Two Sundays ago I ran my first ever ultra-marathon, and at the same event notched off my first official half and full marathon.
The event took place down in the beautiful Connemara. I had only ever ran a 10K event before.
I decided to jump straight in at the deep end as I wanted to push my body physically, but more so mentally.
My logic was to do an ultra-marathon. I think the main reason this wasn’t a crazy idea for me was because I didn’t set any limits on what I could do.
Yes, I knew it was going to be hard but that wasn’t going to stop me. I wanted to get to that place where both my body and mind were screaming for me to stop but a positive mind-set would get me through.
In a previous article I wrote about how I fully believed my positive approach to the event would get me over the line.
However, I even surprised myself and many other seasoned ultra-runners by completing the race in 6 hours 12 minutes.
My running buddy Ryan Maybin, who had done a few marathons before, came in at 5 hours 59 minutes. An unbelievable achievement.
From my training pace I had calculated I might finish around seven hours, but I wasn’t really aiming for a time. I just wanted to get it done and enjoy it.
That’s one thing myself and Ryan could definitely say we did. From the start we were joking between each other and everyone we passed we made sure we said hello and had a little chat.
The positivity we got from each other and the rest of the runners made it even more enjoyable. By doing this I couldn’t believe how quickly the miles were going in.
I set myself markers like the first quarter mark – 10 mile, 13.1 mile – half marathon and third of the way there, half way mark – 20 mile, 26.2 miles – full marathon and two thirds of the way there, three quarter mark – 30 miles and the last part I broke down in my head as two five mile runs.
Having these short term goals meant that I wasn’t counting back from 39.3 miles and as soon as I hit one target I knew the next one was close.
The next positive experience I had on the course was the support from my family.
What made it a great weekend wasn’t just the run but the fact that my whole family, nieces and nephews included, came down to support me.
Spending time in the hotel pool with the kids, eating dinner and a few drinks on the Sunday night just added more positivity to the experience.
The biggest problem for my family was that it’s not a very spectator friendly event. For the runners you get to see the wonderful scenery this country has to offer but it’s very remote.
Thankfully my sister Lisa, who we rightly named event organiser, had it all planned out and they timed it to perfection driving ahead and meeting myself and Ryan with banners of support halfway round the course.
This was 20 miles in and after tackling a nice hill the boost we got kept us going and smiling for a few more miles after that.
When we hit around 27 miles the wind and rain started to pick up and fatigue was starting to set in.
The chance of talk was slim and there wasn’t too many people in a responsive mood, apart from a grunt or dirty look!
So we had planned to ‘zone-out’ i.e. put our head phones on. Normally during my training, I would use this time to listen to a podcast or audio book but today it wasn’t about learning, it was about enjoyment.
Cue my Spotify playlist ‘Have a Great Day’. We are talking ‘Walking On Sunshine’, ‘Best Day of My Life’, ‘Can’t Hold Us Back’, ‘All Star’ and ‘Send Me On My Way’.
Every time I listen to these songs I either smile, dance, sing or do all three. These were perfect for the hills that lay ahead.
About 32 miles in I came across my first major problem, I thought I was having a mini heart attack!
At first I thought it was heartburn but then the pain got sharper and started to spread more across my chest.
I looked at my watch and my heart was higher than normal when I am running.
My first thought was that I didn’t want this to stop me. So I paused for a second, controlled my breathing and knew that I was going to complete the race.
Thankfully the doctor said it was muscle spasms around the muscles of the heart area due to the high sugar content from my energy gels and dehydration.
The next mental and painful block that could have derailed me was when I stopped to get jelly babies from my pack right before the ‘Hell from the West’ which is a two mile steady incline hill/mountain.
I felt sore but good and wasn’t going to let a lack of energy stop me, so I decided to use this time to fuel up.
When I started running again it was a different story. The pain I felt in my feet was unbearable. It was like the muscles in the bottom of my feet were screaming ‘we aren’t running anymore’ and decided to curl up into a tight ball of pain.
Again my first thought was this is not stopping me. To get through this physical and mental block I just thought that with every step I took I was gently massaging and expanding my feet on the road.
Soon the pain went or more so my mind didn’t concentrate on it. I was able to tackle the ‘Hell from the West’ and with two miles to go I was really starting to feel the pain and body wanting to stop.
Mile 38 was slow and I could see the hotel where the finish line was – I just wanted to be there.
At this stage I started talking to people again and was getting congratulated from people doing the half and full marathon. I met people from everywhere.
One guy from Belfast was nearly down and out, so I ran with him for a while. A Polish man living in Galway and other people from all over Ireland, a few French people, and one Italian guy who didn’t have a clue what I was saying and answered with a random response.
Before I knew it I was entering my last mile and I got this new lease of life. I said cheerio to my Italian friend and picked up the pace.
Only a few 100 metres left I was met by some family members including my son Josh, who ran the last leg home with me.
The crowd where cheering and I was buzzing.
Waiting at the finish line was all my family, Ryan with the biggest smile on his face and all his family.
The whole event was summed up in two pictures one with me and my family after the finish and embracing Ryan, with both of us still smiling.
Special mention to Richard Duffy and Niall Heaney from Omagh Harriers who also ran the race. Richard had previously ran the event a few times and gave me and Ryan some great advice and support. Thank you my friend.
And that was the end of the race.
I enjoyed every minute of it and celebrated it that night with family and friends.
When I got home people were asking if I was still buzzing and over the moon. Yes of course I was but it was more satisfaction.
I always tell myself and others to celebrate the victory’s, learn from the failures but never get too high or too low and move on to the next challenge.
This event and the training up to it was heavily focused on a positive mindset, an ability to blank out the negatives and keep moving forward.
If you approach anything with a positive attitude, willing to put in the work and push on especially when times are tough, then you can achieve any of your goals.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who donated to both charities Clic Sargent and Tiny Life, that myself and Ryan were running for.
We raised well over £3,000 and your kind donations not only helped motivate us but knowing that it will help so many young lives made it extra special.