Sunday, July 31, 2011

24-hr Irish Championships 2011.

I almost didn't run this race having abandoned my original plan after being selected to run in the Trail World Championships.  Even though this was my main event of the year due to the cancellation of the 24-hr World Championships all it took to change my mind was a chance to run in a green vest.  Some might have done the 2 races but for me going into the Trail Race I didn't want any mental distractions, I wanted to give it everything I had and I couldn't do that if I was thinking of or trying to save myself for a race that was only 2 weeks away.  I knew that during low points I may have taken it easy and consoled myself by thinking 'sure you've another race soon enough to make up for this effort' and thats how the mind works.  I'm not into just doing events and go for quality over quantity.

An early fall in the Trail Race meant I couldn't run to the best of my ability and because my pace was slowed the impact on my body was lessened and my recovery was quicker as I finished the race in better condition than I should have.  The injury seemed to heal quite quickly but there was still an underlying problem with my left hamstring which surfaced the following weekend after few short training runs.  I stopped training as soon as I knew it was getting worse and I phoned my massage therapist 'Peter Matthews' to arrange an appointment as soon as possible.  I met him on the Tuesday before the race and was back running that night on my club's grass track.  The juniors were training while I was running around checking my lap splits and comparing them with my heart rate to get a feel for race pace and the signs were good.
After finishing my run I was asked about my expectations for the race and I said I was going to win.

The night before the night before a race is the most important nights sleep and for some reason I didn't sleep too well and that was repeated on the night before the race which wasn't good because I had a full day ahead of me before starting the race and I knew it would be late on Saturday before I slept again.  Maybe those thoughts were keeping me awake but I tried not to think about it too much and because all my gear was packed and ready to go I decided to head for Belfast earlier than planned.

Arriving into Belfast I met with Ultra Running Ireland's John Collins.  John offered to crew my race and that was a big weight off my shoulders as I know from experience that it can be hard to make sensible decisions during these events and if you want to be competitive you need someone else to do the work.  John is very experienced at crewing and knew what to do which for me was a big confidence boost.  My job was to put one foot in front of the other and he would make sure I continued to do so.  We arrived at the track in good time and after setting ourselves up we met with some other competitors and friends including my team mate Marty Rea and training partner Jim McCormick.

Eddie Gallen, John O'Regan, Marty Rea & John Collins.

My plan was simple and it involved running at 2:10-2:15 per lap or less than 75% of my heart rate max.  This meant I was running well within my aerobic zone and using mostly fat as a fuel which lessened my need for 'too much food'. At the race start I positioned myself towards the back of the pack to avoid the fast start and within the first lap I was on pace and it wasn't long before I was lapped and it happened again and again...

My guess is some of the front runners blew up really badly because by the first turn around at 4-hrs I seemed to be in 2nd place which didn't sound right and didn't really suit my plan as I wanted to relax into this race and move up the leader board in the final quarter of the race.  That wasn't to be and before half way my steady pace had me in the lead and with that came a little bit of extra pressure..
Under Pressure.

 I stayed on my feet for the first 9 hours and then sat down by choice to eat a sandwich or should I say I was told to sit down by John as he was thinking ahead and wanted me to eat something solid.  To make the most of my break I used the opportunity to elevate my feet and check positions and timings to get an early feel for how the race was going even though it was way too early for it to be a true reflection of how the race could finish.  Getting back on my feet it wasn't long before I became the first runner to break 100K and then I broke 100 miles but to me these distances meant nothing as I'd been there so many times before.  I'm not being disrespectful to the distance but I know that if you set yourself an end goal and reach it then it can become harder to go beyond it.

Running through the night with Thomas Maguire

Night time temperatures dropped quite low so I changed into some warmer clothing and changed out of them as soon as I felt it warm enough again.  My timings were very consistent and I felt very comfortable running at this pace but as we started to get into the new day it got very hot.  I knew by my sweat rate and inability to take enough fluids on board that I could soon be in danger of dehydration or some form of heat related problem so I made the decision to ration my sweat by slowing the pace down.  I began to stop at the aid station to help with fluid replacement and I made extra toilet stops to monitor my urine flow and make sure it was 'still' flowing. For the last few hours I decided to do just enough to hold my lead and win the race but was prepared to stop if I thought it neccessary.  Eddie Gallen was closing in on my lead very steadily and I know what he's capable of doing having ran with him on a few occasions and the most recent being the 246K Spartathlon in Greece last September.  Eddie is the most consistent runner I know and he will just keep going and going until it's all over.

With 2hrs to go it was looking like I had done enough to keep my lead by just walking and that's what I did.  My family arrived around this time and Cian walked / jogged a few laps and kept me company as the end got closer.  Eddie caught up and we chatted through the final minutes and then it was all over.  I was declared the race winner with a distance of 213K / 132 miles and more importantly I was the Irish 24-hr Champion finishing just ahead of last year's Champion Eddie Gallen.  Eddie won the Irish Championship title last year with a distance of 223K in the 24-hr World & European Championships in Brive, France.

It's a strange felling at the end of a 24-hr race as there's no finish line and rather than getting that winning feeling I was just relieved it was all over.  I spent the next hour getting my photo taken and doing interviews with Deirdre Finn the winner of the Ladies Race with 181K / 112.5 Miles and then it was back to the clubhouse for the awards ceremony.  All competitors were called up individualy with their distances announced and it was nice opportunity to put a name with the face.  I finished the evening with a proper dinner and a few pints of Guinness back at the hotel and then it was lights out.

During the race I wore:

Saucony Pro Grid Guide
Teko Socks
Skins Shorts
Skins A400 Running Tights
Salomon Sleeves
Club Singlet Le Cheile A.C
Suunto T6D Heart Rate Monitor.

All my kit is available from Great Outdoors.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kildare man John O'Regan wins Belfast 24-hour race

Kildare man John O'Regan set a new track record of 132 miles as he was crowned Irish champion by winning the Belfast 24-hour race.
O'Regan's distance beat the 127 miles set by last year's inaugural race winner Fermanagh man Thomas Maguire.
With Maguire dropping out after 16 hours, Madrid-based Belfast man Eddie Gallen finished second with 127 miles.
Tipperary native Deirdre Finn was first woman finisher as she produced 112 miles which left her sixth overall.
Limerick man Michael Cunningham, 46, set the early pace at the Mary Peters Track as he covered the opening marathon distance of 26.2 miles in three and half hours.
However, O'Regan, 41, moved into the lead by half distance and he went through the 100-mile barrier in under 17 hours.
O'Regan stayed on the track round-the-clock in the Energia sponsored race as did 48-year-old runner-up Gallen.
Powerful Icelandic competitor Gunnlauger Juliusson finished in third place on 120 miles.
However, performance of the race came arguably from women's winner Finn who added 22 miles to last year's best female time set by Lynne Hanna.
Hanna improved her personal best as she also went through the 100-mile barrier while Hungarian Timea Bontovics was third best female with 91 miles.
In all, 18 athletes went beyond 100 miles in the day-long event.
Belfast mother-of-two Susan McCartney collapsed in the middle of the track after running for 12 hours but after resting for four hours, then resumed the race to complete 86 miles by the finish.
The 12-hour race was won by Welshman Sean McCormack who achieved 68 miles while the Orangegrove quartet of Liz Leitch, Gary Keenan, Colin Fulton and Ralph Coetzee won the relay event with a total of 170 miles.
Race director Ed Smith spoke of the "true heroics" produced at Mary Peters Track.
"It's mind over matter stuff. And, the miles covered were amazing - especially with a very cold night and a very hot day to cope with. Well done to them all," added Smith.

* The above post was copied from BBC Sports and I'd like to add that the track record mentioned above is for this track only! The Irish track record stands at 235.910K and is held by Eoin Keith.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Belfast 24-hr Race

Tooting Bec Track, London.

Following on from the World Trail Championships I more or less got straight back into training after a short recovery period.  All I've really done is keep my legs moving to stop them from seizing up and that also helps keep the weight in check as the reduced training volume unless balanced with a reduced calorie intake will lead to weight gain.  No big deal under normal circumstances but as an Ultra Runner I eat quite a lot and it wouldn't take long to put on a few Kg in weight and for a race of this duration it all adds up!  I find it easier to train it off rather than starve it off.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

2011 Energia Belfast 24-Hour

Race Director Ed Smith, Lord Mayor of Belfast Pat Convery, Dame
Mary Peters and Energia Chief Operating Officer Tom Gillen
This summer's Energia Belfast 24-Hour Race will carry Irish Championship status.
UltraRunning Ireland has conferred the title after the successful first running of the race in 2010. The event saw four athletes run beyond 100 miles and Fermanagh's Thomas Maguire winning with a distance of 127 miles.
The race will again be staged at the Mary Peters Tack on July 22 starting at 6.45pm.
Race Director Ed Smith says: "We are delighted to have secured the Irish Championships from UltraRunning Ireland and have an ambition to pitch for a European Championships in the future.
"It's the ultimate challenge of mind over matter to keep going round a track and right around the clock," he says. "The 17 who finished in 2010 - all going beyond 80 miles - put in a remarkable effort - and we are hoping to grow the event in 2011."
"To broaden the choice, I'll be introducing a 12 hour race to run concurrently, and also a 24-hour relay for teams of four which must include at least one woman," says Smith.
For further information contact: Ed Smith at 00447740818389 or

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Race / World Trail Championships 2011.

Opening Ceremony

I hadn't planned on running this race but jumped at the opportunity as its an honour to be asked  and even more so when it's a World Championship event.  Regardless of what my plans were this would now  take precedence.  Luckily enough I had sufficient notice to change the direction of my training and without delay I became event specific which is partly because my training is so varied and I never shy away from the hills.  Training went as well as I could have wanted and yet again I knew I'd be standing on the start line without any excuses and knowing that I was ready to give it a good shot and there was no doubt in my mind that I was race ready.

Seeing as I was running as an Individual Internationl Athlete rather than on the scoring Team I'll explain 'My' race as that's what I was running and I'm sure there's plenty of interesting accounts of this race and you'll find some on my blog list (for example).

 Pre Race Meeting

My plan was simple, arrive at the start line fully fuelled / hydrated and run without anything for the first hour and until reaching the first check point (CP1).  At CP1 Iwould have more than I'd need and this included a 500Ml carb drink and 500Ml electrolyte drink plus a gel.  My pick up decision would be made based on how I was feeling and I could get what I wanted without wasting time stopping to ask.

Kylemore Abbey and the Start Line.

Waiting for the start

The race started outside the front door of Kylemore Abbey and stayed inside the grounds before turning onto the main road into Letterfrack.  I knew this section would be the easiest to run and I expected it to be quite fast and didn't want to get caught up in running too fast too soon as can easily happen.  I controlled my effort by keeping an eye on my HR rather than the runner directly in front as I knew what lay ahead and it was going to be a long day.

Before entering the village of Letterfrack I could hear the cheers from the support crews of all the visiting nations and then the work began as expected.  The flatness of the road was replaced with a trail that climbed quite steeply to the summit of Diamond Hill.  I comfortably ran most of this with the occasional forced walk due to congestion or steepness.  Reaching the top after climbing over 400M felt effortless and I knew then that I was going to have a good day.  Descending Diamond Hill is quite steep and it wasn't long before my race changed when I lost my footing while trying to avoid a collision with runners slightly ahead and below. Jumping to the side I slipped and landed sideways on a stone step taking all the impact on my knee and hip.
Diamond Hill during our recce and the scene of my fall

As I stood up I thought to myself 'this is it, I'm out' but rather than just stopping and accepting defeat I  ran on a bit to check the damage. My knee was throbbing and I couldn't bend it too well but it did loosen up and I tried to lead as much as possible with my good side when jumping or landing.

The checkpoint wasn't too far away but it was downhill and that's what hurt the most as it was very similar to ITB pain but I knew that beyond the CP it was mostly uphill and if I managed to get some pain killers I might be ok so I went on.  Passing through the CP I took some pain killers and I think they started to work as I began my second descent of Diamond Hill and I made sure to be a little bit more cautious on the second descent. My knee was still hurting but nothing like it was earlier and I knew from experience that it was manageable and nothing worse than I'd had before so I won't mention it again.

Following on from the second descent the race turned away from Letterfrack and made it's way towards Benbaun on a route that would be retraced on the return.  No big deal under normal circumstances but without doubt this must be the toughest course I've ever ran and knowing that each energy draining step on the outward section would be there on the return to be covered with tired legs on an energy drained body.  The course took in everything that the Irish Countryside had to offer ranging from undulating fields that had never been ploughed, river crossings, forest trails, bog, marsh with waist deep sink holes, open mountain and pot holed roads.

Dan doing what he does.

The next CP was located 16K away and manned by the ever dependable 'John Collins' and he seemed to know I was on the approach as he stood there holding my hydration pack ready for me to almost run into.  He asked a few questions and I can remember replying no to them all but did mention what extra requirements I may have at the next CP beyond Benbaun so he could pass word on and this included another dose of pain killers. The route from here climbed gradualy upwards along a forest road and crossed a river via submerged stepping stones.  I was starting to feel the climb and then before I knew it I was turning into a very steep climb which was the start of Benbaun.  The first part of the ascent traversed along marshy ground before losing height to climb again and I was now reduced to a walk and scramble as it was impossible to run this.  Height was gained very quickly due to the steepness of the climb but it was energy sapping.  I could see the top from early on and focussed on getting there without any stops but soon discovered that the top was probably still 100M more climbing and that's when it gets really tough.

The descent of Benbaun was quite steep which meant loosing height quite quickly and before long I was down to almost the same starting altitude as I made my way to the next CP. I had a very smooth transition through CP3 and dropped my hydration pack for refilling and took some more pain killers and ran with a 500ml carb drink out and back to the turn around and collected my hydration pack on the return.  The turn around was on the opposite side of kylemore lough to the starting line so I knew that the return climb up Benbaun was going to be tougher than I originaly expected. As I was now retracing my steps I knew the end was in sight but I also knew what lay ahead and even though I didn't have any doubts I tried not to think too far ahead and stayed in the moment.  The climb up Benbaun was relentless and this time I did stop.  I'd never encountered anything as steep or tough in a race and even stopping had it's hazards as the steepness made it very easy to lose balance and it was almost like taking a break during a rock climb.  It's a chance to catch your breath but calf muscles are still working to keep you steady.  I could always see what looked like the top but knew from earlier that the top lay further from my view but what i could see was enough to focus on and it kept me going.

Thomas after the Benbaun descent.

Descending down the far side was at times like looking over a cliff it was that severe and it made for a very fast but cautious drop into the valley.  I dug my heels in and kept my bodyweight into the mountain side and was always prepared for and expecting a fall.  The falls or slips did happen but I was always ready and it wasn't long before the end was reached.  Next up was the crossing of a small stream and I remembered jumping it on the outward leg but now I went through it as I was now heading towrds marshy ground and my feet were going to get soaked again.  I moved quite quickly through the marsh but did go off course as I was looking at the ground rather than ahead and follwing the most direct route.  I fell a few more times but fell forward so didn't lose any time and then I was back onto a fire road through a forest.  This section was familiar but seemed longer and I began to wonder if I was going the right way.  I scanned the road ahead looking for any signs that a runner had passed and then I reached the river crossing that there was no mistaking that this was the right way.  Minutes later I was turning the bend on the approach to the last CP and 'John Collins' was ready as always andwithout any delay I was fuelled and gone.  The plan from here was to travel as light as possible with most of what I'd need inside me so I drank 500ml which i guessed was enough to get me home.  I also carried a smaller drink and a Powerbar gel in my shorts just in case it was needed as it was now very warm and I knew there was still some tough terrain ahead and more climbing to be done.

Halfway between the 2k and 1k to go marker board I started to feel weak and knew I was starting to bonk.  Without any delay I took my gel and walked a small while as i waited for it to kick in and it gave me a reason rather than an excuse to climb what was to be the last hill.  On reaching the top I was looking at Diamond Hill in the distance and began to think back to the race start and part of me didn't want the race to end, I wanted to climb Diamond Hill again.   Maybe it was the low blood sugar that was causing those thoughts and then all was good again as I began my final descent into Letterfrack.  There was no one ahead of or behind me so I didn't finish with a sprint and cruised to the finish line.

With John Collins at the Finish.

Apart from my Ireland Team Kit I wore:

Additional Food Items
  • Powerade * 500Ml
  • Mars Refuel (after race)
Some Race Stats:

Total Ascent  = 2950 M
Total Descent = 2989 M
Total Distance = 71 K
Average HR = 138 bpm
Max Hr = 160 bpm.  
HR max was  reached during first ascent of Diamond Hill and apart from that my Hr never went above 155 bpm.

I never once felt like quitting even though I did think the fall would end my race.  My decision to go on was based on experience and knowing the difference between an injury and just pain.  My fuelling plan as usual worked perfectly and if I was to run the race again the only thing I'd do differently is that I wouldn't fall:)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Outstanding Trail World Champs 2011

The official IAU Trail World Championships took place in Connemara on Saturday 9th July and the event has been heralded as an outstanding success.
Elite ultramarathon runners from every populated continent took part in the race, incuding over 120 athletes from the athletics federations of Argentina, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Spain and the USA.
The event was also filmed for broadcast on Channel 4, Eurosport, Setanta and a host of other international channels over the coming weeks, surpassing the guaranteed international coverage of any other athletics event in Ireland this year. In addition, official London 2012 Olympic photographer, Mike King, travelled from the UK to photograph the event as well as journalists from France and Italy, which are trail running strongholds.
It was the first occasion an official world championships at trail running came to Ireland.
Race director Richard Donovan, who also organises extreme runs in the polar regions, planned an ambitious route of 70km, starting at Kylemore Abbey and encompassing mountains, grassland trails, compacted gravel trails, bog, loose rock trails and open countryside. He said Connemara was an obvious choice of location for such an extreme race given the amazing natural beautly of the region.
The Reserve Defence Force, Red Cross, Mountain Rescue and local volunteers were all out in force to guide and support people over the specially marked route. Meanwhile, thousands of people around the world logged on to live updates available on the race website
Incredibly, the first runner home, Erik Clavery (FRA), took only 6.39.07 hrs to complete the gruelling course. He was closely followed by Jason Loutitt (CAN) and Patrick Bringer (FRA). France dominated the team competition with Italy and Norway taking silver and bronze medals, respectively. Ireland finished 7th in the team competition and the first 3 Irishmen were Daniel Doherty 17th (7:19:18), Paul Tierney 24th (7:29:35) and Eoin Keith 27th (7:34:27).
Meanwhile, the women's race was won by Maud Gobert (FRA) in 7:41:31 hrs ahead of defending world champion Cecilia Mora (ITA) and Lucy Colquhoun (GBR). France once again dominated the team competition ahead of Italy and Canada.
Richard Donovan said "It was a fantastic day for everybody and the bonus good weather ensured that Connemara will be showcased to millions of people around the world in a way that the region has never been shown before. The aerial footage of elite ultramarathon runners moving at speed over difficult terrain is incredible."
Adding to the day's success, the International Association of Ultra Runners awarded the Order of Merit to the organisers for their planning and execution of the event.
Men1. Erik Clavery (FRA) - 6:39:07
2. Jason Loutitt (CAN) - 6:40:32
3. Patrick Bringer (FRA) - 6:47:50
1. France - 20:24:50
2. Italy - 20:56:36
3. Norway - 21:29:02
Women1. Maud Gobert (FRA) - 7:41:31
2. Cecilia Mora (ITA) - 7:50:02
3. Lucy Colquhoun (FRA) - 7:57:20
1. France - 24:00:42
2. Italy - 24:21:35
3. Canada - 27:01:08

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ready to Race / Trail World Championships 2011

Course Elevation.

Race day is almost here and my transition from 24-hr race training to Trail / hill race training has gone as well as I could have wished for.  I've trained hard and put the same effort into my recovery and I'm now ready as I can be.  My bag is packed and as always I have everything I need except the excuse :)

Since last week all of my runs were at a heart rate of less than 70% of my max which is intense enough to maintain what I've got while still allowing rest and recovery in advance of the race effort.  

Training on the Dublin Mountain Way