The dark side of 26.2

2014-03-17 08.37.12bA marathon is a long way, and deserves respect. An ultra marathon – 50km, 50 miles, 100 km, 100 miles or longer deserves more, fear perhaps. Many such ultras are difficult, not only in distance, but also in terms of terrain, and may involve traversing trails, steep ascent and descent, mountain paths, mud, field, track and through streams. But, for the ultra marathoner, this is the point, a challenge of both mind and body, a battle against exhaustion, weather, landscape, other competitors, and most importantly, oneself. The race is often more like a journey, through a host of mental emotions, and physical states. Moments of utter exhaustion can be allied with perfection of mind, and could find the runner in a state of absolute peace, and ‘in flow’. Other times, whether an effect of blood sugars or physical and mental exhaustion, can leave the athlete feeling full of despair. The good and the bad times must be understood, and accepted, knowing that this is part of an ultra, and will pass. Just keep moving, one foot after another, aiming at the next water station, or simply a tree ahead, or a turn on the trail. There is a peace in this discomfort.

The Wicklow Ultra race begins in a few days, and I look forward to seeing what this run shall bring.

Flow, and getting ready for the next big run

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (don’t ask me to pronounce) described flow as the ‘state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter – the experience is so enjoyable that people will do it at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it’.

If we didn’t love the immersion of running in the mountains, trails or ultras we certainly wouldn’t willingly endure the pain. But the goals and conditions are known and clear.

With a family,  university research, and a job, running has been fitted into the remaining gaps in each day:  either through running during lunch hours, or long runs (split into two) serving as a commute into and out of work. Either way, the training for the Mourne Skyline run has been mostly done on the road, and been more limited that I would have liked.

But, either way, I cannot wait to turn up at the start of the latest in the International Skyrunning series. The route shows off some of the best locations in the Mourne’s and will be beautiful in any weather conditions. My challenge will be more around finishing within the cutoff times (necessary to avoid runners being on the mountains in the dark), rather than the physical endurance of the vertical and horizontal distance.

Perhaps, for many, the challenges of the race will lead to what Mihaly describes as optimal performance – where awareness and experience merge, a feeling (probably completely misplaced) of being in complete control, a distortion of time, and deep involvement. And, this feeling, whatever name its given,  will bring such peace, and completeness and make all the training on roads , and in squashed lunch hours all worthwhile.



“If we do kill someone then will be on the map” – Leadville 100 mile Ultra

2014-03-16 07.28.35bIts the Wicklow Ultra in less than a week, 32 miles and 1740m of climbing, in the Irish mountains to the south of Dublin. As usual I go in to the event with limited training, averaging only 25 miles a week, and longest single run 15 miles – but a number of double runs i.e running morning and evening in the same day. So, at this point its always good to get your head in the right place, as that will carry you through when your legs start to fail. The Leadville 100, is one of the toughest US ultra’s,  created in the early 1980’s as the nearby town of Leadville was dying, following the local mine having shut and nothing much else left in the town. The best quote in the following video is from the guys who set it up “If we do kill someone then will be on the map”

Check out also the Western States 100. Originally a race for horses, but when one of the competitors, shown below, didn’t have a horse it grew from there into one of the largest US ultras



Training : Overload, Recovery, Progression, Individuality and Specificity

This is a great time of the year to consider our training in light of the goals we have set for the year ahead. To do this it is sometimes necessary to take a step back. Other sports can often provide some useful insights into training, and triathletes are especially good at training in a focussed, deliberate and time-constrained manner. In ‘The Time Crunched Triathlete’  Chris Carmichael attempts to maximised training benefits within a restricted time. He reviews plans based on the following headings, listed below, with my own personal interpretation: 

2014-02-23 14.11.53Overload – training must push your body beyond where it currently is. To progress in terms of speed or endurance, activity must be difficult and long enough to stress the cardiovascular, muscular and glycolytic system. If you run 4 times a week, at a 9 mile pace, for 5 miles, you will get very good at that speed and distance, but you will not progress. Add tempo and fartlek runs, and/or increase distance, and times will come down and/or endurance will improve.

Recovery : training increases require rest, and the bigger the intensity or volume the more required. The body will recover in these times and repair the microscopic damage that has been done. Sleep, hydration and good nutrition are all prerequisites to getting the best out of the work performed.

Progression: follows on closely from overload. If you looking at a 50 mile race in 6 months time, distances in training will need to increase in line with goal. This will give not only the body, but as importantly the mind, the opportunities to prepare for the challenge. Note that progression can take more than one form: time and intensity are the two most important variables and training can be adjusted through both the interval duration and the time of recovery between.

Individuality: Training has to be appropriate to the individual. This can be in terms of the time, and timings, available to the runner. For example, a long run may need to be split into two shorter runs, one at the beginning and one at the end of the day, to allow for other commitments to be met. It can also take into account the goals being aimed for, endurance and speed balanced with each other.

Specificity: Consider the event(s). If you are planning a mountain marathon, try and run in similar conditions in training i.e.  temperature, terrain, incline. This can be a challenge, for example, if you live far from similar landscape, however, though not as ideal as the real thing, it may be necessary to train on individual elements that will be faced e.g. running on rough muddy ground that may be flat, but including road training that may be on steep inclines.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ to training. It has to meet with your lifestyle, work and family commitments, and be in line with your body and mind to progress towards the goals currently in sight.


BANFF Film Festival

Check out the films on show at the outdoor, BANFF film festival, Newtownabbey on 26th/27th June. Both days include a number of films on outdoor pursuits from climbing to skiing – 26th includes two guys preparing for the epic UTMB

Check out the trailer

Mourne Skyline 2014

Saturday was a fantastic day, 3370 m of tough climbing and 35km through the Mourne Mountains. The wind was wild at the summits, and the ground was muddy in places, but overall the weather was good and this all added to making an excellent race. Thanks to, the organisation was fantastic and the support at beginning, end and at the summits from the crew was first class.


Latest News on Mourne Skyline MTR


Photo 08-02-2014 08 27 01c Having given my PB Walsh’s a quick rinse, I’m pretty much ready (as much as I will ever be) for the Mourne Skyline MTR. Its going to be a great race, and fantastic for Northern Ireland to get such a high profile event.

Check out the field of top runners coming to this event – local, european and from the US.  Latest news .

There’s been a fair amount of rain this week, and more arriving midday on Saturday, but that’s all part of the event. Looking forward to it, though I know the cut offs may be a challenge for a slower runner like myself.

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Mourne Skyline Mountain Trail Race

NI Running ( 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.

26 Extreme’s Causeway Crossing this weekend

I’ve made a last minute decision to enter the Causeway Crossing this Saturday (3rd May) which means no training, and putting my feet up this week. Weather looks good, fairly mild, not too much wind, and dry – fingers crossed. I’m running the 50km route, which will take us from Ballintoy to Dunluce Castle: I’ve only run part of it before so some of it is largely unknown , but by all accounts it’s going to be a stunning route. There are also other distances available,100km and 25km, and having taken part in plenty of other 26 Extreme events I’m sure it will be a great day.