Monday, March 13, 2006

IAU 24hr World Challenge - An Irish Perspective

Ireland sent its first ever team to a major ultra running championships for the 2006 world 24 hour championships in Taiwan 25/26th Feb. The team format  was 6 men maximum with best 3 to count.

We had Galway's Richard Donovan who is the North Pole and also Antarctica marathon/ ultra  director. Richard had run a 100km race on Antarctica a few weeks before and is the record holder for the Mallin Head to Mizzen Head circa 600 km run from north to south Ireland.  Marty Rea from Belfast who ran 2.38 in the Dublin marathon last October and a month before this event had warmed up with a cracking performance to finish 2nd in a big 45 mile race in England.

Eoin Keith originally from Cork is a tough hill runner,
mountain biker, multi day adventure runner who holds the record for the
Wicklow Way 50km trail race and was 2nd in the Tooting 24 hour with a best of 198.5 km. I am from Dublin and have set several ultra records on the road, track and treadmill. So, we had one runner from each of Irelands 4 provinces. We had decided this would also serve as the Irish 24 hour championships.

The course was a really testing! - a 987 metre loop in a local park close to Taipei city. It was near an airport so there were planes taking off and landing all the time!  about 600m of which was run on  concrete paths, a short sharp hill, 9 turns plus bends a narrow pathway  where we ran parallel with another the separate open 24 hour race for about 150 metres every lap.

Later during the rain this area flooded and was to prove difficult as it was difficult to get by slower runners and the walkers who were often 2 abreast. There were a few large  bollards covered with high viz cones on the path just before we turned into the finishing straight. Slippery wooden boards over some potholes and drains. A  maintenance crew were repairing one at one stage while we were running over it!

Humidity was about 90 per cent and temp was pretty cool at the 10 am. start. The flags of the 20 odd competing nations were around the course. At times the wind was strong and it rained straight for 10 hours through the night till about 2 hours before the finish.

The Irish team all started off nice and steady. Richard and I were running about 10 km an hour while Eoin and Marty were running together about one lap less an hour. We were gratefully aided by the New Zealand team manager Sandy. The team tables were lined out alphabetically and when Sandy offered we asked if we could have our table shifted! Thanks Sandy!

I enjoyed meeting many of my friends from the ultra running community from around the world - especially team USA many of which I knew and competed against from my 8 years living over there.
In the early evening  we were all still running strongly and no doubt doing well in the team competition.
I felt I had probably gone off a bit too fast. In my mind I had settled for the " dream distance" (which never worked for me before) as opposed to the " realistic distance " for the 24 hours.In the previous 10 months due to work  commitments and injuries my training was all over the place! I somehow
managed to keep the long runs ( about 30/35 ranging from 32 - 50 km ) going. My training was such a mess that I lost interest in keeping a training diary. My work in construction is very physical and I felt this was also key.The long runs were mostly loops in Dublin's Phoenix Park. This park is surely one of the best city parks in the world to train in as it has such a variety of testing  trail loops just 16 minutes run from my home and across the road from my running club house Metro St. Brigid's A.C. I often ran to the park ran with the club for a while and continue on on my own.When injured I ran very slowly on a treadmill.

In Taiwan I was taking my usual race diet of liquid carbohydrate food,
energy gels and electrolytes. I threw up just after taking a gel and decided to supplement it with bananas and the odd energy bar. I was also walking the short 50 m sharp hill most laps as much for a mental break as for a recovery break negating this hill and using the slight downhill for further recovery. Sometimes while I was walking up this hill I felt myself swaying and almost as though running in my sleep!
At the half way mark just as the rain started I got a blister on the middle toe of my left foot. I had tried running through it but it wasn't working.

The American doctor, Andy Lovy lanced it and I was out of the pit stop in 2 minutes, thanks doc! Later I was to lose that toe nail.
The locals were out cheering us on through the night in the terrible
weather.I was still keeping the 10 k.p.h. pace going.
At the end of each lap our laps were recorded by a champion chip as we ran over a mat under the timing clock. There were also manual backup recording by the local High School kids who were very enthusiastic about the race many staying for the entire race and always had a smile and words of encouragement to offer. I learnt how to say " thank you "  in Chinese and it went down a treat.I never knew what position was in.

A couple of hours later my pace dropped to about 8.5 k.p.h. I was feeling a bit sluggish. It was very tough going. Richard and I went through the 100 miles in around 16 and a half hours which was about 15 minutes outside his Irish record. We both wanted the Irish 24 hour road record of 209.5km set by Don Mc Donald in 1992 and my overall record (track) of 213.6km and the Irish 24 hour road championship. We were pushing each other hard. It would be no good for either of us to finish 2nd! He looked much stronger and was about a lap up on me. At this stage Marty and Eoin had problems and started walking

Eoin, unfortunately had to drop out with calf problems while Marty
took an extended break. Richard told me he was going to take a short break and I managed to lead him by 5 laps upon his return.
We ran together and he then had to retire due to an old injury. Marty was back running strongly again. I knew the records were mine if I could just keep running but it was hard mentally. Other than a half dozen bathroom stops and to pull on my windbreaker with spare numbered Irish singlet, the blister and sometimes slowing to get refreshments I was moving for the entire race.

I find it hard to recall details exactly after a race and comments are my
best recollection. Even to time a lap if I made a note of the time at the start by the end of the lap I would have forgotten what it was at the start!

Think I was running about 7 minute laps With about 2 hours to go when I bagged the records I was asking myself what was the point of the punishment? Someone told me I was in 21st place.Then I realized I was wearing an Irish singlet was lucky not to be injured and wanted to make the record a bit harder for the next attempte. With 220km a possibility and 140 miles a significant milestone in 24 hour ultra running.
My best calculations told me I was going to be about 2 miles off this. Every time I ran by the Irish table Sandy and the boys were cheering Marty and I along. Marty was running really well. With an hour and a half to go I pulled off the windbreaker and went for home! I couldn't believe it from a tired sluggish canter I was lapping some of the best runners and was quickly moving up the field. I never knew who was on same lap or near me I just kept going with the 140 mile carrot. In the last hour I was flying and often holding myself back in case I blew apart and managed my best hour of 12 km.

With 10 minutes to go I managed to get just over 2 more laps in.Its truly amazing what the body and mind can do when given a challenge.

At last the hooter went on 24 hours.  We had been given markers to mark our partial laps on the last lap. After marking the exact spot I was quickly given a chair which I gratefully collapsed into.This was just opposite the first aid station! I limped over with the volunteers and had my old ankle injury treated. The injury had just reoccurred. Timing is everything I guess! Two weeks later I am still a bit tired. I did a short run last week and was very stiff. I will probably start back again tomorrow as I miss it!

The Irish team finished 11th.

I finished 16th in 228.299km/ 141.85 miles. Nobody was more surprised than
me! There were 2 more places within less than 600 m.

Marty finished in 41st place in 192.9 km

Richard finished in 55th place in 163.9 km

Eoin finished in 66th place in 145.1 km

That night we went out and had a celebration meal and went to a sports bar called the Brass Monkey. We had forgotten that Ireland was playing Wales in the 6 nations rugby tournament. The match was just starting and we celebrated a great win for the Irish team.Before the race we had avoided having a Chinese meal for fear of getting sick. The first thing I did when I got back to Ireland was to home order one for some friends with a bottle of champagne!

Posted by Tony Mangan.
Results click onto World Challenge , Taipei.

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