Wicklow Way 50 mile- Caught in the traffic jam of our own thoughts

I bought a white board, in fact I bought two. I filled in the week ahead, girl’s activities, school stuff, work stuff, college stuff and for the craic I stuck in my training down the bottom. I stuck them up right at the kitchen table for all the family to see.

€2 for hockey, gum shield, hockey stick, glass jar for Beavers with dry leaves and petals, fill in safety sheet, €4 each for Cubs, sew on cubs and beavers badges, don’t forget your survival kit, swimming money by Friday, pay TV licence, read meter, tax car, do 3 months returns for work, go to UCD Wednesday, exam Monday, €4 each for Wednesday club, gymnastics at 5pm, Cubs at 6.30pm, collect gymnastics at 7pm, collect cubs at 8 pm, start doing weights session 11pm, get up and run 20 miles……

Sarah just took one look at it “God mum we are busy!” We sure are Sarah!

In the middle of all this I train away, running, bit of swimming, weights at home (in the bedroom!) everyone else asleep, earphones on, swinging that kettle bell could be 12 midnight. Easily.

Now if you thought the white board was busy you would want to have seen the little bit of chaos growing in my head! I was starting to think maybe life is just too busy right now for me to concentrate on really rocking out a race, yeah I get in the training but very little down time around it, no rest worth talking about, works busy, home is busy, college thrown in the middle of it for 3 months, life is just BUSY.….a little pity party having a ball in my brain!

Saturday. Saturday. Saturday. Did I mention SATURDAY??!!!?

It is like part of you wants to tell everyone about it and part of you wants to keep this truly extraordinary day a little bit of a secret. Every runner who lined up at Sheilstown in the dark and ran any distance or all the distance I’m sure knows exactly what I mean?!

Awake with the wind 5 minutes before the alarm goes off. 2.55am. It wouldn’t be a true ultra if you had more than 3 hours sleep and got up at a reasonable hour. Really it wouldn’t!

Biggest dilemma, completely undecided if I will wear my long pants or my shorts. No thought to having to run 50 miles in a storm. Long pants/shorts?!

Arrive Taylors, check in with Maria and get my number 16. Hellos and hi ya’s to friends and familiar faces. Still can’t decide about pants or shorts.

Pile onto the bus at 6am to be brought to the start line 50 miles away. Ah sure if we get there early maybe they will let us start early, that would give us more day light on the other side. Runners peeking out foggy windows, checking out the weather in the pitch dark, wooah that was a pretty big gust of wind. Nice chat with Liam Costello on the bus down, I tell him I can’t wait to see what Djouce will bring us later on in the day. In the shorts, long pants sitting on my lap…still can’t decide! Off the bus, take a wee in the woods. It’s not that cold, shorts it is. Long pants in zip lock….. Just in case.

7.50am and we are off up through the woods at Sheilstown, I have only ever run down this trail so I don’t know it in the opposite direction and we are all a bit “which way?” for the first few junctions. I decided just to hang out up the front and run.

You nearly always fall into a pattern with other runners your pace, getting passed out on hills up, passing out them on down hills and so myself, Karina and Lorcan Fagan settled into this out of Iron bridge all the way towards Glenmalure until Karina disappeared off up a hill not a bother on her. Amy and Jackie are already ahead as are maybe 10 men.

So there are a few things that happened very early on that just made my day the best it could be.

*I lost my little check point chart I had made of the distances between places and the general time I hoped to get there at.

*I ran at a much faster pace than I thought I would and just decided to heck with it, play it out.

* The stormy weather-I LOVE IT, the worse it is the more I love it.

*And most important…. I just couldn’t think, couldn’t worry about tight muscles causing problems later, couldn’t worry about blowing up by going too fast, couldn’t over analyse how busy my life is and how I can’t race these races as I get no rest… all the rubbish that goes through my head that holds me back.

I just couldn’t think… the wind was too strong, the rain to wet, the puddles to big, the trail too mucky, the boardwalks too slippy. The day was about surviving (and getting to the far side of Djouce in the day light!). No thinking today.

So myself and Lorcan tip along nicely together, hiking up out of Glenmalure, checking out the amazing waterfall across the valley at Ballinafunshoge and then running well on the big decent down into Glendalough. We are having the chat. Lorcans first trail ultra, 50 miles over the mountains in December, nice choice! He is flying. Turns out Lorcans wife and I were in the same class in secondary school. Too small a world.

Rocking into CP1 Glendalough at 11.30am. Grab my drop bag of food. I ask how far ahead are the girls?   Karina is just ahead, Jackie a bit further on. I know Amy is behind me as she had missed a turn earlier on. Do I want anything? Eh, just a coffee! Grab it and go. Out 11.32am. I know there is a climb out of Glendalough and I’ll drink it on the way up. Climb about 4 or 5 stiles on the trail up carrying my precious coffee, slugging it back when I can. Lorcan catches up and we run together toward Laragh. Over my favourite wooden wobbly bridge, the water is rushing and gushing underneath. I head on a bit.

Next few miles are un-eventful. There is a good bit of road past Oldbridge and up towards Roundwood. A farmer slows down in his jeep and asks me how far am I going? Marley I tell him, it’s a race. He tells me there are tablets for people like me (laughing). It’s pissing rain, windy, mud up to my knees and I appear to be soaking wet… I just smile at him….he has a little point.

Lorcan catches up again and from this point on we stick together until Crone. Thank god! But more of that later.

You know when you are running along and you see something from a far and it just looks funny, like out of place, like it shouldn’t be there? Hello whole pile of fallen massive trees covering entire trail, what are you doing there and how the heck are we going to get by? No one else around so we figure everyone else got by some way. A little bit of investigating to the left and then I say let’s just climb right through them and off we go, scrambling and scratching our way through maybe 10-20 foot width of fallen trees. Ahh I can see the track on the other side! Come on! Out the other side and we decide that the scrunching down and climbing over was in fact a nice distraction and a little stretch of the muscles and off we went, feeling the joys of looser muscles and a mini adventure.

Hi Liam Vines with lots of goodies in the boot of your car! How is the head? Oh those pringles look nice so we get a hand full each. Thank you! Liam says it’s windy up ‘there’.

Oh Djouce you beauty! You gave us all you had for this race, you made this day be what it was, what it will always be remembered for. I expected nothing less!

Off up we went, one foot on the board walk, jump up, grab handrail for all your life and move forward, no choice, the gusts are blowing at our backs pushing us up the way and over the way and along the way and in fact everyway. It’s just not possible to describe, no word would give it justice. Lorcan has the best idea ever, lets link arms and instantly we were more solid. Army marching along, linked up we laughed our heads off at this crazy moment in life. You know when you see these funny pictures of flying cows; I had this flash of a person flying through the air. I wondered is it possible for a human to just get blown away?

As we passed the JB Malone stone I try telling Lorcan ROARING at the top of my voice over the wind that I always stop here for one second to just admire the view and thank JB for this wonderful trail. We try to turn our heads…. You couldn’t even turn your head the wind was so forceful, ok let’s not do that now…… thank you JB I think to myself! It was along here that John Buckley and his friend passed us, they just buzzed along the board walk, amazing to watch, and I don’t know how they did it, rocks in their pants or something! Up and over we went like some crazy 3 legged, Irelands fittest family crazy board walk running challenge. All you could do was stay calm, focused and move forward (such a metaphor for life!) The craziness would come to an end.

And it did. Boy did we move fast once we got going again, running right through every pool and puddle, who cares, just move, warm up and eat and drink. I will be forever grateful to have Lorcan there too. I never once felt nervous, so thank you Lorcan! Coming down into crone we agree if we are both ready at the same time we will continue on together.

CP 2 Crone.

Into the gorgeous warm tent at 15.30. These aid stations are the best ever, everything and anything you wanted and needed was here. Grab my drop bag and ask the gorgeous Ellie to help me change. Scoot around the back of the tent and change tops, gloves and hat, keep jacket as it’s the bizz, empty out a lot of rubbish from pockets and back pack and restock. Shout at Lorcan is he ready. Not quite. Sure maybe I’ll have a cup of chilli. Ellie tells me I am first lady. WHAT??!! Where is Karina? She hasn’t checked in yet. Then I say where is Jackie? Right beside you! Oh! I quickly ask Jackie about Djouce and then it is like GAME ON in my brain and I drop my food quickly and I turn……..

RUN… RUN… RUN past Lorcan shouting gota go!! And conscious I can feel Jackie on my shoulder I just run as fast as I can out the car park, down the road, back on the trail down to the Glencree River, over the bridge and along the mucky track, panting, I walk the grassy slope up on the far side.

And then it hits me, you can win this race Clare and I work harder than ever before to put some distance between us. I run up hills I would never have run before, I would stop for a second to catch my breath and then think no you got to keep going and I’d run again, 40 miles in the legs at this stage and I feel ok!

Up through Curtlestown and I meet Paul Nesbit and John Buckley again. This is John’s first trail 50 miles and he is doing amazing, he feels great and we have a good chat and a great hiking pace up the way to Prince William Seat. I’m not sure if they notice but I keep glancing over my shoulder to keep watch of Jackie behind! Sorry Jackie!

Lovely long decent to the Glencullen Road, I know I am about 8 miles or so from the finish, I have left the lads behind, head light on now as its dark, Liam Vines again with the treats, you can never underestimate the boost you get from meeting friends and support along the way, its huge. He tells me I am flying and I must have passed out a couple of the lads. On to the Glencullen road and I meet Duncan who is a little lost, I tell him the way to go to find where we hop back on the trail and I walk this bit even though it’s flat. Its lashing rain and the wind is in my face and I am suddenly conscious I have no hi-vis on and I’m on a pitch black country road! Tuck in and walk fast.

Up the very lumpy bumpy technical trail towards Fairy Castle, the wind blowing up again but nothing like Djouce but I am being pushed forward fast, but I certainly won’t complain at this stage! Then, what, where is he going??? I see a light ahead, it’s Duncan who couldn’t find the turn in and he has gone straight on instead of turning left. I scream, I blow my whistle, I turn on my head lamp full blast but he is moving fast and the wind is howling and he is gone. Ill tell them when I get to Taylors.

I turn left and there are the lights of Dublin, the city I grew up in and I take this huge deep breath and get going. It’s just 4 miles to the finish from this point and it’s nearly all downhill and I run and run. I am on my own flying down through Kilmacshanogue Woods and there are two deer, it’s like they want to wait to see you but they are also nervous. Hi fellas I shout as I shoot past them.

Down to the road, half a mile from the finish and I am suddenly thinking I look a bit crazy, dressed for the mountains and looking like I have literally spent 10 hours+ running through a storm, now I am just running along a regular road in Ballinteer with regular people in regular cars.

Running along the road, I peek, no one behind me and I can see the traffic lights where the finish is and I know I have won. What a feeling! Through the car park, up the steps and into the arms of Dee, Barbara, Maria and Ellie, little Don is handing out the medals. First lady home and 6th runner overall, in at 12 minutes past 6 in the evening.

Running teaches you so much about yourself. Saturday I learnt how to win. It takes guts and it takes hard work but most importantly it takes letting go and taking a chance on yourself! I always thought being up the top might be stressful and such hard work that the enjoyment might go out of it but jezzzz I had a ball!























































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