Natalie's 40 Mile Stroll in Connemara
I can say now, I was pretty nervous about this one.
Not only had I decided to run further than I've ever run before, but
also on quite a tough course (if you do the 1/2 marathon you need to
add about 10 mins to your usual time, and Marathon possibly a bit
more). My reasoning for doing this was that I wanted to do something
a bit different, and I loved (even though it was bloody HELLISH) the
1/2 Marathon last year. It also provides a good excuse to go over to
Ireland, a country that seems to bring luck to my running and have a
little bit of a holiday. So really, everything since last October
onwards was about building base for this event, and I actually
entered the Disney Goofy thing after I'd entered Connemara because I
thought a 13.1 + 26.2 combo would be a good stage to get to in
training by January.
The week before this event, preparation included sitting on my
backside and eating, with a little bit of running thrown in. I also
had to go and shop for items because at a race of this length you
need a bit more fuel and probably won't be able to carry the amount
of "stuff" that you need. I obsessively watched the weather
forecast. Predicition: flippin' boiling. Great. Well I actually
packed a Helly Hansen thermal and some gloves just in case (let's
not forget this is Ireland we are talking about).
The Connemara Ultramarathon starts just up from Maam Cross in the
Connemara National Park, and is basically a large loop. There is
also the Marathon which starts at the 13.1 mile mark of the Ultra,
and the 1/2 Marathon which starts at the 26.2 mark of the Ultra/13.1
mile mark of the Marathon, so all runners finish at the same point.
The Irish races are really good at encouraging slower runners and
walkers, and there are also starts for the Marathon and Half
Marathon walkers. It is a large and superbly organized event.
So in the week I prepared and got my stuff together. I guess we all
know what works for us, and rather than take an actual picnic, I had
opted to just have gels, powerade and viper bars, with a view to
maybe having some salty crisps if I fancied it. I also went and got
small pots of Vaseline, divided up a pack of compeed, and purchased
some tiny bottles of sun block. That way I could go round knowing if
for some reason I got a blister, or started to sunburn I would
probably not have to wait too long before I could get something to
deal with it.
A nice Irish chap who I've met at a few Irish races got me some
Powerade from NI over the border, as I wasn't sure if somewhere as
exotic as ROI would have it! Turns out they did but better safe than
We flew out on Friday to Galway, and the initial stresser was that
the plane was 2h late taking off because of "Technical Problems" -
not with our plane though - we got told by an elderly Irish lady
that her previous plane to Waterford had attempted to take off twice
and they had then decided it was best not to try a 3rd time! I think
if that had been my plane I would have had a nervous breakdown.
I had decided, since this may be the only time I will EVER run this
far (watch this space, hahaha) to book a really nice hotel, the
Radisson in Galway. It was really really swish, and had a comfy bed
and chairs which is exactly what I wanted. I was initially a bit
worried it would be noisy, but the hotel gave us a quiet room, which
had a lovely view of a loch. There seemed to be a party going on
when we checked in, a load of accountants celebrating the end of the
tax year - panic over they didn't look like they would be up all
night being noisy.
We found last years pasta restaurant that we ate in, which had, in
the past week, moved. Gah! Fortunately some women who knew where
they were going had made the same mistake so we followed them for
Carb loading meal #1. The meal was lovely, and people in the
restaurant were very trusting when they forgot to tell us their card
machine had broken... we had booked for the Saturday and got told
just to pay it all together the next evening. Do that in England and
you would never see the customer again!
Saturday I didn't really do a lot, for one thing it was too hot, and
I didn't want to be out all day in the sun, dehydrating myself and
walking about, so we just whizzed over to get the race numbers, did
a bit of shopping, ate, drunk lots of water and and that was it.
There are some nutters out there who do the race directors
invitational marathon on Saturday, if we'd had the means I would
have gone out there to watch it, to at least remind myself of the
course and view the bits I hadn't seen or even offered help. Maybe
next time. Saturday night, we did turn up (!) and eat at the pasta
place for Carb load #2 like the saddos we are, and paid the double
I got a decent nights sleep on Saturday night (I always take
earplugs to hotels these days just in case), and was up at 5.30
eating Weetabix out of a mug with a teaspoon, as posh hotel or not
it didn't seem to offer a breakfast that early. I got to the
Cathedral, met my Irish friend and a couple of guys I know from the
100 Marathon Club. It was nice to be surrounded by familiar faces,
even if I wasn't saying a lot I was grateful they were just around,
and I somehow felt less nervous than at some of the really big
We got bussed to the Hotel at Maam Cross near the start, and I
dropped my goodie bags off in the 10, 19 and 29 mile boxes, thought
this was a nice even spread for fuelling without actually having to
carry too much at once.
We stood and listened to the race briefing, which was basically "If
you get a choice - turn right". We then had the short bus ride up
the course, starting a mile before the actual finish, and I was
there thinking "well the next time I see this......I'll be f*cked or
in an ambulance". Connemara didn't have any sunshine at 9am, but was
rather misty and humid instead.
In the first 0.25 miles I made friends with a couple of ladies, and
we started out jogging along together. I was a bit worried that they
would drag me off too fast, or I would somehow hinder them, but
after a short conversation of basically "I'll do my own thing go on
ahead if I'm too slow" we seemed to just all stay together.
I have to say it made the miles just fly by, and as has happened in
other races I've run with others, I think we were amusing people
with our incessant chattering. The scenery at Connemara is
beautiful; mountains, trees, flowing rivers, little churches, so
much to look at and talk about. Before we knew it, we were
approaching 10 miles. At this point we met a German lady who asked
us "whereabouts do they hand out the food?" and after a few checks
we had understood her properly, it turned out she had brought
nothing at all, assuming all food was provided. We opened our food
bags which had been lovingly laid out on the tables, and put our
leftovers on the table for the runners behind. Spookily my new best
friends had also dropped their food parcels at 10,19 and 29. Great
At 13 miles, we started to see the debris at the side of the road
indicating where the marathon started, abandoned jumpers and bin
bags to be picked up later. Looking back at my Garmin we hit the
13.1 point in about 2:12/13. The little alarm bell in my head went
off - "only" a marathon to go, I was cruising and felt ok mindful of
just how long it was to go.
The middle miles after this were a bit more hilly, but with the ups
came the nice downs. We talked to a man who was running with a chest
infection - he didn't sound too good, but ultimately he was in
better shape than the lady he was trying to raise money for to send
to Lourdes. Even at this stage we seemed to be more "overtaking"
than "overtaken", it was starting to dawn on me that we might be
doing ok on this steady pacing.
As well as the spectacular rock formations, we ran past fields of
lambs, little houses, farms and also a church with a big sign
outside it "STOP AND PRAY"... well Amen to that. We stopped at the
19 mile food station and this time I ate a viper bar. A few photos
and we were motoring again.
There was a lovely downhill at 25/26 and a lovely view of the water
near the 1/2 marathon start, then comes that magic 26.2 point and we
went through in 4.25, so second 13.1 was done in... well 2:12/13!
Now we were on the part of the course that I knew. Not sure if that
was a good or bad thing...
The weather had been fairly kind so far in terms of no sunshine, but
we seemed at times to be running in very warm mist/cloud and now the
sweat was rolling off. Thanks to the organization we had plenty of
water and come the marathon point I was feeling ok. However it was
at about 27 was when my head daemons kicked in, I said to the ladies
"I feel like I'm really panicking", and we had a little chat about
it. I have done a 30 before (JW) but I think I had spooked myself
when I thought of running so far past marathon distance, worrying if
I could do it.
The ladies calmed me down. We carried on up the first big hill that
the half marathoners do off of the start, albeit having slowed in
pace as the sun really came out strong. It was here we started to
catch up with some of the Marathon walkers, and as this year we had
labels on our backs "ULTRA MARATHONER" it was nice to get support
and cheers from the folks on the course. On we plodded. The last
13.1 is definitely tough, and I was pleased to see the 29 mile food
We stopped again to eat and stretch, and what else can I say, we
went off and just kept going. We got to the "Hell of the West" (very
steep long hill) at about 37 miles and decided that power walking up
would conserve energy, so that is what we did, and we were still
overtaking (everyone else was walking, we were just walking a lot
faster). As soon as it flattened out we were off, and managed a
9.30mm as a last full mile and 9:00mm pace for the last bit.
Actually the whole thing, apart from where there was a food station
or a really severe hill was run at a really consistent pace. It was
coming off of the Hell of the West that I first got an idea of what
time we were in for.
Although I had been looking at my Garmin for keeping pace, I'd
literally been taking it a mile at a time and had no idea of the
bigger picture. It was at this point it dawned on me that I would be
on for a sub 7.... 7 hours was a target I had in my mind but hadn't
dared to hope. So as we ran along getting closer and closer to that
hotel at the finish.
We went over the finish mat feeling strong and I was over the moon
to have done 6.52. Better than I hoped for. What a stunning,
stunning event. I could and still cannot believe I have run for
almost 7 hours. (The photo of me on the finish line with thumbs up
sums up the joy / slight disbelief “any minute I will wake up” !!)
Afterwards, we had lots of hugs and congratulations, Lee was there
and the girls' families were there and we went to collect our
t-shirts and medals, and more importantly I wanted FOOD - I saw the
100 clubbers over in the corner lurking by the Tuna Sandwiches and
much to their amusement bounced over to them excited about what I
had done. They had done some really cracking times and were all
I found it quite hard to eat my sandwich when I got it, but for
recovery sake managed it, and after a huge queue in traffic on the
bus to get back to Galway, I was pleased to get back to the hotel
and assess the 'damage'. In reality there wasn't much - legs felt
ok, no blisters but some slightly tender pressure points on feet,
some slight topping up of the tan lines and one slightly chafed
It was nice just to flop in the comfy chair and not be wearing
trainers. Having looked at my watch afterwards in actual fact, if
you take out stops for stuffing our faces with viper bars I did
6.39, which is pretty close to my Disney Goofy Challenge total
(without a day’s rest in between!).
How did I do it? Proper training, fantastic guidance, patience and
dedication to get out there and do it. The training going well gave
me the mental attitude on the day I could do it.
We went out to the Marathon 10 year anniversary "Do" in the evening,
although it was at this stage being in such a rush to do things I
almost fainted. I had not really had much food since the tuna
sandwich, and I felt a bit ill while we were standing around before
I had a sit down and Lee brought me some emergency peanuts and I
felt a bit better. Soon the old Irish Stew/Bacon and Cabbage was
brought out and I felt much much better, but once I ate and had 1
pint of Guinness I felt so tired I had to call it an evening and
head back. The rock and roll life of an Ultrarunner.
Due to the only flight back being at 09:50 on Monday and back to
work Tuesday I haven't had much time to relax, but over the coming
few days/weeks I shall try to look after myself and make sure I get
everything I need for a good recovery.
I am so grateful to
everyone who has helped me train for this, providing coaching
support, emotional support and the folks that I run with at the
club. I AM going to have a rest before I decide what to do next, but
perhaps getting to work on some of my old shorter distance PBs is a