A beautiful crisp, frosty, Autumn morning saw me up early and off to Aillwee Caves just outside Ballyvaughan in Co. Clare for what is my first outing as a trail / hill runner in a race.
The drive up to the car park and registration does absolutely nothing to dispell the mounting concerns / disbelief about the race profile for the morning.
We will climb in excess of 250m over the ecourse of 4k with the majority of the climbing being about 225m over 2k. Of course we get to descend too! Which should be fun.
There was a total of 48 willing souls ready at the start line, all eyeing each other anxiously as previous winning times were announced. Not so much eyeing up competition as to identify was the culprit in our midst and not to be standing in his / her way at the start.
Count down from 5, 4, 3, 2..1 and off we went. Down the avenue from the cave entrance to the front gate, having ‘large bones’ helps with the descending as gravity assists and while watching the footing on the wet tarmac in notorious slippy trail shoes (great off road, not so great on road) made it safely down and settled into a nice rhythm as we ran along the base of the hill steadily ascending towards the bottom of the climb.
Now, like hitting a wall, the bodies in front of me seemed to stop and everyone started walking. The brave and silly might try continue running but with heart bursting out of your chest and lungs gasping for air you don’t have a chosice. Hands on knees and just stride steadily up, up, up and up again. There were a couple of respites where you could walk upright and stretch your legs for a couple of strides. By the time I got to the top I had christened these respites as Landings on the ‘Devils Staircase’.
|Top of the ‘Devils Staircase’ – Picture by Chris Deakin|
Towards the top one or two lads passed me, trotting along while I remained walking. Sure enough there was no major gain and by staying steady I was ready at the top of the hill to run again.
Race your own race, as the experienced heads would tell you.
The view from the top was spectacular. I didn’t hang around long to take the view in but it is amazing. The descent was a steady decline across the ridge line of the hills through fields with plenty of cow pats to dodge along the way.
I caught the two guys that passed me and knew I was sitting top 10 in the field at that stage. Looking over the shoulder at the turnaround I could see bodies strung out along the whole ridge line. There was one new outline that had passed the lads so I felt the pressure coming on. Around the 10k mark we started to drop outta the sky again. This time it was muddy! Cattle had cut up the trail on Friday evening and it was a mudbath. There was no clean line to follow and it was tricky to find decent footing. With the mud and grass creating an extra hazard by hiding nice sized rocks you could easily put a foot astray or trip over and end up faceplanted in the muck.
At the bottom we crossed an open paddock and the first thought in my head is “If there’s a bull in this field you’re done for!” I was wearing a bright orange Saucony top.
Across the field and back onto the avenue, up the hill. It should only be 1k from here to the finish but it was a tough kilometer. We wound our way up, down and around a very technical trail through the woods and gardens. Passing the craft village the temptation to stop in wonder was strong. Time to look back later.
Bursting out of the woods at the top it was only a short jaunt to the finish area. With nothing left in the tank it was a very subdued uphill, crossing of the line.
Conor asked me what I thought of that, with a big smile on my face I told him it was the toughest run I’d ever done and that I couldn’t wait to go again, in the afternoon, that is.
Finished 9th in a time of 1:05. Happy days!!
Roll on the timetrial in the afternoon with a run from the caves, Caveman style.