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

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