Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ha Ha - Tony will love this.......(it's from flickr toys)

Reasons for Running/ My First Marathon

A lot of people start running in an attempt to lose weight or get fit or be healthy. I don't fall into those categories even if I did want to lose weight/ get fit/ be healthy. Those just aren't my reasons and I'd say for most they aren't the reasons people keep running especially after those goals are achieved.

When I started running 3 years ago at the age of 32 (I had run as a child but stopped as a teenager) I had one purpose and that was to complete a marathon. I looked on this as the ultimate goal and looking back now it really was. Now matter what running goals I've achieved since, even completing or even winning much longer ultra events, nothing would ever surpass the magnificence of training for and completing a first marathon. I had an image as I stood on the start line of ''putting my head above the parapet'' for the very first time in my life. Other more important events had occured in my life, like having Grace or getting married, but for some reason though this seemed to be a much more public endeavour. I was on my own, stood on the start line with tears in my eyes, scared sh*tless of what was about to occur and more fundamentally scared of FAILURE. What if I didn't complete it? What if I just collapsed in a heap at 18 or 20 miles. I would have been devastated beyond comprehension.

It was May 2003 when I decided that I was going to enter for the Dublin City Marathon in October of that year. So I thought I better start running and went out in my Penneys gear and ran about 2 - 3 miles. It wasn't that bad but it took a few weeks for the feeling to subside of "I just want to stop" the whole time I was out. I had plenty of trouble along the way, I should have done what I would do if I was tackling anything now, and that is, read a book telling you how to do something properly. I didn't know about increasing mileage slowly or taking water on board. I wrecked both my knees by July of that year and could barely walk never mind run. But they did heal and I got myself up to 17 mile runs on my own at night through Clondalkin and Tallaght. Not to be recommended to any woman running solo. I tried a 20 miler, on my own, without water, and collapsed at 17 miles, puking my stomach up on the Belgard Road.

But there I was that October, tears welling up, on the start line. I stayed well at the back too scared to be in the crowd. And then the gun went and then nothing. No movement for a couple of minutes which was really spooky. And then we were off. I was fine for about 12, 13 miles but I hadn't taken on enough water at the earlier stations. Tony was on the course on my Vespa scooter but I didn't see him between miles 10 to 18 and there was no water at 15 so I was dying! I was so thirsty I even considered taking a gel! Lucky enough I ddin't as that would have made thigns much worse. Eventually I got to 18 and Patsy and the Kiernans were there in force with Tony. I was in so much pain at that stage. I was too mortified to stop and walk. By 20 when I saw Lucy it felt like someone was beating my with a club and saying ''stop runnning!''. The pain was incredible! I kept going.

By the time I crossed the line at just over 4 hours I was ready to collapse. I did manage to walk to the baggage area where Eugene was. I cried and cried for ages, having no idea why really. I remember speaking to a woman who seemed to completely understand, even though I thought I was the only one to cry after their first marathon. From all accounts it seems to happen to almost everyone.

I met Tony at the meeting point and collapsed into his arms. I went home in a taxi, puked a few times and got into bed. I could barely walk for a whole week, luckily enough I was off work as I was changing jobs.

Nothing will ever live up to that first marathon. Getting yourself there is the biggest battle. Months of training and personal commitment. But the sense of achievement far outweighs all the pain. People talk about their 'marathon moments'; something special that sticks in their mind about the day or something that happens along the way which makes them sure they're going to make it. I can't think of one particular moment from that day, it was the whole experience, tears, pain, pride, everything.

I trained for my first marathon on my own but soon after Tony took up running too and we both joined Clonliffe harriers. It's been great and we've had 3 wonderful running years since. we've travelled to some amazing places, the Pyrennees, the Alps, Chicago, New York and hope to add to that list in the coming years. We've also made lots of new running friends with whom we've shared some real life changing experiences.

Here's to many more successful, happy, healthy running years!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ben and Sue's Wedding

I didn't want to blog about Ben and Sue's wedding in Jamaica until I got my flickr photos sorted. We had such a brilliant time and it was great to be a part of their big day. It was well timed too as it came just after our big trip to Mont Blanc. Myself, Tony and Grace flew out from Dublin via Amsterdam, Cuba then Montego Bay. Grace had one of her fainting spells at the airport which, if it had been any more serious, would have meant Tony going alone. Lucky enough she was ok.

Our hotel was themed on Sesame Street and was all inclusive so we made sure to eat at least 5 meals a day, since we weren't getting our money's worth cos we don't drink!! Cookie monster cookies everyday too!

The wedding itself was really special, lovely romantic ceremony and music. Sue looked absolutely stunning and together they looked so perfect. The meal after included dancing waiters and a proper reggae band! Some of the photos are from our boat trip the next day, organised by Ben and Sue (big thanks!) The braver souls took some dives from some very imposing cliffs (scared the hell out of me, I couldn't even jump from the boat).

I'm so glad we were able to go on the trip. The holiday was terrific as we did lots of things like scuba and gorge walking that just made it great!

Here's to many happy years together!
For the photos go to the badge I've created on the sidebar.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Grace was assaulted by a couple of girls on Saturday evening. Herself and Sarah were coming from the Luas station at Lucy's house and one of the girls grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to the ground. They didn't steal anything and luckily they didn't hurt her, they threw some water at Sarah. They weren't known to them because this isn't where we live so it appears to be completely random and unprovoked. There were two girls and two blokes. What kind of people raised children/ teenagers to do something like that. Although it's not at the most serious end of the spectrum, I believe this is only the beginning of what could be something very serious. Grace was understandably very shaken and upset. We drove around the estate in the hope of seeing the thugs but couldn't find them.

Later that night we got the luas with Hope into town and wandered round the Christmas market near the IFSC. I posted some shots on flickr but I'm not great at the night time ones! You can use my new flickr badge on the left to access them.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Happy Birthday to me........

I'm 35 today and in running terms that makes me a VET.
Because of my obsession with flickr and all things photographic (I'm not a good photographer just an obsessed one) Tony bought me my own digital camera with loadsa millions of pixels (and also the running book Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith which I've been trying to get my hands on for about a year).

Gary, Eugene and myself did a run around the featherbeds in the Dublin Hills this morning, about 17 miles, and it was just a beautiful morning. Tony cycled alongside us because he's injured and so he took these photos while we ran.

We're heading into town this evening for a birthday meal and a walk through the kriskindle market on the docks.

Great birthday so far!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Alpe d'Huez

We'll be watching out for a meteor shower as we run over the hills this evening (sounds very Sound of Music doesn't it?). We actually saw what must be called a lunar rainbow last week. It was incredible! Don't I sound like a right anorak.....
The picture below is what it was like but darker sky. They seem to call it a Moon Bow. I got the picture from Atmospheric Optics, I hope they don't mind.

It's mad the things you see when you're running, we saw a horse being born once.

We do a run of 13 miles each Wednesday evening around Ballinascorney/ Glenasmole/ Tallaght Water Works. It's a great run during the day also as it's so scenic and only minutes from Tallaght. There's two savage hills on our usual route, one of which Tony has christened Alpe d'Huez!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dublin Port Tunnel 10K and Milano's with Clonliffe Girls

Well it was great! We arrived good and early and landed ourselves up at the front. Clonliffers did a brilliant job, the baggage area was super and the place looked great. Tony had spent Saturday helping set up so he knew where everything was. We had parked at Spencer Dock and walked down. The walk down was just like the very early bit on the morning of the marathon; lots of worried looking beginners heading towards the start.
Of course Liam knew absolutely everybody, Tony calls him the Lord Mayor. There were lots of familiar faces when myself, Tony, Liam, Gary and Tommy (who disappeared, barely saw him the rest of the day, never met Ken either) landed ourselves on the start line. Zoe was there stewarding at the start along with Jean Carr and Eugene. There was great atmosphere; eager and exciting (and Frank handing out new Irish Runners annuals!) It felt like such a long wait till we finally got going adn the gun went, downhill start but relaxed enough pace.

Soon as we got into the tunnel it was spooky but in a really good exciting way! Lovely surface to run on and the gradual hills didn't start for a couple of kilometres from what I can remember. Myself, Liam and Gary had done a long run the day before and were probably feeling the slopes more than most and we actually stayed within metres of each other the whole time. The best bit of the tunnel was the amazing mexican roar that happened about 3 times while we were in there. It was UNREAL. It sounded like a jet engine coming behind you, and then suddenly you realized it was a roar from the crowd moving it's way through! Bloody brilliant.

People complained of the heat in the tunnel but I wasn't overdressed so was OK. It was warm but tolerable for me anyway. After a couple of kilometres you were dying to get out of it though, even for just a couple of seconds at least! As you came out of the tunnel at halfway you could see a bridge with a big banner for the race and the only spectators we saw for the whole race. After a really sharp turnaround we headed back into the tunnel again. Lovely downhill for a couple of kilometres which was great! I never spotted any mile markers so was just guessing from my watch but with about a kilometre to go my legs went completely to jelly. Liam reckoned it was some kind of lactic acid thing in the legs cos of the long run we'd done the day before. We finished together in about 41 minutes, not a PB but it was still a great experience. Tony was a few minutes behind in about 46 minutes.

After we finished we had mucked in to help in the big clean up. (Included in the things we picked up from the START line were lipstick and a pair of knickers!) There was a great atmosphere among all the finishers including all the mountain runners we met. I think people really felt they had taken part in something special and because it wasn't a long difficult event everyone could really have fun with it. I really enjoyed it, the whole day was great from beginning to end. I met up later with the girls from Clonliffe for a meal in Milano's in honour of all the hard work done during the year by Bronagh and Eugene. They both deserve medals for their commitment to the club and all the personal time that their efforts must take from them. 3 cheers!!

If I get some photos I'll post them here

Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy Birthday Grace!

Check this out for some historical events on this day and this from the BBC also................
Have a great 15th. Big hugs and kisses.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grace's birthday tomorrow!

Tomorow it will be 15 years sine Grace was born. She was born on a Sunday at 4:44pm. It was all very laid back; there was no crazy dash to the hospital, no mad car chases like in the movies! She was 8 days late when she did decide to arrive. She had white blond hair and lots of it, and was the only baby on the ward who looked like that. She was super-beautiful and still is!!

She's going out for a meal with her mates in TGIF. How grown up does that sound? Better than drinking in a field I suppose!

Years ago my mother wrote a book for us, her children. It was like a family history with lots of memories from everyone. Everytime I browse through it I see something different. Grace will have to make do with a blog instead of a book (though so far this blog is all about running!) I'm sure if my mother was alive today she'd be a brilliant blogger! She wouldn't have to spend time and money making her way into Reids in Nassau Street to do colour photocopying!

Anyway here's hoping Grace has a great day tomorrow cos I think it's the first time she's ever had school on her birthday.

Some history of this famous date!

Snow Race 2007

I still haven't got round to sorting my photos properly. I wanted to sort them into categories/ online albums but I wasn't able to do that with Flickr, maybe it's just me, so I'm looking at another website where I can store them properly.

Well the gang met last night to go through the details of our trip to France in January. We're doing the Trail Blanch Font Romeu 2007 and staying with Barry and Sharon Phelan. See previous post about last years race. Those going are Bronagh, Fionnuala, Karen, Tara, Tony, Niall, Kevin Grogin and myself. The girls are far outnumbering the men this year!

Here's the Document put together for the trip:

Snow Race 2007
Trail Blanch Font Romeu

Packing Light. Baggage limit of 15 kilos which is size of average sports holdall. Previous hand baggage allowance was: max weight 10 kilos and dimensions of 55 x 40 x 20cm.
New rules about flight carry on items: see attached.
Info about new carry on restrictions

Warm clothes needed for everyday wear, not excessively cold last year though, jeans are ok with jumper/ warm socks/ jacket. Very cold at night particularly.
Warm fleecy pyjamas for bed and warm socks! (Seriously very cold at night!)
Not much “dressing up” gear needed.
Hairdryers and tea/ coffee facilities in each room, I think.
Swimwear for two trips to thermal baths.
Water bottle for carrying around or for making up drinks
Bars/ food/ high 5/ electrolyte stuff etc. especially if carb loading
Tylenol/ Anti inflammatories/ Bio Freeze for after race
Sun block/ lip balm
Aspirin (we took one a day before, during and after trip– supposed to help with flight and altitude sickness).

Pre-Race Running Gear:
Gear for two short running outings before race day. (Leggings, long sleeved top and jacket – probably re-use as you won’t get very sweaty!!).

Suggested Race Day Running Gear:
Jacket (may or may not be needed/ compulsory?)
Long Sleeved Top
Full length leggings
Trail shoes (see bit at the end……)
Gloves (I swear by my Lowe Alpine pair that I lost!)
Buff/ Ear Warmers or Hat (I didn’t wear one)
Cropped top/ underwear
Tissues/ wipes
Camelback or means of carrying compulsory items:
 Water, bars, gels
 Whistle
 Survival blanket
 Head Torch
Running watch
Vaseline/ Deep Heat if you use it
Tylenol or Nurofen
First-Aid Items – up to yourself

Gear to change into after race and bag/ backpack to put it in: leggings, ski trousers, ski jacket, dry gloves, tops, hat, dry runners/ trail shoes, underwear. Bag for wet/ dirty gear.
Baby wipes for after (no shower facilities after race that I can remember).

In total at least 4 pairs of running socks.

Ski Gear
Ski Gloves/ Hat etc.

Requirements and things to remember:
To do now: Race entry form to be filled in and posted off to Barry
To do now: Payment with euro cheque or money order – can’t use regular cheques even though it’s all euro – made out ARAVO Aventure (€25 or €30) and it willm cost €6.35 for this.
To do now: Barry’s form for skiing/ hire etc.
Medical Cert (Barry knows someone in France will do it for €21 – bargain!)
Flight codes/ print outs (Web check in?) (7036 and 1985 our flight numbers).
Holiday Insurance – bring details with you esp. if it includes ski insurance
Payment for B&B
Money for Ski Hire/ Ski Lessons: private ones can work out better and save lots of time/ hassle than being part of a class.
Camera/ Video Camera
Don’t forget the tri-colour for photo-ops with the gang! (Clonliffe vest even just for the picture?)

Flight is at 6pm Thursday 18th Jan. Check in will probably be from about 4pm.
Arrange to share taxis/ book a taxi or book parking, Quick Park , although their website only works half the time. €6 per day.

Snow Race
Cool website for Packing Tips .
To keep an eye on the weather: Local Ski Weather .
Does no harm to brush up on the French!
Gauche is left
Droit is right
Tout droit is straight on
There’s lots of websites with free lessons!
A good phrase to learn is ‘’How Much further?’’ cos the route isn’t marked in kilometres! (When you find out let me know).

Shops for Gear:
Great Outdoors off Grafton Street.
Amphibian King in Bray. Only sells shoes but they do that gait analysis thing
53 Degrees North, Carrickmines (website not working), great shop though.
TKMaxx for ski bargains.
John Buckleys sports shop in Cork.
North Face New Shop on Temple Lane South

Just a bit about trail shoes:
Salomons Trail Shoes: about €140 in the Great outdoors. I have these and they’re pretty good.
Inov 8 and Puma Trailfox available from Amphibian King. Inov8 are very popular among the Adventure Racing community so they must be good.
Nike Gortex off road shoe available in 53 degrees north and you could try the Nike outlet in Kildare for a bargain.
Walsh’s available from John Buckleys in Cork, by post about €90.

p.s Grace will bring the GHD.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

All I Want for Christmas

Tony and Grace are the only people who know my blog exists. Grace would never have any interest in reading it (unless I tell her I've posted some photos of her!) so here's a test to see if Tony ever drops by!

All I ever want for Christmas is a surprise. I hate knowing what I'm getting and I hate being asked 250 times throughout the month of December what I want for my birthday and Christmas (I'm so lucky that that's all I have to worry about!). So here's somethings he should get me but probably won't even though I've often dropped lots of hints:

CD player in shape of red beetle!
Box set of Grey's Anatomy
Pair of Lowe Alpine gloves like the ones I lost the day of the Adventure Racing training day
Jar of Creme de la Mere
Ski stuff (?never been?)
Finish decorating the hallway
Mountaineering (climbing) course
My own very tiny digital camera for bringing on runs
the book ''Feet in the Clouds''
MP3 or iPod
Voucher for weekend away (Disneyland Paris?)/ meal/ theatre tickets.......

I will keep updating the list as I think of things! I sound like such a spoilt cow but it's nice to dream!!!

Update on My Blogging

Reasons for starting this blog were mostly about recording experiences to do with family and running. It kind of came to a halt when I had trouble posting photos from the PC at home. Was trying to upload photos from Ben and Sue's wedding in Jamaica, which was out of this world brilliant, but it wouldn't work. I've since set up a Flickr account and the next step on my journey into techy world is to link to that instead. I'll hopefully find out what the problem is and start adding some photos to my blog again (no problem with the first few posts?).

Grace's birthday is coming up next week and she still doesn't know what she wants and I have no idea either. She's admitted she has everything?? It's the same every year because it's so close to Christmas. Think I know what I'm getting Tony, he's easily pleased (no jokes about who he married, thank you!)

Running wise we're back doing long runs again; did about 16 miles in Wexford on Sunday. It took forever cos of the wind. Did the Wednesday night hill run with the lads, Liam, Gary, Eug and Tony and the girls from Clonliffe have started coming too; this week we had Bronagh, Fionnuala and Karen. We had a real laugh last night as we told stories about the man in the creepy derelict house (who was there in the garden in the dark in his wellies!!!) and Liam shared his theories again on the CIA house!! It's such a lovely scenic route and so close to Tallaght and it's great fun running in the dark.

Recent running experiences have included the Dublin Senior Cross Country and the Powerscourt Ridge mountain run. The wind on top of Djouce was incredible, I couldn't move! I was down on the ground holding onto rocks waiting for the wind to abate but it never did. But it's one of the most enjoyable routes I've done. Sundays run will be in the same area, probably Crone to Lough Tay.

We're having a meeting in my house next week to go through things for the Snow Race. Packing for it will be the most difficult part!! Above is a photo of Tony in last years race.....I haven't figured out yet how to position the picture where I want it. When I have my Flickr sorted I will load pictures that Tony took at the Dublin Senior Cross Country.

Bye for now..............

Saturday, November 11, 2006

View from the Baggage Area - Dublin Marathon 2006

For more photos from the baggage area you can look at my flickr account.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some running shots from IMRA website

Credit for these mountain running photos goes to John Shiels and Simon Fairmainer. The first one is Tony running bare chested over Lug, his usual running attire. The second one is Tony and his brother Ben who joined us on lots of mountain runs in Summer 2005. The two of me are taken on Three Rock and Lug. Here’s Tony's page from the website and here’s mine.


Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc August 2006

The North Face Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont-Blanc
25th – 27th August 2006

Our journey to Mont Blanc began in Winter 2005 when a group of us met one night to discuss competing in an endurance-type event the following year. When Mont Blanc was suggested we all loved the idea of the Alps and the debate was settled. The race was to be held at the end of August and would consist of 158km run continuously over 45 hours with the total elevation being over 8500 metres; about the same as Everest! Scary as it seemed we all were really looking forward to it. We discussed the type of training that we might need and it was decided that in order to try something at altitude we would travel to the Pyrenees in January 2006 to do the Trail Blanch or as we called it ‘The Snow Race’. For most of us it was the first experience of any kind of altitude. It was very tough mostly because the terrain consisted mainly of waist deep snow.

The rest of our training included various Ultra distance events such as the Connemara Ultra and the Scottish National 50k. But my personal favourite was the night-time runs. In order to get used to running in the dark and also while tired, we did various runs over the Wicklow Hills starting at 10 or 11 at night and lasting for 6 or 7 hours. They were brilliant! We would start at Glendalough and sometimes in the first mile or so we would be met with some very odd looks from tourists and locals around Laragh as a group of mad runners with head torches and backpacks ran past! For the rest of the run it was just us and the night and the hills. It was so peaceful and quiet and beautiful. We sometimes met deer and the odd camper but otherwise it was just us. Coming back into Glendalough at sunrise with the fog rising over the lakes was spectacular and I’ll never forget it.

Before heading to France we found it difficult to get information on the race as our French was very poor and there was very few English reports on the event. We debated (quite extensively!) what gear to wear, what food to carry etc. but the big debate focused on the use of POLES!!!! To use or not to use! I think initially we all felt that poles (the hill walking variety as opposed to the dancing!) were for walkers and resisted the idea. But every single race report, without exception, was expounding the merits and saying they were an absolutely essential piece of kit and not to be done without. So after getting used to the idea I settled on a pair of kids walking poles as they were super light and I imagined I would be spending more time carrying them than using them but little did I know then!

And so at the end of August early one Wednesday morning, with the training done, we headed to Geneva. We had hired a bus to get us to our apartment, as there were about 15 of us heading to the town at the start of the race; Chamonix, France. It’s a great town with lots of outdoor gear shops!! It was buzzing with all sorts of enthusiasts, hill walkers, hikers, mountain bikers, climbers and of course competitors for the Ultra Trail.

Registration was the following morning and involved having all your gear checked to ensure you had all the compulsory items. The rain jacket I had was very light but it wasn’t questioned by the officials but some people were told they’re gear was too light but was OK. You had to carry some food, water, head torches, first aid items and of course an emergency blanket. All of which would come to be used by myself anyway!

With numbers collected the only thing that had to be done the afternoon before race start was to drop off 2 bags which would be placed at two stages along the course for us: Cormayeur in Italy and Champex Lac in Switzerland. Into these bags we put things like a change of clothes and rain jackets, replacement bars and gels etc.

The race itself was to start at 7pm on the Friday evening. We made our way to the tiny town square at about 6:15. It was already packed full of competitors, their husbands, wives, girlfriends, dogs, buggies, bicycles, it was a bit mad! We all felt the square should have been kept to competitors only as there was so little room and we were all nervous enough already! It was so tense as we waited on things to get going. There was a lively energetic atmosphere though and as the time approached we all wished each other well and waited for the church clock to signal the start. As it chimed we could see those at the head of the crowd surge off with a burst of speed and waited for the crowd in front of us to move. It took some time before we got under the start banner and we were walking through the town for a while before we began to run. Crowds were lining the narrow streets all the way out of Chamonix. After a while on the roads we started onto some forest tracks.

In the early stages we ran through towns like Les Houches and Les Contamines that had food and water stations. The early stations were congested and I chose to run straight through many of them in order to try and get away from the crowds. This didn’t really work though as the crowds were quite congested for about the first 50k. At one stage we all came to a complete stop on a narrow trail for about 20 minutes apparently because someone was injured. As night approached we found the cheering crowds at each of these towns did not dissipate at all. They were out clapping, shouting and ringing cowbells right throughout the night. A few of us would meet up at some of these early stations and discuss what was coming next (a climb or a descent!) and how we were doing and so on.

As the bigger climbs began the terrain would become more and more remote. We were finding that the climbs were lasting hours and were extremely steep. Often all you could see were the trail of lights from runners’ headtorches meandering up or down the hills! This first night was a series of steep, steep climbs and descents with two of the climbs at a height of 1500 metres higher than where we had started (about 2500 above sea level). I remember so little about the first night I must have been on autopilot!

The terrain for a lot of the Mont Blanc trail is similar to the Wicklow Way. It’s obviously much steeper but similar muddy and rocky areas with most of it being really high up and often running across narrow mountain ridges. It was extremely well marked with luminous markers that lit up at night under the glare of your headtorch. The poles turned out to be absolutely essential as they took a lot of the impact from you legs on the descents. Another piece of kit I found brilliant was the Berghaus bag that the IMRA gave out this year for completing the Leinster League (I didn’t qualify for one I just stole Tony’s). It was the perfect size, had all the right compartmentation and most importantly of all my gear remained dry throughout which was critical!!

I didn’t find the first night too cold. A long sleeved top and a rain jacket was just about enough as long as I kept moving. Once I stopped I felt cold so I just kept going through most of the feed stations. As the next day dawned it was about 7am when I arrived in Refuge Elisabeth. I was using the table of times that the organisers had given to all competitors to work out the distance between what they called ‘Refuges’. It became apparent that it was no good trying to use the charts by distance as often it would take hours to travel a couple of kilometres. I knew from this that it would be about 10:30am before I reached the town of Cormayeur which was to be the first of the 2 big stops. So after a quick sip of coffee at Refuge Elisabeth I headed to the next refuge which was the first of the Italian stops. Here I filled up a bottle with some of my high 5 mixture and ploughed on as the day became warmer. After that it was a really tough descent, extremely dry and dusty route down to Cormayeur. Mentally this section was draining as it seemed to take forever to travel even short distances and this became a feature of the whole event.

It was such a relief to reach this milestone and still be feeling ok. I decided since I had time (there were cut off times at critical points along the course) to get a quick massage here and a shower. I got changed quickly and applied some sunblock but was still unable to eat anything and as I made my way through the crowds in the large sports centre I spotted Tony and some of the other Irish. I was thrilled to se them. I was feeling a bit low and it was good to see familiar faces. Some of the team were suffering though at this stage and I felt gutted for those that were feeling like they couldn’t go on. Tony was looking strong and although I felt like company Tony was urging me to go on and so I did. The climb out of Cormayeur was cruel and punishing as it was hot and sunny and inside a dry forest. I reached the next refuge and had trouble with my water carrier leaking all over me! This was nothing compared to the trouble I was about to encounter.

As I headed along a fairly flat stretch (none of the course was flat, it was always either a steep ascent or descent) I felt a sharp and intense pain in the right side of my knee. I tried to stop and flex it out but nothing worked. I don’t remember thinking at this stage I might have to pull out of the event but I remember feeling it was going to be very tough to complete another 80k or so in this much pain. I kept moving to the next refuge at the top of a hill where they gave me ice for it.

Then, as I rested for a couple of minutes, up the hill towards me came a few more Irish and I was so thrilled to see them! It was such a mental boost to be able to just say hi and have a few words with other people after such a long time alone and in pain! This wasn’t the kind of event where the competitors talk to each other, it’s just too tough to try and focus and talk at the same time and somehow small talk seems inappropriate! We were all finding it very tough at this stage but at least the sun had gone in. Next of all out of the blue came Tony and I was just delighted to see him! I decided then that I would stick with Tony as just seeing him was enough to make me feel better and I knew I’d be fine as long as we were together and that I could handle anything!

We descended for a while to the next refuge where we downed a quick cup of coffee before embarking on one of the toughest climbs of the whole thing called the Grand Col Ferret. At this stage it was approaching about 6pm and the rain had begun and the mountain was just a thick muddy path. It was a 700m climb over a couple of kilometres through slippery dense mud often difficult to know where to even put your foot. I found this section quite scary as I thought there was a serious chance I might just slide off the mountain!! This was one of the steepest sections made much worse by the mud so it made moving very slow. Reaching the top of the hill we were met by yet another North Face tent where we were again scanned as we passed through. This was to be one of the highest points on the course and unfortunately for us, the coldest. Little did we know that because conditions had turned so bad competitors beginning the climb behind us were being advised not to continue.
At this stage I was soaking wet and becoming colder and colder. I got quite worried as we moved along because although we were travelling downhill I was getting colder and finding the wet clothes intolerable. Tony then had the genius idea of wrapping me in the emergency blanket, which was to prove very fortunate as I eventually began to feel dryer and warmer. On reflection it would have been wise to carry warmer heavier rain jackets just as the French and Italians had. They seemed to be much better kitted out for the cold and wet weather conditions we were experiencing.

On reaching the next refuge we decided it would be wise to dry ourselves for five minutes by the fire and try and get some warm soup into us. Moving on it was a case of keeping our eyes on the clocks at each of the refuges as we now only had about 40 minutes of a buffer zone outside of the cut off points and after getting that far it would be dreadful to not make the cut off times and be put off the course!

Being tight for time was probably a good thing for us as it meant we never stopped for too long at any of the towns or North face tents or refuges. The stops known as refuges were usually high up in the remote parts of the mountains and are normally used by people trekking through the Alps to rest. At other stages these stops were made up of North Face tents and you could usually get food or drinks or refill your water carrier. You were always scanned for your chip and so your progress could be monitored by the officials and friends trying to keep track of you at the finish line. The stops in the towns were also always manned by eager volunteers and they did all they could to greet you warmly and sort you out with water and anything else we needed. It was always a huge mental boost to reach any of these controls and we came to look upon them as real lifelines but never managing to be able to stop for too long!

Anyway we kept moving with a sense of urgency and this probably kept our adrenalin levels high. Later in the night, as we approached the bottom of another steep climb, we could see some orange lights high up on a hill and assumed it to be Champex Lac. After a number of hours climbing we looked down to see the same orange lights below us only to realise we still hadn’t reached it! The rain was still falling lightly at this stage and at about 2am we reached our 2nd stop. We only had time for a quick change of gear and threw some extra layers into our bags in case the night got cold. At this stage we were travelling about 31 hours and Tony was reasoning that there was only one major climb before daybreak so with that in mind we hurried on to begin our ascent up Bovine.

Bovine was a rocky climb, like scaling a waterfall. The rain got much heavier and dense fog made it impossible to see where your next step should be so it was a case of; one step upwards, look around for the markers, another step up, look around for the next marker and so on. Visibility was only as far as each next step and the climbing became slow as we crossed fast moving rivers and waterfalls in these conditions.

As the next day dawned and we descended into Trent we had a sense that if we could stay within the time zone at the next stop we had a great chance of getting back to the finish on time. Trent was one of the towns that you had to be scanned in and also out. It was about 7:45am when we passed through and the cut off was about 8:15. This didn’t seem like an awful lot considering I was carrying a knee that wouldn’t bend and was in a lot of pain. But we reasoned that the next climb out of Trent was to be the last major climb of the whole event and if we could hang on to our time we would be ok. In order to keep the knee pain at bay I resorted to a couple of things; (1) Tylenol, which I would take before a big descent as the downhills were killing me (2) freezing cold water from the mountain streams splashed onto my leggings to numb the pain! It worked for short periods of time and that was enough!

We tried to savour the climb out of Trent. It felt like a real milestone and although it was about a 680m climb over a short distance it wasn’t long before we heard the most beautiful of sounds on those mountains; the North Face generators. Scanning through this control we rounded another mountain shoulder till we started descending a muddy and treacherous downhill. We slipped and slided our way for miles and miles. When we finally met a road we were only on it for a couple of steps and we were back onto mountain again! This felt like one of the longest descents as we could hear a town below us but seemed to be taking hours to get there. Eventually we reached the town of Vallorcine.

Reaching Vallorcine our spirits were hugely lifted. For the first time in the whole event we felt like we were actually heading on the final stretch for home, reckoning we had about 3 to 4 hours to go with all the major ascending/ descending behind us. I felt really elated and you could sense for the first time that other competitors felt the same. We began to talk to other people for the first time about their experience, with most of them finding it “tres dur”. Many of those we spoke to were running it for the second time after having to pull out the year before. People were now taking time to take photos and as we headed off on a gentle uphill trail we decided we would phone family and friends at the finish to let them know we were doing ok. It was a nice call to be making as we finally felt confident enough to say we were going to finish on time!

With one more major stop at the town of Argentiere we were on our final 9k. It just couldn’t go fast enough! As we approached the finish town of Chamonix the organisers dealt the final cruel blow of bringing you almost right into the town and then bringing you right back out again up another huge climb! While getting through this punishing test out of the blue we saw the familiar face of Adrian Tucker just up ahead of us waiting for us to come along. He had competed the night before in the 86k Mont Blanc race and had come up the last few kilometres to meet us. It provided us with such a lift to see a familiar face and he was able to tell us exactly how far we had to go. We were finally getting closer to the end. As we approached the town we could hear the crowds which lined the streets to the finish line and could see family and friends waiting on us with a tri-colour! The two of us finally crossed the line together running through the noisy crowds after 43 and half hours and 158 kilometres later. It was a hugely emotional moment.

The event had been much tougher than any of us expected. No matter how much any of us trained for this we could never have been prepared for the resolve required mentally to just keep going. The toughest part for me had been on the second day when the thought of spending a second night out on the mountains alone became unbearable. Although we never at any stage had to encourage each other to go on, it was an advantage to have each other there. It meant we each had one less thing to worry about i.e. each other!

After the event we walked back to our apartment and contrary to what we might have expected we only slept for about 2 hours! I think the pain in my legs woke me up! It’s not something I’ll forget in a hurry, not least because I’m still having nightmares about it! It’s definitely a unique experience, the scenery alone is spectacular and often hair raising in its severity (some of the narrow passes are so dangerous there are chains to one side of the path and nothing but air to the other!) There is nothing easy about it and the organisers have it billed as the toughest foot race in Europe.

The only question now is where next?

Snow Race Trail Blanch January 2006

Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, fig rolls, fruit cake, orange slices, chocolate bars, cakes and sweet things of all varieties, water………………….. no that wasn’t the lunch menu on our trip to France, that was refreshments at the water stations during our Trail Blanch mountain experience last Saturday 22nd Jan. 2006. Liamo reckoned we’d put on weight! And he would have been right if it wasn’t that this turned out to be one of the toughest mounting running (any running!) experiences I’ve ever encountered. If we thought that a nice 20 mile amble through some light snowy tracks was ahead of us when we signed up, we were in for a shock!
Initially 5 of us decided we’d head off to France for the Trail Blanch 2006 32k Snow Race after someone suggested it would be good training for our real test this year, the Tour of Mont Blanc: myself, Tony Kiernan, Eugene Coppinger, Gary Moralee and the aformentioned Liam O’Riain (the last two being from Tallaght AC). My brother Niall (unfortunately another Tallaght AC man) couldn’t resist the lure of some altitude training and he joined the group.
Turned out that a few more were heading over from IMRA and NIMRA and in total 16 of us ended up booked into the home of Irish couple Barry and Sharon Phelan in Ville Franche in the Pyrennees, less than an hours drive from Font Romeu, the race venue. I actually think Liam, Eugene and Gary only signed up for this race in the hope of bumping into ‘Our Paula’, Font Romeu being where she has an apartment and does her altitude training. She never materialised.
Race day approached and we were so well looked after by Barry and Sharon. Home cooking, lots of it, even Liam’s favourite: berry crumble. You can see now a lot of this holiday involved food as well as running!
Race day itself and the conditions were perfect; it was cold and windy in the morning but nothing troubling. Knowing what gear to wear in conditions you’re not used to is always going to be difficult but as it turned out running tights were an absolute essential, as were sunglasses which I had managed to forget but Tony made the ultimate sacrifice and gave me his! Any talk by runners of this being a training run (usually Tallaght Athletes), and just wanting to get around was met with a swift rebuke and a reminder that a race is a race and we hadn’t gone all that way for a training run (Clonliffe Athletes!!).
The race itself began and ended in the ski resort of des Airelles in Font Romeu. If we thought runnning UP a ski slope was bad it was nothing compared to the first severe downhill we faced after only a couple of kilometres. It was slippery and severe and the snow was deep. It didn’t last long luckily and there was a couple of kilometres of hills and flats, most of it runnable. Nothing could have prepared us though for the hour or so of waist deep snow that we encountered in the mid to late stages of the race. It’s a funny sensation when you fall in snow that thick because you put your hands down to stop yourself and your hands keep going through the snow till your face down in the stuff! It was the toughest part of any race I’ve ever done. You were going nowhere but using lots of energy to struggle through the snow. It just seemed to go on and on as each step sank into the snow and you had to climb out from every step.
The course itself wasn’t marked by kilometres and at no stage until I was 2 hours into it did I have a clue how far I’d ran. At that stage I was told I was first woman and also about half way. It was marked by flags on trees and lets just say that no Clonliffe Athlete went wrong or got lost!! You had to wear a chip type thing on your wrist and key it in at every station, like in orienteering but it was electronic.
The last 10k began with a gentle uphill forest trail where we were met in the opposite direction by lots of skiiers. I was about 3 hours gone at that stage and couldn’t take anything on board except water. This meant I was struggling a bit for energy but the trail was so beautiful and scenic and it was a gentle enough hill that it could be enjoyed. For me it was the best part of the course. The last 5 or so kilometres included another ski slope (the button lift looked very tempting and I’m not joking), some more forest trail, some car parks and some gentle but tough hills to get to the finish. It was such a relief to finish. Mentally it was draining as the course changed all the time and you had to adapt the way you ran at each change. The French seemed to be genuinely delighted with the Paddy presence. At all times they were very encouraging and were great at dragging me through the last few tough climbs when all I really wanted to do was stop!!
We all finished well, tired and drained. I was thrilled to win the womens event in 4 hours. I was very surprised and even more delighted when I also got a ‘Queen of the Mountains’ trophy for a time trial stage in the middle of it. Kevin Grogan from IMRA won the M50 and we got some photos with the tri-colour!! Niall Coppinger ran a brilliant 3:32 and the rest weren’t too far behind. If there had been a team prize Clonliffe would certainly have won that too as myself, Eugene and Tony made up a trio!
If anyone is thinking of going next year, it’s a great one to do. There’s an 18k course run at the same time if you fancy a shorter event but it’s still very hilly and tough. Consider staying with the Phelans who you can read about in the last issue of Irish Runner. And you should tag on a few days on at the end for skiing. There were some race-organisational hiccups, lets say, with registration etc, but it paled into insignificance compared to the scenery, hospitality, thermal baths(yes they were great!) and with the added bonus of a bit of altitude training! And just look at what you can eat en route…………………..