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In between complaining about the state of my knees and making bad jokes with pictorial punchlines, I do like to talk about good causes on this blog. This week will be a slight digression from the normal state of affairs; last week I sent in an application to Barretstown to participate in one of their summer camps as a volunteer Cara and I’d like to let you know about the good work that they do. For those who don’t already know, Barretstown is a camp at a castle in the Wicklow Mountains that provides therapeutic recreation programmes for children with cancer and other serious illnesses. Children, teenagers, and young adults come to Barretstown from Ireland and all over Europe to “forget illness, learn to have fun and rebuild their confidence and self-esteem” through a wide range of activities.

'Survivor's Guide' follows Ray Cronin & two other teenagers coming to Barretstown

As you can imagine, there is a large amount of material online which can be found at Barretstown’s own website, by subscribing to their youtube channel or by joining their facebook fan-page. For anyone interested in volunteering at Barretstown, the deadline for applications for week-long camps in the summer is next Friday, January 27th. However, there are also several Autumn weekend camps running from late September through to November and there is plenty of time left to apply for these. The application process is simple; you complete an application form and post it Barretstown’s staff recruitment office together with two written references, a garda checking form and a signed passport-sized photo. After this you need to complete a 15-25 minute phone interview. Full details can be found here. If you’d prefer not to volunteer but would like to support Barretstown anyway, you can find out how to do so here or donate directly to them here. All of the children and families come to Barretstown free of charge. Everything, including accommodation, food, medical assistance and round-trip airfares are provided at no cost to the family. Barretstown is entirely supported by donations and the fundraising efforts of corporate supporters, individuals and community groups.

Here’s Grainne and Jim Sullivan talking about the effect that Barretstown has had on their family.

The Wake Up Call (Part 2)

The first post of the new year started with the (mostly) balanced and levelheaded story of how I started training for this series of marathons; what sort of shape I was in at the beginning, the first few sessions with the running club in Drogheda before closing off with the low-down on the hill training which has left my knees feeling like they’ve been attacked with hammers. And that’s when things got downright stupid…

My home is at Drumin (Dunleer). The route, highlighted above in purple, is 5.2 km long or 3.23 miles. The length of a marathon is 26.22 miles (26 miles and 385 miles). So, to simulate a marathon-length run, one would need to complete 8.11 laps of the above block. The “thinking” behind actually doing this was firstly to have a base-time set in my mind as a foundation to improve upon and secondly to help to remove the fear that the entire undertaking might not be physically possible. After finishing up at work, I came home, changed into my running gear and started running at half six. It took me over five hours and was quite an interesting physical experience. At least partially because it was dark, because I was armed with nothing but an iPod, a reflective jacket and a bottle of Ballygowan’s finest, and also because I was wearing these runners at the time.

Pictured Above: A Bad Idea


The first two laps of ‘the circuit’ were easy enough, but by the third I started to feel a niggling-ache in my heels, a kind of numbness that started to slowly spread from the soles of my feet upwards. I still do not consider myself to be very fit yet, but I do have a high pain tolerance, which has been  useful. Overall, the first four laps passed relatively smoothly – a square half hour for each, for a total of 2 hours. Then I “hit the wall” in the fifth lap. In my head, that one lap seemed to take as long as the previous four put together. However, when I had finished it, I knew for certain that I would be able to  be finish the whole 26.22 mile thing.  One thing that I discovered about “hitting the wall” is that I would not  simply be able to ‘will’ myself through it; neither will nor determination  were part of the equation. When my body said I had to walk, I walked. Of course, there were however,  exceptions to that rule…

When this pops up on your iPod, you don't walk, you RUN SUCKA!!!

I would describe the main sensation not as ‘pain’ or ‘gym-burn’ but as heaviness and as a bizarre sense of losing the feeling of having joints. In the last few laps, it became impossible to sustain a toe-to-heel running action for any amount of time as my calves simply could not take it. By the end, I had no sense of actually having knees or ankles, but felt as though I was trying to move two heavy, joint-less logs that had somehow become attached to my torso where my legs used to be. The stiffness was also bad enough that it prevented me from taking long strides, so I had to shuffle quite a bit as well. Having said that, (and maybe it was down to the hill training we had been doing at the club), I was pretty pleased with the performance on the hills; I was able to muster together a sprint up the hills on all eight laps.

In the latter stages, the only thing that made my body not want to walk was to constantly try to remind myself that walking would not actually do anything to ease the stiffness and would probably make it worse. Whenever I could get into a good stretch of running I could forget about the pain but if I slowed down to walk or even stopped, it would become sharper. This strategy worked for the most part but eventually I was cutting deals with myself to finish out the run (“Give me a run as far as that next telephone post and you can walk for the next 100 meters,” stuff like that).

In the end, I finished just after 11.30pm with a time of 5 hrs, 10 minutes & 20 seconds.

Pictured Above: Suffering for your amusement/sponsorship dollar...


Mentally, it was a completely bizarre experience. Among other things, I saw three shooting stars and nearly tripped over a black cat bolting out of a driveway, which was either the universe messing with me or perhaps an exhaustion-induced hallucination.

Thankfully, my legs were completely back to normal in about three days. Since then, I’ve found a good physio, changed the running gear and started a proper, steady training-plan which should dovetail nicely with the Connemarathon in April. The trio of Ballyhoura, Limerick and Belfast at the start of May are obviously going to be much more problematic. At least now, however, I have something concrete to aim at and I know that they’re well within the boundaries of what I can physically take. As long as I can still move, I will finish them. Having said that, Paula Radcliffe’s record is probably still safe for now…

The Wake Up Call (Part 1)

The exact moment I knew this challenge was going to be ‘a bit tricky’ was when I got home on the 16th of December and my heels stopped working. You can imagine my surprise when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to walk up (or down) the stairs for the next three days. I won’t  bore you with the details just yet; suffice to say that in a grand show of foolhardiness, I decided to prove to the folks that called me crazy a few weeks earlier  that they were right! But more on that later. Since setting up the page, €85 has been raised over the last few weeks for which is an encouraging start. Also, since my last post, I have registered for a number of these marathons – some of them are pretty normal, run-of-the-mill events. Some of them, on the other hand, are slightly different.

The Mooathon. Only in Donegal.

Just on the off chance that the ‘milking stations’ alone might not be enough to power me over the finish line, I decided it might be a good idea to do some training. Not that I was completely out of shape mind you, obviously on the outside I still looked fantastic – however, after my  final year at  DCU, my innards had steadily recomposed themselves into something mostly made up of pizza, chocolate and Folgers premium blend. Shockingly, therefore, it turned out that some people thought that I might not have been entire serious about this whole running business. So, as part of an effort to prove that this whole thing is neither a fantasy, a misunderstanding or some form  of elaborate practical joke, (or precursor to being elected in a Boris-esque manner), I thought I should write about some of the preparations that I have been doing over the last few months.

I’ve been training with the Drogheda and District Athletic Club since the 22nd of October. For the first couple of days, stretching into the first couple of weeks, I was sweating my ass off finishing the most basic sessions. Even on days where I was only doing ‘slow training’, (where basically you run continuous laps at a steady pace for as long as possible), I was being overtaken by kids half my age.

Some manner of cheating may have been taking place…

Part of the reason for this is, of course, that I am still awful at pacing myself. Whether running one mile or twenty, I always start out trying to keep up with the guy who can do a 3 hour marathon and then practically collapse by the end of the run. Thankfully, like most teething problems , this is starting to pass. After a while, we moved onto doing ‘miles’, in which you run a mile at a moderate pace, stop for a quick breather, and repeat the process for about 40 minutes. More recently, as the weather started turning nasty (rendering the grass-track temporarily unusable) we started doing hill training.

Hill training, for those of you who have not  tried it, is truly evil. For us, it consists of a 2km run from the Meadow View pitches at Hazel Lane to the bottom of Mary Street across the way from Drogheda’s Scotch Hall shopping centre.  Having made it that far, you are then expected to  do a 350 metre dash up Mary Street, which is on a sharp hill, and then a slow jog/walk back down to the bottom. This is repeated 12 times, a total of 8400 metres. At that point, the return  2km run back to Meadow View pitches and the safety of our cars begins.  A grand  total distance  of 12.4 km or 7.71 miles, come rain or shine. The entire route looks like this:

So far so reasonable. Two nights a week formal training and short sessions around the roads at home to fill in the gaps. By the middle of December, I was running about 30 to 40 miles a week which according to various reputable sources (including that classic tome “Marathon Training for Dummies”) is the minimum distance you need to cover in order to eventually finish a marathon without walking … or dying. Then December 16th came along, and I decided to do something very stupid indeed.

To be continued next week – same Battimesame Batchannel….

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