Monday 23 April 2018


Ultra #75 Connemarathon Ultra   8:10

So I was back in Connemara.  I recently counted up the number of times I had been over this course  and including a WOI MCI event in 2014 this was my 11th time in Half/Full and Ultra since my first ever Irish half marathon here back in 2004.

With Mirko at start
This year was the new setup again rather than the original Ray O'Connor road show and even though it looks mostly the same, its not the same. For example the brilliant day before directors run has been confined to history. This race was all about the details and the detail is not the same IMHO.

I was in for the Ultra today which is one big 39.3 miles loop from Maam Cross to Lough Inagh , past Killary and through Linnane and back to Maam Cross. As 39.3's go it is not the most difficult terrain wise or elevation wise and if the weather plays ball its actually pretty OK. Today the forecast was very mixed and completely different to my last visit here in 2016 (after which,  I swore it would be my last). The storm that day in 2016 made it nearly impossible and I still don't know how I managed a sub 4 Mara and 6:25 Ultra. As Ray Cassin remarked, that was surely a red letter day, never to be repeated. This year the weather was a lot more amenable and completely the opposite direction. But it was still tricky enough. I don't seemed to have suffered as much as most though and kept feeling we were lucky all the way through the race.

briefing area
I travelled down to Galway the night before as usual, and I found it real difficult to find the new registration place (which shut at 4pm which was very awkward). After asking several people I found it eventually and picked up my number. Posting the numbers would have been a way better option and is €3 extra. I met Dipak Vala at the registration making a long awaited comeback to running and he was pacing the full. He tells me this is first marathon in nearly a year.

The next morning I parked up (€5 for the day, which is new in Galway on a Sunday) and got on the bus to Peacocks from the Cathedral. I chatted to Patrick Mercie all the way. We arrived in plenty of time. There already was Ray "skinny" Cassin. Ray will be back in August for redemption over the Connemara 100 mile course. I have no doubt he will do it this time. Mark Messit was also there pacing 3:30 in the full and had arrived super early for his race. I know relatively few at this event any more as its so international. With so much choice around this weekend (all much cheaper) with Longford and EAMS and of course London and Madrid, the Irish contingent seemed to have abandoned this race en masse. Also there looking very fit was Finn O'Mara training for the Energia 24. She would go onto do a very fast and steady paced time.

Just some of the Conn medals
A second quick bus ride to the start a mile away and my annual meeting with Glen Brennan on the start line and we were off without waiting around too much. Immediately I settled into a group including Mirko Warnke who were steady at 10 minute mile pace. Finn over took us at 5 miles chatting and educating an American visitor on turf cutting.  There was a steady headwind into us as we wound our way out the main Galway to Clifton Rd, dodging the traffic over taking us all the way. A right turn at 10 miles brought us on to the quieter back of the course. Still at 10 minute mile pace we arrived at half marathon in 2:13. The wind had been into us all the way. I found out in the briefing that there was a 2:30 cut off so was happy to be there with a bit to spare. This did concentrate the mind.

On we went still into the wind and after about 15 miles I slowed a fair bit. There was another cut off at full distance of 5:30 but I was well under that so didn't feel any pressure to keep pushing. At this stage I had fallen off the back off the 10 minute miler bunch and was on my own. It would stay this way for the rest of the day. Unlike 2 years ago I wasn't fast enough to catch the marathoners or half marathoners.

Turning right at the end of lough Inagh we significantly climbed for the first time past the "Stop and Pray" church. Knowing that I was well under the cut off I decided to walk all the hills. The breeze had turned into our backs now and eased us along. When we hit Killary harbour and the gentle downhill towards Linnane it was all very pleasant. I came through full in 4:54 well under the cut off. At this stage I lost all enthusiasm for running completely and went into a walk/run strategy.  I had my first feed bag at this full distance and headed off to the big climb out of Linnane walking and drinking coke and eating Haribo jelly men,  and chatting to two of our English visitors from the Pennine region. Ray Cassin was hot on my heels through full distance and quickly headed past and off into the distance. I also spent some time with Peter Lee (Anto's brother) from the top of the hill. We tooed and frooed until I had a spurt around 30 miles and headed off.

Mark and Ray
Food buckets
50K was in 6:03 and I continued the Walk/Run strategy all the way to  the end. My second feed station was mile 34 and the rain came in soon after and by the time we arrived in Maam village things had deteriorated badly which led to a very uncomfortable last few miles.

The Hell of the West was a lonely slog up,up and up some more. The rain was coming in side wise so I have little memory. I did however manage to get a jog going from the top most of the way to the finish.

I arrived at the finish on my own at 8:10 only a few minutes behind quite a few others. This was a full 1 hour 45 mins down on the last effort here. Pretty poor show really.

Crossing the line I picked up my very nice medal and t-shirt. I later discovered that the "L" T-shirt was smaller than most "S" T-shirts from other races and a complete waste of time (for the organisers what a waste of advertisement revenue). It has been fun though watching people put up their photos of ill fitting T-Shirts online.  Luckily I still have my "I hit the wall" cotton T-Shirts from the noughties so I have plenty. The medal was really nice though.

I immediately got on a bus and was off to Galway, had a bath and then drove to Dublin via Supermac's. It never ceases to amaze me how busy the Galway Plaza is.

It was a long day and I am pretty sure this will be my last Connemarathon.

Photos courtesy of Mirko Warnke

Stats for today

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