Ken’s Art O’Neill Challenge
Blog Entry 1.
This will be a short blog, 2 or 3 entries. Partly to track my experience of the Art O’Neill Challenge (which takes place tonight) and partly to show how my intake of Pro-Argi 9 helped me get through it.
However, I haven’t got through it yet!
Two bits of background – firstly the event itself – it’s a 55km overnight ultra-marathon (you can run, hike, or a combination) from Dublin Castle down and over the Wicklow mountains to the Glenmalure Valley, thus replicating the famous flight of Art O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in the 16th Century. For more info on the event they have a great website www.artoneillchallenge.ie and the event also raises some crucial funds for Dublin/Wicklow Mountain Rescue.
Next, a few comments on my preparation.
Ok, so it hasn’t gone perfectly! But, when does training ever go perfectly?!
It’s been a mild winter, but since December I’ve had a lingering cold/cough. This is very unusual for me, ever since I started taking Pro-Argi 9 my immune system has been excellent and I think it’s been at least 18 months since I had a cold. I also woke up with a bad neck strain 4 days ago, but thankfully that has diminished.
Basically, my training has been quite unscientific – just runs at the weekend, athletics sessions on Tuesdays (Crusaders AC) and other miscellaneous bits of running/walking/stretching/gymwork etc.
However, I slept well last night and will try for another nap around teatime before making my way in to the city centre.
Nutrition wise, I’ve been trying to eat sensibly since Christmas (battling a bit of weight gain!) and obviously am carb-loading since yesterday. I’ve also upped my intake of Pro-Argi 9 in the last few days, to 3 scoops a day. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, it is the best arginine supplement on the market. I sell it myself (with my business partner Paul) and can also get you involved in selling it (if you’re interested in a nice simple 2nd income).
A brief word on the product – arginine is a Nobel winning food supplement which creates nitric oxide in the body and has been having revolutionary impact on many health issues, especially anything cardio related. It’s also amazing for energy and for athletes. But there’s way more information on our website www.heartdiseasemiracle.com and please contact me at email@example.com or by phone or Facebook if you want more info.
Anyway, back to tonight’s event.
I am officially listed as an ultra-runner, thus setting off at 2pm, whereas the walkers set off at midnight. Realistically though, I won’t run it all, just the road parts, and on the mountains I aim to run the flats, and the safe downhills. Otherwise we’ll have to see. One thing for sure, I’ll be running very slowly! I’ve never attempted anything like this before, and my previous longest mountain race I’ve done was 22 miles/38km (nearly 5 hours), plus I’ve done a couple of road marathons.
Ok, if I don’t report back before the race – watch out for my blog posting to say how it went! All going well, I’ll complete the race in less than 12 hours, thus finishing by 2pm on Saturday afternoon, and should be back to my laptop in Dublin by evening.
Good luck to all the other participants and let’s hope we all have a safe night on the mountains!
Blog Entry 2. 9 Hours 25 minutes later!
Well it's over and I'm glad to say the race went well!
For anyone who didn't read my first blog entry, I was doing the Art O'Neill Challenge - a 55km overnight ultra marathon (you can run, hike, or a combination of both) from Dublin Castle over the Wicklow mountains to Glenmalure, in tribute to the legendary prison escape/run by Art O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell in the 16th century.
This year, just for good measure, the organisers chose Friday 13th as the date!
Arrived at Dublin Castle just before midnight to see the hikers off - and then in to register, and finally, off we went running through the Castle gates at 2am out to a bemused Dublin - 80 runners in hi-vis jackets no doubt being a strange sight to bleary-eyed pub-goers staggering out of the chippers..
I'll try not to make this blog too long, but just to back-track a bit and talk a bit more about my pre-race preparation. I said I would mention nutrition. It's such an important part of long distance running, and I usually get it fairly right. This event though I, not quite – and my stomach wasn’t in great shape throughout the race. Even though, for about 36 hours before the race I was keeping it simple, plenty of carbs, litres upon litres of water, vitamins and things like dark chocolate to store fat (no jokes please!) Plus, of course my 3 Synergy products, Mistify, Phytolife and Pro-Argi 9. Some readers may not be interested, so I won't go in to more detail here, but please feel free to read more about them on www.heartdiseasemiracle.com, or to contact me for more info. Final word on it - Pro-Argi 9 is amazing for energy, and definitely helped me through my first ultra-marathon!
The only other things to mention about preparation are Kit (which I mostly got right), Sleep (I got a crucial 2 hrs sleep at Friday teatime as well as a fairly good night's sleep on Thurs) and Training (it went as well as could be expected - given a lingering cough and a sore neck).
So, to the race!
I was running with Justin and Jacqui, and we stuck together all the way to the mountains (30K of road), and were also in touch with Aidan, who had set off at 1.15.
Our plan was to run all the road parts, all the trails/fireroads and any safe mountain downhills and to walk the extreme uphills and the parts with very bad terrain. We mostly stuck to this plan!
The road part was (as expected) long and boring, enlivened only by the excitement of the event and camaraderie of the other runners, plus the knowledge that runners got attacked last year by locals in the countryside just beyond Tallaght (and no, not by animals!)
Anyway, nothing untoward happened, and we made it to the first transition stop in Kilbride (20K) in just over 2 hours.
By this point I had already made 2 mistakes. Firstly, I think we ran the first part too fast. For me, anyway. This was to lead to problems later!
Plus, I was wearing too much and my core body temperature was probably too high. It was a perfect night mind you - great visibilty and quite mild for the time of year. Temperatures I think ranged from about zero to 5 degrees.
Also, we spent a little too long in transition - it's amazing how long it can take to change top/runners, rearrange kit (for the mountain section to come), and have a bit of soup. Lessons learned here about Kit logistics!
And, oh yes, mentioning soup, that reminds me – as I said before my stomach was NOT in good shape for most of the run. Whether it was nerves (probably not, maybe it had a small impact), something I ate (not sure), or just the overall shock an event like this does to your body (most likely), I really couldn't take in much sustenance throughout the race. My total food intake was - one energy bar, one banana, one cup of soup, one bowl of porridge and one coffee - which is NOT enough food for an event this physical and this long. And I just couldn't stomach any of the electrolite drinks or Lucozade I had brought with me, and thus realised I was going to be very short on liquids, as I only had 2 bottles of regular water. Despite filling these bottles up at every transition station, I got quite badly dehydrated over the 9 hours.
Anyway, after the first break, off we went on the final 10k of roads, passing Dave and Don (from my job) walking, who seemed to be performing great and still in good spirits, until we hit the mountains proper at Black Hill. At this point Jacqui went off on her own, which looking back, she probably should/could have done earlier, as she is an amazing runner and was being held back. Likewise later in the race I was holding Justin back, but on the other hand, the company of another runner helps in other ways - eg keeping morale up. I should also mention that Justin did a great job of navigating us over the mountains - despite excellent moonlit conditions and 450 other people on the hills it's no easy task, and we made great progress - always taking the quickest lines.
At the top of Black Hill and on to the gap beside Mullaughlaveen (Billy Byrne’s Gap?) it was quite cold and windy, and (now nearly 4 hours in) our feet were completely soaking wet. Having said that I was happy with my decision not to wear waterproof socks, I just wore thin merino lining socks (thanks for the tip, Aidan!) underneath regular long-distance running socks and mountain runners. Once you keep moving, your feet don't get cold.
Terrain at this point was tricky, but manageable. My head torch wasn't really good enough (it wouldn't take a genius to realise a good head-torch is rather important for running over the Wicklow mountains at night!).
And this is the thing I'm most relieved about, sitting at my computer the day after - that I didn't get a single injury the whole night! Despite copious opportunities to twist an ankle in a rabbit hole, or fall off a peat hag, or slip down the Art's Cross climb(!), the worst thing that happened was about 6 or 7 falls - mostly in the latter stages by which time my brain wasn't really working but thankfully none of these falls did any damage.
From the gap, we made it down (a couple of hours later) to the start of a forest, and on to a trail. But, for the last half hour of that open mountain stretch - the most magical part of the event happened - you've probably guessed it - daybreak! Just a lovely transition from moonlight to daylight as the vista of the rest of southwest Wicklow towards Table track opened up, just amazing - as had been looking backwards at the trail of head torches back towards Black Hill, and earlier again - looking back to Dublin city and the sea from high up in the Dublin mountains.
After this, magical moments started to become thin on the ground (!), as the race was really taking a toll. I was dehydrated, under-nourished, and my legs were starting to get very sore, and my back/neck a bit sore too. I'm sure sleep deprivation was a factor too, but because we were running, or at least walking fast (on open mountain) we HAD to concentrate - I imagine sleep deprivation was a bigger problem for the walkers.
From here we had about 30 minutes of trail, until we arrived at the 2nd transition station. This time we kept it quick - just swiped in and out again (with our timing chips), a quick bowl of porridge, a coffee and a water refill, and off we went on to Leg 3.
This was to prove the most ferocious. For me, at least. Buoyed a bit by being finally in daylight (it was a lovely morning) and the porridge, this soon faded as we hit the open mountain route up to Art's Cross. We hadn't 'recce'd' this part, but Justin continued to do a great Nav job, and we did it in good time. But, the terrain was difficult and the final part up to the Cross itself was 'hands and knees' stuff. This had a couple of impacts - incredibly draining on energy and legs (which were by now not functioning at all well) plus my gloves/hands got soaked for the first time, leaving me with cold hands for the remainder.
From Art's Cross, it was a long flat-ish slog in a newly emerged fog (ironically visiblity had been better at dead of night) across sloshy peat-hags and finally downwards to a trail and on to what even my tired eyes could see was finally the Glenmalure Valley, and thus, not far from home!
From there it was a long (for me anyway) 4km or so, on trail (with the river on left) to the finish. By now, I was running like a very elderly person, but at least I was still running, and 9 hours and 25 minutes after I left the city centre, I crossed the finish line. They had a proper finish line with banners, and everybody got a bit of a clap when they finished. The event organiser was there as I crossed the line, a chap called Gearoid I think, and I was glad to shake his hand and congratulate him on an amazing event. The toughest thing I've ever done? God, yes! Would I do it again? Possibly not. But -I learned a lot - about preparation, logistics, nutrition, pacing, and how to deal with a long race mentally. My plan now is to continue to be sensible about my running (my knees are doing ok, but I need to be careful) and continue to measure the impact of the products I take to help with my running (and my health in general) especially the Pro-Argi 9.
Post race, I caught up with friends in the Glenmalure Lodge for a bit, prior to the bus back to Dublin. Next morning now, and I feel ok actually, had a long nights sleep, plenty of food and a hot bath, with a massage to follow in 2 days time.
A big thanks to my fellow runners - there was so much camaraderie out there, even though it was getting like a zombie movie towards the end, as people staggered towards the finish - and a huge thanks to the organisers and to Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue who were out in big numbers and made us all feel safe on this endeavour which some of my friends have variously described as mad, nuts, bonkers, you name it!
The last thing I'll say is, I hope everyone made it safely through the night, and congratulations to Eoin Keith for winning the event, shattering the record (previously held by, um, Eoin Keith!) by 90 (count 'em) minutes - with a winning time of 5 hrs 26 mins.
See everyone on the hills again soon..
www.kencowley.com (content coming soon)
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