There are times in a run, though sadly not in every run, when we feel free of effort, or concentration, and movement becomes as easy as rest. At those times, which are often only fleeting in nature, we are beyond tiredness. and motion, the elements, the landscape and our body seem to work together. I relish those times, often, for me, only found on longer distance runs as I feel I can keep running for ever. This feeling is capture in the book ‘Bone Games’ by Rob Schultheis. Though the following passage is about his descent from a mountain following injury, it could so easily be the feeling of ‘flow’ during an Ultra:
“I hung there for I don’t know how long: thirty seconds, two minutes, half an hour. I couldn’t climb back up the overhanging rock, and I could not descend…”.
“Something happened on that descent, something I have tried to figure out ever since, so inexplicable and powerful it was. I found myself very simply doing impossible things…”.
“I know my limitations, and I was climbing way, way beyond them. One small part of me trembled with fear and fatigue, cried out to be rescued, to be whisked away to any place other then this bleak precipice. The rest, confident, full of an unsane joy, revelled in the animal dance of survival, admired the brilliant crystals in the granite, the drunken calligraphy of ice crystals… was totally possessed by the act of mountaineering, rejoiced in the immense vertigo of the place. It was like certain dreams I have had…”. “The person I became on Neva was the best possible version of myself, the person I should have been throughout my life…”.
NI Running (www.nirunning.co.uk) has brought the Sky Running series to Northern Ireland, with a challenging 35k, 3370m of climb, race through the Mourne Mountains on Saturday 18th October. The international series is made up of some high profile altitude races across the globe, with some top pedigree athletes in attendance – including Kilian Jornet and Stevie Kremer. The latter will be in attendance in the Mourne’s along with top local runners and challengers from further afield. It is likely to be a tough race, with a combination of steep mountain climbs, and descent, and the uncertainly of our Northern Irish weather. As a participant, or an observer, the Mourne Skyline Mountain Trail race is not to be missed.
Everything aches today, and it is to be expected. The rain held off on Saturday, and the temperature was good in the Mournes (not too warm, with a nice breeze), the real challenge was the state of the wet ground underfoot. In places the conditions could only really be described as a bog, with feet sinking up to a foot in depth, and shoes coming out caked in a rich, gloopy, soft mud. I took each stream crossing as an opportunity to get rid of some of the drying, caked on mud from my shoes, and the coolness of the water eased my aching feet. The organisation was first class: the route well marked, and staff at all stops were in great form, and very helpful, with cake, water and oranges galore. For me, in the ultra, the toughest part was the route from Kilbroney park to Donard park, the first marathon, as each step is a move away from the ultimate destination. It’s also about knowing that all the tough ground covered will be met on the return. Though I was running solo for most of the distance, I enjoyed the chat as I was passed, or I occasionally overtook other ultra runners. The two Dave’s deserve a special mention as I really enjoyed their company as I flew along for about an hour at their fast pace, until I realised I needed to pull back or run out of steam on the way back. From the results online it looks like they achieved an amazing time of 10 hours 30. The turn around point was a welcome stop, and time to enjoy a couple of sandwiches and extra liquid. I reduced the number of gels this year, compared with last, as I know I get fed up and nauseated over time by their sickliness. This time I made much more use of trail mix, cakes and oranges (supplied at each water stop) and flapjacks, and my stomach thanked me for it. On the return my legs were suffering and I felt very tired. Another 26 miles seemed an immense distance, so I broke the journey down into distances to the next water stops i.e. 8, 14, 17, 20, 23 miles, rewarding myself at each with some sort of treat – I was getting cravings for the salt in the cashews I’d brought. Eventually, and it felt like days later, I arrived in the forest heading towards Kilbroney park. For a short while I enjoyed the company of a friendly marathoner, over from Bristol (Carl I think). Though I soon had to let him head off, as again the pace was too much up some of the smaller inclines. The last 3 miles were a real effort, but as I finally reached the sloping grass of Kilbroney park I savoured the feeling of success, and my name being called out over the tannoy. 52 miles is a long way, over mud, rock, and through water, up and down the mountains, but its something that you will never forget. Congratulations to all who took part in the challenge, and thanks to the organisers ‘Extreme 26’ – an excellent job – but also to all the other runners and supporters for their good wishes – including the lady from Murlough AC who supplied me with Jelly Beans and a banana up the road from Fofanny dam.
Training and competing in an Ironman, is really tough – it goes without saying. Team Hoyt is a father and son pair who compete together, which wouldn’t be so unusual if it weren’t for the fact that the son is quadriplegic. During an Ironman triathlon the father swims the 2.4 miles while pulling his son behind him in a small boat, then cycles the 112 miles together on a specially designed bike, before a marathon, father pushing son in a wheelchair. Check them out on youtube, and on their website Team Hoyt. Both heroes, and both inspirational.
There are some runners who experience running in a way that the rest of us running mortals can only but dream of. Joss Naylor, a hero of fell running is one, and until recently, another was an almost entirely unknown, Michael Randall Hickman – known by the Mexican indians, as Caballo Blanco, or the white horse. His approach to running was simple, and captured in ‘Born to Run’ (McDougall), his wisdom was simple ” think easy, light, smooth and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t [care] how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.” Caballo Blanco was found, apparently asleep beside a mountain stream, though his legend will live on. Read the fully story.