About three years ago I had set myself a goal to do most of the longer based Wicklow races that were on the IMRA calendar and my success in this year’s Wicklow Way Race saw me complete that goal which included such races as the WW Ultra, Stone Cross to Lug Solo, Wicklow Glacial Lakes Solo and the Wicklow Round.
Having completed all of the above mentioned races either last year or the year before, the WWR was big on my agenda for 2014. I knew about this race last year but had other things on my mind so shelved plans to do it until 2014. Although not fully committing to the race until a few weeks before, I always knew deep down that I would be lined up at midnight at Marley Park on the night on May 23rd alongside all the other crazies.
The planning for the race was left quite late and it was only at the beginning of the week that I really started to look into it and make a few plans. I was only familiar with the WW up until Tinahely, after that it was all new to me but I did not have the time to explore beyond that so would just wing it on the day and see how it panned out. On Wednesday I laid out all of my bags on the table and then on Thursday I went to the supermarket to get a few bits and pieces. I always find it amusing when the checkout assistant is looking at the vast selection of foods and liquids, all mainly junk food, and wondering what he or she is thinking!
As the week played out, I ended up staying up late for various reasons most of the nights and by the time Friday rolled around I was quite tired. But that tiredness was set aside by the buzz of activity and excitement that was happening in Marley Park car park. The weather on the night so far was not ideal and consisted of some light showers and a misty rain. Little did I know we were all in for an absolute deluge of rain, the likes I have not seen in some time….
All the runners were now gear checked, signed in and ready to go. Jeff gave the 29 brave souls a final race brief, wished us on our way and at the stroke of midnight we set off into the darkness. The start pace was nice and relaxed and consisted of a light jog through the park trees following the little yellow WW men as we ran. At this point the rain was a bit more constant but everyone was just getting on with it. We crossed to road and headed up towards Kilmashouge and up onto Fairycastle. The pack had spread out slightly now and the top runners were already creating a gap between them and the middle of the pack. I was running with Mike Jordan and Pól O’Murchu at this point and we were in a comfortable rhythm heading towards Glencullen.
We meet Donna Mc Loughlin along this stretch and were chatting for a bit before she headed off into the night and on to her eventual win. The rain was coming down quite bad at this stage and I was starting to feel the cold. I had over thought my food and under thought my clothing choice. I had worn two technical t-shirts and an outer shell only and all I had in reserve was a wool long sleeve t-shirt.
We ran along the fire road by Prince Williams Seat and then down towards Curtlestown. I had chosen to wear road flats so was not looking forward to the steep section down to Glencree River! That whole area just before Crone was a mud bath and the river next to it was roaring in anger. The three of us hit Crone together and although very wet we were in good spirits. We chatted to Richard Nunan who was manning the checkpoint and then re-stocked with some supplies and set off again. I knew Djouce would be cold and with that thought I remembered my extra wool top and started to fear for its safety! I took it out and placed it into a zip lock bag to protect it from this onslaught of rain we were running though.
I have never seen Djouce like this before, it was a river and we were always ankle deep in flood waters. To say this section was challenging would be an understatement. The dark, wind, rain and ground conditions were just crazy. I for one was sure happy when we hit the top of the boardwalk as I knew we would have nice running for the next few kilometres. We hit the next small road section and then were back onto the fire roads. The darkness had faded but the rain was still torrential.
We were coming up towards Oldbridge when we caught sight of Robbie, he took note of our numbers and then we set off for the lane that lead up to Paddock Hill. It’s always a beautiful run off Paddock Hill regardless of the weather and my spirits were high. My only complaint at this time was that I was feeling the tiredness. Two runners who had passed us earlier on were just ahead of us so I split from the trio I was in and gave them a bit of a race into Glendalough. It was lovely running along the WW through the forest and down into the next checkpoint. I was feeling good and this was one of the high points of the race for me so far.
I cruised in having passed one of the runners and made a quick pit stop. At this point I think I was in 9th so was happy with things so far. I ran up towards the Polaris Waterfall but had to make an unscheduled pit stop, all the junk food and pizza had caught up with me! Mike and Pól passed me by unknown to me, so I would have to catch up with them again later. My good spirits that I was enjoying suddenly disappeared and I was feeling cold and tired as I plodded up the endless fire road that lead up to Mullacor.
I hit the boardwalk but I was shattered. I struggled to make any real progress here and even on the downhill fire roads towards Drumgoff my legs were starting to fatigue. I was only coming up to the half way mark and was beginning to doubt my ability to finish.
My brother in-law Richard was there at Drumgoff to meet me so I was glad to stop for a few minutes and take stock. I took off my two soaked t-shirts and put on my dry wool top. I discarded some other items that were weighing me down and set off again. As soon as I turned the corner I saw Robbie and Jeff so I used this as another chance to get a break. Robbie offered me a freshly made bacon sandwich with red sauce and a coffee, NOM! A quick chat to the lads and yet again I was on my way. I passed the half way mark but was still feeling tired and full of doubt.
The next kilometres were tough for me, fire road, more fire road and then a muddy trail, all of it seemed to be uphill! I was approaching the section where you have to cross the road and bumped into three lads that had been trading places with me for the last little while, they had taken a minor wrong turn and were just coming back up the track. I felt for them as even a minor detour can be devastating to the mind. Suddenly and without warning I got a huge boost of energy and a lift of spirits. Maybe it was the bacon sandwich kicking in😉
I crossed the road at a nice speed and let my mind start to think about the finish line even though that felt like an eternity away. At that time I spotted Mike and Pól and was able to reel them in. We all hit Iron Bridge at the same time and I was feeling great here. The best I had felt yet in fact. I ate a ton of food here, pizza, bananas, jellies and had some coke too. I was chatting away while packing my bag with more supplies and then ran off with the two lads full of confidence. I had tired legs and was feeling tired generally but was still running on happily under the steam of my recent change in mood. I recognised the start of this leg from the WW Relay and knew we had a few hills to tackle shortly. This leg is a bit of a drag and has a long road section too before it meets up with a long section through some fields. We had been caught up by a group of four runners and were running as a group of seven for a time. Three of the runners dropped off and four of us went on ahead. Laurence Colleran was now the fourth member of our group. I was happy to be running with others as on your own, when you are that tired and have so many kilometres to cover, it can be tough to manage mentally.
We made good progress up and over the fields and were wondering when first of the WW relay runners were going to pass us. We were nearly at the road at Tinahely when Brian Furey whizzed past us. I was jealous of his speed which seemed Usain Bolt like, compared to my trudge. All of the good spirits I was feeling the last few hours began to wean, what I had put my body through up to now was starting to surface and take its toll. I had one gear left now which was slow and could not go any faster even if I wanted to. The lads were pushing on and all I could do was just about keep up. I had a pain developing in my left shin that I was starting to notice but I just ignored it as I already had plenty of other pains to deal with!
We got to Tinahely and meet with the WW Relay crowd who watched us pass by them. They cheered us on but for me it was even hard to break out a smile as I was that wrecked. The next checkpoint was the Dying Cow pub. I was in a weird place mentally now, I was too close to the finish to stop but I was running on fumes both physically and mentally. I just kept on going but it was a real battle for me. At this point Laurence had made a break from us and soon after the two lads were disappearing into the distance. The pain in my left leg was ever increasing and I just did not have the speed to keep up with them as a result. I had done the short off road section and was onto roads at this point. The roads were long and straight and with each turn, I was meet with the view of another very long stretch. I was starting to lose it now, I just needed the pub and a break. Not because I was hungry or thirsty, it was just a mental waypoint that I needed to get to. I was convinced the pub was closer but all I got was long road after long road. I rang the lads at this point just to make sure I was still on track but alas, no answer.
Any wrong turn now and I was done, that would have been a fatal blow for me. Onwards I kept going when Niamh O’ Ceallaigh drove by me. I asked her was the pub this way and she said yes, ‘just up the road!’. As soon as she left I started to think what pub she actually meant, was it the Dying Cow or the pub at the end of the WW Relay, where was she going!? I was kicking myself for not asking. I kept seeing the WW signs but something did not feel right. It was then I meet with Donagh Mc Grath, I think I was babbling at this point, not making any sense. I was muttering ‘pub’ and ‘where is it’ over and over again. He said to me, keep the faith and it will fine and with that the pub appeared at the top of the next road. I sat down and had some food and some lovely ice cold water. There was no way I was not going to finish it now but I had no clue how I was going to make it as I was at the limits of my endurance. My leg was killing me now and I was afraid to take any more ibuprofen for fear of an overdose! I was told I had about 30K left, it may as well have been 300k as far as I was concerned.
I dumped my bag and coat now as it was warm and ran on with just my wool top and a couple of bottles of water. It felt like I had the weight of a car lifted off my back but that still did not make me feel any better. I was just zombie like now trying so hard to put one foot in front of the other. I was back ‘running’ with Pól and Mike now which was good but again, I was struggling to keep up with them. The kilometres were passing albeit very slowly. My time I would have liked to finish in was well gone, I was just case of limping over the line now. You could tell everyone was suffering but the end was in sight so everyone was pressing on though the pain.
The last checkpoint was coming up but it was at the top of a massive hill. I could have cried here but was probably too dehydrated to even shed a tear. I got to the top in a daze. My feet were sore with blisters, my shin felt like it had a knife plunged into it and I was mentally defeated. This was pure torture now, there was no enjoyment for me at this point….
We had a quick stop and Jeff outlined what was left. My body was screaming for something to give but that was not going to happen. I had to finish as I knew I would never attempt this again and did not want to make it this far just to drop out. That thought would have haunted me for the rest of my days!
I made it to the last forest trail section, I was down to waking pace now, I could not even get up to a light jog. I was on my own in the forest, the tracks were endless and I was not in a good place mentally. Each turn just presented me with another 3/400m of forest trail, each turn I thought I would see the end but there was no end in sight. I felt like I was in a maze with no exit. There were some downed trees that were in my way which felt like mountains to overcome. At one point I saw a gate but it was just some fallen branches playing tricks on my mind. I was going through real mental anguish now and just needed it to stop.
After what felt like an eternity, I made it out of this tortures maze of tracks and back onto a road. A man told me I had 5k to go but that did nothing to ease my pain. I figured I was down to 12 minute kilometres so had the guts of an hour left. I tried to jog just so the suffering could end sooner but each time I did my leg pain just made me stop. Cars were slowing down and offering me a lift, this would have been so easy. It was like those stories you hear when someone has died and has to fight the overwhelming urge to follow the light, that’s what the offers of a lift were like to me then. I had to snap out of it, I could not take a lift, I would have never forgiven myself for going all that way and giving up at the last hurdle.
I figured I had about 2k to go and to add to my misery it started to rain. I was beyond rock bottom now. I saw a sign for Clonegal in the distance, I got closer to it to make sure my mind was not playing tricks again but it was no trick, I had made it to the outskirts of the town. Then, in the distance I saw some people and then Jeff and Robbie. I forced myself to jog the last 50m and on the verge of collapse, I touched the WW sign which meant it was all over. I was too far gone to really enjoy what I had just achieved but somewhere deep down I was beaming with a big smile, even if I did not show it.
I was sure glad it was over as I really did not enjoy the last 4 or 5 hours. I grabbed a hoody and a hat and crawled into the back of Robbie’s van clutching my well earned stone carved medal. I was so exhausted that each tiny breeze that hit me chilled me to the bone. I got a jacket off Robbie which was a lifesaver. I drank some water and ate some food while chatting away to the lads. My lift was still a bit away so I was able to get myself back to some normality in the mean time. I was able to see some more runners cross the line too which was great to see as the event was such a huge undertaking. My lift arrived and I was whisked away much to my delight. All I needed now was a hot shower and my bed, I was done!
On reflection, this was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The only thing I could try and compare it to was the Wicklow Round but in hindsight the Wicklow Round was easy in comparison. In addition, I probably should have stopped when my leg began to hurt but my mental stubbornness got in the way as it tends to do. I ended up having to pay two visits to the hospital and was told that my tendon was shot and that I would be off running for 1/2 months. Buy hey, at least I can say I have ran the WW end to end😉
Massive thanks have to go to Jeff and Robbie, absolute gents and they got the whole event spot on. They could not have done it without the backing of many other volunteers of which a lot of thanks needs to go to too. And what I found most humbling was all the ‘private’ support crews offering all the other runners that they were not supporting, food and water and moral support all of the way from start to the very finish. It was true IMRA spirit in motion.
I normally sign off these things by saying until next year, but I can safely say that I will never be doing this race again!!