The Connemarathon Ultra
In which I crash 'n' burn but, despite all my best efforts to fail, still manage to come fourth.
Although I had put five hours estimated time on my entry form (for 39.3 miles with about 500' of climb), the lack of training, made painfully obvious at Barry, suggested that another half or even hour might be more appropriate. And so I began steadily, watching the leaders disappearing rapidly into the distance while jogging the first few miles with various others.
After a few miles I was feeling really good and slowly pulled away from the pack with no sign of anyone in front. The mile markers were falling by nice and quickly, and sometime later I could see another runner in front whom I passed at about eight miles. Interestingly, having passed him I was terrified that he would come back at me. Obviously this was: A. Unlikely, given that I had been running him down steadily over many miles; and B. An utterly pointless thing to worry about. But I did have to make a conscious effort to run my own race and not worry about being passed.
I stopped for a pee, having been drinking a small bottle of water at each aid station (every four miles or so in these early stages), and was surprised that I was not caught by the runner I'd recently passed. I must be going some!
At about ten miles I was rather surprised to catch sight of another runner ahead (the first lady, as it happens) and eventually passed her shortly after the marathon start. (The race loop was 38 miles so we started about a mile back on the course so that the full and half starts marked each third of our race; assuming they had started on time I had done about 1:35 for the first Half or third, depending upon how you want to put it!) I soon began passing the tail-end marathoners who were initially all on the right side of the road so I could readily overtake on the left but after a while they were all over the place and I had to do a fair amount of dusking and weaving to get through. (This road was very small and the only traffic to speak of was a TV car which kept passing, stopping to film a bit, then moving on.)
The aid stations were now every three miles but, despite the race director's promises of High Five at every ultra table, little was to be had which was a bit of a problem since I was relying upon it! I had a few toffees but by this time couldn't stomach any solids (couldn't so much as mouth 'em, in fact) and even water began to feel unpalatable. Still, there wasn't a lot I could do.
I was beginning to feel a little weary by now but still slowly passing people and, after a long boring flat bit into a strong wind I went through the half marathon start at 1:44 marathon time. Assuming 3:14 my time (I don't like wearing a watch while running so rarely do so), that was the second Half/third in about 1:40.
A few miles later the wheels came off big time. And I mean big time! I walked, then stopped. Tried to throw up but just retched. Jogged a bit. Walked a bit. Jogged a bit. Had this been a multi-lap course with an easy-copout option I would have taken it at this point. But it wasn't so I resigned myself to walking most of the last ten miles. The tail-end half marathoners began passing me and it all felt really surreal, being overtaken by people who would normally be going about half my speed. And somewhat humbling.
Another ultramarathoner went shuffling by, not terribly fast, so I briefly tried to keep up with him before failing ignominiously. He may have been running slowly but at least he was running. I had struck a wall of epic proportions. But, like all walls, it had a door. And doors in walls like this always have a gatekeeper. She caught me up a mile or so later. I can't remember her exact words but they were of the "You can do it" and "You'll get there" variety. My initial reaction was to wonder whether she had any idea of just how completely and utterly stuffed I felt but the thought was so entirely out of order that I rapidly discarded it, feeling guilty at having so much as thought such ingratitude. Particularly since she did unlock the door, through which I passed at a trot, and with grateful thanks.
People often talk about The Wall but rarely about what's the other side. It was a wasteland of shuffling, jogging or some such action, interspersed with hundred-yard walks, desperately willing the appearance of each mile mark. But wastelands are rarely entirely barren and I realised that I was making tolerable progress when I re-passed the shuffling ultramarathoner.
The penultimate couple of miles climbed a couple of hundred feet but were of litle real dificulty - I just timed my walks for the steeper bits and jogged the rest. From the top I could see the finish, with a trail of runners disappearing into the distance. Never has two miles looked so far! The first mile was gently downhill and surprisingly difficult to even shuffle in my state but I was passed near the bottom by a marathoner in a distinctive orange top so I gathered my thoughts, lifted my knees, focussed on the orange blur and began the final push.
I crossed the line in about 5:22 (2:08 for the last Half/third!), looking very comfortable according to some observers, and feeling elated but shattered according to myself!
© Garry Perratt, 2005