In 1850, the newspaper editor and Liberal Republican, Horace Greeley, coined a phrase that did much to influence the popular notion of American expansionism and may have changed the history of the United States forever. He said: “GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GO WEST”. Had Greeley been Irish, and had he known about the Connemara marathon route containing the relentless 3 mile climb from Keane’s pub to Maam’s cross known as the “hell of the west”, he might well have regretted saying it.
By the time I arrived in Galway at midnight last Friday, the rain was pelting down with 20mph winds thrown in for good measure, so boy was I glad that I had thought ahead and booked a great hotel room with wifi and hot breakfast included.
It seemed I couldn’t have made my marathon debut any harder on myself if I tried. The next morning, I was due to run one of the ‘West of Ireland’ series of marathons run by the 100 Marathon Club of Ireland. We had a tiny group coming out on the bus to the starting line, less than 20 other guys were running the 26.2 mile marathon, with a few others doing the half or the ultra. Every single one of them had more running experience than I could possibly imagine. One of the guys I was running with had mentioned that he recently finished an ultramarathon in 11 hours, cutting 2 hours off his time from the previous year. I overheard a lady worrying in the bar afterwards that she had “only” 32 marathons finished and that she needed to start get a move on! For context, a couple of the lads I was speaking to had completed over 100 marathons. Pat, the guy who I was running with for the first half was on his 61st marathon; I think he may have mentioned that before the point at which he stopped in Leenane village for an ice-cream and then proceeded to easily catch up and pass me out!
I can’t remember all the details clearly; the “devil’s mother” section wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting but the “hell of the west” is exactly what it says on the tin. Nasty, unforgiving, painful and right at the end of the route. It’s only three miles long, but it seemed like 30.
Still there are plenty of positives to draw on, so draw on them I will. First, I cut roughly fifteen minutes off my previous 26.2 mile run in December. Also, back in December I was really pushing myself out to my limits, whereas pace-wise I was running well within myself on Saturday (injury-prevention being high on my list of priorities). Also, this marathon was on the exact same route as the Connemarathon coming up next April 1st, which I’m told is one of the most challenging routes in the country, i.e. harder than doing laps of a block around Dunleer! And finally, the come-down was much easier. Back in December, I wasn’t able to walk properly for the best part of a week afterwards; this time around I was legging it full-tilt into the Sweetest Thing for hot chocolate shots as soon as …well, the next morning.
As of time of writing this afternoon, I’m in almost no pain whatsoever. So I’m calling that a positive result! Next two runs are the Connemarathon on April 1st and then the Clare Madventure on April 15th, billed as “Ireland’s toughest marathon.” We’ll see about that…
(Editor’s Note: Congrats to my pal Janet, who got her exams results last week! Ridiculously happy for you, this calls for a victory tune…)