Friday, May 29, 2009

The Burren Marathon

It's been a shit week. And I really wanted to rant quite a lot tonight. But then I read THIS interview with Cynthia Brochman and thought WTF do I have to complain about? Amazing, amazing lady.

Before the week started to go downhill I had intended to post about last weekend's race. So now that I am over my feeling sorry for myself spell (at least temporarily) I'll give the download...

I was excited to be running a marathon in Ireland again. Especially this one with approx. half of it off-road. The Burren area is a huge (300 sq km - huge by Irish standards) area of wilderness. It is a karst limestone region in the north west corner of Co Clare, in Ireland and made this pretty neat list of unique destinations.

But perhaps the best way to describe it is to borrow a well worn unattributed quote...

"The Burren. Where there are no trees to hang a man. Where there is not enough water to drown him. And if you finally succeeded in killing him, it's too rocky to bury him."

Unfortunately, there was plenty of water to drown a few runners last Saturday. Or at least enough to ensure we all looked like drowned rats within a few miles. And when the drizzle did finally stop, there was more than enough on the ground to keep us nice and soggy. The again it's the West of Ireland in May. Summer - maybe a week in July or August - or more likely September when the kids are back in school - is still a long way off.

We started out from the pier in the small picturesque town of Ballyvaughan. Mum and I had travelled down the night before as it's about a 2.5hr drive from home. We met Dee about 15 mins before the start and headed over to join the crowd. Brendan Gleeson, the award winning actor, said a few rousing words to send us on our way. Apparently he'd been on hand for course set-up also...

All 3 races, the 10K, half marathon, and full marathon, started off together - on the main road out of town for about 3 miles and then turned off onto a small country road. Soon after the 10K walkers and runners - approx 500 of them - peeled off to the right as the rest of us continued. Dee and I ran together keeping a 7:40ish pace those first few miles then slowing down a bit as we found ourselves on the first of several "green roads"... where there was a lot more brown mud that green grass! There were about 700 in the half and maybe half that in the full. In only the second year running the field has doubled. Many walkers participate in all three distances as the race is organized by the local walking club and the Burren Way, which we followed for much of the race, is a very popular walking trail.

Along here Dee got chatting to Johnny Donnelly of The Sawdoctors fame but more importantly an avid marathon runner raising money for a great cause. Check out his website. Dee signed up with him to run the Dublin Marathon this October so it was cool that she got to meet him in person. Soon after the half marathoners continued along the front ridge while we headed left and up across more dirt trails and bog roads. I was running with a bunch of lads, a few others not too far ahead, assuming there were plenty more ahead out of sight. Before long the few in front of us came to a stop at a cross-roads in the middle of the bog. Hmm... after a few moments deliberation we took a left and were relieved to see the mile 7 marker soon after. Phew. I had heard quite a few got lost the year before.

The next section was really muddy so I was completely destroyed by the time we reached the paved road and the next water stop. I had to laugh - the next several water stops were basically an ould fella sitting on the boot of his car with a few large bottles of water, a stack of cups, and a box of fruit and chocolate. Great supplies to be fair but it would have been nice if the water bottles were open and maybe even a few cups filled. But we helped ourselves anyway and off we went - after being told we were the leaders! Funny... myself and Mike from Co. Mayo led off from here - we ran together for the next 10 miles - good company. Though after he told me about his recent 3:04 at Belfast I was a bit worried that I should find myself running his pace. But he'd run this last year in around 3:30 so I figured I was safe enough as that seemed to be a reasonable target when I'd signed up a few days earlier. Mind you, that was before I realized how difficult parts of the terrain might be. Not along here though - a few miles of mostly downhill on nice quiet country roads... and the rain had stopped!

At around mile 11 we turned off-road and started the longest climb of the race - about half of it runnable but not really worth pushing it so my pace for the mile was over 11 minutes. Two of the other guys decided to run it so they passed us along here - a Kiwi and a Scot. Quite the international event! Upon reaching the top we were rewarded with a nice flat mile of relatively dry green road along with amazing views out over Galway Bay all the way to the Aran Islands. More than made up for the chilly, rainy start. Before long we found ourselves back on paved road and winding our way down towards the seaside town of Fanore - a really beautiful spot. Popular with surfers. After a quick refueling - filling our own water again while the volunteers told us we were going too fast and really should take it easy :) - we had another mile on the road heading north towards Black Head with the Burren up to our right - along here we passed the Scot while the Kiwi had taken off well ahead of us. Then a detour down towards the beach for a mile - thankfully we weren't actually running on the sand!

Back on the road at mile 18 and soon after we took a right hand turn, quick break at the AS for water and a mini-chocolate bar, and back on trail just before the mile 19 mark. I was a little ways ahead of Mike at this stage and continued to run at a decent pace. The mile markers appeared to be a little closer than what my garmin was telling me but I wasn't complaining! The trail continued to climb so that soon we were a few hundred feet above the road that ran close to the coast around Black Head and then all the way back to town. This was the muddiest section of trail resulting in me losing my shoe at one stage. A deliberate soak in the next clean water puddle was actually quite refreshing. I was wearing pretty lightweight Saucony Fastwitch road shoes so they shook off the excess water easily enough. Met a few sheep along here also and saw a few cows up ahead in the distance - luckily they had made their way off the trail by the time I got there - turns out they had held up the guy in front of me as he tried to pass them several times along the narrow ridge!

I was really having fun for these few miles. On a somewhat technical trail, enjoying the beautiful views and nearing the finish... can't beat that! Then it was a steep downhill across a meadow to the road, an AS at the gate, and mile 23 marker just up ahead. Sweet!! The last few miles on the road were a blast. I mean, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack any moment and my legs were scearming at me - but apart from that it was a great feeling. The half marathon course joined back up with us along here so I was getting lots of encouragement from the walkers which was awesome. Another one or two water stops along here and before I knew it we were at the edge of town. My Mum had walked out along the pier so it was cool to see her about 500 yards before the finish. Tried to sprint the last bit but I'm not sure you'd call it that. Felt good to be done! 3:24 which given the garmin I'd say was more like a 3:27. Several of the middle miles at just over 7:00 min pace and the last few a bit under so I was happy enough with that. I have no idea what it means for Grandma's but I think at this stage there is no point worrying about it!

Thanks a million to the race organizers (photo with the RD Gerry Reidy below) and to all the volunteers, and especially to Mary for letting me enter the race late and then for sending me the pics!!

Dee was at the finish having won for the ladies in the half - nice one! I chatted to the Kiwi and a few of the other lads that came in a few minutes after me before heading down to the water with Mum and Dee. It felt so nice to stand in the cool seawater. Not quite ice-bath temperatures but I'm sure the sea minerals do some good...

It was shaping up to be a beautiful afternoon but we wanted to get on the road for home so after a quick look (and purchase of delicious cheese) at the Farmer's market, I got cleaned up and we headed off.
I took the picture below a few miles north looking back across the bay. The final section of the race followed a ridge about halfway up from around Black Head on the right - towards the town of Ballyvaughan on the left.

We stopped off for a late lunch at Linnane's on the pier in New Quay. After a yummy open crab sandwich and two large coffees Mum took a picture of the winning ladies -

As crazy a week as it was over there with work spilling into the wee hours every night, it was so much fun to run this race in such a beautiful location.


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nwgdc said... solicitation here...just catching up...
Great run, and great pictures too! I'm already looking for an opportunity again to run over there!

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