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Three Marathons in Three Days

This post is going to be all about back-to-back marathons. Feel free to click away. I certainly would have, as recently as last October. I had spent most of the previous year sitting behind a desk studying for final year college-exams; the only way I was running anywhere was if there was a herd of wildebeest behind me and a Starbucks in front of me. Fast forward to the last long weekend (May 5th-7th), and I was preparing to run three consecutive marathons in Ballyhoura, Limerick and Belfast. I’m still haven’t quite broken four hours yet, but I’m getting closer every time and recovering faster than ever before. The day after Belfast I could barely get out of bed but today I’m walking around completely normally, and there’s nobody more surprised by than fact than me!

If this post had been written a few days sooner, it would have consisted of the word “ouch” repeated eight thousand times…

One thing that I’ve learned over the weekend is the usefulness of the gear. As somebody who’s only gotten into running relatively recently, it took me a while to sift through the vast array of gels, powders and overly tight lycra  apparel on offer and figure out what I needed. So although I still might run the Dublin marathon in true Declan Moffitt fashion (i.e. in a Saw Doctors t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off “for aerodynamic purposes”) I’ll stick with the Asics and the long compression pants for now! So with that in mind, I loaded all the gear into the back of the jeep on Saturday, veritably brimming with confidence and promptly ….. got lost and didn’t arrive in Kilfinane until midnight. Kilfinane is small town about an hour south of Limerick City, and is surrounded on all sides by the Ballyhoura Mountains where we would be running the next day. After a short stint in a tiny pub called O’Ceilleachair singing along with a couple of tourists intent on burning the midnight oil, I got the number of a B&B belonging to Josephine McMahon, who very kindly took me in with zero notice at an ungodly hour. She was very amused by what I had planned and called me a lunatic a bunch of times, but was very charming, generous and nice. (Although there was a moment when I thought she might give me a thump after I turned down her fry-up breakfast!)

The next morning, a crowd of about 70 gathered at the Kilfinane Outdoor Education Centre. I was told the route was originally designed with hiking in mind (The marathon is part of the Ballyhoura International Walking Festival) and the casual nature of the event amused me greatly; the head steward gave us a warm welcome to Kilfinane and a short speech from on top of a step and then waved us away – “On you go now!” A few of us looked at each other slightly confused, is that it, has the race started? It had! So away we went. Having run the Clare Madventure a few weeks beforehand, I knew how demanding these off-road marathons could be, so I decided to take it slowly and leave some gas in the tank for Limerick and Belfast. We departed Kilfinane square at about nine o’clock, and set off on what still may have been one of the most demanding routes so far. The numbers speak for themselves; 3,205 calories burned, four peaks climbed and a total elevation of 4,443 feet. I did get a lot of use out of the camera that day though, so I’m just going to shut up and let this video do the talking!

The first, and hopefully the last, time I ever got chased by cows on a marathon.

If you’re thinking about partaking in one of these off-road hill-a-thons, remember to plan for drops. Funnily enough, going up a hill isn’t the problem; if you have good strength in your legs, your quadriceps will take most of the pressure and you’ll be fine. But coming downhill, especially at speed and on steep declines, all the pressure comes down on your knees, hips and glutes.  Which is less fun. Eventually though, I clocked in at the finish line with a time of 6:59:39, marathon number 5 and the longest so far.

Then it was off to Limerick City on Sunday, where I got changed at Sarsfield Army Barracks before heading off for the start line. (I know, I can’t believe they let me in, either)

Although I’m pretty sure that field-gun was loaded…

The buzz at the start-line was terrific; apart from Connemara, I’d never really gotten a taste of a large, crowded event before. This was something completely different to what I’m used to, with about 8,500 runners and over 30,000 spectators lining the streets.

Leaving the start-line at the People’s Park. I’m wearing the red head-band.

I started off at a fast pace for the first mile to loosen myself out after the previous day’s exertions. As we climbed the first hill after one mile, I let myself drop back towards the 3.5 hour group. It was blisteringly hot, so after two miles I ducked into a side-alley, took off most of my gear and ditched the long-sleeved top before throwing all the gear back on again. This would end up costing me precious minutes as I was pushing to hit the 4 hour mark. Quite often, people in the streets would shout out “Come on Oliver!” or “You’re doing great, Oliver”. And because I’m an idiot, I’d think to myself “Hey this RunningforReachout campaign is doing pretty good!” until I looked down and saw my name blazed across the number tag on my t-shirt. Epic fail on my part.

Anyway, I was tailing Frank McDermott and the other 4 hour pacers for the first 14 miles or so. Around about that stage, we took a turn and went outside the city to the Rosbrien Road. Thereafter followed a 6 mile stretch back to St. Nessan’s Rd, which was the most physically unpleasant section of the year so far. I gave up two or three times, only to change my mind again and sprint to catch up with the pacers. It never seemed to end and I couldn’t keep repeating that pattern forever; so when eventually we crossed the bridge over the N18 and came back into Limerick, I could have started cheering. From then on, it was just a case of plugging away; I did everything to keep myself moving. I slapped my chest, sang along with Journey on my ipod, shouted at myself like a lunatic and grabbed as many jelly-babies from the volunteers as I could, anything to keep moving forward. The readings on the last two miles pretty much reflect how I felt at the time, my body had crashed but somehow my feet kept themselves moving forward, eyes barely open, shuffling along in a manner reminiscent of Fauja Singh. I just missed out on the 4 hour mark by a couple of minutes. I had to go to the medic tent afterwards for a saltwater IV and some physio, which was fun, mainly because the doctor was something of a wiseguy. He took one look at me and said “You’ll live.”

“…for about a week.”

Turns out he was showing the guys in the civil defence how to remove an IV and I just happened to the guinea-pig. So naturally, I let out a few choice grunts for effect – in short, a lot of messing went on! When one of the medics pointed out that I was bleeding from the IV prick, I actually said “I ain’t got time to bleed!” And if you got that reference without clicking the link, then congratulations, you also watch far too many action movies. Final time for the Great Limerick Run was 4:03:38, the fastest I’ve run so far!

Finally, it was time for the third leg of the journey. I stayed at home in Louth overnight and drove the rest of the way to Belfast on Monday morning. I was hobbling around and very sore after the previous two days and doubted whether I’d even be able to walk the course that day. My only concern was finishing inside the cut-off time, which the lads told me was a pretty generous six hours. Even so, I figured I’d need to average 13.75 minutes per mile to pull that off. I got great bits of advice from all the 100 Marathon Club guys in that regard but Dennis’ was the one that stuck with me; just run the first 10 miles at about 10-11 miles per minute, then walk the rest. You’ll be well ahead of the walkers at the stage and you’ll comfortably beat the cut off time. I sort of nodded along, not really believing it could be done. My legs were quite swollen and I hadn’t even been able to run any of the way from the B&B down to Belfast City Hall. But we began, and the massive crowd sort of swept us along.

A crowd of 21,000 runners started the race in Belfast. That’s about 20,970 more than I’m used to!

The weather was absolutely miserable; it never stopped pouring rain once during the whole day. Being the bright spark I am, I had neglected to bring neither jumper, anorak nor long sleeved top (which had been conveniently dumped back in Limerick), so I ran the entire race wearing a green bin-bag. It wasn’t my most glamorous moment. Anyway, I began with a mixture of walking and slow jogging, but gradually my body loosened out. I remember a couple of outstanding stages of the course – the climb up the Antrim Road for instance, or the stretch from mile 17 to 20 where we ran in a little subway road off the M5 which was exposed to the sea. So we had waves crashing on the rocks to our left and rain pelting down on us from the front. Other than that, I remember very little because I went completely into my own head. I decided at some stage that I wouldn’t run over 11 minutes per mile for the whole marathon. This meant religiously checking my watch on each and every mile; if I was on course to finish the mile I was on in 10.30 or 10.40, I’d slow down to a walk and vice versa. There were plenty of hairy moments; I came very close to coming over 11 minutes plenty of times, mainly around the aforementioned hill on the Antrim Road. The combination of adrenaline and focusing on my splits got me through; I actually got a very good stretch from mile 20 to 24 when I didn’t take any walking breaks at all. This may have been something to do with a certain song I played half a dozen times on a loop during that section….

By the end, I was aching, freezing and soaking wet. Everything hurt – my legs, knees and ankles obviously. But also my arms. When I’d walk, I’d squeeze my sandwich (a term coined by my yoga teacher Emma Stafford, which compasses your stomach, hips and backside) together and pump my arms like I was shadow-boxing to maximise my walking pace. With the end result that my arms and elbows were killing me also. Oddly enough though, I still felt strong during the last few miles and never felt like my body was in danger of crashing, although my quads were gone at that stage and the glutes had taken over propulsion duties. With one fifth of a mile to go, I randomly met up with a relay racer and we decided to race each other to the finish, which kept things interesting! And then, after 4 hours, 38 minutes and 36 seconds, it was finally over.

So the first stretch of marathons has gone according to plan. Sponsorship raised so far amounts to €740 out of the target €5,000 for the Inspire Foundation (Reach Out). The focus for the next few weeks will be on organising some more fundraising events which will hopefully be as successful as the penalty shoot-out competition last month. Thanks to everyone who’s helped the campaign in any way, whether by making donations or by sharing posts around Twitter and Facebook. Everything helps! Next week,  Roisin Doolan from the Inspire Foundation will be my featured guest-blogger and I’d appreciate everyone having a read of a post that will be a little bit less about running and a little more about Reach Out for a change!

Thanks for reading

-Oliver

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