Wicklow Way Ultra- Pure Magic

22nd March 2014

There is something truly magical about running an ultra-marathon.

The magic doesn’t come on the day of the run. The magic is there from the moment you think “I wonder is there an ultra I can do near me?”, to discovering there is one on your doorstep, to quietly looking up 50k training plans and ordering the Wicklow Way guide from the book shop. The magic is there when six great running friends do a reccie up the Wicklow Way on a very wet and cold January morning and deciding it totally beats running the very flat Arklow –Gorey road. It’s getting up at 6.20am, making 3 school lunches, tip toeing out the door and running 8 hill repeats before 8am or 10 miles every other day, getting kids to school, then going to work. It’s getting up at 6.20am to run 23miles because you really want to do this race yet the kids are on mid-term break and you have taken the day off to be with them. It’s there when you count up your miles and realise that you can be a mum to 3 girls, work, keep on top of house work and somewhere along the way, manage to run nearly 60 miles in a week, and that you never watch telly anymore and don’t care! The magic is there when you start to taper and you know the race is getting near and the usual tapermania starts…oh god I haven’t done enough training, I didn’t do enough hills, I can’t stop eating! But still, there’s this fizzy in your belly that reminds you of something really great you are about to do and deep down you just can’t wait for the 22nd to arrive.

I truly believe the race itself is your prize, your reward for all the hard work that has gone into getting to the start line, so when the alarm went off on Saturday morning I shook my husband awake, laughing saying “let’s go to the mountains baby!!”

Oh the bitter wind at Jonnie Foxes, the snow blizzard, I sat in the warm car and laughed nervously, I took everything out of my back pack that I planned to carry for just in case and put it on me, two pairs socks, two pairs gloves, hat, scarf, jacket and still worried I wouldn’t be warm enough!

9.30….and we were off…..It wasn’t long before the sun warmed up and the gloves and hat came off, the first of many on/offs during the day.

I ran up the track towards Prince Williams seat having sworn to myself I would hike it and came down the boulders on the other side thinking I was going swift enough but realising I was actually more like a creeping snail compared to the guys flying down it with such confidence and ease….I was so impressed and only a few miles in!

I had been as far as the bridge at the Glencree River before so I guess the real unknown only started for me after that. The runners had spread out well at this stage and I was anxious to always have someone in front of me to follow. I had met Johan coming out of Curstletown and we ran and chatted down the grassy slope towards the river, I kept his blue jacket in my view as much as I could as he was just ahead of me(for most of the day in the end). I met so many friendly people along the way, everyone willing to ask how you are, share a storey, give encouragement and share their snacks!

The narrow track up towards Powerscourt Waterfall was gorgeous, shaded, warm, sunny and I had to stop for a second and take in the wonderful view of the waterfall, I even took off my jacket and put it in my pack ( for about 5 seconds!)

I can’t really remember where the wind started, all I know is myself and the wind….we’re friends actually.

Last year I ran the Connamara Ultra with horrific wind and we were not friends. I let the wind blow away all my energy and fought it all the way to the finish. Not anymore, I embrace it, imagine it blowing around me not through me and now we are the best of buddies. And so up along the side of Djouce, me and my friend, “the wind” and the guy in front of me who kept getting blown off the board walk made our way up over to the stunning views of Lough Tay and the great descent into Ballinastoe lower and to the turn around. It was so nice to fully stretch my legs out and run. I really enjoyed passing the trail people coming up and was glad I was off the boardwalk before they hit it. I passed my running friends with shouts of hellos and good lucks, Ailish, Rob, Mary and Jean who were doing the trail and then Amy and Padraig running the ultra (maybe it was the other way around?!).

Normally when I run races I have an idea where I am in the pack, up to the turn-around I had no idea. At one point coming up Djouce I looked back and it was like I couldn’t see anyone and I thought “Am I last?!” So it was great to pass by the lead girls on their way back up while I was on the way down and I quietly counted them as I went along. A quick gel and some lucozade and I hit the track back out of Ballinastoe. I felt good, strong, positive, I knew where I was now and it gave me confidence. I rang my husband and told him I was on the way back, it was lovely to hear the excitement in his voice.

It didn’t seem AS windy on the way back up the boardwalk, I bumped into a girl I trained with in nursing college and we had a chat, I hadn’t seen her in 15 years. Then I remembered I was in a race and got going again. I had already passed out one girl and I had started to feel a little competitive (eekk!). Next minute you know the dark clouds opened and the hailstones started.

It was unreal, the hat came down over the left eye, the scarf came up to meet the hat and only my right eye was peeping out keeping watch of the board walk, I sang out loud to distract myself…

“Baidin Fheilimidh d’imigh go Gaghla, Baidin Fheilimidh’s Feilimidh ann……..Baidin bideach baidin beosach….”

Seriously. The sharp stinging pain from the hailstones on my bare lower legs was pretty horrific but a quick peak out my left eye saw lighter clouds to the left and I thought this will not last much longer and at least hailstones bounce off you and you don’t get soaked! Think positive!

Crone woods seemed much longer on the way back and at one point I asked a man walking his dog was this the way down to the car park, I hadn’t seen any runners in a while and I just had this little doubt that maybe I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. But then there were the lovely ladies at the aid station, mouthful of water and a half banana and on the move again. I had passed another girl coming down from Djouce and I was feeling good.

I made good headway from Crone, over to the Glencree River, I have to admit, it was hard stepping down off the bridge! A guy (Greg Byrne) was taking photos of the runners along the river. I laughed and said my face is probably covered in snot, he told me he would photo shop it out if it was! I hiked the grassy slope and the pull up to Curstletown, running where I could.

I will always remember the orange segments I got from the gentleman at the entrance to the woods. They were the most delicious freshest food I had had all day and it was gorgeous. I relished the orange as I hiked up through the woods, knowing the race was nearly over and feeling a little sad that the adventure would come to an end. I was obviously feeling a little emotional; I sent a bunch of texts as I hiked. My husband who was waiting at the finish “I am at 27.5 miles see you soon!!” My mum-in-law “Tell the girls I am at 27.5 miles and I can’t wait to see them later” My running friend John “At mile 28 and feeing strong”. I texted my mum too.

I chatted briefly to another ultra-women, I didn’t get her name, as we went up the slabs to Prince Williams Seat, she told me she had attempted the ultra last year but the weather made her finish early, I am so happy for her that she made it this year! She told me her kids flew up this section last week, and I told her the only way I would get up them at this stage was SLOWLY!

Oh and at last the long descent to the main road and the finish (except for the nasty slope by the farm!) I ran, I ran, I ran, I smiled to myself, glad that I could still run and that feeling of nearly being finished. The little idea I had a 9 months ago was nearly over and part of me wants the run to be done because the body is tired but part of me wants to keep running so that it will never be over.

My husband met me at the junction on to the main road, “I’ll run with you to the finish, it’s only half a mile…” and I ran and I ran and I left him for dust, his last words were “I’ll see you at the finish!!” I just had to keep moving!

And then it was done. 6 hours 9 minutes and what-ever seconds and it was over.

But the reality is it’s never over. It is with you for all of your life, every gust of wind will bring you back to Djouce , every hailstone shower will remind you of singing along the boardwalk, every orange you will ever eat will bring back the day. The immense proudness you feel with yourself and your friends and for everyone who took part on the day. Looking back at all the photos of runners and volunteers, what constantly comes to my mind is aren’t people amazing. Magic really.

Oh god the thunder…I forgot about the thunder!

Many thanks again to Dermot Murphy and all the volunteers who without them this wonderful day would not be possible. Clare Keeley Arklow,Co Wicklow.





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