When I found out a couple of weeks back that the good people at Clare County Council hadn’t submitted my application to change my vote to Dublin City Council in time for the referendum, I wasn’t too happy. However, as all good runners do, I decided to see if I could make the 3-hour journey (or 4 hours as it turned out due to added referendum traffic) even more worthwhile by finding a race at home. And then lo and behold, I discover the Burren Marathon Challenge is on Saturday 26 May! Deciding against doing a second marathon in five weeks, I sign up for the half. Sure it will be grand, it’s just a half.“Fresh” from the PwC staff relays on Thursday evening, I rock (no pun intended) up to the registration tent on Saturday morning on the Ballyvaughan seafront. No sooner have I arrived in the tent when the race organiser spots me and shouts, “he’s back, he’s back!” I instantly regret my decision to sign up. After explaining to the people looking after the registrations that I had won the full event here a few years back, she tells them to watch out for me today. Great, no pressure at all! “What are you doing only running the half, you know the full route is easier?” she continues. After a few minutes of explaining that I wasn’t going to change to the full despite her best efforts to convince me otherwise, I finally escape for a brief warmup around the GAA pitch.
9am and the gun goes! As the 10k, half and full marathon runners all take off together, it’s a bit hard to judge off whom to pace yourself. After the first kilometer following what turns out to be a 10k runner (and eventual winner), my legs give a gentle reminder to my brain that I’m running a half marathon and not a 5k and I settle down to a more sustainable pace.
Running along out of the village past the ruins of Rathbourney Church, the 10k runners turn off about a mile and half in, while the full and half runners go in the opposite direction. Feeling okay at this stage, but vaguely question why I ignored the 10k option on the website.
At the 3 mile mark we take a turn off the roads and begin the trail up a winterage. This is a great part of the course, it reminds me of my father roaring at me to run after a cow as a child and Myles roaring at me to run harder around a field in Wexford in equal measure! The climb continues upward until we reach a mountainous area (let’s be honest, it’s all mountain, it’s the Burren) and the half marathoners are directed to the right as the full head left. I’m in second place now, about 200m behind the leader, and entering unfamiliar territory.
A few metres further on, I catch sight of a sign with the words “DANGER ROUGH TERRAIN” emboldened in red. I don’t remember the full route having any of these when I did it. Why didn’t I do the 10k again?
The next 5 miles prove to be some of the most exhilarating, challenging, picturesque and painful of my life! The challenge of maneuvering the rocks underfoot and trying to maintain balance while descending was matched only by the burn of my lungs as I gasped for air on the subsequent climb. I close the gap marginally on the leader on the climb but am convinced that he will handle the descents better as he did from mile 5 to 6.
We’re now running along a mountain heading out Gleninagh/Fanore overlooking the Atlantic. Breathtaking views – if I had any breath left to take! Starting to wonder when we’ll get back down onto the roads as we’re approaching mile 10 and heading the opposite direction from the village. Then another “DANGER ROUGH TERRAIN” sign. “Oh great”, I think, “the physio will be delighted I’m heeding all their advice and not running, and especially not running on cambered surfaces”.
I catch the leader and he lets me past him as he second questions his foot placement among the clints and grykes. Then down the cliff edge we go, around a 700 foot descent in less than 1km. The “path” is about wide enough for a goat to pass. My mind starts to drift back to that waiver I signed for accidents and injuries on the course and tell myself I really won’t make a good lawyer if I continue to agree to T&Cs without a second thought.
After what felt like forever, I finally catch sight of the road. My objective instantly turns from staying on my feet to staying in the lead. As I make my way along the coastal road from Gleninagh back into the village, I pass a hundred or so walkers dispersed along the way who give a shout or two of support while a few children scream at me to “run faster”. If only it was that simple!
I throw an eye on my watch as I reach the 19km mark and see I’ve a chance of running around 1:23, which I had noted as the quickest winning time for the past number of years. Giving me a bit of a boost, I try to lengthen the stride and “pump those arms” like Emily tells you to and cross the line in 1:22:33 to win my first race in the Sportsworld vest (see below photo of me looking a bit shook by the whole experience).
Disclaimer: on the subject of me not making a good lawyer, no copyright infringement was intended by the inclusion of the above photos of the Burren that I found on the internet