Monday 25 April 2016


#133 London  3:38:42

I'll start off by saying I am not a great fan of really big races. They are too busy and too noisy for my liking, but from time to time you have to do them. This was my fourth marathon major (second London) and to date I have performed pretty terribly in them all, not having broken 4hrs. Indeed my last outing in London in 2009 was 4:14. However I had been in reasonably good form recently and despite having raced over 150 miles in the last month was hopeful. I was also very lucky getting into this race having won the raffle from the UK 100 marathon club to gain entry at a reasonable rate.

Richard Rodgers at the start
I also don't like races where you have to arrive the day before to pick up your number, but I was committed. My car was still parked at Gatwick after last weekend's 50 miler so I flew in very early on Friday morning and decided to drive to the expo at the Excel arena in East London. It was a fairly uneventful and quick trip in and in no time I was parked up and paid my £15 parking fee for the day despite me only staying for a couple of hours. Now the expo's at New York and Berlin are massive and you could literally spend all day there. I found the London one relatively small and the highlight for me was meeting Anna Hatton on one of the stands.

Bespoke medals was also interesting and I managed to see some of the medals that I will be competing for later in the year. The Battle of Somme one was brilliant. Saying all of this I still managed to spend £150 in the couple of hours I was there (new Hoka One One Vanquish 2's) but overall I was slightly disappointed by the main stage and lack of interesting talks (apparently I missed all the interesting talks). The number pickup was very efficient and I was on the road before lunch. Getting back to Basingstoke was a nightmare in traffic and it took nearly 2.5hrs.

At the good luck wall
Sunday was race day and logistics were complex to say the least. The weather was forecast as cold and dry which was fine so I decided on long sleeves with buff and gloves (I quickly dis-guarded the buff and gloves). I took the 7:15am train to Waterloo. On board there was plenty of room and there were plenty of other runners so when I arrived I would follow the herd. At Waterloo we had to walk to Waterloo East to get a train to the start. The trains were packed and it took 2 full ones passing before I got onto one. 15 mins later we were at Black Heath. A 10 minute walk had us at the blue start area. The first person I saw was Richard Rodgers who I went to The Red High school with nearly 34 years ago. He was doing his first marathon with his brother Paul. Richard (who has talent) would go on to do a Boston Qualifier 3:24 just missing out on a GFA for London. Interestingly his partner Kerry O'Flaherty (who Richard also coaches) is Rio bound, representing in the 3000m Steeple Chase. Paul nursing a hamstring injury would pull out at half way after running with Kelly Holmes for the first half (1:37) . Toilet queues were massive but well organised and before long I was in pen 4 of the blue start. At 10am we were off. It took approx 2 minutes to get across the line.

I started with the 3:30 pacers but lost them quickly as the start was ridiculously busy and we had to walk several times in the first couple of miles as the roads narrowed. I had forgotten how congested these races got. The first mile was close to my slowest, but thankfully was able to get going proper after mile 2. The race was well organised with my only real complaint being the use of bottles in such great numbers at the aid stations. You really had to have your wits about you to avoid falling and 2 women running beside me came a cropper because of dis-guarded bottles. They were heavy falls. I am now converted to cups at these races.

I was very pleased with how the first half went after a slow first 5K, with every subsequent 5K being progressively faster until  half way which was accomplished in a time of 1:46:55. The support was truly awesome (with surprisingly very few Irish supporters) and I am really glad I didn't have my name on my shirt as I was getting a little sick of Julie and Liam running beside me and their support from randomers.  There were also some very ignorant runners who were using sharp elbows to get past. One particular little shit nearly knocked me off the road. I was absolutely delighted to pass him at 20 miles and despite few being around us managed to give him a good knock on the way past. That was satisfying.

I still felt strong coming over Tower Bridge and had managed to settle into about 8 minute pace and headed towards the East End with the wind slightly helping. Just as I passed half way the leaders started coming against us at their 21/22 mile mark. I noticed Sean Hehir and Tom Frazer going well. All I can really remember about the second half was pushing the pace and keeping going and not even thinking about walking.

When we came past Canary Warf you could feel the wind picking up and it would be in the face for the rest of the race. I love the bit at Mile 21/22 when you meet everyone coming the other way and it was mad busy on the far side of the road. I noticed the 5hr pace group going past and in the middle many many fancy dress runners.

I knew early that I was under 4 hrs and there was no sign of the 3:45 pacers and I felt confident of a sub 3:45. At mile 22 this changed to a sub 3:40 and I put a big effort in for the last 3 or 4 miles. I was delighted when the 800m countdown happened and turned into the mall well under 3:40 pace and then tried to beat my Seville time. I managed this coming over the line at 3:38:42 which was my 5th best effort ever and I was absolutely delighted.

Splits for the day were

5K                    26:16
10K                  25:12
15K                  25:02
20K                  24:58
Half way           1:46:55
25K                  25:11
30K                  25:52
35K                  26:55
40K                  27:46
Finish                3:38:42

With Ciaran Diviney after his magnificent 2:38
I moved quickly to pick up my gear and had a quick stop off at the Coal Hole to see some Crusaders team mates including Ciaran Diveney who managed a 2:38 and a massive PB. It was then straight back to Gatwick for a 17:30 flight back home.

It was a busy but great weekend. I would only do this again if I won an entry or got through the lottery as its too expensive otherwise but what an experience.

Photos from Richie MacLiam and Linda Cunningham.

Monday 18 April 2016

Fowlmead 50

Fowlmead 50 Mile   8:22:40  Kent

You wait 51 years for a 50 mile race and 2 come along in 3 weeks. Having done 8:37 in Vartry  in awful weather and a hilly course I was hopeful.

Some of the Irish (missing Finn)
through 2 laps
This was a race that was part of a timed event (upto 12 hours) and a 50 mile race on a closed tarmac cycle path inside Bettsenger country Park (formally known as Fowlmead). I had run here on the trail routes here a number of times and the weather generally had been awful. Indeed in the run up to today it had been pouring rain and the night before it had been dreadful.

Finn 2nd lady home
I was pleasantly surprised when the morning came and it was glorious. Cold but glorious. It was perfect running weather. A big group had flown over from Ireland for the race. Just off their 100 miler first and second was Kris Ryan (also just after Conmemarathon 6 days before) and Finn O'Mara. Seamus Dornan was trying 50 miles for the first time, Brenda O'Keefe was in training for The Comrades and was in for the 50 miler and Collette O'Hagan who has never gone over 39.3 before was attempting the 12 hr race.  We also had Enda Cleary from Monistereven and Fiona McNelis from Derry completing the Irish at the race.

1st lady home
We all arrived at the venue just in time and registered and had very little time to prepare.  It was a cold but a beautiful start to the day.

There was a 120 entered for both races with the option for the 50 milers to drop back to the 12 hr challenge (many did) if they felt they were not going to make it. There were no DNF's. The facilities were great and the aid station was amazing. There was a novel hole punch system used to track laps. This worked well and there was little inconvenience.

At 8am we were off.  I had decided I would start fast similar to Vartry and see how it would go. This meant a hard first half marathon and hang on. This strategy soon seen me settle in 3rd place as I lapped in approx 17.5 minutes. Kris settled in a couple of minutes behind in 4th spot and first lady.

Seamus and Brenda
As it was a 2 mile loop we were passing and being passed regularly by all sorts and it was really impossible to find out where you were in the race. The loop seemed to be slightly longer than 2 miles which was a little disconcerting. In fact most had the 50 miles measuring 51.5 miles. As long as it wasn't short I didn't mind.

Winner of the 12 hr race
The first half marathon was a couple of seconds off Connemaraton at 1:49 which was still fast for me. I kept plugging away and kept 3rd place. From time to time I lapped the others and it was great encouragement. I was delighted when I came through Marathon distance in 3:43. This was the fastest that I had ever been through Marathon inside an Ultra and I knew a this stage a PB for 50K was on. I passed Enda who seemed to know my pace and encouraged me to go for it. I put in a huge effort and came through 50K in 4:29:40 a PB by 4 minutes. Phew!. Meanwhile Kris came through marathon in 3:48 holding onto 4th spot and 1st lady.

Amazing medal for 50 Mile
At this stage I was spent and slowed badly and started stopping at the aid stations to take on fluids and sweets. It was only a matter of time before Kris caught me (at 42.5 miles) and she pushed on for home. She finished strong for a 8:04 (51 miles) and 3rd place overall and 1st Lady.

I struggled on and unfortunately got taken by a runner in the last mile. He ended up finishing 40 secs ahead of me. But I was ahead of him at 50 miles.....  So my time was 8:22 and 5th overall. Not a bad performance really and delighted with my 50K time.

Meanwhile Finn and gone very steady and finished as second lady in 9:20, Brenda was aiming for 11 hrs and managed a 11:02 and is now confident of finishing The Comrades.

Seamus had a dodgy tummy and dropped to the 12 hr challenge. He still managed 40 miles and came in 7th in that challenge.

Enda in training for a 100 mile race in July was also doing Brighton the next day and put in a solid PB ridden run for 8:50 and Fiona who is a very experienced Ultra runner finished the 50 miles well under the cuttoff.

But the performance of the day was 66 year old Collette O'Hagan who never had run more than 39.3 miles in her life stayed out for the whole time to clock up 44 miles and 4th overall and first lady home (What a performance).

Photos courtesy of Sean Smith

Strava stats

Monday 11 April 2016

Connemara Ultra

Connemarthon Ultra  Galway    6:24:56

I first went to the Connemarathon in 2004 as my second ever race. I managed 1:46 that day in the half on a beautiful spring day and was hooked. I looked in awe at the marathoners and the Ultra guys secretly saying that one day .....

This year was my 11th time returning but the first time I had managed to make the Ultra start. To say I was excited is an under statement. In addition it was a Cru trip with Kris and Kate also making the trip with me. Kris was doing a warm down from her 100 miler and Kate was taking on the half for the second time. Both were in the shape of their lives with recent PB's at shorter distances in recent weeks.

We picked up our numbers at the HQ on Sat afternoon and after taking to one of the organisers even blagged a free "in training" T-shirt. It was a good start.

The most beautiful afternoon on the prom in Salthill followed by major carb loading and the traditional "hunt the seahorse" in the G-Hotel had us all in bed early. Up with the lark we breakfasted and headed for the 7am bus to Maam Cross.

Now the weather forecast had been the talk all week and has oscillated from blizzard to scattered sleet showers and always a constant ENE wind. This of course being the worst wind for the course as it means your predominantly running into the wind. A very well organised race briefing and bag drop had us on the bus again to the start. People didn't know what to wear and we had knickers and sleeveless vests to polar expedition gear. Polar expedition gear was the smart choice. We got off the bus and huddled like penguins as it was freezing and very very windy. I had chosen a Under Armour, buff and gloves. At 9am we were off.

Huddled at the start (photo: Marie Chapman)
The first mile headed back towards Maam Cross passing the finish line before heading west on towards Clifton. The wind was firmly in our backs and everyone knew we had to make hay on this section and the pace was fast. 25 minutes for the first 5K and 50 for 10K had us way under any decent pace. I even managed to chat to a lady who turned out to be Kates friend Ita. We had been talking about her the night before. She had done 6:03 last year and would go onto do 6:30 this year.

After 9 miles Kris stormed past (apparently thinking there were loos at the bottom of the hill), instead we turned right into Lough Inagh valley and was immediately hit in the face by a 40mph wind. It stopped everyone in their tracks. I was through 10 miles in 1:24 and struggled onto half marathon at the marathon start still into the wind (the marathon had started 20 mins earlier). Half marathon came at 1:49 which was incredible really and we ploughed on still into the wind. After about a mile the road turned west again and the wind started to help again, Phew!  This was the last time it would.

At the end of Lough Inagh Valley we turned right towards the stop and pray church. I had forgotten how steep this section was and a lot of people were walking and we were already catching the back markers of the marathon. Then all of a sudden Armageddon unleashed as the rain came on which quickly turned to sleet. It was belting in straight into the eyes and we were all running shielding our eyes. Gary Reinhart stormed past and would go  on to do a 5:44 and 25th place overall. This was tough. I tooed and froed with Mandy Prendergast for many miles at this stage as the weather was truly awful. What is normally the most pleasant section past Killary adventure center to Leenane was horrible with the rain and sleet lashing in. We were all soaked to the skin and those that choose T-Shirts or singlets were really suffering. Many would pull out.

The ambulances were passing regularly and I heard that many were picking runners up with hypothermia.

I came through full marathon in 3:49:25 meaning I had done the second half marathon in 1:59:30. happy days.

The rest of the run was into the wind with no respite and the rain would stay with us. It was Baltic. The only significant problem I had was my hands. Despite having gloves they had become sodden and my fingers were freezing. I had to ditch the gloves and use other parts of my body to warm my hands and particularly fingers. Eventually the fingers came round and tucked into the Under Armour I was able to relax a bit.

The hill out of Leenane was walked and at this stage I played a 10 mile cat and mouse with Angela Innes from South Africa as we passed each other many times. I tried to keep running as much as I could but the mile times were dropping to 10:30-11 minutes as everything took a toll.

I came through 50K in 4:46 which was great but I was beat at the stage and just hung on. When the Hell Of the West hill came into view in Maam it was nearly a relief to walk for a mile and chat to Humphrey.

But the summit came and I knew that there was only 2 miles left. I managed to raise myself and got back to 10 minute miles for the last 2 miles and passed many on the run up to the finish. Kate was there having finished the half in 1:47 and 20th lady home. I came across the line in 6:24 and a new PB for the distance. Kris followed me in at 6:38 and 11th lady home and 2nd in her age group.

I was never so glad to get warm and have coffee and soup in my life. What an adventure.......

Brilliant report on the race from Marathoner Martin Lilley

Strava stats

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Star Trek

#130 Star Trek First Contact   Walton-Upon-Thames  3:56:06

Incredible Medal

This event was run by Rik Vercoe and his Phoenix Running race series.

This race celebrated an 'advanced' anniversary (48 years in advance to be exact). In 2063 the PHOENIX spacecraft, will make the first warp speed space flight and humans will come into contact with Vulcan's for the first time. It's 'First Contact Day', we are not alone folks!

Lots of Trekkies
All the while Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise-E battle the evil Borg Queen to ensure the survival of the human race and stop us being assimilated into the collective. Come on, First Contact is the greatest Trekkie film ever! 

So 'First Contact Day Run' celebrates the 'flight of the Phoenix spacecraft' on April 5th 2063 and is a 6 hour timed event. 

With this in mind there was lots of fancy dress and it was a beautiful day on the Thames tow path. With Connemara Ultra in mind I wanted to do an easy pace but if the opportunity arose to do a sub 4hr.

It was on a 3.28 mile loop so regular sub 30 minute laps was 4 hrs. The out and back loop was very flat and there was some mud that was very manageable and you could avoid most of it. There was small bridge around the 1 mile mark and I managed to run this all 16 times.

3.28 mile splits for the day were

Lap 1  27:37                    
Lap 2  55:52            28:15  
Lap 3  1:24:18         28:26
Lap 4  1:52:39         28:21
Lap 5  2:21:43         29:04
Lap 6  2:51:49         30:06
Lap 7  3:24:09         32:20
Lap 8  3:56:06         31:57

This gave a half marathon of 1:52:39 and a second half of 2:03:27

That was a disappointing 7th Lap but apart from that it was OK.

The aid station was wanting for nothing. The counting system worked flawlessly and the volunteer marshals were very supportive. It was great meeting everyone 16 times during the race and there were lots of speedy runners there today.
Strava stats for today below.