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.

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………

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