Thursday, February 19, 2015

Donadea 50K. The Race.

Race day seemed to come around very quickly but then again it’s only been 3 months since the Dublin Marathon and team training sessions were intermittent which probably made the time pass quicker as every session was important.  Making the most of this limited available time we prepared as best we could but there’s always an element of uncertainty and until the race starts you just don’t know exactly what to expect.  There were so many factors at play and I knew that pacing was going to be a real issue as the paths were laid out for minimum impact on the forest park and although wide enough for causal walkers to pass each other in comfort they were not designed with a large group of 230 runners in mind.  This group would then form smaller individual groups taking up complete sections as they moved forward in unison helping each other with the pacing.  The path also twisted and turned through the park to follow nature rather in a straight line to suit the runner and then there were the hills!  We had a goal time in mind as I know the importance of having a plan and something to help break up the race but I knew in advance that this plan would change constantly as the environmental conditions would determine what actually happened.

We arrived at the Forest Park in good time and met up with our support crew for the day (Maggie Lawler) from my running club and gave her a quick chat on what we might need and a few  other instructions to take away the guesswork as the race progressed.  A few minutes were spent chatting to the other runners and then I decided to move away from the crowds as we had spent so much time trying to get into the zone and visualise the race that I didn’t want conflicting comments from other runners changing our mindset as a simple reassurance from someone could easily lead to a false sense of the difficulties that lay ahead.  This was in sharp contrast to quite a few negative comments in the lead up to the race and it’s important to know how to deal with both.

We walked towards the first and probably trickiest corner on the route to get a feel for it and it was a good job we did as we had the time to test it out and then came up with a command of ‘tight right and down’ and I would put my left arm out to allow Sinead hold on for stability plus I would count down the run into it in Metres, ‘tight right and down, (arm up) 3, 2, 1 and into the corner.  Beyond this turn which curved around a lake we then had sections of uneven path with bumps and trip hazards caused by tree roots breaking through to the surface and this was an area that I had found particularly tricky when running it myself blindfolded (see previous post).

With 10 minutes to go we made our way back along the race route to the start line and talked through the part of the course that we were now on before positioning ourselves towards the back of the field.  I had thought that this was the right thing to do but soon enough I was thinking it a mistake as we were caught amongst a large group and it was so congested that it was hard for me to focus on the ground ahead as all I could see were feet.  It was an effort to run slow enough to not clip the feet of those ahead and we were running like this for at least the first kilometre and it made for a less than relaxing start to the race.  

We eventually made a break from the back of the field and found a less congested positioning and then the seriousness of the task in hand became obvious.  There was very little let up from the commands and it took a lot of concentration from Sinead to stay focused and move safely while trying to avoid trip hazards and constantly adapt to the changing terrain underfoot as I was trying my best to explain what lay ahead.  Most of the undulations were in the first 2 K of the route and then the path was relatively good except for the constant turnings and a camber that fell to the right which was my side.  The camber caused us to collide quite often as I had to lean left to avoid going off the path and the camber was guiding Sinead towards the right with end result being my elbow striking Sinead’s bicep a few times too many. 

Finishing the first lap we knew the course was quite testing but we were moving well and used the next lap to get a better feel for the pace and terrain as the field was now spread out and we tried to just concentrate on moving safely and finding our rhythm.
The next few laps went quite well but as each lap passed the degree of difficulty increased because even though we were running the same route the foot placements were always different and the exposed areas of trail with puddles were becoming very muddy and slippy with all the passing traffic.  We had a few close calls and one incident could have ended our race when a runner just ahead of us dropped a bottle which I tried to kick away from Sinead’s path but then he turned and ran back towards us making a beeline between the two of us but turned just in time and only barely managed to avoid a collision. 

With fatigue setting in during the later stages of the race we both began to feel the effort of the constant concentration without any mental breaks and then at the start of the last lap I almost caused an accident when discarding a used water bottle by throwing it in front of and across Sinead towards some race marshals but didn’t throw it hard enough.  It broke the silence, woke me up and then we were back in the zone but Sinead was tiring and was very concerned about finishing inside the cut off time of 5hrs.  I had calculated that we were still within time but we didn’t have anything to spare and we couldn’t really afford to slow down and walking wouldn’t be an option. 

This was our last time to visit each of the hills but that didn’t make them any easier and I think by this stage Sinead was fed up hearing the degrees of difficult and length of each climb and I tried not to talk too much.  Eventually we turned onto the final stretch towards the finish line and Sinead had said she wanted to run it freely but I warned her of the slip hazards with the muddy spots and then the trip hazard of the three timing mats but her reply was ‘If I can’t see them then they’re not there’, 

I stayed with her for as long as I could and then she took off as I tried to stay close.  She crossed the line a few seconds ahead of me in a time of 4hr52.25 to a celebratory cheer from the waiting crowd that you’d expect the winner to get and the rest is hard to put into words....

Photos thanks to Peter Mooney & James Shelley


  1. What a marvellous thing to do. Well done, John. You can chalk this up as one of your best achievements. Congratulations to Sinead as well, of course!

  2. Great to witness this marvellous achievement, I'd imagine you'd have to summon great mental strength to stay concentrating on the job at hand for 5 odd hours...& no better man for the job. Well done John, well done Sinead. A great tale of strength & focus from you both.

    1. Thanks and I think I had the easy part.

  3. Thanks Guys and in some ways I wasn't sure about this blog post as I was unsure about what to write because I didn't want to take attention away from Sinead's achievement as all I really did was guide whereas Sinead did the work. I was stepping back with Pace & Distance in familiar surroundings so the race itself wasn't a challenge. For Sinead it was further than she had ever ran and over unfamiliar terrain unsighted.

  4. Fantastic. You guys were brilliant.

  5. HI John, I don't suppose you have a GARMIN Link for the 50K course profile? Just want to see what the 5K laps are like!

    Thanks in advance - Brendan.