“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was
And the vision that was planted
in my brain
Within the sound of silence” (Simon and Garfunkel)
The Wicklow Way is so very special to me. It’s my home turf
now. It’s my training ground. It’s been my racing ground over the last few years and I know nearly every nook and cranny, every twist and turn, all the ups and all the downs. It has served me so well….it is part of me now, I guess.
I have run races of every distance over the Wicklow Way,
from 8k in the Relay to the 100 miles last December but there is something truly enchanting about running this trail, from the start, in Marley Park, Dublin to the finish 127k later in Clonegal, Co Carlow, in less than one day. The Wicklow Way Race does this once a year in June. Forever to be nicknamed The Solo.
Training went great and for the first time in the 5 or so
years I have been running I eventually felt like I had a regular routine to my week, my 3 girls are getting bigger and things just worked out nicely for this block of training. That said, you could easily find me out around the block at 10pm at night doing speed training, Tara Hill reps were always at night and if the girls were going to club or training, sure as, I would be in the shorts and runners ready to run somewhere while they were there. I would swim between finishing work and collecting kids from school or at night, long runs I would do on Sundays when I could and weights at the usual time of midnight! Seriously!!
I ran this race two years ago and finished 2 minutes behind 1st lady Linda O’Connor. Looking back on
2015, I knew I could do well in the race but I don’t think that I understood that rawness you needed for the win.
So much of all of this is physical yet so much more is
mental and although I absolutely physically trained for this race as much as I could, mentally, I had trained harder.
I felt that rawness now and I really wanted to win this
race. Normally at home I say to the girls that all you ever want to do is your best and sometimes you get lucky and your best brings you a good time or
position, but all you want is your best effort on the day as all days are different. Blahhhh…. all that went out
the window and I told those girls I was coming home with that trophy, end of!!!
I bombarded my brain with times, distances and splits. I listened to motivational videos going to
bed at night, I listened to them in the car, I listened to them having my coffee and when I would go for my runs I would picture myself running up the road to Clonegal in first. I knew all of my hows and why this time is and I was out to get it. And don’t get me wrong….. It wasn’t out of
cockiness or over confidence- just a deep want. It is such a long race and such a long day out that anything can happen, I know that from experience. And of course, there was going to be competition!
Race day came and for a change I took the day off work, I
had myself organised from the night before and I took the day to chill out. I stood in Clonegal on the sunny Friday (car drops and all that logistics) and I
took a photo of the finish (for my brain-I was still at it!) I will see you tomorrow afternoon Mr Clonegal!
Check in at Marley Park was quick and efficient, kit check,
sign the form, stick number 5 on to shorts and shove tracker down the bottom of the back pack. Right, watch set, work
phone on as point of contact for the race, iPod with-in reach, food spilling out every pocket possible(nothing new there) and climb back into Jean and Padraig’s car. As much as I wanted to tip around and have the chat it was too wet and starting off cold and wet when you have 127k to run is mad- as if running 127k isn’t mad enough!
Race director Jeff gives the race brief, the only bits that
stuck out were horrendous or horrific or something like that weather “up there”. Up where Jeff?!!? He can only mean Djouce!
Off through the gap in the wall, hit my Garmin on (I have it
set to all the info I wanted) and we are off. Pace is quick enough through the park and out the other side. We say thank you to the park rangers who are there to shut the gate after us. I’m sure they were thinking what a bunch of lunatics
as we all ran past, big smiley faces on us, off up into the hills in the pissing rain and wind at 12 midnight.
It wasn’t cold and soon enough I was loosening my jacket a
bit to let some air in as we hit the first climb out of Dublin, up through Kilmacshanogue and up over Fairy Castle. I’m slow on this technical bit as I just don’t want to go over on my already weak ankle. The amazing Sarah Brady is
just in front. I’m keeping my eye on her and I am sure she is keeping her eye on me!
Hey wait, what? My Garmin says I have already run about 32k?? I don’t know how that happened but I decided it wasn’t going to throw me off, flick it to time only and keep moving.
The run up to Prince William seat was grand, wind picked up
a bit, down through Curtlestown Wood. I pulled out my poles on the steep grass slope down to the Glencree River, I thought I would put them away again but I never did. Up to check point 1 at Crone Woods (21k in) in the lashings of rain in the time I wanted. Grab the food and drinks and go. Lorcan asks me do I want to know where 1st lady is and I say nope, running my own race and I don’t plan on asking till Ironbridge (80K in), thank you!
Hiking at fast pace up and eating, wondering what Djouce
will bring. I have been up Djouce in every kind of weather both day and night, blistering heat to white out snow and hailstorms to literally hurricane windsbut I had yet to be up there with rivers flowing down the trails, lashing rain
and thick fog all in the dark! Well now I have. You could just about see the person in front of you and it was literally just one foot in front of the other
and keep pushing on, just looking at the ground beneath as our guide to where we are on the hill, the grassy bit, the scrubby bit, then the deeper gully bit.
At one point I got a bit unsure and I asked Dermot, my training buddy “Are we definitely on the right track up?” We passed the way-marker sign and kept to the left, keep on
keeping on (love it Alicia!). The poles came into their own up along Djouce, the single track around the shoulder was so slippy and slidey with rivers, puddles and mud that they saved so many slips. Progress was slow along here where
you can normally run. Hit the board walk with a little relief and get cracking, still really foggy, the steps just suddenly coming apon you. No chatting. No birds yet. No sun rise yet. Just silence.
Keeping at good pace again, down towards Glendalough, its
bright now but still windy and raining, soaked right through- I tell you it’s impossible to pull up wet shorts after taking a wee! Into check point two Glendalough (50k in) just after 6.30am, much later than planned but there was
nothing I could have done to make myself go any faster with the weather overnight. Luke tells me Sarah is 30 seconds ahead. I stop and restock the bag, take 3 mouth fulls of coffee and grab a rasher on the go and run on- class checkpoint Luke and Gareth! From this point on I am on my own and I am looking forward to the adventure of the day
ahead. Stick on my music and get the fluck up out of Glendalough (such a slog!) Up along the switch back I see Sarah just ahead and she sees me, Sarah
obviously put the foot down because I didn’t see her again!
Over Mullinacor and down the long decent into Glenmalure, at last two deer on the trail, the first I have spotted all night and day. Myself and another runner, Martin, have been in front and behind each other since before Glendalough, a little chit chat here and there. My ipod dies. No watch. No music now. Just me! I am enjoying the silence
and this day out with myself.
Down into Glenmalure and I’m feeling a bit tired, as much as
I love the shit weather, it does take more of your energy and I have been soaked to the core for 8 and half hours and up since 7.30 am on Friday morning (bar a
nap Friday eve). I meet Liam Costello at the exact half way point and he tells me Sarah is just ahead. I stop to change my t-shirt and socks, this proved to be the worst decision of the day. Heading up out of Drumgoff the rain seems to
be easing off. My dry t-shirt is wet again within minutes but its warm out. I pull out my work phone to phone the girls to check in with them but the work phone is dead! (I had my own phone which I had turned off for the race) No
watch for pace, no music, no phone…. Total tech fail. This is why it is so important to have it all up in the head too!
Arriving down into check point 3, Ironbridge (80k in) Syl
Ivers is taking photographs and I beg him not to take any of me, I am so mankey and sweaty and wet! Shove some fresh fruit in my mouth and two yummy flap jacks
in my pocket and the lads tell me Sarah is 15 minutes ahead. Right race starts here-time to put the boot down! (ish!)
Coming down into Sheilstown I can feel the beginnings of a
blister on my right foot. I’ll check it at the barrier. I had taken off my long compression socks and put on shorter compression ones which I hadn’t done a long run in. Such a rookie mistake!
“Hey, hey, you’re going the wrong way!!” I roar at the guy
ahead who is heading straight down the fire road instead of turning left (I don’t know his name?), he hears me and turns around, I wave and run on, he catches up and said he went back to double check, I told him don’t worry I
know- I have make that exact mistake myself years ago!
At the barrier I stop and rub some gel on my ankle which is
a bit sore and take the sock off and put on a compeed on the blister and an extra plaster to secure. All time on the clock.
Then I take a nice little fall on the track between the top
road and down to the back of Moyne, I
curse very loudly and pick myself up. Great, busted elbow and knee. Run on but the blood is dribbling so I stop again and stick on some plasters I have in my
back pack, emmm not great….blood still coming out so I pull out some KT tape I had and strapped it around elbow and knee, good job. I am a nurse, work would be so proud-not!
Beep beep I could hear my own phone which I had turned on
…beep beep again. I check the text ‘you are closing in, keep moving’. In theory sounds great, in practice not so
easy- the blister on my foot was getting worse yet I just didn’t want to stop AGAIN so I chose to ignore it- how bad could it get? (BADDDDDDD!)
Coming up over Ballycumber Hill, Graham Bushe zips past
me. Graham not only ran down to Clonegal but turned around and ran back again to Marley Park (only the second person ever to complete the Wicklow Way out and back- just incredible achievement,well done Graham).
Arriving into Check point 4 the Dying Cow pub (100k in) Amy
is here to cheer as is Lorcan and Dermot who had to pull up at Glendalough. Lillian and co tell me Sarah is about 7 minutes ahead and I ask how she looks. They tell me she looks good! I grab my food and drinks and tell
them all I am too old for this shit! I take off, waving my poles and shouting “See you all in Clonegal!” I think it was the first time I started to feel excited about finishing.
The Dying Cow pub is a real turning point in the race. It is
one of the main cut off points that some runners don’t make yet it is a real turning point for those that do. If you are moving and in reasonable shape you know you will finish. 27k to go and bar a leg falling off you will make it. The
spirits lift and there is a feeling of the end in sight. What are 3 more hours when you have been out for 14+ hours??!!
The next 3 hours and 18 minutes were a mixture of hope and
hell all rolled into one. Running on the flat and downs as fast as I could (which is not that fast at this point!) every corner I come around or stretch I can see ahead I am hoping to see Sarah. No sign. Just keep pushing Clare, the sun is out now and its warm and my feet are killing me but I am moving. I have names for bits of this section to try break
it up as it does seem so endless. I pass what I used to call the bird house but they actually have barking dogs. Down the road running and then the call comes
“You have passed Sarah out, she missed a turn”.
Oh my god and I run and run. I think of all the how’s and the whys I am here doing this race and I think of my kids and what I told them I was going to do and I ran with all I had. I didn’t feel like I had much more to give at this point if Sarah did come running past me but I tried not to think of that and
all I wanted to do was get a good enough gap between us. At this point I was passing out other runners along the way.
Up that damn god awful hill before the 5th and final check point Raheenakit (111k in) the cheers at the top were just the best! It was great to see Jean and Padraig, I had just been up at their house the evening before and it was so exciting to be arriving up to them now. I was sick of food at this point but I knew I need something so I stocked up on a tailwind
and some coke and started run/hiking. 16k left and I am breaking it all down in my brain. Get through this
woods and out on to the road as quick as you can, there is a good downhill after and then get to the “Squirrel house” which I know is near the last woods.
Into the last woods and I know it is 5k of woods and 5k of
road and I am done. I was up this way recently and I had a good idea of all the twists and turns, the ground had a rough hard core on it and it was excruciatingly painful to run on my feet, both feet had blisters now and I could feel them burst
as I ran. I was whimpering and kind of half crying as I ran! I wanted this so badly yet it was just so hard to run but
I had to. It is kind of amazing, I have had trouble with my left ass muscle since I ran this race two years ago and a tendonitis in my right ankle and neither of them caused me any jip purely because something else was worse off! Thank god for the blisters so!
Keep looking over my shoulder and I am still out on my own.
Out the last woods section and it is 5k to Clonegal and all
those who have run this race know that this is the longest 5k of your ENTIRE life! How can 5k actually be that long??!!
Run walk run walk. Run two lamp posts walk one, run the next two, and hobble the next one. Thinking about
the day and how it is so important to trust your training and stick to your own plan, it came good and even when your ‘props’ (that includes your feet!) start to fail to keep the head
strong. Towards the end of these days it is your biggest asset. I loved this day out by myself. I needed to do this on my own. I am looking at my watch which is on time only
and trying to work out will I get in under my previous time…just about I would say! Eventually round the corner where you can see the village and the supporters can see you and no matter how hanging you are, if you have literally no skin
left on your feet or your head is falling off, you RUN this bit of road! Up to the Wicklow Way board and bang my arms against it with all I had.
First female in.
My mum is here with Katie, Sarah and Ciara. The sun is
shining and there are runners on the grass and family and friends about and it’s like the previous 17 hours and 26 minutes are forgotten for a little
while. Enjoy the photos and the high, say hello to the ladies in the chipper and knock back the gorgeous free milkshake and hamburger. Pull off the runners and socks and assess the damage…not pretty, a blister the size of a beer mat on
my right foot and I am going to be down toenails…lots of toenails (I have three left-really). Sarah arrives in and I congratulate her on a fantastic race, I know she will be back. The crash is coming , I can feel it and as much as I really wanted to cheer in some of my friends I decided to get going home. I died a death at home, showered and crawled
And so one week on and the body is slowly coming around. Swimming in the sea yesterday with the girls and I felt good and strong. I told them what fantastic swimmers they are and that I can see them getting stronger every summer and I looked at them and thought they are my “why” in all of this. I want them to see that dreams can be made possible, that ideas which may seem wild or crazy are actually within their reach. That trusting yourself and believing in your strength can bring you very special moments in your life. Life is a journey and we are all in on it together.