My cousin Liam ran the 100k in Portumna on June 15th. Despite the fact that he shouted out my name a few times out on the course (you can do that at 100k pace ;-), I ignored him most of the time, partially because I was bllind as a bat and also because I was so focussed on my own race plan that I did not see much around me, unless you happened to be the guy blocking my path with music blaring in your ears.
After I had finished I did have a brief chat with him in the ultra refuelling zone at the start/finish area, where, by way of helping him to get things from his bag, I helped myself to his treasure trove of goodies - ultra runners always overstock, so I knew he would not miss a thousand calories here or there. I had to head for home before he finished.
As I was working in the Kildare area last Friday I took the opportunity to stop off at Liam's place on the way home to catch up on old times and see how his 10:28 100k PB went. As chance would have it Liam's Club, Le Cheile AC, was hosting a midnight marathon that very night. "Why not come along and give it a go" he said, "it would be a bit of fun" - and you thought I was crazy.
As luck would have it my gear bag was in the car and I had told Abina that I was just popping out for a packet of cigarettes, so she wasn't expecting me home any time soon. So we both headed for the shop to stock up on rice cakes, jellies and coke and carb loaded on a quarter pounder with cheese at the local greasy grill (with equal measures of protein and fat, in case the carbs didn't work). Unfortunatly it is I that carrried the quarter pounder around the 26.2 miles rather than the other way round.
The course was 95 laps on the outside lane of the Grass Track at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip. It felt a bit odd heading out the door shortly after 11, saying goodnight to Paula and Zach (Liam's wife and son), dressed in running gear. I felt like I should be going to bed and my body concurred. There were about 40 other crazies lined up for the midnight start - I knew immediately that I had stepped into another realm, an alternative world where everything seemed strange, surreal......but only to me..........I was an imposter in an alien world..........this all seemed natural to those around me.........................
|Look like you know what you're doing|
Each runner was introduced to his "counter" before the start. These were the guys and gals who ticked off your 95 laps one by one as you passed them at the start/finish. Each counter had about 5 or 6 runners. Let me say from the outset that these guys/gals were excellent....imagine giving up 4 or 5 hours of your time to count people running around a field in the middle of the night, when you could be sleeping/clubing/watching re-runs of the Soprano's. Not only that but every time you passed they offered encouragement and checked to see that you were alright.....95 times!..........by five or 6 runners!!!. Respect....it made running around a field 95 time seem like a piece of cake (and it wasn't). My counter was Jarlaith. If he could be described in one word it would be "Solid". Everytime I passed I could hear him shout out "gottya Grellan".......like a safety net catching you,,,,,,,,,, as the last thing you wanted was an extra lap added to your run ......it's funny how the seemingly small things take on a huge significance at 3 in the morning.
I started off reasonably conservatively, with about 6 runners out in front of me, including Rory Mooney, winner of the Portumna 50k.........so i know straight off that 2nd place was the best I could get. While the garmin pace was showing 7:20 to 7:30 pace the actual pace was about 15 seconds per mile slower...........something to do with reduced satellite accuracy when running around in small circles (The Garmin clocked 27.17 miles by the time I had finished). The effort felt more than the pace suggested, partly due to the time of day and partly due to the fact that I had run a marathon PB 6.5 days earlier.
It wasn't long before I was lapped by Rory and two other guys. To break the monotony I decided to up my pace and hang on to them for a few laps or half an hour if I could. After all it didn't feel too stressful. In the back of my mind was to finish reasonably early as I planned on driving home after the race.........it doesn't take that long to buy a packet of cigarettes. If I could get to bed before Abina rose for work shortly after 7 i'd be able to get to sleep in until 12 before domestic duties called.
My plan worked for a few laps until another guy came from behind and forged ahead, dragging Rory and one other guy in his wake. The pace was too fast for the other guy and I, so we ran on together for a while before he too fell off the pace as I passed the only girl among the 6 that had started in front of me. 6th place, with 3 more than a lap in front of me
It wasn't long before Rory and the other guy (Paul) lapped me for a second time. The guy in 3rd place came back to me and it wasn't long before I had lapped him and the 4th placed guy a couple of times. 4th place, I think ( I hadn't seen one of the guys that started in front of me - in reality it was more confusing on the night and I was not counting position). While I had a drop bag with coke and a few gels in it I did not touch it all night. There was also a water table on the straight, which did not use either as it involved straying from the racing line.
My plan was to get to at least 66 laps before seeing if I could increase the pace and finish strong. The halfway point came in about 1:40, indicating a even pace 3:20 finish. Although I felt that I would have to work harder to stay on that pace to the end. Lap after relentless lap was counted down, surprised that I had not been lapped again by Rory and Paul. Then Frank McDermot told be that Rory had pulled out. 3rd place, by my calculation. Although if someone had stopped to to take on water I could have passed them without knowing - doubful perhaps.
I ploughed on slowly clocking up the laps until i reach 65 laps and I can see an end in sight. I start counting down the last 30 laps, gradually increasing the pace with 20 laps to go. At some stage I remember passing one, then 2 guys that I had not passed before. One was Paul, who had been 2 laps in front (he had removed his rain jacket and I had not noticed). I was still only concentrating on my race plan of finishing strong if I could. I increased the pace with 10 laps to go and noticed the encouragement from Jarlaith increasing everytime I passed.
At some stage I heard someone say "you put 40 yards on him during the last lap"........all I though of was "who?"..........."where is he?.........."how far ahead is he?"............"is he more that a lap ahead?".........."Is he in first place and am I in second?".
All I could do was stick to my plan/pace and what will be, will be. The comments from the counter corner escalate to "he's getting faster with each lap"......"phenominal".........."great running Grellan", which encourages me to keep pushing the pace. With 3.5 laps to go I pass Paul and assume that I am in first place, but am not sure..........he could be a lap ahead for all I know.............I am running scared now as there are always footfalls behind me..................the counters are now instructing the slower runners to keep right and let the faster runners through on the left.........adding to excitement of the closing laps. I continue to push the pace counting down the last 2 laps and cross the finish line for the last time in 3:17:01. Paul finishes behind me in 3:17:41, with the third placed guy, Aidan, coming home in 3:21:14. All very close for a midnight marathon. With an overall average 7:30 pace, my closing laps @ 6:55 pace were enough to ensure a strong finish once I had taken the lead.
|Where have all the other Zombies gone?|
Following a light massage, refuelling on coffee and cake and a coodown lap with Liam I hit the long road for home, thankful that I had left the bottle of coke for the journey, with my head finally hitting the pillow at 6:30, sharing half an hour with Abina before she rose for work - unfortunately her instructions for the day fell on deaf ears..........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz