Irish Mountain
Running Association

Wicklow Way Ultra


Johan DehantschutterJeff Fitzsimons

Johan Dehantschutter

I guess attempting an Ultra on a whim, having not performed any particular training for it, was never going to be a good idea but life is such that you don't always have a choice in those matters.

A week and a half before the Ultra, an opportunity arose and I went for it. After all, the best way to get a feel for something like this is to actually do it, is it not?

The only strategy I had was that I would walk the uphills and run/jog the flats and the downhills. I thought: what's the worth that can happen? If I get too tired, I'll just walk.. Unless I develop some really nasty blisters or hurt myself somehow, I'll finish this, and at least I'll have an idea of what it's really like and that will give me an edge when I attempt it for real next year.

I arrived at Johnny Foxes at 8am and there were already quite a few people there queuing to register. I joined the queue and listened. I heard that for a few people this was their first ultra, but the preparation had been going OK, and involved a number of marathons. I also recognised a number of seasoned IMRA ultra runners such as Paul Tierney, Adrian Tucker and Zoran Skrba. Around me there were a number of people who had travelled from Northern Ireland and from Scotland for the event. This is the time when I started thinking that I didn't belong there but I had come this far, I wasn't going to give up then.

It was a beautiful day and as I was applying sun cream a couple of people came over and asked me if they could borrow some as they hadn't really envisaged they might need some in late March.

A group of 8 or 9 people took the 8:30 early start but I decided to wait. I still needed to think a little bit about my gear and stretch a bit more. A number of people gathered for the 9 o'clock start and I joined them. A group of about 9 of us jogged off and as we were not breaking much of a sweat a few conversations started and were maintained as we headed towards Prince William Seat. I was chatting with a guy also doing his first Ultra and broke my first rule by jogging up the hill. Two third of the way up I remembered and slowed down to a walk letting the other guy take off. Once I reached Raven's rock, it was downhill all the way to Curtlestown and I let gravity do its thing. On the way down I passed 4 people from my little starting group and at a pace of less than 4 minutes per km, I was really flying. With hindsight not a great idea at all; I would have been much better off reining myself in.

From Curtlestown onwards I stuck to my strategy and took it easy. I hadn't wanted to rely on water stops so I was carrying my ubiquitous Camelbak full to the brim with a couple of litres of sports drink. I nevertheless grabbed a drink of water and half a banana at the Crone Wood water stop. I had been expecting to be passed by the top guys for a while now and Paul Tierney was the first to do so as I was going up Djouce. Curiously enough, I found going downhill harder than I expected.

I reached the half way mark, at Ballinastoe, after about 2 hours 45 minutes and was starting to feel a bit stiff. Once there, I refilled my Camelbak, had a quick chat with a friend of mine who was waiting to start the trail run, grabbed a sandwich and a banana and started walking back. Going up the board walk past the J.B. Malone Memorial, I started cramping and this was going to haunt me for the rest of the event. I moved to the side to let all the trail runners pass while I massaged the old thighs.

Going down the side of Djouce I was jogging stiffly until I was caught by a sudden cramp in the calf. My leg straightened unexpectedly as I was jumping over a rock, I tripped and fell flat on my face. I was very fortunate to land between rocks and on my hands. I stood back up and a number of kind runners enquired as to whether I was OK. I was grateful for their concern, yet, I wished they hadn't been there to see me take such an ungraceful tumble. Quick body check: no serious pains, just a couple of bloody, yet fully functional hands so no harm done and time to go again.

Going uphill after crossing the Dargle River I found the going extremely hard and slowed down to a very slow walk. I jogged and walked for the next 10 kilometres or so. Having reached the top of Prince William Seat, it was downhill all the way to Boranaraltry Bridge. At that point I thought I could still barely make it under 6 hours but then the big cramp that had been brewing for the last hour and a half occurred. My right thigh completely seized and I had to totally stop for about 10 minutes to stretch and when the pain finally started to ease, it was my left thigh which started to seize. To my great despair I had to walk most of the rest of the way, despite the fact that it was mostly flat or downhill. I still finished though and it was the most amazing experience; a well-earned Wicklow Way mug and a great day out.

Jeff Fitzsimons

The sun beat in through the window as I awoke on a glorious Saturday morning. I had packed my drop bags Friday evening but the sunshine looked ominous so I doubled to 2 the number of 250ml bottles of Orbana I had in the bag for Balinastoe, boy was I to be happy for that 4 hours later. I had two cups of strong coffee for breakfast, trying for the first time the empty stomach approach to racing which I’ve been trying in training recently. I subsequently had several trips to the loo. No fear of me carrying any excess weight to the start line that’s for sure!

The drive to the start was should have proven inspirational, Titanium blasting from the stereo, south Dublin and Wicklow shining like a diamond in the freakish March sunshine and generally it was hard not to feel like this was to be a great day. However the run in to the race had not been ideal, with sickness effecting me and calling a halt to running for a good ten day spell earlier in the month. So was the song on the radio a sign of things to come or an ironic chant to goad me into misplaced confidence, only the next 5 hours or so would tell if I was Titanium or tin foil.

There was a nice buzz around the start, the usual slagging, pronouncements of lack of form, cursing the weather, praising the weather etc. With little fuss we were away and running. I settled in just off the front pack, running in the footsteps of Adrian Tucker. We went through the first mile in about 7 minutes I think and as we hit the first climb I let Adrian gradually ease away, or rather he gradually eased away from me. So I was, as I had been at the Donadea 50 last month, running on my tod very early on. My current fitness and confidence levels have me not quick enough to hold onto the coat tails of the front group, and a little too strong/ambitious to accept sitting back with the next pack, so there I was, in glorious isolation in equally glorious sunshine.

My fuelling strategy, based on experience and recent discussions with Barry Murray had been as follows. Carry a 250ml bottle of Orbana from the start with a Nakd bar to have for breakie about 30 minutes in. I then had two bottles at both Crone & Balinastoe, with 2 gels at Crone and one at Balinastoe. So as I climbed towards Prince Willies I scoffed the bar and carried on.

John Paul Daly, I think, passed me on the climb and from around there to the turn around I swapped places with Keiran Collins a good bit. I had a bit of a tumble descending down to the river at Knockree but could run off the tightness in my left calf that presented afterwards. Into Crone I just grabbed my bottle and kept moving, having given my empty from the first leg to someone at Curtlestown, thank you for accepting my rubbish so graciously.

Climbing out of Crone I had a bit of a chat with Keiran. On a few weeks holidays he was running the Connemara Ultra the following weekend, he’s a hardy buck. I also noticed how dry it was around Djouce, that would make the descending on the way back a lot easier in the Inov8 f-lites I was wearing. Shoe choice on this route is tough, you want some grip, but nothing too aggressive and the f-lites proved perfect. Hitting the JB Malone memorial I suggested Keiran soak up the view out across Lough Tay, it really is awesome. As we ran down into the turn around we met the front runners on their way back up. I shouted gaps to the man ahead at those I knew and made Balinastoe in about 2:18 myself. I had a best case scenario goal of 4:30, so I was slightly off that but was pretty sure I’d be closer to 4:45 given what remained and how I was feeling.

Again, I wasted no time turning around, having given an empty to Vivian earlier, does this man ever not help out at a race? Threw a gel into me with a bottle of Orbana as I started the slog back uphill. I again gave the empty to Vivian, almost managing to throw it into his plastic bag. It’s the little things that entertain you when slogging in the hills for 5 hours you know. As I began the climb of the steps back to the memorial I was hit with some leg cramping which slowed me down just as I was seeing John Paul ahead. I did a quick assessment and decided to have the extra Orbana I was carrying. I carried on upwards, letting the odd shout ahead to the groups of scouts walking the boardwalk, they were all very obliging in standing aside. Credits to their parents and scout guides, one or two adults I met along the route could learn a thing or two from them for sure, but sobeit. Starting to contour around Djouce the trail leaders began passing, how I longed to move as freely as they did. Amidou passed with his usual jovial spirit, I can’t say the same for his coach, Rene, who passed a fellow clubman with not so much as a howya, race face or wha! :)

Damien Kelly flew by, Mick Hanney flew by, apparently doing a roving mandatory kit check as he went. I was on the climb back up from the Dargle by Powerscourt when cramp set in again. John Aherne passed, I was at a low point. If he’d offered petrol and matches I would have gladly burned all my running kit there and then and walked home au naturel. For the section between 30 and 40 km I felt miserable and was actively planning my retirement from running. Seeing very recent 2nd time dad Cormac doing some mid race babysitting brought things into perspective a little however, but only for a while.

Out of Crone, final stretch, come on Jeff, get an effing move on. Then Tim Chapman passes at Knockree. Ah jaysus, I’m going backwards. This is his first ultra, what are you doing Jeff, he’s going well but you can do better. Or can you? The doubts creep in even more. Then, hold on, what’s this, Zoran, coming back towards us? This was the turning point mentally for me, I remembered what I already knew. Running ultras is about how you deal with the lows probably more than anything else. So I stuck with Tim for a bit until we ran into Curtlestown together. I downed a few cups of water and grabbed some banana. Someone calls my name, it’s Suzanne Kenny. Wearing her rain jacket, in this heat. Mick Hanney must have given out to her! :) She says “wait for me”, I say “are you mad, woman?”

As I start the trek out of Curtlestown I tell Tim I am giving it one more push and that he’ll pass me on the downhill. I had been climbing reasonably all day but Tim looked very strong on the descents, so I thought I might as well plough on while I could. I shocked myself by running the vast majority of the climb, finding energy and form from somewhere but I was glad of it. I passed John Paul around here I think, just before turning of the fireroad onto the rockier path through the felled trees. I kept motoring, ran down the fireroad pretty steady. Jason Kehoe was on the final sharp climb on the road, by the farmyard, complete with camera for photo evidence of my shocking running form. His encouragement spurred me on, until I was out of earshot when my pace slowed a little again. Along the road I checked over my shoulder a few times, I think my position was safe. I usually finish strongly but this was no day for a sprint finish over a minor placing.

So that was that, all that was left was to analyse, pontificate on how things could have been different, congratulate and generally enjoy not racing. Because 4 hours 52 minutes and 16 seconds is a long time to be racing.