Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dublin marathon pace-runner: October 2010

On 25 October 2010, I took to the streets of Dublin as a pace-maker for the Dublin Marathon. The conditions were perfect: no wind, blue sky, and approximately 8 degrees. I was not yet recovered from Berlin Marathon, so it was too soon to race. But I had previously agreed to help out as a pacer for the Dublin marathon organiser. I had plenty of mates running, and was keen to get out on the course with them in any capacity.

My job was to set the pace for a 2 hour 59 minute marathon (6:52 minute miles, or 4:16 min/km) all the way from start to finish. The idea is that runners who are aiming to break three hours for the marathon, can use me as a pacing guide throughout the race (in the absense of a pacer, many people tend to start marathons too fast). I'm also there to encourage people along the way. I had a massive red helium balloon (over a metre in diametre) tied to my wrist, and a sign in my other hand reading 3:00.

Pacing a marathon is the best possible way to witness all of the emotional and physical highs and lows of a marathon. As a pace runner, you can be immersed in the intensity of the challenge, with all the sportsmanship and camaraderie that goes with it. But unlike the other marathon competitors, you can fully appreciate the buzz of the event without being distracted by your own pain and suffering. The most rewarding moment off all for a pacer is reaching the finish line. It is exhilarating to see first-hand the sense of euphoria and exhaustion that fellow runners experience upon nailing a marathon.

All was going to plan for me until the 8 mile mark, when my oversized red balloon was defeated by overhanging foliage in a wooded section of Phoenix Park. The ‘BOOM’ that resonated through the trees was awarded with a jovial round of applause from the three hour bunch, who were apparently still energetic at this early stage in the race. Fortunately I also had a hand-held sign that would now become our most valuable signaling prop. Unfortunately, the sign was fairly modest in proportions compared with the balloon. It dawned on me that performing my pacing duties effectively for the remaining 18 miles was going to involve elevating the sign above my head - like so:

By the half-marathon mark, both of my arms were wrecked, and I started noticing smiley kids holding bunches of small helium balloons. If only I could secure one: I could tie it to my wrist as a replacement balloon, and then turn my focus completely back to nailing the 6:52 mile splits. But I didn’t have time to stop and negotiate with a spectator for the release of a balloon, so my only option was to poach one from an unsuspecting small child. I considered this for several miles, before dismissing the idea on the basis that doing so would not being in the spirit of the event.

As the somewhat diminished three-hour pack approached the finish line at Merrion Square with 2 hours 59 minutes on the clock, it struck me as being rather ironic that my arms felt like they were about to drop off. In some ways, dead arms were a welcome distraction from the aching legs. I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of pride for the lads who had stuck with us throughout the morning, and had achieved their goals.

This was a great day out in Dublin. We proceeded to follow up the running marathon with a marathon pub crawl session around Dublin throughout the afternoon and evening.

Monday, December 13, 2010

3rd Annual Wicklow Way Santa Ultra 2010

While the good people of Dublin battled hoards of bargain hunters on Saturday morning in search of Christmas gifts, four hard core shopping procrastinators hit the snowy Wicklow Mountains for the annual Wicklow Way Christmas Ultra run. The route follows a 52km mountain trail from Glendalough (deep in the Wicklow Mountains) to Taylors Three Rock Pub at the foot of the Dublin Mountains.

Paul Mahon and Rene Borg descending along the WW with Roundwood in the background

The concept was initially thought up in 2008 when a kiwi mate and multisporter, Gavin Lloyd, and I decided that an ultra distance 'fun-run' would be a good way to engineer a suitable calorie deficit before Christmas. Now in it's 3rd year, the event has not yet failed to provide hostile and demanding wintery conditions.

This year the crew was made up of Paul Mahon, Eamonn Hodge, Richard Nunan, and myself. Eamonn and Richard were both first-time participants in the run, and were keen to prove a point after I purposefully suggested last week that Paul was the only Irishman tough enough to make the distance. We were joined for the first stage by Rene Borg and Aoife Joyce, who provided some helpful moral support upon turning around after an hour - "we'll think of ye lads when we're sitting in front of a fire in half an hour drinking hot soup"

Myself, Eamonn, Paul, Richard, and Rene: still fresh, at the foot of Scarr Mountain

Next was a road section at the foot of Scarr. We were hoping to make up some lost time after being slowed by a snowy section. But instead of hitting the usual potholed pavement, we found that the road had turned into an ice sheet! Unfortunately we hadn't thought to bring our ice skates, so we tentatively took to the ice in our running shoes and adopted an unstylish penguin waddle as we maneovered along the treacherous road.

Jase trying to stay upright on the road section above Lough Tay

Djouce mountain is tough, even in the summer. This is the highest and most exposed section on the route, at 700m above sea level. This year we reached Djouce mountain after 2.5 hours. The weather was accommodating, but the snow was deeper than previous years. On the one hand, trying to run over a mountain in knee-deep snow can be quite fun. On other other hand, it is slow going, and we had 27km still to cover before sun-down.

Paul struggling in knee deep snow on Djouce Mountain

By the time we reached Curtlestown (34km, 4 hours), we were pining for a hot meal and a pint of Guinness. Eamonn had made the mistake of mentioning Fish'n'chips hours before in a moment of weakness, and the thought had since lodged itself in my mind. The patience starts to wane after stumbling along snowy trails for hours on end. Every footstep seems to slip laterally, or backwards. So much effort required per yard gained. Normally the downhill and flat sections would be a welcome respite from the climbing. But in the snow, every gradient feels like uphill. At this stage I'm wishing that we'd just entered a 5k Santa run in Phoenix Park.

Five hours and 40km after leaving the car behind in Glendalough car park, we were descending towards Glencullen, dangerously close to Johnny Foxes (the highest pub in Ireland). We overcame temptation as we hit enjoyed a clear run on the final short road section, before attacking the final ascent up to fairy castle summit (570 metres).

Finally with 6 hours 10 minutes running time on the clock, we collapsed through the doors of Taylors Three Rock Pub in South Dublin. Although we were an hour slower than previous years, we were stoked to have overcome the deep snow and ice to finish at all! Another successful Glendalough Santa run in the bag.