Tuesday 3 April 2018

Belfast To Dublin

Belfast To Dublin  173K (107 Miles) 28:18

22nd out of  55 finishers
This event had been booked a long time ago and was my long distance target event for 2018. Unfortunately due to my knee injury last year I wasn't at the level off fitness that I wanted to be, but I had been steadily improving since late last year. With the 10 in 10 in Nov/Dec as a base I had managed to hit every ultra training goal in the run up. So it was on (as long as the weather played ball). I have to say if the weather had of been forecast crap I would have seriously reconsidered starting this challenge.

But suffice to say the weather was pretty much perfect with a North Easterly over the shoulder the whole way and tempeatures between 8 and 4 (Real-feel 4 to 0) and that was very manageable. In fact I managed to do the whole race in the same clothes and took off my hat early on and didn't need to wear it again.
I felt, given my fitness level, preparation was everything. As well as being 107 miles this was the only real long run that I have done that was point to point and self navigation as well as on open roads. I knew the road pretty well having driven it for decades before the new motorway opened. But never-the-less I studied race-drone for hours and even took the opportunity to drive the course on the way back from Shanes Castle Ultra. I felt I was as prepared as I could be, had done the miles, my head was in a good place and I was really looking forward it.

I was also attempting the challenge unaided. The course itself was not flat with >5000ft of climb over the > 4 marathon distance. Each of the marathons by themselves would have been classed as hilly.

My first good decision was to sleep in my own bed the night before and got the Aircoach from O'Connell St in Dubin at 7:30am. For the princely sum of 10 Euro I was delivered to about 100m from the start line by 10am, 2hrs before the start. I immediately met Michael McEnerney and we had some coffee in the bus station cafe, swapping strategies and experiences. I never saw Michael during the race at all as he was way ahead from the get go and he finished an hour odd ahead of me. Going round to the start at 11 they were not ready and I kept warm in the Nero coffee shop opposite. Lots of friends and competitors were there and the excitement was palpable.

I'll probably forget a few but Ger and Dinny and Collete who were there trying the distance for the first time. I was gutted for Ger when he retired early (He was back running in St Annes on Sunday however), Dinny also retired at CP2 but this was by far the furtherest he had ever run. Collette got even further and reached 100 miles for the first time in her glittering running career before retiring.  Lito was there as excited as a puppy and he would go onto finish and also do another 100K the next day (amazing really). Rex was there after his 500K triumph (I was shocked to hear he retired at 80 miles). Also there was Dino and Anthony from DBRC. I had no doubts about these two and they duly delivered with strong sub 24's.  I then heard an Australian accent. I immediately introduced my self and it was Annabel over from Oz. She had run with Kris 2 weeks previously at the Canberra 48 hour championships and she ran strong coming in 2nd lady sub 24 hrs. Kris herself at the exact same time was doing her own 12 hour challenge on a mountainous trail in Australia and came second. She still had the were-with-all after her own race to pass on pearls of wisdom by the magic of social media. This included the advise to turn my phone off and concentrate on running. Which I did.
Dinny, Lito and Ger

Belfast - Lisburn

We started on the dot of noon and headed South. The start was an area that I was fairly familiar with having gone to university here in 1982. It had changed beyond recognition from that time but the steady uphill climb up the Lisburn Road was still there. I was very pleased how I held myself back early and settled near the back. As per usual my feet hurt like hell for the first 5 miles but settled down after that. We passed Windsor Park heading towards Lisburn. The field was spreading out and the banter was great. One of the more unusual things we came across was through Lambeg where a guy was walking along the footpath hauling a crucifix. Given it was good Friday it was understandable but unusual.  I was with Ger and Charles (wearing brand new shoes) at this point and it was obvious they also had done their homework and knew the way.  I pulled away when they had a walk break through Lisburn. Charles would go on to finish.  Everything had been uphill to this point.

Lisburn- Dromore-Banbridge

Champ Leslie
Very quickly we were on the A1 heading South towards Dromore and Banbridge. I was with Paul Commerford who was dressed in a full wolf outfit. Amazingly he made 80 odd miles in full costume before retiring. I really wasn't looking forward to this section as its all dual carriageway and we were told to run on the left because of support vehicles. We were in the hard shoulder. This dual carriageway was busy with fast  lorries and cars and fumes and beeps of encouragement everywhere. The road had long sweeping sections with long drags up and down. The field was well spread out. As we approached the 13 mile mark I caught Collette , Rebecca and Mark Haigney.  At this point there was the first aid station which I didn't need anything at and pushed on. The others stopped and there already were Johnny Lindsay and some other EAMS runners who looked really comfortable and would stick together for the whole run and finish. I never saw Collette or Rebecca again. (I'll come back to Mark later).

Philip with popup aid station
I pushed on to Banbridge on my own, following a few in the distance in front. I could see the runners in front crossing the dual carriageway (across the traffic) and I followed. I immediately regretted it as all a sudden the wind was in the face. It turned out it was lorries coming against us and their turbulence. I felt jealous of those that stayed the far side. We passed Dromore on the carriage way and we eventually peeled off the A1 into Banbridge. Just off the slip road was Philip, Alma and Molly McAvoy in convoy with Carmel who was crewing for fiancee Neil (Neil would finish on minimal training). A very welcome can of coke was guzzled and a selfie taken and it was onto the town itself. I was on the lookout for Elaine McAnulty's beauty shop as I had promised to say hi on the way past.  It was easy to spot in the end as there was a big crowd outside welcoming all the runners through. I was delighted to see Lesley from Monaghan Phoenix and Elaine herself looking glam as always. More selfies and I was off towards Loughbrickland on the old Newry road.


Fairly quickly I met up with Rosie and Amy Beggs who were running together and we all had a good old chat. Mark Haigney was just in front of us on the phone. It turns out he was on the phone to RTE and the Ray Darcy show and had bagged himself a slot on the Sat night show to talk about the race (he now had to finish sub 30 hrs to make the show). We were now on back roads that had climbed high above the A1. We spotted some runners below us who had gone the wrong way and were still on the carriage way. Lots of shouting and waving got their attention and they were soon back on track. We all went on together towards Loughbrickland.

Aidan dropped by
Mark had with him a full support crew of his wife Gillian and friend Donna (who I knew as a fabulous Ultrarunner). They had a car full of whatever you fancy in terms of food drink and medical supplies. They also had a magic chair that appeared from time to time for a rub (biggest regret was not taking advantage of this). Donna also has endless enthusiasm and experience which was infectious and brilliant. I was running very similar pace and strategy to Mark and we spent a lot of time together and ended up only 1 minute apart at the end. It meant that I had full use of Donna and Gillian's support which was great.

Passing through Loughbrickland we headed left towards Poyntzpass. This again was undulating and relatively quiet traffic wise and we all tooed and frooed togther. The two who got lost joined us and they were another Mark and Johnathon. Johnathon had run with me in Portumna 2 years previous and amazingly remembered me. Mark was a veteran of last year and would go onto finish in 26 hours.

Poyntzpass - Newry - CP1

132 K
At Poyntzpass I was greeted with the sight of my brother Aidan who stopped off on the way home. He offered to get me some stuff but I refused saying that the 30 mile aid station should be coming up soon. The aid station never materialsed and I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through to CP1. Fortunately, Johnathon and the Marks support crews helped me out no end and Maryse Mackessy and Paddy Mockett were always at hand. The road from Poyntzass to Newry was hell. It was busy with traffic (including lorries) and there was little hard shoulder.  Running along the side the road was the Newry canal which would have been so much more convenient but it wasn't on the course. It was also getting dusky and I pushed hard to get to Newry and the street lights before it got too dark to run without a head light. I made it just in time and as I came into Newry Mark Haigney  popped out of a McDonalds car park with some soup. We decided to stay together to CP1. We passed Amy and Rosie who had hooked up with their support crew but seemed a little perplexed that CP1 was some 5 miles beyond Newry at the Carrickdale hotel. I never saw them again but they would go onto finish. I knew my way through Newry and we quickly navigated the streets in the gloom until we reached the big hill out towards Dublin. This was a slow plod to get to the top. After leaving the street lights we donned the head torches and went on some fairly minor roads (grass up the middle) until we reached the road that led to the Carrickdale and CP1. It seemed like forever to make the hotel and the Checkpoint but we eventually made it and were comfortably under the cut off. Not everyone was.

CP1 - Dundalk

Libby not impressed
My strategy for the CP's was get in, stuff my face and get out again. There was no need for a change of clothes or anything complicated. 2 pots of rice, a Red Bull and water in the backpack, a S-tab and a bottle of coke and I was off. There was a small change to the route that would bring us straight into Dundalk. Instead of going through Ravensdale forest we would now take the cycle path that was used in inaugural Dundalk marathon. I still think in particular some of the girls don't like this section as it is very remote and very dark. I can understand that. We now had a full moon and it pretty much was downhill to Dundalk. Mark had left Johnathon and hooked up with Colin and they would finish the race together.

The other Mark had run away from me but being refuelled on rice and Coke I caught him before entering Dundak and we wound our way into the town center together. We were joined by Derek Mackessey and Theresa Grimes who herself had been lost already several times and not happy. It was close to midnight now and the pubs were emptying.

Dundalk - Dunleer

Climbing out of Dundalk we hit towards Castlebellingham with Theresa powering ahead. Traffic began to get less frequent and it was really a case of hunkering down and getting the miles in. I came through Casstlebellingham which was like a ghost town about 200m back from Theresa and we climbed again out of this town towards Dunleer and CP2. We actually had 12 hrs to do CP1 to CP2 which was very very very generous. As you can probably gather the race was very settled at this stage and there was few runners around us.

One thing had started to unsettle me and nearly was the end of my run. I had noticed that my reliable ALDI inner lycra shorts had developed a hole (a bit like Greg O'Beirnes lucky pants), a hot spot had developed. I had noticed it first at CP1 and I had started to lather on the Vaseline but it only seemed to ease the issue for a few miles and it was getting worse and worse. I discovered that it was less sore if I actually ran than if I walked so ironically this issue helped my time rather than hindered it. But it did get to a stage of agony and I was really worried. In fact from when I first noticed it to I patched it up it was 10 hours and I even had to sacrifice a glove (good luck working that one out). Eventually I found a pharmacy open at 9:30am in Balbriggan and a little pot of magic called Sudocream worked wonders.

Coming into Dunleer Theresa Taffe passed in a car. She had retired earlier in Newry because of a very strict cut off some 5 miles further than some people thought. At this stage I had also lost sight of Theresa Grimes and assumed she had pulled away. I was shocked when I heard later in the race she was behind. I can only guess she got lost again. Into Dunleer and a quick CP, stuffing my face and filling up on caffeine and salt and off I went.

Dunleer - Drogheda

The climb out of Dunleer was exceptional, it was endless. I was passed by two English runners (I think). One had the brightest jacket I have ever seen. After about an hour we reached the top of the climb and the two guys where sitting on the center reservation knackered. They informed me the hill was 3.5 miles long >300ft of climb. Into and out of Monisterboyce and an aid station and what went up had to go down and it was a long 7K downhill freewheel into Drogheda.

My hot spot issue was getting really bad at this stage and I stopped on the bridge in Drogheda for adjustment. Mark Haigney and Andrew from London came through on the main bridge over the Boyne.

Drogheda  - Balbriggan

At airport
We headed out of Drogheda (now in daylight) towards Balbriggan. It was yet another climb.  Unfortunately with  daylight also came the traffic and we were back to dodging cars for the rest of the run. From now to the airport the roads were pretty dangerous as hard shoulders were quite narrow and few and far between. I spent a lot of time with Andrew from England on this section and fortunately the road had frequent villages like Jullianstown and Gormanstown that helped break up the journey. There was a section around Gormanstown that had been changed recently and Andew was insistent that we go a different way (based on the directions on his watch). I won the argument and we took a little off road section that bypassed a particularly dangerous bit of carriage way. As we approached Ballbrigan I met a couple of Balbrigan AC members who were heading to EAMS the next day for the Knockagh challenge. Good luck with that. As we entered Balbriggan I immediately went in search of a pharmacy (Phew!).

Balbriggan - Swords

Revitalised I climbed out of Balbriggan on my own. Very soon I felt a strong presence behind me. A large group that included all the army boys (inc John Chapman and Jimmy Kelly) came past me at speed. They were relentless. Very close behind was Mazza and her pacer Danny who were keeping pace with the army boys.  I just went WOW!. I also caught Andrew at this stage and pulled away from him. I didnt like this section of road as it was very fast traffic wise and I was completely knackered and it was long at around 10 miles. About 2 miles further on I spotted the army boys climbing into their support mini-bus. This surprised me as they were going so fast and I never seen them again. On my own now I headed towards Swords stopping off in a garage for breakfast and excited about seeing the planes from Dublin airport. Swords arrived on the horizon and I knew we were now into the outskirts of Dublin and roundabout country.

Swords - airport.

Out of Swords there were lots of roundabounts and it meant a lot of scrambling across them or through underpasses or climbing barriers and just trusting I was going the right direction (towards the planes). I have to say the highway code may not have been followed precisely at this stage. I noticed a group of 2 ahead of me (one wearing a Welsh bandana) who were walking. I quickly went passed and spotted another 3 at the next roundabout. I came up on them quickly and it was Derek, Mazza and Danny. We negotiated through to the airport together and managed to get every green man that was going. At 98 miles I was also visited by Crusaders colleague and neighbour Denis who was a welcome relief and a few selfies were taken. Derek was really struggling with his feet. We all came through 100 miles together in 26:16.

Airport to Home.

I still felt OK and was capable of a run/walk pace and pulled away. Through Santry is mostly gently downhill and I quickly made it past Morton Stadium and the Omniplex and the end of the R132. Dropping down to the N1 I called Lindsay who was already at the Skylon. Immediately I couldn't run anymore and knew that I was in for a last 4 miles of death march. I met with Lindsay/Libby at Whitehall police station and continued relentlessly into town, now walking. Greg O'Beirne pulled in at Fagans to wish me the best and I skirted past Croke park and was truly on the last stretch. The last twist was Mark Haigney sprinting upto me like a 5K runner at the top of O'Connel St and heading off to the finish at pace. He of course got lost and only finished a minute in front of me. I knew the way and crossed the Liffey and climbed up past the Brazen Head before turning right and then a quick left. I could see Aurthurs Bar and tried to lift a jog for the last few meters but failed. I was home in 28:18.

I got my medals and a few hugs and photos and went into the pub. Two lovely pints with my new friends were had and a taxi home. I was asleep within an hour.


Photos: Maryse Mackessy, Philip Miles, Denis Murphy, Sammy Daye, Donna Owens

Stats for today


  1. Wow.... I had forgot most of the run until I read this Leo. A brilliant read.... just no mention of the Snake I saw... I must have been sleep running in the early hours.. I could have swore it was a Cobra. Looking forward to seeing you on the roads and trails again soon. Full respect. Mark Haigney.... of HAGNEY as Ray called me....

    1. Family audience Mark... btw you and Donna and Gillian were awesome.

  2. Oh my dearest Leo, this is by far, the most challenging epic journey I have read xxx I am so very in awe of you xxx will wait to hear hear about glove/hot spot when I next see you xx congratulations and massive respect xx

    1. The report nearly took longer than the run Somei

  3. Wow, Leo, what a great report. I felt your pain with the hole in your shorts as I know how much that hurts! Very well done xxx

  4. Hi Leo,

    Fantastic achievement. It's a long drive.....I just can't Imagine running that distance. "RESPECT"

    And the article makes for a really good read. If you give up the day job there is an opening for you to become a writer !