Due to the horrible tragedy that took place on Marathon Monday, I have been holding off on posting this as I felt it wasn’t appropriate. I wrote it before Boston. This has deeply affected me and I have been walking around in a daze for the last few days. The Marathon is test of human spirit and will power, it is what I live for and what now defines me. Hopefully, the meaning and beauty of the marathon is conveyed below.
So far, Ireland had been kind to us. Now we were about to face The Connemarathon, in one of the most beautiful, remote, and unforgiving races we had ever tackled.
The whole time I had been in Ireland I was having really weird dreams. Race night of course, was no different. I tossed and turned from 4AM to 7 before deciding to wake.
The whole gang was downstairs having coffee and eating various things. I chose to not eat any breakfast as my race started at 10:30, a decision that would later haunt me. Instead I took down some delicious coffee and prayed to the weather gods. We all hugged Claire (who was racing the Ultra) as she set off.
SIDENOTE: 200 Ultra racers (Crazy ol Claire) caught a 7AM bus for a 9AM start. 500 Marathoners (Abs, Lisa, BoJo and myself) caught a 8AM bus for a 10:30AM start. 2,300 Half Marathoners (Maura, Chris, Aidan and Elyssa) caught a 9AM bus for an 11AM start.
All of us (minus Claire) piled into the Runner Army Elite Assault Vehicle at 7:45 and headed to church. We were late so we missed mass but made the buses.
Personally, I was excited, but I was also in my head thinking hard. What would happen out there? Am I healed? What if my knee gave out at mile 10 in the middle of nowhere? Why did I not eat breakfast?
Arriving out in ‘Da Schicks’ as Chris dubbed it, we saw the Ultra racers on their first 2 miles and actually saw Claire! She didn’t know it, but we were screaming to her.
We exited the bus on a curved section of road. One side led up a steep hill towards the beginning of a mountain, the other side into an icy dark lake. The wind was whipping around from the south and it was quite biting. All of the marathoners were huddled along a ditch where the mountain started trying to hide from the wind. The gals and I tried our best as well, but it was pretty hopeless. As beautiful the landscape might be, it was not very habitable.
I was able to put down 2 bananas while we waited which may have saved my life. I had 2 Gu’s with me for the rest of the race. On a normal day I need maybe 1 Gu but figured today might be different.
Lisa and I went and used the porto-lets one last time and as we returned there was a migration to the ‘Start’ line. All of a sudden the race was just on. The 4 of us started chugging along and guess what… my knee was healed. I kind of smiled at the gals and said I was going to flank everyone on the left and took off.
I started picking up the pace and never looked back. I can’t even tell you in words how excited I was to actually be running, and pain free at that! I had such a SEG on my face and was passing everyone. I wanted to be by myself on the open isolated course. Another thought that popped into my mind was that I hadn’t run further than 13.1 miles and that was 6 weeks ago. I never got a chance to train for the marathon as the doctors told me to stop running altogether. Do or die baby. The mind is more powerful than the body and it was time to prove it.
Miles 1 to 4 clicked of quickly. The aid stations were every 3 miles and only water. This would play a part in everyone’s race as well.
At this point during the race I felt awesome and had pulled away from the bulk of the group. We were now single file race formation 50 feet between runners.
I took a look up into the mountains and the sprawling landscape and thought about how tiny and insignificant we are. Here we are running along an ancient mountain range, a place where time has stood still. A place that will live on long after we die and our children’s children die. So rugged it could chew us up and spit us out, we, the toughest of tough marathoners. Then, I laughed out loud and thought, “If only my Dad could see me now… running a marathon through the mountains of old Ireland.” In my short list of life’s accomplishments (forget things like ‘job’, ‘kids’, or ‘nice house’), running marathons is at the top.
It was right around this moment when I was passing a fellow. He looked at me and in his Gaelic (or Irish language) language and said something. Obviously I had no idea what he told me, I just smiled and nodded my head. What a cool place to be running.
At mile 7 we took a sharp right and headed directly uphill and into the head winds which were clocked at some 40MPH. Things were about to get real. I also ate a delicious Gu, it’s whats for breakfast.
Miles 8 to 10 were this crazy steep downhill. I was now blasting forward all by myself. I looked up at the mountains and the harbor we seemed to be approaching and really took it all in. “This is exactly what I wanted.” I thought out loud. It was as if I was just running these roads by myself in peace and quiet. It was most likely not the best thing for my knee to be barreling down a steep decline, but I was lost in the moment of the marathon.
As the course leveled out around the harbor that we were now circumventing, the 40MPH headwinds made themselves known. From this point on, Mile 11, the race would be one of the most challenging I have ever faced, Ironman included.
Winding around the bend, I could see maybe 2 to 3 guys off in the distance. I wondered had I really got that close to the front of the leaders? I pushed on, not knowing that my energy and enthusiasm to chase would soon fade away.
One really cool aspect of this race was the large expanse of space. I knew the Half Marathoners were poised to start at any moment, so I trained my eyes across the harbor. It must have been 2 miles across, but I could see tiny masses of people moving onto the course. Up ahead right in front of me I saw this gal on a bike riding next to a runner. As I cruised up I realized this was lead female! She was absolutely killing it. I hadn’t seen another female since like mile 2! I gave her some props as I past.
Spectators acting sheepish. Thanks to Elyssa for all the great images!
At the 12 to 13 stage there were advertisements for breakfast for 9 Euro up ahead at an Inn. Guess who had 40 Euro on him? That’s right, me! It was really tempting to take a pit stop but I didn’t. That 40 Euro was also my beer money for the finish line so better spent there anyway.
The Half had started 5 minutes before I arrived so now, as I pushed up a very steep hill, I was at the back of the pack.
This hill was kicking my ass. I was bobbing and weaving through Half Marathoners and trying to hold onto some kind of decent pace. My knee still felt totally fine, but now, having zero training under my belt, it was starting to affect me. Towards the crest of the long hill I heard a motorcycle coming from behind. They had been going back and forth on the course and I had made buddies with one of them by nodding a lot. As it passed it was herding the runners to the left. There was a guy on back and he pointed to me and said, “Follow us!” Oh snap! Do I have enough energy? Sure did.
They cut a real nice path through all the chaos for me and a few other Full racers. Being that they were on a motorized vehicle, I couldn’t keep up for long but by this point things had opened up.
Around mile 16 I came across 4 runners I recognized. As I crept up I yelled in my best irish accent, “Hey you tree runners you, move out da way will ye!” Maura, Elyssa, Chris, and Aidan greeted me with a smile. I hung out with them for a few minutes before taking off.
Mile 18 is where the wheels came off. I ate my last Gu and had some of the water they were serving (only water mind you, no sports drink) and tried to press on. My pace was at it’s slowest here and my quads were on fire!
Mile 19 I was walking. I felt so weak and hungry, I wanted to curl up on the side of the road and sleep. People were passing me left and right and I was ready to throw in the towel. I thought about how far I had come to race in this foreign land. I thought about how lucky I was that my knee felt the best it’s felt in a month and I ‘could’ run. Then, outta nowhere thees young village kids showed up. “Haribo! Who needs em some Haribo?!” You bet your life I want some gummy bears! (bouncing here and there and everywhere.) I must have looked at them with bewilderment as well as looking like I might die because one kid said, “Go ahead now, take them all.”
Never have I shoveled candy into my mouth as fast I did at that moment. 1 huge handful of the most delightful, life saving energy food ever. I looked at the kids and said, “Thanks fellas, you just saved my life!” I mustered up a little willpower and started running. 10 minutes later I was back in action.
I felt pretty good, but not up to full speed of course, as I came into what must have been an aid station at Mile 20 or 21. They finally had some Gatorade-like substance here along with some crackers that I housed. I later found out from the rest of the group that there were no crackers, so either I imagined it or a civilian helped me.
I was just clicking off mile by mile, sending it home. I knew it wouldn’t be my best time, but dammit, I was going to finish.
Rounding a bend and turning back into the open merciless wind, the ‘Hell of the West’ (a notorious 2 mile incline miles 221-24) reared its head. It was actually quite a sight to take in, like the great migration or something. As far as you could see there were runners winding up and around the mountain range. Spectacular and yet wickedly sick all at once.
I began my assent into the clouds accepting of the challenge. I didn’t want to walk, and so I didn’t. Instead I picked up the pace and dug in. I started passing people slowly. There were a lot of walkers. About a mile up as we rounded the bend the hill just kept going. I noticed now that my knee was acting up. I knew it would at some point during the race, but with 2 miles to go I wasn’t about to stop.
At the top of the mountain you could literally see the finish line 2 miles away down in the valley. 2 miles never looked so far. I even thought out loud, “No way that’s only 2 miles, it looks like 5!”
I just held a slow, steady, even pace for the remainder. Coming into the finish with 3:33:00 (my 9th marathon, weird) on the clock. I’ll take it, thank you very much mystical land of Connemara.
After collecting my hardware I made my way to the only physical structure for 5 miles, the hotel and bar.
I figured it would be packed, but it was far from it… for now. Entering the dark ‘hunting lodge-like’ room I at first thought it was closed. Then, to my left I noticed a blazing fire in the old stone fireplace. A young women then appeared from behind the bar, my savior.
“Oh hello. You just ran the race, congratulations. Would you like a glass of water?” I smiled and simply said, “I’ll have a Guinness.”
10 minutes later the room started to fill up and the first of my friends arrived, Maura, Chris, Aidan and Elyssa. We took over a big table and began chowing down and drinking, all very happy to have finished. Moments later Abbe, BoJo and Lisa arrived.
All of us, although happy to be done, were openly concerned about Claire as we had just run one of the hardest and most unforgiving courses. We all started telling our tales of turmoil followed by triumph, some teary eyed. This was no ordinary race, this was truly a battle on many levels.
3 drinks in I caught Claire at the entrance to the bar looking around. I stood up and pointed at her yelling, “WALSH!” She came over and was overwhelmed by all the hugs, bursting into tears. Being one of very few Ultra runners, it was as if a General had entered the bar. People stood and Claire received a big round of applause and cheer. I bought her a Guinness.
That night all of us went out in Galway, celebrating our achievements. I am honored, proud and happy to have such noble and inspirational friends.
I often hear “I could never do that.” in regards to my Marathons or Ironman races. It is my least favorite thing to hear, because I was once just an nonathletic artist, dared to run a marathon. With zero training and a bum knee I ran this race. I’m not trying to gloat, what I am telling non-believer is this, I ran the Connemarathon with my mind, not my body. So what are you waiting for, go pick a marathon.