Monday, 29 July 2013

Belfast Energia 24hr race

Wednesday, 17th July, 2013 - 10.8km Recovery Run
With only one thing on my mind I took it easy all week to rest up for Friday evening. By Wednesday I was getting a little restless so went for this very easy run just to remain sane before the big day...

I was flirting with the idea of entering this race all the way back to the start of the year. I was tempted by the thought of pushing my body for such a long time  but very much doubted I’d last the 24hrs. The longest run I had completed was the 2012 Connemara ultra at 6.5hrs. Even though I was sick leading into that race I struggled big time over the last two hours. This race was to be almost 4 times as long as that, how the hell was I supposed to manage that?!

Looking at the results from the first three years I noted a few names who I knew completed 100 miles in the race. Most of these familiar names had marathon PBs similar to mine. So my thinking became if they are able to do it then why couldn’t I? That longest run in Connemara totalled just shy of 40 miles and I’d be aiming for 2.5 times the distance of my longest ever run…

I thought the idea over for a couple of months before eventually making contact with the Race Director, Ed Smith. Ed answered a few questions I had and put a positive spin on his race so I was almost bought on the idea. Within the next few weeks all remaining excuses were dismissed and I made the leap of faith by signing up.

Over the next few months I kept the idea low-key to allow myself fully comprehend the task at hand before I got too many awkward questions relating as to why on Earth somebody would want to put themselves through all that! As the weeks rolled by to the race I started telling more people as the event became a real thing in my mind, and before long it was race day…

I’d tried to pre-load on sleep during the week but it didn’t really work so one of my challenges was to simply stay awake from 7:30am Friday morning til I got home after the race around midnight Saturday, about 40 hours in total. I didn’t spend too much time worrying about that aspect though as the main event would be taking up all my attention.

I left work at 1:30pm and after a brief stopover at home in Santry I set off for Belfast. I had planned ahead and printed off a map with the directions within Belfast to get me to the Mary Peters Track but I missed a turn-off and ended up taking the scenic route. Luckily I arrived with time to spare before the briefing arranged for 5:30pm. After registering I ran into a few familiar faces including Anto, Paddy, Frank and Graham. As soon as I got chatting to Graham it came up that I had no crew team with me. I was ok with those circumstances but Graham offered the use of his crewman, Philip. Knowing I’d be much better off with someone watching out for me, especially as the race wore on, I accepted the offer. I had only met Graham a few times before and never met Philip so all things considered it was a very generous offer from the guys. But that’s the kind of camaraderie the event was all about. No matter your standard there was so much good feeling on show it made the event something very special.
MPT just after the start.
About half the runners seemed to have their tents set up on the infield by now. I had brought mine with me also but looking at the weather I decided against pitching it. My reckoning was that if I did want to grab some sleep it would be perfect for lying on the grass and snoozing. I felt the tent itself would probably become too warm anyways, so the camping equipment remained in my boot.

There were lots of other familiar faces that I knew but had never spoken to before. Later, as the race progressed, there wouldn’t be many that I didn’t have a chat with at some stage. I got my bits and pieces organised into a blue plastic box and left it at the aid station. That was the great thing about the logistics of the event taking place at a track – you were only ever 400m away from food or drink. I lazed for the remaining minutes until the race start. Then at 6:40pm we started to gather at the start/finish area.

0 - 6 hrs
In a surprisingly low key manner the race began bang on time. The excitement and anticipation soon evaporated about halfway around the first lap when the realisation dawned on me that this would be the constant for the next 24 hours!
Lap 2.
As I passed through for my first lap it dawned on me that I’d done a ‘hard reset’ on my watch a couple of days ago to fix a technical issue and had forgotten to reset my filed displays to my usual data. This threw me for a few hundred metres as I tried to change the settings on the run. I managed to get a few data dields displaying and settled for that. The main field required being my ‘pace’ to ensure I didn’t start off too fast. By now I had fallen in step with Graham and Paddy which was a real boost. Paddy had ran 100 miles+ here for the past couple of years so he knew the ropes. Graham was a first timer like myself and he was adamant he wanted to go out at a sustainable pace which happened to tie in with my requirements too. After a few laps Paddy began to push ahead and create a gap so it was left to the two of us instead.
Just after the start of the race and trying to fix the watch on the run!
I had a general outline of desired pace and distance per hour which was projected onto a sliding scale. The first couple of hours however were to cover 10.5km per hour. Myself and Graham were holding to that remarkably well and as the first hour came to an end we were bang on target. The pace held good for the second hour too and we were on course for 21km but we agreed that we’d take a walk break of one lap as a preemptive strike on fatigue. By now the sun was disappearing behind the tree cover and temperatures were dropping a little but the humidity remained.
Early days with Helen, Pat and Graham.
We started into our third hour with 20.5km in the bank and still feeling good. The time so far had actually passed quickly. Another positive about running around a track is that you end up passing and being passed pretty regularly as a mid pack runner. So this meant we were having mini chats with lots of other runners and quickly saying hi to the leaders as they were speeding past! At this stage Ruthann Sheehan had some company in the ladies race in the form of Aine Gallagher. Ruthann’s pedigree is well known as she is a World class ultra runner, but Aine was an unknown to most of us. We were wondering if she knew what she’d gotten herself into trying to stick to Ruthann for so long. They were still right beside each other at this point but soon Aine would begin to feel the pace and drift back. The third placed lady Susan McCartney was remarkably consistent running her own race, lapping a little faster than myself and Graham and so had passed us a couple of times at this stage. She was to continue on to 100 miles without slowing significantly in another impressively run race.
Looking  for the shortcuts!
Around this time Paddy put in a spurt of faster running too and at one stage appeared to be lapping us too regularly for our liking. With all his experience from the past couple of years though we knew he had his tactics spot on and were impressed by his efforts. The men’s race though had pushed on much further by this stage and the foursome of Eoin Keith, John O’Regan, Eddie Gallen and the English raider Matthew Moroz were all kicking on at an impressive rate. All of these guys are International standard and that added further to the event. To be running in such close proximity to the best around…can’t imagine getting any similar opportunity to compete against the national soccer or rugby teams!

Myself and Graham ran for the next hour before taking another one lap walking break just before the 3hr mark and likewise for the 4hr mark too. At 4hrs the competitors changed direction on the track and we were now travelling in a clockwise direction. We had now hit 41km, right where we wanted to be! The following three hours passed by with us continuing to hit my target – 50km by 5hrs, 58km by 6hrs - a little slow to the 59km goal - and back on track with 67km by 7hrs. This was going remarkably well according to my plans.
Ladies winner Ruthann glides by myself and Graham.
6 - 12 hrs
A strange thing began to happen around this time. Our natural drifting to a slower pace was reigned in and we began to get back to our earlier pace and started banking a few kms without really noticing it. By 8hrs we were through 76km (2km banked) and we hit halfway in our target distance (80.5km) by 8hrs 20mins. By now we were feeling very confident that with almost 2/3’s of the race yet to go we would manage the other 80.5km easily. Our improved pace continued and by 9hrs we had reached 86km (5km banked)! Things were getting a little tougher now but due to our relaxed pace early on we were still in good shape overall.
MPT at night.
By 10 hours we were through 94km (6km banked) and the magical 100km marker was smashed in 10hrs 40mins. It was somewhere around this point that Graham was beginning to feel a little tired and walked a bit extra. For the first time in the event we were now split up. In hindsight I think that was what allowed me to become undisciplined in my approach. Because I was now running solo I found myself pushing on a little each lap. I’d just gone through a low spell and was beginning to feel very stiff and a little sore so on my break I took a nurofen to ease the stiffness and refueled with half a can of coke. That provided the impetus for 80mins of serious running from me which averaged out at 5:19/km for those 15km! For a short while I was the fastest person on the track allowing me to overtake both Eoin and Ruthann a couple of times. I felt really embarrassed as I went past each of them. They were probably wondering what I was at with this sudden surge, and no doubt they were taking it handy. I was feeling good however and my aim was to get as much distance as possible covered under the relative coolness of night, as I knew when the sun came up the pace would be dropping off anyways. So, I made a deal with myself to push on now and later, when I’d be reduced to mainly walking, I’d have less distance to cover. Not sure if that argument would have stood up to rational debate but at that stage I bought it easily! A few of the other runners started to comment as I was going past which helped the confidence no end. Eventually the effort levels started to get a bit onerous and I took a break before returning to the track at a more reasonable pace.
After 12 hrs: Dargan jump #1!
After 12 hrs + 1 lap: Dargan jump #2!
12-18 hrs
I fell back in step with Graham and a few others and after a couple of hours of 6:15/km pace we now stood at 119km after 13hrs. This was to be the beginning of the difficult stuff now as I started to walk more and more at this stage. Lots of others were doing likewise yet the leaders were still banging out their kms consistently. With a full marathon left to get to my target I knew I could afford to walk all the way to the finish and still break 100 miles easily. It was probably for this reason that my spirits remained so high even though the body was now in lots of pain. I started to run alongside some of the other runners that I met for the first time tonight, now that I was able to chat away while walking and jogging slowly. Pat and David who had ran together for most of the event also had recently won a 24hr two person relay race in England recently.
Myself and Pat
The McLoughlin sisters from Achill were now vying with each other for position in the ladies race with Donna eventually pipping Caroline to 3rd place. Frank and Eric were also running together and I paced off them for a while whenever we happened to be in proximity. John O’Regan paused a couple of times throughout the race to offer support and advice which was much appreciated given his vast experience and ability. All in all a very convivial atmosphere filled the stadium.
Trying to remain cool (obviously not in a fashion-sense!)
The kms continued to whittle away slowly and the heat was now in full midday glory! I was back to wearing the buff on my head to keep my scalp from burning. It wasn’t long before I was grabbing a sponge every lap just to pour water over myself to keep me cool. It was very noticeable the odd lap when I didn’t bother that I could feel my cor temperature getting insufferably hot. That’s the great thing about the track for an event like this – you’re never to far away from rectifying a bad situation.

Graham was a few kms back on me by this stage and was going through peaks and troughs of emotions. I was always confident that he’d make it to the 100 miles but around 19hrs he was having his doubts and struggles. Thankfully, with the aid of Phil and his son Matthew he managed to turn things around and kept the show on the road. By 21 hrs he knew he’d be ok but was adamant that once he had the 100miles completed he wasn’t going to do a step extra!
Myself and Graham
This was similar to my own thoughts on reaching 100 miles in fairness. At one stage towards the end of my mid race surge I was brash enough to think about the possibilities of going for 200km! Once the inevitable low followed I quickly reverted back to my original goal – 100 miles would be quite enough for me! So, having just changed direction yet again at the 20hr marker I checked on the count and worked out that I needed 20 laps to ‘finish’. The following lap took me 4 mins to walk so I figured I’d be done in about 80mins. For the first time I had an achievable and relatively short term goal. I kept the head down and marked off the laps in my head stopping only briefly after 10 laps for one last drink of coke for this final 40mins. With 7 laps remaining I got chatting to a guy. Amongst the small talk I managed to uncover that he was two laps ahead of me, so I took this as a challenge to beat him to the finish. Of course I never told him how close I was so he was clearly at a disadvantage! With 4 laps to go I managed to unlap myself once and by now Michael was struggling. I thought he had an injury so reckoned I’d have a decent chance of nabbing his spot before his 3 remaining laps were up. As it turns out I was only 50m behind him heading into the second last lap but suddenly he vanished. I thought for sure he must have miscounted when talking to me early and that he was now finished. I continued on regardless and finished my remaining lap and as I passed through the start/finish area there was a nice announcement about my achievement from the organisers. This surprised me a little and perked me up enough so that I ended up throwing in another lap! At the end of this lap I stepped off the track and went straight to the massage tent for a rub down. It was only then that I discovered that Michael had been pulled from the track due to heat exhaustion and blood pressure issues. As I was getting my rub down he was lying in the shade waiting for his vital stats to return to normal and get out for the final lap to make it to 100 miles. So close yet short. I left the massage tent 20 mins later and he was still there. Another hour would pass before he was allowed to return to the track for that solitary lap to break 100, but that he did!

Average hourly pace.

I was basking in my own achievements for a while and watched lots of fellow runners pass through their own 100 mile barriers. With approx 23 hrs on the clock Graham was getting thorugh his final few laps. I decided I’d venture out for another lap to keep him company but sat myself back down afterwards and let him complete out the last couple with his son Matthew. When he finally crossed the mat he made a beeline for the chairs on the side of the track and planted himself there with a beaming grin – job very much done!

By the end of the race 22 runners had notched the 100 miles and at the sharp end of things Eoin Keith ran just over 152 miles – a phenomenal performance! (Did I mention that I passed him a couple of times in the race?!) Ruthann led the ladies home with a just as impressive 140 miles.

After the race there was a presentation of the medals and for those of us that hit 100 miles a specially designed jacket to mark the performance. Lots of sandwiches and home-baked goodies were laid on also as the speeches were being made. Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who ran the final hour of the race himself before heading along to the Bruce Springsteen concert next door, presented the medals. A nice way to finish off what was a surprisingly enjoyable 24 hrs of misery!

Throughout the event I ate very little. I normally have a great stomach for taking any food but when I run that trait desserts me (pun fully intended!). I took an oaty/chocolate bar after an hour and then a small amount of another after two hours. But then I didn’t take any food until Phil kindly cooked some pasta for us around 4hrs. Even at that I could only take half a small bowl of it. Come morning time around the 12hr mark the organisers laid on porridge which I never eat anyways so I avoided that too. Around midday there appeared some stew also but I wasn’t far away from the finish by now (only a few hours!) so left that too. I had bits of mandarin from Team Pat/David and a mini bowl of ice-cream courtesy of team Achill (thank you very much to all again!). Apart from that though nothing else from what I can remember now. I did take lots of fluids however as my body found it easier to digest them. I drank about 2-3 litres of water before the bland taste got the better of me, about 1 litre of milk (surprised that worked so well!) and the best help of all about 7 cans of coke! The coke alone equates to about 230g of sugar or 56 tablespoons!! And yet it was the water that gave cause for complaint to my stomach! At one stage when I was tying to take a second nurofen tablet later in the race my stomach had felt a little queasy for a while. I threw back the nurofen but the water struggled to wash it down so I went for another mouthful. Within a few seconds I was dry wretching on the side of the track! One benefit of not having eaten much was that there was nothing to come back up! Thankfully the tablet stayed down and I was back running in a few minutes.
Dame Mary Peters herself out to support Team Mayo!

My final task was to get myself back to Dublin in one piece. After dropping Frank and Eric into Belfast centre I hit the road around 9pm. It was a real struggle after half an hour to keep my eyes open and I had to pull in a few times before I even hit the border! I stopped off in Dundalk to break up the journey and get some food but by Drogheda I was drifting off again. I made a discreet pit stop here but as I tried to get out of the car my body was ceasing up! I was dreaming of the use of one of those walking aids for frail people by now! Somehow I managed to make it the remaining half an hour home without dozing off and what is normally a 1hr45min journey took me 3hrs to complete with no traffic! I think next year I’ll be booking into Belfast for the night!!

So, next year, eh? I’m already looking forward to it again! Not too sure what I’d do differently apart from perhaps have a few extra weeks of back to back long runs. My training this year was more suited to a 50 mile race really so if I increase the b2b runs I hope it’ll bring on the endurance further. I really think the few long mountain runs I did stood to great benefit for me from both physical and mental aspects.
I’d probably hope to avoid the mid-race surge from this year also as that would allow me to keep a more balanced output level and hopefully allow for me to run close to the full 24hrs rather than simply waste the last 2.5hrs like this year.
Assuming I do go back the next obvious target would be 200km now that 100 miles has been done. That distance would have got 5th position this year and is termed National Standard by the IAU. It is probably a stretch too far but nevertheless something to aim for even if it is just pie-in-the-sky stuff! Just bring it on!

Not surprisingly I took Sunday off as a well deserved needed rest day!

Week 29 Summary: 
RTW: 2 from 7 days
DTW: 172.8km
DTY: 2450.6km


  1. It takes a lot of guts to sign up for that race, and anyone who does that has my full respect. Congratulations on completing 100 miles, that is a serious milestone that only a select few will achieve.

    If you don't mind, I do have a few pointers that I think you can use to improve next time.

    - you started too fast. I know you said you felt comfortable, but if you ran 10:40 for 100k you would have been well ahead of me last year. I only did about 105k over the first 12 hours, but the crucial point was that I had plenty left for the second half.

    - you relied too much on coke. No wonder your stomach was acting up, never mind all that sugar (when you were running at fat burning effort!), that's a serious amount of caffeine as well. Try and eat savoury food - I had some cooked potatoes, and while they attracted a few comments they were an absolute life saver.

    but most of all:


  2. Thanks Ger.

    @ Thomas:
    Thanks for the comments! All advice welcome.

    You may be right about me starting too quick but the plan was to 'front-load' the miles with the 100 the ultimate aim. I was happy I did it this way in the end as I got there (relatively!) comfortably. However, next year I will have a more optimistic goal where I'll need the full 24hrs for sure so I may look at taking your advice then as it makes plenty of sense. Plus, the experience of this year should be hugely beneficial.
    Regarding the coke, my stomach was pretty upset before ever I started drinking it. I had noted your potatoes from last year and was planning to do likewise but never got myself organised enough to prepare them. Ultimately liquids were the only thing I could stomach and the coke was actually my last resort really as I was fearing the likely stitches from it but thankfully they never transpired.
    Finally, you're right about the driving too. I'm surprised you didn't mention anything about sunscreen as well, as I had that Baz Luhrman song in my head when I read your last line!!

  3. Well done John, savage run. Do you think you have found your forte?

  4. Amazing run John! Kerry Way Ultra next on the agenda?

  5. @ DoD - Not sure if you could call it my forte!! It'd be kinda unfortunate for me if it was my best distance!

    @ Ferg - Too soon for me! Are you going to try it? You'd wanna make sure the body is fully recovered first!

  6. Nice one, John. Sounds like it was a great atmosphere for the whole event. Good to see your competitive streak stayed strong to the very end!

  7. What training is neede to achieve the 100 miles. Congrats on your run.

  8. Colin,
    I think if you have a look back at some of my previous posts it should tell the story of my training to that point. Basically, I was training for marathons and managed to complete a good few by the first half of the year so I was in pretty good shape. So, the main thing I did was do 2/3 back-2-back weekends where I did 2 long runs in quick succession. Ultimately once you can hold the pace at a sustainable level (for me it was about 6:00/km - approx 80secs/km slower than marathon pace - then you'd be very surprised how much extra the body can keep going for.

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