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Dublin Marathon – Take Two

Okay for this post, I am most definitely wearing my Marathon Club hat. If there’s anyone out there who feels that one marathon in Dublin this year just wasn’t enough (and that doesn’t mind “dodging wild deer” as a bonus challenge…), make sure to sign up for the ‘West of Ireland’ series in the Phoenix Park on Saturday, November 24th.

This is the first time that the Marathon Club of Ireland has put on a ‘West of Ireland’ marathon anywhere east of County Offaly (which is great for me, since I might actually get a full night’s sleep before this one!). Our own Frank McDermott has put together a fantastic course in the Phoenix Park which takes in two short loops at the beginning, followed by five large (and hilly) loops directly afterwards. (Click on the screenshots below for more details)

In all honesty, I actually can’t wait for this one; I understand there are still a few places remaining (the places for this one are capped at 50 and there might be no on-the-morning sign-ups) so if you want to enter, go to this link at runireland.com and click ‘Enter now’. The race will be starting at 9.30am, so best advice is to be there by 8.30am. And of course, if you see us don’t forget to cheer us on! ;-)

Serious Fun at Barretstown

I’d like to tell you guys about a wonderful place I went to in October. Spoiler alert – it has absolutely nothing to do with running for a change! Months and months ago, I sent in an application to volunteer as a cara at Barretstown Castle in Co. Kildare. ‘Cara’ is Irish for ‘friend’ and Barretstown is a Spring/Summer/Autumn camp for children that have had cancer and serious blood diseases. It’s part of the network of Hole in the Wall camps founded by the actor Paul Newman. So basically, the caras were a group of guys and girls that came in and worked alongside activity leaders who work there the whole year round, and run activities like arts and crafts, canoeing, archery, fishing and high ropes.

Fortunately I was accepted for a weekend camp beginning last October 12th at 9am. The camp itself is located on the grounds of a castle at Ballymore Eustace in Kildare, which is quite out of the way and so I was pretty late arriving; by the time I got there, the caras were leaving the breakfast hall and moving onto the theater for training. This weekend was a family camp where the children would arrive with their whole families and stay in a village of about 13 cottages. So our training began in the morning and went on until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when the families began to arrive. Until then, the caras spent the day practicing camp games, songs and of course, the Chi Chi Wa dance.

This was the only version I could find on YouTube; there were a bunch of other songs and dances we practiced by Glee, Olly Murs, Justin Bieber… basically the sort of stuff I listen to all the time anyway :D There were also a lot of games which involved introducing ourselves to each other in silly and creative ways, which in hindsight was great because by the time the families arrived, we all felt like we knew each other really well and could just jump into this experience straightaway. And it also did a total 180 on your mindset; there were more than a few awkward looks when we realized we’d be dancing around doing the chicken-legs with our tongues out; a few people were probably scanning the room for hidden cameras recording us making fools of ourselves! By the end of training, everybody was just relaxed and ready to make sure the kids were having fun and their families were enjoying themselves also. It was really a very short weekend for the families, lasting from about 4pm on Friday until 2pm on Sunday.

We spent that first evening getting to know our families through free flow activities such as balloon animals, arts & crafts and face-painting – each family was assigned enough caras so that there would always be two adults per child at all times. Dinner was a big event every evening; this was where all the dance-training was put to good use.

One of the funny things was that on the first night, only the kids would want to do the dancing before dinner; by the end the mums and dads would be up as well, getting into costumes and all sorts of craziness. It was a lot of fun.

On the Saturday morning, we had blocks of group games. Our group went into the drawing room in the actual castle and we did a bunch of silly games with the younger kids like putting a big red flag on a rope, getting everybody in a circle, and passing it around as quickly as we could until it was passed back to the first person. (In case you were wondering, our time was 19 seconds. A Barretstown record, or so we were told!) Later that morning was canoeing; where the activities leaders really came into their own, making up hilarious games to get the kids to put on their safety gear, playing tag in the canoes, throwing rubber ducks into the lake for them to collect – the biggest compliment I can pay the activity leaders is that our work, as caras, didn’t feel like work at all. Everyone was just having a blast.

If you ask anyone who has been to Barretstown, they will probably tell you about the New Heights. Just look at this!

There is very little I can add to that; there’s nothing quite as humbling, as satisfying or as wonderful as watching a kid, who has spent a long time hospitalized and in a lot of pain with a serious life-threatening condition – and now they’re climbing a 40 foot tower, jumping through the air, grabbing a trapeze – and they’re loving every second of it. Then it’s their parents’ turn to climb and their turn to do the cheering, which is equally fun. We lucked out as Saturday was gloriously sunny so we got a great two-hour session and every child and parent had the time to do whatever they wanted on the high ropes.

Also every evening after dinner, there would be an evening program in the theater; the first night was just a free-flow of fun activities – karaoke, face-painting, giant Connect4, getting some unfortunate activity-leader in the stocks and pelting wet sponges at them… The second night was something closer to a pantomime/scavenger hunt where one of the three little pigs had gone missing and we took the kids off in groups all over the castle looking for clues as to where the swine was hiding! I really don’t feel like I could possibly do the place justice – Barretstown was quite simply the most fun I’ve ever had. There is an element of responsibility insofar as you are looking after a group of children who have been through a really tough time. But honestly, the full-time staff are so good at their jobs, and the children were having so much fun as well, that it really does not feel like work at all. Quick example, one of the girls in our family (all of nine years old) was speculating at dinner-time about how much easier it would be if spaghetti was a fruit that grew on trees. Her dad and I both responded immediately that of course there are spaghetti trees and they only grow at Barretstown! This became something of a running joke that the rest of the caras got in on; every time she’d say something like “There’s no spaghetti trees really…. right?” we’d give a deadpan response “Oh yeah definitely, there are loads of them here.” By the last day, our insistence was no longer enough, solid evidence was required. So just a few minutes before the last dinner, we threw together a totally convincing “baby spaghetti tree”.

Like I said, TOTALLY convincing!

To get serious for just a second, I would really recommend to anyone reading that you get involved with Barretstown or one of the other Hole in the Wall camps in some way.  The therapeutic recreation program is widely endorsed by medical professionals as having great benefits in rebuilding the confidence and self-esteem of children who’ve suffered with cancer and serious blood diseases, aiding their recovery and helping them acquire new skills. If you have children who would be eligible to take part, or know a family who could attend these camps, please check out the Parents & Families section of the Barretstown website for more information. Barretstown put on almost twenty camps throughout the whole year, and because Barretstown cover the costs of travel, accommodation, food, medical care and activities for all the families and children, their annual costings come to about €4.5 million. If you can help out with fundraising in any way, please go to the How You Can Help section of the website. Finally, if you’re considering volunteering your time as a cara, stop considering it and just do it! I only wish I’d kept a journal or at least written this post as soon as I got home because I’ve left out so much. It is quite simply the most fun and rewarding time you’ll ever have; I can promise you won’t regret it.

Mission Accomplished (almost!)

While there still may be a few marathons left between now and the end of December, Monday’s Dublin marathon went just great! I cut a couple of minutes off my personal best from Kildare last May, coming in at 3h54m44s

Here’s a short video of me crossing the finish-line. About twenty seconds in, there’s a group of Irish Air Corps marathoners, running in formation and carrying a flag.

Then there’s a guy directly behind them sporting a white t-shirt, black bandanna and a disgustingly sweaty beard… that would be me :D

Full race-report to follow!

One More Sleep…

Ten Craziest Moments in a Year of Running

Have you ever watched an episode of the Simpsons or Miami Vice where the writers ran out of ideas so in the opening scene, the gang reminisces to set up a “best of” clip show? Well that’s sort of the position I’m in right now – my training plans for the Dublin marathon next Monday have been thrown a little bit off-course, owing to the man-flu/bubonic plague that has recently struck me down, leaving me with few other options.

Unless anyone wants to read a post about nausea and digestive unpleasantness – that I can do.

It hasn’t been quite a full year in running but it sure seems like it. So without further ado, here’s a couple of the absolute craziest things I’ve done this year in the name of ReachOut, since I signed up at my local running club last November.

1) How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Start Running (Dec 18, 2011) One day last winter, I decided to embark on a mad adventure, having absolutely no idea what it was going to entail.

2) The Wake-Up Call – Part 1 (Jan 7, 2012) Not knowing anything about marathons, I decided the best way to get my head around it was to actually get out and do one! So I left a bottle of water at my gate, put on my tattered old runners and ran for 26 miles (about eight laps around my block.) Big mistake!

3) Bohermeen and Taming the Carb-Craving Monster (Mar 8, 2012) I couldn’t wait to get started so I set off to Bohermeen, Co. Meath for my first, and to date my only, half-marathon.

4) Go West, Young Man! (Mar 13, 2012) My first ever real marathon had no crowds, no support, no medics and just 22 other competitors – talk about a baptism of fire!

5) A Madventure on a Mountain (Apr 20, 2012) My third day out was nearly six hours of pure hell at “Ireland’s Toughest Marathon”, the Madventure in Co. Clare. We had to summit a 532m mountain twice to make it to the finish-line.

6) There were a couple of occasions that never made it into the original blog, and for good reason. In particular, I’m thinking about the time I ran the Flora Women’s mini-marathon in drag…

10 kilometers sure seems an awful lot longer in full make-up and a ball-gown. (Jun 4, 2012)

7) Three Marathons in Three Days (May 5-7, 2012) Exactly what it says on the tin. In Ireland, we had a long bank holiday weekend last May. Day 1 was the Ballyhoura Mountain Marathon, Day 2 was the Great Limerick Run and after an extremely long drive, Day 3 was the Belfast City Marathon.

8) Finally Breaking the 4-Hour Barrier (May 13, 2012) In Limerick I’d just missed out by a couple of minutes; running a marathon in under four hours is important monkey for a lot of runners to get off their back. It was especially unlikely in my case as it came just a week after the 3-in-3-days and due to the fact that I had a hangover and just two hours sleep from the night before…

9) Here’s another one that I originally overlooked in the race-reports. Kildare’s Le Cheile AC put on a Midnight Marathon in Leixlip last June. The key difference here, besides the fact that it was held at midnight, was that it was run on a looped track – which was about 400 metres long. If you’re struggling with the maths, that equals just over 105 laps. (June 23, 2012)

10) In at the Deep End: Running My First Ultramarathon at the Connemara 100- Miler: (Aug 11/12, 2012) An ultramarathon can technically be any length over 26.2 miles, although the most common distances are 50k, 50 miles, 100km and 100 miles. I had never run anything over the length of a regular marathon before that crazy crazy day in Connemara.

The aforementioned flu has set me back somewhat. But I still have hopes of breaking my personal best from May’s Kildare marathon when I go to Dublin next Monday. With a bit of luck, I might have another good yarn to add to the list. In the meantime, I guess all that’s left to say is that I promise to actually write a properly new post soon and sorry for the clip show!

After the Crash: Back to Basics

Doing stupid things seems to be one of my more frequent habits. I’ve already written about how I ran the Connemara 100 with totally inadequate preparation. Everything’s relative of course but even while running with the good people of the 100 Club, who run almost weekly marathons, I can somehow find a way to take things over the top.

To give some background, Pat O’Keefe (who I think has run 82 marathons) told me that when he did the Connemara 100-miler a few years, he waited six weeks until his next marathon and he still didn’t think his body felt right. In the four weeks since I finished it, I squeezed in two other sub 4.30 marathons in Longford and Dingle. Alright, so they were both slower than I’d like but 4:22 and 4:29 aren’t exactly the worst times in the world either.  Then last week, the walls finally came tumbling down.

“The walls” being a metaphor for my legs

It all started so well. My mate Frank McDermott was pacing 4.30 at the inaugural Sligo marathon and had gotten me a free entry. Sure, it was a long drive and an early-morning start but if you’ve been a regular reader, you’ll know that’s nothing unusual! We’d left at a nice handy pace (about 10.15 minutes a mile) and it looked like I was in for a relative doddle of a race. With Frank practically acting as my personal pacer, 4.30 hours would be a lot easier than it had been in Dingle, or so I hoped.

The previous week, I’d had a long and interesting conversation with Shane James Whitty about how my marathon times had recently been collapsing somewhat. He suggested focusing on my heart-rate (which I never normally do), training at 125bpm for recovery runs and doing 3-mile tempo runs at 145/150/155 bpm. For the events, he had suggested sticking to 8.30 minutes a mile for the first 15/16 miles. Above all else he had said not to let my heart-rate slip above 150bpm for the first 18 miles. This would leave something in the tank for the last 8.2 miles. The trick was to keep at a pace where you could keep running; whatever time would be lost from the beginning would be regained by avoiding a collapse in the latter stages. I wouldn’t be running at 8.30 minutes a mile, but my plan was to take the rest of this strategy for a test-run in Sligo.

The plan was going swimmingly until I had to pull a Paul Radcliffe (runner’s slang for a bathroom break) and Frank went on ahead. Continuing on, I picked up the pace, figuring I could catch Frank after maybe five miles. But despite busting myself trying to catch up with him, tearing down hills and going sub 10-minutes/mile on the level, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I fell.

Sort of like this. But even less graceful and on a road, without the helmet.

I was tearing down a hill about 16 miles in, and slipped on a loose stone on the road, coming down hard on my knees and elbows. I was up again almost straightaway but after a few steps it was pretty clear that I couldn’t continue to run. Pat O’Keefe caught up with me after a while and walked the rest of the way with me; he’d hurt his ankle further back. Then after two miles of this, Frank caught up with us! Turns out that he’d taken a wrong turn back at a village crossroads further back and wandered five miles off the course! So the whole race to catch up had been a fool’s errand from the beginning. But by that stage, the damage was done. I never saw my official time but I have it at 5:53:23

No lasting damage was done to my knees but both hamstrings were pulled and my body wasn’t recovering like it normally does; for a few days afterwards, I was having difficulty just shuffling across the street. So it was with a heavy heart that I decided not to run in the Mooathon or the October ‘West of Ireland’ series run, both of which I was really looking forward to.

I may have been looking forward to the Mooathon just a tad more though…

I can find other marathons to make up the promise of 20 in 2012 but nevertheless, I’ve had to re-evaluate my plans coming up to the Dublin marathon. The first part of the new plan is to go back to yoga tomorrow.  Secondly, I’ll be slotting in with the marathon training group at my home club in Louth and train for a ‘personal best’ in Dublin (October 29th). For me, that would mean beating the 3:56:58 I ran in Kildare last May. It’s a big ask, but I’m hoping that with the right combination of nutrition, proper training and a six-week break from eventing, I might even hit 3:45 or 3:50. It’s been such a long, tough year and it would be really sweet to pull that off in the city that has become my second home over the last few years. That’s the dream anyway.

With Brian “Forrest Gump” Ankers, 4-hour pacer at the Sligo Marathon

Being Young and Irish

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of helping out at the first in a series of ‘Being Young and Irish’ workshops. The workshops, initiated by President Michael D. Higgins, are aimed at getting young people (aged 17-26) to submit ideas on “taking charge of change” and articulating their vision of Ireland’s future. As the volunteers, we had the easy job; nearly 100 participants (the guys in the spiffy blue t-shirts) worked throughout the day to generate ideas for a charter which will be presented to senior members of government later on this year. Given my involvement with ReachOut Ireland, I was particularly pleased to see mental health consistently high on the agenda throughout the day. For more information, check out these links in The Sociable, Irish Times, The Irish Examiner as well as the Film, Fashion and Pop Culture blog. All in all, an excellent way to spend my break weekend! Next marathon is on Saturday (September 15th) in Sligo.

Featured Image from Breakingnews.ie – http://bit.ly/RXpBSC

Running in the Kingdom

This is the 32nd post I’ve uploaded since I started this blog. Over the last few months, some of the posts have been really difficult to write. When the other guys are chugging the post-marathon Gatorades and relaxing in their ice-baths, you’ll find me frantically trying to throw together a race-report and maybe even organise a fundraising event in time for the next race.  In spite of a ton of work, I’m pretty sure I didn’t properly convey the experience of running the 100-miler in Connemara or even the Madventure or the 3-in-3, but today … no sweat! This week, the pictures are going to do the talking, and I’m just going to kick back, and maybe pop my head up from time to time to throw in a few half-assed observations and some lame picture-based humour. This week’s post is quite literally a walk in the park. It’s all about a race in the one of the most spectacular corners of  the country, a place called Dingle in Co. Kerry, and if this doesn’t make you want to run a marathon in Ireland, nothing will.

It seems that whenever I go to Kerry, it’s exclusively for crazy purposes. For me, getting there requires a five-hour drive and my last visit was nearly a year ago, to climb Carauntoohill (Ireland’s tallest mountain).  Co-incidentally, this was on the same weekend as the Dingle Food & Wine Festival. Having lost my wallet on the way down the mountain, I spent most of the festival wandering around Dingle while guzzling nutella straight from the jar with a spoon.

Cos I’m classy!

Fast-forward to this year and despite the travel requirements, a huge international crowd descended on Dingle for last Saturday’s marathon. Although I haven’t been able to find official reports, I’ve been told that somewhere around 2,300 people lined out for the half, full and ultra-marathon events (The 50-mile ultra alone attracted 60 hardy competitors)  All of which made for a festive atmosphere at the start-line.

Dingle is what my Drogheda club-mate Gerard Fay calls a “real” marathon – lots of elevation (gaining roughly 1500 feet), unbelievable scenery and a great atmosphere. It takes place right at the edge of the peninsula, and the course passes bays, historic sites, famine cottages and goes up plenty of hills!

I had to run backways up a hill to get this shot … but totally worth it.

I do have one good story though; about 15 miles into the race, I met up with a runner from Cork named Barry who was running his first marathon. (Doesn’t anybody just do a nice easy course for their first marathon anymore?!) Barry was running in aid of a cancer charity and had set a goal for himself of finishing in under 4hrs30min while his friend had set a goal of 5 hours. As I hadn’t any particular plan in mind other than finishing, I decided to try and pace them. By Mile 20, it was just myself and Barry, at which point the course took a rather arbitrary turn, requiring runners to hang a left down the Emlagh East Road towards Gallarus, before reaching a traffic cone, turning around and coming back up the way we came, and continuing on. This little head-trip is immediately followed by the monster hill that everyone was telling each other about before the race (about 320 feet of a climb), followed in turn by a mile-long straight section that appears to stretch out forever, on the way back into Dingle. Barry was in a great deal of pain with cramping but managed to put in a massive effort. By the end, he was moving really well and we both ended up sprinting into Dingle, crossing the line at the same time and beating his target by about a minute. His friend crossed the line shortly afterwards, beating his own target by about twenty minutes. It was a really extraordinary display of willpower on Barry’s part and a fantastic result, especially considering it was his first marathon. For my own part, I’ve rarely gotten as much as satisfaction from a race, and was very happy to help out. Roll on Sligo!

FINAL TIME: 4:29:26

Surviving Ireland’s Friendliest Marathon

It’s coming to that time of year, when exhaustion and leg-pain give way to… more exhaustion and leg-pain, actually. September is going to be all about survival. August began with the Connemara 100-miler, followed by the Longford Marathon last Sunday (I’ll get back to that in a minute) and there are three more marathons on the cards for September – Dingle on the 1st, Sligo on the 15th and the Mooathon on the 30th. I’m not expecting to set any land-speed records on those three given the lack of recovery time. The plan, such as it is, is to get through September injury-free and then take a few weeks off before attempting to beat my PB in Dublin at the end of October. Which would be pretty sweet if it works! Incidentally I have gotten my cow costume for the Mooathon and am currently looking for someone to be the back end.

Any volunteers…? (No weirdos)

Moving swiftly on, the Longford Marathon was on last weekend. Billed as the ‘friendly marathon in the heart of Ireland,’ the event attracted a large crowd of about 800 competitors to Dublin Street for the half, full and ultra marathons, as well as a full marathon relay. It’s one of the older marathons in Ireland, initially organized in 2002 by Fr. Ciaran McGovern and Liam Fenelon – first man in Ireland to run 200 marathons and our new honorary president in the Marathon Club of Ireland. Back then, it attracted 275 runners and raised €25,000 for St. Christopher’s services. That figure has increased to €150,000 in the years since then.

Last Sunday saw yet another early start (I’m starting to think I might have a better chance of breaking 4 hours more often if I didn’t have to get up at 5am for most of these marathons!) After picking up the race-pack at St. Mel’s College, I had a few hours to spare. So naturally, I endeavored to use that time productively to prepare myself mentally for the race ahead…

Spoiler Alert: It’s terrible.

Fast-forward to 11am and the start of the race. We began with a lap of the town, rendered somewhat more difficult by the fact that I already had a seven-minute mile under my belt before the start; I’d forgotten my timing-chip and had to leg it to the car-park and back to the start-line again (I guess the preparation wasn’t so great after all…).

Although in hindsight it might seem just a tad foolish, I decided to take another shot at breaking 4 hours, on the dubious basis that I usually run well the week after doing something really stupid. So after doing some quick mental arithmetic (4 hours = 240 minutes … 26.2 miles in a marathon … 240/26.2 = 9.16), I decided to attempt running consistent sub 9-minute miles for the whole thing. As you can see here, everything was going to plan for the first 14 miles. Then, as usual, an equipment failure scuppered me. This time it was the watch, which decided to stop working just after the 2 hour mark. So I was running blind, without a watch or heart-rate monitor, for most of the second half. Needless to say, this really wasn’t helping my cause.

Nonetheless, it was still looking good until late on; three hours hadn’t passed by the time we hit the 18-mile marker. But in the end, everything caught up with me. My legs weren’t properly recovered from the Connemara 100, and it was so hot that I had to run topless for most of the race, which was embarrassing for just about everybody. After about 20 miles, we hit a long hill on the way back into the last village before Longford, and the game was up. From then on, it was just about survival; I met up with a fellow Madventure alumnus called Tom along the way, as well as an American lady who had decided on a whim that she wanted to run a marathon while on holiday in Ireland (as you do) and Graham Whittaker, who ran a fantastic race to finish in the top 10 of the ultra-marathon event. Together, we helped each other on through the final stages. Finally, I ran the last mile into Longford town centre with Larry Rigney, and just for fun, decided to sprint to the finish.

So to sum up, it was an educational race; normally 4:22:39 wouldn’t be an especially difficult time for me, especially on a flat course, but I really had to work hard for it on this occasion. For the rest of the marathons in September, I’ll be happy if I can maintain my times around this sort of level, before taking a few weeks off and really pushing to beat my PB (3:56:59) in Dublin at the end of October. Of course, the best-laid plans can come undone but I’ll give myself a fighting chance. In the meantime, check another one off the list!

Finally, a big thanks to everyone in Drogheda & District AC who sponsored me over the last few weeks, much appreciated and as always, it’s all going to an amazing cause.

50% of Fundraising Target Reached & Media Coverage

Good news – over the last week or so, the ‘Running for ReachOut’ campaign has gotten some media coverage and we hit something of a fundraising landmark! The Mid-Louth Independent ran a story after the Connemara 100-mile ultramarathon, which I couldn’t find a link for, but we made the front-page!

Just yesterday, a piece written by Grainne Aylward was posted by Collegetimes.ie which can be found here. Also my own post ‘In at The Deep End‘, giving the blow-by-blow of the Connemara 100, was just published on runireland.com early today.

In other news, we finally hit 50% of the fundraising target for Reach Out Ireland. The total currently stands at €2,564, the target being to raise €5,000 by the end of the year. Thanks to everyone for continuing to the support the campaign; we’re hoping to have more fundraising events in the Autumn. Just to recap – since taking up running last March, I’ve done the marathons in Connemara, Clare (Madventure), Ballyhoura Mountains, Limerick, Belfast City, Kildare, Portumna Forest, Leixlip (Midnight Marathon), Waterford, Antrim (Kennedy Kane), Killeigh, Longford and the 100-miler in Connemara, with Dingle, Sligo, Donegal (Mooathon), Dublin, two from the West of Ireland series, and the Eddie Murphy memorial marathon all still to come.

Many thanks for all the support so far; if you can donate anything at all to ReachOut, it would be hugely appreciated, here is the MyCharity page. Also, if you would like me to do some guest-blogging (or if you or anyone you know would be interested in writing about the campaign in the media) please let me know in the comments section or get in touch at runningforreachout@gmail.com!

-Ollie

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