Monday 29 August 2016


#152 Longford marathon, Longford    4:00:53

I ran Longford half in 2004 and 2005 but the last time I did this marathon was in 2006 and felt then it was a reasonably boring and somewhat dangerous course (there wasnt as many events back then. Longford was one of only 5 marathons in Ireland in 2006 I think). In fact it is the only AIMS recognised event that I know of that has the field running against traffic at 100km/h for elongated parts of the route. I never felt comfortable with this and still don't. Despite this its a fantastically organised event and traffic and the route is my only gripe.

I was back today to give it another go. I have had a strange couple of weeks after tweaking my back in sofa-bed gate. This week I also had a significant work issue that meant that I didn't get out training at all. Ironically this enforced taper seems to have helped not only my back but also my knee which has been playing up recently. With all this in mind I had dropped down from the Ultra to the Marathon.

Cru relay teams
There was to be a big Crusaders presence at the race with participants in the Relay, Half, full and Ultra. Most had traveled down the night before but I decided on travelling on the day. As the start was 10am it was a relatively late start at 7am from Dublin and got me to Longford at 8:30. Unfortunately I just missed the start of the Ultra.

I forgot how well organised this event was and compared to last week in London it was chalk and cheese. I picked up my number , T-Shirt and amazing goodies bag and got ready. It was due to be sunny so I lathered on the sun cream.

The half, relay and full all started at 10am for a short loop around the town before heading on the main Sligo, Westport road. After about 2 miles the half split left and that is the last we saw of them. I started off pretty OK coming through the first 5K in 25 minutes despite a head wind. It was warm and getting warmer. I don't like this bit of the race as we are coming against oncoming traffic.

Kris (Ultra winner)
Dipak and the 3:30 pace group came past just outside Tarmanbarry which brought up 10K in 50 mins. Things felt good. In Tarmanbarry we turned right heading towards Roosky. Then at mile 8 I felt a burning sensation on the soul of my foot. I was wearing relatively new Hoka's and I knew I had to sort this. I stopped a couple of times to re-adjust my sock. The third time I felt a blister come and I popped it.

PB girl Kate with new husband
I still managed the first half in 1:49 and at half way the 3:45 guys came passed (a little ahead of pace I thought). It was also getting hotter and hotter and I was taking on a lot of water and dousing myself heavily.

Just after Roosky we turned right onto the N4 and back to heavy traffic. I spotted an ambulance at the relay handover point and stopped off to remove skin and Vaseline. This cost me time and I was being passed by many at this stage. It took a few miles for the foot to settle but I think this finally sorted it. It was still getting hotter and hotter and we were now directed off the N4 onto  the back roads. One of the best things about these types of events is how the locals help out and there were several home made aid stations that were great. I was still on for a sub 4 at this stage but it was going to be tight.

Finishing Chute
From time to time the Cru relay teams either passed me on foot or in their convoy or cars as they kept up with the race. I've never had so much support in an event.

Directed back on the N4 and the traffic I was struggling and now my damn nipple started bleeding. I suspect this was from the amount of water I was throwing over myself and I was soaking. The leaders in the Ultra came past and I kept plodding along. Then at mile 23 we hit a little bastard of a hill and I  walked (boy do I now regret that). James and the 4hr pace group (all 2 of them) caught me at the top. This was an 11 minute mile and killed my chance of a sub 4.

And done
I however picked things up again in the last 2 miles and got pace back but it wasn't enough as I came into the finishing chute and wonderful finish area the 4hrs ticked over and I finished in 4:00:53 for 100th position overall.

There was much excitement at the finish as we waited for the leader in the womens Ultra to come through. Cru meantime had come 3rd in the marathon (well done Brian) and another 2 in the top 15 (Paul and Rob just outside 3hrs). Kate had a brilliant half for 1:40 and massive PB and 11th lady overall and the Relay team's had come 1st, 3rd and 4th. Everyone seemed to be 10 mins off their time today.

Things hit fever pitch as Kris came into the chute as the leading lady in the Ultra and came across in great style for another famous Ultra victory.

Apart from the pain, missing out on a slam dunk sub 4hr, traffic, a boring course, bleeding nipples and a blister the size of Achill. I enjoyed Longford much more this time.

Photos  Paul Kelly

Strava Stats

Monday 22 August 2016

Not the Rio

#151 Not the Rio Marathon Marathon, Olympic Park London


What a crew

This race had such potential as we had visions of starting in Olympic Park, running laps around it and finishing off in the Velodrome and watching the real Rio Olympic Marathon on a big screen. The race was really hyped up and there was great expectation from everyone that I knew going and many promises given by the organisers as to the facilities and the unique experience. In fact a big crowd had flown in from Ireland on the promise of a fantastic event including Helena, Ali, Darren, Deirdre and Finn.

Darren and Ali
The start was due at 10am and I picked up Brenda early doors as we had to do a drop off in Gatwick on the way. Unfortunately the GPS brought us through London city which was slower than going around the M25 but we were committed. We were late. I knew that the international terminal had cheaper parking but couldn't find it and ended up parking in the shopping center (and taking the hit on parking charges). Fortunately we saw some people we knew walking towards the venue (there were none of the promised signs).

Brenda, Finn and Helena
We arrived about 9:30 to be greeted by a large queue for a rather slow registration. That in itself was no problem as we chatted to other competitors in the queue but the start would be inevitably delayed because of it. Once through registration it was off to find a toilet in the changing room. A massive queue to a couple of toilets (nowhere near enough) and I gave up. There were no toilets on the route itself.

Gathering at the start we met loads of people we knew and lots of photos and chatting got us ready for the march to the other end of the outside cyclo track for the start. The instructions seemed very complex. I had sustained an injury during the week by letting a sofa bed drop on top of me down the stairs I knew it was going to be a slow one. It was also overcast and I decided on no sun cream today. Boy did I regret that.
At about 10:10 we were off and 270 of us headed off on one small circuit of the cyclo track. It was surprisingly undulating. The one short lap took us across the timing mat and your name came up with 1 lap complete. We then went on a very complex longer 2.5 mile loop with lots of twists and turns. This took us out of the cyclo track and across some waste land before an out and back, along a long since disused road that was full of weeds. This was disappointing as I and I think most of the rest of the field was expecting some more of the Olympic Park experience on the route. This eventually led us back into the cyclo track and across the timing mat. First time back it showed your name with 1 lap compete (not 2). Just beyond was a rather sparse aid station with water, a few jelly's and in the early laps electrolyte (This soon ran out).

It began to get hotter and hotter and off we went again on multiple 2.5 mile laps. I found the conditions quite oppressive and the aid station too far away each time. There were sponges out on the course but these frequently ran out of water (but it was a good idea).

There was a lot of good running and many were faster than normal. Theresa Massey in particular had a fantastic run. Finn O'Mara had a great first half and it was great to see Pete Elliott in his new 100 marathon club top. Sunny had a strong sub 4 run and looked great doing it. It was also great to catch up with Costas, Julia, Emine, Apryl (and later Lottie) and Mel as well as many others. Brenda had a mare and had her first ever DNF after 9 miles (precautionary stop due to a sore foot), but she will be back.

Eventually the timing system which was good, ran into problems and as you crossed the mat the name and lap count of the person 2 ahead of you came up and you missed your own lap count. I gave up with this and kept my own count. 9 full laps and a bit more was a marathon.

Lack of water was a big issue and I think most people struggled. Marshals in general were good but quiet and I found one in particular a bit offish and told one lady who was struggling breathing to talk less and that would help (I'm paraphrasing).

My back held together for the first half which I came trough in an even 2hrs but it gradually got worse in the second half and I ended up walking most of the last 10K. This was mostly preventative, but still. There was a "strict" 5 hr cutoff but I heard during the race that this would be relaxed to 5 hrs 20 mins with James doing a great job as 5hr sweeper.

Small medal
After having finished the 9 large laps you were eventually directed into the velodrome with the finish right in the middle of the track. That was interesting. Crossing the line the timing chip was taken off you and that was it. It was up to you to pick up your own medal (which was lucky bag quality and not what was promised) and work out your own t-shirt. Luckily there were still some in my size (and it was pretty good in fairness and long sleeved which I like) but smaller athletes didn't fair so well which upset many. There were bottles of water also on the table but woe betide you if you tried to take 2. They were in very short supply. Photos were free which was great.

We left immediately after and I headed back to Basingstoke dropping Brenda at Fleet. My daughter brought me to Southampton airport. When I arrived the flight was boarding and left early. That was tight.

All in all it was a disappointing experience and I felt sorry for all those that had flown in and paid a lot of money for the experience. If they repeated this race I would give it a miss.

Pictures courtesy Helena Dornan (and someone I stole one from)

Strava for today

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Cyclopark Challenge Series

Hot Hot Hot (photo: Paul Johnston)

#147 Olympic Run  6:18:35   33.65 miles
#148 F1 Run   6:31:40  31.5 miles
#149 Darnley Run 8:30:08  39.3 miles
#150 Punk run 6:07:47   29.5 miles

The Cyclopark series was 4 runs over 4 different trails over 4 consecutive days. They were timed events in and around the Cyclopark in Gravesend, Kent. Around 100 did the event each day with a number doing multiple days. It was August, it was Kent, it was hot.

I think most that were doing multiple days stayed in the locality. I toyed with this idea but every-time I have stayed I have regretted it as Basingstoke is only 1.5hrs away and it would be my shower and my bath that I would be getting home to. So I decided to commute. That would mean a lot of driving and running and in retrospect it worked out, but I was lucky with traffic to and from each day (So only 12 hours driving).

This was to be my first quad which is a big enough challenge anyway, but I had an inkling in the back of my head that this was an opportunity to do 4 Ultras, as except for day 3 they would be relatively short Ultras. This was not going to be about times, except to make sure that I was within time for the cut off to go out again.

Day 1  Olympic Run  (25th Ultra)

Olympic Start
Exactly 100 turned up for the first day with an Olympic theme. There were lots of London 2012 gear around.  The temperature for today was due to be the mildest predicted for the weekend but still saw 22 degrees which made for a warm but very pleasant day. One of the guys had appropriated a torch from the London Olympics and it was there and I managed to grab a quick photo.

Today's course was the lightning bolt course that I have done once before when the Jeskins challenge was relocated at short notice earlier in the year. It was a short course with 7 laps constituting a marathon and beyond that an Ultra.

With 2012 Olympic torch
The course was a simple out and back.  Out was predominantly up hill and back was predominantly down hill. There was a breeze but nothing unsettling. It was 60/40 tarmac/trail.  We had a 6 hr time limit to be out on our last lap. Base camp was set up in the overflow car park of the cyclopark and we would pass it every lap. I also knew that in these types of events most people stop at marathon distance or before and few go on to Ultra (particularly in the heat).

Awesome medal
At 9:30 we were off. Everyone except a few only here for the one day were taking it easy and I started clocking the laps off in around 42 minutes. It was very pleasant running. Coming into the finish of lap one I noticed Paddy Quinn coming out on his first. He had a GPS issue and arrived late. Round and round we went. Half marathon came in a leisurely 2:10 and marathon in 4:40. There was plenty of time to go out again as I watched pretty much everyone stop at Marathon. The only exceptions were Jeff Hunt (winner of the Samphire Hoe 100) and Paddy. I was firmly in the middle of the two. Effort of the day goes to Lottie Hammet who ran with her mum for 2 laps and her first ever 10K.

As the aid station had everything you need I don't bring anything to these races. Watermelon was a great addition today and there was more cakes than would choke a horse.

I came through 8 laps (a small Ultra) and there was still plenty of time and the course was busy with those finishing marathons so I went out again. My 33.65 miles was good enough for 2nd place overall out of 100 finishers. The medal was the biggest and heaviest and one of the best that I now have.

Day 2 F1 Run

The theme of the day was F1 and specifically 40 years since James Hunt won the F1 championship. This was Louise Tidbury's idea and she was there dressed as "sexy pit girl". It was very very hot today, with temperatures reaching 27/28 degrees and as we were on Tarmac all day it was just roasting. This had an attritional affect on the field with a lot stopping early. We had 86 finishers today and just as a measure of how tough it was there was only 1 sub 4 hr finisher and only 9 sub 5 hr finishers (WOW!).
Awesome medal
Sexy Pit Girl (Tids)
This was a very straight forward 5.25 mile out and back along the 177 cycle path. One side was up hill and the other down hill. This meant that every lap you had a 2 mile drag up the hill which got very very tiring. The heat was just unbelievable and everyone struggled. 5 laps for a Marathon and 6 for an Ultra. I had my sights set on 6 laps. This run was a pretty quiet affair with everyone just getting on with it.   The highlight was around lap 3 in the heat of the day, Traviss was on the course with small ice Creams. I came up to him and he said "last one"...  I was so thankful and poor Nick missed out.

Somei was there as always encouraging everyone. The twins were also there doing their first quad. They are a fantastic source of encouragement always.

Paddy was going well and half a lap up on me. I just knew he would go Ultra and sure enough he did going out on his 6th lap. I came round to marathon finish in 5hrs 20 and took the big decision to go out again. The last lap was relatively quiet as most had finished and I slowly reeled in all of those who were finishing their marathons and there were quite a few. I had the twins in my sights from 3 miles out and just pipped them at the post.  My 31.5 miles was good enough for 2nd place overall. The medal again was a triumph and Team Ireland with 2 podiums.

Day 3 Darnley Run

This was to my biggest challenge as it was a 13.1 mile loop and to go Ultra meant 39.3 miles. It was also hot hot hot as usual and this course had plenty of elevation. 80 finished and noone got even close to 4 hrs today. Thankfully it wasnt as hot as Friday but it was still warm at mid 20's.

Starting Darnley
We headed off following the lightning bolt route for the first 1.7 miles. This was steady up hill. Turning right we quickly entered Jeskyns park with its flat wide gravel trails and we traversed the whole park exiting close to Cobham village.  Through the village we came out the other side and ran towards the Cobham (Darnley) Mausoleum.  About 1 mile before the Mausoleum we came off road once more and started climbing up to the listed building with commanding views over Kent. On the first lap this was runnable. After that it was a hike. Summiting at the Mausoleum we entered Ranscombe estate and the familiar route there. Immediately we had long sweeping downhill to the high speed train track which we followed for a further mile. Crossing an open field we came across the aid station. Phew!

Awesome medal
This was just over half way. A long sweeping downhill out of the aid station brought us to the major climb of the day which was at best hikeable. This brought us back up the Mausoleum again where we retraced our steps back through Cobham, Jeskyns to the Cyclopark. It really was a lovely route but tough.

Coming back to marathon finish I noticed Lee and Ellen had gone out on a third lap. I was a long way back. Noone else seemed interested in Ultra today. I was still well within the 5hr 30 cut off when I finished marathon and made the very brave/stupid decision to go back out. I knew I was taking a liberty going out again,  as I was well back but I did it anyway and have apologised to Traviss and Rachel ever since.

Also coming back through Cobham village (about 23 miles in) there was a big caffuffle in one of the pubs. There of course was Philip and Georgie belting into some very nice cool looking pints and having a great old laugh (they would stay for 3 rounds). They would be joined by others including Enda and Costas.

Team Ireland.
Medal collection for the series
I passed everyone finishing off their marathon en-route with the last group just as I approached the Mausoleum. Ellen had caught them at this stage so I knew I was on my own. The aid station was still there waiting for me (for which I am truly grateful). I did really try on the way back running where I could.  When I got into Jeskyns I was met by the very welcome sight of Enda Cleary who had a can of coke and jogged home with me (even after he had done his own marathon).

I eventually rocked up to the finish a long way off everyone else today. But 3 Ultra's done. The Medal today was brilliant and the attention to detail incredible.

Day 4  Punk Run (150th Marathon or longer)

Lots of punks
Punk Run start
The last day was themed the punk run and there were lots and lots of punks there. I suspect back in the 70's they were real punks. This was a similar route to Day 1 and 2 except we used a 0.5 mile loop around the really rocky cyclo-route course.  Over all the loop was a little shorter at just over 5K. It was 8 loops for a marathon.

I had set myself up now to do an ultra so that was all I had in mind. I had 6 hrs to do a marathon which should be achievable. It was hot again today and I was slow but what do you expect. It was a bigger crowd today with 142 finishers.

Awesome medal and dead Hokas
Naturally it was slow slow today and it was hot. It was great to chat to the twins today who were ever present all week and a joy to be around. Apryl was doing her 75th marathon today and was bouncy happy. It was great to see Sunny back and improving all the time. She will be sub 4 again in no time.  It was also great to meet Costas on the course today for the first time and I ran with him as he finished his first ultra of the week.

I eventually went out on lap 9 (I had to really) and got it done.

It was an experience and I can now say not only have I done a quad but managed a quad ultra. My 134 miles was easily the furthest of the field and I was very happy with that. What a month.

Photos: Dee Rand and Paul Johntson and Enda (hick) Cleary

Stats for all 4 runs:

Tuesday 2 August 2016

World Cup

#146 World Cup  4:07:44

Great medal
I'm not English and was only 2 in 1966 so have no memories of England winning the world cup but I had a free morning and it was relatively close to home so I went along. The event was At Caldecotte lakes which I have ran once before, and have to say its not my favorite course, but this one was the reverse way round for a bit of variety.

I arrived at the Premier Inn nice and early and one of the best things about this race is that the hotel gives over its facilities for the race and toilets and free parking is a bonus as well as some decent food afterwards.

Beautiful day (aid station)
Registration was out of the back of Foxy's van. I passed on the England souvenir mug thinking it probably would have meant more to others (there was a limited supply). It was forecast 22 degrees and sunny so I lathered on the Sun cream and decided to run with a hat. The clouds never really lifted and I doubt if it reached that temperature. It actually was quite comfortable running weather and the hat was unnecessary and became a pain later in the race.

This was part of a running festival (all world cup themed) with 2 marathons and half marathon the day before. All were well attended by all accounts and several were back today for marathon 3 in 2 days.  Big shock was Brian Mills who is approaching his 1200'th marathon didn't finish all three marathons only completing 2. This was un-heard off and unprecedented.

There seemed to be a modest enough crowd for this race with only 63 on the start list, but I suspect that some of these didn't turn up as it felt smaller.

Race brief
At 8:30 after the race briefing we were off. Right from the get go my legs were pretty dead and the bruising on the soles of my feet from Samphire Hoe hurt. This curtailed any kind of decent pace. A rather pedestrian start had me coming through 10K in 57 minutes. Similar to last week however I had a decent second 10K coming through half way in 1:57.

The reverse route was relatively flat and hugged the lake (always on the left) and was just over 3.7 miles. The race its self was 7 full laps and a small half mile loop around the weir to start. I found the route very busy with pedestrians and cyclists (who gave little notice to us) and lots of families and couples with an extraordinary amount of loose dogs. Also every lap we had to run the gauntlet of many Canadian geese that had a habit of getting in the way. On one particular loop I came across a new obstacle in that just after the geese a group of people decided to light up joints and the smoke wafted across the course. That was different.
Noel Kennan and I at the start

There are lots of bridges on this course and I have to say I had difficulty with one of them. It was long and flat, just before the lake side section, but seemed to have a hypnotic effect in that it bounced in front of the eyes. I stopped running it after a while as it made me feel dizzy (very weird). I think I prefer the reverse route as the second half of the loop is more interesting and seemed to go quicker.

A sub 4 was never really on the cards today as I lost interest and focus during the second half and wasn't even at 20 miles at the 3hr mark. I did rally a little when I got the bell for the final lap and had a strong last couple of miles for a satisfactory 4:07. The medal was nice and featured the Jules Verne trophy.  I ended up 14th out of 51 finishers.  Results Click here

After the race I didn't stick around much as I had to get back but I did meet Noel Keenan whose parents are from Monaghan. Noel is eyeing up Samphire Hoe 100 next year and I think his plans are similar to what I did this year. Good luck Noel with that and I'll catch up with you at many events over the coming year.

Photos:  Rich Harrison

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