A round-up of Conor's recent races. Lots to recommend!

We've had a busy summer of runs as we build up to the NYC Marathon

I’ve been having fun mixing up the length and style of the races we’ve run this Summer and Autumn. Whilst my speed remains atrocious, I find that my recovery time is getting shorter and shorter, which must be a sign of something. So here goes, June to September:

Cork City Marathon

What can I say? It broke me again. I started so well - faster than last year and feeling strong. But yet again, as soon as I got to Mahon, I began to overheat and all the energy left my legs. I never got my mojo back but at least this time I had a strong sprint up Pana and felt totally fine afterwards. Mocko’s win put a huge smile on my face.

I also have to mention the woman in Togher. She was standing there with bags of Haribo. I asked her if she’d been there last year too, as the Haribo had saved me then. She replied “I’m always here”. I honestly nearly broke down in front of her. Thank you again.

Ballyheigue Half on the Head

This was one of our last minute decisions. We tootled down to Ballyheigue for the first time ever to discover it’s a lovely place. There was a big turn-out for both the Half and the 10k. It was relentless hills but I loved it. Most of the views were great but there were a couple that stopped me in my tracks, they were so stunning. Definitely one that’s worth the drive.

Timoleague to Courtmacsherry 10k

It’s ridiculous that this was only my second ever time to run this race, as it’s only 20 minutes down the road. The previous time was my first ever race back in 2010 and that nearly killed me. It’s one of the flattest 10k’s in Ireland and I do a lot of my training runs here. For whatever reason I haven’t been able to beat my 10k PR that I got on the hilly Bandon 10k back in 2013. Finally I did it down in Courtmac. I bloody loved this race. It’s very rare for me to pass anyone unless they are walking but I powered through the last 3km and passed a bunch. I’ll be back next year to chop another few minutes off.

Clonakilty 10 Miler

This is a small local race that should get more attention. I thought it was just spot-on last year and was looking forward to this year. Of course I had a wee bit too much wine the night before and had a harder race than was necessary. I came in as the final man. I was really pleased to see some Fit4Life people, who brought up the rear last year, kick my ass this year. A bad reflection on me but a great progression for them.

East Cork Harbour Marathon

This one had us worried. All of the reports last year talked about the hills and the driving rain. But what the hell, we wanted to bang out another marathon.

It was much smaller than I expected with only 113 entries in the Full. I had a funny chat with a guy from the UK who thought he had entered the Cork City Marathon. He was a bit shocked by the tiny rural start-line! The first half of the race was fabulous. I had no idea how gorgeous it is in that part of East Cork. I thought it was all ESB power station and oil refinery. But that road along the inlet from Aghada is spectacular.

However this was followed by a few miles on the main road which was horrible. Cars whizzing by at high speed, thinking that beeping is helpful rather than terrifying. Then we headed into the back-road hills which were awful. I walked a huge part of this section. The final section from Whitegate on the main road was at least mostly on footpath.

I was shocked to learn that there were 13 people behind me, given my pace.

TBH, I don’t see myself doing this race again, I just didn’t enjoy it overall. But a route that was entirely along the water would get me back.

Chiltern Challenge 50k

See my blogpost here. A life highlight.

MMRA Glen of Aherlow LoopDeLoop “Ultra”

Yeah, this one was interesting :-) We signed up for the Ultra on the IMRA site despite it being rated 1010 for difficulty. My wife asked someone she knows about it and he said “yeah it has a few hills but it’s fine”. The description was forest paths and coutry roads. As it was 3 Half Marathon loops, I wasn’t worried about it. After any loop we could just give up. Two weeks beforehand they published the cut-off for starting the third loop - 5 hrs 20 mins. So we knew going in that there was zero chance of us doing the Ultra. A Full would be the best we could hope for with 2000 feet of elevation change per loop.

Glen of Aherlow

As I’m only just getting into trails this year, I’ve never done any of the Galtees runs. This was only the second time ever to be in the area. The Bandon Hillwaking Club Open Day earlier this year was the first.

It was an early start at 8am outside the village hall of Lisvarrinane. 15 people were signed up for the Ultra with a lot more coming later for the official Full and official Half. But the nice thing was that we’d get a Full or Half time in the Ultra if we DNFed at the end of a loop.

The terrain was a lot rougher than expected but exactly what I’ve discovered I enjoy. Unfortunately my wife fell shortly after the start and got cut up. After a few miles she realised she’d be DNFing after one loop.

The very steep start was fine but the relentless mud and water and river-bed terrain made it extremely difficult to get any speed going. Once it switched to big forest tracks and a tiny bit of road, we were able to speed up. But my knee had been giving me gyp for weeks and really started complaining.

We were shocked to get to the end of the first loop and discover it had taken us 3.5hrs!! For a damned Half Marathon!! The RDs recommended that we DNF and had no argument from us. Later we checked the results and only 8 people finished the Ultra. But jesus christ the times of the finishers. I’m still in shock. The winner did it in 5hrs 22mins. I can’t run that fast on the flat and they did it on that hilly mud-bath.

Buuuuuuut, I kinda loved it. So the following weekend I went back on my own. This time with poles and the route on my phone. I was chuffed to rip 30 minutes out of the previous time. But that’s still not fast enough for the Ultra cut-off!

Side-note: I used the Lidl hiking poles that they were selling recently. I like the way they collapse down and they felt strong and light due to some use of carbon fibre. They worked very well over the 13 miles. However the handles are rough with too many injection moulding marks etc. I ended up with blisters on both thumbs. I’m going to wrap them in some sort of tape and try them again. But a total bargain.

If you want to try out the route, here’s the Strava link. You can load the GPX file into your Garmin watch or something like RunGo on your phone. The views on a clear day are fantastic. But you will get very very dirty :-)

So the plan for the next few months is a huge increase in my hill-work. I’m happy with my ability to run downhill and run on “gnarly” terrain with poles. But I clearly have huge work to do on the uphills.

Next?

Neither of us were in the mood on Sunday so we bailed on the Cork-to-Cobh. There’s a few MCI runs coming up that we’re looking at. Then it’s NYC baby!

Last year I stunned myself by doing 5 marathons. If we finally do the Clonakilty Marathon (after years of Halves and 10Ks), then that’s likely to be 7 for the year. I thought we might get to 10 but I’m enjoying the current mix. Generally I much prefer the trails to the road but that’ll probably mean going abroad a lot more if I want to regularly do the very long stuff.

Important Note

I want to do a big shout out to everyone who volunteers in these races, from the 5k’s to the Ultras. I’ve never done it and I need to change that. I always make a point of thanking people at every aid-station in every race. Even with screw-ups like the water in Brighton, you should never take it out on the people who have given up their day to make yours better. I particularly want to thank anyone who has volunteered at an Ultra or who is an RD at a community event like all the MCI and IMRA/MMRA races and parkRuns too. It really is appreciated.

Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland https://conoroneill.com