Monday 20 February 2017

Last One Standing

#175  Ultra #40  Last One Standing, Castleward, Co.Down

54.4 Miles in 13:09:08

Castleward house (Andre, Bobby, Shaun..)
For those that want to try something different this may be the one for you. Basically run a 4.2 mile loop under an hour over and over and over and over. If you are over the hour for any loop you are immediately eliminated and if you are under the hour you can choose to either retire or run another loop that will start on the hour every hour. The last woman or man standing on the course will win.

Pat and I on the first section at dusk
This was in the beautiful national trust estate of Castleward just outside Strangford in Co. Down, just a mere 7 miles from where I was born and brought up. The estate itself is stunning and which is famous for its two distinct architecture types (Palladian (thank you AndrĂ© for the correct spelling) and Georgian) that reflected the preferences of the original owners. The race was held wholly within the grounds of the estate well off the public roads. Interestingly Castleward is also the film set of Winterfell from Game of  Thrones and we were entertained all weekend with the endless tours.

We arrived on Friday night and picked up our numbers from the Cuan bar in Strangford (about 2 miles away). Everything was smooth and we stayed for dinner and had the pleasure of sitting beside Bobby Irvine (winner of last year) and his wife. The food is excellent by the way.

End of Lap 1
As the race was not until noon on Saturday after 4.2 mile and 8.4 mile races there was no rush. Bobby did the 4.2 mile race as a warm up. Arriving at the barnyard headquarters, myself and Kris with the help of crew #1 Gina setup in the main barn. Also on site was a chip van (that from time to time gave out hot food including soup and porridge to the runners and crew as well as amazing bacon baps), a timing and music van, a massive food tent (that was constantly replenished with an amazing variety of food) and an administration tent and a number of portaloos. I have to say Atlas running did a great show and it is of particular note that both the race directors were accessible throughout the event and always there checking on the welfare of the runners. That was good as was the weather.

Joe Quinn
155 started at 12 noon and headed off together. The loop itself was beautiful. The first mile skirted the coastline along Strangford lough and you could see Portaferry and the Ards peninsula across the water right up as far north as Ardkeen and the islands on the lough (it was stunning both day and night). After about a mile the path then took a sharp left turn and went up steeply for around 100m. This was unrunnable and quite muddy and slippy. Lucky enough the weather was good as this would have been an issue if it had of muddied up.

Gina Crew #1
Cresting we came past Audleys Castle on the left on a hard packed gravel section that went gently down before rising up to a short road crossing (almost everyone walked the up hill section). Entering a forested area, we followed the paths along the border of the estate. Within this section there were 4 short sharp uphills that were all generally walked and a sweeping downhill that was bordered by a high wall that was a welcome break for the legs. A short uphill section through trees brought us onto a muddy trail across one of the estate fields. This section was a gentle uphill but was runnable. Dipping under the main estate road via a small bridge (this section had much much support that was much appreciated) led to the main climb of the day which was a 1/2 mile upto the main house. This was a head down, bend over hill that everyone walked. Cresting at the main house there was a well stocked water and tailwind stop. Continuing past the house we climbed again towards the main gate on the only tarmac section of the course. Half of this section was mostly walked. Turning a sharp left we entered the muddy section (that again if it had rained would have been much worse). About 800m of gentle climb brought us to a steep trail section with many exposed tree roots and stones that swept down to the Caravan park and eventually back to the coast. The last mile followed the coast on a gentle but tree covered trail back to the start finish area. For me a fast lap was 45 mins and I tried not to go over 53 mins.

The loop was surprisingly hilly and technical. Recce is recommended. This was also a very northern affair with the vast number of participants being from the north. Be prepared for lots of "keep er lit" or "Howya gettin 'er".

The first few laps were very busy as the whole field was pretty much together. This got hard/annoying on the narrow portions when quite a few walked side by side and a right traffic jam happened. Etiquette should be published for this. The first lap was done in 49 minutes and the next few a little faster as I went out at the front to avoid the traffic jam, before I settled down to 50 minutes odd for the next few laps. In retrospect I would stretch this to 53-55 mins if I ever did this again. I found the stopping and starting quite odd and the area where the runners was a right picnic with everyone stuffing whatever the could into them in the early stages. This in the later stages got very quiet and was more like an A&E triage.

I spent some time in the early laps chatting to loads of people as the pace was very conversational. I spent
34 miles in with no one fan Aine
some time with Joe Quinn MBE who effectively runs and is the inspiration behind running in the Downpatrick and Lecale area (by the way you were all running on the Lecale peninsula). Joe (70 years old) was running the event for the second time and suffers from parkinsons (it was very humbling).  He went on to finish his 70th Marathon. Truly inspirational. I also spent sometime with Pat Staunton (2nd last year) and he gave a lot of good advice about walking strategies and pacing. Ever present was Shaun Boyle who went onto record his longest run by some way and Craig Mills from EAMS who crossed the 100 mile barrier for the second time. Also there was Andre from New Zealand who was easily the fastest runner on the course most of the first 24 hrs but called it a day at 104 miles as he had to drive home.

Cru on tour (40 miles in)
And done
Marathon came and went and the field had reduced itself by 1/3 to 100 and on and on we went. Darkness came in around 6pm and the head torches came on. The route was pitch black and it took a while to get the bearings and in particular footing on the muddy sections. There were some falls but from what I could see nothing serious. The parade of head torches in the dark was surreal.  My two sisters and families turned up to cheer me on which was great and Gina kept Kris and myself fed and watered and calm. I felt great upto lap 10 and 42 miles when I suddenly started to shiver and get very cold. I felt that a couple more was I all I could do and from that point on my head was gone. Lap 11 was tough and I came in after 53 minutes and
wasnt able to eat anything and when I went out on lap 12 I found it really really tough and let the lap slip to 56 minutes. I had every intention of giving up at this stage but decided at the last minute to do one more (sorry Gina). There was less than 50 runners left as I went out at midnight for lap 13. I immediately fell off the pace and the back of the pack and was on my own and walked more than normal. I knew early that I was going to be timed out and I was happy with that. As I approached the finish line in 1:09, Sammy was there with the medal and the every present Gina was there to look after me. Support crew on this event was invaluable.
100 mile club after 24 hrs.

Meanwhile Kris was still crunching out the laps sub 50 minutes and in the middle of the night only 2 ladies where left. Kris and Louise (current Irish National 24 hrs champion). Both looked great and Kris decided early that 100 miles was her goal and she duly stopped after 24 hrs and 100.8 miles. Louise stopped the next lap to win. The men went on and on and on. Eventually at 2am on Monday morning the last 2 were timed out on lap 36 or 150 odd miles. I really dont know if that means there was any winner or 2 winners.

Well done Atlas running for a great though highly unusual event. I think this will continue to be popular and was certainly the buzz around the country in the marathon/ultra community.

Photos: Philip McEvoy, Paul Fegan and Atlas running.

Strava for the day: