My sister rang me last Monday week to ask would Ani and Saran come up for a week over the Easter holidays to stay with their Cousin Robert, who had been down with us for a week during mid-term. I jumped at the offer and said I'd be up that Friday night. "Great" she said, "Orla (my other sister) will be up with Adrian" (her husband) and my nephew Shane and his partner and niece Aoife and her partner. So there was a right party going on by the time I arrived at 8:30 with the wine and beer flowing till about 1:30 the following morning. I was up again at about 7:30 for a quick cup of coffee with Rob, my brother-in-law, before heading back to Cork. But I had a little detour to take first!
15 minutes after leaving at 8:10 I was in Glencullen in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, standing in the overflow car park of Johnnie Foxes signing up in the frigid morning air for membership of IMRA (€10) and their flagship race of the year "The Wiclow Way Ultra"(€15). For another €5 I could have got a bus to the turnaround at Ballinastoe for the 16 mile Wicklow Way Trail Race, but no half measures for me today.
I met up with Richard, my cousin Liam and Clubmates Paul and Killian. While the temperature was a bearable 1C the wind chill brought it well below freezing, which was enough to keep me waiting in the car until as close as possible to the start time. My gear consisted of compression tights over compression shorts and socks – more for the cold than anything else. I wore a long sleeve compression top underneath a long sleeve cycling top making use of the back pockets for storage. I wore a lightweight cycling rain jacket on top. I also carried a small backpack with a (proper regulation) rainjacket and a bottle of water. My nutrition consisted of 3 gels, a granola bar and a bag of raisins and almonds. I also had a bottle of coke, which I place in Paul’s drop bag at the halfway mark. My footwear was probably the most unsuited to off road running – a lightweight pair of Asics Gel Hyperspeeds, this would be their 8th marathon. My only other shoes were my new Gel Tarthers – lighter again. I had an old pair of off road shoes that I once wore back in 2010 on a trail run but they caused some calf issues when running on paved roads so were unreliable. I would have to risk slip sliding all over the place on the smooth soles of the Asics.
When the start was signalled a minute or two after 9:30 I was delighted to get going as I was shivering waiting around. The first mile or so was along the main road west out of Glencullen before a left turn and the drop down to the bridge crossing the Glencullen River, with Richard, Liam and I running relaxed near the back of the pack. The next 2 miles consist of a climb up onto the flank of Prince William’s Seat with the fire road gradually giving way to a single file track through the snow where the pace slows as my concentration becomes more focused on where my next step is going to be, hopping over water channels and trying to avoid the soft snow at the side of the track - except when passing out slower runners, which required significantly more energy, trudging uphill through snow not knowing how deep it was and what surface lay underneath.
Eventually the path levelled out and began to drop until it ended in a steep descent through a boulder field, which proved to be my achilles heel as my feet began to slip out from under me on the slippery boulders forcing me to slow down as those behind me, including Liam and Richard, moved ahead with relative ease. The field ended in a steep fire road descent over the next half mile to the car park at Curtlestown, over which I managed to reel in Liam and Richard.
The next km is along a surfaced road after which we turn left along a fire road on the lower slopes of Knockree before descending along a slippery mud path which has me on the flat of my back a couple of times, my backback taking the brunt of my fall – back to gingerly making my way down the path as I get overtaken by those with a bit more downhill running skill and better footwear. We eventually make our way to the bottom of the descent and are running along the banks of the Glencree River which would ordinarily make for easy running along its grassy banks, but is just a mud path that forces me to run on higher ground through rough grass and ferns, that at least provides some traction for my shoes. We cross the river on a footbridge and make our way uphill to the road leading to the Crone Wood Car Park and the ¼ point aid station, where I take a few jelly babies and water, emptying most of the contents of my water bottle onto the ground as there’s no point in carrying too much fluids. All three of us make our way up the fire road through Crone Wood, running at an easy pace and walking the steeper sections, even stopping at Powerscourt Waterfall to take a few photographs. This is a relatively easy section as the footing is good and there’s no sign of snow.
The videos below are borrowed from Brian Ankers, taken on the slopes of Djouce and along the boardwalk.
As we walk up the road I break into a trot so as to keep my arms swinging which increases the blood flow to my freezing fingers, encased in saturated gloves. I assume Liam and Richard will catch up, but do not see them until the finish. The return leg not as difficult as I know what’s in front of me. Trotting along the boardwalk I pass one or two runners but a guy in an orange jacket keeps on my tail which keeps me on my toes around the flank of Djouce, smiling to myself as I slip and slide all over the place through pools of meltwater on my knees and arse, greeting Dave Bradys of Raheny Shamrocks on his 273rd marathon (I think that’s what he said) still with Mr Orange on my tail. He eventually passes me out as the descent to the Dargle River gets more technical but I catch up on the short climb up to head of the trail down through Crone Wood and pass him and a few more out as I open up my stride on the more familiar footing of the gravel road descent to the ¾ aid station at the Crone Wood car Park, stopping for a slice of mars bar and a gel that another runner had left on the table, too lazy to retrieve a gel from my back pack – I only took it because it was offered – my energy level were quite good.
About 8 miles to go with 4:40 on the clock – should still be on for a sub-6 hour finish. My other marker was that I had about an hour to run after passing the marathon mark – based on Liams run last year. Progress was slow along the bank of the Glencree River and up through the muddy path towards Knockree, which I walked. I was lucky to come across one or two other runners at critical junctions as I could have strayed off course. Passing 26.22 miles with 5:13 on the Garmin I knew that the sub-6 was gone. Running around the side of Knockree I stop and walk with Frank McDermot for a few minutes before setting off again heading for the Curtlestown Car Park and the last climb of the day back up toward Prince William Seat. I walk most of the hill stopping twice to take a few photos and eat my granola bar and swig back the last bit of coke.
My shoes just about made it back in one piece - I just might squeeze another marathon out of them.