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?
“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.
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
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!