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.
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.
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.
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:)