Some things just cant be avoided …yet sometimes they are just what you needed !! Prep for the Art O Neil ….

Snow , moving house , Xmas and the New year ….. oh !  and Art O Neil ...

Training ground to a halt in November/December with both the weather and Xmas at the shop …I am really frustrated at the lack of training especially given the amazing training load I was giving myself before the snow and Ice arrived , I was really stepping it up and feeling confident about my desert preparation and all of a sudden it was over , I was worried .. my pace had slowed , running on ice makes for a slow , short yet deliberate stride , hard work just to keep in control , minus 17 degree temps are hard on your lungs but I made the effort to at least keep trying to train , no point in just saying fuck it !! its too cold , something is always better than nothing .On one amazing cold yet sunny Sunday I had the pleasure to get out with Kenny Short and Billy Fraser who gave me a lesson in covering ground with a 13 miler over the fields in knee deep snow , one of the best days Ive had for ages and one that opened my eyes to hill climbing , watching them effortlessly make their way up calf bursting slopes made me envious of the buggers !!Xmas came and went , I worked right through except for Xmas day  but on New Years day I set out to run from my cottage to the Mintos , over the top of both hills and then onto Fatlips Castle , pausing briefly to take in the view before plunging down to Denholm then attempting to run to the top of Ruberslaew with out stopping , I didnt make it but I gave it a good go , making it to almost 100 feet from the top  , then back to Denholm Brae , through Denholm and back to Horsley Hill , 18 solid hill ridden miles ,  all in 3 hours .. HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!!!!I actually believe the enforced rest helped both in mental and physical recovery , I feel a spring in my step again , a new lease of life and more importantly appreciating the running just for the running again .. it should never be a chore !!

I had entered the Art O Neil Challenge on the 7th of January and hoped Id be fit .. its a 36mile ultrathon starting at Dublin Castle and opening with a 16 mile road/lane run to Kippure Outdoor centre set high in the Wicklow Hills and then racing 20 miles over the Wicklow Mountains .. for most people a 16 mile run is enough but to then head over a rough , steep set of back country mountains make this one of Irelands toughest events … so off I went hoping I would make it round and as it turned out all my snow training came in to effect and gave me a superb night/day out …….It started at 2am from Dublin Castle , running through the streets until we left Dublin City , swapping streets for country lanes , then up the steepest hill I ever ran , if I knew what lay ahead of me I think that I would have given up at the bottom , it climbed and climbed , it was steep then not so steep then steeper , it gave you a moments rest before throwing in an even steeper more ice laden section … my legs were screaming at the top but I darent lose the runners in front as I didnt have a clue where I was so I pressed on  … but then all of a sudden it started to dip and flatten , then it was a nice rolling section to the the Kippure out door centre , this allowed us to change from road shoes to trail shoes and to put an extra layer on before we entered the high mountain stages … I had never seen Dublin before , let alone its mountains , so as I stepped out into the barren Moorland at 5am in the morning in the pitch dark with only a compass for company I started to wonder WHY ??  I honestly thought after an hour of blindly following bearings through tall grass and marsh land that I was hopelessly lost ..

but all of a sudden I fell out the moor into what looked like a country lane , the map confirmed this and I was quickly weaving my way towards Black Hill , this was the climb of all climbs and was a snow ridden firetrack .. I switched my head torch off and ran it in the moonlight .. I just couldnt bear to look up a never ending hill AGAIN !!!!   I climbed slowly but steadily upwards until I saw a Landrover parked next to a forest ,I switched on my head torch and the Marshall jumped out , up here he said pointing to a firebreak .. I headed up , it was steeper than before and rock strewn , so I stopped running and adopted a run then walk up the super steep parts technique , this gained me a bit of recovery before I hit the top of the trail , I then ran , snow in my face until I could see it break out the forest and into the moors again , high moors though , cold and windy .. I got out my GPS , this was tricky now , I put the head down and climbed .. for an eternity dodging holes , frozen heather , it was getting tougher as we moved forward … I met 2 Irish boys , Derek and Aiden , 2 great guys and we stuck together for company .. as it turned out we ran as a group until the end .. I was glad of the company and we seemed evenly matched physically ..  the two of them knew a lot of the route also .. relief that you are heading the right way can take a lot of stress off ..

On top of the Peat hagg Of Table Mountain

The sun came up , well maybe a better description is that it got less dark , and we could see the way ahead off the moor , we ran down to a forest , through it on a slippery path then onto a stile and a deer fence , we followed the deer fence and we broke out onto a road and down by half a click to the check point , my Friend Adrian Shanahan was waiting with a huge pot of Porridge , fantastic …. 26 miles down only the hardest 10 to go !!The 3 of us head off from the checkpoint , the ultra shuffle keeping us moving forward , we cut off onto a fire road and up to a winding path through the heather , we climb for an eternity , its a fast march now , no running as its far too steep and difficult , its getting colder and colder , easily into double minus figures , my face is burning as we summit at Arts Cross , a monument erected to commemorate Art O Neil , the man who has brought us here , like noble warriors fighting our way through the night to this cross , elation at reaching it , knowing that I did not have to climb any more and that we could let our tired legs free wheel 2500 feet to the bottom , first though was the task of navigating the 3 frozen lakes and then a twisty frozen peat bog but soon we were whizzing down twisting forestry paths and fire roads , its amazing the life that can come back into your legs when you know glory is close at hand  .. seeing the finish was my proudest moment so far in running .. knowing that on this one I had seriously fought my way to the finish line

Art , Aiden and Derek I salute you 😀

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