Sunday, 9 March 2014

Connemara


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)

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