Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Titanic Ultra - Sept & Tollymore Ultra - Nov 2014

Titanic 102k Ultra – 7th Sept 2014

 
 
After the Mourne Ultra run on 6th June 2014 I was very pleased on being able to complete such a long distance and also bearing in mind running on trails and elevation ups and downs.

After this I gained the confidence to enter a longer distance that of the Titanic 102k 7th September 2014. This event was also run from organisers 26 Extreme. It started in 2012, 100 yrs after the titanic sunk and it was the inaugural 100k race. Also the twist being each year after the first year, they add another 1 k to it. So in 2014 it was 102k.
 

I knew that moving from 52 miles in the Mourne Ultra to 63 miles total in this event would be obviously tougher because it was longer, but from speaking to people that had done the run beforehand, I knew it obviously would be alot flatter thankfully. A friend Martin I knew from races had said he preferred the Mourne ultra because you went up and down a lot you got a chance to work different muscles, whereas if you ran on flat course most of the time it becomes extremely repetitive and wearing on same muscles. With that in mind I tried to focus on the fact that in plain terms, flat is easier and hopefully an extra 11 miles shouldn’t be too tough distance wise.

After resting after the Mourne Ultra, I re-focused on a running plan with regular long runs at weekends and back to backs as usual when I could. My first memorable good long run post the Mournes was the weekend of the 12th July. I ran from Newcastle and in the morning there were hundreds of folk getting ready for the big 12th celebrations. It was kind of surreal seeing all these folk dressed up and me with my bouncy water bottles and sweaty face running through the crowds. Because there were no cars on the roads because of parades in imminent hours ahead when I did spot the police I almost wished they asked me to get off the road saying 'no running on the road please'. I would have answered them with a smile about 'if others allowed to walk on the road today, then why can't I run on it?'

Anyhow’s the run went very well despite being shunned away from the owners of Seaforde butterfly garden when I accidently ran around their grounds looking for a few extra miles to make up before heading back into Newcastle where I was staying with my folks. As I headed back I made a diversion into the lovely Murlough beach for a quick run around it, then back to Newcastle which rounded it up to 24 miles in total. I was happy that I could do the long miles ok without any major probs. The day after I did 13 miles based on the theory of ‘running on tired’ legs.

 On the day of the event it got off to a good start with only 25 or so folk taking part.
 

 We joked about the lack of toilets and the grief we got using the local hotel toilets with staff having to let us in the locked front door each time. I met Martin again and he was his usual cheery self.  We ran around the Titanic quarter a bit to make up the extra 1 k before starting to head towards our midway destination just beyond Ballywalter. The route was trail mostly on trail paths with some road running.


 

The weather of the day was fine and all was good. I wondered whether I would need a headlamp for the final 25 k or so and whether I would meet cut off times etc but here I was and there was no turning back. I settled into my rhythm well and before long I knew it the miles were creeping up which brought a smile to my face.

As I settled in to my stride my pacing matched another fella in white t - shirt and it seemed we both took turns sitting on the front of each other.


When we approached Holywood he eventually dropped me as he picked up his pace. After this I was on my own. During this time I recall having to make a pit stop and do what ‘bears do in the woods’ – you know what I mean (thankfully I had brought along some toilet roll, just in case).

A bit later I caught a couple both in yellow running for a charity. Their pace was good and steady and for a few miles a debated with myself whether I should overtake them or just sit behind. I knew it was going to be a long day and there was no point in pushing myself when I didn’t need to. So I decided to sit behind them and just go with the flow.


Next thing I knew we had crept up to the 26.2 mile mark as we approached the half way mark. I grabbed some food and drink from my drop bag, re-stocked my vest and tried not to spend too much time chatting to folks before the off. I think we had at least half hour before the cut off time. Paul the volunteer hurried out the couple that had decided to sit down and do some stretching. I asked him about the headtorch issue but he said I should be ok so that consoled me a bit. I began running again homeward bound retracing the route we came in.

I held off the other two for a while before they overtook me and I got dropped soon after as they disappeared into the distance. Eventually I was on my own with no one I could see in front or behind me.

These times when out in a race are a bit weary in case you miss a turn or are tempted to stop for a while - if others are about you are encouraged to keep up your momentum and you don’t need to think to much about focusing on the trailpath, just follow the person in front. The trail I took bought me into a caravan park (which I didn’t encounter on the way out) and I got a bit lost I ran into the centre of it before joining the outer trail where I saw some other runners thankfully. By this stage the other folk taking part in the marathon and challenge walk of the day were on the out as well on the trail route so it was a bit busier with regular passer by egging me on.

At this stage I After this as I had done over 30 miles I needed to draw a lot more mental strength to carry me on so I focused on reaching Donaghadee and subsequently Bangor, essentially to break down the remaining stages of the day. I tried to break down the remainder of the race into small chunks. If I could reach Donaghadee and then Bangor I knew that Belfast was my final stop and hopefully no cut offs to worry about or death march walk would be hitting me to early.

As I approached Ballyholme I reverted to walk runs. Thankfully at this stage I met Kevin, another runner from Dublin. Kevin is a very enthusiastic guy who has taken part in loads of marathons and had travelled all over Ireland, sleeps in his van, gets up and runs. He had some amazing stories to tell and was such a great guy. He helped me forget my pains and aches and we eventually ended up running together for the rest of the day. We shared in our running experiences as we ran and walked together as we ticked off the remaining miles.



Later in the day as we approached Holywood I got another welcome surprise with my brother Stephen who had come. This was a complete surprise as I had not given him any idea of where I would be at any time and told him that I didn’t want to trouble him coming out on the day; but as usual he is very supportive. Me and Kevin joked with Stephen that we needed to walk most of the last part of the run because we had just run two marathons, so we had a good excuse to mostly walk the last part.

video

As we approached the harbour estate part of the outskirts of Titanic quarter my chest was a bit tight when running sometimes. I thing this was because of the recent smoking periods I go on and off of. Thankfully Kevin didn’t push me too hard and suggested going lamppost to lamppost alternately walk/ running at times. Toward Titanic final few kilometres Kevin happened to mention that he had an urge for ice cream. A wee while later Stephen cycled on ahead of us and disappeared. Shortly later he cycled back and pulled out two proper thick milk ice creams. Me and Kevin's face lit up and these were a welcome surprise. This was very thoughtful of Stephen, a great one man support crew.
 

Soon after we entered the final few corners and ran in together to the finish with beaming smiles. An amazing day, great company and an experience I will never forget!

Titanic Ultra 102k total time -  13hrs 45. average pace 12.46. 681m elevation.
 





Tollymore Ultra – 39 miles. 1630m elevation gain. 15th November 2014

 
In my goodie bag after the Titanic Ultra I noticed a flyer leaflet for a new 26 Extreme event being held in Tollymore Forest. After a while I decided this would be my next race before the end of the year.

The weeks leading up to Tollymore I hadn’t been doing my weekly runs as regular. I did my weekend runs ok but I was to lazy and not really motivated with the weekly runs. I ideally would do weekday runs first thing in morn but recently it has been raining a hell of a lot (no excuse really). 

On my birthday mid October I remember thinking about the year that was coming to an end and the type of events I had focused on in 2014. Here I was on a Friday night passing my 38th birthday thinking of my training run tomorrow of 31 miles to do. Hard to believe I thought I could do this kind of distance I thought on a training run (although not my longest training run of 43 miles before Titanic). The last 4 yrs all I had focused on was triathlons and here I was happy in 2014 focusing purely on running only…but running long; and boy was I loving it, especially the trails.  

At the start of November I did a really good 20 mile run through the Mournes which was a last minute confidence booster before the big day. I went from Tullybrannigan, through Tollymore Forest entering the Mournes via Trassey Track. After this went through Brandy Pad to Hares Gap. I intended to head off the track after Commedagh before you hit Donard, but due to unfamilarity of the route and as it was a bit misty I ran a little bit past Donard. On this track I thankfully met a few walkers who pointed out a small off track trail which led me to the saddle between Commedagh and Donard. After this it was plain sailing down the familiar 'tourist' trail from Slieve Donard wall into Donard Forest. I needed still to make it up to 20 miles so I used some up and down trails around the forest until I reached the required 20 miles need for my training plan for that day. As it turned out my elevation 1200 metres for that session which I was really pleased with. The Tollymore event was going to be over 1500 metres so I really needed some elevation training. After doing this run I felt reasonably good and bursting at the seems to get going for upcoming race.

Unfortunately though a week before the race I got a bad tummy bug which lasted a few days. I lost some appetite and had a sore throat and slight cough 2 days before the event. Thankfully tummy bug cleared just in time and the last couple of days I was eating loads to make up for recent illness.

Tollymore Ultra Marathon - 39 miles - 1600 m elevation - Day of event - 
 
Going into this event the distance I wasn’t overly nervous. I knew I could cover the milage ok but the level of elevation was my main concern. I knew would be tough. Mourne Ultra I suppose was the hardest of the 3 ultras this year bearing in mind the terrain being technical and the most elevation 2250 m. I know that Titanic was longer, but the good point of it was that it was reasonably flat throughout.

The night before Tollymore I had stayed in Newcastle at my folks house and had my usual Lloyd Grossman pasta sauce jar with generous helping of pasta and some garlic bread. In the morn I grabbed some porridge, muffins and a banana to set me up for the day. Tollymore Forest Park was 2 minutes away which was very handy and I arrived and registered with little to no anxiety issues to deal with. After a few chats with some folk we set off and I settled in.

The route itself was 3 laps of 13 miles. One of the organisers had said this was the first year of this event and he thought it quite possibly be the hardest event of the various running events they host throughout the year. When I heard this I thought that it was important to get over the first lap to assess how hard the elevation would be and to judge my pace from there on.

 
As always I just went on a comfortable running pace the first few miles. As the terrain changed with slight undulations I kept an eye on my Garmin Fenix 2 watch showing the total elevation achieved. It appeared as the miles passed that the harder climbing would be towards the latter part of the lap. I decided as it was going to be a long day that I would walk the hills and run the rest. This would be my strategy.

As the more severe hills came and passed I eventually passed the first lap (where our drop bags were kept). The trails despite a lot of rain recently were in good condition. Fair enough, at stages I got pretty wet feet and the odd stone in my shoes but things were going pretty well.

There would be no point in exhausting myself on the hills so I walked the steeper ones. For nutrition I had tracker bars and nutrigrain bars in my Ultimate Direction Backpack Vest. Hydration wise I had a tin of diet coke in one with a tin of Dr Pepper in the other bottle. Each time they were a quarter remaining I refilled at a water station and I continued on ok. I had gels as well but ended up only using a couple of them when I felt the blood sugar levels a bit low.

Weather wise for the day it was pretty bad. Three quarter of the time it rained. Sometimes pretty heavy and I debated weather I should use a sun visor to keep the rain hitting the face which was slightly annoying. I had my rain jacket in my drop back but between my thermal vest, t shirt arm warmers and gloves I got by pretty ok.


After the first lap I met up with a good friend Emma from Dundalk that I met at the Mourne Ultra. Me and Emma also got chatting to fellow runner Mark who had also run the Mourne Ultra. The three of us later we separated and went our own separate paces as the miles grew on towards the last lap.

At the start of the third lap Emma set off with ease ahead of me to finish third female runner of the day. Also on the last lap I got chatting with a girl I met Julie from Omagh who was taking part in the Marathon distance. As we got talking about trail running etc I found out she enjoyed obstacle course runs and she knew Keith from Dungannon who I have known through the triathlons I have done the last few years. We agreed it was important to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the fun and banter of so many new and exiting new sporting activities nowadays.  Apart from Julie I saw very few other runners from the marathon/half and 10k runs that were also being held on the same day.

As we approached the last few miles our pace had slowed. As we entered Tollymore Forest Car Park finish I noticed people cheering Julie on so I let her run on a bit and smile and get some photos etc as she finished.


I then finished just after her feeling happy and thankfully not too exhausted as I had done on previous event. 


Overall I once again really enjoyed this day. It was well organised and the route is a good test for doing an ultra with a bit of elevation thrown in for good measure. The only complaint I would have would be the weather, but even dispite this the smiles and company shared more than made up for it. A fun day had by all.



 
Tollymore Finish time - 7hrs 24mins. Av pace 11.20.

 
Since the event I have tried to think about what to focus on next year, whether to go back to triathlons after a year out or continue my running adventures in 2015.
 

I like the idea of making up my own challenge event also. I have some friends that just do their own homemade event. Something to think about anyway between now and next year. We will see what happens. 

As I finish this entry today I noticed I got a black toenail. Not sure if I can claim its cause of the running a lot or just injury because of weekly footie, but its cool looking anyway.



Until next time………

Saturday, 28 June 2014

2014 - Belfast Marathon, Long Way Home and Mourneway Ultra

Hi Everyone,

Hope you like my ramblings since last time.........


Chest Infection

At the start of April I got some type of chest infection or something for a couple of weeks. It felt a bit different than previous respiratory probs I’ve had in the past and after google self-diagnosing myself I thought it might be exercise induced asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This got me pretty worried as I was aware I was up until recently a smoker.

But when I checked my training I had been out on two back to back long cycle rides (70 miler followed by a 60 miler) and I hadn’t worn any thermal vests (later bought after this). The conditions on the rides were wet and windy. The doc later said it was probably a viral infection and sent me on my merry way with an inhaler which I used only a couple of times. I backed down on the training only doing one run a week and waited 3 weeks before getting back on the bike.

By this stage I was about to hit the last few taper days for the marathon and thankfully the infection cleared up. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do all the rides and runs according to my training plan but thankfully I was reasonably experienced by now to know that I had a lot of ‘base’ training under my belt.
 
Belfast Marathon 2014

 


In the weeks leading up to the marathon I physically felt fit (apart from the viral infection) and the odd time would get long training sessions of same distance at almost the same time - even within a couple minutes difference over 20 miles, however the pace per mile reading each time was rarely showing my time was improving to hopefully beat my last marathon time of 4.07 (at one point I predicted a marathon time of 4.15).

I decided that I wasn’t going to worry too much about this. My goal was that if I could beat my PB time I would, but that it was ok if I didn’t; after all, my main training objective this year was training for longer distance running on trails and also for multi day cycling event upcoming.
Last year I had to concede similarly in the knowledge that my training was to be more focused on full distance triathlon, not to get a PB on the marathon which I think due to lack of running resulted in last year’s 4.07 time.



Day of Marathon.

The day itself


Upon arrival at the starting line there was a bit of rain but apart from that the weather for the day wasn’t too bad. At times we got a bit of strong winds by the coastline but nothing out of the ordinary. Thankfully this was my sixth marathon and I think experience counts for a lot. I noticed that I wasn’t as anxious as before and I was basically going into this event just like another weekend long run, just this one was going to be longer than a weekend run. I had a bit of a niggle injury on my knee so I took the preventive step and wore a knee strapping just in case it got worse and gave me more trouble.

Because I’m writing this blog entry almost 2 months after the marathon apologies for not remembering too much about the run itself but I don’t recall any dramas or issues which were much different than previous times. I thankfully didn’t have to go to the toilet along the way which saved me a bit of time.
 
I also sat on the heels of a steady runner on the last third of the race which I think encouraged me to keep up the pace. I wore a pace band on my arm for 3.50 time which gave splits for what time I should be at certain mile markers. I also was using my virtual partner on my Garmin. I looked at the odd time but thankfully I wasn’t too stressed out if I was falling behind at any time. My attitude was just to enjoy the race and if I could push the pace towards the end to beat my 4.07, I would do. As I said earlier, I latched onto a steady runner towards the 18 mile mark and I managed to hold onto him until about the 23 mile mark when he dropped me.
From then on I tried to maintain pace with whoever I could along the way until Ormeau Road. When you get to these last couple of miles the crowds are out in force to egg you on and the adrenalin is carrying you on until the end.

Unfortunately my bro Stephen who normally paces me the last few miles was busy today and couldn’t make it but when I passed the place where he would wait at Laganside I could almost see his smiling face and I remembered all the usual words of encouragement he would give me on those last few miles, so I replayed them in my head almost as if he was running beside me. Stephen got a chance to make it up to me as he went to support me at a later run in the Mournes.

As I ran down Ravenhill Road I checked my garmin and I knew that I should be under the 4 hr mark which was my second goal. I pressed on hard as I could and tried my best to get as close to the 3.55 PB I attained a few yrs back in 2012. I didn’t feel as fast as I did on that day but I felt pretty good none the less.
As I passed over the finish line I saw the timer above read 3.54.20. I did it yippee! Even better that that of 3.55. The icing on the cake when I later got the official results was that my official time was 3.51.11; I had beat my 2012 time by 4 minutes. I guess the early start to my run training over the winter had finally paid off in the end. Happy days!


  

 

 
Makeshift Training Plan

After the marathon I continued my training plan for the Long Way Home / Ultramarathon

 


Typically the nature of a training plan for multi day sportive cycle would be mid range cycles weekdays and back to back long rides at weekend. The same would apply for doing an ultra run. The reason being is that you get into training on ‘tired legs’ by Sunday after a long training session on Saturday. However my difficulty in trying to make up a training plan was the fact that both the LWH and MWU were running concurrently, the ultra the week after the 3 day cycle.
I knew I couldn’t do the ideal two day cycles and two day long runs, so I ended up just doing one long session of each on Saturday and Sunday.

If I could, I would try to get a long run in mid week as well but I did this rarely; I did once however in doing a marathon distance run home from work which was interesting to say the least.
 
Unfortunately I didn’t do as much weekly commutes by bike to work as I had originally desired but I knew I had done the Belfast / Dublin Maracycle a few years back so I felt I should be ok (I hoped!).
The odd time I didn’t get my sessions done but I didn’t overly worry about it.



More trail running experience / Bad day in the Mournes

In getting ready for the ultra I knew I needed to get some trail running experience under my belt. As spoken about before my blog I have done some trail running this year but not very much. It is still very new to me.

I knew I needed some mileage in the Mournes a bit more so I decided to try to set off early one weekend from Newcastle and set off to make it to Kilbroney Park - 26 miles. I recently purchased new rain jacket and hydration pack and also decided to use my existing More Mile trainers that had proved pretty good when it came to the tougher terrain.

The day didn't go well. I was out over 6 hours and unfortunately I only did 13 miles.

When looking back I went wrong on a number of different areas. I stopped too often, the weather was awful - windy and regular showers. Terrain was soggy and I didn’t stick to the Mourne route. For example when going past Fofanny Dam I trunched through soggy marshland for at least a half hour were the normal route takes you 10 mins and you would be a lot dryer on the proper trail. Also because I started quite late in the by lunchtime I eventually started to run out of daylight later and by 7.30pm I had to ring my Dad and get him to collect me three quarter of the way there. The icing on the cake was going pack Rocky Mountain and missing the turn off and going straight up to another part of the Mourne wall which clearly showed me on the map I was going the wrong way.


Unfinished Business / Good days training in the Mournes

Despite the fact that so much went wrong that day I was determined to get back and finish off that part of the route that I got mixed up on. On a later date that I went back to the area I got lost the previous time and started from there.

On the day I planned to run, I knew that that a couple of friends from facebook James and Mickey were out themselves on their own training run doing a 33 miler.
When I started my run I met up with them as they were running along coincidentally at the same place. They were just finishing off their 7 mile or so thankfully it was a bit easier for me to keep up with them and they kindly allowed me to join them. These Newry lads were great in keeping me right leading the proper route and chatting along the way. When they finished at Kilbroney Park it gave me a chance to do the return leg back to my car with my trusty partner McGregor by myself. All in all, I was pretty pleased I managed to  get over the 'unfinished business'. I felt a lot more confident after this run
 

After this, the training I did a few more cycling runs before the next event the Long Way Home cycling event. On one of my last training runs I met up briefly with one of the Russian lady's taking part in the World Harmony Run and she allowed me to carry her torch which was nice.



 
Long Way Home - 29-31 May 2014

The Long Way Home is a charity cycle organised by a new good friend Paul from Dungannon for Vision for Kids Chrity. The money raised would help fund projects for children in Africa.



 
This cycling event was a 3 day cycle around N Ireland with a total of 365 miles altogether. The plan was to do roughly 140 on the first two days woth 85 miles on the last day. On the days leading up to the race we had a race briefing in which we were informed that minimum averabe would be 14 mph.


 
This was a worry to me as 14 mph average would be a steady rate for me and to maintain it for 3 days I thought would be tough. Some of the other riders tried to re-assure me by saying that 14 mph would be easily maintained if sticking within a group.


Day 1- Dungannon to Belfast  -134 mile

The weather for the first day (unlike the next two) turned out dark and drizzly which wasn’t a great start from Dunfgannon Farmers Mart. When we arrived Paul (event organiser) informed us all who the group leaders would be -Philip C and Joanne.

As we set off we used our first set of miles to get over the nerves and gradually started to get to know each other.

 
The average or 'lowest pace per mile' we were set at was 14 miles an hour and by coming up to the first stop at Newry a couple of the girls Heather and Sally who were not that experienced and younger that the rest of us found it a bit tougher so Heather did parts of the ride on the back up bus and joined our group at intervals as we continued. With the girls doing parts of the ride we managed to pick up the pace and increase the average to about 15 mph end we felt that it would be good that the girls join us as much as they felt they could comfortably do in the knowledge that up ahead there would be 3 very long days. Over the course of the next three days Sally did as many slots she could and when she needed a break would hop on the backup bus with Heather joining her the odd time as well.  Both girls for their age and limited experience achieved so much; it still to this day dumb-founds me how well they did. Fantastic efforts and achievements girls!
 
 
Getting Dropped myself

Coming up to the lunch stop at Annalong I was dropped by the main group. I was struggling to keep up the pace and began to worry about whether I was strong enough to take on this challenge. Up until then I had been feeling fine but thankfully it only lasted a few miles and I eventually caught up with the group when they stopped for lunch. I later realised it was probably due to low energy levels and the mental battering of the rain I had been struggling with.

During lunch Paul organised some changes to our group and we gained two more riders and lost one. The two guys we got were great and would later prove invaluable. Alan our new leader with David were very experienced riders, David being the events main bike mechanic expert and strong rider that tirelessly pushed the girls up those hills and Alan who made the calls and was probably the funniest and main motivator giving us invaluable enthusiasm at regularly intervals.

 


After the slight hills of Newry it was nice to come through Kilkeel and see the familiar signs of Newcastle then towards the Ards pinninsula via the Ferry Strangford to Portaferry.

Newcastle Roundabout -
 

 After this it was enroute to Belfast via Ards stopping off briefy for a bite to eat.

 
 
 
 By this time we enjoyed the last few miles up the North Belfast hills towards Newtownabbey where we were greated by a nice cold tub bath , massage (sore) and massive lovely meal at the lovely Corrs Corner Hotel. It was also good to meet at the hotel room a good friend Paul McA I knew from facebook and Strava (the fitness tracking app). Not to long after this I fast asleep.

Me and good friend Andrew feeling fresh :-)

 
A lot of fancy bikes in one room 
 


Day 2 - Belfast to Derry -118 miles

 

No sooner had we slept than it was day 2 and we were off in the coastal direction towards Cushendun.

 

Have to admit the ride from Larne to Cushendun was breath-taking. I never really have ventured past Carrickfergus Castle in my travels before but the Antrim Coast road is definitely one of the best roads I have been on the bike. And if you get it on a good day its even better. I felt I was travelling like on what I would imagine an Italian coastline would be like. The weather was perfect and the company I had was amazing. I was in my element!
 

We were worried as we knew day two was going to be tough on two counts. Both the fact that we were riding on tired legs and also the fact that be were hitting the big climbs that day around Torr Head near Cushendall.
Before the event Paul had advised all riders that when we approach Torr Head there would only be one group that heads directly up Torr Head. The other two groups - A and B would go the slightly longer assent through Ballypatrick Forest.
 





On the approach to Torr Head all groups stopped at the Cushendun village feed station and calmed the nerves before the assent. After stopping for a while the strongest group C went for the Torr Head route and the other groups went up the slower gradient hill climb. Initially the climb was tough and I got flashbacks of Sheeps Walk in Bolton although I managed to get into a rhythm and latched on to the similar pace of Emma, one of the experienced girls whom had missed the first day ride and was joining us. Although I didn’t match her pace for all the hills I managed most of the way to be a bit quicker than some of the others.

At the top we stopped for a breather, rehydrate and congratulated each other as we arrived. It was by this stage pretty warm and we were feeling the heat.



After the short break we then set off again along the long descent which felt like it lasted a few miles.

The hill was great and reasonably safe for to pick up some speed. Me and Rebekah worked together taking turns on the downhill and made a break from the group and enjoyed the fast pace.
When we finished the hill at the bottom the three groups joined up again before heading into the Marine Hotel for lunch on the Ballycastle Road.


Ice Cream Stop

After this we all set off again in our groups with the next big stop to be Portstewart. Here the groups enjoyed a lovely ice cream .

Alan our leader taking full advantage of the ice cream stop.
 
 
 
 
 

By now we were all smiles with knowing that we had the climbs over and we had done over half of our total journey.

From Portstewart to Derry/Londonderry was comfortable enough and we arrived at the Best Western / White Horse hotel for a well earned rest. I remember saying to Alan towards the later part of the second day that I was feeling so happy and enjoying cycling by this stage that I didn’t want to stop cycling.
And it felt like I wasn’t the only one. A lot of people were in such good moods and it was really infectious the spirit of the while event and it spread like wildfire. Although yes, we felt tired and found it tough going at times, we were in a groove and the camaraderie between riders had really strengthened into a newly formed relationship in which we really looked out for each other along our journey. We knew each others strengths and weaknesses and knew by now when someone needed a word of encouragement or a gentle push up the hill when struggling.
 

Day 3 - London/Derry to Dungannon - 105 miles



Day 3 we were running on endorphins and adrenalin. Some of us were more tired than others and took less turns on the front and we needed to be careful that due to lack of concentration or fatigue we made mistakes which could lead to a fall or worse.

We knew that we all were feeling a mixture of emotions after the last few days. We knew we all had worked hard to get where we were and we knew it was almost over. I think the mood generally was one of a tinge of sadness that soon it would be all be over but mostly excitement at how well the event had been going this far and the fact that we knew we should be finished soon with our friends and family waiting for us all at the finish line.

Once again the weather was good and the roads themselves were not too tough on the legs thankfully as we watched our cycle computers clock ever closer to the elusive 365 total. We spoke and joked about if the route was slightly shorter than hoped we would want to do an extra few to ensure we made it to the grand total of 365.

We stopped at the Killykevlin Hotel for half an hour and met up with the other teams who appeared in happy and relaxed mood just like ourselves. Everywhere you looked all you could see around the car park were happy smiling faces - despite the toll it was having on some!
Some riders were becoming succumb to injury’s with the strap tape being taken out of the van quite a few times for some hobbling riders as they munched down all assortments of food and drink.

At the lunch stop at Carmichael Hall in Augher we stopped off for a feast of grub put on display for us all and then joined riders who were taking part in the single day event doing a short cycle distance at the end.

Not long to go now :-)

 

Thankfully the last part of the ride went very smoothly as we all began to slow our pace towards the end. Then we saw the wonderful sight of the 'Dungannon' roadsign up ahead. Our faces beamed and be cheered and savoured those last miles

The plan was towards the last number of miles the three main groups would join together and group onto the single day event group before going in the last mile into Farmers Mart in Granville at the start/finish. Everything went very well as planned by Paul and we rode in together to the finish.

 

 


At the finish at Farmers Mart the riders were greeted by friends and family.


There were probably a couple of hundred people at least and Transport minister Danny Kennedy who is Rebekah's boss was there to present the trophy’s.

 
It was really great to see the family and finish off with the lovely barbeque and family friendly party atmosphere. There was music, prayers, awards, photos etc. 

Aimee wanting Daddy's food

 
 
My friend Gareth and his family


The Long Way Home I hope becomes an annual event one f which I hope to do again. The people I met were so warm and welcoming and although I didn’t spend much time with them I regard each and every one as good friends.

 





I will miss the whole team at Long Way Home but especially my Group, Group A or as we called ourselves, the A Team
 

Mourne Ultra


 
Some people have asked me why did it. I never really had an answer for them but now that I think about it, it probably is due to my experience I had when I did the marathon challenge walk in 2011. When I took part in the walk I remember well being inspired by seeing some runners with the word ‘ultra’ on their race number pinned to their vest. I simply wanted to be one of those ‘crazies’ one day.
 

 
The day itself (1 week after the 365 cycle trip!)

When I arrrived at 4.40am the on the day I hoped I was in time for the earlier 5am start (1 hr before main start time of 6). Unfortunately I couldn’t find the registration tent for a while and had also to do a emergency number 2 behind some trees as the Park toilets were locked. I eventually found the tent at 5.15am  but the officials said I needed to wait until 6 to start with the rest of the group. The rain was belting down hard at this time and we all hid in the tent until eventually it became more subdue just before 6.
 
At the 6am start I saw Craig Loyd coming in to the start/finish line. I later found out he had run the 52 miles during the night. He wanted to continue another 52 with the main runners starting with us. As it turned out Craig went on to complete a total of 75 miles before having to finish due to the time cut off's . He later said that if it wasn’t for the cut off times he would have liked to continue. If you ever are thinking of running in the Mournes, Craig does a decent video on youtube of a training run.
 
And we're off!

After a good few mile into the hilly Kilbroney assent I ended up trying to sit behind a small group. I couldn’t keep the pace of Mickey and James who I had shared a training run before the big day.
 
I stayed with this group for a while in which I met and chatted at intervals to the local marathon legend that is Peter Ferris. I know that Peter has done in excess of 100 marathons and even prior this event he had done 3 marathons within a week before the ultra - no mean feat. I also got chatting to a girl Emma who was going along roughly the same pace so we ran together from around Rocky Mountain / Tornamrock Pass onwards which is just after Kilbroney Park.

I knew that I needed the company and thankfully Emma was happy enough to allow me to run with her. I later found out from her running experience that she was a 3.30 marathon pace so I knew that she was fast and with her optimistic and cheery mood, she tackled hills and rough patches with ease. She got a nice surprise as her husband from very early on into the race met up with her to cheer her on at the Hen Mountain feed station and some others after this.

Before we approached the Rocky mountains I decided to ditch my coat, armbands and gloves at the first aid station. Thankfully the volunteers agreed to mind them. Unfortunately after this the odd time it did rain but not too bad and I was glad that I lost that extra bit of weight I carried. 

After Hen mountain towards Spelga Pass we struggled to find some of the trails and thankfully by this a fellow runner (Andrew) was just up ahead of us and he kept us right through some of the bits. It was foggy and misty by this stage but thankfully we had said goodbye to the rain and many midges flies that were eating us through Kilbroney hills before the trail opened into the wider mountain landscape.
 
After Spelga Pass me, Peter and Emma moved on ahead with Andrew behind us by about a minute. At Spelga aid station I was finding it tough with quite a few small stones in my shoe so I stopped for a while whilst the others moved on ahead.

After a couple of minutes I set off again on my own and later ran with Peter past Fofanny Dam. Emma had definitely stepped up a gear moving up the incline on Slievenaman Road and we commented that if Emma pushes herself too much in the first half she may blow up later. She seemed happy enough on her own.

After Fofanny Dam me and Peter caught up on Emma and together we pressed on towards Tollymore Forest. Along the way we met up with a couple of guys and chatted to them about their experiences in ultrarunnning. Together they had done a few and were building up point towards re-attempting the Mont Blanc UTMB. They had done one other ultra already which gained them 2 points, the Mourne would give them 2 and they were doing a hundred miler in England which would give them 4 points. With 8 points they could seek registration for the UTMB.

I managed to stay with them for a while as we entered Tollymore Forest however after leaving here and moving through the tough terrain towards Donard Forest I couldn’t keep up and they eventually took the lead and the three of them carried on. After this I was on my own for a while seeing the odd other runner but mostly on my own. By this stage some of the faster elite level guys had started to come back and were passing me one by one on their way back to Kilbroney.

The weather by now was cool and misty and to be honest I was starting to really struggle mentally and a bit physically. I was looking forward to getting to the half way point at Donard Park to give me that mental boost. I wasn’t familiar with this area I was running, and I didn't have a clue how far it was to get to Donard Park.

I later found out that the route actually swings around Donard Forest and doubles back before finally reaching the Park, just to make up the milage of 26 miles. Finally I emerged from a small unknown trail which seems to dart from mid section Granite Trail to the main 'touristy' trail going up the river edge. When I emerged to the river I knew I was very close to half way point and where my drop bag was. Finally I reached Donard Park half way point.

Stuff I didn't end up using -

 
At the drop station I refuelled with liquids and restocked my hydration bag with more snack bars and gels and set off again. I was contemplating changing socks and into my Sausony trainers however I felt like my moremile trainers were very grippy and were serving me well in the muddy conditions. If it was a dry day I probably would have changed. After setting off I saw Peter and some others make their way in to the aid station and I felt a bit good knowing that I wasn’t completely the last person in the race.

The next few miles getting up the hilly conditions to Tollymore were pretty tough and a bit demoralizing however I tried the old mind games by thinking to myself that at least I had done half the distance. My legs although sore were not too bad and I had no injuries thus far.


Going through Tollymore Forest again got a bit lonely and now that there was less people about I had to concentrate more on where I was going and make sure for the rest of the race that I didn’t miss a turn.
The good thing about running behind someone in addition to company is that u can switch off your thinking and just concentrate on powering your legs. Unfortunately with no one about I had to use the concentration a bit more on my footfall and where to run. The odd time for the next while I let doubts creep into my head which wasn’t helpful I made things more difficult.

Due to my worries at this stage in case I slowed down with a few walks in between  hoping for a fellow runner to catch up and then run on and set off again. If there was someone close behind me running at least I hoped if I missed a turn the guy behind me might shout out for me to stop and turn around again. I remember when I did the walk a few years ago the signing for the route was pretty poor, but all in all I think this year was a lot better – but I was still a bit worried at his stage so I waited with the hope that other runners would soon catch me so I could run with them. Eventally a couple started to catch up and I began running again. 

It was around Tollymore Forest that I got a slight injury with a cramp in my leg thigh. A guy who had caught up with me encouraged me to keep going if I wanted to meet the cut off time at Spelga Dam. I thought he said 'its 2.30' cut off time. He said 'you might make it but I don't think I will; I might have to drop out there'. When I heard this it frightened me and I decided to try running on the leg despite the cramp,

As I took off running faster that I was running earlier I got the odd lock up on my leg but I was happy that I could still run to a certain degree. The guy behind me continued running but slower than me. After a while I started to slow down and the guy caught up with me just around the Meelmore Lodge area. We began chatting and he introduced himself as Andrew. Andrew was a guy I had met with Emma on the way out and he had guided us through some of the areas which didn’t have evident trailpaths  so that me and Emma could follow him as he guided us through them. Andrew had really  helped through those parts of the route.

 

When Andrew sarted running with me now we began sharing experiences and started to talk about our mutual worries about meeting the cut off time. Andrew said he felt judging by the distance we might make it just about the 3.30 time. I said I thought he had said 2.30 earlier! He laughed and I breathed a big sigh of relief knowing that we had another hour to make it to the cut off time of 3.30 at Spelga.
 

Slowing down / Cut off time worries -

Sadly by this stage we were walking mostly and being caught up and being overtaken by the many Mourne Marathon runners that were out. The terrain was poor without trails at this part and it was fairly uneven and soggy. Every so often my feet would be sucked up in the marshland.



One of the Marathon runner that passed said 'a fellow ultimate direction backpack runner' as he turned to me as he passed he said - I' I know your face' then he ran on. About 50 metres later I heard a faint shout 'Philip Ward' as he turned. I said 'yes, and your Aaron' to which he smiled and acknowledged me. Aaron I knew from facebook and moreso Strava fitness apps. I knew he was an experienced trail and fell runner and he was running the tough terrain as if it was a road run - good going Aaron.

After cutting across the side of Slieve Meelmore we finally could make out Fofanny Dam in the distance. I knew that I was familiar with the route from there on in. Unfortunately we continued spend much of our time walking with only occasional running so we tried where we could to pick up the pace and run a little. At times I would egg Andrew on and at times he would do the same with me. Little did I realise that working together from here on in would be pretty important to avoid either of us from slowing the overall pace for the rest of race.

 
As we crossed Fofanny Dam we made our way up the steep trail onto the main road in the thinking that the road although still ascending would be a bit of a break for us. As it turned out we didn't get a break. This road part was looking very long uphill and my feet were really felt sore on the hard tarmac. The weather had picked up by this stage also and the heat was probably about 15 degrees but with being out all day and the mild dehydration it felt like about 25.

We pressed onward and upward with the time running out. Finally we descended onto the Kilkeel road which was a little easier as it was downhill on the approach to Spelga Dam. As we approached the time was running out  before cut off time and by the time we reached the aid station we literally had about 5 minutes to spare before the cut off.
Andrew said we could rest there for a while as we had made. I replied to Aaron what if the official time point was the chipped mat point which was just after the aid station at the top of Spelga Pass? We weren’t sure so we decided that we wouldn’t wait to long before covering that next half mile to the chipped mat.


At the aid station I got a big surprise when I saw a big smiling face that of my brother Stephen. He really gave me a lift when he helped me get some stuff and gave me some words of encouragement to keep going. Shortly after we were off again and made it past the chipped mat. We kept pondering whether at some point we were going to be told we missed a cut off point and ‘pulled off’ the course but thankfully no one ever did so we thought we so far were doing just about ok.

 

As we came back into the valley area of Hen Mountain and the Rocky River trail path our spirits lifted. The sun was in full swing and we were able to more often get into a gentle jog / walk at intervals on the trail. The trail itself although made up of small stone and a bit sore on the feet it was wide enough to allow the marathon runners in small groups to pass us and encourage each other along the way. By this stage we conceded to each other that we ‘might’ not meet the official cut off time of 6.30pm, but even if we didn’t we still wanted to complete the course and see that in an achievement in itself.

Nutrition for the race

With regards to nutrition for the race every aid station I topped up my water and either took the optional bananas or fruit cake. There wasn’t a great selection but my trusty optional extras in my backpack (tracker/nutrigrain/protein bars/gels) were giving me a tasty alternative if I wanted and so far my nutrition and hydration plans had worked ok. Towards the closer stages of the end I struggled to eat as I wasn’t really hungry for some reason so I had to force myself to eat to ensure there was no bonking later.

Almost there / Mind games

After this trail we crossed the marshy land approaching Tornamrock and ascended. I joked with Andrew that I liked to play mind tricks with myself. Up until the 26 mile mark I had been thinking that was only ‘half’ my marathon run (thus 13 miles) and tried to think I was only doing a ‘marathon’ today (26.2 miles) not an ‘ultra’ marathon which was in fact the correct distance. I told him if I think that if I let my legs know that I am actually doing 52 miles my legs would try to give in and stop running. I told Andrew my other mental trick I was thinking was that the assent up past Tornamrock was the finish of the race. After this point it was mostly downhill (ie Tornamrock was the end of the ‘hard’ points of the race). As we crossed Tornamrock hill we chatted to other friends from facebook I know Martin and Oggie – both experienced marathon and ultra runners. Both very enthusiastic and their happy spirit had a ripple effect on fellow runners they encountered along the way.

We descended and approached the aid station before Kilbroney Park. There again I met up with my brother and thankfully he agreed to take the items I had left earlier in the day at this aid station – the coat, arm warmers and the gloves. Once again Stephen did a fantastic job of asking me what I needed at the aid station and keeping me right. Andrew was keen to keep moving as he was conscious of the final cut off time so I pressed on and caught up with him after briefly chatting to my bro.

 
 
The trails through Kilbroney Forest were pretty good and by this stage me and Andrew were pretty tired and joking how we hated running, trail running and the Mounes. Obviously this was only joking and we talked about how great a day it was and our fears and concerns throughout the day. The time was by this stage after 6pm and we had hoped we could make it by 6.30pm but we felt that even if we didn’t make it we would both come away knowing that we did good – medal or not received.

At the extra final aid station which was manned by an elderly couple we thanked them profusely for their helping on the day by volunteering and made our way for the steep descent into the Park. Towards the end of the race my garmin was showing that we hadn’t quite done the distance. Andrew reckoned it was wrong and I cursed the fact I had left it on autopause function (this causes gamin to stop distance counting when any walking occurs ) Andrew said his garmin had just ran our of battery about 40 miles into the event and I had only started mine at the 26 mile mark. On the last mile I said to Andrew and a few of the marathon runners that we had to make up extra miles I think to which they gave me a few choice words which I won’t share here , ha ha!

Soon thereafter we entered the large main field to which we could see at the bottom laid out the finish line and the large crowd. I hi fi’d Andrew. We thanked one another for helping each other through the tough spots of the race. Our faces lit up with glee as we forgot our aches and pains and picked up the pace to cross the finish line on an epic day.

 
No sooner had we both got our medals we were pointed in the direction of our free non-alcoholic beer – which tasted great after our long day.

 

Stephen was faithfully there to applaud and great me which was a welcome sight as I said goodbye to my running partner Andrew.

 

Poor Stephen had his work cut out as he was soon running errands for me getting drop bags and taking some pics of me after the finish.
 


 
When I got home thankfully little nephew Matthew helped hose me down as I was pretty mucky.

 
 My soggy hobbit feet afterwards.
 

 
Post events

Following the two events I got some new unusual injuries I have never had before. After the cycling I got a slight numbness on front lower part of my left foot. Almost a tingly sensation that felt as if it was cold, although warm to touch. Thankfully it cleared up in couple of weeks.

Also due to lack of hill training and overuse cause during the Mourne Ultra I got a touch of extensor tendon pain of the front top of feet. I didn’t really do the proper RICE treatment I just really stopped any running or football and did a bit of barefoot walking around the house to help rehabilitate the tendons.

My mum saw this headline about the Mourne Ultra in her local paper and thought it was about me (pity as it was about an elite - not an average joe like myself)




Back into training

After these last few weeks of basically ‘sitting about on my bum’ Im good to go. The other day I did a 3 miler run and felt the pain in my legs the next day, ha ha! Seriously need to get back into training so I have thankfully written up a new training plan for upcoming Titanic 102 k run in September.  Can’t wait to get back into regular running again.

That’s it for now. I know a bit long winded this entry but it’s been a long time. Until next time…..