Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Connemara 100 Mile 2017 Race Report

Friday's Pre-Race Briefing
Race day had finally arrived and it was a bright and early 6am start, we arrived on Friday evening at around 6pm and attended the pre-race briefing at 7am in the Station House Theatre, then a quick bite to eat and we headed off to bed for what I hoped would be a decent night sleep...that however was not to be.

I wrote the following at around 4.30am on Saturday morning before the race:
Not the best night sleep, I'd say I slept about 3 hours total last night which is very unusual for me. Normally the night before a race I have no issues sleeping, but last night the brain just didn't switch off. I'd be lying if I said it didn't worry me.....
Still, while the lack of sleep was worrying me a little it wasn't going to be the end of the world so I got ready for the race and performed the final checks with the crew.

This year the crew was made up of my wife Grace, my 3 sisters Sinead, Claire and Finola, Finola's two children Jane and Neil also helped out and finally Victor Young. Everyone of them had given up their valuable weekend time to drive around Connemara supporting me and I'm very thankful for that. Thanks guys!

Fancy new sign!
Learning from last year we had opted for some nice big vinyl signs for the back of the cars and also a flashing amber light which we'd swap from crew car to crew car to ensure they'd be better seen during the day and night, this would ensure better safety for the crew and myself during the race.

At around the 5.30am mark we headed towards the Station House Hotel in Clifden in preparation for the race start and also the short pre-race briefing, you could feel the nervious energy in the air, like any race I've done regardless of whether it is 10miles or 50miles, I'm always nervous and a little emotional at this point.

At around 5:50am we started to make our way to the start line for the annual starting line photo, this year 19 men and women stood at the start line. A lot can change over the next 30 hours and we knew that it was unlikely that all 19 would finish the race as its usual for around 30-40% of the field to DNF (Do Not Finish) on this 100mile course.

Courtesy of Maryse O Connor Mackessy
A brief countdown to 6am start and we were off.  The start of Connemara 100 isn't like a big city race as it is a much slower, more casual affair as everyone first does a slow lap of Clifden town passing the starting area where the crew are standing and clapping before finally leaving Clifden and heading on towards Letterfrack and later Tullycross.

Start to Lough Inagh Lodge (mile 28):

My view is the first 5miles or so after Clifden are very easy going as there are no crew cars yet and everyone is taking it nice and easy, at the starting loop in Clifden I had been chatting to Louise O'Rourke, Derek Mackessy and others during the first few miles.

Something that I've found often comes up when I get chatting to people during marathon and ultra-marathon races is my blog and this race was no different as a few people mentioned me posting on it and posting on Facebook including Louise. I'll be honest, sometimes I'm just surprised people actually read half of the stuff I type here after races :)

Miriam & Myself
During this section I also got chatting to Miriam O'Connor who had previously run the Connemara
100 like myself and she had also taken on the six day multi-day Marathon De Sable last year which was impressive as I honestly don't think I could hack either the intense heat or the annoying sand.

Despite the easy miles by mile 8 I was slightly worried, I could feel a hotspot developing on my left foot just near my big toe and I mentioned it to my crew so they pulled up around mile10 and I changed out my socks and re-greased my feet.

By mile 15 I wasn't happy and I knew I had a blister so the crew pulled up again and I applied a Compeed Blister plaster to the area, at this stage I was worried as a blister developing at mile 8 is something I've not had happen for years! I've done 40mile races without any blister even starting in more recent years so this didn't look good for the day.

I continued on through Letterfrack and Tullycross, just after the junction at Tullycross I got chatting to Johnny Hanson. This was his first 100mile event and I was telling him what to expect going into Roundstone (not trusting the lights) and Clifden at the end, I know that not knowing what to expect last year really affected me so its helpful to know the course layout.

This section of the course is visually lovely as we pass a picturesque lake and what looks like an old school, we also passed many walkers for the
Connemara marathon walk and we received lots of words of support. At this stage myself and Louise had met up again and had chatted again for a few miles.   At one stage a farmer was herding sheep down the road passed everyone...you certaintly don't get that during the Dublin Marathon.

Eventually I arrived at the junction that turns right towards Kylemore and we passed the well known "Stop & Pray" church for the first of two times today, then a few miles later it was a left turn towards Lough Inagh Valley and the first checkpoint of the day. Lough Inagh Valley was very hot at this stage of the day but the scenery was stunning. I kept a good running pace for this entire section and finally I approached Lough Inagh Lodge.   If you ever want to get away from it all, this is a good choice for a place to stay as you won't get a mobile signal on this part of the course. As I was approaching the Lodge I spotted Seb who is one of the checkpoint crew standing near a stream, he took the photo below which shows just how beautiful parts of the course are!

Approaching Lough Inagh Lodge
When I arrived into the Lodge it was time for a quick pitstop and also to get some boiled potatoes into me.   I arrived into Lough Inagh Lodge at 11.11am.

Lough Inagh Lodge (mile 28) to Leenane (mile 55):
It was time to change over the crews and so I bid fairwell to Sinead and Grace with the arrival of my new crew for the next few miles - Victor and Finola. After leaving Lough Inagh my plan had been to mainly run untill the N59 Galway/Clifden junction, but first I walked a bit to allow myself to eat my boiled spuds. The N59 section is the busiest road on the course as I have to take in approx 10miles of the N59 Galway/Clifden road. For any sections with sharp bends Victor and Finola stuck with me to stop any motorists running me over.

About 2miles from the Peacock Hotel I met Johnny again, like myself he was run/walking this section but I still appeared to catch him quickly enough. Although the road was busy I would actually say it was less busy then last year.  Still, it was a lovely sight to finally see the clock tower belong to the Peacock Hotel.  Once we reached the hotel Victor and Finola set me up on a chair and Victor rubbed down both my legs which really helped freshen me up again as they had been getting very tight at this point.

After the Peacock Hotel is the "Hell of the West", for anyone who has ever done the Connemara Marathon Half-Marathon/Full-Marathon or Ultra-Marathon held in April each year you'll be very, very familar with this section as this is the last big hill you have to climb and descent before you finally run onto the finish line at the Peacock Hotel.   Unfortunately for me I had to do this hill in reverse and also continue running the Half Marathon section onto Leenane and then a further 45miles once I reached Leenane so it was going to be a hard day.

This section for me really is a pain, its hard when doing the race in April and it is even harder to do when you already have 40miles done on the legs. Victor decided to keep me company for this section so it was a mixture of run and walking with him for this entire section. At this point I was passed by Peter from Donadea AC who to my surprise was running all the hills as we approached Leenane. Eventually we reached the drop into Leenane which is about 2-3miles of downhill, this section last year really did a number on my legs but this year wasn't too bad. I arrived into Leenane at 5.05pm, where we had another change of crew with Sinead and Claire taking over.
Finally in Leenane

Originally I had decided to change all my clothes at this stage as I thought it would freshen me up and this might give me a boost, but I actually felt pretty fresh still so I opted against this. I also didn't mess with my socks or shoes either as that blister patch from earlier was still holding fine. Although I didn't change clothes Victor and Claire set me up lying on one of the picnic tables and they worked on both of my legs, normally one person doing this can hurt a lot but two people doing it at the same time hurts like hell!

Despite it hurting like hell it didn't stop a crowd around me gathering and appearing to find it amusing while I'd shout every so often, thanks guys! :)



Leenane (mile 55) to Lough Inagh Lodge (mile 67):

Once my legs were finished being rubbed down it was off again, I ran as far as the Ferry dock and then opted to walk the very steep hill out of Leenane as I thought I would be crazy to run it. The benefit to walking this section is I was also able to take on some food. Although the crews had been planned to change over in Leenane Victor stayed for this entire section and it was nice to have some company.

Myself and Victor leaving Leenane
My crew was now Sinead, Claire and Jane & Neil had tagged along as well for this section, I continued to walk once I reached the top because the road dips and rises again before finally dipping again and heading towards the famous "Stop & Pray" church, this would be my second and final time passing this church. This time the church section was much busier as there was a mass on but overall the traffic on the roads was getting less and less, I kept a running pace for most of this section and I opted to listen to music for the first time.
After the climb out of Leenane
However, as I couldn't fine my headphones I had to put my phone on loudspeaker to listen to the music so I must have looked crazy running along the road listening to blaring music, I didn't care as it helped pass the time.

Eventually I finally reached the junction that turns left into the Inagh Valley and thankfully the heat was starting to reduce at this stage too. My plan had been to run almost this entire section and then walk the final section with the hills just before Lough Inagh Lodge and then once again pick up the pace and run into Lough Inagh Lodge. For the sections when I walked Sinead kept me company which was a nice break from being on my own again.

I arrived into Lough Inagh Lodge at 8.22pm.

Lough Inagh Lodge (mile 67) to Roundstone (mile 82):
Leaving Lough Inagh Lodge the plan was to run/walk to the N59 Galway/Clifden road and then once I reached the road as this section was up hill I was going to walk it until I finally reached the Roundstone junction and then I picked up the pace again and run. During this section I was joined by my niece and nephew Jane and Neil and we chatted about this and that, I commented to them how nobody in either of their classes at school would ever end up walking around Connemara at around 10 at night in the dark during a 100mile race so it would be an experience to hang around with their crazy uncle Barry.


Sinead, Jane & Myself
Finally I reached the Roundstone junction and I could once again pick up the pace, I also opted to listen to music again but no sooner did I start running but my legs started causing me problems again so shortly after the junction beside a church the crew pulled over and Claire rubbed down both my legs again, this once again gave me a boost.

I continued on and shortly after the crew switched over again and I was joined by Victor who even after so much running earlier decided to join me for the last 5miles or so into Roundstone. The first time we saw the lights for Roundstone and Victor commented on them I told him not to trust the lights as we were still miles out. In the last 5miles approaching Roundstone I started getting really cold and every so often we'd hit a really cold pocket of air, so I put on extra layers but that didn't help. The crew packed a foil blanket around my body underneath my jacket but that also didn't really seem to help. I just couldn't get warm and this just kept making this section harder and harder for me.

At around mile 80/81 I had resigned myself in my own mind that as soon as I reached the checkpoint at Roundstone at mile 82 I was out of the race and done, I didn't tell Victor this and even when Victor kept asking was I ok I honestly didn't have the energy to respond back to him especially during the last mile before the checkpoint. Once we reached the checkpoint at 1.50am and I saw them marking down my time I just turned around and collapsed to the ground hitting my left knee on the ground. As I fell Victor and Ken (staffing the checkpoint) caught me and I remember being lifted up and things went dark. The next thing I remember was sitting up against the crew car wheel, my legs in front of me on the ground and Victor holding up my head and slapping my face....I had passed out!  This is very much a first for me as I've never passed out during a race before. I could see everyone looked really worried and I was really worried about what my wife Grace must be thinking as I had seen her to my right just before I collapsed.

They asked did I know where I was and I responded Roundstone, they also asked me a few other questions and Grainne (support crew and Ken's wife) got me to drink some sugar water. I said I really needed to sleep and they put me in the crew car and covered me in blankets and stuck the air con to hot in the car, once I was lying down I asked for the crew to get out for a minute and asked them to get Grace as I wanted to talk to her.   Grace got into the car and I said to her I thought I was done and that I didn't think I could go any further, that I knew how many miles were ahead and I couldn't go through them knowing it would take so long.   I was sure Grace would say "Ok babe, you go to sleep and we'll get you back to the hotel", but she didn't.To my surprise she responded in a really upbeat tone saying she didn't think I was too bad, I had been much worse the year before and after a sleep and a change of clothes we'll see how things are, just before I feel asleep I held her hand and I slept for around 40minutes.

I asked Grace to write something about what happened in Roundstone:
"From my perspective I knew he was emotionally in trouble, but physically he was far worse last year and therefore had more to give. He wasn't done in my opinion. Naturally I was worried about him when I saw him hitting the ground, but he didn't hit his head, he was out for a matter of seconds, and he wasn't bleeding anywhere, so for the most part I wasn't too concerned. I also know my husband well enough to know if he had quit then, he never would have been content. He needed to give it one more go. Also, I wasn't having a situation where we would have to come back next year due to his DNF this year! I made a call with the help and advisement of the other crew members that a sleep, some food and a change of clothes would do him the world of good, then we could decide if he could continue or not.
The other crew members and support crew members were worried, and honestly believed his race was finished. There was a medic on standby to sign him off, and there was a lot of concern through the support crew regarding whether he would be able to continue. Once he had slept, I asked him if he wanted me to change his clothes and see about continuing on, or did he want to finish and go back to the hotel. Once he said "I don't know", I knew he wasn't resolutely finished. With that, it confirmed my initial thought, he's not done yet. I got him changed, the crew checked him out, and made sure he was with it enough to go on. I said to him "if in 5 or 10 more miles, you decide you are finished, we have at least given it our best try. Let's just see how you get on." He said okay, and kissed me and I never doubted for a moment that not only was he good to continue, but that he would cross the finish line as well. Barry's determination literally knows no bounds!
- Grace - wife and crew member.

After the 40minute sleep Grace woke me up and got me to change clothes and eat some food, I opted not to change my shoes or socks as I didn't want to mess with something that had worked perfectly from mile 15 since I put the blister plaster on.  The crew switched over again at this point and I was in the hands of Sinead and Claire.


Roundstone (mile 82) to Finish (mile 100):
Once ready I left Roundstone with Sinead walking beside me at a "blistering" 17min/mile pace which I kept up for around 3-4miles. During this time I passed Johnny who I had chatted to much earlier in the day around Tullycross and Peacock Hotel, Johnny was doing a much slower walking pace then myself and he must have really been feeling the cold as he had switched to pants (I still had shorts on but I was no longer cold!).

After around 4miles of 17min/mile I once again started to flag and I was getting worried I might collapse again as I had trouble just keeping my eyes open, Sinead who was still walking with me commented then I should dig deep and keeping going but I said I was worried that if I did collapse they wouldn't be able to get me up off the ground again without help.   So I opted to sleep in Claire's car this time for around 20 minutes during which time
Johnny passed me. After this it was a very mixed walk all the way to Ballyconeely, I'll be honest this section felt utterly endless to me. I could not wait until I would be finally 9miles away from Clifden. At Ballyconeely the crews met up again and I was so thankful to have Grace walking beside me again at this stage. I would go through stages of having the energy to hold a conversation to not talking at all. At one point I felt so tired that we stopped and sat on a wall beside a lovely beach for a few minutes just so I could rest.

As the miles counted down to Clifden we met Ray (race director) and he mentioned we were 4miles out from Clifden. I asked him if he heard about me passing out at Roundstone and he commented on how I was Lazarus for getting back up and heading for the finish. I knew at this stage I could 100% finish the course and that I'd finish it under the 30hour limit. It wouldn't be the sub 24hr I wanted and it certainly wouldn't be my fastest 100mile race either but it would not be a DNF. (I'm perhaps too stubborn or stupid to DNF). At this stage Grace took a break from walking and Victor once again walked with me as we finally made our way up the hills towards Clifden town and we commenced the 3 loops of Clifden town.

This has to be the hardest finish of any race I've done. Most races you see the finish line and you cross it.    But Ray designed this race so that when you see the finish line you have to pass by it 3 more times before you can finally cross it, to quote another runner who was speaking to Ray earlier in the day "You're a very bad man!".

Just as I started the first of these 3 loops I once again met
Johnny who was also starting the loops, we spoke words of encouragement to each other and to his crew and we headed off. It was around now that I found out that I had been last place in the race but I'd jumped to second last after passing Johnny. Last year when I did this section it was desperately slow and it must have taken me 20minutes to complete each loop, this time it took me around 10minutes per loop. Victor did all three loops with me, Grace did the first loop also. On the last loop Grace joined me again and we made our way around, as we got closer to the finish the rest of the crew joined me so myself, Grace, Sinead, Claire, Finola and my niece and nephew (Jane and Neil) joined me as I completed this final loop.

On The Last Loop
Coming towards the finish on the last loop I noticed I had less than 40seconds to go to finish under 29 hours and although the legs were tired and the energy levels were very low I refuse to be one of those people that walk across a finish line so myself and Grace started running while holding hands. We finally crossed the finish line in a time of 28hours 59min and 37seconds (10.59am) to everyone clapping and cheering, including other runners who had finished earlier in the day.

Finished! - Courtesy of Miriam O'Connor
Neil & Jane at the finish line
After crossing the finish line I made my way to the nearest thing that looked like a seat and I was never so glad to sit down, this was the longest ever time I've spent on my feet out of any race I've completed. While I've done three 100miles since 2015 this race was almost 90minutes longer then my first and I've never passed out in any race I've done before so that was unsettling. However, despite passing out I would actually class last years Connemara 100 as a harder race because mentally it was torture as I had to basically walk at a shuffling pace for miles upon miles until the finish. This time I at least knew that at times I could walk a brisk pace so I knew that instead of doing 2miles per hour like last year I could do upto 4miles per hour.

After sitting down for a few minutes I made my way back to Foyles Hotel where myself and the crew had been based for the weekend and as I got to the front door the receptionist came out and clapped and congratulated me on finishing the race.  Despite the hotel having finished serving breakfast they were very accommodating and were happy to serve breakfast to myself and the crew.  I devoured every bit of the breakfast as it was lovely and it was nice just not to eat something loaded with sugar again.

Post Race Presentation:

One of the special things about the Connemara 100 race is the feeling that despite how fast or slow a runner is that everyone including the crews are in it together. There's a real good feeling about the race and everybody is happy to help everyone else along the way. For the race presentation Ray O'Connor the race director talks about the runners and crews and also talks about the people that didn't finish and thats important. In a race like this a lot can go wrong and a person could be feeling fantastic at mile 50 but they could be out of the race by mile 60. Each team has a story and there were plenty of interesting and funny stories and comments made during the presentation, when it came to me Ray once again referred to me as Lazarus due to what happened at Roundstone and he asked me to explain what happened. I told everyone about how I had resigned myself to not finishing the race around a mile from Roundstone and once I saw them mark my time I collpased and then passed out. But it was only with the words of encouragement from Grace that I continued on. I wouldn't have completed the race without her, thanks babe.

Presentation from Ray O'Connor

The race was incredibly hard but it was an experience and I was so thankful to share that experience with my crew, I know it was hard on them to dedicate so much of their weekend to me and I'm very thankful to them for all their support.   There were times in the race when I know I was cranky or I may have snapped due to exhaustion and you put up with it and everyone of you walked with me at some point during the race and that company was very much appreciated as it made the time pass faster and I liked being able to share the experience.

To Victor, thanks very much for running so many miles with me. It was likely many, many, many more miles than you had expected to run but its certainly a good start for training for the Dublin Marathon again. If you do decide to run the Connemara 100 I'll be more then happy to crew for you! :)


Post Race Recovery & Fund Raising:

On Monday morning I felt reasonably ok, despite the massive lack of sleep over the weekend I felt pretty good after 9hours sleep and during the day I had plenty of messages to get done so I got a good bit of walking in on the legs.   I also paid a visit to Body Mend Physical Therapy & Sports Injury Clinic for some work on the legs and they felt miles better afterwards (Thanks Tracy).
With the exception of the leg muscles being a bit sore and the one blister on my left foot I've no issues or pain to report and after a visit to Bodymend it's no longer hurting to sit up from a chair, so that is always a good thing!

The race has been an experience and I'm glad that I've been able to use the race to raise awarness and funds for Mount Carmel House, the support I've received from everyone has been fantastic and every donation has been much appreciated, thank you to everyone that has donated.

I would once again like to thank my two main sponsors D&M Supervalu Callan and Callan Co-Op for all the support they have given, it’s made things easier for organising everything on the day and they have helped to raise funds for Mount Carmel also. Their generosity has been overwhelming.
Of course many other businesses have kindly donated over the past number of weeks, including Bodymend, John Murphy Family Butchers, Callan Bacon, Philip Ireland Tyre's, Unecol Oil, P.Molloy & Sons Funeral Home & Sculptures, Doheny's Crash Repairs, Ormonde Veterinary, Keogh’s Model Bakery, Keogh’s Pub, & Callan Truck Parts. Thank you to all of you!

Over the next while I'll be posting updates in relation to the total funds raised for Mount Carmel House and the funds will be presented to them, so stay tuned for updates!


2 comments:

  1. When I saw your finishing time I knew things hadn't gone entirely to plan, but bloody hell!

    Respect for keeping going after passing out, though I know my own wife would have tied me down to stop me from leaving rather than making me go up and run!

    I occasionally feel dizzy when coming to a halt after many hours of running, that's quite common. The reason is your blood pressure drops. Your calf muscles actually help pumping blood back up and once you stop they stop which causes a dip in blood pressure, which can lead to passing out. I suspect that's what happened to you - not dangerous in itself, as long as you don't hit your head while falling.

    Well done for finishing regardless - another great story to tell by Mad Uncle Barry!

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    Replies
    1. Honestly, I thought Grace would be really worried and would tell me its ok to DNF, still surprised at her response even a few days later.

      I've experienced the occasionally feeling of dizziness as well at the end of a marathon or at one stage during TP100 when I stopped for a few moments. But this is a new one, regarding the blood pressure dropping makes complete sense though and I was thinking that it was likely something like that already.

      According to Grace the worry for the CP crew was if I had hit my head but luckily I didn't, though I did hit my left knee and its still bothering me.

      I'm glad I finished it, even if it wasn't the time I had in mind.

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