience I knew there was still 40-50 minutes left depending on conditions and today we were running directly into a gale.

At the bottom of the hill I was caught by Marie Chapman who was running strong (and much improved over the last few months) and was the only person since about mile 3 to come from behind me and that would finish in front. She looked fantastic in her all black ensemble but I noticed that her hydration pack was still full (we had discussed this earlier). Michael kicked on with Marie. I also noticed now on the hill ahead another 5 runners and began to
Michael and Marie hit for home
hunt them down. The wind gusted hard down the hill, hitting each of us a few seconds apart bringing everyone to a stop if they were still running or rocking them back on their heels if not. 

I also noticed behind me a familiar running gait as Leslie Crawford was himself hunting me down as he has done before in many races. Near the top I caught the first runner and to my surprise it was Dipak (I never catch Dipak). He looked spent with water running off every extremity (though I have no memory of it raining at this time). I expect he suffered more in the wind than most due to his high center of gravity. Leslie was getting ever closer. I came over the top at 3:50. Normally you can see Peakcocks in Maam Cross from here but there was nothing today. Even the last 2.5 miles down to Maam Cross into the wind was tough and I caught one more runner who was really struggling near the end.

I got through the finish in 4:11:30 just a few seconds ahead of Leslie. Phew!!! I think we did pretty good finishing well in the top half of the field (results not published yet).

There was soup and sandwiches in The Boat Inn, Oughteread. But I was really not feeling 100% at this stage on the drive back from Maam Cross and decided to give it a miss. I later found out I also missed out on getting a great feed and a great medal from the Connemarathon organisers. But hey ho, that's the way it goes.

I'll be back in a months time to tackle the real Connemarathon again and lets hope the weather is a little kinder.

No stats today as my GPS lost its signal at 5 miles and became an expensive stop watch.

Results will be added later.

Picture credit: Dónal Glackin

More pictures at Irish Runner Magazine (Donal Glackin)

Sunday 2 March 2014

Steyning Stinger

Marathon #45   Steyning Stinger    (Steyning village, South Downs, South of England)


113th out of 200. My half marathon split would have been 80th out of 211 in the half. Only 30 managed to break 4 hrs.

I don't make it easy on myself in my attempt to run 50 marathons before I'm 50 and I'm having to pick some unusual events a little bit too close together than is comfortable.

After my first Ultra two weeks ago in Donadea, and my fist back2back last week at Howth and Le Marathon De Dollymount, this weeks challenge was equally as tough as I took on the Steyning Stinger. This is a trail Marathon on the South Downs in Southern England. Stinger, referencing four climbs (or stings) that yield a total elevation of 2644 ft. That's a lot of down hill :-) . This is the second hilliest marathon I have done after the Causeway Coast and equivalent in elevation to over 2.5 Connemarathons. To complicate things further the conditions underfoot were really really really muddy after the weather and flooding of the last month and trail shoes were a must.

The race was certified and had full UK athletics and UK 100 marathon club approval.

I have been often told that my accent with its soft northern lilt is one of the sexiest in the world (it's a cross I bear). Either that or I am being chatted up a lot more than I am aware off. The downside is it is totally incomprehensible to the English ear, and despite 23 years of living and working in England on and off, I still have to continually repeat myself two or three times just to get understood. Having spent the last week traipsing around the Mobile World Congress and associated "networking events" in Barcelona, I was particularly tired and grumpy and I just wasn't in the mood to make that effort today, so decided to keep to myself and only interact with the locals on a need to basis only.

Instead, I would busy myself with a game played by some fellow foreigner friends when in England. I was first alerted to it by a Belgian friend, Youri Korska Korenchenko (seriously Belgian) who noticed that the middle English had an amusing habit of apologising for everything, even when it wasn't their fault. So instead of talking, I decided to pass the time by counting apologies (more of that later).

Given the elevation, mud and trail conditions this was never going to be fast, and I had a 4:30 target in mind. The plan was steady on the ascents and tank it on the downhills. There seemed to be little flat.

Steyning was approx an hour and a half from the house so it was a 6:00am start to get there ready to run at 8:30am. Timing was old school, via gun start and the timer writing down the numbers as you crossed the finish line. You were manually checked through every aid station. It was a very causal start with early starting facilitated for both the full and half marathon options. The mass start for the marathon of approx 200 was on time at 8:30 (The half went off at 9:00). There were very strict cut off points around the course but nothing as crazy or as onerous as Donadea so there was no real pressure.

And we are off
Within 10 meters, those who had chosen road shoes were reduced to a tentative walk as because of the mud it was like Bambi on Ice. It just got worse and worse and worse all through the first 5 miles.  The terrain was incredible as we were sent down boreens that Sherman tanks had long abandoned as being impassable.

There were long stretches (500m) where the mud was over the shoes with the worst it got being half way up the calf. Within the first couple of miles there was several who slipped and fell and injured out and a handful that walked back to the start. The first hour was slow and I had only got through 5.2 miles and still hadn't reached the top the first sting. That was 5 hr pace but amazingly I was still well up the field. The stings themselves were not runnable, they were just too steep and muddy, and the whole field was walking/hiking them. When we got to the top we were then extremely exposed and battered by the wind. To say this was tough was an understatement.

Approaching the top of sting 2
I fared better in the second hour getting through 5.75 miles and was well over the second sting. The half marathoners peeled off to their finish soon after and I suspect there was a lot of marathoners peeled off with them as there was an option of opting out at this stage.

I came through the half marathon in 2:24 which now meant a 5hr marathon was a good run.

Mile 20
The most noticeable incident was around mile 15 when I accidentally clipped the heels of a young one and she tumbled into some flint. She duly apologised for getting in my way. I felt sorry for her as it was obviously my fault and helped her up and brushed her down before accepting her apology. My total apology count for the day was 6 including 3 from the lady at registration who couldn't understand me at all, but seemed to want me just to talk for the sake of talking (see what I mean!! a complete waste of my time for selfish titillation). This game is something that I am not proud off or take pleasure in but it does help pass the time.

It was around this time I was joined by an older runner in flip-flops. We spent some time together with him explaining his long term injury and the only way he could run was in flip flops. We battled on through the mud and the hills and came through 20 miles in 3:47  ( a full hour and 14 mins outside my PB). Mr Flip-flops and I consoled each other with tales of how we both had done a 3:45 marathon within the last month and today was just extraordinary. We also gained about 20 places during this period and there are now a lot of people in the South of England familiar with the "Tap Tap".

And we are home
We got to 23 miles and the top of the last sting at 4:23 and we thought we would have an easy run down to the finish. We had forgot however that the last mile and a half was a repeat of the start and the mud hadn't improved. We crossed the line in 4:55:56 and delighted to be under 5 hrs. I suspect that even at this we were mid field with very few if anyone breaking 4 hrs.

At £25 it was great value and included a great medal, free photographs from the course and a full cooked breakfast at the finish. If any off the top brass of MCI or EOI are reading this can I suggest we make the breakfast a permanent feature of all future events. Rumor has it East of Antrim have just put a bulk order in for black pudding, slims and a variety of Denny pork products. Yum.. Can't wait.


Lesson for the day is not to try and clear out your nose after having eaten a mars bar and your running into the wind wearing a white top. It won't end well.

Stats for the day