14 April 2016

CONNMAGEDDON 2016 by Artur

On Sunday 10 April 2016, four of our club members made it to the starting line of the Connemara International Marathon. In less than perfect weather conditions all four finished this event and some of their experiences are shared below.

Artur Nowak, Full Marathon (4:12)
There were no obvious signs of what was to come when we get up on Sunday morning in Cong. Cathy, Margaret, David and myself travelled on Saturday to Galway to pick up the numbers and plastic drop bags and headed north to Cong via Maam Cross to land in Damian & Jill's lovely house. 

"So silent before the storm..."
Forecast for Sunday was typical for Ireland in any of the four seasons - always a chance of rain... but so calm, no wind at all. After breakfast we got to the Peacock Hotel to park our getaway car and we were just in time to see the start of the Ultra Marathon (39.3M) and cheer on follow Kerry runners Fozzy & Mike from Kerry Crusaders. Both looked comfortable and reasonably wrapped up for the strong chilling wind -  at least compared  to an Italian runner with short shorts and vest only.

We did pass them again after the first few miles, still in good spirits.

We got the VIP treatment from Damian as he drove us to the start line of Full Marathon by nice lake in literally "the middle of nowhere". The only sign that we were in the right spot were a few buses parked on the side of the road with most of the people still inside. So far, so good, no rain a bit of wind, nothing unusual. Great wild Connemara ahead of us. We will be able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of nature for the next few hours.

Some runners were jogging up and down, one funny guy having a cigarette when performing warm up.
We dropped the bags and myself and Cathy lined up at almost very end of the pack. Margaret went ahead to the very front for another photo opportunity at the start. 
Cathy said a quick prayer for nice and calm afternoon but whatever she said we got exact opposite.

"Easy part"
First few miles on the full marathon are on a back road, wide enough for runners on one side and motorbike marshals and cars on the other. We were heading directly to strong wind but it was hardly noticeable with road packed full of runners. Cathy went ahead with Aidan (52 Marathons in 52 Weeks) and I slowly was closing down on 4:30 pacer, passing the group after 4 or 5 miles. I noticed at that stage the number of French, Spanish and German runners.
How do you recognise a French runner? He will have tricolour flag on some part of his/her body.

"Gael of the West"
Shortly after catching up with 4:00 pace group and turning 90 degrees to right, the route finally presented the first of the inclines. At the same time, the little drizzle we'd had for the past 5min, changed to regular rain and wind and this also increased in strength, trying to swipe all the runners to the ditch on the other side of the road.
On top of that incline, I meet Cathy & Aidan again as drenched as rest of the people around. Conditions were tough and the only way forward was to run in packs to get some shielding, so for the next few miles I had the pleasure of discovering a lot of road markings and different types of tarmac. Head down and keep moving forward, hands numb from cold, left side of body, exposed to wind almost not responding to senses. I started to get "out of body experience" when both my hamstring muscles were so numb I didn't know they were still attached to my body. 
When we thought it couldn't get any worse, the hailstones made an unwelcome appearance... on top of the hill... with gaelforce wind... with nowhere to hide...
Front of the t-shirt was all wet and body numb but in hailstone scenario I did get big advantage having a cap on my head so I could see the road and now I was at the head of the multinational pack of about 6-8 runners tightly tucked in behind with most of the running with one eye open. Just enough to see the person in front of them. It was not the ideal position to be in but no one was trying to take turns upfront from me and when I looked around the mystery was solved - only one guy had a buff on his head, the rest of the runners couldn't see the road with razor sharp small pellets of ice relentlessly bashing them straight in the face.
Pace dropped significantly but it was too cold to even lift a sleeve in base layer to check the Garmin. We passed a good few walkers at that stage doing full marathon as they started before runners. 
I looked in jealousy at some of them, in the fancy waterproof jackets and pants with hats and hoods, basicly well prepared for Connemara's finest weather.
Just before half way point and start of Half Marathon in Leenane, the 4:00 pace group swallowed up our group. We passed timing mat at 13.1 mile around 1:59.

"The Scenic part"
Second half of the full marathon is also start of Half Marathon and it's a sharp right turn again, going straight up hill after just 100m. The rain changed to drizzle again and stopped all together after a while. The wind we had to the side should be now in our backs. Unfortunately this was in the middle of the valley with high hills on both sides so gusts of wind were going in our backs for a few seconds and then swirled and hit from front and sides.
Once the rain stopped, I was able to lift my head and finally look around and it was a very scenic and unspoiled place. The only traffic at this stage were the marshals on motorbikes and ambulances going up and down, picking up people from the side of the road and I'm pretty sure it wasn't from heat exhaustion. 
Finally I got a water bottle from aid station and took a few seconds to try to open it with frozen fingers - no good so used teeth in the end to remove plastic cap, put half of the High5 electrolyte tablet and was ready for more sightseeing.
Some of the Ultra runners were making the way, most still running, some adapting run/walk tactics getting cheers from Half Marathon walkers.
Wind dried most of base layer and t-shirt, rain stopped, cramps didn't bother me yet - all ready for the main attraction of Connemara Marathon.

"Hell of the West"
Around 4 miles before the finish line, there is an incline (people who run flat marathons, call it "hill") of about 3km. Not as bad as hill in Dingle in my opinion and can be "run". My run up that hill was about the speed of fast walkers but was more comfortable than walking at that stage and I reached top of the hill with first hints of cramps. Unusually for road marathon, it was my inner thigh muscles were the source of the cramping. Normally this part of legs only get cramps on mountain runs and adventure races. I suspect the cross wind was the culprit when I tried to stay on the road in the middle section of the marathon.
From the top of the hill is about another 2 miles to finish line and all downhill or flat but hardly anyone around me had any speed left in the legs to up the pace at this stage.
It was nice to finally cross the finish gantry in 4:12 min, inside target time of 4:15 and collect nice medal and t-shirt. I was placed around 200 position overall.
Looking at the results from Full Marathon it's only showing about 600 finishers, not sure how many started the race.
One interesting fact I notice was that I was the only one still wearing a  cap going up the "Hell of the West" and the 2 miles to the finish line. Good job Inov8! 

"Connmageddon Aftermath"
After collecting my Banna Run bag (not waterproof) with clothes all wet inside, I got to the car and changed into my spare dry clothes. All took about 10min. In the same period of time 4 or 5 ambulances of Order of Malta pulled up outside with 3 or 4 people inside with survival blankets around them. 
Went inside hotel for some hot soup, bread and tea. Took a while to find the right table with this stuff as the place was packed to the brims and run by organised chaos. I met David and Margaret and we waited for Cathy. She took her time in the tea shop in Leenane.
We didn't have to wait for too long. After more tea and cake we posed for a photo and were on the way back to Kerry.

David did extremely well on the day, improving his PB in Half Marathon.
Margaret finished top in her age category and finished 8th women overall.
Cathy got another marathon under the belt in the quest for 25.
And my? I survived CONNMAGEDDON 16!


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