Monday, September 26, 2011

Ireland - looking back

Claire and I shared a wonderful experience, running across Ireland with 12 other hardy and eclectic souls we'd never met before. We celebrated 25 years of marriage in some style, and no cross words were ever exchanged. Despite the threat of a hurricane at the outset, we managed to avoid bad weather for the most part. One day of headwinds and a few hours of rain were all we had to contend with. The last three days were beautiful, with some sunshine and great running temperatures.

Big thanks and gratitude are due to the crew for getting us through 11 stages - Rory, Jen, Ann, Paul and Jim. These races are profoundly affected by the quality of support received. We experienced nothing but positive affirmation from the race support team, and that counts for everything. As the race progressed, we became better at map reading, and the course became better and better marked. Having our son Rob join us for the last three days was icing on the cake; a great mental boost for us.

Ireland - as any country - has a great deal of variety, and we saw most aspects of it. The towns we passed through were generally uninspiring; some nice old landmarks, but generally a little down-at-heel and seedy. The countryside is easy on the eye, but has been spoilt by a recent rash of McMansion developments which look out of place amid farms, cows, sheep and peaceful lanes. The "Celtic Tiger" phase of economic prosperity has been replaced with a vague general feeling of economic distress and uncertainty.

Our bodies and specifically our legs and feet held together well. We had prepared well for the rigors of a 350-mile journey, and so felt strong almost every day. Because of experience from previous stage races, we were able to deal with Claire's toe and heel issues well. I seldom had doubts that we would both make it.

The only thing we'd change was the tour bus format. The bus had a great "cool factor", and it was nice not to have to pack & unpack every day. But it became cramped and smelly by the end, and we had several squalid days without toilets and showers. Although she pulled off some minor miracles preparing endless meals & snacks, our cook's catering area was too small for preparing high quality meals. Very close quarters with very fatigued ultra runners could quickly degenerate into a whiney, squabbly, acrimonious mess. We didn't quite get to that point, but there were times when it could've easily unraveled. Personal space is important for exhausted, stressed runners, and frankly there was very little.

Going into the race, my goals were listed as (a) to run across another country, (b) to have fun and (c) to make new friends. Given those goals, the race was a huge success for both of us, as we achieved all three. Would we do the race again? Probably not, as life and money is too short. Would we recommend it to someone else? A qualified yes, to the right person with the right attitude. It's an amazing experience and privilege to have run across this ancient country.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beautiful Mizen Head weather

One happy camper

Location:Mizen Head, Eire

Ireland - final stage

Done! Country #9 for me, #1 for Claire. And on the very best weather day ever in Southern Ireland.!

Location:Mizen Head

Ireland - Stage 10

Our last "long" run today was a very, very hilly and headwindy 35-miler. The landscape was beautiful, as was the sight of the sea as we reached Bantry Bay. Some of the climbs were astonishingly steep. It threatened to rain all day, but never did.

Claire's Achilles survived, and she made it to the finish line smiling. Having Rob's company during some of the stage really lifted her spirits.

I enjoyed another day of Chris' company. It made the time pass much quicker.

Tomorrow's finale is a brief 20-miler to the most southerly point in Ireland, Mizen Head. We're trying to coordinate the finish so that we all finish at 11 a.m. - and then it's off to Cork Airport and back to real life.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ireland - Stage 9

35 more miles completed; only 55 to go. Today's weather was sublime as was the scenery. Breathtaking. Undoubtedly the best day, ending in the very historic town of Macroom, where we were welcomed by our son Rob. We've already shared a pint of Murphy's.

Chris and I ran together the whole stage, and it really helped especially during the long, long climbs. After 9 days it is amazing that only 9 minutes separate us. I don't feel the need to push it to the finish; I'm happy just to be on the podium (assuming of course no last minute disasters).

Claire's still wrestling with her sore Achilles, but she's nearly there too. She was tearfully happy to give Rob a hug at the finish.

So tomorrow's our last major effort before Saturday's "finale". Life on the big purple bus is good.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ireland - Stage 8

Today's stage was really hard, even compared to 7 already hard stages. A fierce headwind all day, with some cold driving rain and busy traffic thrown in, made it very little fun. Everyone was glad to be done.

I averaged 10 minutes/mile, after reaching the marathon distance in 4hr20mins. A pleasing time given the conditions, but I don't think I did enough to preserve my second place overall ranking, as Chris finished a quarter of an hour before me, but I know I needed to save something for the next two long, mountainous stages.

Claire struggled emotionally today, but finished strong and enjoyed some good food and a hot shower at the finish. Bliss. Her Achilles tendons are now both sore, but I'm confident she'll make it to Saturday's finish.

Today was a sad running day for me. I learned last night of the untimely death of a fine former co-worker, Kathleen Kelly. Life is not at all fair. Kathleen will be greatly missed.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Irish whiskey

According to the barkeep at our new 'local', Tullamore Dew is not popular "around these parts", but exports well. I trust his opinion, as he pours a first-rate pint of Guiness, and it does indeed hit the spot in Oklahoma...

By the way, we spent last night at Borrisokane (at a depressingly deserted gas station with no toilets or showers, in fact). Sounds like an Irish-Soviet double agent? Ah, if only it had been that exciting.

Ireland - Stage 7

The most beautiful stage so far, with mountains and no rain. 29 miles disposed of, and now resting and eating after a warm water sponge bath (another night without showers...grrrr!) The 9 runners left in the race are doing well, despite a few blisters and other random long-distance ailments. The next 3 stages are 35-milers, so that will sort things out.

It has been a 220-mile week - a PR for Claire and most of the others. Her sore Achilles has slowed her down, but she's moving along sensibly and enjoying the journey. I'm still feeling unusually good, with none of my usual stage race issues. Starting slowly has really helped.

Tomorrow's another day. Only 4 to go. It'll be great meeting up with our son Rob in 48 hours.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Ireland - Stage 6

Several abandons today, almost all due to very sore, inflamed shins. It's sad to see these nice people leave the roadtrip. Today's 30 miles were along some very straight roads. I smiled as I saw several signs for Tullamore - home of my brother-in-law's and my favorite whiskey, Tullamore Dew.

So now only 9 remain in the race. Jed is the star, and has killed every stage by a country mile. Only major injury can stop him now. Well deserved - he's a great lad.

Chris, Rick and I are his bridesmaids, but none of us have his pace. I ran my fastest pace thus far again today - exactly 10 min/mile. (Patience, Russ, there's still a long road ahead.)

Michelle and Claire are leading the female contingent. Claire's toes were better today, but her Achilles was unfortunately worse. She's very upbeat and strong, though, and it will take a lot to stop her.

But now we're past the halfway point of the race with only 5 days to go. Mountains ahead, I hear. A rest will be nice!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ireland - Stage 5

Today's stage was blissfully short - a 'mere' 28 miles. Temperatures were pleasantly cool, it poured heavily only once, and the wind was usually at our backs. And Jen and Rory had pulled out all the stops on signage, so no-one got too horribly lost.

My bi-daily ministrations to Claire's feet seem to be working. She's running well with less pain now, but they're not a pretty sight:

Tonight our tour bus is stationed at a football club in Ballynahown. A wonderful place to be, as they have not only warm showers but also a washer & dryer. It's amazing how much you sometimes appreciate the normal creature comforts. Now our running clothes no longer smell of dead animals.

By this time tomorrow, we'll be past half-way. That's a good feeling. Today was my fastest average pace - a shade over 10 minutes per mile. If I can stay uninjured and healthy, this will definitely be my best stage race finish. Ahhh, but that's a big if. Jed and Chris are ahead of me in the rankings, but there's still some way to go. I have to say that I'm enjoying the journey with Claire as much as the race itself.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ireland - Stage 4

A pleasant enough day, with only a few heavy downpours. 32 miles ended up being 34+ miles for some of us, as the final turning was missed again. Aggravating, but just how it goes sometimes.

Claire and I performed sufficient shoe and blister surgery to get her through the day unscathed. I start an hour later than her each day and it's nice when I catch up with her around 20 miles or so. She always smiley and running strongly.

I'm (so far) feeling better on this stage race than on any previous one. Legs are tired, but nothing really hurts, and so far no blisters. 140 miles in 4 days - more than a third done!

Location:Near Longford

Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy anniversary!

Thanks to Rory, Jen, Ann and Paul for taking such great care of us...

Ireland - Stage 3

Much more typical Irish weather to help us celebrate our wedding anniversary today - heavy rains for at least half of our 31 miles, interspersed with grey skies and about 90 seconds of sunshine. It's not green here for nothing.

Claire is starting to have blister/toenail issues, so started off today taped and with the toeboxes of her sneakers (and now crocs!) removed. She's sore and tender, but is a trooper and will fight on. She completed in 7 hours, and remains as second placed woman in the race.

I ran the first 10 miles with race leader Jed, who's celebrating his 30th birthday today. Then he took off just before Enniskillen, and I kept going on my own and later on with Canadian Rick. Unfortunately we had our first abandon today - our youngest competitor Jimmy who's not been feeling good. But he'll be back when he's healthy.

Another thirtysomething tomorrow, but spirits are generally high tonight. It's amazing how restorative a warm shower can be.

Location:Corlough GAA club, Eire

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ireland - Stage 2

A better day for me today, as I didn't get lost. But an extra 4 miles for poor Claire who's struggling with the very tricky mapreading skills required for this race.

The first few miles to Strabane were along a wretchedly busy highway with no shoulder and plenty of trucks and busses. But then things became quieter and more rural...and also super-hilly.

The stage was nearly 34 miles, and we were all quite happy to be finished. The weather cooperated for a second day. It drizzled briefly a couple of times, but no raingear was required, and the scenery was splendidly Irish-farmy.

Lying down on my bunk feels good now, but we are in very tight quarters and have no shower or toilet facilities beyond buckets and fields. The race support team is excellent, but it's turning out we prefer the school gym format for stage races - more space, showers and toilets, despite having to unpack and repack each stage.

Location:A farm somewhere in Ireland

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ireland - Stage 1

Everything started well and on time today. The hurricane gods rested, and we had an atypically dry, sunny, Irish day. My run had me close to the lead for quite a few surprising miles, but failing to make a final turn near the finish cost me a depressing extra 4 miles and a decent place/time. 41 miles is MUCH further than 37. Oh well.
Claire finished second lady, and right now looks in much better shape than me. Awesome.
And along the way, we both chuckled sophomorically about this sign:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ireland - Day 0

Blowing a gale, rainy, grey and menacing...ah, Ireland! All 14 competitors present and accounted for on the big, purple bus. Fun starts at 9 a.m. tomorrow. Our first Guinnesses have been satisfactorily dispatched.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What's with these Ultra hurricanes?

Just as our TransAmerican friends ran into Hurricane Irene on the August day their race finished in New York City, we now appear to be running into her younger sister Katia as we get ready to head to Ireland. Hopefully travel logistics won't get too messed up. But with 20 people taking different routes and trying to get to Malin Head by Wednesday, things could get a little tricky. Life's never simple.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

One week to go

Starting to get impatient...this is the time I like least, marking time, everything in suspended animation. Now that our few "long" weeks of training are over, I keep imagining injuries, aches and pains, and illnesses starting to take hold. But nothing serious so far. I just want to get going.

Today's windy, hilly, rainy 10 miles felt really good - no pain, no stress, very smooth and comfortable. Six more days of the same, and then we're off!