03 July, 2018We were looking forward to this race weekend so much that we based our summer holidays around it (one hillrun each, a parkrun for Orla and a race the previous weekend for me - nothing for the kids! ) and so in one sense we arrived 1 week early for the race into Mayo.
In the more important actual literal sense we arrived for the race with about one minute to spare. Mad Ted. My fault. Orla did the Parkrun in Westport, I got the boys ready, I was thinking this is grand, we've loads of time. Coffee time! Coffee is good for racing I have read. So we had a lovely coffee in the town in the quirky little cafe there. Out to the car, wondering how come the time is now 12.25 but sure it's all good. FLAT battery! Whoopsy...my fault,a cabin light on for the 2 days since we used the car last.
Panic ensued and a very stressed German tourist lady (she had crashed her other rental car the day before) insisted we use her car to jump start mine. I have jump leads as this happens with 3 year olds
:) And we were off!
Still not terrible, the time was only about 12.35 and we were OK. Well, the early beach goers were all leaving, the late beach goers were all arriving, the road into the beach was indeed a bit tight in places and Conor in his fancy rear facing childseat gets sick if I give it welly into corners. We had to stop to let cars pass a few times, 8 places to be precise but sure with all the stops I got to get undressed and put my race trail shoes on and by the time we got to the carpark the runners were walking out of the carpark to the start.
Still, I knew the German lady had claimed the stressed badge for the day so I went with continued mild panic. And I needed to pee. And sign on.
Eoin and Daniela kindly waited and then we were off. I was admiring all the lovely neat rainjackets on people and realised I lacked such sartorial elegance so took a quick detour to the car and got the jacket.
After all that the race was a pleasure. With no warm up and all the mild panic I took it handy to start and gradually deployed the Bernard approach after the legs registered the arrival of blood to the flow. Paul Mahon shouted at me as I passed him, a few others laughed at my wild late arrival and I had a bit of a chat with Robbie Bryson, back to racing after a 3 year absence and apparently not expecting anything. Unsurprisingly he started moving through the field once the going got steeper. I made sure to take a good few looks behind at the landmarks for the way down as I didn't want to end up in the knarled ground.
With free route choice to the summit lads soon exploded onto many different lines. I stuck with following Robbie as he's a legend and sure enough he headed up for some cliffs and not the saddle. I hadn't brought my climbing shoes so detoured left around the cliffs and gained the ridge. I think it was quicker then the saddle but slower then just staying behind Robbie.
I was counting off the lads coming back against me and then I was at the top, hiya Rachel, thanks Karen. I had found the climb hard, couldn't keep up with either Robbie or another fella and was looking forward to the descent. I started to head down to the saddle and passed a couple of lads but the lads ahead went into the steeper ground so like a good little sheep lemming I followed them. It worked out OK, very steep though.
A bit lower down and back into the fold of the river and Robbie isn't too far ahead. Then the mist band at about 400m and I couldn't see anyone. I headed off rightwards as I really didn't want to go too far left/low and miss the path. Out of the mist, not quite gorilla like, and started to see my landmarks. Weyhey! did OK on the navigation, for a change. One lad ahead and I was starting to catch him when the messages that my legs had been sending couldn't be ignored anymore and I couldn't hold the pace and I fell and all of a sudden I wasn't catching him anymore and indeed I was myself passed. Boo.
The road section was a living purgatory and then thankfully the finish line arrived, just before Robbie and another lad who had been catching me quickly. I really wanted to walk on the road section. It's amazing how tired you can get.
A great great event, thanks so much to Eoin, Daniela, Karen and all the helpers. The dip in the sea after was lovely.
We then got a puncture on the way back to Westport. Very very lucky really to get to the race at all.
Orla ran Nephin and sure it was a great weekend all round.
Its Not About The Run
02 July, 2018 - Barry MurrayPart 1
The Connaught Champs weekend is a weekend like no other. I don't want to big it up too much in fear of it “selling out” but since I like writing stories, here goes !
Driving up from Kerry in 31C heat was a bit of a camel trek. You tend to think living out west means you are close to other places in the west, but you can be traveling longer than those departing from the other side of the country. As we approached Westport around 8pm, the temperature was still 28C, so with the stunning views of clewbay and Croagh Patrick it was like another world. Remembering a nice bistro place past the marina that I went to with the Bell brothers the previous year, I stopped off here again , this time with the lady. A nice way to start the weekend, good food, sitting outside looking across the bay. A few km's out past Croagh Patrick and we landed in the picturesque spot of Old Head. The campsite is situated just a few mins walk from the beach/harbour of Old Head which in the heat was like a tropical paradise.
We pitched the tent and a good few of the IMRA folk were already settling in sitting out on the grass tucking into a few beers. It was 10pm, everyone in shorts and t-shirt, cooler boxes to the fore. Amazing the contrast to various other IMRA events and just your own camping experiences in Ireland so its such a pleasure. A few of the gang then headed off to the local for the traditional friday night pints before the big race. The rest of us stayed around the campsite and other late arrivals set up camp , close to midnight. A long day for most people so there wasn't too much partying to be done and sleep was preferred option.
A balmy sunrise had most of us up in the early hours. Myself and Mary grabbed our towels and the kettle and hit the beach for an early morning swim. It was 7.30am and must have already been 20C. Lots of pinch yourself moments with this heatwave. With the race start at 1.30pm, there was a long morning to kill. We got a few swims in and then later in the morning cooked out on the beach. Eggs, black pudding and some homemade porridge bread made a nice brunch. Back on the campsite, Justin in his old VW camper, had the stove out making pancakes topped with nutella for a more continental twist. People then started to pack up around midday and the race atmosphere started to develop. I had never done Mweelra before or even visited it before so was looking forward to the new adventure. A beautiful drive out west through the quaint village of Louisburgh brings you to an edge of the earth location. Blue atlantic, white sanded beaches, and green grassy imposing peaks. With the previous day of 31C, it still felt hot, but thankfully the temperature was 23-24C. It has to one of the most picturesque registration locations, a carpark right beside the white sanded beach, looking up towards the summit of Mweelra.
There was a big IMRA turnout with the carpark already full with 45mins still before the race start. With these championship races, especially if you don't know the route, its very hard to know what to expect of yourself and how to predict the race. With the league races, you know the course is marked, you may have done the route before and there are the usual heads that you race against regularly. The championship races are not marked, are up higher mountainsand more “off piste” , with a broader selection of runners from around the country. So lots more of unknowns.
Got the stove out and kettle boiling out the back of the car for a fresh coffee brew. A nice pre race kicker. Managed to get a little warm up in and some strides to open up the legs. As we then gathered for the race briefing , a quick look around showed a good number of experienced and fast legs. As RD Eoin gave the briefing , some very late arrivals added to the mix with Sean Quirke and Peter O Farrell literally running from the cars 30seconds before the start !
Off we went as it was a fairly calm start as we jogged up the road section. I guess this was the calm before the storm as we all knew the going was going to get tough. I stayed at the front with Brian Furey, young Naoise, and Newcastle Ac man Colm Murtagh. The pace was fine for me so I just said to myself I would try to stick to the front guys for as long as the climb as I can. After the road, we veered off to a gravel path. I was right on the heels still of Brian and the others, with Sean Quirke and Brian Mullins beside me. I didn't see my old adversary John Bell so I knew I must have been going a bit better than normal . Even though it was hot, I was feeling good..... it was over a week of heatwave weather so I think the body had adapted somewhat by this stage. Something to do with Heat Shock Proteins, but I won't bother getting technical here.
Anyway, after the gravel path we are sent through a gate into the open mountain. Myself and John had spoken to Joe Lawlor just before the start , and one thing he recommended was to look back on the gate when you go through it so that you can eyeball a marker for when you are descending. I did this and I lined up the gate with a big white walled bungalow house directly behind it.
So off up the open mountain. The first bit is not too steep.... grassy knolls but we were able to run most of it. The first sort of marker is a ravine that you can kind of hand rail up. I remember there was talk of either going up the saddle or going directly up. This is where there was some divide in the front runners. I just stayed with Brian Furey who I though had done it before or won it before, with Naoise and Colm just ahead. To my right, Brian Mullins and 1-2 others seemed to drift off. This is where Championship races get confusing or exciting, whichever was you want to look at them.
So the climb gradually gets steeper as you go up the ravine. I was still just back from Brian Furey, and was climbing with Sean Quirke. I know Sean from the Munster races and he has finished ahead of me in every race we've done together so I knew if I could just stay with him I'd be doing alright. He was one of the late arrivals and it turned out he had spent a couple of hours extra in the car trying to find the place ! So not ideal preparation for him, but everyone has there curveballs to deal with.
As we approched the saddle, the climbing got tough, rocky shale and steep. Hands on the knees stuff. Also, it was a sort of sheltered spot and there was a dead heat. Henry Brown caught up with myself and Sean and the 3 of us ploughed up. Brian and moved a bit further away from us and was closing in on Naoise and Colm. More climbing and we eventually got to the col where there was some rocky sections to jump through. One last climb then up to the summit and suddenly we see some others converging. They had taken the direct route and it seemed they got a little ahead as it was a shorter route but steeper. So it was Naoise, Colm and Brian Furey ahead, with myself and Henry not far back. Brian Mullins was one who took the direct route and was just ahead of us. I said I would start counting when I saw Brian Furey coming back down to see how far he actually was. Turned out it was 30-40secs. I turned around the summit where summit marhsall Karen was bravely manning her post. From here I wasn't too sure what to do. I had Henry and Brian Mullins just ahead of me. Sean Quirke had dropped off a bit behind me. I couldn't see where Naoise, Colm and Brian Furey had gone.
So I just got my running legs going again on the descent, would loved to have stopped and taken in the views as they are specatulor, thanks to those who did stop and take pics ! I followed Brian and Henry, thinking that they probably know where they are going. They are both good steep descenders so they got a bit ahead of me. I could still see them so followed there tracks. We ended up taking the direct route down, which involved this almost vertical descent down a rocky gulley, I slid down some of it on my arse. At the bottom, it brought us out onto the open mountain and I just aimed for Henry who was wearing a blue top. I couldn't see Brian Mullins at this stage and his downhill skills helped him. I couldn't see Naoise, Colm or Brian Furey anywhere so was wondering what happened to them. The descent down the mountain and by the ravine is runnable enough although lots of jumps to do over grassy mounds. I was trying to keep my pace up but was catching back up with the lads. I had one or two quick glances behind and didn't see anyone. I then hit low cloud and started cursing it. The view went and I couldn't see where I was going. I sort of just went with my own sense of direction and thankfully as I came out of it, I could see the bungalow house that I marked at the start of the run. I lined my run up with this and made good ground without veering of course. Got to the gate and remembered the 1km or so of road running left to do ! Normally I like this fast sort of finish but the legs were hurting at this stage and the thirst was growing too. I managed to keep going and didn't want to get by Sean Quirke who I knew wasn't that far behind me.
Crossed the line and didn't see too many runners around. It's the first sign that you did well, when its quiet at the finish ! Just saw Brian Mullins and Henry. A couple of minutes later, Brian Furey arrived in followed by Naoise and Colm. Turned out they didn't take the direct route down and went more or less back down along the saddle. A quick check with RD Eoin and I was 3rd place. I guess if Brian, Naoise and Colm had of taken the same route as us, it would have placed me 6th. But thats all part of championship races and I have gone wrong myself more times than I have gone right.
A few hours later ;-), John Bell crossed the line and didn't look his normal together self. He was immediately looking to collapse in the shade so I brought him back to the refreshments table where he got a hit of coke and an umbrella ! Old man Paul Mahon, celebrating his ½ centuary , had a good finish as seems to be getting faster with age. Tom Blackburn was also one of those who didn't take take the more direct line and seemed to veer of course. Becky was first lady home with another good win. Another few hours later ;-), the other Bell brothers came in , with the younger Kev almost catching the speedier Peter.
Plenty of cold drinks and a mountain of sandwiches were kindly provided by Daniella and crew. Myself and Mary headed down to the sea for a cool down and a beer on the beach with the Bells. Not a bad way to recovery. I heard there was prize giving so ran back up to the car park... my first championship medal so had to collect ! Was actually feeling okay and still able to run... so happy that I was set up nicely for the bbq.
That sets me up for Part 2 of this story. But Mweelra was a blast and an amazing part of the country to be in with the heat. Hats off again to RD Eoin and crew, summit marhall Karen and everyone who makes this CC happen. But its not just about the run ;-)