My Ultra Challenge

September 15, 2015

"We're designed for persistence hunting, which is a mix of running and walking. What's built into that kind of running is a sense of pleasure. You are designed and built and perfect for this activity, and it should be enjoyable and fun" - Born to Run – Christopher McDougall 

It’s early June. I’m sitting in my room gazing out the window dreaming up a fantastic challenge. Fresh from my marathon in Geneva, I needed a bigger challenge. As if delivered by the running gods themselves, I stumbled upon the “Tour de Picnic” page. From that moment on, I knew there was no turning back, I was hooked.


I was already in training mode, endurance running is kind of my thing so the miles were still fresh in my legs. After making contact with the event organisers, the chief organiser of the event, Brian McDermott agreed to meet. Many had talked a big race before but all had failed to materialise. Brian had no reason to think this might be different, yet he entertained my proposal.

We met in “Lock 6” Coffee shop at Portobello. Every minute detail was discussed from why on earth was I crazy enough to want to do this to the safety measures we’d need to put in place and eventually down what would happen once I actually arrived from camping to massages. Such planning and preparation on the side of the Tour de Picnic organisers took a huge weight off my shoulders. They were supportive from the start and that’s what I needed.


The next step was telling my friends and family about what I was going to do, prepared for the inevitable “Are you out of your mind?!” questions which were sure to follow. I started by letting my girlfriend know. As always, she was supportive from the start. She even went as far as buying me a book about ultra-running called “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall. To be fair, all my family were supportive. My mother had her reservations and always would, but was supportive. She would browse the internet looking for supplements which would assist me on my way, helping in whatever way she could.

Training was never easy. I ran everywhere with a 12KG bag strapped to my back. The jury is out on how good this really is for you. From my experience, it is a high intensity cardio workout. When I trained without it I felt free and strong. It is something every runner needs to be very careful with and slowly adding the weight as doing this wrong would result in injury, sometimes serious injury. The extra weight helped build resilience and stamina. While some dispute the benefits, I believe that this helped me immensely.

I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t apprehensive, even scared. I would be pushing myself beyond what I had ever run before. I am a member of Duleek & District Athletic Club. The support I got from members who ran ultras such as John Wall and Ray Cassin was great. To know there were people in your club who have ran great distances helps to put the mind at ease. My uncle and aunt, Michael and Gillian would check in on me regularly to see how my training was progressing, how I was feeling and reassuring me that I would be more than able for the challenge ahead.


As with all events, the build up to the date makes it feel like it is an eternity away. If you are not ready, those dates can creep up on you and catch you unawares. I counted down the days, training went well. A 5K meet and train which I organise helped to break up the monotony of the running schedule. A bake sale in work (Paddy Power HQ) helped distract me from the ever looming challenge. Making the cakes was a challenge in itself. A baking marathon took place the night before where I was helped again by Lisa and her mother, Sandra. The fruits of our efforts ensured another €330 was raised for charity bringing the total to over €1,000.

And then it was time. The day before the greatest challenge I have taken on to date. We decided it was best to stay in a Hotel in Tallaght the night before. The nerves had well and truly set in. I got up at 3am, got my bag together. Lisa wouldn’t be far behind and reassured me I was going to be ok. With that, I went on my merry way.


And there I was, on my own at the start. The first and only person to attempt this run. Regardless of how it went, I would always be the first. After mam’s research into Beetroot Juice and the potential benefits, I felt compelled to drink a small bottle at the start, putting my trust in her efforts.

I walked and stretched as much as I could at the start, delaying the inevitable. Slowly, I eased into the run. The key to any long run is to conserve energy at the start where possible and to get into a constant rhythm. I tend to tell people this is “running within yourself”, or going at a pace which is essentially auto-pilot. The calm Dublin night at 3:30am was amazing. The stillness of the surroundings helped me relax. Ever conscious that pacing was key, I took close to 75 minutes to complete the first 10K just outside Rathcoole. I wasn’t concerned with time, this was about completion.

The rolling hills began as I left the warm glow of the Dublin street lamps. The climb to Kilteel was tough, but I endured. I had finally left Dublin and was in Kildare. The country air was crisp. The noise of every rustling leaf could be heard. My footsteps were the only noise to disturb this otherwise tranquil environment. I tried to take it all in.

As the miles began to merge into each other, I found myself passing Barretstown. Barretstown is a camp for children with cancer and other serious illnesses. While I wasn’t fundraising for them this time, it brought home the importance of fundraising for charities as each has their own essential role in our society.

A certain smugness took hold as I entered Ballmore Eustace. 3:30 hours had passed since I set out and had reached the 30K point feeling very fresh. There was a Tour de Picnic “rest depot” for the cyclists who would be following me. “They need a fecking rest?!” I joked with the staff as the prepared for the cyclists. They struggled to believe I was actually running the whole thing, something that still hasn’t fully hit me. I left them to their set-up and ascended the next hill.


It is something that people must remember when running a race like this or a marathon. The energy conserved on the assent of a hill can be made up on the decent and also later in the race. It comes back to “running within yourself” and climbing at a pace you are comfortable with. The small villages broke the journey of open road and countryside. Brannockstown rolled into Kilcullen and without much effort, I was half way there in 4:30.

The next phase of the run was more challenging. The run was now on a busy road with no hard-shoulder. Lisa would be waiting with supplies and refreshments. Careful of oncoming traffic, I goaded my body into the unknown. Signs would present themselves, telling you how far the next town would be, only for a sign a few kilometres later to display the same distance. Such simple things became something of great annoyance. They distracted me and kept my mind active.

Ascending the hill into Kilmead, the first cyclists began to past, each sharing their words of encouragement. The challenge grew now with every passing meter. My body began to rebel against the contact pounding of my limbs against the unforgiving asphalt. Stubbornly defiant, I pressed on. Meeting Lisa with refreshments was a much needed and welcomed relief. Filled with gels and carbs, I marched on for Athy.


I went through 70K in just over 8 hours. I was impressed that I had not only made it so far but my body had stood up to the punishment up to that point. Alas, all good things come to an end. On leaving Athy, the fatigue and exhaustion began to take hold. Every step became a challenge. Knowing the end was almost in sight, I struggled on.

Along the canal, my run became a walk. I continually asked my body for just a little more and it honestly just couldn't. The isolation was only briefly broken by cyclists flashing by, ushering words of encouragement.  There was a solidarity that we were all in this together. I began to lose perspective of the distance travelled and that which remained. Every turn looked endless. As if like a mirage in the distance a bridge emerged as did signs and traffic. The end was near.

On the home straight of 5K, I struggled still. Passersby like old friends Shane and Siuin as well as workmate Phil drove my walk into a shuffle. Each time it wasn't maintained. Organisers checked on me continually issuing words of encouragement as well as an escape if needed. I was too close, the end was near.

With two kilometers to go and the time approaching 10h15, I drew on every morsel of strength, every piece of possible inspiration to drive one last time for the finish. I believe us Irish possess something special. In the face of adversity, when hope seems lost and against the odds we stand stubbornly defiant. We believe that the impossible is possible and no task is greater than any man. Munster have become the masters of this.

With only a few hundred yards remaining, I could see Lisa, she was the constant in the journey, ever reliable and there to see me home. The rough stone chippings sent piercing shudders through my already aching muscles. I crossed under the gantry greeted by cheers and applause from event organisers and cyclists alike. I had arrived. 10h30 minutes since my outset and 2 marathons covered.

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In the time that followed, I managed to enjoy Electric Picnic and our tent was surprisingly comfortable. It was an unforgettable journey, one which we are all capable of.

“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes

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