The Raw Ultra (Wickow Way 80-km/50-mile) run report
It’s all Tim’s fault. I was quite happily strolling along quietly to the end of the year without any real plans before the couple of messages:
“have you seen the 50/100 miler in November along the Wicklow Way? It’s on my possibly list.”
“Interesting! Winter too which could a good laugh”
“yeah, Don’s a great guy and it’s got a lovely atmosphere”
Based off that, and some failed messages to some other friends to sign up I, as usual, didn’t think about it too much and pencilled in the date in the calendar. Sure it would be fun and I’d met Tim at a big event before so that would be interesting in itself!
Except for a couple of small things:
the event is actually in December so what’s the weather like by then?!
A bit of tendonitis in right ankle meant I ran a 50km run on the last weekend of October, and then ran a grand total of 110km in the preceding six weeks before the event.
It’d be grand as I’d meet Tim and get to share some notes with someone else I knew doing the event.
Except for one thing, this message from Tim:
“I’m not. Wife is busy with work. It’s a great race.”
Looked like I was the only person in my social circle doing the event then. Ha!
The main reason for the nervousness that was there? To back up a small bit, I did my first ultra marathon earlier this year back in April, topping out there around the 66km mark (what should have been a 60km ultra had some additional distance after I made a mistake). In theory, only 14km further than last time for this one, however a couple of pieces were different.
In addition, this event/race (I’m still not sure I see them as ‘races’ just yet as I do such little formal events, but more experiences!), The Raw Ultra, was taking place in December. In Ireland. What was the weather going to do? I’m comfortable in the hills/mountains in bad weather but moving in it for a 15 hours (that was the cut-off time) while in ‘running’ kit in December is a new experience. What kit do you use? How much extra should I carry? How much food would I need? Do you try eat proper meals? All important questions but I’d no real idea.
In short, I was a bit intimidated by this beforehand, however it hadn’t stopped me signing up for it , and coming up with a gameplan. That plan was steady on the hills and then drive on the flats and the descents. See how the breathing and heart rate felt (I don’t wear a heart rate monitor for these long runs but can tell how hard I’m working from enough experience) and manage that as much as possible. Alongside side that, I was very well prepped for each aid station with a large quantity of food to choose from, and spare clothing in event it was really horrendous and I needed to change anything.
How did it go? The short story is, surprisingly well. To be honest, I don’t think it could have gone any better considering the training beforehand: i.e. I ran within myself throughout, and while I potentially could have pushed a bit harder in sections, I also suspect I may have blown up and had to walk home. As mentioned above, the strategy was to walk all the climbs and run all the flat and downhills and that was true for all except one section: we walked the final piece of road on the back of Two Rock to conserve a bit of energy for the final hill and downhill: which paid off also as we overtook 3 people on the final hill, running a 5-6minute kilometres for the final 5 km off the back of Two Rock. That’s a win in my eyes!
What was carried, and what was in each aid station was also perfect - notes for that are all here if anyone is interested.
The closest item to a ‘mistake’ with preparation was not having a small bag of clothing in the finishing tent: while the camper was only around 200-300 metres away, by the time I’d gotten the motivation to walk to it to get the extra clothes, I was already shaking violently from the cold. An easy learning for a future event I do.
Unfortunately some user error means I don’t have the full Strava record, but suffice to say I ran both halves of 40km in roughly the same time. Ideal pacing. It was largely helped by picking up a running partner around 15 km in, Ken, where we both found we were looking for similar targets of a 12-hour finish. Little did we know we’d go on to push ourselves to finish in sub-11 hours! The power of a similar mindset counts for a lot it turns out. The Strava log for the first 36km is below.
Run Report: The story of a life as told through an ultra marathon:
0-10km, the baby and early learning years: starting off wobbly, you steadily find your balance and start to grow into your physique. Items still feel unusual and items in the world are weird but you develop quickly.
What really happens: 120 of you queue up on a an arbitrary start line some where in the south of Wicklow and after a 10-second countdown, start running less than 10 minutes after stepping off a bus at 7:30am in the morning. My legs don’t feel great, and I realise I’m not used to running with a pack (it’s been 5-6 weeks since the last time) on my back again but enjoying the experience surrounded by the other people taking part. The first two-kilometre has a climb of 100 metres on it and I’m glad I’ve looked at the Strava track beforehand so I know to trust the legs and build up steadily. The first 8km seems to take an age, feeling disconcerting as that’s only 10% of the total distance but so be it!
10-20km, the teenager years: You’re starting to become more aware, clued in and but also a bit moody as various chemicals work their magic on your body and mindset. Learning about the ways of the world, starting to engage with ‘adult’ things. Why I know better, not the rest of the world! By 20, you’ve some university under your belt and starting to do the odd wilder moment, hopefully growing out of them too!
What really happens: I’ve started to settle into a routine but, I’m starting to hit the mental limit of what I’m mentally used to - most runs in the past while had been 10-15km at best so I’m already creeping past this. I idly wonder how long it’ll take before I just accept I’m here for the day! Making an effort to say hi to everyone as I find my legs and start to creep up the field, I randomly meet a cluster of individuals somewhere around the 15km mark who are working together. I join in, and end up chatting to this guy who seems to be matching similar pace. As we drop down in Glenmalure, we’ve already upped the ante a bit - will this be a pace I can sustain for the whole day? Right now, I’m not so sure but this bloke seems solid on the downhills and I’m offsetting that with my power-walking on the hills so……..
20-30km, entering the ‘Real World’: The world is your oyster! College ends and you enter “the workforce”. It turns out that earning money is awesome after the poverty years of university but there’s also some of the crazy dreams that are given a smackdown as you realise there’s lots more in life! The real world also shows you it’s not all rosy, but there’s also a hell of a lot more awesomeness too :)
What really happens: Right at 20km, you hit the biggest climb on the whole course - Glenmalure to near the summit of Mullacor. It’s a long drag: 400 metres of climbing in 6km. Head down and just keep power-hiking away. Myself and ‘the guy’ (we wouldn’t be on first name terms until after the first aid station, lol) beside me are having a great chat by now and similar mindset: save the legs as much as possible on the hills and then push on on the flats and downhills. It’s windy on the top too - what’s Djouce going to be like?! - but turning over the hill, we all know its a great run down towards Glendalough with fantastic views.
30-40km: you’ve got the career and routine settles in! Promotions come and go, some success some failures. You also start to notice the body doesn’t recharge as quickly as it used to your early twenties. Why is that minor injury taking a couple of weeks instead of a night? You also have long grown out of your party nights. You’re also coming up on the half way point in life (average life expectancy is in the mid-70’s). Do you notice or just keep enjoying?
What really happens: You continue the descent to the Glendalough upper lake before the final kilometre of so to the Glendalough Hotel and the first Aid Station. I bump into my Dad who has come out to say hi, give a high five, and then the Heartbreaker Of The Day….. The feckin notes about the aid station are wrong.
It’s another 4km away and 120 metres of ascent. Are you taking the piss? As it turns out, the ‘new’ (it’s not new, just turns out the maps were never updated) location is way better by getting that climb out of the way, however it also isn’t great as you’ve pushed a bit harder to the hotel and also run out of food thinking you were going to recharge there. Doesn’t matter, you get on with it, and arrive into the aid station at 36km to lots of claps, friendly smiles and the knowledge you’ve got a bag of food and gear waiting for you. 18 mins of stoppage and then it’s time to start power-walking as you digest some of the food. Coming down over the hill into Lough Dan with a step road descent, after again meeting my Dad on his bike, you realise you’ve hit the half way mark! Psychologically give yourself a high five, celebrate with Ken - we’ve finally realised it’s probably a good idea if we learn each others names as we push into the second half of the day. We’re both going well by here as we hit the climb out of Lough Dan, I know this part really well all the way home now so know we’ve got a long set of climbing up to the the top of Djouce. Let’s get it done! My wife, Naomi, also turns up to say hi - wow. Grateful to see her although we’re not stopping so don’t get much time to talk before we keep pushing on.
40-50km: now your body has passed what would have been the life expectancy of someone who was alive 150-200 years ago. You’re starting to notice various weird things on with your body. Why do I have to get up during the night more frequently? Why am I definitely having to be more savvy with energy? Mid-life crisis supposedly happens also: purchase the fancy road bike, or the fancy car, or ??????
What really happens: By now, you’ve been filling yourself with various energy gels and bars and liquids and I started to wonder, at what point would my digestive system start to notice it wasn’t the regular diet? As for the movement, this whole section felt like a keep-moving-keep-grinding-it-out sort of section, prior to the main piece up on Djouce. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of here, just a collection of fire road, some steep trails and steadily passing more and more people along the way.
50-60km: the career glory years. You’re well into your work career and steadily climbing the ladder. There’s also the ups and downs - is the limit of the career reached? and also likely dealing with a lot of change. You’re definitely noticing the body is losing some of its edge also - what used to take a good while to recover from in your 40’s, now takes a lot longer and the training you do also doesn't seem to give as much bang for the buck as it had before either.
What really happens: We arrived up to the back of Lough Tay feeling strong and still moving well, steadily overtaking another cluster of people at the time. We’re a bit surprised by how well we feel but neither are complaining about it - enjoy it and keep moving. The weather is…..wild up on Djouce. Driving winds and to the side at that. The boardwalk is unusable as it’s impossible to stay stable so we just drive on, head down. Spotting one bloke hiding under the boulder from the wind, we give a quick thumbs up to make sure he’ o.k. (he’s looking pretty tired) and push on. Passing onto the eastern side of Djouce I’m surprised to find it’s not as wet as expected and very runnable so we plough on down to the top of Powerscourt waterfall. The short hard climb from here up onto the edge of Maulin feels tough and I’m grateful for the poles in my hands. After that, it’s the 4-5km descent into the Crone Car Park for the final aid station. I’m smiling as I bump into my wife, Naomi, once again on the descent as we run in for a welcome filling of food. It’s coming up on 60km and I’m amazed at how good I feel: this is close to longest distance now and I’m feeling great?
60-70km, the ‘supposed’ retirement decade. Of course, int his day and age, what it really means for many is they ‘retire’ from the career job and find various other activities. Why not? Energy levels are still good and there’s at least another decade of life ahead so continue to be active and healthy!
What really happens: walking out of Crone, it’s a nice meandering jog along the banks of the Glencree River before a sharp right leads into some steep ascents. Myself and Ken leave a few more people behind here as I prep him for the 2nd last big hill of Prince William’s Seat (I know this area very well to the point I could run home in darkness without a torch). We grind it out, and gladly hit the high point as the rain really starts to come down once again. It doesn’t matter, we’re in the flow and run on steadily all the way to the road and crossing the Glencullen River on exactly 70km. Strangely, we don’t see anyone after we leave the edge of the Glencree river and it’s only as we drop over the far side of William’s Seat we spot a head torch off the in distance - we think they’re too far ahead for us to catch them. However, we’re still both feeling good so jog the whole way down off the hill. The last 10km, here we go!
70-80km: those awesome years! You’ve got various interesting ailments going on but what a life! Looking back on it all, you rejoice as you recognise how grateful for all the experiences. You’re meeting lots of various friends (those who are alive anyway ;) and enjoying the the moments of life you’ve experience.d As you reach the end of life, you eventually pass on before lying in a pool of….let’s leave it at that ;)
What really happens: There’s a short steady walk up the road before the ‘flat’ road and the final climb up onto Two Rock. This turns out to be the only piece of flat we don’t run on the whole course instead conserving our energy for the final hill. The hill turns out to be shorter than I remember, but I’m helped that I’ve been on it countless times so am familiar with its curves. As we turn left to join the final descent, we save a guy from taking the wrong turn up onto Two Rock - that would have sucked if he’d done it, as many did last year I believe (An aside: those signs really need to be changed and moved closer to the junction as so many people make this mistake). As we come over the hill, I’ve done all the driving on the hill feeling stronger here but we hit the downhill and Ken takes point - we’re running all the way to the end I’m told! We push straight a final run all the way to finish, averaging 8-9min/mile all the way to the end. I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t had my newly found sidekick with me on the last flat, I would have struggled to keep the pace but it just shows the power of a team. But it works and we gladly trot our way into the finish line where we’re greeted by some of the organisers, including the ‘great Don’ (Tim is right, great guy!) to put the finishing medal around my neck.
Standing around the tent, I take it all in, observing all the various individuals. Some are finished a few hours already (the winning time of 7 hours 30mins is over three hours quicker than my time - wow), others are only finished a while, and others continue to trickle in from both the 80km and the 160km event. Wrapping myself up in whatever clothes I can find, it’s time to guzzle soup and some cooked beans, while saying hello to the various people I met on the event. There’s a common bond and easy to share some stories of the whole day. I find it interesting to hear the people who are so into their times - I’m not a competitive runner and this is just something that is fun for me, I’ll keep climbing as the obsession - and I love hearing their passion and enthusiasm for their sport and their performances.
There’s one person I’m looking for before I leave however. I’d met him on the edge of Knockree as we crested the hill. Ken was talking to his wife on the phone so I’d happily chatted to this man for a few minutes. He was 60 years of age which was impressive in itself to be out doing this event. But what transpired was he was also doing the 160-km event! He’s been such a genuine energy, I wasn’t leaving till I saw him. And perfectly timed, after going out to the camper for some extra clothes as I arrived back to the finishing tent, I turned around and watched him cross the line. A big shake of the hand and a couple of words to congrats. What a hero and it looks like I’ve still got a lot more ultra runs to do in my life - just like I’ve only passed the half way point of life also! It looks like my own life story has a long way to go like above also.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks and hope you enjoyed. Thanks for Don for organising the event, what a great day - made all the better by it being in December ;) For anyone interested, my gear list is here. And if you want any specific advice, reach out to me through the ‘about page’ on this site - cheers!