It may turn out not to be my better Half, but it was certainly my first. ‘Do something new every year’ they said, ‘stretch yourself, face your fears’. So i signed up for a half marathon – part of the Connemarathon series which includes a full and an ultra – another day perhaps. I had lived near Leenaun some thirty years earlier while mapping the rocks in that area as part of my Phd studies and was still half in love with the area and its barren beauty.
When i committed myself, a few months ago, i was sure would be doing a lot of training and i downloaded the free training programme. ‘More honoured in the breach than in the observance’, to quote the Bard and my favourite procrastinator, Hamlet and to sum up my training. Regular readers will know that i was sick a lot in the backend of the Irish winter and the pretence of a spring we endured. In recent weeks, i had started to run a bit, though hardly train. The weekend before i ran the Bray 10k and i felt so good running it that i decided to run the Half. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”, i felt that if i took it nice and easy i should be able to run the 13.1 miles.
I spent the week mainly resting with a few minor workouts and considerable meditation – i believed that running mindfully, paying attention to my body, should ensure that i did not injure myself. Travelling down to Galway the day before, i was both excited and nervous, anxious to get started and impatient that i had to wait until noon the next day. I stayed with a niece and her boyfriend in lovely Barna and awoke at 6.30 the next morning to a white Connemara – the night frost had spread a hoary blanket over the earth. Frosty mornings often mean sunny days so i welcomed the cold as i prepared my porridge for breakfast.
Many of the roads were to be closed and the runners were being bussed in. I had to travel to Oughterard to be picked up and i arrived in time to have a second breakfast – scrambled egg and toast with a cuppa tea in the quiet but friendly Boat Inn. Perfect start to the day and i didn’t have to worry about running out of fuel. My pickup was scheduled for 9.30 and soon an excited busload of seated runners whose hearts, minds and tongues were already racing, was passing
Peacockes Hotel at Maam Cross – the finishing point of all three races.
We all wondered what state we would be in the next time we saw that hostelry.
Eventually we disembarked in Leenaun, at the head of Killary Harbour which stretches roughly north-west for about 16km before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. On its northern side, in County May, is the formidable Mweelrea, Connaught’s highest mountain. As we waited, freezing cold, until noon, when our race was scheduled to start, those of us who knew Leenaun were happy that at least it was dry; Leenaun being the wettest place in Ireland, an accolade not easily won. It was not to last though, on this occasion Mweelrea was not high enough and dark clouds, bearing rain, soon swept over it and down into Leenaun. The waiting runners scattered, seeking shelter wherever we could.
And so we started, wet and cold but glad to be off, there were more meteorological barriers to be faced. As we turned left at the village, we realised that a cold easterly gale would hinder us further as we faced into it for the long run east to Maam Cross. It was not long before the gale threw in a hailstone shower or three to test us further but by then there was no turning back, though at times i thought fondly of my car, many miles away in Oughterard.
Each mile was marked and the first one came up before i knew it. So i concentrated on getting to Mile 3, pretty much same as a 5k, bread and butter to me. Six miles was the next focus point – somewhat under 10k and a distance i knew i could conquer. Although the climb out Leenaun had been fairly steep, it soon turned to downhill and eventually the gradient settled down.
Knowing the road as well as i did, i was aware that there was much worse to come but, for now, i concentrated on each mile.
Six miles was passed, i was now entering unknown territory. I had never ran more than 10k in my life before but i knew that the halfway mark was close. I was running easily, emptying my mind for most of the distance, looking up and enjoying the scenery whenever the weather permitted, focusing on gently completing my first ever half marathon.
Every three miles there was a water station – i took a bottle and a few mouthfuls and felt refreshed.
We moved downhill into Maam Village and across the bridge over the Bealnabrack River. From here it was a long long climb before a final descent to the Finish. My head dropped and i concentrated on putting one foot in front of another – i thought that if i didn’t look up at the hill in front of me then it was just the same as any other run, just place one foot in front of another and repeat.
I had a secret weapon, a packet of jelly babies in my pocket. I broke it open as i crossed the bridge and shared a few with some fellow runners. i hoped that the burst of sugar would propel me up the hill like some biofueled android.
And it nearly worked.
And i nearly made it.
About 200m before the crest of the hill i ran out of steam, my biofuel depleted and my muscles fatigued and i dropped to a walk – my leg muscles almost instantly signalling their appreciation of the change. Once i reached the top i shuffled to a run – well half run perhaps appropriately – looking forward to coasting downhill to the Finish. My inconstant companion, the wind, had one more challenge for me. Downhill lead right into the teeth of the gale – i was more disappointed than anything to discover that today there was to be no pleasure in running downhill – if anything i got blown backwards a couple of times – those few steps which had to be repeated feeling like a marathon in themselves.
Soon i could hear the cheering and i stumbled across the finish line. 2 hours, 34 minutes and 25 seconds of, almost, continuous running. Food, drink, awesome tee, a medal and the collection of my spare clothes bag got me to shelter.
I changed out of my saturated running gear as quickly as possible in the runners madhouse that was Peacockes. Soup, bread and a cup of tea – my humanity and sanity trickled back and i enjoyed my achievement.
Exhausted people were everywhere, milling around like confused sheep, such a familiar sight in Connemara. i followed a trickle back to the bus and soon i was seated in my car, heater blazing, issuing texts informing the world of my achievement and my lack of injuries
I had run a Half Marathon.
Three days later, i am still on a bit of a high, my muscles have nearly recovered. i do not seem to have done any damage to myself – save a sore right foot which i hope is only a sprain.
Would i do it again – of course – any course – but preferably not into a gale force wind.
Run safe my friends