Ken’s Art O’Neill ultra marathon blog update, 9 hrs 23 mins later! Part 1

Well it’s over and I’m glad to say the race went very well!

For anyone who didn’t read my first blog entry, I was doing the Art O’Neill Challenge – a 55km overnight ultra marathon from Dublin Castle over the Wicklow mountains to Glenmalure, in tribute to the legendary prison escape/run by Art O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in the 16th century.
This year, just for good measure, the organisers chose Friday 13th as the date!

Arrived at Dublin Castle just before midnight to see the walkers off – and then in to register, and finally, off we went running through the Castle gates at 2am out to a bemused Dublin – 80 runners in hi-vis jackets no doubt being a strange sight to bleary-eyed pub-goers staggering out of the chippers..

I’ll try not to make this blog too long, but just to back-track a bit and talk a bit more about my pre-race preparation. I said I would mention nutrition. It’s such an important part of long distance running, and I usually get it fairly right. This year, not quite. So, for about 36 hours before the race I was keeping it simple, plenty of carbs, litres upon litres of water, vitamins and things like dark chocolate to store fat (no jokes please!) Plus, of course my 3 Synergy products, Mistify, Phytolife and Pro-Argi 9. Some readers may not be interested, so I won’t go in to more detail here, but please feel free to read more about them on the site, or to contact me for more info. Final word on it – Pro-Argi 9 is amazing for energy, and definitely helped me through my first ultra-marathon!

The only other things to mention about preparation are Kit (which I mostly got right), Sleep (I got a crucial 2 hrs sleep at Friday teatime as well as a fairly good night’s sleep on Thurs) and Training (it went as well as could be expected – given a lingering cough and a sore neck).

So, to the race!
I was running with Justin and Jacqui, and we stuck together all the way to the mountains (30K of road), and were also in touch with Aidan, who had set off at 1.15.
Our plan was to run all the road parts, all the trails/fireroads and any safe mountain downhills and to walk the extreme uphills and the parts with very bad terrain. We mostly stuck to this plan!
The road part was (as expected) long and boring, enlivened only by the excitement of the event and camaraderie of the other runners, plus the knowledge that runners got attacked last year by locals in the countryside beyond Tallaght (and no, not by animals!)
Anyway, nothing untoward happened, and we made it to the first transition stop in Kilbride (20K) in just over 2 hours.

At this point I had made 2 mistakes. Firstly, I think we ran the first part too fast. For me, anyway. This was to lead to problems later!
Plus, I was wearing too much and my core body temperature was probably too high. It was a perfect night mind you – great visibilty and quite mild for the time of year. Temperatures I think ranged from about zero to 5 degrees.
Also, we spent a little too long in transition – it’s amazing how long it can take to change top/runners, rearrange kit (for the mountain section to come), and have a bit of soup.
And, oh yes, mentioning soup, that reminds me – I should mention my stomach was NOT in good shape for most of the run. Whether it was nerves (probably not), something I ate (probably not), or just the overall shock an event like this does to your body (most likely), I really couldn’t take in much sustenance throughout the race. My total food intake was – one energy bar, one banana, one cup of soup, one bowl of porridge and one coffee – which is NOT enough food for an event this physical and this long. And I just couldn’t stomach any of the electrolite drinks or lucozade I had brought with me, and thus realised I was going to be very short on liquids, as I only had 2 bottles of regular water. Despite filling these bottles up at every transition station, I got quite badly dehydrated over the 9 hours.

Anyway, after the first break, off we went on the final 10k of roads, passing Dave and Don (from my job) walking, who seemed to be performing great and still in good spirits, until we hit the mountains proper at Black Hill. At this point Jacqui went off on her own, which looking back, she probably should/could have done earlier, as she is an amazing runner and was being held back. Likewise later in the race I was holding Justin back, but on the other hand, the company of another runner helps in other ways – eg keeping morale up. I should also mention that Justin did a great job of navigating us over the mountains – despite excellent moonlit conditions and 450 other people on the hills, it’s no easy task, and we made great progress – always taking the quickest lines.

At the top of Black Hill and on to the gap beside Mullaughlaveen it was quite cold and windy, and (now nearly 4 hours in) our feet were completely soaking wet. Having said that I was happy with my decision not to wear waterproof socks, I just wore thin merino lining socks (thanks for the tip, Aidan!) underneath regular long-distance running socks and mountain runners. Once you keep moving, your feet don’t get cold.

Terrain at this point was tricky, but manageable. My head torch wasn’t really good enough (it wouldn’t take a genius to realise a good head-torch is rather important for running over the Wicklow mountains at night!).
And this is the thing I’m most relieved about, sitting at my computer the day after – that I didn’t get a single injury the whole night! Despite copious opportunities to twist an ankle in a rabbit hole, or fall off a peat hag, or slip down the Art’s Cross climb(!), the worst thing that happened was about 6 or 7 falls – mostly in the latter stages by which time my brain wasn’t really working but thankfully none of these falls did any damage.

Continue to Part 2