THE ULTRA-BORING PREMISE
When I saw the Wicklow Way 100 being announced, it may have been a matter of seconds before I made my mind up. I had been dying to give the 100-mile distance a sho and this was nothing less than the perfect opportunity. Not only the race would have to be run mostly in the dark – which being a flashaholic* was already enticing enough – but it would also be on the Wicklow Way! I had run my first 50- and 80-mile races on the same trail and even train on it regularly so most of the course was also my trail running playground. I have left my heart on that trail and quite a few toenails too… apparently it was time for more!
The 2015 edition of the WW50 had been my first Ultra beyond the 50 and some kilometers distance. I had found out about the race after a 3-month break from running due to various injuries – and my first I’ll-never-forget DNF: even with only 5 weeks left to training, I had decided to go for it. Luckily I was just back from a two-week hiking holiday around the peaks of the South Tyrolean Dolomites so I wasn’t exactly going from couch to 80 Km! To the contrary, I could hike up steep and long uphills like I had never done before in my life! As for the running though, it would have to be taken up from scratch! Once into the race though, the running itself never represented a challenge: we were all so busy dealing with Storm Desmond, battling 100 Km/h winds, trying to keep warm in the incessant lashing rain, climbing over endless fallen trees… and finding my way back to the trail after getting lost – on the best waymarked national trail in Ireland is a true achievement! Yep, been there, done that! : )
That experience marked me so bad that this year I even considered running the WW100 with a wetsuit in my running pack… then I decided that taking a pair of waterproof pants would be enough! The weather turned out to be pretty dry though! During the first stretch of the race, I repeatedly told myself I had been a complete fool to carry such an unnecessary extra weight for this long a distance: in life we all live moments when we have a second guess coming… Whatever our ultra-sins, it looked like we had settled the tab back in 2015: on Friday, December 2 and the Saturday, December 3 2016 we got some of the best winter weather conditions you could hope for in the Wicklow mountains! Running the distance though, was about to turn out to be a challenge for me this time…
I didn’t get to race day as rested as I was hoping to but let’s be honest: who ever really does? I was lucky enough to have to drive less than 10 minutes to the start when some people had to drive from other parts of Ireland or even fly in from other European countries. I had 7 Ultra on my record – and only one DNF. Besides my two longest races had been on the very same trail! What could have possibly gone wrong? You are probably thinking “nothing”, right? Except, this blog is brought to you by the same runner who attempted to race a 130-Km ultra with over 4 liters of water on his back! I try something like that again and I stand a good chance of getting sponsored by Ferrarelle: I’d go down in history as the first ultrarunner to be supported by sparkling water brand!
To Crone Woods (22 Km)
We all went off happily into the winter sun and in a very friendly and cheerful atmosphere.
While going up the first hill a couple of hikers who yelled: “You only have 99 miles left to go!”. I looked back in surprise while the joke sinks in then smiled and replied: “I can’t tell how much it’s in steps because that’s all I’m counting today”. I don’t think they understood what I said but they kept cheering us on! I got to talk to a very nice fellow by the name of Malcom who gave me some selfless advice while claiming he was very slow… only to virtually take off a few hundred meters later!
I went down past the Glencullen bridge and decided it was time to pull out my poles. I kept going and enjoyed the scenic winter sunset in the Wicklow Mountains until another friendly lad caught up with me. We chatted and he said he’d been to Rome many times because his brother-in-law lived there. When I asked exactly where it turned out it the coastal town next to where I grew up and where I used to go swimming in my high school years. I mean, you are in the remote Wicklow mountains running your first 100-mile race at night and run into an Irish lad who has been to one the most internationally unknown beach location in Italy? The world sure is a small place but still felt unreal! Sadly, what was even more unreal, was the pair of shoes I was wearing – I just hadn’t had the time to figure it out yet…
To Glendalough (49 Km)
We get into Cronewood CP which apparently had been busy till a few minutes earlier so we were still just behind several other runners! After leaving the CP I noticed one my left waistbelt pocket was open and one of my 3 portable “pharmacy packs” was missing. I backtracked and wasted a good ten minutes scrutinizing the ground and then simply told myself I had packed three separate bags full of the same meds exactly in case I’d lose one: there was no point to waste more time looking for something I could do without! I still had enough painkillers to supply a field hospital for a week! As I went through Crone my metatarsalgiasia (can’t even spell it…) started hitting me real bad! I had always run the previous races with several minor injuries, ranging from plantar fasciitis to Achilles tendonitis, severe knee pain, quad tendonitis etc. This time I had gotten to the start line with the most ultra experience, the best and longest physical training I had ever put in, as well as the least injuries I could have expected training for such a distance. Except for being tired it had never been better than this on a race day! And yet, not even 20 Km into the race, I was in a state where I couldn’t keep going anymore! I hiked up the Djouce with a bad feeling of “I will never get through this race with my feet this messed up!” I gave up and untied my shoes as loosely as possible, knocked back 400 milligrams of Neurofen Express, and 1000 milligrams of paracetamol! I had told myself I would try to stay off ibuprofen for the first half of the race as repeated usage can give me asthma but figured I had to change strategy and deal with the foot pain then and there or there would not be a second half of the race to worry about! I was well trained, I had started off with an undaunted badass mindset and in a matter of a couple of hours, I got close to dropping out of my first 100-miler because I was wearing the wrong type of running shoes? Actually not even wrong, simply not running shoes! If there was such a thing as an International Ultrarunning Imbecile Award, no doubt I’d just earned my spot in the hall of fame!
One week before my peak run I had surprisingly noticed the soles of my Hoka Speedgoat were as smooth as an ice-skating ring! When training for an ultra marathon, why the hell would you bother checking out the soles of your shoes unless crash-landing on your butt a few times first…
No two ways about it: the soles were practically flat and I desperately needed new shoes! I stayed up very late and eventually found a pair of Speedgoat on sale and ordered them straight away! I had planned to break them in on my peak-training weekend but as it turned out, I would only receive them a couple of days before the race, too late even to get the soles dirty! Get some popcorn because it’s about to get ridiculous: torn between using a brand new pair of previously tested ultrarunning shoes and a pair of broken-in glorified hiking boots … guess what I chose to wear? At least, when preparing the drop bags, I had the decency to make the last-minute, and probably race-saving, decision to throw the brand-new pair of Hoka Speedgoat into the Glendalough drop bag!
Wearing brand new shoes on your first 100-mile ultra race may not be the smartest move but definitely less suicidal than trying to run it all the way on some post-modern Dutch clogs! What am I going to do next? Show up at the UTMB start line wearing a pair of cowboy boots?
the post-modern Dutch clogs - the Hoka Tor Ultra!
Once the meds started working and the pain in the feet subsided, I finally started feeling absolutely great, set my headlamp to shine the full 400-lumen, and practically flew over the boardwalk all the way to Lough Tay. I got to the road and I talked to a friendly lad waiting in a car; he explained to me he was supporting his brother who had gotten lost with a whole bunch of other runners! Sounding vaguely familiar like one of my 2015 misadventures, I thought it was time to play one of my Radioheaed favorites: “No Surprises”!
I quickly got to the Busher’s Gap Meitheal shelter where I had a break to eat, replace my Foretrex 401 batteries, and place my spare 18650 ones in an easier-to-reach pocket in the front of the pack! I was almost ready to go when somebody ran by as if escaping a zombie apocalypse…I started running after the dude in a kind of wild chase still unsure whether I was supposed to look behind my back for an oncoming mob of drooling undead! Once I caught up with him, I found out the world’s end had not begun yet. The gentleman was complaining about the two yellow men and said he was just trying to catch up for the lost time … Apparently, another self-proclaimed slow runner who was able to keep a100-meter Olympic pace! If he was slow, I should have really introduced myself as Kermit the frog attempting my first ultra…
It didn’t take a forensics specialist to figure out he must have been one of runners who had gotten lost early in the race! Apparently this time a whole group took the wrong turn where the Wicklow and the Dublin Mountains Way intersect. That is a sort of Bermuda triangle of the Wicklow Way, a haunted spot that has probably claimed more DNF and lost ultrarunners than any other trail intersection in Ireland! If you read this report, run the race, and see two yellow men… make sure you think it out before assuming you are seeing double and, most of all, don’t take the right turn!!!
The Bermuda Triangle of the Wicklow Way
We eventually got close to the following checkpoint when Karsten – the “zombie apocalypse survivor” – went off and yelled to follow him. He had a point as the leaf-covered trail seemed to weave to the left but I had recced this stretch two weeks earlier and clearly remembered I had kept heading downhill to the west all the way to the bottom of the hill where I had chatted with a very friendly hiking couple! The memory of getting lost the previous year during the WW50 was still vivid and I wasn’t exactly longing to live it again. I wasn’t that desperate yet to pull out map and locate my GPS coordinates either so I decided to simply backtrack a few hundred meters till I found the last yellow man sign – my memory hadn’t failed me and the arrow clearly pointed straight downhill so I blew my whistle to get Carsten’s attention: luckily he was still within range and heard me! I waited for him and we both descended into Glendalough! The people staffing the checkpoint were unbelievably nice and while I would have liked to talk to and thank them, I just mumbled something about my Speedgoats in my drop bag…
To Glenmalure (62 Km)
After munching some food, refilling my reservoir, and finally wearing a pair of actual running shoes I started climbing out of Glendalough in a fairly thick mist. Dark and lonely as it was, I couldn’t care less! I had done my 80-Km peak run alone, mostly in the dark, with freezing temperatures, and carrying food for the whole distance! Finding myself on my own knowing I had people ahead of and behind me – as well checkpoints along the way – made it feel cozy in comparison! Psychologically it didn’t feel like something was going wrong as this was I had gotten used to while training for the race! If being alone and one of the last runners weren’t going to be one of my problems, something else was about to! After deciding to wear a pair of hiking boots for an ultra race, nutrition was the next very important thing I had gotten wrong! I didn’t put enough energy or soda drinks into my drop bags despite clear signs – during the previous races – that my stomach couldn’t take solid food under prolonged physical effort. In fact, for some reason still unknown to me, I had even left several energy drinks at home! I wasn’t even a third into the race when I started having serious nausea! It sure couldn’t kill me and it wasn’t as bad a wearing hiking boots but feeling like I was about to throw up all over myself while still having 100 Km ahead of me didn’t feel like a pleasant surprise! I ran down to Glenmalure at a fast pace and could see the headlamps from other runners shining through the trees just a bend or two below. I walked through the checkpoint in a fashion reminiscent of the local US burger chain across from my dig during my year in L.A. : simply “In ‘n Out”!
To Schielstown (80 Km)
On the way to Ironbridge, while climbing felled trees and went around caterpillars or tree-felling machines, I started getting paranoid about getting lost. I had learned my lesson the hard way during the WW50 and the gut feeling wasn’t wrong! I told myself to check coordinates twice during the entire race but it turned out to be a wise choice: the first time I wasn’t lost, the second time I realized had missed the WW turn back onto the Military and was heading completely off course. Luckily I had to backtrack less than a kilometer and even if uphill, I didn’t waste more than half an hour at the very most! This time I was very proud of myself for not having waited to be in Carlow – the next county – before double-checking my position on the map…
Once on the race course again, and after chocking on some paracetamol, I started crossing the first runners on their way back! I ran into Clare who cheered me on saying I was doing great. If I was doing great being one of the last runners, how exactly was she doing being one of the runners leading then? I would see the last runners past Ironbridge: a few even stopped before I started climbing the last hill and reassured me that the last CP was only some 40 minutes away. After the hard climb and while descending to the race turning point, the sight became pretty much surreal: for a moment I even thought I had fallen asleep in a ditch or had passed out and must have been dreaming while being airlifted to emergency medical care by a Coast Guard S92… the glowing circus-like checkpoint tent looked totally out of a fairy tale! I wondered if Gandalf the wizard was inside waiting with warm drinks or if Snow White and the 7 Dwarves would rush out of the tent to treat my blisters! Well, neither apparently: I just walked in and met a very nice Dutch guy with a marked New Zealand accent! He could see I was cold so he swiveled on one of those “thermal pigs!” while I reorganized my gear and swallowed a few calories! Being a caffeine addict who normally goes around with a mug full of espresso, it’s hard to explain why but as it turns out I didn’t even think about having a sip of coffee. This would soon prove to be yet another mistake to be added to the growing list of personal race blunders!
To Glenmalure (98 Km) – Way Back
I left the checkpoint feeling great and started climbing again, music blasting in my ears, I just had to take a short break to replace the 18650 in my Fenix HL55 and the Energizer AA lithium batteries in my Foretrex 401. I then ran into John, the really nice guy who knows the internationally unknown suburb near Rome! Despite getting lost twice and being awfully behind he was still fighting to stay into the race: by now he was apparently the last runner behind me! We both exchanged a few quick words and went off our respective ways! Once in Ironbridge, I had a new ultra experience: I started falling asleep while climbing up a hill! Am I kidding? No! I’m very, very serious and I got very, very sleepy! If I hadn’t been holding poles, I would have probably tried to slap myself in the face to stay awake! I had figured I’d be able to go nice and easy for the first 120 Km and might have had to crawl the ramining 40 but after only 80 I turned out to be completely cooked with still half the distance to go! I figured this was the point where my faith in the “Never Quit” creed had to come into play or I was going to be the next runner to DNF out of the race!
I find it hard to have faith but blindly do for some stuff! One of the exception is believing that the “never quit” mindset will give anybody a chance to accomplish the seemingly impossible, even when all hope seems lost! That said, I very much prefer to rely on meticulous planning, endless rehearsals, flawless executions and just relegate the I-will-die-trying grit to the role of last-resort power when everything else has pretty much gone to hell! It’s maybe a personal choice but for me being smart is worth a thousand times toughing it out: I truly fear pushing my luck more than I love pushing my limits, especially when the former could mean meeting my breaking point… and everybody has got one! How I could possibly planned this race so badly, it’s still a mistery to me!
I was walking up the Wiclow Way strech parallel to the Military road, with the sun hesitantly rising in the sky and my eyes half closed when I heard somebody hollering something at me. I looked up and saw a caravan of coaches and vans: it was the 50-milers on the way to the their starting point. Don yelled something about the runner behind me but couldn’t decide whether it was a question or not! I just replied he might be a couple of hours behind at most! They all smiled and waved! I finally woke up and slowly jogged to Glenmalure. To my surprise, there was nobody in the CP and my drop bag wasn’t there either. There were plenty of chocolate bars though so I virtually inhaled a Bounty or two when a woman walked in: she was really nice and enquired about the tent saying she had seen it the night before when she was in a party in the Glenmalure lodge and wondered what was it for. I suddently remembered about the music being loud when reaching this CP the night before! I I told her it was for a 100-mile race and she seemed really impressed; she told me she was planning to run her first marathon in 2017… I would have truly enjoyed the conversation if it wasn’t that I was trying really not puke: I told myself it might be frowned upon so just said with a tone of urgency I really had to keep going!
To Glendalough (111 Km) – Way Back
I began climbing up and the chafing began getting real bad: I had no choice but to keep going! Welcome to ultrarunning, the no-way-back sport! I eventually started seeing 50-mile runners coming up, the young guy leading the race even slowed down to encourage me on! More and more runners started taking me over, many taking time to say a few words of admiration, a few even mentioning my name and smiling: I was so tired I wouldn’t realize who some of them were till a few a minutes later! The climb on the devil’s staircase was really torturing! Once on the top, I paused to tie up my shoes, apply some lube hoping to reduce chafing and then an army of 50-milers practically overtook me! Put on loud music and took off descending into Glendalough ! And trust me, the fact that it was downhill had nothing to do with the second wing effect – BIG LIE…. : )
To Crone Wood (137 Km) – Way Back
I was again treated so well in the Glendalough checkpoint that I would have wanted to stay there till the end of the race and just chat…
When I got to up Konturk and tried to climb it, I ran once again into a multitude of 50 milers again showing more concern about me than their own race! Some will offer me anything ranging from their own food to drinks, and meds: inspiring and humbling to say the least considering they were running a tough 50-mile race in the first place! The words of encouragement went beyond what I could have possibly imagined: they made it sound as if they were a dedicated support crew I didn’t have while in reality they were running a very tough race themselves in the first place! I met Paul, Ray, and Alicia who were super encouraging and were cheering the hell out of me despite of their race! At that point I even found out even the last 100-mile runner behind me had DNFed so I knew I was the one bringing up the read for sure! Seriously, I don’t know if I have such a bad reputation that runners start thinking they are screwed and will never make it once overtake them! In any case, history shows that runners behind me drop out of races like flies! I swear, if next race I see any runner behind me even remotely looking like he is thinking to DNF, I’m going to punch him in the face so hard to knock him unconscious and then just to piggy-back him to the finish line to make sure I am not the last one to finish an ultrarace ever again!
When I’m about to climb a stile that leadst through the farmland past Lough Dan and I end up choking myself again on some paracetamol tablets. People normally bring pacers to ultra events; me, I’m seriously considering bringing a couple of certified nurses to my next race just to help me swallow painkillers!!!
I eventually got close to Pier Gates but I was starting to chafe badly again. I went around harassing people, sounding like a desperate vaseline junkie trying to score a fix until I ran into Vincent – the ultrarunner’s rescuer of the Wicklow Way – and a very nice lady who told me her husband warned her about a 100-miler runner coming down in need of help: she and Vincent humbly offered me much needed calories from a Coke and friendly words of encouragement! I thought they were worried so I reassured them and said I was about to get another second wing. Ahead of me I had a stretch of the Wicklow way where I always feel great and having gotten that far I knew the only way I could still DNF was if somebody tasered me and dragged me off that trail in a strait jacket! Having temporarily fixed my chafing and gotten a few calories, I took off again, first into the pine wood and then jogged up on the open trail with the scenic view of of Luggala and Lough Tay to the West and the Roundwood reservoirs to the South East! The second-wing talk wasn’t a lie and I simply pushed as fast as I could all the way up to the Djouce and then down to Crone; I must have kept a good pace because could see I was closing the distance with the flickering headlamps from a group of 50-milers!
While going down Powerscourt mountain I began feeling sleepish again: staring at the hotspot of my headlamp was having a hypnotic effect! The trail around crone is not very technical so I tried to look ahead without worrying too much where I was stepping but couldn’t help seeing human and animal shapes instead of leaves or tree branches. Even worse, most stones on the ground had fluorescent white writings, like long string of strange characters from an ancient civilization. I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me but even picked up a few rocks only to inspect and figure out the ancient fluorescent code on the stones were nothing but dirt marks which my headlamp made look shiny! Luckily it was already too late for hikers to be still around: you tell somebody you are checking the white hieroglyphics on the rocks without explaining you have been out in the mountains for 28 hours and you risk getting arrested for abuse of illegal substances!
I finally reach the Crone Wood CP, the last before the finish! I start begging for some more vaseline straight away and I’m told my favorite dealer has just left with the goods. I just shrug figuring that close to the finish it didn’t really matter and focus on scavenging food and drinks out of my drop bag! Don, Karina, as well as another very nice fellow were already clearing the tent but they were absolutely awesome and encouraged me while carrying drop bags to a van! They took time to reassure me that I could take it easy for the last 12 miles and hoped to see me at the finish line! At that stage I must have looked pretty fucked up and I guess that´s why people don’t run ultras with a portable ultralight mirrors! Unless you are one of those runners who still look totally decent under extreme physical effort, you are going to look like a cadaver toward the end of a 100 miler: and trust me, after 28 hours into the race I could have starred in an horror movie without makeup! Anyway, the cheering and reassuring smiles did the trick! Nause having disappeared and hunger taken over, I ate like there was not tomorrow, refilled my bladder with sparkling water, and got going again! Sadly I drank two halves of energy drink and sodas but carried neither along: that was about to be another foolish mistake all that food was about to make me sick again!
To Glencullen (149 Km) – Way Back
Less than a 100 meters after leaving Crone I was already feeling nauseated again! I decide not to take any more Neurofen despite of the pain in the feet as my asthma had started acting up! The chafing was absolutely killing me: Whatever I was using hadn’t worked too well for me during the Wicklow Way Race but I had managed to get away with it! Going for a 100 miler I had no excuse for not getting a plan B in the very likely event I would run into the same problem again. Well, it looks like I wasn’t that smart: I chafed so badly and got to a point where I was unable to keep going! It wasn’t the pain as such that I couldn’t deal with: the pain in my feet had been killing me for most of the race! Temporarily with the help of painkillers, I could put up with it. In fact just following the old adage “if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!” worked all right for the feet. It couldn’t have worked for the “cheese-grater” I kept feeling between my inner thighs at every step! It started messing with my mind really bad and I was risking at a DNF with only 20 kilometers left to go – I couldn’t believe it! At some point I was so desperate, I resigned myself to take off my thermal tights and run half-naked the rest of the Wiclow Way, except for the road sections: I thought I would hold the spare hoodie in my hands and throw it around my legs as an improvise fleece skirt on the road sections or in the event I would run into somebody on the trail! I thought I could wear the tights again after the Kilmnaough carpark! When I opened my pack, to pull out the hoodie, I suddently remembered I still had the pair of Goretex Active pants! Yes, the same waterproof trousers I had damned myself for taking along in case the weather forecast turned out to be not so accurate.
Getting out of those thermal tights and sliding into those cool, relaxed cut, Goretex pants on a bench on top of Knokree may have been the most glorious moment of my ultrarunning carreer so far! The sigh of relief uttered when pulling on the waterproof pants must have gotten the attention of the whole North Wicklow deer community and a nomitation to the “weirdest human of the year” medal ! I could clearly see the glow-in-the-dark eyes of a curious bunch of deer staring at me in bewilderment from the wood below! Even if it meant walking the remaining 20 Km in a penguin-like way reminescent of the “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” scene where Jimmy Stewert goes bird watching, all that mattered was that I could keep going again!
To The End – 160 Km
Relieved of my inner-thigh misery, I slowly jogged down to Knockree road and then up again to Curtlestown! By now I was pausing repeatedly on uphills but surprisingly my legs didn´t feel much different from the climbs during the way out! I went down to Glencullen bridge at a decent pace but even on the dowhill it was more like a fast walking pace than a real running one: I still had to keep moving like a duck with my legs wide because of the chafing! At this point I only had roughly 10 kilometers to go but I knew that with 150 Km behind, over 30 hours in the hills, sleep deprivation, and hallucinations even such a short distance could turn into a mentally endless journey: the previous year, the last couple of kilometers of the WW50 from Kilmashogue to the finish at Taylor’s Pub were possibly the most grueling moment of the whole race! After walking down the Glencullen road as fast as possible – that road stretch always makes me uneasy as it’s dangerously narrow – I finally saw the sign where the Wicklow Way turns into trail again!
It was the the very last steep hill, the same one I had climbed for the WW50: the only difference is that the year before I was barely able to raise my legs because of the pain and burning sensation in my quads! This time, even if I had to take a couple of breaks to catch my breath, even if running double the distance and the over 6000 meters of ascent, I could still tackle without pain: it was the right time give myself some credit and enjoy a lonely moment of well-deserved self-glory for flawlessly planning my training – or at least part of it! If I could manage the same to improve my average speed, at some point I might even become a remotely decent ultrarunner!
Training, along with music, were the comforting and undeniable proof I could get some things right! Yep, music was one of the other smart planning choices I might have made. Does it really matter? To me it did: when shit hits the fan, a psychological boost can be like a defibrillator during a heart attack! Running 130 kilometers on a 7-song playlist in June may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life! Not to mention accidentally enabling the single-song-repeat and only realizing 20 Km – and a melodic lobotomy – later! This time I had assembled 49 carefully selected songs across 3 playlists and it showed!
I had jogged up to Fairy Castle on so many training runs and had often dreamed to get to this last stretch on race day still being able to run the uphill like some kind of alpine chamois: if some of my ultrarunning dreams were definitely about to come true, it was crystal clear racing to the finish of a 100-miler would have to wait: even walking at this stage had become a real feat! I slowly went up, one step at a time, smiling as I wondered whether my Buff would come off by itself or would require laser surgery to be removed! I had changed it halfway but by now that was almost 20 hours of constant sweat earlier! I went past the base of Fairy Castle, where the WW and DMW split again, and really started feeling like I was about to pass out!
I was weak because I had not been eating for some 4 hours. I tried more than once to bring solid food to my mouth only to gag! This far into the race, and so close to the finish line, I didn’t really care anymore: short of a composite fracture there was no way I’d DNF! And even with a fracture, unless exposed, I could still hope to splint and drag my badly chafed ass off the last hill! After all I wasn’t going any faster than somebody with a cast and crutches!
Almost hypothermic, I told myself didn’t even deserve to race through the long list of bad decisions and foolish mistakes I had made! I had managed to get this far thanks to my consistent physical training, the last-minute unyielding determination, generous cutoffs, as well as the help, smiles, pats on the back, spare vaseline, and trust of endless other runners, crew, and volunteers who tried their best to motivate me to my next step!
I figured it was time to quit kicking my own guilty ass, play some music again, and go get the fucking medal! Still, my hands were so cold I couldn’t even feel the keys on my MP3 player… I eventually managed to select the song “The Departure” from the movie Gattaca – that was the song I had played at the end of every WW100 training as part of my race run-up rituals! I had done so because I wanted to trigger to trigger a deep emotional response on what was likely to be the hardest moment of the whole race! I thought about getting the super-warm hoody fleece out of my pack but I told myself I would roast as soon I’d start walking down into the Kilmashogue woods! Instead, I’d actually get to the finish line shivering and that last, stupid, assumption would also be my last, irrelevant, mistake of the race! I always say my last mistake is going to be my next best friend: I have to admit I never had so many best friends in my life as after my my first 100-miler!
I started going down the trail and from then on it would be pretty much be downhill all the way. During the 12 or so weeks spent training for the WW 100, I had always avoided that part of the Wicklow Way in the same direction as I was supposed to to complete the race: I didn’t want to associate that view with everyday training; so I always ran on it in the opposite direction and toward and through Fairy Castle – which is the view shown in the header’s picture. I wanted the north-east view of the Wicklow Way to feel special and trigger a shot of adrenaline and the realization of being about to complete my first 100 miles race! By now I was stumbling down a rocky trail, looking like the shadow of a human being, shaking, and functioning on sheer willpower more than anything else! I had been thinking about this very moment day in, day out for at last the previous 84 days, constantly telling myself that no matter what would happen, I’d never quit! I had so deeply engraved in my memory the image of completing this race that I could still function on some sort of primordial autopilot! I started singing out loud and even if punching my fist in the air with supposedly immense pride, I was so fucking wrecked I still couldn’t feel the slight hint of joy… even that was just about to change!
USQUE AD FINEM
You look like shit, feel completely smashed , smell like dog’s sweat, are very badly chafed, can’t feel all your toes anymore… but deep inside you sense this defiant bliss fighting relentlessly, slowly breaking through the impenetrable wall of physical and mental exhaustion…. and all of a sudden, as the city lights slowly emerge in the distance, it hits you full blast: you are just about to make it to the finish line of your first 100-mile race!
The Dublin lights emerging in the distance: the only picture taken during the WW100!
And that defiant bliss doesn’t end there: it’s going to stay with with you for a very long time, if not for the rest of your life, at least for a few months or even years!
I ran the first 50 Km on some kind of postmodern Dutch clogs; choked on painkillers; spent the second half of the race being the last runner; almost fell asleep while climbing up a hill; nearly threw up all over myself; failed to eat for the last five hours… and got so badly chafed I had to walk the last 20 Km like a woozy penguin!
I may have had more luck than I deserved and no doubt made more mistakes than I should have: I paid the price for each and every one of them during those long 35 hours racing in the mountains! Once again, I owe a lot to the many great people who kept cheering me on, offering me their food, their drinks, their meds, and – even more humbling – showing me they truly believed I would make it!
In life nothing is over until you quit!
Picture shown above was taken after 14 hours of sleep, 2 giant pizzas, 3 showers, and applying an ultrarunning plastic-surgery photo-editing filter and before… getting the fuck back to sleep!