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Natalies 40 Mile Stroll

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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 sorry.

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 bill.

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 events.

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 minds eh?

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 station.

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 smiles too.

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 bingo wing.

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 the meal.

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 good start.


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Site Last modified: January 29, 2016