Thursday, 15 December 2016

Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon VII

Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon.. Weekend of a lifetime

When writing of the weekend that was Clonakilty WaterfrontMarathon VII, it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe early summer 2016 is a good place.

My good friend Bob Hilliard, Race Director extraordinaire in Clon, had just returned from running the Boston Marathon, and was buzzing. He spoke of inspirational figures he had met while there, and he promised that he was bringing them to West Cork in December. The names he mentioned were Boston Marathon Champions Bobbi Gibb and Amby Burfoot, as well as Boston Bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet. We are talking Massachusetts Royalty here.

The main man Mr. Hilliard

I never doubted for a second that he could pull it off, this is the man who had brought the iconic Team Hoyt to Courtmacsherry in July 2015. This is Bob we’re talking about here. If you could bottle 50% of his energy you’d keep a small city going for a year. His enthusiasm for what he does is infectious and inspirational.

Fast forward 7 months to Wednesday November 30th.  A good friend from our Born to Run club, Jim McNeice had made his minibus available to collect the arrivals from Boston. A road trip to Shannon to meet the incoming flight at 6am, with Bobbi, Amby and Adrianne on board ensued. We met Bob and his wife Ia, as well as Ia’s sister Milla and MCI legend and a treasured friend Valerie Fogarty in the arrivals area. Excitement was building.

Meeting the legends at Shannon Airport 6.30am November 30th

As they arrived out, these Boston legends were greeted with hugs as old friends. I will readily admit to being extremely star struck at first but as we chatted en route to Clonakilty and over breakfast in Mallow, it was actually an incredibly relaxing and rewarding experience. I got to learn of Adrianne’s story over that cup of coffee. This woman’s courage and resilience to not be labelled as a victim is incredible to experience. And she is such a wonderful down to earth person.

Having dropped our passengers in Clonakilty, I said my goodbyes until Friday. On that Friday morning I collected 2 other travellers from Boston, my friend Anna Sotar, who is Director of International Sales for Hoyt Running Chairs and her friend and running buddy Maura Power. They were bringing a very precious cargo in the shape of a Team Hoyt Running Chair.

Anna and Maura with the Blade
This year, Team Hoyt Running Chairs, great friends of Clonakilty, donated a “Blade” Running Chair and the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon also sponsored a chair for the use of deserving families. Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon has always been so welcoming and inclusive, and this is just another wonderful testament to the generosity of the Clon Crew.
Having landed back in Clonakilty on that Friday morning, I bumped into Amby and Bobbi in the reception area of the Quality Hotel and was greeted with warm hugs. After a quick detour to Richy’s for breakfast (highly recommended) I waited at the finish line for one of my best friends Meadbh O’Leary to complete her maiden 26.2 on the Director’s run. 

Meadbh gets it done, as I knew she would!!!!

Meadbh, a physical therapist,  is the wonderful person who puts us back together when our bodies get a battering on race day… She has been a fantastic friend for over 2 years now. I won’t lie, it was pretty emotional to see her cross the finish line with her mum waiting. A very special moment indeed for one very determined lady. 

That evening a Q&A session with the Boston crew as well as Irish running legends Frank Greally, Neil Cusack and Gary O’Hanlon held everyone captivated. Compere Ray O’Connor of MCI did an impeccable job. To learn the full backstory of how running had changed their lives certainly resonated very strongly with me and struck a chord with so many in the room. Running has been such an enriching experience for me. Meeting lots of my friends that I have gotten to know in the last 2 years topped off the evening nicely.

L-R Ia, Frank, Adrianne, Ray, Neil, Amby, Bobbi and Bob

Race Day

I always have a broken night’s sleep before a race, this was no different. I picked up Anna and Maura at their hotel and we went to Val’s for breakfast. The Boston ladies were excited and apprehensive in equal measure at the prospect of tackling the marathon distance for the first time.

We made our way to the start line to learn that the newly arrived chair from Boston would be used by Andrzwj Chomicz and Dariusz, a fantastic surprise... What a debut for the chair

We also met with the French TGV54 team, who were so thrilled to be taking part. Inclusion wins every time. Following the obligatory hugs and good wishes, we started off with the running chairs a few minutes ahead of the main field.

Inclusion wins every time!!!!
I’d been nursing a tight hamstring for the previous few weeks so I’d be taking this cautiously. I ran the first few miles with our French visitors, and eventually got into a nice handy rhythm running with Maura. Off out the road to Inchydoney with its stunning views and testing hill. Lovely meeting so many familiar faces who were on the return leg of the Inchydoney loop, plenty of shouts of encouragement kept the legs moving. Maura was flying it and enjoying her run.

Back in the causeway, lots more encouragement from Jonny and on to half way near Rathbarry, a beautiful picturesque village. Memories flooded back of sheltering in Breda’s shop and Post Office there last February following a soaking shower. Bumped into my Born to Run buddies Niamh, Kirstie and John and also met with a group of ladies from Maurice Looby Fitness. What great craic they were. We played tag with them over the second half of the race, we’d catch up, they’d catch up and the banter was mighty. “Jaysus Conor, is it yourself again?!” There was even a Mannequin Challenge going uphill at Long Strand, a particular highlight!!!!
Maura in full flow!!
Maura was at that point passing the point of her previous longest training run, 15 miles. Though she was tiring (and so was I) we encouraged each other along and kept a good pace going… “Break it down into little runs” I said; it seems to work!  Until the climb up to Ardfield…. It really is the hill that just keeps on giving.

We walked most of it, but the payoff was when we were greeted by Mark Hilliard and the King of Ardfield at the summit. All downhill to Mile 22 we were assured, not quite, I’d call it undulating but fun times nonetheless. The world’s greatest RD, Bob Hilliard came to give us support, so typical of one of life’s gentlemen, his shouts of encouragement gave us a renewed energy and boost. More hugs from Jenny at Mile 24...
And so to the finish, Maura and I ran hand in hand up the finish straight to be greeted by Anna, who had just completed her first marathon also, and of course Bob. Emotional scenes, I remember crossing my first marathon finish line. You’ll never replicate that feeling. For those yet to experience it, enjoy every moment, you’ll never get that back. 

The day only got better, as later my dear friend Valerie Fogarty presented me with my 50th Marathon medal, and she was later presented with her 100th by her husband John. Over 20 MCI members received awards that evening. 

Val and Rita knock it out of the ballpark for Val's 100th...

It’s hard to adequately put into words what an amazing friend that Val is… We’ve been through some amazing miles and smiles over the last 2 years.. Here’s to many more. And by the way, welcome to our Born to Run family Val! It’s a genuine thrill to have you as an honourary member.
And of course all of the achievements must be celebrated. I met Meadbh, her cousin Áine (who also ran) and her friends from Clon for well-deserved celebratory drinks and a little dance that night. Sunday night was pretty special too meeting Bobbi and Adrianne again as we joined Bob and Ia and family for dinner in Inchydoney. Just to be in the company of these people is such a joy. I’m really looking forward to catching up with them in April again.
Adrianne and Cristina, legends both :-) 

Since I’ve returned from Clonakilty, friends have asked me what the highlight of the weekend was. To be honest it would be impossible to choose from so many… Seeing the emotions of Meadbh, Anna and Maura getting their first 26.2 done, receiving my 50th and seeing Val receive her 100th  marathon award, Mazza receiving her 25th, the Q&A session on Friday night, Olivia Walsh completing her comeback 10K (great to see you back Liv!!), Adrianne and Cristina completing the 10K…. I have so many treasured memories which will never fade.

With Bobbi and Adrianne at dinner in Inchydoney

Liv and Killian after crossing the line, so thrilled to see her back!
Receiving my 50th from Val...

The one common link though is the King of Clonakilty, Bob Hilliard. He is the glue that holds everything together, the driving force the passion. And what is a King without his Queen? With his wonderful Ia by his side, they make a formidable team. I am so grateful to be counted among their friends, an honourary member of the Clon Crew, West Cork truly is my second home…. It’s been a difficult transition back to the humdrum of normal life following such a stellar weekend. But when the hard, windswept, and hailstone laden training miles are required through the winter, the warm glow from the memories of Clon VII will keep me going… To quote Bob: “Focus Conor baby, Focus”. Sound advice. 
I'm pretty sure we'll have return visitors to Clon VIII
Thanks a million to Richard of The Galway Cow and Tomás Greally for the fantastic photos!!

9th December 2017 can’t come quick enough for Clon VIII. What surprises and special guests lie in store? I for one cannot wait to find out 😊

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

BMW Berlin Marathon 2015

BMW Berlin Marathon 2015,
The Main Event

With the excitement of the big day, my sleep was poor.  If I had the garmin switched on, I reckon with all the twisting and turning, I could easily have clocked up a few kilometres. (I'll switch to metric now as we were on mainland Europe :) ).  An early rise for the porridge and as we has two U-Bahn's to catch we left the hotel just after 7am.  It was very easy to find our way to the start as the carriage were well populated with runners.

The baggage area was well laid out - and it would have to be to cater for the 42,000 who were arriving from all directions. Photographers, eager to take your picture, were everywhere in the baggage area.  After dropping the bags, we were given very nice plastic  coverings so that we would not feel cold while we waited for the start.  After meeting Conor, we headed for the starting gates. While I knew I would not be in the first wave with Brendan, I thought that the second wave with times ranging from 3:45 to 4:15 would be perfect. But, I had somehow managed to get myself into last wave with time greater than 4:15 (and this was clearly marked on my number).  I feared that any chance of a decent time would be gone if I did not break the rules a bit.

After wishing Conor well, Brendan and I set off for Gate G (second Wave) and Gate E (first wave).  there were plenty number checks and my heart sank as I saw many a 'H' number being sent back to the final wave section.  To cu a long story short, I waited for a big group to arrive at one of these checkpoints and as the people ware checking, I glided through the middle with grace and elegance - this was going to be a good day.  Then, after a 100 metre walk through the wooded area, I got to the starting block - and more checkpoints. Yes, they were sending 'H' runners back to the last wave.  The same tactics had to be applied - and luckily they worked a second time. 

Looking back I could see the Brandenburg gate in the distance and nearly a kilometre down the road I could see the Start line gantry.  I made my way forward to the start of the 'G' group and was just behind the balloons for the 4 hour pacer. The area was filling up fast.  On a normal day, this road would be catering for 8 lanes of traffic.  It was like being in the cast of Minions as I was surrounded by thousands of people, standing and sitting in all their yellowness, all waiting for the start.  With the release of the bright yellow balloons, the elites were on their way, closely followed by the first wave of runners.  The second wave would start 15 minutes later.  As the barriers were opened we made our way slowly towards the start. The 'island' in the middle of the road, which was populated by people sitting while they waited, suddenly became clear.  All that remained on it was thousands of yellow plastic coverings, old t-shirts and jackets.  I saw my opportunity to overtake a few thousand people.  So I did.  Walking with care and ease, I made my way almost to the start line before we stopped.

9:15 arrived and we were off.  The wide road allowed the runners to get into their stride almost straight away and this would last for the first few kilometres.  I felt good and was passing out many other runners but I wasn't sure what pace I was doing.  I felt comfortable though.  The support for the early morning public was incredible, as we were cheered on and welcomed by a wall of noise.  Bells and whistles, clickers and clappers, horns and hooters greeted us at every turn of the road. What a great feeling to be running through this.  I did not take in much of the buildings as I was drawn to the supporters on the sidelines. There appeared to be thousand of Danish supporters or Dutch or Mexican who were just brilliant.  I was surrounded by people of so many different nationalities, many wearing tech tops promoting marathons around the world. There were plenty of people sporting Ironman finisher tops. This marathon must have felt quite straightforward for them.

The day was warming up and I was grateful for the shade offered by the buildings as we moved through the streets. My sense of direction in this city was completely gone and I couldnt say whether I was running north, south, east or west.  All I knew was that, I was following a large bunch of people in front of me.  The water stations were plentiful - every 3 or 4 kilometres - but they were chaotic.  Plastic cups were being handed out by the thousands of volunteers.  These were then duly dropped and crushed by the following hoards of runners.  I decided to stop every time, take a mouthful of water and pour the rest on my head.  We were given a sponge at the expo and proved to be the best ever, as I was able to wipe my face when needed. 

Musical groups of different persuasions welcomed us to different parts of the city from Rock, to Jazz to Samba. But it didn't need to be a group as some individuals took it upon them selves to come out with saucepan lids, biscuit tins and even shovels and hammers. All to make some noise. Vuvuzelas and viking horns. Drum kits, played by young and old, were brought out from many a front room. The heavy metal party from the apartment overlooking the route really lifted the crowds at the 25km mark.  I'm surprised the balcony could hold the multiple speakers.  It was just magic.  For me, it was the magic of the samba groups, and there were many, that lifted my spirits. 

The kilometres passed quickly, as I was so distracted by all that was going on around me.  My feet were behaving themselves impeccably. I passed the half way point in 1 hour 43 minutes - well ahead of my time from Tralee.  I had my sweet potato for fuel, prepared the night before. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the raisins, which I normally add to it.  And even more unfortunately, I added too much salt. I took some after 13km and it was vile.  An extra mouthful of water was required at the next water station.  Luckily, bananas and apples were handed out at the foot stations so I made use of them as well.
Fearing a fall off in my times, as happened in all my previous marathons, when I approached the 30km (20mile) mark, I bit the bullet and had my second helping of sweet potato. A big  gulp and it was down!!!  This time, there was no wall, no fall off in energy levels.  I just felt great.  I was continuing to pass people, and that was great for the morale.  I did come across people who were in some distress as we neared the finish, but, the determination of some people to keep going was to be admired, even if they had lost control of bodily functions!!

In the last few kilometres, the crowds and the noise were deafening and I felt quite emotional at times.  Emotional, because I knew I was going to smash my previous time by a big margin. 
Seeing the Brandenburg gate come into view was just wonderful.  I knew I had only a few more hundred metres to run as I passed under it. I didn't have that sprint finish in me. I was just so happy to cross the line in 3 hours 31 minutes, surrounded by hundreds of people, delighted with the achievement.  I took a few minutes to take it all in before collecting my medal. 
A great day, a truly great race!!

As I made my way back to the bagging area to meet Brendan, I had one small task to complete.  Hand back my race tag - which was attached to my shoe.  That was the most difficult job I had to do all day as my bending mechanism was left somewhere out on the marathon route. I was completely spent - but I never felt so good! 
Brendan also smashed his PB. So after taking some time to relax, rehydrate and refuel, we hobbled our way back to the U-Bahn.

Without doubt, this marathon will always be a great memory.  Perfect running conditions, great organisation. Massive support. And a huge PB on a wonderfully flat route.

I would not have achieved anywhere near the time I did without the help of friends and family.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bridget Moore for all her wonderful advice and help. To my friends in Born to Run, for their fantastic support and encouragement. To Conor Cusack for the great company and craic over the weekend.
And finally, to my brother Brendan, who ensured that it was a stress free weekend.  I owe you so much. Since I restarted running, you have been there for me, advising, encouraging and making sure I was in the best possible shape.  Especially, to take on this marathon.

Thank you all so much.

Bring on 2016 if I am lucky enough to be selected from the lottery. 

I recommend this marathon major - big time.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Preparation for BMW Berlin Marathon 2015

What a wonderful experience, where do I start in recounting this great day?

Probably by telling you what I did in preparation.

In October 2015, I entered the lottery for a place in the Berlin Marathon 2015.  In early December I was thrilled to be picked out along with my brother Brendan as well as Conor Cusack and Liam Horan from Tralee.  After having tendonitis for much of 2014 and a Dublin marathon blighted by blisters, I had a few serious decisions to make in order to do my entry in Berlin any justice at all.

As I was in the middle of changing my running form, I knew that I had to persist with the mid-foot strike and that I would have to train a bit different to the previous year.  Now, having said that, my preparation for Tralee International Marathon in March was quite similar to the previous year. Although I was not over-striding anymore and I had increased my cadence, this came at a cost as I was blistering badly on any long run.  Looking back, I was making the mistake of doing these too fast and not giving my feet time to recover.  I had my feet taped for the marathon in Tralee and this worked a treat.  On the day I ran out of steam and wilted over the last 8km. This, I now believe, was because I did my long runs too fast and I was tired - but I had no serious blisters and took 10 minutes off my previous time finishing in 3h 47m.

A good friend advised me to walk barefooted on the beaches as much as possible to toughen my feet.  I took that advice and spent many an early morning walking on Banna.  As well as being good for the feet it was good for the soul.  I knew that I would not be able to run as I did the previous year so I made the decision to get back out on the bike.  I was also introduced to hill walking. A great way to mind my feet but also to get good strength into the legs.  I did the Dingle Way Challenge and the Tom Crean Endurance Walk with both walks talking around 11 hours. 

A step over to the Dark side with a 40 mile run in early July showed me the benefit of a Long Slow Run. I was able to train the following day and run at 8 minute/mile (5min /km)
pace.  I ran the Keith Whyte marathon in Courtmacsherry in late July and now that Berlin was less that 2 months away, I deliberately slowed the time to finish in 4h 10m. I ran with a man from Cork who told me how important it was to really ease back on the pace when doing a long run. He had improved this marathon times significantly as a result of doing this and not doing his 21milers (33km) at marathon pace. 

A busy summer at work meant that some weeks I was only getting in one and sometimes two runs from Monday to Friday.  I used the Tralee parkrun 5km on a Saturday morning to build up my speed. Early August took me into the Galtee mountains, two weeks after Courtmacsherry. A good workout with the feet well protected. I did my first 21 miler five weeks out from Berlin, running the first 10 miles at 8 minute/ mile pace and the second half around 3 minutes slower.
As I wasn't following a strict training plan, it felt as if I was just a bit lazy. I knew I had the strength to finish but I was worried would I break 3 hours 40.  I didn't want to run another 21 miler but I did need to get a really good long workout into the legs before I started tapering.  At the start of September, I walked 21 miles (33km) on the Sheep's Head Way in West Cork.  After 7 hours, admiring the stunning views, my legs were well tired but the feet were good. 

For the next three weeks, I took it easy, telling my self, I needed to rest.  I ran 6 times, covering around 50km but each of these runs was at comfortable 8 min/mile (5min/km) pace.

Before I knew it, it was marathon week. Conor and I headed to Shannon Airport on the Friday morning.  It was very evident that the majority of the passengers heading to Berlin that morning were going for the marathon. 
Stopping in to the expo to get out numbers on the way into the city meant that we would have Saturday to concentrate on rest (hopefully). It was absolutely massive and you could have spent a small fortune getting through the vast array of stands.

Saturday morning we took part in the 6km Breakfast run which finished at the Olympic stadium, along with about 10,000 others. In a city with such history, this was a special event with great colour and enthusiasm.  After a quick change at the hotel, it was time for more carbs.  It was nearly getting to the stage of ordering pasta and having a side order of pasta to wash it down.

After a recce of the Start Finish area at the Brandenburg gate, we witnessed the finish of the Mini-marathon for 12 to 17 year olds. Upwards of 10000 took part.  This was a city embracing the whole Marathon experience and the support was incredible. We also saw some of the 1000 inline skaters who completed the 26.2 route in under an hour.  Good roads mean good times and these athletes were good.

Even though Brendan and I didn't take up Conor's invite for the walking tour, my garmin had clocked up 20km since our early morning start.  Not ideal preparation for our big event in less than 24 hours.

Next up....

Marathon day

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Not quite running but Hills nonetheless :) and some music

Marathon Training in the Hills

After discovering the joys of hillwalking earlier in the year and the wonderful scenery that Kerry has to offer, I decided that it was time to check out Ireland's fourteenth Munro in Tipperary - Galtymore.
(A Munro being a peak or summit over 3000 feet).
Galtymore is Ireland's only inland Munro.

With just under a 2 hour journey, leaving a grey Tralee, I heard 'Lifted' by the Lighthouse Family for the first time in ages.  Would I be lifted today?

The Norwegians, had predicted a good clear day in Tipp. The spirits were good and I look forward to getting some work done, in preparation for my next marathon, without pounding the pavements.

I switched the Radio to 'Marty in the Morning' on Lyric FM. Maybe it's an age thing, but, hey, the music is good.  Hitting the county bounds, the greyness turned to wet as I drove Kishkeam and Boherbue. Had the Norwegians got the weather wrong or were these Cork boys just being Rebels?

Entering Mallow, Marty played Blue Skies by Ella Fitzgerald - and the sun broke through for the first time. Class.
And then a little further on 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning' from Gordon MacRae.

Today is going to be a good day.

Mountains and Sun
Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber had me nice and relaxed as I entered Ballyhoura Country.

Note to self. I must check out the Mountain Bike trails in Ballyhoura.

But Ballyhoura Country was playing on my mind. A country within a country? What are the citizens of Ballyhoura called? Ballyhoorians? Bally-hoors?

Anyway, before long, I was in Mitchelstown and heading towards the three counties village of Kilbeheny - given it proximity to Cork, Limerick and Tipperary.

The day was brightening up and the Galtee Mountains were in full view. I passed a small sign for the Galtymore climb but the one I was looking for was after the wonderfully named village of
 Skeheenarinky. Turning off the old Dublin - Cork road, I drove for three kilometres until I ran out of road - and reached a small car park.

Fair dues to these weather boys and girls, this was the view that greeted me when I stopped.  

The Knockmealdown mountains on the Tipperary Waterford Border.

And Galtymore straight ahead

All set to go..... before Marty played this from Ennio Morricone.  You can't beat a bit of Ennio Morricone.  - La Tenda Rossa.
I had to wait for the phone to fully charge but didn't complain when I had Michael Nyman's - The Heart Asks Pleasure First.  Just great.

A very rocky road lead me through a field,  before hitting the mountain trail.  It looked like I would have to pay a toll in order to pass.

What wonderful creatures!

The sandstone road, which was quite uneven continued for about 3km.  The views were just getting better as I traveled higher.

 South Tipp and Waterford


Then up ahead was Galtymore

Some more of the natives

The wooded area in this picture is the starting point for the first Galtymore climb signpost that I passed near Kilbeheny

And it leads more directly to the back of Galtymore

As I came to a fork in my rocky road, I headed for the Col between Galtymore and Galtybeg

What views await when I reach the ridge?

This is the Glen of Aherlow
Galtymore on the left, Galtybeg on the right and Cush in the middle distance

I headed left to Galtymore
Lough Diheen

 A precariously perched sheep
Looking across to Galtybeg

Of course, as I arrived at the top, so did the mist.  It wasn't cold so I waited for it to clear before heading across to climb Galtybeg.  The phone decided it had 'had enough' at this stage and went to sleep.
Still, wonderful views. so well worth it.  I will come back and climb it from the North side (Glen of Aherlow) soon.

A round trip of about 11km, with a break on top, took me about 4 hours.

Before I got back to the car, the phone decided it was now well rested and started working again.  Technology!!

Some pictures on the approach to Galtymore via the wooded area.

On my return to Tralee, it was off to Mazza to be fitted up for our appearance in the Rose of Tralee 10km on Sunday next.  A great evening's work.

And yes.  I was Lifted

What a great day!