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.
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…
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.