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A Madventure on a Mountain

Long distance running in the modern day is a far cry from the scenarios of yesteryear when its main function was either to bring news of battle or escape being eaten by a lion. Some other things happened in the history of running, but mainly those two. However, as we near towards the summer of 2012, running purely as a participatory sport has never been in better shape, with road-races such as the 5K, the 10K, the half and the full marathon all enjoying growing popularity. In America, the marathon has become a cherished institution; the Running USA’s annual report from last year states that for every 607 Americans, one person finished a US marathon in 2011. Running-fever has been spreading to Irish shores for some time now; the expected entry for this year’s Dublin marathon in October will be around 10,000 people while last Sunday, 11,000 runners took to the streets in the biggest Great Ireland Run ever. But even with the wide variety of races on offer, situations arise where running down the beaten track just won’t get the job done. That’s when it’s time to think outside the box and there are plenty of options; we’re talking ultra-marathon, we’re talking triathlon, we’re talking Man vs. Horse. Is it really all that crazy?

Yes. Yes, it is.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “I value my hips, ankles and other joints; this kind of thing is for the birds.” Well, fear not! If you want to dip your toes into the weird wild world of extreme running, the Clare Madventure Marathon may be just what you’re looking for! It’s a standard-length marathon, with a few crucial differences. You’re running up a mountain so the elevation is serious, and it’s all off-road with not an inch of tarmac in sight. Last Sunday, this was my destination for my third marathon in just over a month. It all began at half five that morning when I packed up the tent into the back of the jeep and began the long drive from Louth to Killaloe, the “tent” being shorthand for the assortment of sheets, pillows, books and running gear that I lug around with me on most of the overnight trips.

I arrived about an hour before the kick-off at the UL Activity Centre, (giving me time for a sneaky nap!) just down the road from Ballycuggran Forest. After registering and loading up on coffee, fruit and Turkish Delights, it was time to head up to the starting-line. The turn-out for the event was quite small; most of us were members of the 100 Marathon Club Ireland and had run in the ‘West of Ireland’ series earlier in the year. There were about fourteen people doing the full 26.2 miles with a few others running the relay.

Sure what else would ya be doing on a Sunday?

In the background of that photo, you can see a steep hill leading away from the starting line. Mo summed up the opening section in his run report perfectly, “When 90% of the participants are driven to walk within the first half mile of a race you know you’re in for a challenge.” He also compared the effect of the first 4.2 miles on your cardiovascular system to a vicious kick to the nether regions, which I would wholeheartedly agree with. Not that we were complaining though!

And they're off!!!

The layout of the course was fairly simple in theory; run up the Moylussa mountain and down again, then repeat. Each lap is roughly the length of a half-marathon. That first lap took us over a wide variety of terrains from wooded pathways, to firebreak trails, to boggy peat roads, to a forest with a distinctly Blair Witch feel to it. I got slightly carried away with myself on the first lap; Dennis and I crossed the halfway line together after 2 hours and 7 minutes, so naturally my head was starting to swell a bit…

However, I couldn’t keep that pace up for much longer. Alas, some lessons just have to be learned the hard way. I later uploaded my route performance to the GarminConnect website (which can be accessed by clicking here) and it makes for some painful reading. Around the 14-mile mark, I hit the wall … hard! The next four miles were spent walking through bog, woods and loose shale; this section really made Connemara’s “Hell of the West” section seem like a stroll in the park. This finally culminated in summiting Moylussa for the second time, a section which was only one mile long, but which took me over half an hour to finish. But man, when it was finished, it was sweet!

I was smiling on the inside.

There was still the small matter of getting off the mountain-top. While running through a bog road is tough enough, walking through it is also pretty demanding, especially when you’re out on an exposed mountain-top in running shorts. At this stage, I genuinely thought that I’d be walking for the rest of the way until the finish-line. Gradually however, I started picking up the pace on the downhills. Pat O’ Keefe’s assistance was invaluable at this point; he gave me loads of encouragement (and his spare gels!) as we pushed through the last few miles. For some reason known only to myself, I decided to take off down the last downhill mile. Sheer dumb luck kept me from tripping and rolling down to the bottom but I finished that section in 8:30 for a total time of 5:41:55. Some interesting numbers from the race overall:

Average Pace – 13:20 minutes per mile.

Total Elevation Gain – 4,126 feet

Calories Burned – 3,160

I really needed to lose the weight...

So to sum up, “Ireland’s toughest marathon” lived up to its billing although there was a fantastic buzz as usual and we all got a great sense of satisfaction after completing it. Remember all this is for a great cause, which is the Inspire Ireland Foundation (ReachOut). So please don’t forget to sponsor me using the links below! Also please share the mycharity link on facebook and twitter, where all the photos (together with some excellent shots taken by Pat) will be uploaded this evening. Roll on Portumna!

Finished the Madventure!

Well last Sunday, I finished the Clare Madventure Marathon. Hopefully, this event will go from strength to strength, it was by far the most difficult marathon I’ve run so far but also was a great day out. Two laps up-and-down the mountain of Moylussa with a total elevation of over 4000 feet. I’m currently having some problems with video editing but I hope to have the full report finished either by this evening or tomorrow morning!

Shoot-Out for Reach Out!

If you hang around on Twitter or Facebook, you might see me post this link up quite often. That leads to the mycharity.ie page I setup to raise money for Reach Out. Mycharity.ie is a website that faciliates donations to charities by creating fundraising pages, like the one I’ve setup for this marathon challenge. (Clicking on the little green buttons scattered throughout these posts also takes you directly to my fundraising page)

Recently however, I’ve also been trying to raise money in that magical weird world out there beyond the computer screen. Raising money without using the internet – surely impossible?

Luckily, my local Gaelic football club came to the rescue. To my friends reading from abroad, Gaelic football (also called GAA, Gah, or somtimes, Irish football) is sort of like a cross between soccer and rugby. It’s played on a large pitch with a round leather football that is like a soccer ball but heavier. At each end of the field is a goal that looks like an NFL goal post, except that under the crossbar is a net similar to a soccer net. Two teams try to score points by getting the ball into the net or over the crossbar. A ball that goes into the net is worth three points, while one that goes over the crossbar is worth one. That’s a fairly trite summation of my favourite sport but for those who haven’t seen it played before, this video should provide a pretty epic introduction.

Anyway, back to the fundraising! As I was saying, my local club Lannleire GFC came to my rescue last weekend. While I was away running in the Connemarathon on Sunday, Lannleire were playing local rivals St. Kevin’s GFC back in Louth. I owe a huge thanks to everybody involved as the gate receipts from that match were all donated to Reach Out Ireland. Also, last Saturday, the players in the youth development squad participated in a very successful fundraising penalty shootout!

Penalty-taking right out of the top drawer

Everybody took three shots, with those scoring all three progressing to the second round, where they fired off three more penalties. After about an hour, Donal Clare (pictured above) emerged the winner, scoring six out of six. More information and photos from the event (including a few of me trying to take a penalty and making a fool of myself) can be found here on Flickr and Facebook. And of course, we ended up raising €400 for Reach Out, bringing the total raised so far to €670, which is absolutely fantastic. Major thanks again to everyone that took part, it was a great day.

Also, the next marathon I’m running is the Madventure Marathon next Sunday. This event is my first trail run, it’s 100% off-road and involves hacking up and down the highest mountain in Co. Clare, on the west coast of Ireland. Fun times! What I’d really like to hear though, is ideas that you guys might have for more offline fundraising events. I’m being absolutely serious, I only have maybe two or three other ideas! Maybe you shaved your head, jumped out of a plane or had a worm-charming event (yes, apparently that is actually a thing). Whatever it is, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

For more information on the work done by Reach Out, check out Reachout.com and InspireIreland.ie

Also, don’t forget that following ‘Running for Reachout’ on Facebook and Twitter is guaranteed to instantly make you 32% cooler.

Go West 2: Run Harder

Have you ever seen someone running a marathon and thought, “Man, I should do that, but cycling in a leprechaun costume, while towing a giant rickshaw-billboard contraption behind me”? Well one guy did just that at the Connemarathon last Sunday and I wish I knew what charity he was doing it for; my phone-camera decided to freeze just as he was freewheeling past me on a downhill section of the route into Leenane village. (Raging that I didn’t get a photo!) That was on a day hot enough to leave me pretty badly sunburnt and while many of us were just beginning to cry into our energy gels by that stage, he was still plugging away. It was genuinely quite inspiring to watch.

So you might have gathered two things from that little story; firstly, I still haven’t quite figured out how to write proper introductions to these posts and secondly, I was also running in the Connemarathon on Sunday! This was quite a big moment for me because before last October, I had never trained as a runner at all. Around the middle of December, I had gotten a bit ahead of myself and completed a marathon-length run on the roads around my home, messing up my left knee in the process (a feat of monumental stupidity which you can read about here). And just a few weeks ago, I had ran the Connemarathon route as part of the ‘West of Ireland’ series, and while I did finish it, I hardly covered myself in glory either.

A pretty faithful recreation of me crossing the finish-line that day...

The mood was markedly different last Sunday compared to March 10th. Back in March, there were only about twenty of us, almost everyone knew each other and the banter on the bus made it feel like a football team going to an away match. This time, there were over 3000 people ferried out to the starting line on buses from Galway Cathedral. It was my first marquee marathon event and for the vast majority of the people in attendance, it was probably their first marathon of the year. The mood on the way over was quite tense, with some people chattering nervously about anything at all (their times from previous years, old injuries, their new sports-watch…) or just ignoring each other altogether. We had a bit of time to spare when we arrived at the starting-line, so I attempted to take my mind off things by recording a mini-vlog thingmabob. Somehow I don’t think TV will come calling anytime soon.

                        Yup, I think I'll stick to writing.

The mood picked up as the starting time came closer and shortly before we began, there was a shout to clear the left side of the track as the Italian 100k world champ Giorgio Calcaterra came flying past us. To put that in context, he started 90 minutes before us and completed the entire 39.3 mile ultra-marathon course in 3 hours and 56 minutes (about half an hour quicker than I was over the 26.2 mile standard course). As one of the guys in the 100 marathon club said, he looked like he was running on air. We were off and away by 10.30 – other characters I met on the course included a guy from Barefoot Ireland who was literally running the marathon in his socks. Admittedly they are some pretty high-tech, cool looking socks, but still – socks!  Clearly some people feel no pain.

However I am not one of those people. Having run the course a few weeks ago, I knew exactly what to expect. I couldn’t help feeling slightly sorry for some of the first-timers who were almost sprinting into the first couple of miles as I hung back in the early stages. Sure enough, many of them were wrecked by the time the ‘devil’s mother’ section rolled around. The best advice I ever got about marathon running was from my Aunty Rosaleen who told me – START SLOW and pick off the stragglers in the second half, a lesson I had previously learned the hard way. She also told me that no matter how much pain I was in, that I should always ALWAYS run, not walk, past the photographers…

"That's good. Now squint a bit and look into the middle-distance, that-a-boy."

I should mention a few other people who helped me out in various ways. Firstly there was ‘fig-roll guy’, who was mercifully stationed at the bottom of the monstrous ‘Hell of the West’ hill section, where I desperately needed an energy pick-me-up. Then there’s the fellow (dressed in black) in the background of this picture, who was an ultra-marathon runner that caught up with me with two miles to go. If I was on my own at that point, I definitely would have just given into exhaustion and walked most of the last two miles, missing out on my target time. But he was talking to me and running alongside me, and somehow I managed to stick with his pace. He had run 37 miles at that stage, which was really incredible. So as you can see, I repaid his kindness by leaving him behind and sprinting for the finish-line as soon as it came into view! (If you’re reading this … sorry about that!) Also there were the two guys from the Order of Malta who had to virtually carry me into the medical tent; I’ve nothing but good things to say about them. So when all was said and done, I came in at 4hrs: 27 min: 06sec, knocking about half an hour off my previous best time, which Google assures me is “above average”. I’m happy enough with that! A special thanks as well to Lannleire GFC who were running a fund-raising drive on my behalf while I was away in Galway, more details on that to come! If you would like to sponsor me also, these little green buttons are the business.

For more information on the work done by the Inspire Ireland Foundation (Reach Out Ireland), check out InspireIreland.ie and Reachout.com.

Don’t forget to follow ‘Running for Reachout’ on FacebookTwitter and Flickr to get sexy, sexy pictures of me in running shorts sent straight to your news feed.

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