All this training culminated in the Wicklow Way Ultra on 22nd March, my 11th marathon distance run of the year. The plan after Wicklow was to repeat last years marathon training programme for Portumna, for which last years M40 win entitled me to a free entry this year. The purpose of the early season tempo runs was to accustom me to the harder efforts of the mile and 2 mile repeats @ 6:15/20 pace that the programme would demand. However within a week and a half of Wicklow I was sporting a mild strain in my left calf, probably due to a combination of maintaining my weekend marathon streak and getting lost coming down from Galty Mór on a evening run and having to run a bit longer than planned to get back to the car. As speedwork was out of the question the strain prevented me from starting my marathon training programme and it was back to easy aerobic running. Even this was putting strain on my calf and I had to ease back for a few days.
With the possibility of a serious attempt at Portumna fading the longer my injury prevailed my sights began to shift back towards the endurance side of the spectrum (i.e. all day events). I had two potential targets -
(i) if my injury prevailed I would aim for the Sneem 50 Mile Walk on 24th May. To hedge my bets I introduced a few walk only sessions into my weekly training culminating in a 20 mile 4 hour walk on roads - and you though long runs were monotonous!!!
(ii) if I recovered reasonably quickly I would aim for the Wicklow Way Solo Race, also on 24th May. This race had been on the back of my mind since my cousin Liam mentioned it to me earlier in the year, the only issue being how could I fit it into my marathon training and be sufficiently recovered to give Portumna a good old rattle. The answer was that I couldn't, it was either one or the other and now with Potumna out of the picture, the Wicklow Way was left standing uncontested.
The only concerns I had were that the I had only ever run about 24km of the primarily off-road 131km route and the first 4 or 5 hours of the race would be in the dark (it starts at midnight).
I dealt with the first concern by doing a recce of the entire route over 3 separate runs spaced out over a few weeks, the first as part of a Sunday group run from Marley Park to Glenmalure (km 2 - 65) on 27th April and the remaining two on my own - Glenmalure to Moyne (Km 65 - 91) and Moyne to Clonegal (Km 91 - 131) over the following weeks (a great way to use up excess annual leave). The second concern was glossed over with a 5 mile midnight run on Friday/Saturday, with 3 of those miles through Ballincollig Regional Park wearing my budget Aldi headtorch. It did the job, and spooked a few birds from their slumber in the process. I also picked up a spare head torch yesterday in a Euro saver shop for €1.50 (sans batteries) - and it's brighter than the €8 Aldi version. The days of spending money on "quality" torches ended when the €50 Cateye torch I bought for my bike gave up the ghost within a few months of purchase (and less than 15 hours of work on the clock) - it couldn't handle the wet (i.e. outdoor use!!!)
So....... with a week to go it is option (ii) that I have gone for (Sneem was ever only going to be a fall back - but I will keep up the walk training) and now it's time to do a bit of planning.
While the race will be supported (drop bag/aid station locations have not been identified yet as it depends on the number of volunteers) I will not have the luxury of having 24/7 attention like I did on Connemara last year so I will have to carry some provisions in a backpack.
I haven't a clue. The cut-off is 21 hours. The combined time of the recce runs is a little over 16 hours, but I was fully refreshed at the start of each segment. To give me some basis for aiming for 16 hours I compared my recent Wicklow Way Ultra time of 4:58 to that of Clubmate Paul Tierney (4:18) and applied the ratio (1.155) to Paul's 2011 record breaking run on the Wicklow Way of 13:39. This gave me a time of 15:46, so sub-16 hours is possible. Then again Paul had full support in his 2011 attempt and I on the other hand will not be drafting in any additional assistance next weekend. So we'll see.........
The current plan is to drive to Clonegal on Friday. Walk the 4 km to Kildavin to get the evening bus to Dublin. Get my brother in law to collect me from the bus station and drop me to Marley Park, with a few hours rest in between, run from Marley Park to Clonegal and drive home. I'm even tired thinking about it.