As I’m writing this as the US Masters gets interesting. Hopefully McIlroy will have won by the time I finish (although as I revise this text, he’s already thrown it away. Cruel). Anyway, despite all the sport on TV, the main sporting event for over 3,300 athletes in Ireland was the Connemarathon in Galway. I did the half marathon, so only 13.1 miles. Imagine doing the ultra of 39.3 miles?? Over 200 people did I think. That left 1,000 for the marathon and over 2,100 for the half marathon.
The Day Before
The great weather in Ireland continued into the weekend. I played golf early Saturday in Palmerstown Golf Club (former PGA National). We teed off after 8am and it was so warm – perfect for t-shirts. The golf was shockingly bad – I landed 3 consecutive balls in the water on one hole (from 100 yards!). I’ll need to give JBallz a call again for some more lake balls!
Originally about 10 of my mates had signed up for Connemara. But they dropped like flies, so in the end, Mossy Breen was the only soldier who made the trip down (we did bump into Nuala and Frances from Kerry – first time 21km walkers). We passed a lot of Supermacs signs once we crossed the Shannon, so knew we were close to Galway. We chilled out in Salthill for a while – it’s like a bigger version of Tramore with a prom, arcades, ice cream cones, swimming pool and plenty of powerwalkers.
Our preparation consisted of eating plenty of food so as not to be short of energy: Subway for lunch, pizza for snack, 3 course dinner and a few pints in between. Breakfast was nearly as big (lucky we even woke up as Mossy’s alarm didn’t sound!)
The alarm sounded at 7am, and we took the bus from the cathedral at 8.30am. There were 87 buses lined up to bus everyone out to the start at Leenane. We had 2 hours to kill til the start at 12pm, but we go to see the leader of the marathon race pass by – he was a Kenyan guy who didn’t weigh but 8 stone yet glided along at a serious pace.
I think banana sales in the Galway region must have gone through the roof this week – everyone was eating bananas while doing all sorts of stretches and talking nervously about the big hills. The weather wasn’t as good as Saturday, slightly overcast and not that warm. I knew once we got started it would warm up.
The race director told us over 30 countries were represented, including a few Kenyans. They’re not known as slow runners. My plan was to run at a steady pace and hit my target time of 1h25m. That involved 6:30min/mile pace, which I knew was fast if I wanted to maintain it for 13 miles, especially as the hills would slow me down.
The race started, and once I got through the crowds, found my rhythm. I high fived Bono after 1km, as the speakers blasted out the U2 tunes. There was great support from locals, sitting on their walls and gardens. The climb out of the village was fine and before I knew it we were at the 1 mile marker. My plan was to go fast til mile 9 and the “Wall” began. I felt good and got in the middle of group of fast runners. They were doing 6:30min/miles and passing plenty of walkers on the way.
It started raining, so my glasses needed some windscreen wipers. I passed 3 women walkers and said “well done ladies” to which they responded “NICE ASS!” Best encouragement I got all race. Once we hit the big hill after mile 9 I still felt strong and was with one guy who was on 1h24 pace. He was pushing all the time, but I passed him towards the top. I thought we’d stick together til the finish line, but on the downhill, he pushed ahead and I just couldn’t keep it up.
So in the end I kept pushing, out on my own and finished in 1h24m. I think I came 5th, which I’m delighted with – considering I bet over 2,000 people!! Pity there were no prizes for 5th! Anyway it’s pretty cool to have ran over such a spectacular race venue – such a change from a city run. You have so much time just to think and soak up the silence of the West.
At the end, I waited for Mossy who completed his first half marathon. For a fella who would have considered 5km a stretch last year, it’s amazing that he’s now belting out 21km without a thought – someone even said afterwards that he looked like very relaxed and calm. A legend if only he could find a 2km swim race with a 500m run!
So I definitely recommend this race, solely because of the wildness and remoteness of the venue. However once you’ve done it a few times, I think you’ll look for other races – the entry fee at €70 is pricey. You do get bussed out and pack and get a nice “I hit the Wall” t-shirt, but I could spend that money in Salthill and have a great day out!