“Seeing a great light” Wicklow Way 100 miles.
Every year my mum sends the girls an Advent calendar for Christmas. There is always much discussion over who gets to open the first little door. This year it was Sarah. It wasn’t until the next day, Friday the 2nd, when I read it.
“The people that walked in the darkness have seen a great light”
I had two goals for 2016. I wanted to learn to navigate with a map and compass and I wanted to run 100 miles. I wasn’t asking for much??!!
The navigation will always be a work in progress but a lot of RAW recce work for the 54k race in the summer, a navigation workshop and 2 of the IMRA Nav. Challenges and I’m getting there….(ish!)
The 100 mile was proving a bit more difficult. The recovery of a busted right foot (from the WW 50 mile last December2015) was slow and it resulted in the Wicklow Way Ultra go by in March (love this race!), the Wicklow Way Solo in June (devastated!) and The Kerry Way (where I thought I would get the 100 mile in) in September. I was cutting it fine but I decided I would take a crack at Don’s 100 Mile in December. Sushhhhh don’t tell anyone!!!
What I love about the build up to these races is the underground nearly secret chit chat that goes on amongst the runners. A public post goes up on Facebook and I’d say 100 private messages get sent!
“Well what do you think?
“Are you thinking?”
“What sorta time you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I want to….”
I trained away from mid-August through September and in October I decided my big yes or no weekend was going to be a 30 mile back to back weekend. A night run from Glendalough to Ironbridge and back with Alan, Paolo and Dermot gave us a real taster of just how much of this race was going to be run in the dark……I started to worry less about running 100 miles and more about the 16 hours of darkness the race entailed! I became a bit obsessed about lighting… a main head torch with two batteries……a back-up head torch with a whole pile of batteries and a small torch just to be used for changing batteries on other torches…….oh god! The second 30 mile run was on the Sunday morning, Lorcan Fagan and I ran together for about 2 hours of it….I probably talked a lot about head torches!!
Right, survived the 62 mile weekend. I am on.
Oh no…… actually….I am not so on…..I’m a bit off.
Swollen arch on foot, puffy sore on outside of ankle, pinchy pain at heel. Sorry for the language but fuck fuck fuck sake!! All the shite from before.
And so began the longest taper in history.
It was like I sorta had to do nothing yet everything. The speed work stopped, the weekly 10 mile hill reps stopped, long runs went by the wayside and I didn’t run further than 5 miles in the 5 weeks before the race. Focus became “Operation fix the foot”! Circumin supplements, magnesium spray, magnesium powder, homeopathic remedies, going to bed every night with one foot on a hot water bottle and the other on a block of ice, stretching, rolling, dry needling, massaging, swimming, biking and ultrasonic blasting (Actual name is Shock wave therapy-Ger Dempsey, thank you-worked a treat even if I thought I might die) I think they call it active recovery. I was calling it my only hope!
But there was something different. Although there were times, even with the rest, that my foot was just so sore I knew I was going to line up at the start of this race no matter what. With the others earlier on in the year I didn’t even contemplate starting. So I figured, deep down, if I knew I would start then there was a chance I would finish. Hope.
Friday 2nd December.
Drop girls to school, drop jeep to garage (clutch) and home to have calm cup of coffee and then hit the road. Camper battery dead. Nice. Entire collection of running gear and food all packed up. No jeep. Fuck! Jump start camper and I am away. Yippee!
Arrive at St Columbas. Anto Lee jumps into my camper and wants to take a photo of himself in his underpants up on the bunk. I’m like, whatever, I’m going to check in! The photo has yet to pop up on Facebook. Well Anto?!
Check in. No 8. Sort the drop bags. Back to camper to change. I actually started to get nervous when I met up with Michelle Burke. I told her I am actually shaking!
St Columbas to Crone.
Normally I like to hang up towards the front and get going. Faffing with tracker and the race takes off, drop drinks out of back pack and am now the last one running out the gates, but then 3 minutes ain’t going to make much difference when this is all over!!
Catch up with Liam Costello and Pants Croke and have the chat. Myself and Liam had done a little over and back messaging and we had aimed to get to Sheilstown in similar time. This was my 9th Ultra and the first time to wear a watch turned on with the GPS and pace. Virtual pacer is deadly! Coming down the Glencullen road I tell the lads not to be horrified at the amount of food I am about to pack away over the next 100 miles. I have a plan that works… stuff my face all the way and never crash! We all agree that really you don’t settle into the race and pace until Glendalough (30 miles in!)
Crone to Glendalough. 12 or so miles done.
Arrive Crone about 4.30pm, a little ahead of time. Karina there to check us in and making sure we have our head lamps on. The lads are going through their stuff and I am not the biggest fan of staying a check points (I got better at it as the time went on!) so I head on. I know they will catch up with me. I get a phone call from Lorcan “What are you doing heading off on your own??!! Stick with Liam, he is as steady as…” Bloody tracker! Can’t get away with anything these days!! But the right call Lorcan, spot on, thanks!
Liam and Pants catch up heading up towards Djouce and we all have a little moan.
“God it’s so warm” “It’s nearly too hot” “I’m actually sweating”
Not a whisp of wind. Magic. Glorious even.
We meet David Turk coming down the farmers fields before Oldbridge and we all run together for a while. Along here we take a peek at the tracker, few runners have gone askew. Heart breaking to see. It was also along the prolonged road section that I could feel the bandy foot niggling. It wasn’t painful but I was aware of it.
Glendalough to Glenmalure. 30 miles or so done.
Hi Lorcan at the check point! Restock food and drinks. Bit of magnesium spray to the ankle and foot. It is sore. Myself and Liam head on. I have taken a handful of hot chips and they are delicious! My girls are in the car park for a cheer, a quick kiss to all and a hug and we are on the way again. Bang on time.
I have a punnet of blueberries and I can’t wait to tuck into them on the long slog up. We run to the steps. I bust open the blueberries by accident and they all spill out and roll down the hill. Total devastation! Seriously I always say ultra is about looking forward to the little things!
Pants catches up and we head on together up out of Glendalough, over Mullincor and down into Glenmalure. So much tree felling. The Devils Steps changed forever.
Glenmalure to Sheilstown 38 or so miles done.
We take a few minutes here, get a cup of coffee from Paul O’Callaghan. Restock the food and drinks. Voltrol gel to side of knee, ankle and left butt.
Up through the woods in Drumgoff, up on to the new boardwalk, to be honest, I used to really like this muddy patch, up the little track and turn right towards the “Original Wicklow Way”. Bit of an adventure climbing over log piles and dodging machinery but really the highlight was hearing the gun shots being fired, one initially far away, then a little while later one near-by. Did you hear that guys??!! Someone after deer. I say to the lads if we hear a shot closer again I think we should blow our whistles. Like no-one is expecting runners out in Drumgoff at 1am in December. No one!
On the way down into Ironbridge we start to speculate when the lead guys and girls will pass on the way back. Just 4 miles or so to sheilstown.
Along here we meet Declan who is not feeling great, we give him coke, bars and jellies and try getting him to trot alongside us. He is moving but slow. We stay with him a bit. Torn between the competative runner in me and the nurse in me, I am afraid to leave him but we need to crack on too. We are very near the aid station and I ring Don to ask him to send whoever is in the aid station up to walk down with Declan. Declan ran what can only be described as an outstanding 100 miles in the end.
Sheilstown- Half way. 50 miles done.
Andre here at the aid station, he sorts us out with soup and is full of welcome chat. Declan is now at the tent and is getting the soup into him too. We stay a little while here, maybe 10/15 minutes? I change my t-shirt. More Voltrol gel to ankle, knee and ass. I take two neurofen. It is all getting a bit bloody sore.
My main aim for the race was to get to Sheilstown and be confident on the turn around. The rest would sort its self out (I hoped!)
Off out of Sheilstown, hiking up out, there is definilty a good feeling about heading “home”. You just cannot think about the 50 miles ahead of you, you would crack. You literally think of short spots to aim for and we were all a bit like that. Ironbridge, the hut, the Military road, break it right down. (by the end I was literally going from bush to bush or tree to tree). Drumgoff on the way back was really all about the tummy’s, Motilium passed around (thank you Liam)!
Glenmalure to Glendalough. 62 or so miles done.
Not long at the aid station. We know the long pull up out of Glenmalure is a killer and really we all got VERY quiet at this point. Liam Costello is a machine. I thought I was a fast hiker but he is the business. I think I just stared at the backs of his ankles for an hour or so. The 3 of us tip along. My foot was sore, my ass was sore, my left knee was sore. But thankfully they were never sore all at the same time. They alternated throughout the night giving me no real break. I remember at one stage I had my music on and we were just moving along and for literally 10 seconds I had no pain anywhere, such a treat! But although there was pain, it never got any worse and with the changing terrain and elevation each sore bit got a break. I decided I would tape my knee when I got to Glendalough. It might help. I have no idea how you tape up an achy ass??!!
At one point we all stopped to take a wee, I say to Liam and Pants “we are all so in sync at this stage we are even weeing at the same time!” On the drop down to Glendalough we pass Jackie Toal, we end up a little bit ahead but we are all in the aid station together.
7.30am- I say to the lads, I just can’t believe it was 11 hours ago we were here. 11 hours??!! Felt like 5 maybe. Getting great texts from my sister and Lorcan, the live tracker is fantastic. Good morning Padraig! Padraig, my friend is here to pace me to Piergates. Stock up food. Tape the knee, it is instantly better. Change t shirt again. Change socks too. Hit the road.
Glendalough to Crone. 70 or so miles done.
Liam and Pants are a little ahead. Myself and Padraig together. Jackie is just behind. The head lights are off and a new day is beginning. I tell Padraig this will be the slowest 10 miles of his life (I think I was right??!!). It is a higgly-piggly up and down section until Piergates. Having Padraig was great to rejuvenate the conversation and Jesus those chilli peanuts we devoured, gorgeous! Thank you! By the time we got to the fire road section before Piergates it was starting to get harder to run again after hiking, but once we got going we were moving. At Piergates Jean was here with coffee and big cheers and to collect Padraig, I took a giant bit of fruit bread-yum! John Condon is here to pace to Crone, having never paced before he did amazing. Hiking up the hill, we are chatting about the previous night and day. Just so nice to have a new face to chat to (and don’t worry Liam and Pants, I was in no way getting board of you two- could run with you guys forever). Just new company is great.
Up along the board walk I start thinking, here we are again at the JB Malone stone, and I can’t believe we are at this point again. On the up, I stop a few times, hands on knees, just need a few seconds rest. Off we go again. I can feel a blister brewing on my foot and I say I’ll check it out at Crone but John makes the right call to check it out soon before the decent down into Crone. We stop, fix feet, Pants sits and takes a break and then I have a good look down the hill and I say “I think I can see Jackie down there”. And it is all systems go, we just go for it (Sorry Jackie!). Running down the grassy slope off Djouce as fast as I can go, I am amazed at what you can pull out of the body when you need too. Over the style, down the dip to the river, up the other side(slowly!) and turn the corner towards Powerscourt ridge, running, running, running. Pants is behind. Liam cracks on. John is ahead, he tells me there is no stopping in Crone for me. I put on my music and just enjoy the downhill into Crone on my own, swinging at speed around the last corner I think to myself “I just love this, this is why I do it”.
Into Crone and Jean and Padraig are there and Alison and Orla, friends of mine from Arklow. I stop. “88 miles!!” Can you believe it? Nuts! Quick hugs and hellos and we are off again. I am getting so sick of my food packs that jean and Padraig got me sausages and god they did the trick. John runs down to the road with us and we say our good byes.
Crone to St Columbas -the finish! 88 miles done.
It’s me and Liam now and I say I can’t run like this for the next 12 miles. Liam says that’s fine but if there is a podium place for you then you are going to fight for it, Fuck it Liam you’re right. I could feel a dip coming and I knew it was the after effects of the push from Djouce to Crone and I just needed to eat. We worried about losing Pants on Djouce.
Coming out of the last woods section before the road to Curtlestown my sister Rachel and mum are here, I saw a car but it didn’t register it was Rachels. Out they hop, cheering and clapping, it was so great to see them!
Curtlestown woods, the only spot that nearly broke me. Up, up, never ending up and feeling low on energy. It just seemed so long and for the first time negative thoughts went through my head. Maybe I’ll just stop now and get someone to collect me. Would I care if I pulled up now? This close to the finish, would I regret it? I knew it was the dip in energy and I had eaten and I knew it would come good. I started telling Liam about my mum and how she always encouraged us to go for it in life and we kept on moving…. chatting about family. Reach the top of Prince William Seat. Alive.
Hey! Pants Croke! You legend! Shooting like a rocket in our direction and we cheer when he reaches us! It wouldn’t have been the same finishing without him.
Up over fairy castle, we are moving carefully, there is just no point trying to run this on very tired legs and I keep looking back, keeping an eye out for Jackie. We spot the first 50 mile runner on the way up. Eoin Keith, fantastic running.
We hit the left turn and there is Dublin, in the day light, another one of my little aims for the day, to finish in the light. Right let’s get this done! I say to the lads, if we push we might get in under 26 hours??!! Eh, no!
Down towards Kilmacshanogue Woods and I am a little ahead. I just want to get to the finish. I tell a fellow on a bike to tell the two lads behind me that I am not going in the gate without them and to hurry up! All I want is to see the barrier at the entrance to the woods. I really didn’t think these woods were so long!
On to the tarmac road and I am saying to Liam and Pants. “Oh my god…I just can’t believe we are here!” I can hear cheering at the gate but it is nearly muffled. I am trying to absorb this amazing moment and just feel it, as it is right now. Nearly done. In the gate, up on to the grass. Liam, Pants and me as it was for the last 26 hours and 22 minutes. Ciara my 8 year old daughter runs over and grabs my hand and we run up to the finish line. 3rd girl in and 7th overall.
The special one.
And now, exactly one week later writing this, it still feels like a dream, and although I remember every step of the way, it’s like I can’t remember any of it. It is so difficult to explain.
And really the next day, when you can actually manage to get out of bed, life goes on and nothing much has changed for anyone else but you are different. You have put yourself out there, opened yourself up to something really difficult, you have put yourself on the line and what you get in return is nearly breath-taking, realising that deep down within is a huge power and strength, we don’t need it every day but to experience this and then to trust ourselves that when we need it. It is there for us. It is a bit like seeing a great light, in the middle of the darkness.