Thursday, August 11, 2016

Connemara 100 Mile 2016 Race Report

I've had a few days to reflect since I finished the Connemara 100 Road Race at the weekend and I decided it was time to put my race report together. Before, during and after the race I've had some mixed feelings about the race however overall I'm taking away a positive viewpoint on the race rather then the negative.

As I'm living in Kilkenny it about a 4hr drive to Clifden so the crew and I headed off around Midday on Friday to ensure we had time to check-in to our hotel before heading to the race briefing in the Station House Hotel at 7pm.   We knew we didn't have time to drive the course before the race, which is a shame and I would recommend doing so to others.

On the way up I must say that I was a little worried about the Galway/Clifden road as it seemed very very busy and I knew I'd be running the road the next day, while I had previously run this section of Connemara twice before I'd only ever ran it at 7am as part of the Connemara Ultra a few years back I'd never experienced some much traffic on it.  

The race briefing took about 40min as Ray went through various aspects of the course and handed out race packs, hoodies and the crew were able to get signage for cars to warn of a race in progress. After that it was a quick meal and off to bed to get as much sleep as possible before the race as I wasn't planning on taking sleep breaks.

Start - Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel (Check Point 1: Mile 28):
Despite the fact that I've ran countless races at this stage ranging from 5km to 100mile distances each and every-time I feel pretty nervous before I start, and this race was no different. I woke up at 4am to prep before the race and eat my normal bowl of porridge porridge.

Soon it was 5:15am and myself and the first half of my crew needed to head to the pre-start briefing.    After some issues organising a crew for the event as the race drew closer my final crew was made up of my wife Grace, my sisters Sinead and Anne and my dad Neil.  

Myself, Grace and Sinead arrived at the Station House Hotel, Ray had a few words for both runners and crew before we headed to the start line.  As always the obligatory starting line photo was taken, this year it featured 19 brave or foolish people at the starting line.

The starting line

Sinead & Grace
Passing through Tullycross
This year the race start was going to be different, instead of starting at 6am the race was due to start at 6.01am as a minute's silence was being held in memory of Michael Corcoran who was former a participant of the Connemara 100mile.  At the end of the minute silence Ray simply counted 3, 2, 1 and we were off to start the race by doing one loop of Clifden Town before heading to Letterfrack and beyond.

The aim at the start of the race was for me to head out and spend the first 45min or so without my crew, however due to a slight miscommunication there was no sign of my crew at the 1hour mark.  

I was starting to get somewhat worried as I appeared to be sweating a fair bit even though it was so early in the morning and eventually when it hit 1hr 15min into the race I happened to be passing Don Hannon who was crewing for another runner and asked could I call my crew.   Fortunately my crew wasn't too far behind and around 5minutes later they showed up.

Once my crew showed up it was simply a case of meeting them every few miles so I could top up fluids and take in any other fuel as the race went on. As we arrived into Letterfrack we could hear thunder and it started to rain and this continued on and off until just after Tullycross.  

I must say that the views on this section of the course were stunning as I'd never been to this part of Connemara before.

After Tullycross it was the countdown in miles until Lough Inagh Lodge at mile 28, after mile 20 the roads started to look more familiar as this section of the course makes up the Connemara Ultra 39.3 race that I raced a few years back. I passed the famous Stop & Pray church for the first time and turned right towards
Lough Inagh Lodge. 

During this section it was great to pass the time
Myself & Anto at Tullycross
chatting to other runners, including Anto Lee who was using the race for training for Spartathlon in September, John Boyle who has run the Connemara 100 a number of times and also Jason (JJ) who was running a 100mile ultra for the first time.

I arrived into checkpoint 1 at mile 28 at 11am (5hours of running), at this stage of the race I felt good and opted to wait until near Maam Cross before changing socks.

Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel Check Point 1: Mile 28 - Leenaun (Checkpoint 2: Mile 55):
I must admit I was worried about this section, while the first 3-4miles were fine after that I turned left onto the Galway to Clifden road which was particularly busy as there was a Mart on.   As Ray mentioned during our briefing, a farmer with a trailer full of unsold sheep isn't going to care too much about a bunch of runners when they are on their way home.

While initially I choose to face incoming traffic after much deliberation I opted to switch to the left side of the road and to have the main traffic coming up behind me. This however was safe as Grace & Sinead and other crew cars were forcing traffic to slow down behind us.  

For most of this section I was still running with John & Jason and we'd run the relatively flat sections and walk any of the hills. Traffic wise there were only a few instances of idiot motorists trying to overtake my crew car and the three of us running....including one idiot who tried to overtake on a turn while towing a trailer with a boat on it! (he had to stop half way and pull back in behind the crew car).
Eventually I saw the familiar sight of the tower from the Peacock Hotel at Maam Cross and as we turned left onto the familiar course I've run so many times before (but this time backwards) I knew that the section from here to Leenaun would involve a lot of walking.    So first off I walked much of this section including the Hell Of The West, this was also the first time my crew walked with me as both Sinead and Grace walked with me on sections. 

Just after the hell of the west the rain and the wind started to pick up so for the first time I put on a jacket and shortly after turned left onto the road that would eventually bring me to Leenaun.     It was on this section that I started to experience blister issues for the first time and so opted to apply a blister plaster and change socks, this however only helped a little it was later as the miles counted down to Leenaun the blister burst!   At this point my crew had gone ahead to Leenaun to change over to my other sister Anne and my Dad but I did yell out in pain and a car stopped at that very moment and asked what was wrong, I explained I was fine and they asked if I wanted a lift which I declined.

On this section I hit mile 50 in 9hours, 36min and 21seconds. This was a sizable improvement on my previous personal best for 50mile which was 10hours, 10min, 35sec set in Vartry in 2015.
Shortly after the road started dropping down into Leenaun, as much as I'd have loved to run these downhill sections I knew they'd trash my legs so I opted to walk them all.   I arrived into checkpoint 2 at mile 55 at 5.07pm (11hours, 7min of running).

In Leenaun I opted for a full change of clothes, hot food in the form of pasta and I even washed my face and hands just so I could feel more human again.   I also opted to change my rain jacket as the rain was not stopping anytime soon!
Leenaun (Checkpoint 2: Mile 55) - Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel (Checkpoint 3: Mile 67):
Coming out of Leenaun I knew exactly what to expect....hills, lots of hills. There's a long and steep climb out of Leenaun before I could get back onto the relative flat of the road to Lough Inagh Lodge.     

What I didn't expect was the wind as well as the rain, as the road climbed the wind started to hit me and it was truly relentless to the point where I was experiencing problems just standing in the same spot beside the crew car when my sister and dad stopped the car.

I kept being blown around the road and when my Anne took out a chair I'd have to sit down straight away or it would be blown away.

As I past the Stop & Pray church for the second time the wind kept up the entire way to Lough Inagh Lodge with only the occasional change in direction but at least the rain tapered off at this stage.  Not much of a conciliation prize though.....

I arrived into checkpoint 3 at mile 67 at 8.13pm (14hours, 12min of running), I once again took on some pasta and other food and drink. I also changed socks and applied more blister plasters. At this stage I was getting awful tired of the wind!

Leenaun (Checkpoint 3: Mile 67) -
Roundstone (Checkpoint 4: Mile 82):  

Leaving Leenaun I decided to maintain the mix of run/walking as far as the Galway/Clifden Road where I needed to turn right towards Cliden and the Roundstone junction.   By the time I reached the
Dad & Me
junction though there was no sign of my crew and with them my headtorch and flashing arm band. I was worried.

It was rapidly getting dark and I'd be back on a busy road with only a reflective top on, I met up with JJ at this junction and stuck with him for the first mile until my crew showed up.   After this as this road had a fair amount of hills I opted for run/walking right up until I hit the Roundstone junction.

When I hit the Roundstone junction the sight of the 15km distance to Roundstone really took its effect on me mentally, I guess I thought I was closer but for the first time in the race I opted to listen to music and I maintained my run/walk routine for the next 7miles or so.

At this stage of the race the pace was slowing down but that was to be expected and was to plan because I couldn't sustain the sort of pace I had been doing up until now.

However, at mile 81 my pace dramatically slowed down and I was feeling seriously low on energy, while the previous miles averaged between 13-15min miles this mile averaged 18min and it was about to get a lot slower!.
I arrived into checkpoint 4 at mile 82 at around 12:04am (Approx 18hours, 4min of running), I was zapped of energy and starting to feeling cold. I took on two cups of hot soup, more hot pasta and other items. I also changed my top from a t-shirt and jacket to a long sleeve top, t-shirt and jacket instead, as well as gloves and a winter hat. This did help and eventually I started to feel warmer.

I spent a good 30min at Roundstone before I eventually left.

Roundstone (Checkpoint 3: Mile 67) - Finish: (Mile 100):
Leaving Roundstone I was feeling physically drained, I wanted to run faster but I just didn't have a lot of  energy and the miles slowly ticked by at this stage at around 20-22min miles.   I kept up this "faster" pace up until around the mile 87 mark and I could no longer maintain it and my pace dropped even further to avg 30min miles.

It was around this point that the crew changed over again from Anne and my Dad to Grace and Sinead again, Grace and Sinead also took turns doing A LOT of walking with me all the way through sunrise and beyond. All during this time the wind kept up as it howled and at one point we even got blasted with sand and salt.  All the time they spent with me was much appreciated and without them I think mentally I'd have been in trouble.

At one point I was finding it so hard to have the energy to push forward that I asked Grace to take a stick I kept for walking in the woods out of the car. Shortly after Ray drove up for the first time and asked how things were going, he wasn't in any doubt that I wouldn't finish and at this stage neither was was just a case of when.

Eventually I found just holding the stick was taking too much energy and I opted to throw it back in the car and just walk slowly on.  Miles at this point were now averaging 28-33min, a soul crushingly slow speed.

As we approached Clifden  I was now drained
emotionally as well as physically, each time I rounded a turn I'd see another hill and eventually on the final hills on the climb to Clifden I stopped and just put my head in my arms on a wall. I was exhausted and the hills even at such a slow pace were taking every ounce of energy out of me, I was so very close to calling it a day at around the 96mile mark.

However, after a few minutes I continued on and after what seemed like endless turns and hills I could finally see Clifden, but I wasn't finished yet as I still had 3x loops of Clifden to do before I could finally cross the finish line and call it a day.

It took every ounce of my strength to do these loops, any section of the road or footpath that was up or downhill was hard going and anytime I'd step off a footpath onto the road was really uncomfortable. At this stage my entire crew was there for the finish and I was joined by Grace and my Dad for different section of the loops. I even did 2x of the loops were with my dad and his support meant an awful lot to me.

I finally crossed the finish line in 27hours, 14min & 36seconds, I was never so glad to just stop walking and I wanted nothing more then to lay down on the ground just to get off my feet for a few minutes.

Finally Finished!!
With the help of Ray & Seb I eventually got back up and headed back to the hotel for a hot bath and around 90min sleep before we needed to go to the prize giving ceremony.

Prize Giving Ceremony:
This year the price giving ceremony was in the theater in the Station House Hotel in Clifden, I must say it was a nice location for the event and it was nice to hear many of the participants different stories.     From Jasons (JJ's) story of dropping out of the race at 91miles due to a injury, sleeping for a few hours and eventually rejoining the race to finish it in 29:42:30, the 2nd place finish of
Rolando after which he headed home as he had work and of course Ed McGroarty 1st place finish in 15h 55min 34sec and his speech.

Sinead, Myself, Grace & Dad
Will be proudly added to my wall!

Final Thoughts:
s I went through the hardest part of this race I mentioned to my wife that I believe this is the last time I'd do a 100mile race, this race almost broke me and that even occurred at the 96mile mark just before Clifden.

When things fell apart during this race and I didn't have any more energy to run and barely enough to walk the mental toughness of the event really took its toll on me and eventually I was mentally fatigued as well.   Although I didn't get the sub 24hour time I wanted from this race I now know that I'm more than capable of better times on other distances such as 50mile and 100km and that I've been too cautious when doing these distances.

Keeping that in mind I think I'll call it quits on the 100mile distance, as to improve at it would likely require a bigger time commitment then I believe I can give it or am willing to give it. However, I am certainly going to aim for sub 9hours in a 50mile event in the future (Vartry 2017 perhaps?).

I also know from this race that even when the body starts to give up that mentally I can keep going for a long, long time. Sure some will say I was foolish I should have called it a day instead of spending 9hours walking but to me it proves I can dig deep when I need too and I'm just too stubborn to walk away from this race with a DNF.

It was an experience to do this event with my family including having my 83 year old dad walk two of the final loops to the finish line in Clifden with me, other then my wife I've never had family members attend any of my races before so it was a fantastic experience and I'm truly glad of the support Grace, Sinead, Anne and my Dad gave me throughout the entire race. It meant so much.

So that's it for the race report, I've bounced back recovering from this race far faster then I thought I would. I was able to run up the stairs at home on Monday morning and I even went for a 5km recovery run on Tuesday night. 


  1. Great read Barry and unbelievable effort. Looking for facebook updates on your progress on Saturday night was exhausting enough. ;) Delighted for you!

    1. Thanks Dom, it certainly took every ounce from me to finish it. I think at this stage I'd describe it as an experience more than anything.

      Ray & Seb seemed pretty good for posting updates/pictures, however I think Anne posted the most pictures of me though on Saturday night :)