Maurice Mullins Ultra
Story of an almost DNF
28 March, 2016 - Denis HoganFirst and Foremost can I applaud and say a massive Thank You to all the volunteers, it is one thing to be running in those conditions but truly another to be volunteering.
Brief history, found out about IMRA over a year and half ago - been addicted since.
Myself and the future brother in law had decided in early December that we would attempt the Wicklow Way Solo. After competing in the Raw Ultra last year and surviving we said what's next. How far and how hard can we push ourselves. Hence the decision to take on the full gruelling 127km on the entire Wicklow Way. The Maurice Mullins Ultra was part of our training plan and our fist big test. Since January we have both been up every Saturday & Sunday at 4am to be out on the hills running by 5.30 covering 30 & 20k's respectively.
We had recce'd from Marley to Ballinastoe numerous times covering the climbs of Crone and Djouce. This had left me quietly confident and ready for the race ahead. I was to soon find out I was very wrong.
I opted for the early start as I was to head into work after the race. I was feeling good and strong. We headed off along the road, we had agreed that todays race was about finishing Sub 7hrs and still having more in the legs to go on. It was never about positions or setting any records, my goal was simple, run as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, complete the race and still feel as if I could kick on for more. Sounds simple enough, that is until your competiveness starts to slowly creep in.
I had to constantly remind myself not to get caught up with the pace of the other runners, to stay at my pace that I had done in training. The run up and down to Curtlestown was comfortable and I still felt good. I hit the road section off Glencree Road and was thinking to myself how mentally tough on the way back this road section would be. Off the road and up through the forest ,this is when I needed to switch on as I knew Crone was just around the corner. I enjoyed the short run along the river and had to be reminded to slow down and maintain my pace. The previous week we had ran the entire climb of Crone without stopping ( which was a milestone for me) and so the plan was to do the same today. On entering Crone car park I refuelled, quick toilet break, and got my head ready for the climb ahead. It was at this point I remembered Muhammad Ali's quote "I hated every minute of training, but I said .....Don't Quit. Suffer Now and live the rest of your life as a champion". With Ali springing around in my head I headed up and up and up. Nearly there, of course I wasn't but I just kept telling myself that. With about 50metres or so to go I had ALI screaming at me ...Don't Quit, you did this last week in training Don't you dare quit on me. With my legs starting to tire I put the head down and pushed hard for the last few metres. I look up, I did it , I bloody well did it. That feeling of accomplishment was short lived as it dawned on me I had along way to go.
After a few minutes breather I was back running and heading down towards Djouce. It was at this point I noticed the weather condition had got a lot worse. I had reached the base of Djouce and looked up, I seen runners attempting to run but only to stop after a few metres as the wind was blowing directly towards them. I said to myself nothing to be gained here trying to run so I opted to power hike. Sorry I will correct myself, I TRIED to power hike. The wind was beating me hard in the face, I had my sleeves pulled over my hands as I was really feeling the cold. Every step I took I had to take another two just to make up some ground as the wind was pushing me back. Just get up around the side and it will ease off I kept telling myself. I pushed on, the rain now adding insult to my already deteriorating positive mind set. Even Ali had left me almost saying your on your own on this one! My feet were starting to feel the cold as every step I took was like stepping into an ice bath, except I had no choice but to plant the foot especially if I wanted to get off this unforgiving mountain. I eventually got running along the side of Djouce , trying to restore some heat into the body.
I felt as if I was auditioning for a tightrope act as with both arms stretched outwards swaying in all directions doing my upmost not to be blown off. I can just see the headlines" Runner injured after being blown off a mountain". I knew the boardwalks were just around the corner and mind cast back for a split second of a training run were I was running as the sun was breaching the morning sky with wild deer crossing the boardwalks a few metres in front of me.
Like I said, a split second.
I jumped up onto the boardwalks only to be blown back off them. Second attempt and managed to hold my footing, I got to the turn and was nearly blown off again. THIS WAS NOT IN THE SCRIPT!. In order to keep my balance I overcompensated on my right foot, at the time I didn't pay much attention as the pain was brief and since my feet were still numb I headed towards Lough Tay. As I ran along I could not feel the right side of my face the wind was giving me a harsh lesson in thinking I had been prepared.
Eventually I hit the road down towards Ballinastoe and knowing the half way point is within reach I powered on. As I ran down numerous runners were heading back up towards Djouce with the majority of them refuelling and preparing for another onslaught of rain and wind on Djouce.
I shouted out my number and searched for my bag, quickly opened it pulling out a banana, some Lucozade and a protein bar. After refilling the camelbak I was starting to walk up, eating the banana when all of a sudden a pain so severe I nearly dropped to one knee was emulating from the top of my right foot. I walked some more but every step I took was like someone tapping the top of my foot with a rounded metal hammer. Why ... Why now? I shouted to myself. Throwing the banana away in pure anger I pulled the strap on the camelbak tight looked straight ahead and started to run. Within 15ft I had to stop as the pain was not subsiding. It was difficult to walk, deciding on my options I decided to keep going. I got to the turn off the mountain bike trail and tried running again. The different terrain helped slightly but the pain was still there. I reached the boardwalks emotionally tortured. Every other bone and muscle in my body felt good all except the pain in my right foot, pain of someone hitting it hard with a hammer wanting the bone to crack.
I put the bandana I had wrapped around my sleeve on my head as I knew what was ahead of me. As I walked along the boardwalks constantly looking behind me to step off for runners looking to pass me, and yet when I stepped back on I had to step back off to allow the fellow runners to pass me that were running towards me. It was at this point I was at my lowest, seeing runner after runner pass me by all gliding along embraces the harsh conditions.
Every now and then I would try running, but nothing changed. I tried convincing myself it would ease if I could get going. Although the boardwalks were mostly down it did not help as no matter what angle I placed my foot it was to no avail. As I trudged gingerly with that god damn wind stepping on and off on and off I thought of the post I had put up on Facebook the night before..."DNF is not an option, even if it means crawling with my fingernails". Why...Whhhhyyyy did I put that up, I couldn't feel my fingers never mind use my fingernails.
I came off the boardwalk, looked back at he heavy mist looming towards me. I knew I had a good decline ahead even if it was like running in a river.
"Don't Quit... Suffer Now...." Ali, where have you been. I started to run grimacing with every stride. As I descend Djouce once again runner after runner passes me by as I slowly shuffle from side to side trying to put as little pressure on my foot as possible. This is ridiculous I said to myself, lets call it a day and live to race another day. My Fiancé's text that morning was a good luck one with the last few words "Don't try an be a hero".
I was moving ever so slowly, but I was moving. I crossed the bridge and climbed the rocks where a group of scouts had gathered. I got to the turn and sat down for a minute. I needed to compose myself as it was right there and then I felt broken. Emotionally drained, frustrated. Frustrated that I felt physically good apart from my foot and had done this route numerous times without injury. After treating myself to a few Haribo suger sweets I stood back up, adjusted my gear and dusted myself down. I started to run trying to block out the pain. Up ahead I seen JuJu Jay and hoped he had some deep heat or magic spray in his backpack. As I approached him I asked him if he had any which he didn't. I jumped up onto the ledge he was on where he was taking photos. He asked me where the pain was and said maybe I should head back to Ballinastoe if I didn't think I could finish. HEAD BACK. Head back , is he crazy I thought to myself. Has he not seen that wind, that rain, that WIND. No there was only one direction I was going. I knew Crone wasn't too far away and I said to myself to just make it to there.
I was off running (or more like power walking) and with the pain showing no signs of retrieving I was beginning to accept that I was not going to finish. As I hit the decent into Crone car park I had to control the little running I was doing and couldn't let the legs loose as I had done previous weeks while training. Again frustrating.
I enter Crone car park and rather than look for any fluids or food I am scanning for a medical bag. Please let there be something to help, as if not was it I was calling it a day. I asked a guy was there any deep heat in a medical bag, No I don't think so was his reply. He asked me what was at me and I explained it was the top of my right foot. He ran to his car to give me some balm to rub on to the top of it. He explains to me that he was to run in the ultra but had to opt out due to a chest infection. He says that he has pain killers on him that he could give me one and as he opens the bottle says "I've only one left". I am screaming in my mind "GIVE ME THE TABLET". Somehow I think he heard me as it told me to open my hand and poured the tablet out. Down the hatch. ( Whoever you are I cant thank you enough).
I knew I was at 36k and only had 14k or so to go. I said to myself you've made it this far. I checked my time and was surprised to see that I was at 4hrs 20. I tried to quickly calculate and told myself if I was to get going I could still do under 7hrs. "Even if it means crawling with my fingernails". I mapped out in my mind where I was going to run and where I was going to walk. If I could just keep moving. Every few minutes I waited for the tablet to kick in but felt as if it was having little effect. After the run along the river I felt rejuvenated. It was here where I decided I was going to finish one way or another. As we were coming up out onto the road I met Morgan, and in my utter joy of moving a little better than I had for the previous 10k was telling him how myself and the brother in law had done this route numerous times in the early hours of the morning. Except, wait a minute, I don't recall seeing that house before. I knew with my gut that we had missed the turn. How ironic is that. We double back and inform another runner that he too is going the wrong way. Within a few minutes we are back on the trail.
I power hike up towards Lackan Wood and know that stretch of road is waiting for me after the forest. I manage to keep a steady stride all the way through the forest and although the pain is still there it is now bearable. I hit the road with Ali making another appearance "Don't Quit...Suffer Now..". I put the head down and convince myself at the end of this road there is only 10k left.
As we head towards Curtlestown I tell Morgan to try get his legs going as he will have time to recover on the climb. With both of us moving we have small talk with one another. I tell Morgan we have two climbs ahead of us and then we descend into the valley. Morgan goes on ahead and I try to just keep the legs moving focusing on the pain.
I reach the summit and I see Morgan opening what I thought was an ice pack, but was actually small blocks of sugar. As he hands it to me he says this will get you home. I decided that I had ran the majority of the race in isolation and welcomed the bit of company. As we ran down into the valley I knew we had a small but tough climb after the bridge before we hit the road section. Out of pure anger I powered up the hill even though my calf's were screaming for me to stop, I just screamed back at them.
I continued along the road were 2 other runners passed me out, one trying to urge me on to pick up my pace. I look back and I see Morgan not too far behind. After getting this far, I did not care about times or indeed pride, it was about finishing it with a fellow runner who shares the love for all the sport brings. I waited for Morgan to catch up and we both head along the road that never seems to end. I see the golf club in the distance and the feeling of accomplishment starts to sink in. We turn into the car park and as we approach hear the our number's being called out. DONE!
With a respectful handshake I wish Morgan a far well as I have only one thing in mind. I need to get to work !
What I took from this race is that even when the odds feel as if they are all stacked against you , that is when you have to dig deep, look within, find whatever strength you can and just keep moving forward!
I finished in 6hrs 50mins.
DNF = Did Not Fail
My Wicklow Way Ultra
27 March, 2016 - Miriam MaherMy Wicklow Way Ultra
While the euphoria of completing the Wicklow Way Ultra is still overriding any of the actual reality of the event…thought I’d do my race report up.
Having done the Wicklow Way Trail for the past 3 years, decided to go the extra mile… or 15/16 and take on the Ultra this year.
With some ultras in the last year under my belt, was confident enough that I could get around but was absolutely dreading the experience given the woeful weather forecast. Have been up around Djouce in most conditions at this stage, but driving sideways rain, as was forecast, is my idea of a personal running hell.
Arrived nice and early with Alison Underwood in order to take the early start at 8.30 am. Took off with a fairly sizeable bunch of early starters. My track record timewise with IMRA places me firmly in the early starters group but some of those around me looked way more capable of speed than me so I wasn’t surprised to be at the back of the group from early on. However - my race/ my pace - so that didn’t bother me.
First and foremost, the aim for me yesterday was to get around, time wasn’t the focus – aside from the cut off times – and use it as a training run for the upcoming Highland Fling Ultra along Loch Lomond in 5 weeks’ time. With that in mind and being very familiar with the route itself, I took on all the uphills on the basis of running what I could, walking where I needed to – so basically walked a lot. When you’re not really racing, it’s a liberating feeling to take all the stages at your own pace and focus on handling the body as well as the mind.
The outward route was tough out, the wind and driving rain for the entire length of the out was hard going, but with no other option but to plough on, kept going and prayed to my personal gods that the wind didn’t cruelly change its’ direction for when I’d be coming back. Being a ‘back of the pack’ runner in an event like that is a very social able experience. Ran with a few people along the way both out and back, the chats at different stages were welcome distractions.
The best bit about this route for me is the great variety of terrain, so it’s a case of taking each stage, ascent, descent as they come along. And while the weather conditions were fairly rough on the way from Glencullen to Ballinastoe, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected and I got glimpses of the panoramic views while making the dogged ascent up around Djouce. The lead runners from the main start passed me at that point, always eye opening to see how they seemly effortlessly run the steep uphills. Curving around Djouce the path was basically a fast moving stream. Transformed from the fairly dry path we’d ran in a training run only a couple weeks ago. Moved onto the boardwalk and then did the balancing act all the way down ending with the stretch overlooking Lough Tay. Unusually for me, I only fell once – practically a personal record for me.
As I was coming off the boardwalk the front runners from the early start were coming up against me, once off the boardwalk the lead runners overall started to stream past me. Down into Ballinastoe just before the trail runners were due to take off. Enough time to get myself sorted from my drop bag and start the return ascent up the fire road seconds before the trail runners began to pass me – all fresh and full of energy.
Chatted a bit on the way up with running buddies – Trish, Dee and Grace – before they moved off at the trail runners pace. Back at my own personal pace – think slow and deliberate – went back over the boardwalk, pausing to ham it up for Andrew’s camera at the JB Malone stone. With the wind now mercifully at my back and the rain starting to let up a bit, this return journey was a far better experience than the outward route. The descent off Djouce along the grassy slope slick with rain was like something out of a slapstick silent movie, except with sound effects of helpless yelps and squeals and that was just the hardy mountain men runners...Went careering madly at one stage, hurtling downhill uncontrollably, eventually coming to an abrupt halt when I managed to head for the gorse at the side. Again, somewhat amazingly, I cleared the downhill in one piece and upright throughout.
Reaching crone woods was timely, more water, more food – thanks so much to the wonderful Mary for the splendid array of food on offer as well as drinks. With a knee and hip causing some problems at this stage, popped some pain relief, and headed onwards for the last few miles. Knowledge of the route was so valuable, weather was much better and the buzz was building – knew I’d be fine for time and would get this done.
Taking the early start meant that while I was an hour slower than all the main start ultrarunners around me, it was great to have company at times, someone to run with for a few paces, until we’d had the chat and then their natural (faster) pace kicked in and they moved on.
Vaguely considered trotting a bit of the curtlestown uphill slog and then dismissed that plan in favour of a very determined uphill march, frankly I can’t imagine attempting to run it would have been any quicker at that stage for me. Met another few people along the way, chatted my way to the top of Prince Williams seat, drank in the fabulous views ahead of Dublin bay, the Poolbeg chimneys and headed off along the undulating path leading to the final descent. On my own again at this point, felt great going downhill and euphoria levels were building. Psyched for the last push uphill after the bridge. Discussed what was going to go in first to the precious WWU mug with another runner- beer or wine? (beer was the choice in the end) thought about trying to run up that last piece of uphill on the road, then decided not to wreck my buzz and saved ourselves for the last stretch of the road when it levelled out.
The last bit of the route along that road was an effort, would be lying to say otherwise, but kept rabbiting to my companion for that last stretch, a guy from Carlow doing the Ultra too, that once we saw the magnificent bank of daffodils on the right after the GAA playing grounds we’d be there! Finally got to the entrance to Glencullen Golf Club – made it up, somehow, that last mean uphill bit and my first Wicklow Way Ultra was done!
Just as I finish this report, results posted, 11th from the bottom, where I always expected to be, but this was never about racing for me – always about completion. Loved every tough minute of it, definitely not right in the head.
Judging from the numbers out yesterday along the route, not the only unhinged one about. Many thanks Dermot, Richard and all the volunteers that made the day, the event and the whole experience so brilliant with all the hallmarks of what makes IMRA such a fantastic organisation. A big thanks to my training buddies – Jarlath Hynes and Alison Underwood – endless source of encouragement to me. Well done to all those that did both the Ultra and the Trail, not for the faint hearted and thanks for the chat and company to those I met along the way.